Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Christmas Book!

I just finished reading The Christmas Village, by Melissa Ann Goodwin. And I really loved it! The story is about a 12-year-old boy, who winds up back in time (and miniaturized) in a pretend Christmas village that comes to life. Sounds kind of wild, right? I have to be honest; I went into the reading with a good dose of skepticism. I thought it might be one of those too sugary stories that tries too hard to be a classic holiday tale. You know the type. I also knew the time travel could be difficult to pull off.

But here are a few reasons why the story works: It's fast-paced. The unbelievable events are presented in a way that makes them believable to the reader nonetheless. The characters have, well, not a lot of depth, but enough to make you care about them. And perhaps most importantly, the story doesn't sell out in the end. I'm going to give something away here, so stop reading if you don't want to know...

I loved that it didn't turn out to be a dream in the end! I also loved the way the whole thing wrapped up. Because the book could have ended without the denouement, but I would have missed it if it did.

So thank you, Ms. Goodwin, for a heart-warming Christmas tale - and I mean that in the best possible, not too sugary way!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Young Writers Magazines

Every time I see my 13-year-old nephew, he's working on a new book. He's actually written novel-length manuscripts at his age - something it's taken me years to do. He's dedicated and motivated and plans to be a writer after college. (As if he's not one already.)

So this got me thinking: Kids that age could use some of the same advice we adults get from books and magazines about the craft and business of writing and publishing. Right? I realize kids aren't banned from reading the material meant for grown-ups. But I doubt the language, style and formats used in such publications really appeal to the middle school crowd.

When I search online, I can find plenty of publications that publish young writers. As an example, this site lists some of the better known publications. But I haven't found anything that answers young writers' questions about improving their craft and the business side of publishing.

Do you know of any publications like that aimed specifically at young writers? If so, please clue me in!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Check Out the Mean Mommy Book!

Wow. OK. I wish I could say the reason I have not posted in a long, long time (more than a month!) is because I was working on my novel. And I guess I can say that, in part. But the real reasons for my hiatus? Moving and pregnancy. Both are exhausting. Both make you feel nauseated at times. And both can be all-consuming. So I haven't really been focused on blogging.

But! I'm back and I do have something to say about writing. My friend and editor from my days at Bridal Guide magazine has written a book! I'm so excited for her and proud of her accomplishments. Turns out Denise Schipani is the ultimate mean mommy.  And I say that in the best possible way because she has an excellent blog on the topic of parenting (I especially enjoyed her rant today about the lack of mandatory paid  maternity leave in the U.S.).  Now, she's parlayed her blogging success into a book: Mean Moms Rule. I know it will be awesome because she's always been an amazing writer.

I've read (and written) before about those jealous feelings that creep up when another writer achieves success. But in this case, I truly feel nothing but happiness!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Reviewing the Possibilities

Oh, wow! So almost a whole month has passed since I posted last. Bad, bad, bad. BUT I have a good reason. I've actually been working on those revisions mentioned previously. There's only so much time in a life filled with caring for a preschooler, packing to move, grieving taxes, grocery shopping, visits to the dentist, babysitting a guinea pig and other sundry activities.

Still, I did manage to find time to research how to promote a book. One way to go: Try and get reviewed in a publication read by librarians and booksellers. After all, they are in the business of recommending books. With any luck, yours could be one of them. (One caveat: You run the risk of getting a negative review. But let's think positive - and consider the perspective that any press is good press.)

Here are a few places where you could score a review. Keep in mind, some require that you send galleys before the book is actually out.

The Horn Book

The Book List (Actually, I just found out two of my books were reviewed! Take a look here and here.)

Kirkus Book Reviews

Publishers Weekly

School Library Journal

The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

American Library Association

Wednesday, September 7, 2011


I just got a rejection email from an agent, and at first, I had this weird reaction. I didn't feel rejected. I felt more like I had gotten a bunch of suggestions for revisions that seemed hard and time-consuming and impossible to complete.

Now, reflecting on that feeling and rereading the email, I've realized something important. This is familiar territory. Even though it was technically a rejection, this agent gave me some suggestions, which means my reaction is up to me. I can view her rejection as a list of revisions instead. That means, I can do what I always do with revisions: Feel overwhelmed. Wait a few days to work on them. Then, start addressing each comment one at a time.

Even now, instead of feeling rejected or even overwhelmed, I'm getting excited. In a few days, these revisions won't seem so difficult to address. I'm pretty sure this is what it takes to succeed in this business: Just keep working!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Interview with Jennifer Hamburg

Jennifer Hamburg, author of the picture book A Moose That Says Moo and creator of Dramatic Fanatic mystery theater parties for kids, also writes for children's television. I've always wondered how shows like Super Why! and Little Einsteins are created, so I just had to interview Jennifer.  Learn more about her exciting career at

How did you land your first job writing for children's television?

I always knew I wanted to work in children’s television. I went to grad school to study Educational Psychology, and after I graduated I was hired as a research analyst for a Blue's Clues spin-off called Blue's Room. They knew I was interested in writing (because I kept reminding them!), and after my contract was up they asked me to stay on as an assistant writer. I was so lucky to have that opportunity. It was a short contract but in that time I really got to see the ins and outs of how a TV script was written (plus, it led to many more wonderful opportunities with the same group of people). After that, I started contacting other production companies and sending around samples. I had previously had a book of children’s plays published, so I used that as my sample for a while. I worked for a couple of different shows right off the bat, and it kind of went from there!

What is the process like writing scripts? 

Every show is different. For some we'd do a roundtable where we’d brainstorm ideas together and then each walk away with specific script assignments. Other times a show would send me a treatment (a summary of the episode) and a deadline, and that was it. Sometimes I would spend lots of time at the production offices and was very involved; for other shows, I never met the producers in person. The time frames also vary depending on the project. Generally, two weeks is typical for writing a script and maybe one week for a revision.  Sometimes I’m asked how long I need, and other times I’m given the date and time to have it in!

What's the biggest challenge writing for children's television?

Each show has a specific tone, feel, style of humor, etc. My job as a writer is to take my writer “personality” and fit it into the particular show I’m writing for. It’s harder than it sounds! Writers are obviously creative, and it’s natural to want to write scripts that show off your creativity – but it’s not always right for that particular show. It takes a lot of self-editing. Also, lots of the preschool shows I write for also have a curriculum with specific lesson plans for each episode. I need to be able to integrate the learning moments into the story, which can be tricky.

What's your favorite part of the job?

Well, I love the whole process! I like diving into a new script and going over and over it until it sounds just right. And then most of the time I have to rewrite the whole thing again ☺ But I think of it as a creative exercise. Some writers don’t like getting notes and rewriting; they can get defensive. But I look at it like this: The creators of the show have a specific idea of how they want the show to be, and whether I agree with their ideas or not, it’s my job to make it work for them. It’s their show! When I have a show I’ll write it the way I want.

One last thing: Tell me about A Moose That Says Moo!

A Moose That Says Moo was originally called A Moose Doesn’t Moo. Totally the opposite! It was basically about all of the things animals don’t do, which I thought was kind of funny. My husband gave me the idea. We were in a camping store when my son was a baby, and there was this giant stuffed moose. My husband was playing around and said to our son, “This is a moose. But a moose doesn’t moo.” And I said, “Hey, that’s funny!” So I wrote the book that week (yes, that quickly!) and sent it out to about five literary agents. One of them called me soon after and offered to represent me.

What we found, however, was that the story needed something more, more of an arc. So I played with it a bit and turned it into a “What if…” kind of story, where a kid imagines a zoo in her backyard – it’s still nonsensical and silly but it’s more active. And we sold it! (well, she sold it) It comes out next year, 2012.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Interviewing the Cast of "Annie"

Do you remember "Annie"? Yeah, if you're a girl who grew up in the '70s and '80s, I'm sure you do. As a generation, we were obsessed, right? I know my best friend and I were. We wrote our own plays based on the original, learned the songs and dances, and collected everything "Annie"-related we could find: dolls, figurines, magazines featuring the cast. One of those magazines got me into journalism (though I admit I didn't realize it at age 13). And if you think about it - since all writing is good practice for more writing - the work I did for newspapers led to the writing I do today.

It was a People magazine with Aileen Quinn's face filling the cover. I remember it well... Maybe because 28 years later, it's residing in my basement. The article featured interviews of the girls who played the orphans, and lucky for us, after each girl was quoted, the magazine listed her hometown city and state. Jackpot! It was 1983. We couldn't use the Internet on our home computers to find what we were after. But we could get the home phone numbers of minor movie stars by simply calling information and consulting the out-of-state phone books in the reference section of the Colonie Town Library.

Back at my house, we wrote out our questions, tested the phone extensions and made our calls. As the phone rang, we'd whisper to each other over the line: "It's ringing!" The way I remember it, I did the talking while my friend handled the tape recorder. After each interview, we'd hang up and scream. "We just talked to Molly! Pepper! Duffy!"And then, we'd replay the tape, analyzing what we'd learned in such detail that I remember the girls' answers even now (yes, I believe they did get to keep some of the costumes).

So those were my first celebrity interviews, back when we were all kids. About 10 years later, I went into journalism for real, writing for newspapers and magazines and interviewing all sorts of people. But there's still one interview I've yet to get.

Can you guess who it is?

Friday, August 12, 2011

Writing Dialogue

Last weekend, I visited my sister-in-law and brother-in-law who have an idea for a screenplay. Or possibly a stage play. When they said writing dialogue was the hard part (compared to developing the plot), I said I thought writing dialogue was much easier. Then, of course, they asked me how I do it. I had to think for a minute, since for some reason I never think of myself as an expert on anything. But then I realized I really do have some tips and ideas about this topic.

1. Let characters talk about themselves. This exercise can help you get to know them. The better you know them, the easier it is to understand how they speak and what they want to say.

2. Imagine characters as people you know. Maybe you've already based your characters on certain friends and family members with colorful personalities. As you're writing, it can help to simply imagine what the real people you know would say in your invented situations.

3. Write tons more dialogue than you need. Allow characters to go off on tangents and say whatever they want to say. You can edit down later to make sure the dialogue moves the plot along and actually belongs in your story.

4. Read dialogue out loud. That way, you can hear whether it flows and sounds real. (Actually, I'd say reading anything you write out loud is a good idea.)

5. Eavesdrop! Listen to people around you having interesting conversations. If you want to get really sneaky, write down what they're saying. When you read it over, you'll see how the interesting parts of a real conversation are often buried among asides and interruptions. Those are the parts that make dialogue sound real, but they can also be distracting if you don't do a bit of editing when you write.

So those are my tips and techniques for writing dialogue. Do you have tips of your own? Please share in the comments - I'd love to hear your ideas!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Guest Post: Fanfiction, Part II

Wondering how published authors feel about fanfiction? Read on for more insights from my guest expert!

Entering a Fake World (continued)

By Helen Armstrong

Some authors ban fanfiction being written based off their story. I can understand why – their story is their baby, their creation, they don’t want it being picked apart. However, most authors are pretty cool about it. A spokesperson at the Christopher Little agency said this of JK Rowling: "JK Rowling's reaction [about fanfiction] is that she is very flattered by the fact there is such great interest in her Harry Potter series and that people take the time to write their own stories.” Harry Potter fanfiction is huge – there are entire sites dedicated to it, like This is, of course, in addition to the 533,519 Potter fanfics on

Some fanfictions become famous in their own right. There is a fanfiction based off of the TV show Glee that takes place at Dalton Academy (the school Kurt Hummel transferred to in the second season, where he met Blaine Anderson). The cast of this fanfiction, Dalton, is made up of mainly Original Characters created by the author, CP Coulter. The characters of Glee are used occasionally, but because the story is set at a different school, it’s mainly Kurt, Blaine, and dozens of Original Characters. This story has become a kind of phenomenon in the Glee fandom. Most everyone who loves Glee has heard of or read Dalton. The story is slated to be 29 chapters, 25 of which have been written so far. And get this – those 25 chapters together are over 200,000 words, nearing 300,000. It almost seems unfair that CP Coulter doesn’t get paid to do this. One of the best parts about Dalton is the fanfiction written about it. It’s fanfiction about a fanfiction, which just goes to show the levels that fanfiction can reach.

Reading fanfiction is very fun – to see other peoples’ takes on the books is a really enjoyable experience. Sometimes it takes awhile to find one written by a person who knows the difference between the three forms of ‘there,’ but allows authors to write a summary of their story. Normally one can tell the quality of the writing just from the 100-word summary.

I’d recommend fanfiction to writers and readers alike. There is fanfiction out there on everything, from the Hunger Games (6,464 on to Wuthering Heights (92). Whether reading it or writing it, fanfiction is a great way to improve your writing and enjoy a good story.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Guest Post: Fanfiction, Part I

Hi, everyone! I got in touch with teen writer Helen Armstrong when she so graciously took the time to read and comment on my MG manuscript. She mentioned she writes fanfiction, which I knew nothing about. I'm happy to post her article on fanfiction here - it's both enlightening and informative!

Entering a Fake World

By Helen Armstrong

What if Lily Evans had chosen Severus Snape over James Potter?

What if Frodo had taken the Ring into Mordor alone?

What if Juliet hadn’t killed herself?

What if Katniss had chosen Gale?

To find the answers to these questions, you need only to visit There are hundreds of thousands of stories in their online database, written by thousands of authors worldwide, all based on questions like these.

Fanfiction is a story based off of characters or settings in a book, movie, TV show, or sometimes celebrities. Fanfiction authors take the characters and put them into different circumstances and write about ‘what would happen if.’ They sometimes create original characters and throw them into the mix, and sometimes they create a cast of completely original characters and put them into the setting of the book/movie/TV show.

I’ve been writing fanfiction for three years, since the age of twelve. I started out writing Twilight fanfiction, which was so bad I want to curl up in a hole and never be seen by humankind again. As I got better at writing in general and writing fanfiction, though, and wrote all kinds of it (fanfiction for Harry Potter, celebrities, other books, etc.) I learned that it can sometimes be tougher to write fanfiction than original stories. The author has to get to know a character that is not their own. The actions and thoughts need to be consistent – the character has to remain In-Character if the author expects any kind of good reviews.

The review part of fanfiction is the part that I really love. I’m a teenage girl, in need of constant gratification, and I love being able to weave a story and watch readers' reactions as I update it chapter by chapter. Sometimes I take reader’s opinions into account, sometimes I just sit back and laugh as they get frustrated over the two main characters dancing around each other for 30 chapters before finally getting together at the very end.

It’s pretty fun to read a book and conceptualize a fanfiction based off of it. I’m one of those people who’s always thinking ‘what if?’ Fanfiction is all just a big ‘what if?’ It’s a fun, harmless way to explore the possibilities.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Don't forget to Follow for a chance to win Banana Split Pizza and Other Snack Recipes!

Aaaaahhh! Revisions!!

I've been emailing an editor, waiting for revisions, and she responded today. My first reaction: I sort of wish I hadn't asked!

I always feel this way when revisions come back to me. I have this initial sense that the revisions are too difficult somehow. There's too much to do or the editor's questions are questions that seem impossible to answer.

This is where I used to go wrong. I'd jump right in, or maybe email the editor back right away.

I hope those editors didn't sense my panic. Because the feeling goes away. It dissapates if you just wait a few days. Whenever I reread an editor's comments after taking that time, I discover the work I'm facing isn't so involved after all. It's manageable. It's just a matter of breaking it down and addressing each comment one by one.

This is a lesson I've learned over the years, yet for some strange reason, I always have to suffer through that moment of panic anyway. Maybe I'll get over that part of it... someday!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

A Lesson From Party of Five

Remember that show Party of Five? Oh, my God - that was such a good show! Remember the one where Claudia gave up playing violin? Remember when Charlie wrecked his relationship with Kirsten? Didn't he leave her at the altar? I couldn't believe that!

But I digress.

The reason I'm bringing up this show in the first place actually has something to do with writing. And jealousy. Yes, I'm ashamed to admit I suffer from a serious attack of author envy whenever I perceive that some other writer has already achieved what I'm working toward. When this happens I:

1. want to read the author's book, but stall instead. What if it's better than anything I could ever write? What if it's not?

2. research the author's age and background. Let's just hope the author is much older than I am, and has paid plenty of dues (ie. more dues than I have paid to date).

3. dig up the author's hometown in the process of researching. Let's just hope the author lives far away, so I can imagine he or she achieved greatness with some geographical advantages I simply don't have.

Looking over this list, it's clear my jealous feelings actually stem from insecurity. I'm looking for excuses, reasons why it might make sense if I never achieve my goals. Jealousy is silly. Ridiculous. Self-defeating.

But I'm not a lost case. Because there's also...

4. think back to that episode of Party of Five, where Bailey was jealous of his girlfriend Sarah's success. I forget what she was doing - acting? voiceovers? singing? - but the point was, she didn't have a lot of free time for Bailey anymore. And when he got on her case about it, she told him off. The gist of it was something like, "Don't sit around being jealous. Do something to make your own life better. Do something to get what you want."

And that's the part to really remember when you're a writer with goals.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

It's Over!

My first book signing, that is. It was nerve-wracking - more so than Pitchapalooza, which is saying a lot. But it only felt like that for the first few minutes, while I was setting up. Once people started coming, it was a lot of fun.

And people did come - from near and far! I think it helped that I emailed everyone I knew, put it on Facebook, sent reminders the day of, sent out press releases, got the event on some local calendars, and got an article in The Spotlight Newspaper. (It's not online, but thanks reporter Andrew Beam!)

It was weird and exhilarating and validating to have people see my books, buy my books and ask me to sign my books. I probably should have done this a long time ago.

So now, today, there's a little feeling of let down. It's over. But not for long. I've got other books in the works, and when they come out I won't wait so long to promote them. More book signings are definitely in my future.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Book Signing Tomorrow!

A few days ago, I started freaking out about my book signing (at The Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza, tomorrow at 3 p.m. - be there!) Then, I started preparing. Here's what I'm bringing with me:

1. A framed sign with my picture on it that explains if I'm not seated at the table, I'm out working the room.

2. Slips of paper visitors can fill out for a drawing to win a free book.

3. A container to hold said slips of paper.

4. A sheet of paper that asks people to follow my blog.

5. Business cards that tell people my blog address, email address and cell number (I'm still skeptical about that last one, but whatever).

6. Information to explain how my books were structured and the sources I used to write my books (since they're nonfiction).

7. A sign up sheet for young readers who'd be interested in reading and critiquing my middle grade novel (my next project).

8. A small framed page offering a synopsis of my book.

9. Information about my background and previously published books.

10. Scissors, paper, pens, tape, and a clipboard - just in case.

11. Refreshments of some sort TBD.

Preparing for this has made it more fun than nerve-wracking. I'm excited!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Let’s Get Back to Pitchapalooza!

I’ve written about Pitchapalooza before, but I haven’t covered the most important piece: How I prepared. I want to get back to that because I think it could be useful information for anyone who’s planning to attend in the future. And here’s the schedule of upcoming events by the way.

The minute I learned about a Pitchapalooza event within driving distance of my hometown, I knew I had to go. I was terrified, but it was as if knowing the opportunity existed left me no choice. Since I was stuck, I decided to prepare as much as possible, to avoid making a complete fool of myself. I’d read that Pitchapalooza was like American Idol without Simon, but I was skeptical. If there happened to be any Simon-like comments made, I wanted to be sure they weren’t directed at me.

So first I wrote my pitch. It was boring, rambling and made me realize I didn’t even have a handle on the book I was writing. This was not discouraging, but rather useful information. Next, I revised my pitch. And revised. And revised. And revised.

Now I was getting somewhere. But I was still nervous about delivering this pitch before a live audience of agents and publishing experts. I decided I needed to know more about Pitchapalooza. There had to be something on the Internet that would reassure me I wasn’t setting myself up for a verbal massacre.

Lo and behold, the Internet delivered! Go to YouTube and search for Pitchapalooza and you can get a preview of exactly what to expect at an event. They’re not all filmed, however, so you don’t have to freak out that live pitching means not only standing before an audience but also that you’ll be viewed internationally for years to come.

YouTube was useful and reassuring. But I wasn’t satisfied yet. I had specific questions about how to craft my pitch. How important was it to state my title? Should I give away the ending? I continued my Internet research and came up with this gem on The Book Doctors' website. Every question I had was answered in the comments on these 25 pitches. (Side note: You can also get these answers in… the book! Yes, The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published outlines how to write a pitch. But I was waiting to buy the book at the event, since it would come with a free consultation!)

After completing my research, I revised some more. And practiced out loud. And timed myself. And revised so endlessly that the revision process was not fully completed until minutes before I delivered my pitch. I wrote my new first line as an audience member and when I was next to go, I stood behind some bookshelves whispering the pitch so I wouldn’t stumble over my freshly written material.

The reward for all this work on a one-minute pitch? I was not “Simonized” (really, no one was) and I even came out a winner at the event. The lesson: Be prepared! You can't control everything when you put yourself and your ideas out there. You certainly can't control the panel's opinion of your book. But you can control how well you prepare. Take care of that piece, and you'll have the confidence to stand and deliver your best pitch.

Friday, July 1, 2011

What I've Been Up to This Week (This Concerns YOU!)

Well, it's been a busy week. I'm going to tell you about it because my busy week isn't really all about me. There's info in here for you, too!

I suddenly realized if I wanted to apply to the Rutgers One-On-One Plus program, I'd better get to finishing the application. This is an amazing opportunity I learned about at the Who's the Seuss? workshop I mentioned previously. About 70 to 80 applicants are selected for this one-day mentoring program in October, which matches writers with editors, agents, experienced writers and other publishing professionals. The deadline, alas, was today. But I'm telling you this so you can plan ahead for next year!

Monday through Thursday
Intense writing and revision to meet my (mostly self-imposed) deadline.

Gave an interview about my writing to a local weekly called The Spotlight. I'm excited because it's publicity for my upcoming book signing and I know people really do read this paper. I'm scared because I don't know what the article is going to say. Very strange to be on the other side of an interview.  I could have been better prepared. I gave the interview off the cuff knowing I had extremely limited time. I didn't want to risk missing my chance altogether. I think I made up for it by mulling over some of the questions later and emailing the reporter some "better quotes." People used to do this all the time to me when I was a reporter, and I always used the new stuff because it was thought out and just plain better. So there's a tip if you ever feel nervous after an interview.

More on the importance of preparing later. Happy weekend!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

June 30 Barnes & Noble Event

Normally I wouldn't reprint a press release without doing some work of my own, but I'm time-crunched and at least the info is all here!

Albany, NY – Barnes & Noble Colonie Center will be hosting a Summer Reading Kickoff Event which will feature 11 teen and children’s authors on Thursday, June 30th at 7:00 p.m. The event is also being sponsored by the Junior League of Albany with a portion of supporter’s sales benefiting the Dolly Parton Imagination Library.

Authors slated to appear at the event include: James Preller, author of the Jigsaw Jones children’s series;  Shari Maurer, author of the teen book Change of Heart; Kristen Darbyshire, author of the children’s book Put it on the List ; Eric Luper, author of teen  and middle-grade titles Big Slick, Bug Boy, Jeremy Bender vs. the Cupcake Cadets, and Seth Baumgartner’s Love Manifesto; Sarah Darer Littman, author of teen titles Confessions of a Closet Catholic and Purge; Aimee Ferris, author of teen titles Girl Overboard (S.A.S.S. Series) and Will Work for Prom Dress; Jackie Morse Kessler, author of teen titles Hunger and Rage; and authors Julia DeVillers and Jennifer Roy, twin sisters who have co-authored a tween series about twin sisters including Take Two, Times Squared and Trading Faces.  Julia DeVillers has also authored the children’s Liberty Porter series, and Jennifer Roy has also authored teen titles Mindblind and Yellow Star.  The authors will be on hand to discuss and sign their books, discuss the writing process, and participate in a question/answer discussion with readers.

Barnes & Noble Colonie Center is hosting the event to kickoff their annual national Summer Reading Program. The program rewards children in grades  K-6 who read any eight books, record them in the Barnes & Noble Summer Reading Imagination’s Destination Journal and bring the completed journal to any Barnes & Noble store until September 6th, 2011. Journals can be obtained at any Barnes & Noble location. Children returning completed journals will have their choice of a free book from a selection of titles in the store. Completed journals will also be entered into a national drawing for one of twenty NOOK Color eReaders. “The program is a great way for us to help parents and teachers encourage kids to be life-long readers. It’s also a rare opportunity to showcase the talent of several local authors,” commented Barnes & Noble Colonie Center General Manager Eric A. Morgan.

The Junior League of Albany adopted Dolly Parton's Imagination Library as their project for 2008-2013. This initiative will provide one age-appropriate book each month to children ages birth to five years old within Albany City limits regardless of socioeconomics, risk factors, participation in certain programs, parental factors or any other means other than a child's age and residence.

With required summer reading playing an increasingly important role in school curriculums, this is an especially relevant and exciting event as parents and students can not only pick up their summer reading books, but can get them autographed and speak with the authors about what it takes to get a book published.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Local Author Signings

I just want to take a moment to promote a local author's upcoming book signings. Coleen Paratore will be signing From Willa, With Love, the sixth in her Willa series. If you're in the area, stop by!
Fri., July 8, Barnes & Noble, Colonie, NY, 6 p.m.
Fri., July 29, Market Block Books, Troy, NY, 7 p.m. (Troy Night Out!!)

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Pitchapalooza: Planning to Attend

If you’re planning to attend a Pitchapalooza, there are a few things that have to come first. Absolutely first, you have to know when and where one is going to be held.

I found out about the Rhinebeck Pitchapalooza in a very roundabout way that proves I should probably keep up better with local news. The reality is, I find news so depressing sometimes that I choose to shield my preschooler and myself from such lovely stories as Guilty plea in Schenectady stabbing plot on pregnant woman and Senate panel OKs funding for area nuclear projects. Of course, this also means I sometimes miss important-to-my-career articles such as this.

That's right. Pitchapalooza was within minutes of my hometown last month, and I missed it. OK, the truth is, I did get wind of it, but not with enough advance notice to prepare or even attend.

So how did I find out about Rhinebeck Pitchapalooza, an hour and a half away? By plugging into the local writing community. I knew SCBWI had an Eastern NY chapter. I was even a member of the organization. But I was not one to attend meetings, so I hadn't gained much from this membership besides enjoying the member publication I receive in the mail.

Last month, I suddenly realized I should get out there - meet other writers, network, learn. My first local SCBWI meeting was the last before summer break, but I picked up an interesting bit of knowledge. Someone spoke up and advised us all to get on Twitter. She said sometimes agents and editors would be on there taking questions.

I'd never wanted to tweet before, but this sounded interesting. The next day, I opened an account. I started tweeting. I felt ridiculous. I began following a helpful and clearly clever agent from the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. One day, Jennifer Laughran took some questions on her website. Soon after, she posted an announcement about the upcoming Rhinebeck Pitchapalooza.

I promised myself this time I would be ready. This time, I would go.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Pitchapalooza: What's It Like?

Did I mention I was a Pitchapalooza winner in Rhinebeck? I was! I’m very excited, which is, of course, one reason I’m sharing this information with you. But I also want to explain how it happened. Because it wasn’t just a fluke and it wasn’t simply talent combined with a little luck either. But I’ll get to more on that in my next post, since I don’t want any one post to be too long.

First, if you’re unsure of what Pitchapalooza is exactly, here’s some information. It’s basically billed as American Idol for publishing. If you’re not used to getting up in front of a crowd and speaking, yes, it’s scary. If you want advice from publishing experts—not to mention a little practice and exposure—it’s also definitely worth it. I should mention that while the panel had tons of ideas to make pitches better, their critiques were not harsh or mean-spirited. There’s no Simon! The general tone of the event was helpful and enthusiastic.

People had some great pitches, too. I don’t dare share the topics covered here, for fear I’ll send someone’s precious idea into the blogosphere without supervision. But there was one in particular I wished I had thought of myself. (Don’t worry. It’s not an idea I plan to pursue—it’s all yours, person who pitched it!)

I realize I was lucky to be called to pitch. Only about 25 people were randomly chosen from the crowd. They call two at a time, so one person is up and the next is on deck. That way, getting called isn’t a complete surprise. You know when it’s almost your turn. Then, you can hide behind the shelves and whisper-practice, like I did.

When you’re up, you’ve got one minute to pitch. It’s nice if you can look up from the page while you’re reading. If you’re too nervous for that, it doesn’t seem to count against you. People may laugh (you hope), but you can’t pause for effect, because time is ticking. When you’re down to 10 seconds left, you get a warning—a nice gesture since you’re cut off once the minute is up.

And then, you listen. Your pitch is about to be critiqued.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Recommended Reading

Since attending Pitchapalooza at Oblong Books, in Rhinebeck, NY, on Sunday, I have about a million things I want to share. But I don't have time to do that right now, because I absolutely must make revising my MG novel top priority. And that means moving those revisions above not only this blog, but also preparing my messy house for a realtor tonight, occupying my four-year-old with something other than TV, eating properly, and possibly washing my hair. Possibly.

So, I don't have time to share everything I want to share. I can, however, recommend an excellent book purchased at Pitchapalooza and written by the couple who puts on said event. The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published, by Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry, is a thick tome that delivers on its promise. If you want to get published, buy it. Seriously. We all need to know this stuff.

And now, a quick Bakugan brawl with my son before getting to work.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Get More From Your Next Writers Conference

Remember that workshop I attended a few days ago? Here's some good advice I got from authors Coleen Paratore and Eric Luper.

1. Get your money's worth. Hey, you paid to attend the conference - so make the most of it. Make an effort to meet people, other writers as well as editors. How? See tips 2 & 3...

2. Sit in the front row during seminars. This isn't seventh grade math class. You don't need to - and shouldn't for your own sake - hide in the back. Be visible and show your enthusiasm for the seminar.

3. Approach editors after their seminars. Say hi. Introduce yourself. Congratulate editors on some recent success (it doesn't hurt to do a little research beforehand). Don't worry about whether they'll remember you later - they probably won't. The point is to make that first connection. That way, when you contact them later, you can honestly say, "We met at the such and such conference..."

4. Be a player! Remember, you're just as legit as anybody else at that conference. Same goes for your work. Get in the game, and be your own best advocate!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Business Cards for Writers

So I'm preparing to go to an SCBWI Conference this weekend, and I ordered some business cards to take with me. They arrived today and I'm really happy with them. Back when I started writing professionally, in 1994, I felt there was something really cheesy about a writer having a business card. A freelance writer, I mean. I think I even read somewhere it could look unprofessional. To me, a business card that said "writer" seemed sort of like announcing to the world that I was trying to write the Great American Novel. And that seemed like a laughably outlandish dream.

At the time, I wasn't even writing fiction. I was focused on journalism.

Now, of course, I don't feel like business cards for writers are cheesy at all. They're necessary for making connections and networking and passing out at events like writers' conferences. They're certainly professional. It probably helps that there are so many great design options out there these days.

There's another reason business cards are good for writers, though. If you're trying to write the Great American Novel, they announce your intention to the world. It takes a certain kind of courage to admit you're aiming for a lofty goal. Sure, people might think you're crazy. But really, who cares what anyone else thinks? It's your goal. Announcing it just reminds you that you mean business.

Monday, June 6, 2011

No Time to Write

This is for everyone out there who wants to write a book, but can't seem to find the time. Believe me, I don't have time either! I write for a living, but finding time to write the books I want to write (with the aim to get them published) is no simple task. So, a few tips...

1. Write when you can. Don't wait till you have several hours at your disposal. Write when you have an hour. Write when you have ten minutes. Every bit of writing you do will help you chip away at your project till it's done.

2. Think about your project. When you can't write, mull it over in your mind. I've heard plenty of writers say they think over what they want to write so that when they finally sit down, it just pours out. I started doing this a few months ago, and it works. Good times for thinking about writing: in the shower, in the car, in bed before falling asleep and before getting up in the morning.

3. Carry a notebook. When you get great ideas but can't fully address them, jot them down. That way, you won't lose them and can come back to them later.

4. Another reason to carry a notebook: You can actually write in it, too. Many people prefer to write on a computer, but you can't always have it with you. Don't let the lack of your favorite writing instrument deter you from writing.

5. Quit doing something else that sucks up all your time. If you really want to write, it has to be a priority. What can you give up? Channel surfing? Folding laundry? Cooking elaborate meals? I've had some very productive writing days when I let the house get completely wrecked and chose not to address it in favor of writing.

Happy writing!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Who's the Seuss?

That's the name of the amazing workshop I attended today, given by Coleen Murtagh Paratore (author of The Wedding Planner's Daughter series, among other books) and Eric Luper (author of Seth Baumgartner's Love Manifesto, also among other books). I learned much, much more than I can write here tonight, as I am exhausted, but I will most likely be writing about it for several posts to come!

A few words of advice I can share in the meantime:

1. If there's a local writer's workshop held in your town, make sure you go to it! They don't happen that often in many smaller communities, and chances are you'll learn something useful. Maybe you'll learn a lot.

2. Bring along some of your own work when you attend a workshop. I didn't realize we would have the opportunity to share the first page of our manuscripts today. (I probably should have read that flyer over more closely!) Luckily, I happened to be carrying my work with me, so I was prepared anyway.

3. Speak up! If you get a chance to voluntarily read any of your work aloud, do it. Take every chance for feedback from professionals in the field.

More to come... next time!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Clichés in Kids' Fiction

In the November/December issue of SCBWI’s member bulletin, author Joelle Anthony talks about clichés in YA (young adult) and MG (middle grade) fiction. She's not saying they're bad, just that they're overused. The fact is, they work for plenty of reasons (readers can relate, readers enjoy the fantasy, etc.). New writers may want to try to avoid them, though—you know, try to be a little more original.

Some of Anthony's finds include:

1.    Main characters who hate math
2.    Guys with gorgeous green eyes
3.    Main characters who don't have a cell phone, while everyone else in the world does
4.    Main characters who describe their looks while gazing in the mirror
5.    Main characters with only one friend (and then they have a fight)

I thought this article was fascinating. Really insightful and useful. Now, I can’t read a YA or MG book without noticing clichés, too.

Here are a few of my own finds:

1.    Books where the main (female) character has a boyfriend by the end
2.    Books set in small, walkable towns, where young characters can safely wander alone
3.    Girls who are pretty, but don’t know it
4.    Main characters whose lives are transformed from dull normalcy to a much more exciting reality (ie. She's really a princess with superpowers!)

Now, it’s your turn. What kinds of clichés do you find in YA and middle grade fiction?

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

My First Book Signing

It’s official—I’ve scheduled my first-ever book signing!

Where: The Book House, Stuyvesant Plaza, Albany, NY

When: Saturday, July 9, 3 p.m.

I don’t know why I haven’t done this before. I started writing books back in 2004, when I co-authored Bridal Guide Magazine’s How to Choose the Perfect Wedding Gown. It never occurred to me to promote my books. I just wanted to write them.

Now that I’m doing this, I can see the benefits definitely go beyond selling books, which is the reason I thought authors did signings. I emailed friends and family about this, and everyone is so excited. Excited! Congratulating me!

I have to say, it makes me feel good. You need a little validation sometimes when you write on your home computer for editors who live across the country. Sure, they’ll email me that I did a good job. But this interest from people who know me and live nearby is really, well, great!

What I’ve realized from all this: I’ve been too shy about sharing my successes. (The kicker was when a friend of a friend emailed back to say she never even knew I write—I’d never mentioned it!) That’s no way to go about building a career. Better to actually tell people you write. Show them the books when they come out.

That may sound simple and obvious. But I'm not too shy to say it wasn't so simple or obvious to me—up to now!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Writing for a Living - Entry-Level

Enough about Twitter! I’m actually here to share some of what I’ve learned during the past 17 years I’ve been writing professionally.

I started my career after graduating college... OK, that’s leaving a lot out. First, I held a series of jobs I found seriously unrewarding (telemarketer, secretary/receptionist, front desk clerk, and house reinspector among them—no offense to anyone who holds these positions. They just weren’t for me.).

To escape the madness of my career-going-nowhere, I enrolled in a Master’s degree program in literature. Not being all that interested in literature, I was unmotivated to actually earn the degree and realized by the end of the first semester that I had to change my situation. After class one day, I went downtown to the newspaper office and asked if they were hiring. The answer was yes—
and I got the job.

I had no real interest in news, newspapers, or newspaper writing either. But I did want to write and this was a way to write and earn a living at the same time. For a year, I wrote to nightly deadlines five or six days a week. I wrote on all sorts of topics: zebra mussels, school board meetings, house fires, fashion, criminal cases, politics, etc. Not all of these topics spoke to me personally, but it was one of the best jobs I ever had, for both personal and professional development.

What can you learn from my meandering experience? Hopefully this:

•    Writing every day and sticking to deadlines is good practice for a writer. It doesn’t really matter what you choose to write or what you get paid to write.

•    Learning about writing doesn’t have to cost money. With the right entry-level job, you can hone skills while earning money instead. (Too bad I didn’t learn this one before investing in that degree I never got.)

•    People are always saying, “Write what you know.” Writing what you don’t know can be rewarding, interesting and lucrative, too. You just have to research. And learning new things makes writing much more exciting than typing on a computer has any right to be.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Joining the Larger Community, Part 3 (I promise, a new topic next!)

My first tweet was basically, "Hi!" My second tweet offered information about the reduction in self-employment taxes for 2011. Maybe a lot of people know about this already, but I thought it would be nice to share. After all, I only learned about it a short while ago.

As soon as I tweeted this information, I realized I’d left out a whole bunch of people I should be following. Why wasn’t I following self-employed people? Other writers? I quickly searched and added to my list. Now, I was following more than 75 accounts. I felt overwhelmed.

I turned once again to my husband, who advised grouping them into lists. Which I did. I made them private lists because I can’t figure out why anyone would make them public, and private is my default setting. Maybe I'll change my mind as I learn more about this. While I had his ear, I asked my husband what to do about my followers. (Yay! I have followers!) He recommended a short note thanking them for following. It’s proper etiquette, he said.

Twitter can easily get pretty time-consuming, but I think it's going to be worth the effort. On my first day following only editors, I learned many were at BookExpo America. Without Twitter, I never would have even heard of the event!

Definitely a sign I’ve been too isolated as a writer.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Joining the Larger Community, Part 2

When I went to, my intention was to do exactly what I'd heard I should do: follow editors. I didn’t realize that meant opening my own account, but quickly found out. So I opened an account. I found a bunch of editors, agents and publishers to follow, and suddenly, I was part of this bigger community.

If I was going to be there, I figured I’d like to contribute, too. But what to tweet? I grilled my husband, who tweets for work, and he advised the idea behind Twitter is to offer something, not try to promote or sell or anything like that. Sounded good to me. I wasn’t sure at first what I might have to offer, but then I realized Twitter is kind of like saying, “Hey, did you see this interesting thing?” So whenever I find out anything interesting about writing and related topics, I’ll be sure to pass it along.

Tweet it, I mean.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Joining the Larger Community

A few nights ago, I attended a meeting of SCBWI—Eastern, NY. Supremely beneficial. I met other children’s book writers. I took away some advice from the critique session about how to create an arc in each scene, avoid small talk among characters, and write major transitions into chapter beginnings and endings.

I learned about the value of certain upcoming workshops and retreats. (Namely, the Highlights Foundation Workshops and the Falling Leaves Retreat.) I’d heard of these— and others—before, of course. But I’d always let the cost to attend sway me against considering them. Now, I see the value. It’s a chance to spend focused time on your piece, work with editors, and network with other writers and editors in an intimate setting.

I also heard it mentioned during the meeting that Twitter can put writers in touch with the larger community of writers and editors. Apparently, editors sometimes offer to answer questions on Twitter.

So I've decided to start using Twitter, and there’s definitely a learning curve. I invite anyone who’s learning Twitter to follow along. Maybe we can help each other!