Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The problem with keeping a blog....

is if you forget you are keeping it and get busy with life, then the blog fizzles out and dies a slow, and boring death.

I'm so sorry I haven't kept this up. Once fair season hit for me, I got side tracked and out of habit. Then it became fall, and I was busy selling Usborne Books...  No more excuses.

They say writing needs to be a habit, you should do it every day. It's true. When my blogging fell, my daily writing fell. And that's no good for a future great writer! Or a starting out writer! Or a professional writer.

So my apologies to those of you who do read my blog, I know there are at least two. :-D 

I am making a new year's resolution now to start the new year with better writing habits and in better shape. See, not only has my daily writing sucked, my exercise habits have too!  I plan to start the year with a bang, and make 2013 the luckiest year so far.  Granted, I am not a lucky person. However, I do create my own luck. And my success is not where I'm used to seeing it. Funny, it correlates with my effort.

I am already starting out the year with numerous author visits on my schedule, and totally excited! I love working with the students.

So here is to an amazing hump day! Put on a smile and get to work,


Sunday, July 15, 2012

How to write a Novel

I started to write this, then put it on hold because I wanted to spend more time sharing Jan's amazing workshop. So sorry it took me so long to get back to it. :-) I'm learning to balance life and writing with the kids home from summer and family visiting.... Is it time for school to start yet? ;-)

So let's go back in time to the awesome Iowa SCBWI Conference......


One of the best parts about the conference was hearing from Jan Blazanin, a published author and former teacher. She was GOOD!!! AND, even better, I walked away with concrete ideas and tools to work with.

Here are my top tips from Jan, in no particular order:

  1. You want BIG problems. The bigger, the better. And the problem needs to get worse as the charcter looks for the solution.
  2. Better have a hook! This will tell what your story is about, where it fits in the current market, and what's fresh about it. Your protagonist and conflict need to be stated first. And your story needs to be unique.
  3. You need to know what it is that your Protagonist wants more then anything else in the world. This needs to be something that he will take risks for.
  4. Know your character, inside and out. Interview him. What does he look like? Go shopping with them. Who are his friends? What does he eat? What is his hygiene? You also need to know your secondary characters, though not as in depth.
  5. The first 5 pages are the most important. In this time you need to introduce the protagonist, let the audience get to know her (but in the moment, like you just met someone, not in a 20 pages of history sort of way), show what traits set her apart, identify the time and place of the sotry, set the tone, and introduce the catalyst. Whew.
  6. Introduce characters gradually. It is easy to confuse your reader. Be kind.
  7. The end should be brisk and answer the reader's questions. It does NOT have to tie it up nicely with a bow. She says "Be brisk, be brief, and be gone."
  8. When brainstorming, there is no right or wrong way to come up with a story. Some come up with a character, and build a story. Some come up with a plot or conflict, and then find a character who fits.
Jan was a fabulous teacher. Make sure you know what your book is about, who your characters are, and where you are going.

Happy Writing!


Monday, May 14, 2012

Author visits in Montana

Last week was the most amazing experience. I was asked to visit Poplar and Wolf Point, MT. While there, I taught some writing workshops, read to the students and answered questions. I felt right at home working with the students, grades Kind through 5th grade. Shawn (my hostess) had me scheduled back to back with negative 30 seconds between classroom visits. We did 11 different location visits in 3 and 1/2 days! Monday I had 6 visits at two schools, plus the library. And Tuesday I did 5 classroom visits, then a college talk, and a reading.

The kids all thought I was there age, so I think they connected with me in a way they don't with adults. It was fun to see how they all couldn't wait to hear what I had to say, and realized that they to can follow their dreams.

At one school, each teacher wanted me to teach on a different writing program, so I was literally pulling out my notes as I ran. The kids were great though. I didn't feel like I lost any of them.  I could really see the wheels in their head turning, watching them think "I can do that!".


They had great questions including:

  • Do you make a lot of money (answer, no.)
  • How long have you been writing (answer, since I was your age.)
  • How did I write the words (answer, I let them come to me, wrote them down, then read them aloud over and over and over.)
  • Where do I get my ideas (answer, everywhere.)
  • Do my kids help me (answer, I test my books on them to see if they need to be sacrificed to the delete God's or polished for potential future literacy)
  • What is my favorite book (answer, Anne of Green Gables)
  • How old I am (answer, how old do you think I am? To which I was guessed from 4th grade to age 50)

The visit was special because I got to stay with a dear friend, Shawn. She and her family were great, and her husband was open to all of my thousands of questions about life on the reservation.

I also got to speak at the college about tools to teach future writers, which I shall blog about in the future.

One of the perks was eating lunch with the kids. At Poplar Elementary, I was sitting there eating when Shawn looked at me and said, "You have a blue tray."
I answered, "yes, I do."
She said, "I have a red tray."
I looked at her puzzled until she pointed out all the students had blue trays, while the staff got red trays. They thought I was one of the students!

We had a great time at recess!

At the Headstart visits, I learned how to count to 10 in Dakota and my colors, though I don't remember much. It was intriguing how long the words are.

My last day, we added a school visit since a teacher found out I was going to be in there area. They are working on a book, and thought I'd make a great addition. The kids were all prepped with questions for my whirlwind 20 minute squeeze in. I was so impressed with all they had done to prep for my visit.

And as a bonus, I got to visit the Badlands and do some Sand Ball hunting, which my boys loved.

I will work on writing more about my visits! There was so many wonderful things happening as we connected, and I learned more about their environment. But in the meantime, I have some manuscripts I need to finish up. There is nothing more motivating then kids asking you when they can get your next book!

If you are interested in having me speak with your school, daycare, or group, let me know. I do everything from a simple reading with questions, to writing workshops, to playing with the kids on the playground. :-) You can email me by clicking here for more information.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Author Visits in Montana!

I just wanted to give you a heads up that I am in Montana visiting schools and libraries! Look for fun updates about my journey and the great people I'm meeting next week. :-)

Happy writing!

Monday, April 30, 2012

The Agent

What conference is complete without an agent? We were fortunate enough to have Ty King, from Writer's House. The first thing she did was take off her shoes.

So tip #1:
Public speaking is best done when barefoot.

Then she began with her great tips:
She talked about becoming a working writer. A working writer is what all writer's strive for (someone who is getting paid for writing!) She recommends you be professional, responsive, and communicative (communication is very important).

She also said you need to understand your role (what is expected from you by your agent) and your rights (so you don't get taken advantage of).

She recommended that if you have a Blog, you need to be professional. Actually, this was mentioned a few times: Don't write anything negative about someone else, it will come back to haunt you and never ends well.

Let's talk RIGHTS:

*Print and publication (what countries will you give them?) If they publish in another country, it may be beneficial. But don't sign away rights just to sign.

*Audio rights.

*Electronic, such as ebooks and aps. (You don't have to grant these).

*Dramatic (plays, movies)


Keep your letter brief, and let them know your project. They get a lot of submissions straight off the first draft. That is a no-no.

When looking for an agent, you want someone who will be able to represent everything you write, or who has other agents in house who can represent your other writing.


Biggest Mistakes New Writer's Make:

They do not edit their work enough. They send it in way too early. Most agents or editors do not have the time to take on a project that will take a lot of time and energy. So be submitting too early, even if you have potential, you will be rejected.

They do not research where they are submitting. Editors and agents get a lot of paper to go through. If the project does not fit their house, you are wasting their time no matter how great it is.

Example: They only publish picture books 0 - 5 (Applesauce). You send a picture book geared for 6 - 9 year olds, or even worse, a chapter book. Even if they love it, they can not publish it.

How do you avoid that? Before submitting, research the books they sell. Then go to the library and read them. If their whole line is about animals, don't submit a book about diggers.

Hope you learned something today! Stop back later this week to learn about writing a chapter book, tips from Jan Blazanin.

Friday, April 27, 2012

The W's of Writing, I guest blogged

Come on over to Rena Traxel's blog and enjoy learning all about the "W's" of Writing!

She has a great month of blog posts from guest bloggers, working their way throught the alphabet! Enjoy.

More from the conference!

SCBWI-IA packed us with great editors, authors, and an agent.

Kari Pearson from Abrams was full of color, literally! She had on this amazing yellow top that sang energy. She edits picture books for ages 0 - 5, at the Appleseed division. She also helps with Comic Arts.

So, on to the notes:

When querying, make sure you let the editor know that you know that they know their stuff. Research them. Tell them how much you loved what they edited. Congratulate them on the book that won an award. Let them know you are learning to wind-surf too! It's OK to stalk, just don't over stalk.

Have some sort of online presence. Facebook is good. Twitter is good. Author website once you are published is a must (not necessary before). Blogs are nice, but not necessary. Keep it managable. You don't have to do everything.

Don't be afraid to keep in touch. If she invites you to submit, send an email asking if she's had a chance to look at it. She recommends every few weeks. Be respectful (don't email daily. Every few weeks, is once every 2 or 3 weeks.) Editors get busy and do appreciate a reminder here and there.

Editor's Considerations:

1.) Quality of Work
2.) Marketability
3.) Who are you? (And yes, sometimes being a debut author can be marvelous!)

"Quality is always paramount."
She gets excited about good work, and loves to be excited.
Being new can be an asset! They love to discover you.

This is close to quality in importance
Books are a business
Editor looks at context, where does your book fit in?

What books are similar?
How did those books sell?
Does it fit their list?
What category does it go in to?

Who are you?
Introduce yourself with your work!
Don't take it personally. A "no" is not about you.

If they are INTERESTED, what happens?
It goes to an editorial meeting and they ask:
     Does it work?
     Does it fit our line?

Then it goes to a business meeting, where they look at marketability?
     Does it fit?
     Can we sell it?

If the answer is "yes" they will make an offer!

An advance is based off of what they feel the projected sales will be.


I was fortunate enough to have Kari review my work. My picture book I sent is for an older age then she buys, but it was great hearing from her.  I wrote for 6 - 8, she busy 0 - 5. (Another reminder to do all your research before going to conferences. I saw picture book, but didn't think to look deeper.) But I enjoyed having her review it.

What I learned:

*Sometimes a picture book is a chapter book! She loved my character and smiled and laughed, but told me she wanted more from him, and more from each experience. She thought it would translate beautifully to a chapter book.

*She noticed it was still RAW. This had gone through 3 critiques and was written in February. I never send anything out that is this young, but loved the MS and wanted feedback, so I did dedicate time. However, the fact is, it didn't have time to bake, and was still showing. This was a good reminder that you can not RUSH the process.
So if you write something great, don't send it out, yet. Wait a month, revisit it. Then, put it away a few weeks, edit it again. THEN, put it away a few weeks more. Do this until you can not find anything else wrong with it. Do NOT look at it the day after, or a week after. You need to forget about it, so when you look at it, it is like looking at someone else's work.

*Do not write your query letter in third person. Let you shine through.

Here are some of her notes on my MS:
*Not sure about format. Seems like a picture book, but the language is older. Mismatch.Wow! Such an eye opener. Who are you writing too? And yes, my audience is 6 - 8, so it's on the line. I was hoping for an older kid PB, but was a little off on my judgement.

*HOOK:  Lots of funny things! I liked it. Good characterization.
This is huge for me. I challenged myself last year to begin writing character driven stories.

*WRITING: Lots of great details/ingredients! A little undercooked.
Oh-oh, can't rush art! Even when other things are in place.

Remember, publishing is about people! Make sure they know you, and make sure you know them!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Publishing meets Amazon

The second speaker for our conference was Marilyn Brigham, editor from Marshall Cavendish. It was very interesting hearing her speak, especially since they were just bought up by

Was she scared? At first. But she feels it is a good thing. And YES, they are still going to sell hard copies, as well as ebooks. Only the children's division was sold. She said Amazon is not getting their hands dirty in their day to day business, which is important, so you don't have to worry about the branding changing.

My favorite quote from her is:
"Take risks." She said that a lot. She wants writers to write what they want to write, and she wants to read it.

Important tidbits:

*Consistency. Very important in every genre. Don't start with a red car and end with it being blue, unless your MC paints it. If you have a rhythm, keep it. Don't change format, or voice. Keep it consistant.
*They do not buy board books
*They do not need picture books (but you can send them, just know it's a hard sell)
*Don't need Young Adult
*They want: Stand Alone Middle Grade Fiction!!!!!!!
*For chapter book series, they want a strong voice, strong character and strong hook

Writing is hard work!!!! (yes, yes it is. Actually the first draft is easy, it's the editing that I think is hard work, and making sure you let your MS simmer instead of sending it out right away).

And I will end with her quote:

"Take every chance you can get to get published!"
ie: Take risks!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Writer's Conference

OK, if you are a writer, and you haven't been to a writer's conference or workshop, think about what type of writer you are. Are you a hobby writer (just for fun) or do you want to be a professional writer? As with any profession, you have to move your knowledge forward. The best way to do this is to join a writer's group, and keep informed on when their events are.

If you write children's books, is the perfect place to start. Each state has something going on, or you can travel for regional conferences. Invest in yourself and go. You will learn so much.

So let's start with the Iowa SCBWI Conference in Bettendorf that I attended last weekend.

I drove almost 6 hours on a beautiful sunny day from South Dakota to go. I stopped at the Family Museum to do some research for a children's museum we are building in Sioux City, and then headed to the Lodge, where the conference takes place. Part of attending conferences is getting to know other authors. I had the privilege of going to dinner with Barbara, Barbara, and Barbara.

The conference started bright and early with Brett Wright, the assistant editor from Bloomsbury.

Here are my takeaways:

*Find a hook for your book!
*Catch the reader's attention right away. (First pages are vital to getting your book published! Start where the story starts, not at the beginning of the character's life or day.)
*First sentence! Though Brett will read the first 20 pages before he says "no."
*Create a sample sell sheet, see below to know what you need. This will help you sell your book and show you have thought it out. The information can be used in your query.
*Middle Grade should be 30,000 to 40,000 words.
*A long synopsis is a no-no.
*Proper formatting is a must!

Age Level

Handle: 1 line description about the book
Author Information

Selling Points

Books it will compete with, and/or compares to:

Check back later for more tips from the writer's conference, including questions to ask yourself before you start writing!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Poetry Finals!

When I entered the March Madness Poetry Contest, I never expected to make it to the Final 2. I was hoping to just make it past Round 1. Somehow I kept winning, and now it's the last, and most challenging round yet!

The person who I beat out last round (Greg Pincus, who is an amazing writer) got to pick out my seed word for this round. I had 36 hours to write a poem using this word.

Here is my word:

Don't ask me how to pronounce it.

First thing I did was google it. I learned it means Penniless. So I automatically thought of my poor child, who always wants to spend money. To be without a penny.... were the first words that came to me. You see, I was feeling very sorry for my poor child who always wants things (who happens to have many pennies saved, but would never admit it.) So I wrote.

See how needy he is?

My poem took me in the direction of making this not so overly dramatic child work for the money they need to buy a video game. 

I wanted to keep it child friendly, not overly long, and dramatic. If you read it aloud, be sure to do it with lots of drama in your voice.

So you can go check out this poem, and my competitors Bovine poem, at

Voting goes until 9 pm Thursday night.

Then be sure to go through and read the past poems we've written.

I was blessed with the words:


It's been a blast! I'm honored to have made it this far. We will see how I do against a farting balloon.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

"April Fool, Phyllis," An Interview with a Book.

From the LaCroix Family Home:

I'm here with Phyllis! Phyllis is the star of "April Fool, Phyllis" written by Susanna Leonard Hill and illustarted by Jeffrey Ebbeler.

When Phyllis first got here, she told me "I need to rest." So she found a pillow and took a nap. She woke up in time for a bedtime story with Billy. Then she cuddled up on her own and went to sleep.

When I asked her for an interview, she told me play first, talk later.

After she played, she made new friends.

Then, she finally agreed to an interview with Sherlock (above).

So Phyllis, tell me, what is it like to be a travelling book?

It's great! I'm going all over the world visiting different families, states and countries! It's wonderful to see how much fun a book have!

Why April Fool's Day when there are so many holidays?
Because it's my favorite. There is nothing better then a laugh. I like to have fun. And it's great that no one knows if you are telling the truth that day.

Tell me about the Scavenger Hunt in the book.
Every year we get to go on one. I love looking at clues and finding the treasure. Don't you think the treasure in this book is worth waiting for?

I do Phyllis!

So Sherlock, tell me what you liked about the book.

Wait, I thought I was the one asking questions.

Yes, yes you were. Now I am. Really, it's been a long trip, and I want to know.

Well, I loved the way everyone worked together to prank each other, and how they all ended up being the fool. And I loved the Scavenger Hunt. I have to admit, some of the clues really had me, they were good! I think all families will want to read this again and again, all months of the year.

Why thank you Sherlock.

Thank you Phyllis for visiting us!

There you have it! Don't you love how polite she is? She is now off to the East Coast for the next part of her tour!

Monday, March 19, 2012

March Madness, Poetry Competition

So I've been spending my time getting ready for a writing conference, and writing poems for March Madness. :-)  Pummeled won! Here is my poem:

Putting Away Toys
by Debbie LaCroix

Just one more toy to put away.
It will fit, all done today.

Oh no! There’s one toy more.
Squeezzzzze it in and push the door ,
Look, no more toys are on the floor.

Hello mommy, look, all clean.
The closet door? No you can’t see.
Ouch! All my toys just pummeled me!

Of course, my son Billy was my motivation. Though he has yet to live out this scenario, it is just a matter of time.

This week's word is: Forensic! I was inspired to write a mystery poem. It didn't turn out the way I was gearing, but still has a fun ending. Though Billy has yet to act out the toy poem, my husband gladly acted out the Forensic poem.

The count down is almost over until we will find out who wins. I have a great competitor, who teaches 4th grade. Her students are very supportive, so it's a little intimidating. :-)

If you want to catch the action and read Cookie Caper, visit:
Think Kid Think!
Remember, vote for the poem you like best.
While you are there, be sure to check out the other great poems and vote. All of the poets have worked hard.

Thank you for all your support! It's been a lot of fun writing poetry again. I might just have to continue.

Monday, March 12, 2012


Sorry I've been MIA. Life got crazy! I'm finally caught up, just in time to enter a Poetry Contest at Think, Kid, Think.

I don't do sports, but it's set up like March Madness. I am pitted against another poet. We are each assigned a word, and then you can come vote. Whoever wins, goes on to the next competition.

Here is my court:

I was given the word: Pummeled.

I'm currently working on my poem. I have the first draft done, will sleep on it, and come back to it tomorrow before posting.

If you like poetry, check out the other poems and vote for your favorites. There are some big names competing!

Friday, February 17, 2012

A REALLY good book, and Why it's a REALLY good book.

So I keep seeing that one of the series of books my publisher published (and I sell) keeps getting awards. Big awards! Like the Boston Globe Horn Book Award Honor. And the CCBC Choices. And the Horn Book Fanfare. And honored by The Brown Bookshelf. I know there are more.

I had read a chapter when the first Anna Hibiscus came out, and thought it was cute. But I didn't "study" it. Finally, I picked up the fourth one, "Have Fun, Anna Hibiscus," by Antinuke. And I read it. And I smiled. And I wanted to read more. And then I knew why it had won so many awards, with many more to come, I'm sure.

Voice. Antinuke has an amazing voice. Anna Hibiscus is found in this writing. You know who she is by the first page. The first sentence introduces that she is from Africa. "Anna Hibiscus lives in Africa. Amazing Africa." I have always plugged these books as a great peak into another country and another culture. Every book begins the same, and then tells us what is going to happen. "But now Anna Hibiscus is going far overseas."

All of the sentences are simple, or they read that way. She doesn't use fancy language, or extra descriptors. She makes every word count (which is advice my editor gave me).  This is great for struggling readers and comprehension. Yet the story is real.

In this book, Anna Hibiscus is going to Canada to visit her grandma who she has never met. The reader gets to experience so many first with her, and this is what makes it magical.

  • Her first time leaving her family.
  • Her first time meeting her grandma.
  • Her first time feeling cold and seeing snow.
  • Her first time eating chocolate cereal.
  • Her first time being in a new culture.
  • Her first time with a pet dog.
  • Her first time making new friends.
You get the idea. And what is so wonderful is that every child gets to experience firsts as well, and they can relate to Anna.

I smiled. I laughed aloud. I even cringed, and then applauded.

What makes this book so amazing? It's a story, told with a unique voice.  When I read that the author, Atinuke is a storyteller, I knew why it was amazing. Her training comes from natural story telling. If you have ever heard a story teller, it's amazing to listen to them. I brought in Susan Arnold two years ago to present to our school, and I could have listened to her all day. The kids were enthralled.

The story is simple, not forced. There are no aliens, no toilets, no violence, or magic. It's believable. And it's precious.  It is one that should be read aloud, and introduced into classrooms as a chance for kids to travel somewhere new.

If you are an author, I highly recommend reading this as it is a great example of something that works.

Buy Anna Hibiscus Now.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day

“What is Valentine’s Day?” asked Bear to his brother

“It has to do with red and pink, hiding from girls, and a party,” said his brother

“What is Valentine’s Day?” asked Bear to his teacher.

“A day to tell others how special they are,” said his teacher.

“What is Valentine’s Day?” asked Bear to his grandma.

“A time I can tell you how much I love you and spoil you,” said his grandma.

 “What is Valentine’s Day?” asked Bear to his mother.

“A time I can rejoice that I found love, and love gave me you.” Said his mother.

by Debbie Bernstein LaCroix

"What is Valentine's Day?" you ask me.
Valentine's Day is a purification and fertility holiday! But was later adopted as a Day of Romance, though romance always existed in some form.
For me, it represents one of my best friend's birthdays. I have memories of heart shaped pizza and parties at her house, changing records and dancing.
It represents my first date with my now-husband, back in high school. Our date happened to be at my best friend's birthday. I remember a walk in a soft snow, where the street lamps had a special glow as the light reflected off the snowflakes. I remember laughing, and talking, and hearing his voice, wanting to know everything I could about him. I remember the linger of his lips from our first kiss.
It represents the day my Bubbie became an angel. I remember the phone call at college, and the car ride from campus home. My uncle, who I rarely ever saw, drove with my cousin. They picked me up late at night, and I sat in the back cuddled to my big teddy bear of an uncle with his eye patch, remembering my Bubbie.
It represents the first predicted birth date of my oldest son. He was born on February 11, but the first estimate told us February 14.
Valentine's Day is more then just a holiday.
What is Valentine's Day to you?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Why do you write?

The other day I volunteered in my son's classroom. While there, the teacher talked about books, and asked the question:

"Why does a writer write?"

It was fun listening to the kids responses.

"Authors write to give information."
"Authors write to teach you something."
"They want to tell a story."

The teacher had one word she was looking for, but none of the kids picked it.

She held up books like "Nate the Great," "Fly Guy," and some other FUN books!

She was looking for, "Writer's write to entertain."

I write because I have a story inside I have to share. I want to share an experience, make people laugh, make them cry. But I want to bring them into this world that exists in my head.

So this leaves me with two questions:

Why do you write?
And of course, why do you read?

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Liebster Award!

Thank you to Brenda Harris for awarding me the Liebster Blog Award! Be sure to visit her blog!

This award goes to those blogs worth following who have less then 200 Followers.

As a requirement, I have to share 5 facts about me. Here goes:

  1. I'm under 5 foot tall. But more then 4 foot tall. ;-)
  2. I've got adult ADD, self diagnosed, SHINY! (But it's really helped me stay driven and accomplish a lot!)
  3. My two wonderful boys are named after very important people in my life. My oldest is named after my Zaddie and my FIL, and my youngest is named after my favorite great uncle.
  4. I was in the original Children of the Corn
  5. I love old and autographed books
Now I get to pass the award on!

  1. My first award goes to Pat Miller at, who I highly admire.
  2. Next is Diane, Patient Dreamer:
  3. Beth Stillborn has a lot to share at
  4. Frolicking Through CyberSpace is a great resource:
  5. The Write Routine is another one I enjoy:
More about the Liebster Award:

"Liebster is a German word, meaning dearest or beloved, but it can also mean favorite. The idea behind the Liebster Blog Award is that it is given to bloggers who have less than 200 followers in order to create new connections and bring attention to these wonderful blogs!"

Add the award to your blog. Thank the giver with a link back to them.
List your top 5 picks and let them know they've been given an award by leaving a comment on their blog.
Hope that your followers will spread the love to the blogs you've spotlighted.
How Selling Books Makes Me a Stronger Writer

Many of you already know that I am a consultant with Usborne Books and More. I love it. My passions are reading books, writing books, and selling books! When I can include my children into the mix, I'm in heaven. :-)  Shameless Plug:

I started selling Usborne 5 years ago because I wanted all the books. The discount was a huge incentive. Before I knew it, I was promoting to leadership and earning a trip to Alaska. At this time, I was not doing a ton of writing because of the kids. I loved that I could involve them in my business. I didn't really think it would make me a stronger writer, or lead to my first published book.

Being surrounded by books and wanting to know my product, I've read, and read and read! Many of the books are award winners, so I've been able to see what works. Reading in classrooms to kick-off book fairs let me see how kids respond to books, what they like, and what goes flat.

Even helping customers find books for their children, and especially helping children find books, has been invaluable. I get to see how they interact with the books. What makes them say "yes!" and what makes them say, "no..." I also learned that finding the perfect book is a very personal process. What one person loves, another is not so interested in. There are certain traits you see in kids that makes them want certain books. Covers are very important, as is word count. For some kids, the thicker the better. I am seeing that as a trend.

It's very interesting to see how parents often steer a child towards, or away, from a book. Very rarely do you see a parent anymore who says, "Whatever you want!" Though you do see some, and I love them. And there are times I want to strangle new moms who say, "My child is too young for books." 

And then there are the moms who say, "My child is too old for books. They don't have time to read with sports and video games."  grrrrrrrrr

I also learn what's missing in the bookfield. That has led to some great manuscripts, including the one that was published.

Usborne Books is offering a $29 Sign On Special during February. You get 8 Usborne and Kane Miller Books, plus office supplies. You can find out more here if you are interested:
Usborne Books Opportunity

I am also doing an informational call about what Usborne is, and what is involved tonight. If you are interested, let me know.

I realize not everyone wants to sell books, or has the time. If you don't, spend a day at a local bookstore watching kids shop. You will learn so much about what they want, what appeals to them, and why.

What do your kids look for in a book?

Happy Book Loving!


Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Hiding my writing

First you come up with the idea. Then you write it down. You read it, and you love it! It's perfect, you should send it out that very moment, right?

One thing I've trained myself to do is walk away after I write something. I may come back that same day and clean it up, but before I do anything else or let anyone else see it, I hide it in a drawer. Actually, it is on my computer, so I just close it and refuse to look at it for at least a month.

Then in a month, if I still like it, I begin work on it and share with my critique group. I can always tell when a story comes across our critique group that was written that day.

I find that I get so excited about things I often jump the gun. I'm not a very patient person. I want everyone to be as excited as I am at the very moment I am excited. Unfortunately, life has taught me that most people will not be as excited as I am at the same exact things that I am, and that is OK. Sometimes we have to take the time to get them excited, and when we do get them excited, it is because the time is right.

Putting my writing away helps me to be more objective. I often pull a manuscript out, read it and am so glad no one saw that but me. Other times, I pull it out, still like it and know I have something worth working on.

So what do you do when you first write a story?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

What's in a Name

Think back to the scene from "When Harry Met Sally" when Harry and Sally are in the coffee shop.
Harry Burns: With whom did you have this great sex?
Sally Albright: I'm not going to tell you that.
Harry Burns: Fine, don't tell me.
Sally Albright: Shel Gordon.
Harry Burns: Shel? Sheldon? No, no, you did not have great sex with Sheldon.
Sally Albright: I did too.
Harry Burns: No you didn't. A Sheldon can do your income taxes, if you need a root canal, Sheldon's your man... but humpin' and pumpin' is not Sheldon's strong suit. It's the name. 'Do it to me Sheldon, you're an animal Sheldon, ride me big Shel-don.' Doesn't work.

When writing a book, you get to name your character. It takes me back to the hours, days, weeks, months of agonizing over what to name my child. The name needed to represent who he would become, who I wanted him to be. It had to be something I loved, that would not haunt him for future years....  I didn't want an accountant, so Sheldon was out of the question. .

Writing a book is very similar. You need to name your characters that represent who they are. For some people, like me, this can be agony. I often call them X, Y and Z while I go through names trying to find the perfect one. Then I go back in and fill in the name to see if it works.

Things to keep in mind:

*Your age group/audience. One of my pet peeves is when I see an overly complicated name in an Easy Reader. Unfortunately, I see this more then I want to admit when I volunteer in the classroom The kids are learning to read. They are doing great, then they come across a really hard name like Esmeralda or Iyanna. Names that this eager child has most likely never heard in their entire life. They get so confused because it breaks all phonic rules. Then they spend forever trying to sound it out. I usually cheat and tell them the name. Sometimes I'm even wrong on the pronunciation. Then every time they come to that they stumble. If you are writing for young independent readers, please, I beg you to use names that kids can easily sound out. Remember, you are growing readers here, not trying to kill them with extra hard words.

Now, if you are writing young adult, and you have an ethnic character, don't call them Anne. Come up with a great original name that relates to who they are.

*The character. I will actually do reverse definition look ups to find names that fit characteristics of my characters. Do I want them strong, independent, beautiful, spoiled, fast, a leader, religious, silly.... I take all that into consideration

*Names of other characters. Have you ever read a book with Christine and Christian? Helen and Elen. Or Anne and Anya. I'm sorry, these are too close together. I get the characters mixed up. Use different first consonants (unless there is a special reason you are doing that.) I hate reading books when I can't figure out who is who. Names choices can really help (or hinder) that. Especially for those of us who like to speed read the first time through because we are too impatient to wait to find what happens.

 One of my characters is named Harry. Why? Because I wanted him named after Harry Houdini. It ties into the book, his history, and the direction of the story. (No, he is not named after Harry Potter.)

Tips for picking out names;

*Look at baby name finders. There are books you can get, or use a website.
*Make sure the name is strong for a strong character.
*Read the name aloud, look at it's definition, study it before deciding on that name
*If you are looking to get creative, make sure others can pronounce it, especially if it's a great read aloud book.
*Keep in mind your audience
*Mix up your consonants on names, unless you are doing it on purpose.
*Mix up the syllables so characters are easier to remember
*Go visit a cemetery for ideas. JK Rowlings went to a nearby graveyard for name ideas, and that's where she found Voldemort.
*Don't be afraid to play on names to create more meaning. Like naming a city that has a high murder rate, REDRUM.

What do you think about names in a book? What tips do you use when naming your characters? Are there any pet peeves you've noticed in a book?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Online Classes

I've been looking at taking an online class to help with my writing and motivation. I have a few I keep coming back to. I'm always looking for a way to improve my writing and learn more.

One that I am looking very closely at is Anastasia Suen's course. I think it is a great price point.

So I asked around. I hope they help if you are exploring this options. It looks like most people are happy with the classes they took.

Have you taken a class? Who did you take from? What did you learn? Anything you'd do differently?

Here are some comments from the 12x12x12 group:
Posted with permission.

 I've taken "Just Write for Kids," an eight-lesson online/home study course in writing picture books that covers everything from getting ideas and characterization to plot arcs and revision. I found it very valuable, and consult the lessons regularly when I'm working on any writing project.

I took the beginning and advanced courses at the Institute of Children's Literature and would highly recommend both. I also took an online course with Jordan Rosenfeld last winter and highly recommend her.

ICL course - as S has mentioned. I know several instructors and former instructors personally, too - and they are great writers. I also applied for (and am the current 2012 winner/recipient) of my state's SCBWI Mentorship (Wisconsin). The experience is absolutely fantastic thus far and I'm not even a month into it! My mentor, Lisa Moser, is a fantastic person and writer who is teaching me so much about writing and the business/industry side of things.

I also took a travel writing course through Writers Digest University online. It was ok. But really it was no more than a guided critique group. I think if you are lucky enough to find a couple people who are goal oriented and want to journey with you, you could go through a book together and get just as much out of it w/o the $$$ hhhmmmmm.....

Monday, January 23, 2012

Hiring someone to edit your book

Disclaimer: The purpose of this post is to initiate discussion. You will learn more in the comments section then from my mindless rambling, so be sure to visit the comments, and leave me your own thoughts.

So, when I'm procrastinating from writing or selling books, I love to increase my knowledge. I surf, and I surf, and I surf some more.

One thing I keep coming across is authors/editors/or misc other people who I have no clue what qualifies them except they see big $$$ opportunities, advertising that they will edit your book for you! (yes, this sentence needs editing).

NOTE: Editing has different definations. It may not include someone taking a red pen to your MS. For some, it is a process of identifying weak spots in the story and giving suggestions on how to fix it..

OK, it's tempting. I can pay someone from $300 for a picture book to $2000 for a chapter book (not including pages 100+) to look at my manuscript and fix it for me! Woohooo!

Some of these people I highly respect. They are authors I love, editors who have worked on books I love, or teachers.

Others, I wonder what credits they have to tell me what direction my story should go. They are the random website that offers you the moon.

Some services include just a read with a letter telling me how to improve it. These start at $200 or more for a picture book. A novel can cost $1000 just for a read. I have to admit I do wonder if I am I better off going to a writer's conference where I can meet an editor or agent in person, get their opinions and a critique.

So, let's say I decide this is a good idea, and I want to hire someone to edit, or consult, my book. Now what? (Read the comments to see how this has service has helped others.)

Editing to add this part:

First, what do I want to look for in a service:

Look for someone you trust, who has references, and who writes or edits what you write.  If you have never heard of the person or their website, I would pass. You want someone who has a track record. So for example, if I was offering you this service, keep searching. Sure I have experience, but I have more to learn then to share.

Look for someone who offers a fair price based on their time and what they are giving you. So what is a fair price? That is a question only you can answer. Look at their experience and who they are.

Look for someone who will be accessible after the critique, who you can ask for clarification without having to spend more money.

Personally, if I was looking for this service, I'd go with someone who teaches a class and offers an edit as part of the class.

What are the pros:

*My story is edited, if I pay the big bucks! Someone professional (I hope) has gone through and done all the editing. (Though I've been told this is false. A good editor won't do it for you, see comments for feedback from those who have hired an editor. It is much more useful then my blog).

*I have a new direction to work towards. Then what? Do I ask them to look at it again or go with my gut?

*If I get a full edit, I don't have to anguish about my writing, or that twist that isn't working out the way I wanted.  I just have to follow their notes to a "T" and I'm good.

*If I had a good editor, I will be able to use the techniques in future books and have learned how to edit my own book.

Now the cons, or my personal concerns:

*What if I get an editor who doesn't mesh with my vision or get my story?

* If there weren't a lot of changes, I just threw the money out the window. If there are, is that really my concept? (I had a paid critique take my story in a whole different direction, which wasn't where I wanted to go.)  The story needs to be mine.

*What happens if you send it out and it's still rejected? Do you go back to that editor? Pay someone else?

*The growth a story and author take together gives the story more magic then letting someone else do it. (Editing to add based on comments that some editors will teach you this process, so make sure you do your research).

*What if it's bought as a series? Are you going to constantly pay someone to help you write/edit your books?

*If it is bought, there goes a lot of your profits. Really, there is not a lot of money in publishing. If it's not bought, there goes a lot of money.

*How many times will you need this person to edit your stories? Are you becoming dependent on them to get a good book out?

That said, one thing to consider is would you be better putting that money into a writing class, or to go to a writer's conference?

As I thought about this great looking shortcut, I thought about the old adage:

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime

My version:
Give a writer an edit, and you can get him out of the slush pile. Teach a writer to edit and you can open up a world of opportunity to him.

That said, I would totally pay to attend an editing online course with a writer or editor I respect.

What do you think? Have you ever used one of these services? How did it help you? Would you do it again? Was your book published? What would you do differently? Is your editor teaching you or doing it for you? How did you pick them?

The best thing my editor did for me, the one who paid me for my MS, was send it back saying: "Change this."  That was all. I could discuss it with her, but she wanted it to be mine. She knew it didn't work. She may have had a problem with the rhyme, or thought it was redundant, or didn't like my personification of certain objects, but she never told me how to change it. Just to do it. I really thank her for helping me learn the editing process. It made me a stronger writer.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

I'm back!

(Sorry for the long break).

LOL, I was thinking that I needed to get over here and post. But I got out of my habit, until I had a comment saying, "hey, I checked twice and there are no updates". ---paraphrased

 I'm great at preaching, sometimes I need a kick in the pants though.

I went from warm weather to cold and it was slightly demotivating. Then I had a wonderful migraine, nothing like a headache to make you want to not stare at a computer screen. But I did dream up a very fun picture book series idea!

So I ended up behind on everything. I had to catch up on my critiques I owed my groups, plus get my own writing done.
I find though, that once I get lazy, it's hard to get myself retrained.

So, what do you do when you need a Kick In The Pants to get you writing again?

I'm looking forward to my husband starting his job next week. Not having him home will be great for me. I get so much more done when it's just me.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Check back next week. :-D

I am getting ready to go to Usborne Books and More Advanced Leadership Retreat in Orlando. I'm not sure if I will have time to update, so please check back next week.

In the meantime, take this time to come up with a great story idea inspired by a random Google Search!

Have fun,


Sunday, January 8, 2012

Critique Groups

As I was reading SCBWI's blog, I came across this wonderful little video:

You have to watch it! It's awesome!

When I first started out, I didn't want to share my writing with anyone. The only people who saw my work was:

  • My husband
  • My mom
  • My dad (the video really hits home for me because my dad is the sleeper)
  • My dog
I used their judgements to decide if it was good, and I will tell you, I was an awesome writer, hardly had any mistakes, and should have had every manuscript published. My dog always gave me kisses to let me how great it was.

As I began to become a more serious writer, I realized I needed other people to look over my work. I looked, and looked and looked and found myself not one critique group, but three. (Can you say overachiever?)

One is a chapter book, and two are picture book groups.

With the picture books groups, I love being able to make changes, and switch it between groups. So it's worked out well.

I met my partners through SCBWI's message boards, and we created our own because no one was looking to add another member. So we have all been together since the start.

I've learned more in my critique groups from working on the other writer's manuscripts then my own received edits. In my partners' work, I see my own mistakes pop out like a red thumb and see how they do look. I'm able to look at them objectively and see things I like, or learn how to tighten my writing. I've really learned a lot about how weak verbs and nouns can really dull a story.

If you are not part of a critique group and are a serious writer, find one. Mine are all online.

Are you in a critique group? What have you learned from it?

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Why I bookmark your blog, or why I forget about it. :-D

So, I read a post similar to this (wishing I had bookmarked it) where a wise blogger made some comments on how the look and feel, plus ease of use of your blog, is important. I went and made a few changes to mine, like making sure you could learn more about me and adding a picture.

Being part of this blog challenge, I'm clicking on a lot of blogs. Some I read with excitment and bookmark for future reading. Some I read, and leave feeling confused, and some I see and click off right away.

The ones I comment on, are the ones I read all the way through that give me the opportunity to express an opion or viewpoint, or even to say "Aha! You are spot on." Some I really try to comment on, but am wordless about what to say (which is hard for a writer to be wordless!)

Blogs I like:
  • Colorful.
  • Updated within the last few days, daily is better! (Unless there is a note that says, we update every Wed).
  • Mix-up of content. I do understand that blogs like to dedicate themselves to specific purposes. But I like some mix-up. The same thing everyday doesn't really give me much reason to come back. Reviews need to be different, and stand out. I want it to be something I don't see everyday. I LOVE interviews, because no two interviews are the same (just be sure to mix up your questions).
  • Aha moments. I love to learn from my blog reading. Give me something that makes me say "Dude, I can do that." Or "Wow, I never thought about it that way, right on!"
  • Inspiration. I love stories that make me want to pick up a pen and write. Or call someone to say "I love you." Or make me want to go and do something, like donate books to a great cause. Inspire me!
  • Contests!
  • Discussion.

Blogs I read, but don't comment on:
  • Not updated in the last 2 weeks. I may read, but I usually feel my comment is old by then. Plus, I won't come back unless something totally intrigued me. I'll usually give you 3 visits to update, then I erase from my bookmarks (if that old post inspired me to bookmark it).
  • Random pictures with no text. I like pictures, but if there is a picture, with no dialogue, I feel like I'm invading.  Tell me why you are posting this picture. Give me some insight!
  • Short entries with really nothing to say. It's hard to respond back.
  • Hard to find comment boxes. Some blogs make it hard to figure out how to comment, and I don't have the time (or the patience) to figure it out.

Blogs I click away from:

  • Grey background with white text. I can't read these. There is something dull about it.
  • Not updated in the last week, 2 weeks if the post intrigues me
  • Boring text. If I can't get through your first paragraph without yawning, I'm gone. Keep it lively!
  • If you post on Facebook, give me a synopsis of the daily blog or I won't even visit.
  • Too much going on. If it's too much work to find your blog, I'm gone.
  • Over abundance of ads. They are so distracting. Really, how much money do you make from these? Is it worth it?
What do you think? Do you agree with my list or disagree? What am I missing?

I am posting this not to be mean if you fit into one of the blogs I click away from, but as a hopeful "Aha!" moment, in the same way the other post encouraged me to make a few changes. :-)

    Thursday, January 5, 2012

    Comment Challenge!

    I am pleased to announce I am joining the Comment Challenge!

    I love reading other's blogs, and it's a great opportunity for me to get to know some knew people, and hopefully I can share some new thoughts and ideas with you.

    Today I volunteered at my son's school. I found myself talking to students interested in art about my book, and what goes into illustrating a book.

    I said, "I'm an author, I can't draw, but I paint pictures with words."

    I'm going to challenge myself to do some painting while I blog the next few weeks.

    Today's picture:

    Where normally the ground is covered in glistening white, it is replaced with a matted brown carpet. The sun beats down, warming the ground. Step outside. The smell of fresh air, lingering leaves and dirt invites you to begin the walk. The walk, that on any normal January day in South Dakota, would involve bulky snow pants, the heaviest snow jacket you own, itchy wool gloves, a warm fuzzy hat, and your favorite scarf. Enjoy the sunshine.

    Wednesday, January 4, 2012

    What I learned from the Iowa Caucus (as a writer)

    The Iowa Caucus was gripping, just like a football game the score kept changing. In the end, the winner declared victory with only 8 votes.

    During the weeks before, both Santorum (Though I want to call him Santarini for some reason) and Bachmann (who I want to call the I-Girl), campaigned in a similar fashion.

    "I am the only candidate to visit all 99 counties," she boasted, over and over, and over and over, and over, and over, and over and over again.... She wanted to get herself out there, and meet the people.

    Santorum visited all the counties as well, shaking hands and kissing babies.

    Both candidates did the exact same thing! One worked, and one didn't. Why?

    Well, we could go into character flaws, but the cockiness of Bachmann, the refusal to check her facts, lack of organization, and the use of the word "I" had to have contributed to her quick and easy demise.

    As writers, we can learn from her mistakes:

    • Cockiness: When we get cocky in our writing, and refuse to stand back and look at the full picture, we submit pretty bad manuscripts (that we think are great). It is important to take feedback, listen, and remove yourself from your writing to you can see what is wrong with your story.

    • Not checking facts: If you are writing non-fiction, this is ESSENTIAL. But even for us fiction writers, we can't go around rewriting history, saying that male bees go around collecting honey when it's actually the worker bees (female) who do all the work, or putting mis-information in our story. Facts need to line up. (I can't stand it when I'm watching a cartoon and they give a bug a characteristic they don't have.... grrrrrr.)

        Side note: Thank you to my critique group for keeping my manuscript in check! I have an animal character I sometimes have doing something that animal couldn't or wouldn't do. So if you use a character, study them! Great lesson learned for me. (And yes, I did make changes.)

    • Organization: When writing, it is important to be organized, both in your story and submitting. You can't jump all over, need to keep track of where you are submitting it, and should have some sort of system for keeping your writing together. This is one area I struggle with.

    • And the use of the word "I". OK, overuse of the word "I." This can be in a cover letter, or in a story. I am a great writer. I have years of experience. I went to college and majored in Journalism, so you know I've studied how to write. I have 2 kids, 2 cats, a dog, and a husband. When I am not writing, I love to read, and veg out on my computer. Currently I am addicted to Peggle. I am not doing as well with it as I would like, but I know that someday I will be a Peggle Champion. If you publish my book, I will make sure that I stop playing Peggle and go do a book signing.
    And that's all I have got to say about that. :-)


    Tuesday, January 3, 2012

    Creating good habits

    So part of my getting back into the writing game is creating good habits. That means:

    Writing Everyday

    It takes 30 days (so I'm told) to create a habit. That means I need to write everyday!

    So let's define what is included in writing everyday:

    • Blogging is a good way for me to get my thoughts out, plus it starts the day warming up my mind. For me, blogging is like Coffee. It is a pick me up.
    • Working on my manuscripts. I have many in all different stages. My goal for 2012 is to polish them up, send them out, and really work on writing as a career. If I don't do this, I will never reach my goals.
    • Facebooking and Twitter: These are great ways to work on getting thoughts in in a few words. Challenge yourself to share a coherent story in as few words as possible. It's something I enjoy doing (OK, I'm a FB addict). Plus it's a great way to procrastinate.
    What do you do to write everyday? The more creative the better!


    Sunday, January 1, 2012


    I can't believe it's 2012!  There is something about a new year that gives you a clean slate.

    Let's take a look at what was accomplished in 2011!

    *First book came out, and many book signings and school visits!
    *Earned a free trip to Canada with Usborne Books
    *Moved 3 times! (not by choice) while being part of the strangest flood in history
    *Survived a car accident, and got a new Mini Van
    *Repainted my house, cleaned it out, and redid the basement (even if not by choice)
    *Diagnosed my oldest with Aspergers, and am working to help him integrate into everyday life
    *Visited Disney World
    *My husband graduated Nursing School and got a job, to begin this year!
    *Have many manuscripts that need to be polished, but have great potential!
    *Joined 3 critique groups! And managed to keep up (mostly)
    *Finished my first chapter book
    *Began attending SCBWI workshops and meeting new authors and making new friends
    *Completed the PiBoIdMo Challenge
    *Donated at least 10 car loads of items to Jr. League thrift shop
    *Threw out a few roll-offs full of garbage and moldy memories. :-(
    *Organized a Writer's Camp at our school
    *Found my old journals from high school
    *Visited London and Edinburgh
    *Won many top sales awards at convention for personal and team sales

    It was a busy year! I look forward to what 2012 has to bring. Hopefully it won't involve water.