This is a survey of published authors that I did on here (mumbles) over a year ago. But now I finally have a beautiful infographic to share on how to write a manuscript that succeeds.
The key takeaway, I think, is that so many of you have written more than ten manuscripts on your journeys, and how many of you enlisted outside help in the form of writing groups, critiques, beta readers, and editors.
What I’m seeing here? A lot of encouragement and perseverance. While it’s true that approximately 20% ended up landing an agent or publishing their first manuscripts, between 38 and 43% of writers ended up breaking through on their 5th through 9th manuscript, or even their tenth+ manuscript! That’s the majority of responders to the survey.
These writers have also taken the time to leave some very important words of wisdom to those of you who are still struggling with how to write a manuscript that succeeds.
Please take this to heart: you may publish your current WIP, or you may not. But a large determining factor of success is perseverance and self-education. That’s why you’re already ahead of the curve! You’re sitting here, learning about the writing craft, and adding tools to your toolbox.
Now all you need to do is keep going. Trust that one day you will crack the code of how to write a manuscript that succeeds, like the published authors who responded to the survey did.
It’s such a pleasure for me to be able to post this on November 30th, which has been a significant day for our family. (It was on November 30th, three years ago, that our daughter, Nora Pepper, was born, only to pass away sixteen days later from a very rare disorder.)
This year, we have something—or someone—new to celebrate: Eleanor “Ella” Davis was born on Halloween, 2020! Happily, she is thriving, and we couldn’t be more excited to welcome her to the world.
“Eleanor” is a subtle nod to Nora, and “Davis” honors my stepfather, who suffered a debilitating stroke on November 1st, 2019. Even though she’s her own wonderful little lady, Ella has some fantastic guardian angels watching over her.
Ella joins older brothers Theo (4.5) and Finn (21 months). They are tolerating her so far. Ha!
My husband, Todd, and I, are so happy to be done building our family. Ella is the perfect ending to a long and somewhat tumultuous story. Or, rather, the beginning to our journey as a family of five.
2020 has been an incredibly long haul for so many people, and for so many reasons. But our 2020 has ended on a high note, and we find ourselves incredibly grateful for the support of our friends, family, my amazing team at Good Story Company, and all of you Kidlit readers out there who have followed my personal story over the last few years.
The topic of writer marketing is an incredibly tough but very juicy one. For this post, I’m doing a call out: Writers and authors who are marketing their work, what has worked for you? I want “boots on the ground” experience from you writers out there about your own marketing efforts.
Looking for Writer Marketing Successes (Or Not)
What has worked for you? Email newsletters? Lead magnets? Bookmarks? Leave some examples of your personal marketing successes—and things you wouldn’t do again—in the comments, or take the survey, below
I’m looking for real life experiences as fodder for future posts on this very important topic. If you’d rather email me, you can reach out to:
I had the incredible pleasure of interviewing Wendelin Van Draanen for the Good Story Podcast. Her episode debuted today and I’d love for you to have a listen! It features all kinds of advice on writing and life.
As part of the interview, I’m giving away my copy of Wendelin’s latest, Hope in the Mail, published in January 2020.
To win your copy, all you have to do is share this episode of the Good Story Podcast somewhere on your social media, and supply the URL for your share. (All Facebook posts, Tweets, and Instagram posts, for example, have individual post addresses that you can copy and paste into the form below.)
Feel free to use this graphic if you want to blog or post about this episode:
To facilitate the giveaway process, I’m linking you to a Google Form to collect your entry, including your mailing address, since this is an ARC giveaway. Once you’re ready, you can fill it out, below. Entries are due December 4th, 2020 at 11:59 p.m., CST!
Today, I want to talk about character thoughts, or more specifically, Characterizing Thoughts. What are those, you ask? Well, there are eight types that I’d love to dive into.
Character Thoughts vs. Characterizing Thoughts
Character thoughts can be anything your character thinks (and central to my idea of interiority), but Characterizing Thoughts? Those are thoughts that tell us something that contributes to the reader’s understanding of character.
In fact, I posit that there are Eight Core Types of Characterizing Thoughts!
Thoughts that convey: Who the character is
These are things like, “I don’t like to lose,” “If there’s another fight brewing, I’m calling it quits”
Thoughts that convey: Character change
These are things like, “I can’t do this much longer,” “It’s time to let go, I think”
Thoughts that convey: What the character cares about
These are things like, “I’ve never had a home before and I think I like it,” “When you look me in the eyes, I feel seen”
Thoughts that convey: What the character wants (objectives)
These are things like, “I’m going to get that scholarship or die trying,” “There’s only one girl taking Tyler to prom”
Thoughts that convey: Why XYZ matters to character (motivations)
These are things like, “This dog has treated me better than any of you, so he’s coming with me,” “Winning this isn’t just a victory for the team, it’s a victory for anyone who’s ever heard ‘no’”
Thoughts that convey: Context and story based information
These are things like, “I’ve been sitting here for three weeks, looking for a text that isn’t coming,” “If Gemma doesn’t come home from work soon—and goodness knows she probably won’t—I’m in the clear”
Thoughts that convey: Stakes and tension
These are things like, “I hear him coming up the stairs and I can’t keep this sneeze back any longer,” “Without Christian, I am nothing”
Thoughts that convey: Voice
a. These are things like, “It’s beautiful day in this lousy neighborhood,” “You complete my soul, you gorgeous creature”
Why Are These Types of Character Thoughts So Important?
Because we can’t know this type of stuff about a character without being told. Like, if a character is walking around, ready to draw the line in a relationship with another character, that idea will probably start percolating in their thought process, and then they may give their enemy character an ultimatum in dialogue. But without this thought process first building up in interiority, the eventual confrontation won’t be nearly as powerful.
Same goes for tears. If you only show a character crying, without diving into the thoughts behind the tears, then readers won’t feel the emotion of the moment. Readers don’t cry just because a character is shown crying. Instead, readers I want the thought that touches off the tears—the insight or realization that pushes your character over the edge. That is what readers are going to be connecting to more than just the visual of the character crying.
But let’s take this a step further.
Layering Characterizing Thoughts
The examples I gave earlier, about the eight types of Characterizing Thoughts, were somewhat basic, to help illustrate each kind of thought a character could have and what they convey.
But the truth is, as human beings. we’re more complex than that. Our thoughts are multi-faceted and layered. So must your character’s thoughts be too.
That’s when we can start combining types of thoughts together:
For example: Take a look at this thought a character could have:
“Without Christian, I am nothing.”
This thought combines “What the character wants” with a sense of “stakes.” The character wants Christian and the character believes they will amount to nothing if they don’t get together with Christian.
Another example is:
“I’ve been sitting here for three weeks, looking for a text that isn’t coming.”
Lots to unpack here. We get a sense of what the character wants, again, which is a text from the object of their affection, their lost friend, or whoever isn’t texting. We get some context—it has been three weeks—a sense of the character and their worldview, in that they pessimistically believe the text won’t come, rather than optimistically hoping it will, and finally, even a sense of change, I’d argue. The next sentence may well be something like, “I can’t wait anymore” or similar. It implies that three weeks has been enough and now … the character will do something different.
A lot of similar layers in “If there’s another fight brewing, I’m calling it quits.” This character declares who they are—a pacifist averse to fighting. They are probably at the end of their rope in a turbulent relationship. We also get stakes (one more fight equals quits), and also context: there has been a lot of fighting, and one more will break the proverbial camel’s back.
Even though I’ve nested all of these examples under one primary category, I hope you can see that they are rich with additional information for our reader-detectives to discover!
Digging Even Deeper With Character Thoughts
Another way to make a character’s thoughts more complex is to work in tension or conditional language into many of them. For example, if X, then Y. The action and the consequence. “If there’s another fight brewing, I’m calling it quits.” Well, when this character’s partner comes into the scene looking to pick a fight, readers will be primed to see what happens next. Will the character keep their word or will they cave?
The more layered and nuanced a thought is, the more you’re giving your reader to do and sink their teeth into. And layering multiple kinds of thoughts together, to reveal something new about your character is an excellent way to keep your reader engaged and an active part of the story.
And if you’re wondering how to properly format a character’s thoughts on the page, check out this article on formatting interiority.
This idea of character and digging deeply into this nuanced topic is at the cornerstone of what I teach as a developmental editor. Let me bring this level of nuance to your project personally.
To celebrate the release of DIMENSION WHY: HOW TO SAVE THE UNIVERSE WITHOUT REALLY TRYING and my podcast interview with John Cusick, author and literary agent at Folio Jr. (and dear friend), I’m giving away a finished copy of his latest middle grade, DIMENSION WHY (September 2020, Harper)!
Listen to our podcast interview here:
And fill out the form below to enter the giveaway by the deadline: November 6th, 2020!
After a lot of work and time and the wonderful contributions of many real writers, just like you, I’m thrilled to introduce my ebook, Successful Query Letters: Query Letters That Worked. Check out the cover. Ain’t she a beaut?
Forty-Three Real Query Letters From Real Writers
One drawback of being a querying writer is that you don’t have access to a slush pile, so you don’t know what everyone else is doing. Critique partners share manuscripts, but maybe not queries. It’s tough to get your hands on real query letters from real writers.
Well, I had my own slush pile for five years as a literary agent, and I have reviewed hundreds of thousands of queries over the last decade-plus. Not only have I collected forty-three query letters from real writers (some of which have gone on to gain representation and even book deals!), but there are queries in every category, and I dissect each one with margin notes and overview feedback.
My goal with this ebook was to make it as comprehensive as possible, with as many examples as possible, to be the ultimate query letter resource and learning tool.
Get Your Copy Today
This ebook is only available from the Good Story Company store as a digital PDF download. It will be delivered to your email inbox as soon as you check out for your reading and learning pleasure!
The idea of author platform is vitally important to all writers, but today’s question is about how it relates to writing nonfiction for children. Here is Dena’s question:
I know for NF you need a strong platform, but what if you’re not a teacher? What sort of platform do you need for NF in the MG and younger age range?
Platform and Nonfiction for Children
When we sit down to write fiction, “write what you know” is often enough to get us started. We’re making it all up, anyway! Well, not so in nonfiction for children. There, the idea of qualifications—including our author platform, professional identity, areas of study, etc.—comes into play. The question becomes:
Who are we that we can (and should) write this particular story?
After all, if I’m a parent looking to buy a book on bugs to supplement my child’s learning, do I want a book written by Carl, an enthusiastic but amateur bug fan, or Peggy, a trained entomologist (bug expert) working in the field? I think we can all agree that the latter would seem most qualified. (To be clear, not everyone who writes nonfiction needs to be a PhD level expert in their field. But qualifications like “teacher” or “scientist” don’t hurt when you are writing about relevant topics.)
Does that mean Carl’s story lacks value—educational, artistic, or otherwise? Is Peggy’s book better simply because of her experience? Not necessarily! Carl could have an amazing piece of nonfiction for children on his hands. But now Carl does have to overcome some bias in the marketplace, because he may not be seen as the most credible or desirable source.
In other words, Carl does not have the best platform for writing in his particular nonfiction area. Is this a dealbreaker?
Getting Around Platform
There are ways for Carl to build his case—and his platform—that will allow him to pitch his nonfiction for children and attempt to have his project considered seriously. (Explore the topic of author platform for fiction writers.)
First, Carl can do comprehensive research and include a bibliography and author note at the end of his nonfiction manuscript, which shows how he arrived at his data. When we write nonfiction for children, we aren’t discussing the topics at the graduate level. Writers are generally painting in broader strokes and avoiding too much jargon. So it’s easier to research a topic intended for a children’s audience than, say, a thesis dissertation defense.
That being said, the quality of your research counts here, especially if you are trying to compensate for a lack of credentials. Publishing credits, even if they’re not in your current interest area, also establish credibility and can offset your lack of platform.
A great way to build your platform would be to ask a consulting expert to contribute—and transfer some of their credibility to your project. In your pitch, it would look compelling to say that you’ve reviewed your nonfiction for children about dealing with feelings with a child psychologist or school counselor, for example.
Bolstering Your Nonfiction for Children Platform
In addition to the strategies listed above, you should also think about building your platform as you get into the submission process. In an add-on to my WriterType Marketing Roadmap resource (called Repurpose Your Content!), I divulge ways to spin any content you create or research you do.
Why not try to publish a nonfiction article on the same topic in a children’s publication or newsletter? You’ll now have a writing clip in your new field to add to your platform. The research has already been done. It’s literally a free opportunity to build your author platform.
In a similar vein, find an expert in the field and interview them for your blog, newsletter, or podcast. They may even sign on to consult on your manuscript. Now you have some social media content for your platform, a valuable connection, and another inroad with your topic.
Think creatively if you don’t have a nonfiction for children resume already in place. You may have to work harder, but victory will be that much sweeter!
For in-depth personalized advice on your children’s nonfiction, hire me as your picture book editor.
Title formatting is a pretty straightforward question, but one that many writers are confused about. Carolyn recently wrote in to ask the following question:
When writing the titles of book for comps (as well as your own title), should they be underlined? Or written in all caps?
Title Formatting is Different From Manuscript Title Formatting
Clear as mud, right? The “sometimes” really isn’t in there to be difficult. However, the first thing I want to mention is that everyone approaches title formatting differently, as you will see.
Generally, with published works and publication names (including magazines and newspapers), I recommend italics with standard title capitalization. Here’s a handy widget that will help you know which words to capitalize, as title case capitalization can be confusing.
If you are referencing a published work or publication, be sure to use the same capitalization as the publisher of the work or the publication use. If you are referencing a published article or essay, use quotation marks instead of italics, and refer to how the article or essay is capitalized where it was originally published. Easy!
Where things get muddy is that you have written a manuscript, not necessarily a published one yet—which is why you’re submitting in the first place. So does it get treated the same in title formatting as a published work?
That depends on the writer.
Manuscript Title Formatting
I have seem all kinds of title formatting choices for manuscripts. Some writers use italics, though the work is not yet published. Some writers use quotation marks. Some writers use all caps.
Purely anecdotally, and form my experience referring to manuscripts within the industry, I prefer all caps for unpublished manuscripts, and the above formatting conventions for published works.
Yes, this means that your query letter may have one formatting (italics) for the comp titles you’re citing, and one formatting (caps) for your manuscript title.
This may look like torture to you, but you would be operating very much in the realm of normal for the industry. This would be my personal choice and recommendation. (You can find more thoughts on email query letter formatting here.)
Consistency is Key in Title Formatting
But we are all unique snowflakes and some other writers or professionals may disagree. Variety is the spice of life! I would, however, counsel you to avoid too much variety … within your query letter and manuscript.
All that is to say, whichever choice you make, stick with it consistently. Don’t refer to your manuscript title in all caps, then use quotation marks later in the letter or manuscript. You could risk a sloppy-looking submission, and nobody wants that.
Does your query letter or submission package put your best foot forward? Hire me for a query letter edit and find out your unique strengths and opportunities for growth.
How to hit the right emotional note to attract a reader—or melodramatic vs dramatic—is a key consideration of writing relatable fiction. It’s a juicy question! We want our readers to know that something BIG is happening, but we don’t want to lose them with purple prose. How can we pull this off? Read on!
Melodramatic vs Dramatic, A Definition
It’s important to think about toning down the high emotional description, especially during really emotional events. That’s when you want to rein it in, which seems counterintuitive, I know, but when the situation is screaming and the character is screaming, and the tone of the writing is screaming, that’s overwhelming and can stop feeling authentic.
In the fight of melodramatic vs dramatic writing, I define them this way:
Melodramatic: Inauthentic high emotion that has the potential to distance the reader, including use of histrionics, purple prose, and ?!?!?!?!?!?!??!?!? Facebook punctuation.
Dramatic: Appropriate language and character expression that capture the tension and emotion of a high-impact moment which let readers know that emotion is called for, without going over the top.
Obviously, the melodramatic vs dramatic definitions above are heavily biased, but when we write for kids, I really want to stand up for authenticity first. That’s what will come across as true and vulnerable to your readers. Let’s see it in action. For example, imagine that a kid learns that their parents are getting new jobs and moving across the country.
Sure, if your character has a melodramatic flair, you may have a BIG reaction. After all, this is a big moment and directing reader attention to big moments is important.
However, if your character is always acting like someone died, you are at risk of purple prose. You are also blunting readers to what’s important and potentially abusing the Law of Diminishing Returns.
Here’s an example of melodramatic writing:
Katie fumed at the top of the stairs, having overheard the monstrous, devilish, life-shattering news. They were moving?!??!?!?! How could her parents do this? It felt like her soul had been rent from her body and dashed against the cliffs of despair. She could die. Maybe she had? Maybe this was hell itself? One thing was clear: life as she knew it was utterly and completely over.
Now, let’s consider how to take this dramatic situation and give it a bit more finesse. After all, we want to make sure it lands as serious in Katie’s world, but maybe without quite so much flailing and rending and dashing. For example:
Katie froze at the top of the stairs, her hand gripping the banister. But Rochester was hundreds of miles away—from her school, her friends, the only house she’d ever know. If she left behind all of the things she considered hers, that had gone into the last thirteen years of her life, who would she be, even? Would she still be Katie Higgins in Rochester? Or someone else, new and strange? The familiar design of the wallpaper swam in front of her eyes. Soon this would be someone else’s house. And soon she’d have to answer all of these strange new questions for herself.
What’s interesting is that I took a very subdued approach here. Yes, there are BIG questions and ideas, but the thoughtfulness helps to bring a lot of the main issues to light. She stops to consider the ramifications of this—or the stakes. That, to me, establishes the impact more than purple prose ever could. It gives me a portrait of a character thrown into a real identity crisis. It wins the melodramatic vs dramatic face-off because it considers the practical effects of this news. That carries a lot of weight that, to me, is truly heavy and dramatic, rather than being excessively bloated and melodramatic. It captures the stakes, not the freak-out.
Struggling with tone and description? Hire me as your novel editor and we will find your unique writing voice together.