Sunday, June 17, 2018

Strengthening Writing with Power Verbs: Letters A-G




         As writers, we want our readers to be drawn into and enveloped by our short story or novel, by anything we write. Boredom loses their attention quickly. Showing, using active voice, creates reading excitement. To avoid passive voice and to have active voice, writers use power verbs. To know some power verbs, I discovered a list, author unknown, and added to it. Now, I will share the list I have to date, from A through G this article.

         Let's begin with some verbs beginning with the letter A:
• Advance
• Advise
• Alter
• Amend
• Amplify
• Attack
An example of using such verbs includes using advise rather than tell, when the verb advise fits: Mary told John not to skip school; Mary advised John not to skip school.

         Next, we will look at a few starting with B:
• Balloon
• Bash
• Batter
• Beam
• Beef
• Blab
• Blast
• Bolt
• Boost
• Brief
• Burst
• Bus
• Bust
Again an example, the mortgage interest increased; the mortgage interest ballooned.

         Some verbs start with the letter C:
• Capture
• Catch
• Charge
• Chap
• Chip
• Clasp
• Climb
• Clutch
• Collide
• Command
• Crackle
• Crash
• Crush
Writers often over use take or took. When possible, we can use more powerful verbs: Mary used her camera to take a photo of the scene; Mary used her camera to capture the scene. Not only is "take" avoided, but the sentence become tighter, more concise.

         Next, we add a few verbs that begin with D:
• Dash
• Demolish
• Depart
• Deposit
• Detect
• Deviate
• Devour
• Direct
• Discern
• Discover
• Drain
• Drip
• Drop
How often do we have someone run? Perhaps we can have a person dash across the street rather than run.

         Now comes some verbs commencing with the letter E:
• Eavesdrop
• Engulf
• Enlarge
• Ensnare
• Erase
• Escort
• Expand
• Explode
• Explore
• Expose
• Extend
• Extract
• Eyeball
He led her through the maze; he escorted her through the maze.

         Shall we explore some power verbs with F?
• Fish
• Frown
• Function
• Frustrate
• Fancy
John dislikes the color brown. John frowns on the use of brown.

         One more list of verbs for this time, power verbs beginning with the letter G:
• Gaze
• Glare
• Glisten
• Glitter
• Gobble
• Govern
• Grasp
• Grip
• Groan
• Growl
• Guide
Mary looked at the valley below. Mary gazed at the valley below.

         I keep the full list handy when I write because the thesaurus found with MS Word often doesn't have the best list of synonyms, and it doesn't have any suggestions if I can't express what I need in one word. I will add power verbs from the next seven or eight more letters in a month.


 

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

How to Work When the Kids Are Home Too





School is winding down around here, so that means the kids will soon be home for two months. For a writer, that can bring with it challenges. During the school year, the kids are gone for six or more hours a day. Summer comes and suddenly your time is no longer your own. You want to spend time together. They want you to drive them places. How can the work-from-home parent manage it all?

Working from home, while the kids are there too, doesn’t have to mean burning the midnight oil just to keep up with your to-do list. Here are a few ways you can remain productive, keep the kids occupied, and still leave room for family time.

Adjust Your Schedule

I'm a firm believer that productivity is tied to finding a work schedule that is best for you. With the kids home, however, that schedule might not be practical.

Consider getting up a bit earlier than usual. While this might not be easy all year long, it is a temporary solution that can help you accomplish your weekly goals. Make sure you continue to take advantage of time spent in waiting rooms or at your child's practice (for us it's soccer) to get additional work done.

Take More Frequent Breaks

While it might seem counterproductive to take more breaks during the day, you’ll get more done if you don’t have to listen to, “I’m bored!” every five minutes.

Set a timer. When it goes off, put your work down and spend time with the kids. Read, have a picnic lunch in the backyard, or play a game together.

Easy Arts and Crafts

Nowadays, there are so many arts and crafts kits available, and ideas on blogs or Pinterest, that there is bound to be something your children will like.

A good way to transition from family time back to work time is to have arts and crafts set out for the kids. When you’re done playing, let them choose what they want to create. Read the instructions together and then let them know you need to work until the timer rings again. Make sure to have other simple activities such as molding clay, paints or coloring books and crayons available in case they get bored with what they are working on.

If they distract you, remind them that you can’t be interrupted until the timer goes off. As long as you consistently get up and spend time with them when promised, the kids will learn to respect your work schedule.

Mommy’s or Daddy's Little Helpers

Young children love to help out. Take advantage of this by allowing them to dust or sweep the floor. Will it be perfect? No. But it will be good enough. Older children can do the laundry, wash dishes, empty the trash or clean the living areas so that you can spend more time together later.

Play Dates

I wasn't always a huge fan of play dates. Spending time dropping off the kids and then driving home, not to mention wasting time talking with another parent during drop off and pick up, seemed counterproductive. But even one hour of uninterrupted time can make a difference in how much you accomplish.

Schedule regular play dates throughout the summer. This will keep kids in touch with their friends, and parents who take turns hosting play dates at their houses get some much needed relief. Day camps can also be a chance for your children to interact with their peers while allowing you the freedom to work without guilt.

Summer is a fun time for families. It can also be a productive season for you. With a few simple changes, you can work at home even when the kids are there too.

Cheryl C. Malandrinos is a freelance writer and editor. She is the author of Little Shepherd, A Christmas Kindness, Macaroni and Cheese for Thanksgiving and the recently released, Amos Faces His Bully. A blogger and book reviewer, she lives in Massachusetts with her husband and two daughters. She also has a son who is married. Visit Cheryl online at http://ccmalandrinos.com and her children’s book blog at https://childrensandteensbookconnection.wordpress.com

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Ingredients for the Perfect Picture Book

Writing for young children can be tricky. It’s not as straight forward as writing for adults. You can’t use your own vocabulary and you need to be careful of age appropriate storylines. You also need to introduce your main character immediately.

It’s also important to keep in mind that children don’t have the same comprehension level as an adult, so all aspects of the story need to be clear and geared toward the age group you’re writing for.

So, what exactly does a children’s writer need to include in a picture book?

Let’s go over the basic ingredients of picture books:

1. The story should include: a surface level, an underlying meaning level, and a take-away level. This means young children should be engaged by it; older children should get a little deeper meaning or realization from it; and parents or the reader should be able to see the take-away value.

2. The story should be written with a 50/50 formula. Be sure to allow for 15 or 16 illustrations (a picture book usually has 32 pages). And, allow the illustrator to tell part of the story. Picture books are a partnership between the author and illustrator. For example: Instead of telling the reader that John grabbed his favorite blue shirt with red and yellow footballs on it, just write that John grabbed his favorite shirt. Your illustrator will know how to show the scene.

3. Children love action and need to be engaged so be sure to include action. As children are used to TV, videos, and movies, writers need to account for their waning attention spans.

4. Show rather than tell. The ‘powers that be’ in the children’s publishing world frown upon telling a story.

5. The story should have a flow or rhythm and structure to it.

6. The story should have predictability. This pulls children in. They think they know what’s going to happen next based on what’s happened before in the story.

For example: In the story Caps For Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina, a group of monkeys took a peddler’s caps and put them on their heads. The peddler tried to coax the monkeys to give back the caps, but every action the peddler took, the monkeys mimicked. They stomped their feet, shook their hands, but they wouldn’t give the peddler back his caps. Finally, in anger, the peddler threw his own hat from his head to the ground.

Can you see a child's mind working and thinking each time the peddler does something else? She is going to guess that the monkeys will mimic each action.

7. Finally, the story should have an unexpected ending relating to something that happened in the story. We'll go back to Caps for Sale. The peddler tried everything and finally, in anger and not realizing, he threw his hat to the ground. What do you think the monkeys did? Down came all the caps.

"Ah," the reader will say, "he should have done that in the first place."

Along with these basic ingredients, there are a couple of toppings needed:

1. Use age appropriate words.
2. Use age appropriate storylines.
3. Be sure to have your main character (point of view) speak first so the child/reader will quickly know who the protagonist is.
4. Use proper grammar and punctuation.
5. Have only ONE point of view.

Now you can cook up a top-notch picture book!

This article was originally published at:
http://karencioffiwritingforchildren.com/2015/11/22/ingredients-for-the-perfect-picture-book/

Karen Cioffi is an award-winning children’s author, successful children’s ghostwriter, and online author platform instructor with WOW! Women on Writing. For must-know writing and marketing tips, get free access to The Writing World.








Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Tips to Balance Writing Time and Marketing Time



One of the things I often hear from fellow writers is that marketing takes a substantial amount of time, which means less time for writing. Many feel there is no easy way to balance writing time and marketing time.

Here are a few tips that might help:

Add Marketing Time to Your To-Do List

Without a list, you can lack focus and organization, which means time slips away and you’re not even sure where it went. Daily and weekly to-do lists keep you on track, and they motivate you to keep going.

See where you can add fifteen minutes to half an hour of marketing time to your daily schedule. I find that after I drop the kids off in the morning is my best time because my phone isn't ringing with real estate calls and there's no one in the house except me and the furry beasts.

Create an Online Media Kit

Every published writer needs a media kit. A media kit should include: a long and short bio, author photographs, novel covers, book trailers, excerpts, audio clips, links to previous interviews, and a schedule of events. If you write articles, it should include a list of those articles, where and when they appeared, and direct links to any articles that appear online.

By having this information available on your website and in PDF format, you’ll save time when you contact people for interview and book review requests. Even if you’re still waiting for that first sale, it’s a good idea to have a biography and quality photo available for those who request them.

Use Social Media Effectively

I have numerous social networks that I post to multiple times a day. Can you imagine how long it would take if I had to post to each site separately? By using Buffer, Hootsuite or TweetDeck, I can create one post that is submitted to all my social networks at once.

Support Local Schools and Events

Who says marketing can’t be fun and fulfilling? With tightening budgets, schools are often looking for guests to come and interact with students. When my girls were younger, I held writing workshops at their schools. I would speak to the teacher about their current course of study and then tie my workshops into that.

One year, I visited during National Poetry Month, which is held in April. The kids had also been studying Colonial America and the America Revolution. My two-day workshop was on using your senses in writing and on how to develop your powers of observation. We started off by reading excerpts from classic children’s books and seeing if the kids could point out the senses the authors used. Then the students pulled items out of a bag and had to use their senses to describe it. On the second day, they observed me reciting “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and we discussed their observations. Finally, they put all they learned into practice by using their senses and power of observation to write a short story based on a field trip they had taken earlier in the year to an early American settlement. The kids enjoyed it and they shared it with their parents, many of whom asked about my work. It was great exposure to teachers as well.

When my first book came out, I held a book signing at my church during their annual Christmas Bazaar and Tag Sale. I got a chance to sell my book, and a portion of the proceeds went to the church--a win for both of us.

Marketing is part of the business of writing. Using these tips will help you strike a better balance between the business and creative sides of your career.

Cheryl C. Malandrinos is a freelance writer and editor. She is the author of Little Shepherd, A Christmas Kindness, Macaroni and Cheese for Thanksgiving and the recently released, Amos Faces His Bully. A blogger and book reviewer, she lives in Massachusetts with her husband and two daughters. She also has a son who is married. Visit Cheryl online at http://ccmalandrinos.com and her children’s book blog at https://childrensandteensbookconnection.wordpress.com

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Understanding How Book Reviews Make You A Better Writer

Back in 2010, I wrote an article titled The Elements of a Good Book Review. Working in online book promotion at the time, my hope was this would encourage more bloggers to review our clients' books.

A review is one person's opinion of a book they have read. It is not a play-by-play description and it shouldn't contain spoilers. The information contained in a review can also give the author a glimpse into her strengths and the areas that might need some attention.


Here are two of the blurbs from reviews of A Christmas Kindness, released by 4RV Publishing in 2012:

I appreciated the simplicity of the story that had such a powerful message wrapped up inside it.

It is not often that a simple children's book can nearly bring me to tears, but this one succeeded.

These reviewers appreciated the simplicity of the story, but were touched by its message. What did the author (me) learn? Keeping it simple for first time readers is important, while the adults are able to understand the message behind it and use it as a teaching point.

Here's a review blurb from my first book:

...this is the type of book that I would read to little children versus letting them read the book themselves. Only because there was a lot of words and children do not have a huge attention span to read all those words. 

Compare the two: one is said to be a simple story and the other was found to use too many words, therefore, making it harder for young children to read by themselves. Did I consider that reviewer's feedback when I wrote future books? Of course, because my market is children and those who buy for them.


 Here is part of a review I wrote about The Brain Sucker by Glenn Wood:

There is so much to enjoy in this novel: the well-developed characters, the neat inventions, the antics of Lester’s bumbling thugs, the craziness caused by Jinx's “little problem,” and so much more... It didn't take me long to finish this one because I never wanted to put it down. I also really felt the selected font was perfect for the story, so kudos to the book designer.

Wood got to know the age group he was writing for and it showed in every page of this story. This book was so fun to read. Then the designer used a font that matched the vibe of the story perfectly. Should the author consider what the designer is doing? I think so. He might not have the final say, but a book is a package deal from outside to inside.


Here's a blurb from my review of The Undercover Kids' Holland Adventure - The Trunk in the Attic by Gloria Smith Zawaski:

The one thing I found confusing is that the book starts in present tense, then changes to past tense and occasionally switches through the story. This interrupted the flow of the prose at times.

This is a middle grade adventure story, so complexities are expected. You just don't want to lose your reader over them. Sometimes when you're working on a manuscript, you've read it so many times you don't see some of its challenges. It happens to all of us. That's why critique groups and editors are so important.

Reviews, while subjective, can be helpful to the writer who uses them to build upon her strengths and fine tune areas that come up as challenges for readers time and again.

Cheryl C. Malandrinos is a freelance writer and editor. She is the author of Little Shepherd, A Christmas Kindness, Macaroni and Cheese for Thanksgiving and the recently released, Amos Faces His Bully. A blogger and book reviewer, she lives in Massachusetts with her husband and two daughters. She also has a son who is married. Visit Cheryl online at http://ccmalandrinos.com and her children’s book blog at https://childrensandteensbookconnection.wordpress.com

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Book Marketing and the Query Letter



If you are contemplating writing a book or you’ve already written one, and intend on going the traditional publishing path, you’ll need a query letter and a cover letter.

This is true whether you’re an author, a writer, or a business owner who wants to build his authority with a book.

Wondering what a query letter has to do with book marketing?

The query is the second step in your book marketing journey. Think of it as the beginning of a hopefully rewarding relationship with a publisher or agent.

The first step is writing a great story. The second is getting a contract – this is where the query comes in.

If you’re not sure what a query letter is, Jane Friedman notes that it’s a stand-alone letter and has only one purpose. Its sole purpose is “to seduce the agent or editor into reading or requesting your work. The query is so much of a sales piece that you should be able to write it without having written a single word of the manuscript.” (1)

The query letter is your foot in the publishing door. So, you can see how much rides on this one or two page letter (preferably one page).

The query letter usually has 8 elements to be aware of:

1. Do your research. Have you gone to the publisher’s or agent’s website to make sure your manuscript topic is something s/he handles?

You can do an online search for publishers or agents that will be a fit for your story. Or, you can use an online service, like WritersMarket.com.

2. Know what you need to do. At the site, did you carefully go over the submission guidelines? I mean really, really, really, carefully!

3. Is your opening (in the query) grabbing? Will it get the reader’s attention?

4. Edit, edit, edit. Have you checked for grammar errors? Have you checked for redundancy? How about spelling? Don’t rely on a word processors speck check feature alone. Edit your letter manually.

5. Keep it short and sweet. Eliminate non-essential personal information.

6. Include credentials, and/or pertinent background information, if any.

7. Include your book marketing strategy for promoting your book. In this section, include your social media following, only if significant: 500 followers, 1000 followers, 5000, 10,000. Obviously, the more the better. And, it’s essential that you have an author website and include the link in your heading.

8. Have you studied the query letter format?

The format consists of several paragraphs:

a. Your introduction, mentioning that you’ve visited the website and why you’re querying.
b. A very brief gist of what the manuscript is about and the intended age group.
c. A very brief synopsis of the story.
e. Your background, if pertinent. Include your marketing intentions.
f. Thank the editor/agent for her time. Mention that you included XXX pages (the number the guidelines said to send), if applicable.

Taking the time to do it right and write an optimized query letter may make the difference between the slush pile and a contract.

The query letter is the portal to a contract. If the reader says NO at the letter, your manuscript may be great, but it won’t have a chance.

References:
1) http://janefriedman.com/2014/04/11/query-letters/
http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/how-to-write-the-perfect-query-letter

This post was originally published at:
Book Marketing and the Query Letter


Karen Cioffi is an award-winning children’s author, successful children’s ghostwriter as well as an author online platform instructor with WOW! Women on Writing. For must-know writing and marketing tips, get free access to The Writing World.

Also, be sure to check out Karen award-winning children's middle-grade fantasy, "Walking Through Walls."





Thursday, April 19, 2018

When the Creative Stream Stops Flowing




            So often people complain they have writer’s block. They stare at a page, whether paper or computer, and nothing comes. Their brain matches the page – blank. I never had that drastic a problem because my mind keeps working but perhaps can’t find just the right words, can’t get that just right description, or can’t decide how to create a word bridge between scenes. So, all authors need ways to turn those creative blocks back to a full stream again. First, we need to consider a few reasons for any block before we look at some ways to overcome the problem.

            Jeff Goins lists the main reasons he discovered for the creative stream stoppage:
  • Timing: It’s simply not the right time to write. Your ideas may need to stew a little longer before writing them down.
  • Fear: Many writers struggle with being afraid, with putting their ideas (and themselves) out there for everyone to see and critique. Fear is a major reason some writers never become writers.
  • Perfectionism: You want everything to be just right before you ever put pen to paper or touch a keyboard. You try to get it perfect in your head and never do, so you never begin. 
Although, Goins wrote about blogging, writing is writing. Most ideas cross between all types of writing to a certain extent.

Goins also gives suggestions of what not to do to try to overcome writer’s block:
·        You do not overcome writer’s block by refusing to write until you feel “inspired.”
·        You do not overcome writer’s block by wallowing in self-pity.
·        You do not overcome writer’s block by procrastinating or making excuses.
·        You do not overcome writer’s block by watching TV.
·        You do not overcome writer’s block by reading articles on how to overcome writer’s block.

The strange thing is one way to restart the muse working is to distract oneself from the problem and watching TV distracts. Interesting.

            Now, let’s discuss some ways to restart the creative stream. Both Goins and Pete Croatto suggestion moving away from the situation. Croatto says to change location to find inspiration. Goins says to go for a walk. By removing ourselves from the “blank” page, our minds can be sidetracked from the problem and have an opportunity to find stimulation or inspiration. 

            Another way to unblock the block would be to eliminate distractions. Here is where a writer should avoid watching TV: When one tries to write, distractions can provide a mental block to creating. Therefore, when we try to write, we should avoid visiting someone, watching TV, texting, and other activities that take our mind off writing. Sometimes, though, when we can’t write, watching a TV show could actually help us mentally relax and discover the writing begins again.

            Ironically, another way to unblock the logjam in the creative stream is to do other things, to be distracted. Croatto states the following activities could help get the words flowing again: run errands or do chores; talk to another writer; research. Some ways Goins suggests include: go for a walk; spend time with someone who makes you feel good; play (a game on your computer, a card game with a friend or friends, a basketball game with a child or grandchild). One idea I use quite often is to begin another project or go back to a project I laid aside.

            Some people can relax the creative muse by listening to music, pushing the blank page or stopped page to one side. After the mind relaxes, the words may begin to flow again.

            When I can’t decide how to transition from one scene to another or from one event to another, I sit back and run the “movie” of the story through my mind. Letting myself remember and rewind the story often gives me the needed words to continue.

            Are these the only ways to motivate the creative stream to flow again? Of course not, but they are a few that worked for others. When anyone gets stuck, he needs something to unblock the logjam and to allow the stream to flow.


Sources:
     Croatto, Pete, “Parallel work,” The Writer, May 2018, page 10.
     Goins, Jeff, “How to Overcome Writer’s Block: 14 Tricks that Work,” https://goinswriter.com/how-to-overcome-writers-block/
     Zabel, Vivian, experience and methods from the past