Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Researching for Your Book

I’d like to share about the research that went into my middle grade urban fantasy book, “Guardian.”

As a prelude, before you can do research for a book, you have to have an idea. The idea for this particular book was first conceived when my husband was toodling about online and ran across a real-to-life treasure mystery about Oak Island, Nova Scotia, Canada. As soon as he shared the particulars for it, I knew immediately it was my story, but it wouldn’t be written without doing research.

As does any good child of the technologically, computer-enhanced world that we live in, I immediately went to Google, and researched the treasure story. I came across a thriving Oak Island Treasure forum and informational pages about the story.

A treasure is believed to be buried on Oak Island, but the source of this treasure is a mystery. Some believe it is a pirate’s treasure, some the missing treasure of the Incans and Mayans, some the Knights Templar. Some believe the whole thing is nothing more than an elaborate hoax. I was fascinated to find that the treasure story was known well enough to have spawned several books.

Off to Amazon. I bought a book about the Templars and the treasure. I bought a couple of books about the treasure story itself. I got a book about the Holy Grail possibly being part of the treasure. I purchased a book about the first Grail story and another book about the Templar’s history and their possible connection to the Grail. I ended up researching the Crusades, because the Templars touched on it, as well as armor for medieval times and armor specific to the Knights Templar. The whole Templar story is fascinating in and of itself and I followed them to their demise and beyond. It seemed that the more I dug, the more connections I ran across. At one point, I even researched poisons because I needed some for the book.

With the online connection to the Oak Island forum, I “met” the real treasure guru, Danny Hennigar via email and then through phone calls. He was able to help me with pictures of Oak Island and the “location” of the treasure pit. He was also the most knowledgeable about various aspects of the treasure story and what the latest theories were. And, since my story was set in both Maine and Nova Scotia, he was able to help with the realistic details of weather patterns, flora and fauna, Canadian slang, boats, and so forth.

The Oak Island Tourism Society also sent me flyers, from which I gleaned more information about the treasure story and location, and maps of the area. Another person I “met” on the forum lives in Cleveland, but had visited Bar Harbor, Maine, and the Oak Island area. He was a great font of information, and sent me many valuable pictures of the area that I was able to use for descriptions in my book. The State of Maine also sent me a great deal of information, and I also learned about a ferry that takes one from Bar Harbor to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. The ride actually takes several hours, and I was able to name my mythical ferry, “The Pirate’s Run,” which I thought had a nice flair to it.

I did a total of about three months worth of research before I wrote a single word. But the research was well worth it, for I found when I wrote the story, all the facts and suppositions that I’d read about dovetailed nicely into the story. In one sense, I had very little fictionalizing to do because I had all the historical facts from which to pull. Of course, like any writer, I’d get stuck at times, but my husband and I would pull some brainstorming sessions. A lot of times, I’d be thinking of where to take the story next, and a piece of research that I did came to mind, and it fit exactly where I needed it to and really enhanced the validity of the story. To a certain degree, the research that I did pointed the direction for the written story to take.

Good research is hard to replace. Even in the book I am writing now, I am researching glassblowing. It’s a bit more difficult because the only book on glassblowing is out-of-print, although I did run across another children’s author who was writing a book on glassblowing, so I have been in some contact with her. And, there are lots of resources online and there are glassblowers within a few hours drive from where I live.

So, if you’re hot to write a book, be willing to put the hours in on research. There’s no excuse for shoddy research and erroneous details. Sure, my books are for kids, but I did as much research, if not more, for this kid book than I have for most anything else I have written.


For more information about Katie Hines and her books, visit her blog at, and her website at Her book, “Guardian,” can be ordered through the publisher at and is available in both Kindle and Nook editions.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Illustrating the Chapter Book vs. the Picture Book

Picture books are full of color, action, and interest.  Chapter books are full of images for the mind, fewer illustrations, and less color. Even with these differences, there are striking similarities in illustrating a chapter book and a picture book.  The most successful picture books and chapter books will keep the readers interested, amused, and entertained.

Attitude is important when approaching the chapter book illustration assignment.
Be prepared to read carefully and perhaps more than once per chapter.
Just as the picture book requires careful study to find the key points to illustrate, the chapter book is begging for careful study.

The approach to illustrating a chapter book is quite different from illustrating a picture book.  To most the difference is fairly obvious.  Picture books contain large illustrations in full color.  Chapter books, while they may have a colorful cover, are normally illustrated in black and white.

Some situations call for more drama in the illsutrations.  Darker tones and
a somber mood are conveyed with strong darks and lights.
The way an illustrator approaches these two types of books can be as different from one another as color is from black and white.  There is certainly a great deal of thinking that goes into planning a picture book.  Illustrations need to be carefully spaced within the story.  A picture book may have 16 to 24 or more full color illustrations. The artist needs to find the perfect balance between the illustrations, the story, and the page count.  Storyboards are extremely useful in planning the pace of the illustrations and the pacing of the text from page to page.  Illustrations normally flow from left to right to keep the reader engaged in turning the page.

At times chapter books may contain only 8 to 10 black and white illustrations. Although it is possible that some  may be filled with illustrations, the books themselves will be a smaller size.  The key point needs to be transmitted with less real estate and significant impact.

The intended age group needs to be considered when illustrating a chapter book.
Chapter books are intended for the older child who wants to read in depth. Even though most will have a full color cover, they may only have black and white chapter head illustrations. The illustrator needs to read the book in its entirety and perhaps more than once. For each chapter a main idea needs to be sorted out for that one chapter head illustration.  There are chapter books with full color interior illustrations, but the majority will only have either a full page chapter head illustration or something smaller in black and white or gray tones.

Chapter book illustrations are hints, previews, or perhaps a tease as to what will happen in that chapter.  The artist needs to be clever enough not to give away too much and yet dig deep into each chapter to find that one idea that will spark interest and lead the reader onward.
The illustrations in a chapter book are hints and previews for
what is about to occur.

Have you ever thumbed through the pages of a chapter book looking at those illustrations to see what might be coming in a new chapter?  Those key illustrations are the hints I mentioned.  They should be interesting enough to keep the reader turning page after page to find out what is going to happen next.  Another key factor is that they should be as exact a translation of the key point as possible.  Read for the details. Does the heroine have a cat AND a dog in bed?  Are the windows in the house all broken, closed, open, filled with light?  Did the man in the chapter wear a watch?  Did the woman at the library try to hide something behind her back?  Details are extremely important.

Peaceful situations may call for more traditional
 illustrations and a bit of gray tone.
Style is important as well.  A mystery may demand heavier line work and more contrast between the positive and negative space.  Angles may be sharper.  Orientation may be dynamic.   A fantasy may require a completely different style as would science fiction or full out humor.

Knowing the material in a manuscript that could number as much as 300 pages or more is essential.  While you read you could take notes about illustrations that are popping into your head and demanding to be created.  Do a little brainstorming with yourself and a sketch pad. See where the most interesting points lie in each chapter.
Just plain humor may require quick strokes and dancing lines.

 If you are planning to illustrate a chapter book, especially if it is your first attempt, go to the bookstore or library and take a look at as many as you can.  Once you get a feel for the design, see what it is that you like or dislike about the way the illustrations are presented and how well they move the reader through the story. Then tackle the chapter book you have been assigned. Read it over several times.  Find the key to each chapter and let the illustrations you create unlock chapter after chapter for the eager reader.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Promotion: Review of Sparrow Alone on the Housetop

by Vivian Zabel

          Sparrow Alone of the Housetop by Jean James and Mary James will be released in two weeks. As I do when we don't have a contributor, I'm sharing a review of the book to spark interest and to promote 4RV books and authors.

Review of Sparrow Alone on the Housetop 

(James, Jean and James, Mary, 2011 4RVPublishing) 
by Denise Hall Dickinson, 
founder of, Missions Promotion and Support Network

          Jean James and Mary James have written an incredibly compelling tale of wealthy corporate American power and corruption amid the backdrop of a single Christian woman’s efforts to make a difference in the lives of the poverty stricken residents of two small villages in the Mexican highlands. Her successful mission is abruptly interrupted by a sudden chain of events and she finds herself back in her former life, unwillingly and yet just in the right place and time to still make a difference to her friends in the villages, now suffering, possibly at the hands of her father’s corporation.

           Sparrow’s main character, Anne, full of spunk and tenacity, searches for the truth while vowing to maintain her Christian integrity. Complicating that search is her new friend, Jim Orr, a pilot who works for her father’s corporation, which makes Anne unsure of his trustworthiness. Anyone with a respect for mission work or ministry will appreciate the selfless attitudes and actions woven into the storyline. Scripture and suspense meet in the pages of this unique story of faith and family- for better or worse.

Denise Hall Dickinson, August 23, 2011

           The novel may be pre-ordered on the 4RV Bookstore, and it will be available through any bookstore as well as online sites after September 15.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Writing Tips: Active v.s. Passive Voice by Stephanie Burkhart

My son Joe with one of his favorite 4RV books,
"Spider in our Mailbox."

As writers, we should always be on the lookout for active v.s. passive voice. For me, this can be a challenge at times. Passive voice can sneak into your paragraphs in the blink of an eye, and before you know it, you've written a story that will put someone to sleep.

Here's some tips on keeping your writing active:

Remember, using an active voice keeps your writing lively and engaging. In active voice, the subject acts.


Alyssa raced up the steps.
Miguel skimmed the apps on his phone.

These sentences are direct and make it clear what's going on.

When a sentence is passive, the subject was acted upon and not an agent of action. (It's all about the action, you see –wink-)

Passive examples:

Alyssa was winded after running up the steps.
Miguel was frustrated when he couldn't find the app he wanted on the phone.

Let's face it – the above sentences are dull. There's no energy in them. They don't engage the reader. They "tell," don't "show."

Some things you can do:

1. Put the work down for a couple of hours then pick it up again looking at it with a fresh set of eyes.

2. Go through each sentence.

3. "was" is a big clue that you might have used passive voice. (While there are occasions when "was" is used in active voice, it's usually a tip that you've used it in a passive context. Does your sentence "tell," as opposed to "show?")

4. Tighten up the passages once you find them. Consult a thesaurus for alternate word choices.


Alyssa placed her hands on her knees and drew in long, deep breaths.
Miguel frowned his frustration when he didn't find his app.

Both the retooled sentences are direct and make it clear to the reader who is doing what.

Active voice is simple and concise. It engages the reader and by engaging the reader, you keep them hooked.

Bio: Stephanie Burkhart's 4RV Release, "The Giving Meadow" is about a caterpillar that travels through a meadow making friends and learning about caring for others. She works for LAPD as a 911 Dispatcher and lives in Southern California. Born and raised in New Hampshire, her favorite football team is the New England Patriots.

5 Stars, Midwest Book Review
Colorful illustrations add just the right touch to this gentle heartwarming story about the transformative power of sharing.

Publisher's Buy Link:
Find me at:



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Friday, August 26, 2011

The Power of the Tweet ...

by Aidana WillowRaven

Have you ever had one of those 'Crissy Snow' moments? If you don't know who Crissy Snow is, then I'm about to REALLY age myself ... lol. Crissy Snow was the dingy blond on a late seventies, early eighties TV show called Three's Company. Crissy was infamous for not being the brightest crayon in the box, but once in a while, she floored us with a profoundly insightful statement. 

I had one such moment the other day on Twitter. I have no idea how I ran a business without Twitter or Facebook, because I know for a fact that 90% of my clients come from the social networking that I do. I had TweetDeck up, like I try to do every day, with my standard columns feeding me the latest Tweets on key topics:

Suddenly, a newbie artist pops up with a somewhat disheartening Tweet: 

@???: looking at the stunning work from all the illustrators I've added recently and thinking I should quit right now #inferior

Isn't that sad? The #inferior broke my heart. I responded immediately. I had to tell her "Noooo. It should inspire you to work harder." Then the conversation starts going back and forth a bit. I can tell she knows I'm right, but she is still a bit daunted as she gazes at works that she feels she'll never be able to achieve. Then I tell her why it's good to look at artists that are more practiced and skilled than ourselves, and why I do it all the time:

@WillowRaven: I look at my favorite artists not to feel bad, but to remind myself of where I want to go.

She thanked me for my '#wisewords', and promised she'd try to see it differently from now on, as a challenge rather than a barrier. I felt I had done a good deed and was pleasantly surprised when she decided to follow me on Twitter, and I followed her back.

At that time of the day, I had 3952 followers, which I rarely notice or pay attention to since I don't actively seek out new followers, only now I started getting these RT's (re-Tweets) of my Tweet. Authors and artists and just everyday people, who were not following me, felt something when they read what I 'said,' and felt the need to spread and share that one innocent statement.

I had to laugh. I even told the first person who RT'd it, "Thanks for the RT. Although seeing it spit back at me sounds like I was being all 'deep' or something ... lol ... but I was just trying to pick her spirits up, a bit." Then the 'new followers' stared rolling in. Now, two days later, I have 4049 followers. 

That's just a hint of the effectiveness of Twitter. But notice, I didn't get those new followers just repeatedly posting the link to my site or my work or repeatedly broadcasting my services (which I do both a bit, too--there is a time for that as well). My interaction with another person, on a personal level in a situation where I was trying to help someone rather than sell to them, is what I must give credit. It wasn't intentional, but you see the result. Now, 100 or so more people will see my Tweets about my work, or promos, or about books I've most recently worked on, and even this blog post. Their followers will eventually see me, too, and possibly follow.

What must be remembered, however, is that the internet, especially Twitter, is forever. Mind your manners and try not to Tweet anything that may go viral and haunt you or your book/art later ('I got drunk Friday and don't know the man I'm now married to,' type thing). Most importantly, get to know your fans and readers/art lovers. Your craft depends on their support.

Art Director & VP of Operation

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Case of the pesky pronouns

by Vivian Zabel   

          Unclear or incorrect pronoun usage confuses readers, yet so many people use those pesky pronouns incorrectly so often they don't recognize that the incorrect usage does not sound intelligent, just ignorant. I listen to television commentators and reporters mange the English language every day, but their most glaring misuse is with pronouns.

          Let's have a brief pronoun refresher course. We'll begin with the basics: Pronouns are words that take the place of nouns. They are singular and/or plural in nature. They come in first person, second person, and third person.

                                  Singular                                                    Plural

1st person          I, me, my, mine, myself                           we, us, our, ours, ourselves
2nd person        you, your, yours, yourself                        you, your, yours, yourself
3rd person        she, he, it, her, him, his, hers, its,             they, them, their, theirs, themselves
                                 herself, himself, itself

           Now, those pronouns can be used as subjects of sentences or clauses or as predicate nominatives (rename subject after a linking verb): I, we, you, she, he, it, they. They can be used as objects (objects of prepositions, direction objects, indirect objects): me, us, you, her, him, it, them. They also have a possessive form: my, mine, our, ours, your,  her, his, hers, its, their, theirs. 

          Subject/nominative forms of pronouns can only be used as subjects, predicate nominatives/pronouns, or appositives for subjects or predicate nominatives, never for objects of any kind.  Object forms cannot be used as a subject or predicate nominative, only as objects of prepositions, direct objects, or indirect objects.

Incorrect: Me and Joe went fishing yesterday. Me is an object form and cannot be used as a subject.
Correct: Joe and I went fishing yesterday.
Incorrect: This discussion is between Mary and I. Between is a preposition and must have the object form of a pronoun.
Correct: This discussion is between Mary and me. 
Incorrect: The cake was baked by Jeannie and I.
Correct: The cake was baked by Jeannie and me.
Better: Jeannie and I baked the cake. This sentence avoids passive voice and has a active verb.
Incorrect: The better speller is me. Me cannot be used as a predicate nominative, even though we often use it incorrectly. A predicate nominative should be interchangeable with the subject, and we shouldn't use Me is the better speller.
Correct: The better speller is I. This pronoun usage is correct because I am the better speller is correct.

          The reflective form, with self or selves at the end, are used only for emphasis or to refer back to the nominative or object form of the pronoun or a noun that is close by in the sentence. In other words, myself can't be by itself; I must be close by.

Incorrect: Mary and myself decided to go to town. Myself does not have a close pronoun to refer to and is never a subject.
Correct: Mary and I decided to go to town.
Correct: I want to do the job myself.
Correct: John and Terry finished the addition all by themselves.
Incorrect: The presentation by Tom and myself went well. The reflective form of a pronoun can never be used as an object.
Correct: The presentation by Tom and me went well.

          The possessive form of pronouns show ownership. They will be used before a noun or as a predicate adjective (following a linking verb and referring back to the subject to show ownership).

Correct: That book is his.
Correct: That is his book. 

          Often pronouns are confused with other words which sound the same but are spelled differently. Its is the possessive pronoun, while it's means it is. Their is the possessive pronoun, while they're means they are, and there means a direction or introductory word. Theirs is the possessive pronoun, while there's means there is. Your is the possessive pronoun, while you're means you are. Possessive pronouns never have an apostrophe.

Incorrect: Why did you take they're papers?   Why did you take there papers?
Correct: Why did you take their papers?
Incorrect:  The dog cut it's paw. How did the dog cut it is paw?
Correct: The dog cut its paw.

          Hopefully, this short, quick refresher course will help us all remember how to use pronouns correctly.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Making Characters Breathe

by Vivian Zabel  

         Have you ever become interested in a story or novel to the extent you can "see" one or more of the characters but the others seem flat, or one dimensional? Perhaps you've read something and thought, "A real person wouldn't act like that or do that"?

         Characters who aren't "real," who don't breathe, don't live for the reader can destroy an otherwise good plot.

         Believable, living characters make a story, novel, article live and breathe, too. Several tips can help the writer create a “can’t put it down” manuscript that could catch the eye of an agent or publisher and finally readers.

* Know your characters. Create a life, likes, hates, etc. for each characters. Even if most of the information never makes its way into the plot/story. The more real a character is to you, the writer, the more believable he or she will be to others.
         Personally, I make charts for my characters, listing even unimportant aspects such as favorite color, food likes and dislikes, as well as major components of their personalities and physical appearances. I have each character on a separate file card with his/her name at the top.

* Characters needs strengths and weaknesses. Whether characters are likable or unlikable, they need good traits or strengths and bad traits or weaknesses. No living person is one dimensional, so neither should fictitious ones be. Even Superman had one weakness, even if an external one.

         One sub-point - characters can be unlikable, protagonists, or evil without being excessively vulgar or profane.

* Flaws and passions should be revealed in layers. This idea ties into “show, don’t tell.” A writer can write a paragraph or more explaining the personality traits, feelings, strengths, and/or weaknesses of a character, boring a reader to tears; or the author can reveal layer by layer of the character through the plot and storyline - showing the reader the character rather than telling about the character.

* Be able to “show” your characters’ intentions. Thomas Mullen, author of The Last Town on Earth, stated when interviewed for the January 2008 The Writer: “I wanted to create a novel in which all the characters are motivated by good intentions, so I could play with the conflicts that would nevertheless result.”
         Yes, some characters in some stories or novels have evil intentions; but sometimes bad things can happen even if a character has good intentions. Knowing your characters intentions and revealing them through the plot helps make living, breathing characters.
         If you, the writer, know the whys and hows of your characters actions, thoughts, and words, then you can help the reader know, too.

* Observe and listen to people around you, or use your memory. Watch how people act and react. Listen to how they talk. Remember people you knew and how they acted and reacted, their foibles. Use those ideas in developing characters.

         I have offered but a few tips for developing characters that breathe, that live for anyone who reads your work. 

 4RV website  
4RV catalog  

Friday, August 19, 2011

Perfect example as to why every illustrator should learn basic layout design.

by Aidana WillowRaven

In college, I took a design elective as part of my fine art curriculum. I had no intention of being an ad designer or a logo designer. I only wanted to draw and paint for books. I took it because in my first semester we had to produce two framed and matted originals for finals. Before I put my illustrations under glass permanently, I wanted to sell a few of them as prints at an upcoming con. I went to a design shop, paid $45 an hour to have someone 'clean-up' the original for print. I watched over his shoulder as he worked. All he did was scan my drawing, open it in Photoshop, select the eraser tool, and erase all the little blemishes the scanner picks up that the naked eye tends to ignore on original works.

Granted, it was a tedious job. It took him three hours to zoom in and painstakingly remove every stray pixel, but was it worth my paying $45 an hour just to use an eraser tool on zoom? At that time, yes. I didn't have the software or the skills to do what he made look so boringly simple. But take a wild guess what class I added to my schedule the following term? You've got it. Introductory Computer Design.

Now that I've been in the business a while, I don't see how illustrators get by without knowing at least the basics of design and book layout, but you'd be shocked to find how many have no idea how to regulate  the size of their 'canvas' to accommodate room for text in a book.

Many illustrators have a hard time guessing how much 'negative space' to leave for the text. Why is this a problem? It leaves it up to the designer to either cut and crop the art work or to ask the illustrator to re-do or adjust it to accommodate the text.

When I am going to illustrate a kid's book, I first layout the often rough draft in InDesign. I figure out what parts of the text are most visually interesting on that page or spread (note I didn't say in the whole book -- save that for the cover art, if you really want to do it), rather than doing a bunch of illustrations that may not be able to be used due to poor placement.

Then, I create a 'canvas' for that particular page or spread using bold colors and sections. One section represents where I can freely place 'viable' art, and the other block represents where the text will be. This is where my 'negative' art will be or where I'll chose to 'fade to text'.

I do this right in the layout, right beneath the text, using the rectangle tool. Then I hide the text and copy/paste the rectangle into Photoshop. Once there, the image tab will tell me the exact size I am working with. At this point, I can either pull it into my 3D software, or I can print it out and re-scale it manually, to use it as a template for my physical composition.

The negative-space art can be anything from a faded area to a blank space to nondescript imagery (like sky or grass). Nothing that could conflict with the text visually, or the designer, if it isn't you, can place a text box or erase it out, and it wouldn't disturb the important art elements. Personally, I am a control freak (accepted this years ago) when it comes to my art, so I'd rather be the one deciding how my work gets presented; that's why I do the design for all of the books I illustrate. Let's see the composition before the layout.

Now if this were a 'normal' art work, there may be a feeling of 'weight' on the left more so than on the right (probably why my sub-conscience stretched that rope clear across the page to the other end and slightly pointing toward the barren corner ;P) , but as you already know, this in not meant to be a stand alone piece. On the other hand, I also feel an illustration or cover art piece should have the strength to carry itself, too, probably why I chose to include the full scene, to give the art itself a 'base'. 

Even if you don't wish to become a designer, you can see how KNOWING for CERTAIN where your art can and can't go on your 'canvas' ahead of time is a big help in deciding your colors and composition. That's why I encourage every illustrator to take a basic layout and design course. The most it can do is increase your skills and your art. Now, let's put our finished composition in the layout:

I don't know how well you can tell, but I initially had planned on fading out the tied-down rope, which ran through the first few lies of text, but I felt it took something from the visual. Luckily, I'm the designer, so I had the luxury to shift the text down a little bit. If I were just the illustrator, the designer may have chosen to alter the illo in a way that I would not have liked.

So you see how knowing design can help you plan the composition, and how it can help protect the work as well.

Next article, we will go over the post-work techniques I used on the above digital painting.

Art Director & VP of Operation

Thursday, August 18, 2011

How to insure a publisher will reject your manuscript

by Vivian Zabel  

          Are people more arrogant than in the past? Are "writers" so self-absorbed and blind that they can't see the words in front of them? What drives people who desire to be published to insult the person or people who will make the decision to accept or reject? Why do some writers "know" that they and their words are sacrosanct?

          What I've heard most of my life about writing and publishing is more manuscripts are available than slots for publishing. That means writers need publishers more than publishers need us. Publishers, for the most part, look for reasons to reject submissions, not for reasons to accept. Therefore, why do some writers make rejection so easy? Yes, some really do things that will guarantee rejection. 

          Here are a few examples of how to insure rejection:

1. Do not follow the publisher's submission guidelines. Usually an automatic rejection. Publishers (and agents) have particular guidelines for a reason, well, several reasons. One is to discover if a person can and will follow directions. Another reason is the company needs things a certain way to work in its scheduling, assignments, and process. However, whatever the reason, whether reasonable or not, the publisher has the right to set its guidelines the way it wants things done. 
          Telling the publisher (or agent) who informs you to follow the guidelines and re-submit, "I have decided to submit my work to only those companies in the publishing industry, whose rules for manuscript submissions, falls within the normal and well accepted guidelines for manuscript submissions. I don't change my policy for anyone that has no flexibility to work with a client." 
          Uh, you, yes, you with the sneer on your face, you are not a client unless and until the publisher accepts you and offers you a contract. You blew it, big time. 

2. Insult the person who nicely informs you of the status of your manuscript. For example, if a manuscript is rejected, either do not respond or respond nicely. Rudeness means no second chance for this manuscript or any others. Some publishers give suggestions for improvement and allow a re-submission. A writer should be grateful whether he revises and resubmits or not. Telling the  company that they are stupid not to recognize a best seller is not the way to respond. Publishers and agents have long memories, and word does spread in the small world of publishing.

3. Argue with the company representative. If the company gives you a decision and you argue, you lose. Remember, you need a publisher more than the publisher needs you.

4. If given areas to improve and given the chance to re-submit, refuse to make changes, insist your words are perfect.  All writers can improve, and not just once but many, many times. 

5. Don't assume that other publishers will be more lenient and accepting of your actions and attitude. Most publishers know how other houses work and what they expect. Very few major differences will be found in the basics. IF the company is a traditional publisher and puts out quality work, it will be nearly the same in decisions, actions, and expectations as other companies that do the same quality of work. Does that mean that "publishers" don't exist that expect less and have lower quality of work? No, because some "publishers" do not actually invest in authors or books and  do not want only high standards. If an author wants that "anything goes" type of service, it can be found easily. However, if an author wants the best possible product, he can't assume that someone else will give quality work without him doing his part.

          Just because a writer does not see extensive submission guidelines does not mean guidelines are not followed "in house." Often a submitter will receive a form rejection and never know why. Be glad if you find extensive guidelines to follow, and remember to follow them.

          The onus is on the writer to do all within his power to have his submission accepted, not up to the publisher to find reasons to accept. Want to insure your submission is rejected? Just do one or more of the preceding actions.

4RV Publishing 
4RV online catalog 


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Ways to Educate and Motivate the Creative Muse within You

"Ways to Educate and Motivate the Creative Muse within You" by Joan Y. Edwards

Here are ways to educate and motivate the creative muse within you.

1. Experience Life, attend workshops, take courses.

a. Bake cakes.
b. Go on a tour of an Historic house.
c. Attend a weekend workshop.
d. Volunteer at a homeless shelter for children.
e. Take a writing course at a community college or other learning institution.

2. Read three books about the craft of writing.

a. Darcy Pattison: Novel Metamorphosis
b. Donald Maass: The Fire in Fiction
c. Donald Maass: Writing the Breakout Novel
d. Donald Maass: Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook
e. James N. Frey How to Write a Damn Good Novel
f. James N. Frey How to Write a Damn Good Novel, II
g. James N. Frey How to Write a Damn Good Mystery
h. James N. Frey The Key: How to Write Damn Good Fiction Using the Power of Myth
i. Karl Iglesias: Writing for Emotional Impact
j. Margaret Lucke: Schaum’s Quick Guide to Writing Great Short Stories
k. Noah Lukeman: The First Five Pages
l. Jordan E. Rosenfeld: Make a Scene
m. Katharine Sands: Making the Perfect Pitch
n. Remni Browne and Dave King: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers

3. Read three best-selling books in your favorite genre.

4. Watch three movies in the genre you write.

5. Study the websites of three best-selling authors.

Here is a list of many to choose from or search for your favorite online.

Best-Selling Authors for Children

James Patterson

Rick Riordan

Jeff Kinney

Victoria Kann

Jane O'Connor

Suzanne Collins

J. K. Rowling

Best-Selling Authors for Adults

John Grisham

George R. R. Martin

Catherine Coulter

Janet Evanovich

6. Study and find three matching three publishers and agents for your manuscripts:

a. Research publishers and agents online. Find ones that match what you write.

b. Visit the Preditors & Editors website to check out the editors and agents you've chosen. It'll tell you if they are legitimate or warn you about them.

c. Check the submission guidelines of the websites of the publishers and agents of three of your favorite books.

7. Write.

Write. Write. Write.

I hope you find the right experiences to educate and motivate the creative muse in you.

Thank you for reading my article. Please leave a comment. I value your opinion.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

? What is Tradigital ?

by Ginger Nielson

The methods and means of illustrating for children's books, book covers, novels, and magazines have changed dramatically over the past 15 years.  Advances in computer painting software, digital photography and the internet create a combination of tools for the artist.

For any artist trained in the traditional methods of oil, acrylics, pen and ink, etching, print making, and screen printing the advances in computer technology provide new tools for the trade.

Combining the traditional methods with digital methods leads me to define the work as "Tradigital."

As an example, my work begins as pencil sketches.  Often I will add paint to the first draft and then either photograph the beginnings or scan the work if it is small enough.  I am not alone using this traditional beginning process.  The advantage for a traditionally trained artist is the freedom to work in large strokes that capture a moment and keep the flow from the brain to the paper or canvas.  If wanted a soft wash can be added to define form. Some of us love to feel the paper beneath the pencil; a soft and reassuring sound and feel can stir the imagination.

There is something about a pencil on drawing paper that cannot be recreated.  There is a tone, a feel and a journey the artist takes from that first mark on the paper to the completion of an idea.

Using a digital camera to transfer the initial work to the computer is easier than using a scanner if the first sketches are very large.  I like to keep the drawing table ready for any thought or idea that pops into my head.  The camera is always ready too *:)

As the artist paints in the computer, layer upon layer of image can be created.  Before the layers of painting are merged into one final painting the artist has the option of eliminating, improving, changing, enhancing or redoing any layer.  Once merged, the layers become the final painting.  Then it is on to the designer and editor.

What are the tools of the "tradigital" artist? A must-have is a drawing tablet and stylus or an entire screen on which to draw. Wacom is one of the companies that make various sizes of tablets that are packaged with a pressure sensitive stylus.  For this type of tablet the artist draws on the tablet while watching the computer screen.  Color, line, paint, adjustments in size and much more are easily controlled.

 A newer, but more costly advance, the Cintiq, eliminates the disconnect between tablet and computer screen. The Cintiq is the screen you actually draw upon. Cintiq by Wacom is the industry standard for a screen on which your high end painting software combines with the ability to draw right on the screen itself.  The images the artist creates in this way mimic the traditional method most closely.
Apple also entered the market with the ModBook and ModBook Pro.  A few other companies are now in the market and have similar products available.

The advantages for the "tradigital" artist are numerous.  Today's publishing industry often demands quick turn around on assignments.  Numerous changes may occur during an assignment.  Computer painting programs allow the artist to make changes in color, composition, size, and style without laboriously redoing an entire oil or acrylic painting.  There is also the fact that many large files containing illustrations can be sent quickly over a secure internet connection.

Another key factor that enables "tradigital" artists to keep their sanity is the fact that there are 32-200+ levels of "undo" in some of the most sophisticated painting programs.  You may not like the color of an object... you can change it in an instant.  Your art director may not like the size, position, proportion or particular hue in a painting.  The digital process will allow far more forgiving changes.

Occasionally editors, on behalf of their client, the author, will require the artist to redo and revise large sections of a book or create an entirely new cover.  The "tradigital" artist enjoys an advantage here even if the editor needs a completely new direction. The combination of traditional and digital moves the project along at a quicker pace and keeps to tight deadlines.

Do not call "tradigital" or even "digital" painting computer generated art or call it digitized.  Those are two things it is not.   This is still painting and drawing which take time and talent. There are instances where a digital painting can take longer than a traditional one because of the complexity that is coupled with the endless possibilities.  Calling this type of art - digitized -does not reflect the amount of time and care that goes into the creation of illustrations that have the power to interest, enlighten and entertain.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Live-action Book Trailer

by Jean James and Mary James

Late last night we completed the live-action trailer for 4RV novel, Sparrow Alone on the Housetop (coming out next month). Earlier, we taped about forty scenes we could possibly use for it. That was the fun part. This week we had to sort through what we’d taped, transfer it to our software, and start the arduous task of editing.

This final stage of the production took approximately 50 hours. That’s much longer than usual for this type project, but this was a more complex book that others we’ve worked with.

A special note:

Live-action video trailers follow more closely the guidelines of a movie trailer than a conventional book trailer. Standard movie trailers generally last around two minutes and twenty seconds. They use about one hundred words per minute, either as dialog, or as a combination of printed words and dialog. We stayed as close as possible to those times and word counts.

Or this link:

These type trailers are being used more and more frequently by publishers, especially to attract younger readers.

Jean James

Mary James

Friday, August 12, 2011

Is haggling on illustration/design fees ethical or fair?

by Aidana WillowRaven

Personally, I can see both sides on this subject, and have been on the receiving end of an author or publisher wanting my services, but for an exorbitant amount less than my regular fees. It's stressful, it's aggravating, but I try to understand that people can't always afford what they want, especially in relation to their book ... their baby ... so I can see why they try to get a lesser rate, but is it fair?

After all, I bargain shop. I buy used books, I buy clothes at thrift stores, I rummage the bargain bins. But would I walk up to the counter and haggle over a price? Not unless the product was damaged in some way, but still of use, would I feel justified in doing so.

On my freelance blog, today, I shared a YouTube video I saw on Google+ this morning that exemplifies this growing trend of authors/publishers (really this could relate to so many other professions), wanting high quality service, but don't feel they should have to pay for it. Naturally, it got me to thinking how I could share the metaphors on that video, here.

Is it fair to go on Twitter or Facebook, seeking professional editing, or artistic services, but only offer compensation way below livable standards? Is it right to ask anybody, in any profession, just because they are a small company or a freelancer, to work for less?

I see this all the time as Art Director for 4RV, too. People expect us to accept their manuscript, do all the editing, art, and prep to publish it, market and promote their book, then complain that their royalty isn't high enough or that the cost of buying personal copies at wholesale (for those that wish to sell at a show, or something), is too high, or that they didn't get enough free copies with their contract, while feeling totally OK with the fact that he company is footing all the bills. They don't even want to edit thoroughly or help promote on behalf of their own books!

To make it even more of an injustice, the requester wants high quality. They like your work! It grabbed their attention over all the other work they examined. But wait, they want that level of work and expertise for half or a third of what you charge, even though you already charge eight times less than the accepted standard due to a tough economy and growing competition with people who will work for ridiculously low rates.

What are we doing to our own industries if we agree? But if we don't agree, how do we feed our kids? Pay our rent?

I am sharing the video again, here. It really puts things in perspective, but it's also funny. Maybe if you're one of those people who have performed a shake down on an artist or editor, and relied on their desperation to make a living weighing more than their getting paid their worth, then maybe putting it in a different light will help you curb that tendency.


Art Director & VP of Operations
4RV Publishing

Monday, August 8, 2011

Put action in books for children and teens -- a must

by Vivian Zabel   

Action for Children and Teens

         Youngsters enjoy good stories, whether they listen or read for themselves. However, action is needed to keep their attention, even if the reader wants them to go to sleep. Children don’t always respond to boredom by sleeping.

         “What do you mean, action is need?”

         Yes, I heard that question, and I’ll give you an answer that will improve any stories written for children.

         “What do you know about writing for children?”

         I have some published books and stories. My company publishes children’s, middle grade, and young adult books, and we have some very good ones, books that delight children and even adults. I have also studied what is needed in a good children’s story, poem, or book. I read about what other publishers and editors want.

         According to, stories for children develop mainly through action and dialogue, with concrete action from the first lines. Publishers and editors search for stories with a plot containing strong action.

         Part of action in writing of any kind concerns the use of strong action verbs. Passive voice and state of being verbs have a place in writing but should be avoided as much as possible. A good writer will replace weak verbs and passiveness with action verbs and active voice.

         “What are you talking about: action verbs, active voice, passive voice, state of being verbs?”

         All right, let’s have a brief grammar lesson. One type of passive voice uses verbs with have, had, or has as helping verbs. It denotes something that happened in the past in a passive, non-active way. An example of a sentence in passive voice with one of those helping verbs would be as follows:
The boy had begged for a dog for a long time, but his parents had wanted him to have a cat.
Making the verbs action without the sluggish helping verbs makes the sentence more interesting:
The boy begged for a dog for dog for a long time, but his parents wanted him to have a cat.

         Another way to have passive voice is to have the subject not do the action of the verb, but receive the action.
The ball was hit by the bat. The ball didn’t hit anything, but it was hit. The subject received the action of the verb, but didn’t act itself.
The bat hit the ball. The bat, the subject, did the acting.

         Now we can take this action a step further by using a stronger, more vivid action verb than hit.
The bat collided with the ball. The bat struck the ball.

         Using state of being verbs (is, am, are, was, were, been, being) can weaken any writing and shows no action. To avoid using them, sometimes a sentence must be rewritten. It was dark and gloomy. This sentence not only is vague with the use of it, a pronoun without an antecedent, but the linking verb or state of being verb, was, is weak. The moon hid behind the clouds gives the same description without using an unclear pronoun or a vague linking verb. Yes, sometimes we must use a state of being verb, but we should avoid them if possible.

           Action verbs show action, either physical or mental behavior. Active voice means that action is shown, that the subject does the action rather than being acted upon. The ball was hit by the bat is passive, not active. The subject "ball" is acted upon, does not act. The bat hit the ball is active voice because the subject "bat" does the action, hit. Yes, the past three sentences repeat information given previously, but we can all use the refresher course.

            Now, back to including action in children’s stories, poetry, and books.
       Children like action in their stories. They want to see, hear, feel things happening to the characters. They want to know what the characters do, say, experience.

         Umm … those ideas sound like what all readers of all ages want when they read and what all writers need in their work.

4RV catalog 
4RV website

Friday, August 5, 2011

Promotion: A Review of The Joke's on Me by Laurie Boris

          One of 4RV Publishing's newest releases is the novel The Joke's on Me by Laurie Boris. The first review of the novel was posted on Write Meg! 

Book review: ‘The Joke’s On Me’ by Laurie Boris

          One of the things I love about books is their endless power to surprise you. When I was offered a copy of Laurie Boris’ The Joke’s On Me, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect — but I accepted based on the first chapter. It sounded funny. Punchy. And it didn’t let me down.
          When Frankie Goldberg pulls back into Woodstock, N.Y., with just her few possessions lodged in a bright red convertible, she’s immediately greeted by her sister, Jude, leading a holistic retreat at the family bed and breakfast. Nothing totally unusual — except for the fact that everyone is nude. After recovering from the shock of that encounter, Frankie begins to take inventory of all the changes that have taken place since she moved to Los Angeles — most notably that her mother, once a formidable woman, has been moved to a nursing home.
         Frankie, a “menopause baby,” is much younger than Jude — and was never considered the responsible sister, even as Jude cycled through husbands and raised her son, Ethan. After Frankie left home to pursue a life as a comedian and actress, Jude picked up the slack — and she hasn’t let her little sister forget it. Brought together again in their mutual desire to help their mother, Frankie has to finally put down roots — or run away again. But the presence of one Joey Mazzarella, former childhood crush, might make the choosing a little more difficult . . .
         Laurie Boris’ The Joke’s On Me is a funny, sweet and realistic story showcasing the love of one family — and the idea that it’s never too late to start over. What really sold me on the novel was Jude and Frankie’s relationship, which felt honest and raw. Though never dramatic, Boris offers readers tender conversations between the women that defy the age gap between them. At the heart of it all, there’s love.
         In her author biography, Boris describes herself as a “closet stand-up comedian” — and I think that humor really shines in The Joke’s On Me. Her sarcasm, rarely mean-spirited, is evident in Frankie’s character, and I immediately felt close to her as a narrator. She’s not without her faults, that’s for sure, but she owns up to them; she’s not without her quirks, either, but they make her lovable. Frankie felt like a friend.
         And the love story? Oh, what a sucker I am for first love — and the sweet progression of Joey and Frankie’s relationship melted the little cockles of my heart. I loved that Joey is a baseball coach and Frankie is a lady that grew up appreciating the sport; like her, baseball is the one game I actually enjoy and understand. The frequent ballpark settings were ones I could appreciate!
          Quirky, fun and very readable, Boris has crafted a novel with pithy dialogue, dueling sisters and plenty of heart. I read it quickly and enjoyed meeting Boris during the Author Speed Dating session at the Book Blogger Convention, where she sat down to tell me about this book and I immediately squealed, “Laurie Boris! Oh, I have your book!” She looked genuinely surprised and was very kind, and I was happy to tell her I’d already enjoyed her debut novel. And if you’re looking for an amusing read, I think you will, too.

         The Joke's on Me can be ordered through the 4RV Catalog as well as through bookstores and online stores. More about the author can be found on  Laurie Boris, Freelance Writer.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Wackiest Writing Advice I’ve Gotten

by Laurie Boris

Over the many years I’ve been writing, I’ve gotten some excellent advice from teachers, editors, publishers, literary agents, and other writers. But some has been, well, not as helpful. Here’s some of the wackiest advice I’ve gotten. (Note: your actual experience may vary.)

1. Write what you know. Pretty much every writer has been hit with this one. Yes, writing about people, places, and situations with which you are intimately involved might make your writing more immediate and more powerful. (How could Mark Twain have pulled off so many of his great novels if the Mississippi didn’t course through his veins?) But this type of dogma can limit your creativity by forcing you to focus solely on what and whom you’ve been exposed to. What about science fiction and fantasy writers, who imagine worlds so palpable it’s hard to believe they don’t exist in “real life”? How could Gene Roddenberry have created Star Trek or Frank Herbert written the haunting, sandworm-infested world of Dune if they’d stuck solely to writing what had passed by their eyes and ears? Perhaps we could tailor that phrase, as many have suggested, to read, “Write what you want to know.”

2. Comedy doesn’t sell. Augh! And me, a (mostly) comedy writer! Yes, comedy is subjective. This may be why some in the publishing industry are reluctant to take it on. But there sure are a lot of people buying Carl Hiaasen, Janet Evanovich, Sophie Kinsella, Rita Mae Brown, Nick Hornby, and Dave Barry.

3. Adults don’t want to read stories with teen protagonists. A literary agent told me this, as I shopped around a novel with a sixteen-going-on-thirty-year-old protagonist. I think it’s ridiculous. Had she never heard of Holden Caulfield? Or maybe Bella Swan? Twilight readers aren’t all teens. Many of them are mothers of teens.

4. The novel is dead. Are you kidding me? We could argue about the possible passing of printed novels underneath the wave of e-book sales, but story itself? No. We want to read stuff. Sales figures show that. Categories may shift in popularity (vampires this month, cheeky British singletons the next, telepathic zombies after that) but novel sales—especially romance and YA—are not horrible.

5. Women can’t write male POV characters (and vice versa). This is a fascinating bit and I could probably write a whole blog (or two) about it. A teacher of mine, for whom I have nothing but respect and admiration, regularly lectures women writers to stay out of men’s heads. That we couldn’t possibly know how men think, and if we asked one, he’d lie. I have a problem with this. Yes, I’ve read many stereotypical, cardboard or just plain WRONG female POV characters written by men (Steve Martin’s Shopgirl in particular disturbed me), and I imagine you guys could give me a few examples of off-key male characters written by women. But have you read Memoir of a Geisha? Arthur Golden did his research, interviewed geishas, and even made himself up as one so he could get closer to the characters he wrote so brilliantly about. Jonathan Franzen took some heat for writing female POV in Freedom. NPR’s Terry Gross asked him if, as a man, he’d found it challenging to write Patty, his female POV protagonist. Franzen merely replied that he’d grown up around women. So, what’s not to know? I grew up with a father, two brothers, and later, a whole bunch of stepbrothers. And mostly (judging from the feedback of guys who’ve done my crits), my male characters are authentic. Unless they’ve been lying to me.

I hope you won’t lie to me. What is the wackiest advice you ever got about writing, or about anything else?

Laurie Boris is the author of The Joke's on Me, a contemporary novel NEW from 4RV Publishing. She also blogs about writing, books, and the language of popular culture at