Monday, May 16, 2022

How to Give Basic Writing Advice

 


By Karen Cioffi

 A while ago, I was asked to look over a children’s fiction picture book manuscript. This was not a paying job, just a favor.

The ‘new to writing’ authors, who are both health care professionals, had already been calling major publishers to find out submission requirements. They were told their manuscript would not be looked at without an agent.

So, they went to the library to find a book on top agents.

While this is a worthy endeavor, there are some basic first steps to take before shooting for the stars.

Just glancing at the manuscript, I knew it needed a lot of work. And interestingly, I was surprised to see so many errors in a simple 600-word story.

It seems as we progress in learning the craft of writing, we forget that we didn’t know the very basics at one time either.

So then, I had to figure out what to say to the authors without alienating them or totally discouraging them.

When critiquing or giving writing advice, it’s important to begin with the positive aspects of the manuscript. If the errors are basic and there are a lot of them, you may also want to state them in generic terms, not to offend the author/s.

What does this mean?

Well, it’s not a good idea to say, “You shouldn’t have the children’s picture book manuscript formatted in lists, numbered, or in Australian Sunrise 10pt font.”

Instead, you might say, “Manuscripts are usually preferred typed in New Times Roman 12pt font, and are double spaced using a free form flow with the first sentence of each paragraph indented.

See the difference?

To help with clarity, you could include a first page example of a manuscript you have, or rewrite the 1st paragraph of the authors’ manuscript.

If there are just too many errors, for time’s sake you can make a list of proper manuscript formatting tips. This is the approach I took.

I started out with the ‘positive:’

This is a wonderful idea for a children’s book and has great potential, especially that both of you are professionals in the health field. Children will certainly benefit from the story’s information. It could use some tweaking, though.

Then I added a the following:

Here are a few tips for writing and formatting a manuscript to help get it submission ready:

•    Manuscripts should be formatted in 12 pt Times New Roman Font
•    They should be double spaced
•    They should be in free form without numbering for pages or in list form
•    The first sentence of each paragraph should be indented
•    Children love action – actions are better shown through ‘showing’ rather than ‘telling’
•    Notes for illustrations after each of your intended pages are usually frowned upon by publishers
•    Most publishers, especially the major ones use their own illustrators
•    Manuscripts are more likely to make it past the slush pile if they are polished
•    Usually writers go through a process of one or two critique groups and writing groups. After rewrites and editing it gets to a point where it looks perfect. That’s when it needs to be professionally edited.

These tips are part of the advice I offered the authors and I kept it as generic as possible.

After you note the manuscript errors, you should end your advice on another positive note. You might say, “With rewriting and editing, you will have an engaging story that children will be sure to love, and it’ll be submission ready.”

I then provided several writing links about writing for children and editing.

Since every author’s personality is different it’s usually best to use the gentle approach when offering writing advice.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Karen Cioffi is an award-winning children’s author, a successful children’s ghostwriter with 300+ satisfied clients worldwide, and an author online platform instructor with WOW! Women on Writing. For children’s writing tips, or if you need help with your children’s story, visit: https://karencioffiwritingforchildren.com

You can check out Karen’s books at:
https://karencioffiwritingforchildren.com/karens-books/


 

Sunday, April 3, 2022

The Writer and Positive Thinking

 

By Karen Cioffi

 When I was looking for a house a few of years ago, I saw this quote by Sean McCabe, and it amazed me how accurate it is.

As my husband and I were looking, my husband saw all the things wrong with each house. It had wall paper; it needed a complete renovation; it needed a kitchen; the basement needed to be finished; the rooms weren’t right. The lot was too big. It was a corner property. The list went on and on.

I saw all the things right with each house. I saw how it could be. I have the ability to look beyond what’s actually there (see the invisible and feel the intangible) and see what can be.

It made me think about writing. Most writers understand that writing can be a tough business. There are lots of rejections and lots of ups and downs. To survive in this business, you need to keep a positive mindset. You need to persevere. You need to see beyond the slumps. You need to keep moving forward and achieve what may seem impossible.

This also goes for those who want to be an author but have no clue how to go about doing it. Seeing things through a positive mindset allows you to figure out what to do, whether it means hiring a ghostwriter or taking the steps necessary to learn to write yourself.

But it goes beyond writing. As with everything in life, there will be obstacles in your path. Sometimes those obstacles may seem insurmountable. The key is to not let them stop you. Keep moving forward. You might even envision yourself happily beyond the problem or obstacle.

So, whether it’s with your writing life or life itself, be a positive thinker.

See the invisible and the intangible and achieve the impossible.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Karen Cioffi is an award-winning children’s author and children’s ghostwriter, rewriter, and coach with clients worldwide. She is also the founder and editor-in-chief of Writers on the Move and an author online platform instructor with WOW! Women on Writing.

Karen’s children’s books include Walking Through Walls and The Case of the Stranded Bear. She also has a DIY book, How to Write Children’s Fiction Books. You can check all her books: https://karencioffiwritingforchildren.com/karens-books/. If you need help with your children’s story, visit: https://karencioffiwritingforchildren.com.
 

Sunday, March 6, 2022

Queries - Be Specific and Professional


 

By Karen Cioffi

All writers face the dreaded query. Did I put enough information? Did I put too much? Did I have a great hook? Am I submitting to the right publisher?

These are just a few questions that run through a writer’s mind when mailing, or clicking the send button for the query. So, how do you answer these questions and the many others that go along with the job of crafting a query?

Well, the first simple response to this question is to READ the publisher’s or agent’s guidelines. Okay, that’s not accurate-you need to STUDY and FOLLOW those guidelines precisely.

Items to watch for when reading those guidelines:

1. What genre does that particular publishing house, agent, or magazine publish?

2. Does the publisher/agent accept simultaneous submissions?

3. Is there a specific word count involved if querying for articles?

4. Does the publishing house accept unagented queries?

5. Does the magazine only accept specific themes, if so, is your article on target?

This list is not complete, there are obviously more items to watch out for. So, we go back to the main rule for querying: FOLLOW the GUIDELINES!

But, following the guidelines is just part of the querying process; you also need to know some inclusion essentials.

Six rules to use that will help you create a winning query:

1. Be professional. Writing is a business just like any other-treat it as such.

2. Be sure to include your contact information: address, telephone number, email address and website.

3. If you were referred by someone include it in the query. Every little bit helps, but be sure it’s a referral from someone the editor actually knows.

4. Write tight – be specific and jump right in. You want to provide enough information to warrant the editor to want more, but you need to keep it to one page.

5. The first paragraph is the pitch-within a couple of sentences you need to hook the editor or agent. The second paragraph is about you, again keep it brief and include your credentials. The third paragraph is your conclusion; thank the editor/agent for his/her time and mention if you are enclosing a SASE and if the query is a simultaneous submission.

6. In regard to your bio: Limit personal information unless it adds to your credentials as a writer qualified to write for this publisher.

A good way to practice for queries and pitches is to write a one sentence out of the ball park description of your manuscript. This will help you to think and write tight and choose the perfect words to hook the reader and convey the essence of your story.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Karen Cioffi is an award-winning children’s author and children’s ghostwriter, rewriter, and coach, with clients worldwide. She is also the founder and editor-in-chief of Writers on the Move, and an author online platform instructor with WOW! Women on Writing.

Karen’s children’s books include “Walking Through Walls” and “The Case of the Stranded Bear.” She also has a DIY book, “How to Write Children’s Fiction Books.” You can check them out at: https://karencioffiwritingforchildren.com/karens-books/. If you need help with your children’s story, visit: https://karencioffiwritingforchildren.com

Monday, February 28, 2022

Benefiting from Writing Conferences

 

Networking is a part of benefiting from a conference



         Writing is a profession, and attending writing conferences and festivals are a necessary part of staying professional. Conferences allow a writer to gain new ideas to improve his work, to reinforce good writing practices, and to learn other aspects needed for his writing business. Networking allows writers to know they are not alone in the wilderness. So, how can writers benefit from writing conferences?

         Best selling author William Bernhardt gives a few ways an author can benefit from a writing conference:
 1. Come prepared. Research speakers to know what they offer that will help you. Research editors and agents to know which will provide insight into what you write or who want what you write.
 2. Listen more than you talk. "...a person gets a few minutes alone with someone who might have some good advice for them, but they use the entire time to talk about themselves or their project." Bill continues, "My advice has always been to go for the 20/80 talk rule...talk being the twenty percent."
 3. Relax and learn. "The best favor you can do for yourself is come with the expectation of learning not selling. If you're able to absorb the information, you're going to be a better and better writer. The time will come when you'll find yourself in front of the right people at the right time. And because you've been educating yourself, you'll be ready.

         Attending conferences to learn should be the first objective for attending a conference. I don't always learn something every session I attend, but, even though I taught writing for nearly 30 years, I always learn something that helps my writing improve every conference I attend.

         If you have completed a manuscript, attend a conference prepared to pitch to an editor or agent. That means you learn how to make a pitch, prepare your pitch, and practice your pitch before the conference.

         Listen to those who have been in this business for years. Gain from their experiences. Will everything you hear work for you? No, but at least you can learn what to try. If something works, you gain. If it doesn't work, you also gain the knowledge that idea won't work for you. We are made with two ears and one mouth for a reason. We need to listen more than talk.

         Absorb what you hear and see. I retain more if I write it down than if I just hear it. Therefore, I take notes so that what I hear is absorbed into my mind.

         One of the biggest reasons I attend conferences any more is to meet and greet other authors, to network with writers and publishing gurus. I become more energized and recharged after attending a conference and networking with others in the same business.

          As Bill Bernhardt says, "Go to learn. Prepare to pitch. Listen. Absorb. Meet and greet." Conferences are needed to build a writer's professionalism.

 

 

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Review: Kindertransport by Kena Sosa

 


Kindertransport 
by Kena Sosa, illustrated by Jeanne Conway
Review by Cheryl C. Malandrinos

Kindertransport by Kena Sosa is the touching story of a young Jewish girl in Germany who gets onboard the Kindertransport train headed for England.

In the days before the outbreak of World War II, Helen finds herself trapped inside her house. Unable to understand why her family’s life has changed so suddenly, she worries as Vater’s mood changes and Mutter pretends she doesn’t like eggs simply so Helen will have enough to eat. Then one day, Mutter tells her to pack her suitcase so she can ride a train that will bring her to England until the danger is over.

Sosa has done a fabulous job of bringing to life the experiences of so many Jewish children in the days before the war started. She captures the emotions, the frustrations, the uncertainty Helen feels as life has changed. I’m sure the interviews she conducted with Jewish survivors helped flesh out the details, and it is that research that allowed her to create such an incredible story. An afterword shares more about Kindertransport, and a list of materials used in the research for the book is included.

Accompanying Sosa’s moving text are the black and white illustrations by Jeanne Conway. The burning of Vater’s bookstore, how Helen clings to her bunny as she packs, and the hope Helen feels as she holds on to the ship’s railing on her way to England are all brought to life by Conway. 

Kindertransport might be one of the most stirring books I read this year. I highly recommend it to readers everywhere.


Kindertransport and other books by Kena Sosa are available at https://www.4rvpublishing.com/kena-sosa.html and other online retailers. 

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

When the Creative Stream Stops Flowing

 



   
        I don't actually have writer's block, but I may have a problem with a transition from one scene to another or knowing how to develop an idea. Looking at a blank page doesn't scare or worry me. Not finding the right words does.

        So, what does a person do who isn't able to continue or to start writing? Allow me to share a few ideas. 

        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 ice blocks back to a full stream again. First, we need to consider the reasons for any block before we look at ways to overcome the problem.

         Jeff Goins lists the main reasons he discovered for the creative stream stopping:

• 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.

         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. One way I can restart the process is to work on something else for a short period of time. When I return to the first project, my mind has worked out the problem whether it is a needed transition or an idea that needed development.

          By removing ourselves from the “blank” page, our minds can be sidetracked from the problem and have an opportunity to find stimulation or inspiration. 



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 teaching

Sunday, February 6, 2022

Tips on Writing a Memoir


 

Writing a memoir is different things to different people. Some people are looking for closure, or a cathartic release from a traumatic event in their lives, others simply want to share their experiences with readers.

Whatever the reason behind writing a memoir, there are a few rules that should be adhered to.

5 Rules to Writing a Memoir:

1. Know what you want to convey to the reader. Know why you’re writing a memoir and let the reader in on what to expect. This will help give your story direction and focus – it will provide a basis for it to move forward.

2. Decide on what format you will write your memoir, but keep in mind that trying to stick to a purely chronological order can cause a problem with the flow of the story. One possible alternative is to divide the story into specific topics within the overall subject (your life), possibly childhood, education, marriage, family, or other topics important to the story.

The idea is to realize you have options. You might try brainstorming some alternative memoir formats. You can also do some research by reading memoirs by traditional publishers; go to your library and ask the librarian to offer some suggestions. Finding ones that are recently published will be helpful; you need to know what the current market is looking for.

Another aspect of structure that needs to be addressed is how you speak to the reader. In a Writer’s Digest article, “5 Ways to Start Your Memoir on the Right Foot” by Steve Zousmer, it says, “Is the conversation external or internal? That is, is writing your book the equivalent of sitting down in your living room and telling a small group of people the story of your life (external), or are you having an internal conversation with yourself while allowing readers to listen in?"

3. Whether you’re writing a mystery, a romance, or a memoir, you need to hook the reader. Again, read other memoirs for some examples and ideas.

As a former accountant who now writes, if writing my memoir, a possible beginning might be, “From the pencil to the pen.” This possibly has the potential to arouse enough curiosity to hook the reader.

Your experience and story is unique, try to come up with something that reflects that.

4. Don’t let your memoir be a platform to get even with those who you perceive have harmed you in the past. You may feel good about venting, but your readers won’t. This will turn off agents, publishers, and readers. Remember, your memoir should be to entertain, enlighten, help, instruct, uplift, motivate, inform, or encourage your readers; it shouldn’t be all about you and your vendetta.

5. As with any form of writing, the bare bottom basic is to have a proofread and edited manuscript. Even if you intend to have your manuscript professionally edited, you need to know the basics of writing. This aspect of writing entails effort – effort to learn the craft of writing, including revisions, proofing, and editing.

If you are having your manuscript professionally edited, the editor will expect to be given a relatively polished manuscript to work on. Unless of course, you’re having the memoir ghostwritten, in which case you and the ghostwriter will determine what shape, if any, your manuscript needs to be in.

But, assuming you’re doing it on your own, at the very least you need to be part of a critique group, a non-fiction writing group, or one specifically for memoirs. A critique group will help you hone your craft and will spot a number of problems within your manuscript that you will not be able to find on your own. And, be sure the critique group you choose has experienced and published authors, along with new writers.

So many new writers don’t think this aspect of writing a memoir applies to them. Or, they just don’t want to put the time and effort into learning the craft of writing. But, if you intend to submit your manuscript to traditional publishers, or if you are self-publishing, having a polished manuscript is a must. It’s a reflection of you and your writing ability, and will be a factor in how readers view your book.

The Possibilities

If all the elements and rules of writing a memoir are applied, and your particular story offers unique insights, has a universal theme, has a one or two sentence WOW elevator pitch, is memorable or provocative, it may have the potential to soar.

Memoirs that have gone above and beyond include:

“Eat, Pray, Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert
“Julie and Julia” by Julie Powell
“Marley and Me” by John Grogan

This post was first published at:
https://karencioffiwritingforchildren.com/2017/03/19/writing-a-memoir-5-rules/

ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Karen Cioffi is an award-winning children’s author, successful children’s ghostwriter, and an author online platform instructor with WOW! Women on Writing. Check out her middle-grade book, Walking Through Walls, and her new picture book series, The Adventures of Planetman: Click here.