Thursday, March 31, 2011

Bat Commas or Apostrophes

by Vivian Zabel 

        I was going to write an article about comma usage and then realized I already had: To comma or not to comma. Therefore I chose another grammar/punctuation area to discuss.

         Often writers become confused as to when to use apostrophes and when not to. Apostrophes remind me of comma bats, commas that hand upside down. There are rules that decide where and when apostrophes are used.

Rule 1.           Use the apostrophe with contractions. The apostrophe is always placed at the spot where the letter(s) has been removed.
          Examples:           don't, isn't
                              You're right.
                              She's a great teacher.

Rule 2.           Use the apostrophe to show possession. Place the apostrophe before the s to show singular possession, unless the singular noun ends in an s, then place the apostrophe after the final s.
          Examples:   one boy's hat
                              one woman's hat
                              one actress' hat
                              one child's hat
                              Ms. Chang's house
                    NOTE: Names ending in s or an s sound are not required to have the second s added in possessive form.

Rule 3.           Use the apostrophe where the noun that should follow is implied.
          Example:           This was his father's, not his, jacket.

Rule 4.           To show plural possession, make the noun plural first. Then immediately use the apostrophe.
          Examples:   two boys' hats
                              two women's hats
                              two actresses' hats
                              two children's hats
                              the Changs' house
                              the Joneses' golf clubs
                              the Strauses' daughter
                              the Sanchezes' artwork
                              the Hastingses' appointment
                              the Leeses' books

Rule 5.           Do not use an apostrophe for the plural of a name.
          Examples:  We visited the Sanchezes in Los Angeles.
                             The Changs have two cats and a dog.

Rule 6.           With a singular compound noun, show possession with 's at the end of the word.
          Example:           my mother-in-law's hat

Rule 7.           If the compound noun is plural, form the plural first and then
use the apostrophe.
          Example:           my two brothers-in-law's hats

Rule 8.           Use the apostrophe and s after the second name only if two people possess the same item.
          Examples:     Cesar and Maribel's home is constructed of redwood.
                                Cesar's and Maribel's job contracts will be renewed next year.
                                         Indicates separate ownership.
                                Cesar and Maribel's job contracts will be renewed next year.
                                         Indicates joint ownership of more than one contract.

Rule 9.          Never use an apostrophe with possessive pronouns: his, hers, its, theirs, ours, yours, whose.They already show possession so they do not require an apostrophe.
                              This book is hers, not yours.
                              Sincerely your's.

Rule 10.           The only time an apostrophe is used for it's is when it is a contraction for it is or it has.
          Examples:   It's a nice day.
                              It's your right to refuse the invitation.
                              It's been great getting to know you.

Rule 11.           The plurals for capital letters and numbers used as nouns are not formed with apostrophes.
                    She consulted with three M.D.s.
                    She went to three M.D.s' offices.
         The apostrophe is needed here to show plural possessive.
                    She learned her ABCs.
                    the 1990s not the 1990's
                    the '90s or the mid-'70s not the '90's or the mid-'70's
                    She learned her times tables for 6s and 7s.
          Exception:           Use apostrophes with  letters and numbers when the meaning would be unclear otherwise.
          Examples:    Please dot your i's.  (You don't mean is.)
                              Ted couldn't distinguish between her 6's and 0's. (You don't mean Os.)

Rule 12.           Use the possessive case in front of a gerund (-ing word).
          Examples:    Alex's skating was a joy to behold.
                              This does not stop Joan's inspecting of our facilities next Thursday.

Rule 13.           If the gerund has a pronoun in front of it, use the possessive form of that pronoun.
          Examples:   I appreciate your inviting me to dinner.
                              I appreciated his working with me to resolve the conflict.

          Knowing where and when to use those bat commas is a matter of study and practice.

Vivian Zabel

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Writing tips - sentences

by Vivian Zabel

          I hosted the English Refresher 101 workshop with lessons and assignments to help writers remember or learn basic grammar concepts during the MuseIt Online Writing Conference.

         I decided that I should share some of the lessons and assignments with readers of the newsletter. Today's article is about sentences.

         We need to know several things to write good sentences. The first thing we need to know is what a sentence is.

What is a sentence?

         A sentence is a group of words (clauses) which have a complete thought. A clause is a group of words with a subject and verb that go together.

Clauses: a dependent clause (subordinate clause) is a group of words that has a subject and verb but not a complete thought. (a sentence fragment is a dependent clause).
An independent clause (main clause) is a group of words that has a subject and verb and forms a complete thought.

Simple sentence: one independent clause

                             Russel enjoys baseball.

Compound sentence: two or more independent clauses joined correctly with punctuation or a comma and a conjunction

                             March is a windy month in Oklahoma, but it often has bouts of winter weather.
                             March is a windy month in Oklahoma; it often has bouts of winter weather.
                             March is a windy month in Oklahoma: it often has bouts of winter weather.

Complex sentence: one independent clause and one or more dependent clause

                             When the wind blows, the temperatures seem colder.

Compound-complex sentence: two or more independent clauses joined correctly and one or more
                             dependent clauses

                             When the wind blows, the temperatures seem colder, and I don’t want to leave the house.

         We can use a variety of sentence types in writing to make the writing more interesting.

         Some sub-topics dealing with sentence structure include using sentence fragments and run-on sentences.
Stumbling over Sentence Fragments

         When sentences are not correct, are not finely tuned, the quality and clarity of communication is lost. One way to keep sentences from working is stumbling over sentence fragments. A sentence fragment is a group of words punctuated as a sentence but which doesn’t contain a complete thought.

         Let’s examine the following paragraph to discover some sentence fragments:

         Intrepid mountain climbers scaling a tall peak. Climb higher and higher. Up the frozen slopes. When they reach the top. They can look forward to an even more treacherous descent.

         All of the sentence-like-punctuated groups of words in the preceding are fragments except the last. We will keep the paragraph in mind as we look at some ways to correct sentence fragments.

         Sometimes a fragment lacks a subject. Therefore, adding a subject makes the fragment a sentence.

                    Fragment without a subject: Climb higher and higher.
                    Sentence: They climb higher and higher.

         Another way to correct a sentence fragment would be to connect the fragment with a sentence, rewording it if necessary.

                    Fragment without subject or verb: Up the frozen slopes.
                    Sentence: They climb higher and higher up the frozen slopes.

         At times a fragment lacks a verb, perhaps using a verbal or verb without a helping verb. The way to correct this type sentence fragment would be to add a verb or change a verbal to a verb.

                    Fragment without a verb: Intrepid mountain climbers scaling a tall peak.
                    Sentence by adding a helping verb: Intrepid mountain climbers are scaling a tall peak.
                    Sentence by changing a verbal to a verb: Intrepid mountain climbers scale a tall peak.

         At times, a fragment has a subject and verb but doesn’t contain a complete thought. To create a correct sentence, usually the fragment will need to be connected to a sentence.

                    Fragment lacking a complete thought: When they reach the top.
                    Sentence: When they reach the top, they can look forward to an even more treacherous descent.

         Now let’s see how the original paragraph filled with fragments can be a correctly formatted paragraph.

         Intrepid mountain climbers scale a tall peak. They climb higher and higher up the frozen slopes. When they reach the top, they can look forward to an even more treacherous descent.

         A side note, sometimes writers will use an occasional sentence fragment for effect, but only occasionally. The effect is easily recognized by the reader when this practice is used. Otherwise, avoiding the problem is best.

         Finally, once we conquer the problem, we have no more stumbles because of sentences fragments, which could be dangerous on steep, frozen slopes.

Running into Run-On Sentence

         Run-sentences halt a reader because he or she has to stop and decide what the writer means. Run-on sentences are compound sentences joined incorrectly. A run-on sentence interrupts the flow and meaning of what is written.

         All right, I see those confused looks. First of all, a compound sentence is two or more independent clauses joined by a comma and a coordinating conjunction, by a semicolon, or by a colon.

         An independent clause or main clause is a group of words with a subject and verb which contains a complete thought.

Independent clause: The boy ran around the house, screaming at the top of his voice.
Dependent clause (not a complete thought}: Screaming at the top of his voice.

         A coordinating conjunction is a word such as and, but, or, nor, yet, or for that joins items of equal value. The conjunction may join subjects, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, and/or clauses.

         Now let’s examine run-on sentence problems and how to correct them. The first run-on sentence which we’ll work with is as follows:

Run-on: Secretary of State William Seward bought Alaska from Russia the deal was mocked as “Seward’s Folly.”

         One way to correct the run-on uses an end mark and a capital letter to separate the independent (or main} clauses into separate sentences.

Separate sentences: Secretary of State William Seward bought Alaska from Russia. The deal was mocked as “Seward’s Folly.”

         Another way is to use a semicolon between clauses.

Semicolon: Secretary of State William Seward bought Alaska from Russia; the deal was mocked as “Seward’s Folly.” Note: both clauses must be closely related for this method to work.

         Using a comma and a coordinating conjunction between clauses also works.

Comma and coordinating conjunction: Secretary of State William Seward brought Alaska from Russia, but the deal was mocked as “Seward’s Folly.”

         A final way to correct a run-on sentence is to introduce one clause with a subordinating conjunction (creating a dependent or subordinate clause - a clause not making a complete thought) and use a comma before the new independent or main clause. This combination creates a complex sentence: the use of one independent clause and one or more dependent clauses.

Complex sentence: When Secretary of State William Seward brought Alaska from Russia, the deal was mocked as “Seward’s Folly.”

         A comma splice, another type of run-on sentence, can be corrected in the same ways. In a comma splice, the two independent clauses are joined only by a comma. The sample sentence will be the following:

Comma splice: The president of the company found himself in a quandary, the company was going bankrupt.

Separate sentences: The president of the company found himself in a quandary. The company was going bankrupt.

Semicolon: The president of the company found himself in a quandary; the company was going bankrupt.

Comma and coordinating conjunction: The president of the company found himself in a quandary, for the company was going bankrupt.

Complex sentence: Because the company was going bankrupt, the president of the company found himself in a quandary.

         Hopefully, the preceding information will help everyone better understand how to avoid run-on sentences. Running into them hurts comprehension.

Vivian Zabel  

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Seven Keys to Picture Book Winners

by Ginger Nielson

Although no one can predict how your hard work as an author or illustrator will fare in today’s marketplace, there are some keys that can open the doors to success.

KEY:  A picture book, by its nature and name must have illustrations.  Think of each page as a teaser for the next.  Elements that are not written but implied in the story have an impact but only if they truly belong there.  An unexpected splash of color, an unusual point of view, dramatic perspective, a sense of humor or mystery add interest.

Normally an illustrator is chosen by the publisher or art director of a publishing company.  Their job is to find the best match between the story and the artist and the media the artist is using. 

KEY:  Think of the right side page of any picture book as the entrance to the next.
Are your characters leading you to the next page.  There should be some reason to want to turn that page.  This is where the text and pictures must convey the message together.  It is why artists and editors carefully construct the pagination for a picture book.  Placing illustrations in key points of interest in the story leave the reader/viewer wanting more with each page turn.

KEY:  Have you studied your characters?  In any good picture book the characters must be consistent from page to page. This may sound as easy as dressing them in the same clothes and keeping the hair color the same.  It is more difficult than that if you think about the various actions, emotions, facial expressions, and situations.
Character development sketches are one of the keys to a successful picture book.
Your character whether animal or human or even machine has a personality that was created by the author.  As you interpret the character you need to know what it will look like from any angle and in any position.

KEY: To rhyme or not to rhyme.   One famous author/illustrator has written a number of books in rhyme.  His statement that writing in rhyme works best for him as opposed to straight prose makes sense because his rhyme is close to perfect.
But this is not so for most of us, so unless you are proficient enough to make it work, it is best not to rhyme.  This is not to say that one key rhyme that is repeated throughout a book won’t work.  Children love a book with something they can “READ” page after page.  It doesn’t need to rhyme either… it only needs to captivate them enough for them to want to repeat it as the pages turn.  An example is the
Woman who Swallowed a Fly.   The key phrase, “I don’t know why she swallowed a fly.”  is repeated page after page and children love to chime in with that repetition.

KEY:  Age appropriateness needs to be a  main consideration for the child.   Since picture books for the young are normally read to the child, the story needs to be easily understood from their point of view.  Pictures help, but the manuscript needs to visit the mind of a child in thought and word.  And if the child loves the book it is going to be one that will be read again and again.  So think of the adults who are reading the book, will they be willing to do so over and over?

KEY: It has been said by many and deserves being mentioned here as well.  A good picture book needs a beginning that creates the need for some action on the part of the main character and a resolution that culminates in a satisfying ending.
Characters need personality, a problem to solve and the ability to find ways to solve the problem on their own. They may do this by asking for help or by cooperating with other characters. There are exceptions, however, as in alphabet books or picture books that are primarily non fiction, science related, or a collection of items children want to see in groups, such as animal types, trucks, trains, planes and the like.

KEY:  Although the author does not normally communicate with the illustrator,  a good editor or Art Director will form a bridge between the two so that concerns of the author for his story are transmitted to the illustrator in a positive manner.
If the collaboration is between a self publishing author and an illustrator of their choosing the same cooperation is nescessary .
Visit  my Website *:)

Monday, March 28, 2011

Trailer for Conscience: Breaching Social Amnesia

I wasn't able to post this on Thursday due to my husband's surgery. I wanted it to take the place of vehoae's article (her computer was ill and wouldn't work). Therefore I decided to have it for today, another day with no assigned writer. You can follow vehoae on her blog

Sit back and enjoy the trailer for Conscience: Breaching Social Amnesia and then purchase your own copy either from 4RV Catalog or through any bookstore or other online book supplier.

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Sunday, March 27, 2011

What are critter groups called? Trailer for Stork Musters & Critter Clusters

The second in Rena Jones' three book series of Critter Groups is released. Below is the trailer of Stork Muster & Critter Clusters, prepared by Rena. The first two books were illustrated by Nikki Boetger.

Stork Musters & Critter Clusters can be purchased on the online 4RV Catalog, through most bookstores and online book suppliers.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Marketing Ideas for Authors

Marketing Ideas – #1 Create Content
By: Stephanie Burkhart

The publishing model of today's world has been shifting for several years now. Traditional publishers no longer have a tight reign on publishing. With the success of small presses more authors are publishing more content.

However, an author's work is not done with "the end." Next comes the beast of marketing and promotion. Over the next couple of weeks I hope to address promotion and marketing tips you can take advantage of. My first topic: create content.

Readers ultimately want to know a little about the authors they are reading so introduce yourself. Have a brief bio ready whenever you go online. Include your URL, professional credits, and recent publications.

Example: Stephanie Burkhart's latest children release is "The Giving Meadow." She also writes romance and has a B.S. in Political Science. Stephanie lives in California and you can find her on the web at:

#2 – Have some action shots of you. Show yourself in motion signing books, holding your ebook reader, teaching, visiting places, and hanging out with your family.

#3 – Hold an event (i.e. "solve the mystery" or a contest) that will draw loyal fans to your website.

#4 – Actively blog. And not only about writing, but on things you like. Topics include: going to the movies. (have a movie night) history, sports, or the place you live. You can pique a reader's interest just by sharing a little bit about you.

Reference: 50 Simple ways to build your platform, by Christina Katz, pg. 41, Writer's Digest Mar/Apr 2011.

Friday, March 25, 2011

What Questions Must be Asked & Answered, Before Creating a Children's Book Cover?

Part 1
by Aidana WillowRaven

When contemplating what is needed for the cover of any given book, some basic rules apply to every design or composition. You need to know what the title is saying. You need to know what the title isn't saying. And you need to know to whom the author is saying or not saying the title.

For example, I will use a children's Easy Reader, I illustrated and designed, about a little boy and his day at the zoo. What is the title saying? What isn't the title saying? Who is the author saying it to? Let's look at it (I’ll be using 4RV Publishing’s Being Jacob: A Day at the Zoo by Suzy Koch):

What is the title saying? It's saying this story is about what life is like 'Being Jacob' and what happens when he spends 'A Day at the Zoo'. It may seem pretty basic, but I still have to mention it. Obviously, we need to see Jacob, the main character of the series, and we need to see something that is typically only seen at the zoo. Jacob, an exotic zoo type animal or two, and the enclosure to the animal's habitat, clearly depicts a kid not on safari, or in his back yard, but at a zoo. There could be more elements, but be careful not to over do a cover with too many objects or characters, especially for kids. We want to get the point across without over shadowing the title.

What isn't the title saying? It isn't saying Jacob is excited about a giraffe. That is a visual hint about something specific in the story. Yes, giraffes are typical to most zoos, and, yes, I could have drawn a gorilla family, but I chose the giraffes, specifically the mother and baby giraffes, because of a special situation in the story. Think of it as a subliminal message, in a way.

To whom is the author saying the title to? Look at the font (which should also match the genre and story – It's part of the over all piece). It's written much like a little kid would write. A bit sloppy, some letters over powering other letters, etc. The author (and publisher) want the smaller kids to relate to this cover. It looks like it's 'written for them, by one of them.' Look at the scene's colors. High contrast. Bright against dark. Kid's are naturally attracted to high contrast. People often mistake this idea to mean primary colors. That works, too, for some pieces and styles, but when a realism style is being used, 'real life' colors, just maybe intensified, should be used, too. We want the reader to see this boy as a 'real' kid, like them, not a cartoon character. Primary colors that are used in excess will give that cartoon impression, and will attract more preschoolers, rather than 6-8 year olds. Which comes to the last point: This book is targeting Easy Readers (also known as Early Readers). That is ages 6-8 or sometimes 8-10, depending on word count and the main character's age. The artist must know what attracts readers of what ages. What colors, what styles, what themes. The artist also needs to know who is ultimately buying that book. A parent. So they have to know how to catch his/her eye, too.

Next time (two Friday's from today), we'll look at a more advanced reader/genre, MG/YA (middle grade/young adult), and go over 'What Questions Must be Asked & Answered, Before Creating a Children's Book Cover?'. I’ll be using another book I designed, and did the cover art for, 4RV Publishing’s Just Breeze by Beverly Stowe McClure, for the example. 

Aidana WillowRaven
Art Director & VP of Operations
4RV Publishing

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Trailer for Midnight Hours

by Vivian Zabel

I would like to share a special book trailer, created by Aidana WillowRaven for my mystery/suspense novel Midnight Hours.

Midnight Hours can be found through any book store or any online book supplier. It's also available on 4RV Publishing Catalog and the 4RV Publishing website.

Tomorrow's article by vehoae will be replaced by another book trailer or by a review of one of 4RV's releases. Her computer, her new computer, decided it didn't want to work. Vehoae will join us next month after her computer recovers.

Vivian Zabel 

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Writing with Variety

by Jacque Graham

            “Variety is the spice of [a writer’s] life.”  Face it, Muse cajoles us with a new idea, or forces us out of bed at three o’clock in the morning demanding we write that passage or poem bouncing around our brain.  So now it stares at us from the computer screen or from the yellow pages of a legal pad.  What now?  The work begins.
            Editing is a mandate.  We are reminded by our fellow writers to “Show don’t tell.” So we check our manuscript for errors in punctuation, capitalization, and spelling.  We check to make sure we have mastered the “hook," the magic sentences in the first paragraphs of our script that draws us into our masterful story.  We change the passive verbs to active words.  We tweak the dialogue to make sure it is not stilted, and we get rid of the word said and replace it with others like stated, declared, shouted, whispered  or others that paint the picture and avoid the repetitive “said." We slice out any unneeded words or phrases to tighten up the style.  It is said of Edgar Allen Poe that every single word he used added to his unique voice and mood.  What a goal to emulate in our own writing.
            Now that we have cut and parsed, there is yet another step to our edit.  Read it all aloud as if we were presenting it to a large audience:  Will it hold their attention?  Will they hang on every word?  What can we do to keep the “hook” set throughout the writing?
            Look at the variety of sentence structure.  A quick study of sentence forms pays off in tightening the flow of the story and creating the variety that holds the attention of the reader. It can make a difference between a rough draft and a polished publication.  I use a formula system to check the structures.,
            Basic writing says the heart of every sentence is the verb (V), while the topic word(s) are the subject (S).  A sentence is defined as an Independent Clause (I) that conveys a complete thought,  We formulize that to I=SVIf we have multiple subjects, our formula becomes SSV; multiple verbs formulizes as SVV.  Multiple subjects and verbs would be SSVV.  A quick check of our sentence variety can be done by applying formulas to the sentences, then checking that we use a good variety. A clause is a group of words that contain a S and a V.

                                      S              V
SV              The gymnast twists thru the air.

                              S                S         V
SSV            The bombs and rockets burst above our heads.

                                             S        V                  V
SVV            The competing band marched and played the Sousa rendition perfectly,

                       S              S      V             V
SSVV          Boys and girls jump and tumble on the gym’s trampolines.
                   (Since this last formula implies multiple subjects and verbs,
                   this formula would also be used for a sentence with more than
                   two subjects or verbs as well,)

                        S        S               [S]          V                                     V
SSVV          Adults, teens, and children peddle the exercise bikes, lift the
                   weights, or stretch on the mats all over the workout room.

        We can assume, therefore, that each of the above formula sentences is an Independent Clause [I].


There are four more formulas I use in my writing.

 1.               I, c I  (Independent Clause, comma, Independent Clause)

     Two independent clauses can be joined by a comma and a conjunction.
         (Conjunctions:  for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so)

                   S   V      (I)                   ,   c   (I)    S             V           V
I,CI             I enjoy a good doughnut, but my son and daughter prefer a
                   banana muffin.
     (note the mixture of SV  and SVV patterns in this compound sentence)

2.                I;I  (Independent Clause, semi-colon, Independent Clause)
     By eliminating the conjunction in example above, we replace the comma
     and conjunction with a semi-colon, Two closely related independent 
     clauses can be joined by a semi-colon.
    S    V         (I)             ; (I)   S               S          V
I;I                I enjoy a good doughnut; my son and daughter prefer a muffin.

3.                D,I    When a dependent clause (D) is placed in front of an independent clause (I) it is separated by a comma,

                                 D                 ,             I
D,I              While I love football, my husband enjoys basketball.

4.                ID    When a dependent clause follows an independent clause, there is no comma needed to separate the two clauses.

                             S      V                                S    V
ID               My wife enjoys basketball while I prefer football games.

     By assigning formulas to sentences in our writing we can see if it shows limited structural choices.  Limiting 
our structural choices to one or two patterns creates less interesting reading,  Readers may not be able to 
pinpoint the problem, but a lack of variety may be one reason to lay a book aside and turn to another author 
for the next read,  Good writing will have a variety of sentence structures as well as a variety of verb usage 
and word choices.
      The formula for good writing is a bit more complicated than simple sentence structure, but I have found 
that the writers I seek the most have a healthy usage of sentence variety. Coupled with active verb usage 
and  wisely selected scenes that build a capturing plot line.  Add in the muse’s prodding, and a writer is on 
the way to an interesting and successful writing experience.

Jacque Graham, author and editor

Due to broken phone and Internet problems, Jacque emailed the article, and I posted. There were 
some  formatting problems as a result.

Monday, March 21, 2011

You're the Writer. Hmmmmm ...

by Jean James
But what if I fail of my purpose here?
It is but to keep the nerves at strain,
To dry one’s eyes and laugh at a fall,
And baffled, get up and begin again,
So the chase takes up one’s life, that’s all.

Robert Browning

You’re the writer. Hmmmmm ...

I’ve not felt much like a writer for the last week and a half. I’ve been lost behind enormous stacks of income tax papers. With three returns to do, each one too complicated for words, my brain barely survived. I reached the bottom of the pile yesterday and, lo and behold, there was my husband on the other side. I’d forgotten all about him.

“Hi, sweetheart. Did you miss me? Are you hungry or anything?”

The fact is, we expected the returns to all come out in the red by a sizeable chunk. After endless calculations, internet searches for loopholes and explanations, and phone conversations with sometimes-less-than-friendly IRS employees, I managed to reverse the expected results and get some dollars back from the IRS on each of them. I’m no bookkeeper or accountant, and I get scared to death if someone even mentions income tax, so it took a ton of effort. I could have just sent it in the way we thought it should be. It would have been simple and quick (and costly). Am I glad I did the work? I’ll say!

Isn’t that how it is in writing?

There are so many steps along the way in a writing career, it’s no wonder we’re often tempted to take the easiest, both in the writing and marketing. After all, mental work is the most demanding work there is, and even if we’re poor, it sometimes seems easier to blindly pour money into a project than to really think and investigate what’s wise.

Does it really work?

I knew a person who developed a complicated mathematical system for betting at the racetrack. They stuck faithfully to their plan, race after race, and lost money. But they weren’t about to change their formula. That would be too much mental work. It was easier to go on losing.

We had a close friend who worked for a magazine. This magazine rarely, if ever, did book reviews, yet they constantly received expensive books for review. Those books were never read or reviewed. They were given away to grandchildren or friends (who probably weren’t interested in them either), or they were dumped into the office’s trash bin. These were pricey items that a publicist or an author sent to them with high hopes – but not enough prior investigation. It was money and time thrown away.

My daughter and co-author is also a musician. At a young age she learned how a great many radio promoters operated. They’d charge their client a large fee for their service, expect their client to supply a quantity of CD’s, and expect their client to pay for all the mailings. They, in turn, would mail the CD’s to radio stations who would, in turn, drop them in their trash, unopened.

Do we toss away our brain and money together?

Aren’t we all mentally lazy at times? We stand faithfully by a plan or decision and pour money and effort into it whether it works or not. We search for the path of least resistance, or the quick fix, because we just want to get it done whether it works or not. We don’t want to have to think. We tell ourselves we’ve fulfilled our requirements and if it doesn’t work it’s not our fault.

Does our manuscript fit the needs and requirements of the publisher or agent we sent them to? Does our first page lure an editor to the second page? Do we write a “letter perfect” proposal but a perfectly boring at the same time? Does our advertisement actually convince someone they want to read our book? Does our back cover blurb entice a reader to buy the book or is it just a well orchestrated paragraph with admirable writing? We love watching our book trailer, but can we see it through the eyes of a possible reader and purchaser? How about our title and our cover? Are we trying to please ourselves when we should also consider what will sell? Did we investigate before we chose a publicist?

What about outside opinions?

What if a friend, or someone in our writing group, criticizes our manuscript or our marketing plan unmercifully? Before we chuck everything we should realize that some people have trained themselves so well in the critique business they feel they must criticize everything. It’s our job as writers to consider all evaluations, but use our own brain to decide their merit.

Maybe it’s just the reverse and our work is praised extravagantly. Again, some people have trained themselves to be complimentary about everything. They’re so practiced in this matter they often believe everything they tell you. Again, you should enjoy the applause, but don’t let your brain get so elevated it looses the oxygen it needs to work properly.

When persistence fails?
Sometimes success is just a matter of persistence and hitting the right person at the right time. We shouldn’t immediately distrust what we’ve done. But if we use our reasoning ability and it tells us we’ve come up short, we shouldn’t hesitate to change our proposal, our letter to the editor, our ads, our publicist, our blurbs, our first page, or our entire marketing strategy. We should do whatever it takes and if that doesn’t work it’s time to think some more.

Yes, all writers can think!

We’re writers, aren’t we? We think for all the different characters we create. Isn’t it time to think for ourselves? There’s no fun or satisfaction in failing, and sometimes it can be downright expensive!

Heaven never helps the man who will not act.


Jean James

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Trailer for upcoming release Carla's Cloud Catastrophe

A book by Beth Bence Reinke, illustrated by Ginger Nielson, will soon be released. The ARCs are winging their way to reviewers now.

Until its release in June, sit back and enjoy the trailer created by Ginger:

Carla's Cloud Catastrophe can be pre-ordered on the 4RV Catalog.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Dogsled Dreams review

by Vivian Zabel

Jemi Fraser gave permission for the following to be used here, from her January 3, 2011 blog.

Dogsled Dreams

Woohoo!! Blog Buddy Terry Lynn Johnson's Dogsled Dreams is being released TODAY!!! :)
Dogsled Dreams is a Middle Grade novel sure to please. Here's the blurb:

Twelve-year-old Rebecca dreams of becoming a famous dog sled racer. She's an inventive but self-doubting musher who tackles blinding blizzards, wild animal attacks, puppy training, and flying poo missiles. All of her challneges though, seem easier than living up to the dogs' trust in her abilities.

I've taught Middle Grade aged kids for a long time. I know them really well. Rebecca IS one of them. No question. Rebecca could easily be one of the kids I've taught over the years. Terry's voice is perfect. I especially love the comments Rebecca makes to herself throughout the book. Spot on. She made me smile and laugh all through the story.

I know MG kids are going to love the plot line too. It's full of fun, mystery, worry and LOTS of adventure. One of the best points, in my opinion, is that the readers will easily be able to imagine themselves in Rebecca's shoes...or boots. The adventure isn't out of reach for them, and it isn't something they couldn't do - as long as they are willing to work hard and commit. Great fun with a great lesson as well.

If you can't tell, I LOVED this book! I'm going to use it as a read aloud to my students once we're back in class later this week. I know they'll love it, too!

And, if you don't believe me, check out these AMAZING reviews!!!

"A captivating and exciting debut novel." ~ Superior Outdoors Magazine

"A warm, coming-of-age story about hopes and dreams, but most of all, finding the true meaning of family and friends, whether they have two legs or four!" ~ Darcy Johns, Youth Services Librarian, Nova Scotia

"Any teacher using Gary Paulsen's Woodsong would want Terry Johnson's Dogsled Dreams as part of their classroom library." ~ Diane Johnson, Iditarod's Education Director

"Exhilarating." ~ BiblioReads

WOW!! Can you believe those reviews! Hurry and get your hands on this book NOW!

Posted by Jemi Fraser at 11:03 AM, January 3, 2011

Thank you, Jemi, for allowing us to share your blog post about the top selling book for 4RV for the past several months.

Dogsled Dreams can be found through bookstores,, and other online bookstores. It's also available through 4RV Publishing Catalog.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Harry Porter's newest rescue dog tale

When we don't have a scheduled article for the newsletter, I'll post a trailer for one of the 4RV books. Today's is for Harry (Brian) Porter's Dylan's Tale, the second in his rescue dog series. Dylan's Tale can be ordered from the 4RV Publishing Catalog.

4RV Website

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Giving a pitch to an agent, editor, or publisher

by Vivian Zabel

I’ve attended several writing conferences and have not only made pitches, but I’ve also listened to pitches. Below are a few points I learned. I’m going to use the pitch I did for my newest novel Stolen as an example.

            Making a 3 minutes book pitch: I had an appointment with an agent, and as I prepared for that few minutes to “pitch” my book in a way that she would want to know more, to read it, maybe to represent it, I wrote notes and practiced my speech so that it flowed smoothly but still seemed spontaneous. 

         Knowing how to prepare and present a three-minute pitch should be a tool in an author’s selling kit, to be used for agents, editors, and public presentations.

1. Start with an attention-grabber. This is a must. If you lose the audience, whether one person or 100, at the beginning, you can’t get them back. Just as the first paragraph in a story, article, or novel must attract the reader, the first words out of your mouth must do the same. 

         I started my spiel with the statement: When life steals something important from a person, she either gives up and dies, or she finds a way to rebuild her life.

2. Don’t give a complete summary of your book. Give just enough information that the audience wants to know more. 
             I continued my pitch by saying, “Torri had things stolen from her life over and over including having her marriage destroyed by an unfaithful husband and losing her best friend to cancer. Each time she gathered her courage and rebuilt her life. However, when her children are taken by their biological father and not found, she didn’t know if she could continue or not, or even if she wanted to try.

         I gave a bit more information from the book. For an agent or editor, the ending for the book may be required. For a presentation to a group, the ending should not be revealed.

3. If asked, be prepared to tell why you wrote the book – be sincere and reveal who you think the intended readers are.

4. Rehearse so that you don’t ramble. You don’t want your speech to sound memorized, but you need to know the main points and the order to present them.

5. If the book is already released (which if the pitch is meant for an agent or editor, it will must not be), be sure to let the audience know where and how they can buy your book.

6. If the presentation is for a group after the book is released, be sure to take copies of the book to sell and autograph. 

         Be prepared, practice, then relax.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


by Ginger Nielson

Do you have an illustration website?  Does it flow easily for the viewer?  Is it a cluttered mess that won't open quickly?  Are you a writer with a website? Is it so overloaded with text that your viewers quickly move on?
Are there so many bells and whistles on the front page that the viewer is forced to tap their fingers waiting for it to open?  .... or worse yet, just leave and go on to another site.

What does a good website need?
It needs to open quickly on a number of different browsers.
It needs to attract the attention of your target audience.
It needs to keep your visitor actively interested in that important first page.
It needs to have a visible and easy way to navigate from page to page.
It needs to have all it's links updated on a regular basis and checked for orphaned links.
It needs a consistent overall design.

This means as an illustrator you want to show off your artwork in a gallery of your very best, crisp, colorful and easily accessed images.
The quicker the Art Director can get to the meat of your website, the easier it is for him or her to decide if you have what they are looking for.
Bells and whistles are fun, but unless you are actually looking for a job as an animator or website guru, the pages that open with long waits for intricate animations to “LOAD” aren’t going to be the best invitation for those busy professionals. Fancy Flash and animations take time to load.
IF your expertise is animation and that is what you are promoting, at least provide a “skip intro” button that will allow the art editor a quick passage to your artwork.

Things you will pay for:
A Domain Name  -- any number of choices are available for a search on the internet.
A web hosting service -- some are free, some can be had for a monthly or yearly fee.

How do I create my website?
There are a number of free and easy to use web authoring programs on the internet.  However, it could benefit you if you invest in a program that will allow you to create a smooth flowing website that you have control over.  The web programs offered for sale range in price and difficulty.  One of the best is Dreamweaver from Adobe.  This is the one I use for my website and one I am still learning to use effectively.
This program is difficult to learn if you are a first time web creator. There are tutorials, paid and free on the internet. Once you purchase any program from Adobe they do offer support and forums for your benefit.

Here is a link to a comparison page of web creation software  programs that may be helpful.

 But, if you have never created a website before, one of the free and easier to use web programs might be better for you to start with. Apple offers iWeb to all mac users and there are a number of other free programs available.
Microsoft offers WebMatrix for free download and makes it easy for you to get started.

A google search will give you many other listings.
And there are more ... just do a search for FREE WEBSITES.

An alternative to free websites or paid websites is Blogger.  With a blog you can create numerous posts complete with photos, illustrations and videos.  Once you are proficient with something like Blogger or Wordpress you may want to move on to a more sophisticated web authoring program.

Here are some things to remember when you create your website.
If you have music on your website, it is a good idea to have a SOUND/OFF and ON button.
(Some people may open your site while at work, and there is nothing more disturbing than to suddenly have music or sound of some kind blasting into the workplace.)

Are you a writer?  There should be links to your works, your books, and any articles that you want to share with the viewers.

Are you an illustrator? There should be some sort of portfolio to show off your work along with links to any work that is for sale in books, magazines, or free standing artwork.

Even if you cannot create your own illustration portfolio for your website, there are many portfolio hosts on the internet. Some are expensive to belong to, others are totally free.

Here are some of portfolio hosting sites you will pay a fee for:
Children's Illustrators
Hire an Illustrator
Picture Book
The Directory of Illustration
The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators  ( SCBWI)  --This organization is something that
all writers and illustrators of children's books should seriously consider joining.  The fee is reasonable considering the cost of the other paid portfolio sites.  In addition SCBWI offers great contacts, resources, entry to contests that give rewards, a forum of your peers and annual and regional conferences that put you in touch with others in your field and the publishing world at large.

And there are FREE (or next to free) portfolio hosting sites as well:
Take some time to investigate the sites and see if one would work for you.
Remember that there is help all over the internet and a simple search can lead to just the right program for your needs.

Once the visitor has reached the object of your hard work, your portfolio, you can place the necessary links on that page. You may want to have links to other places on the internet where you have work displayed, or where they can find your Resume or Bio pages, or perhaps you have animations, online stories, a blog, or books you have illustrated that you want noticed. All these can be available as links on this page.
When your site is as good as you can make it the next step is to get it listed on as many search engines as possible. Here again, use the free submit sites. In a few weeks, sometimes just a day or two, you’ll be seeing your web pages and links to your site on many search engines.
Some illustrators may choose to have a third party create their website. That’s fine, but keep an eye on your source code and that all important opening page.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Write What I KNOW? Are you KIDDING?

by Holly Jahangiri

Somewhere after, "Show, don't tell!" comes the advice to "Write what you know." It's sensible advice, but like "Show, don't tell" it offers little guidance to a novice who doesn't already understand the concept. In fact, if your first reaction to hearing "Write what you know" was to throw up your hands and say, "But I don't know anything! I'm doomed!" you're not alone.

But you'd be wrong.

"Write what you know" is just shorthand for "Pull it from somewhere deep inside you. Somewhere real, even if what you're crafting is fiction. Because fiction must be a believable lie, no matter how far-fetched the scenario. Reach in and dig around in the chambers of your heart for real emotion. Wander the mental library stacks to rifle through the memories and pick up inspiration from real events that you've observed or experienced first-hand. Steal your friends' quirks and mannerisms and do the ultimate mash-up to create characters that are familiar - but new and not likely to get you sued. Remember all that reading you did when you were a kid? You know what you liked about it, what sucked you in and kept you reading all the way to the dinner table. Use it all."

Try this:

  1. Grab a piece of paper and a pen.
  2. Think back to when you were in 7th grade. Jot down three memories that stand out. They don’t have to be huge events in your life, just three that come to mind when you hear “7th grade.” List them on the paper.
  3. Who was your best friend that year? Write down a list of traits, quirks, mannerisms, and actions they did that made you especially like them.
  4. Who was your nemesis or rival that year? Write down the traits, quirks, mannerisms, and actions that angered or frustrated you.
  5. Now, flash forward – in your adult life, who is the most difficult person you have to deal with on a daily basis? What makes them difficult or challenging? What do you LIKE about them?

Next, write a story:

The year is 7th grade. The protagonist, from whose point of view you’ll write the story, is the challenging adult you named above (5). Give this person a new name, and regress them to the age of twelve. What makes them tick? Strive to understand them and to see their hidden potential, but use it in the raw form it might have taken when they were twelve. Take the best friend you listed (3) and make them the “inspirational teacher” – the one adult who makes a difference in your protagonist’s life. The antagonists of your story are your nemesis’ and rivals (4) – but make a real effort to give them depth – don’t let them be “evil” caricatures of themselves. Give them credible motives and feelings drawn from what you NOW know of human nature – secrets your protagonist has yet to figure out. Use the events of your own 7th grade year (2) as plot points – how do your characters react? How do they grow and change (or not) as a result of these events and their outcomes? Flesh it out with details drawn from memory and imagination.

Do you see, now, that “Write what you know” doesn’t require a degree in physics, or a background in medieval history? You can research the details if you can read – and if you write, then you know how to read. So now, add a little challenge: Pick your worst subject in 7th grade and research it in sufficient detail to write and describe a simple 7th grade lecture on it. Make that a scene in your story, using either your “inspirational teacher” or another teacher character created just for this scene.

When you’re done, you should understand “Write what you know.” Maybe you could even write a story about an aspiring writer learning to draw from the inner well of what he or she knows.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

To comma or not to comma

by Vivian Zabel

         Commas really are not living entities that reproduce and decide where to live and where not to live. Neither are they snow flakes that land wherever the wind may take them. They are not decorations to be used or not as a person’s fancy may decide. Commas actually have a vital and exact use in writing stories, poetry, essays, or articles. Let’s visit Comma World and see if we can discover when and where commas should be used.

          We should use a comma to separate words in a series, and use a comma before the conjunction, too, unless we’re writing a journalistic article. In a newspaper article, no comma is used before the conjunction. In literary writing, such as essays, stories, and poetry, one is.

Error: Wolves are found in Alaska Canada and Minnesota.
Correct: Wolves are found in Alaska, Canada, and Minnesota.

         Names directly addressed need to be set off by commas.

Error: Be careful Mary, or you’ll fall.
Correct: Be careful, Mary, or you’ll fall.

         Commas should be used to set off conjunctive adverbs that introduce a clause or sentence. However, internal or final conjunctive adverbs should be set off by commas only when they interrupt the flow of a sentence.

Error: Meanwhile the Everly Brothers introduced country harmonies to rock-and-roll.
Correct: Meanwhile, the Everly Brothers introduced country harmonies to rock-and-roll.

         Mild interjections not needing exclamation points will need to be set off by commas. These interjections include words such as yes, no, well, okay, and oh.

Error: Well I don’t understand what you mean.
Correct: Well, I don’t understand what you mean.

Error: When I saw the hole in the offensive line wow I knew the safety would sack the quarterback.
Correct: When I saw the hole in the offensive line, wow, I knew the safety would sack the quarterback.

         Another place commas are used would be between main clauses unless they are extremely short clauses. The comma comes before the conjunction (and, or, nor, but, yet, sometimes for) joining the main clauses in a compound sentence.

Error: Rabbits usually run when sensing danger but sometimes they freeze in place.
Correct: Rabbits usually run when sensing danger, but sometimes they freeze in place.

         Equal adjectives should be separated with a comma. One test is to see if the word and could be used between the adjectives. If so, then a comma is needed.

Error: The velvet skirt fell in soft flowing folds.
Correct: The velvet skirt fell in soft, flowing folds. (Test: The velvet skirt fell in long and flowing folds.)

         Adjectives that must be in a specific order are not separated by commas.

Error: They have many, clever ways of surviving.
Correct: They have many clever ways of surviving.

         A phrase adding nonessential information should be set off by commas.

Error: Wolves in pairs or sometimes in packs hunt animals such as deer and caribou.
Correct: Wolves, in pairs or sometimes in packs, hunt animals such as deer and caribou.

         A comma is needed after introductory words.

Error: To be sure smaller animals can make fierce pets.
Correct: To be sure, smaller animals can make fierce pets.

         A phrase that is essential to the meaning of sentence should not be set off by commas.

Error: Animals, falling into this category, include rodents and rabbits.
Correct: Animals falling into this category include rodents and rabbits.

         A clause which doesn’t add essential information in a sentence should be set off by commas. (A clause has a subject and verb that go together.)

Error: Clowns who usually cause people to laugh instill fear in some people.
Correct: Clowns, who usually cause people to laugh, instill fear in some people.

         One should not set off essential clauses with commas.

Error: The wolf, that is found in Alaska, is called the gray wolf.
Correct: The wolf that is found in Alaska is called the gray wolf.

         Non-essential appositives should be set off by commas. (An appositive is a noun or pronoun - word, phrase, or clause - placed after another noun or pronoun to provide more information or rename the first.)

Error: The gray wolf a wild species of dog is also called the timber wolf.
Correct: The gray wolf, a wild species of dog, is also called the timber wolf.

         But an appositive essential to the meaning of the sentence should not be set off by commas.

Error: The writer, Mark Twain, writes about a young man who runs away.
Correct: The writer Mark Twain writes about a young man who runs away.

         Sometimes a name can be non-essential, and sometimes it can be essential. If a person has only one brother, then the brother’s name would be non-essential. If he has more than one brother, then the brother’s name would be essential.

Examples: My brother, Bob, lives in New York. (“I” have only one brother.)
                   My brother Bob lives in New York. (“I” have two brothers.)

         Punctuation in poetry is the same as in other types of writing. Commas add to the meaning of poetry and allows the reader to better understand what the poet tries to say.

         Therefore, the answer to the original question is one should comma when and where needed.

1. Writer's Companion copyright 1995 by Printice-Hall, Inc.
2. Literature and Language copyright 2001 by McDugal Littel.
3. Notes and lesson plans by Vivian Zabel