Sunday, February 24, 2013

Keeping it easy for Kids

Joe Burkhart reading The Giving Meadow

By: Stephanie Burkhart

I volunteer in my son's classroom every other week. He's in 1st grade now. The experience is especially rewarding because I love watching my son interact and grow with his classmates.

The children enjoy having books read to them. Their eyes really light up when its reading time.

After reading my story to them this past week, my son's teacher began asking questions. It was a nice reminder to me, as a writer, how important it is to keep it easy for kids. Most five-year-olds appreciate how you, the author, put story elements together and the proof is in their smiles. Some elements to keep in mind:


The setting should be something the kids can relate to – a house, backyard, forest, lake, or beach.


Characters should be easy to relate to. For example: Mom, Dad, a dog, a cat, or bugs. What makes them easy to relate to? Heartwarming qualities such as kindness, sharing, and giving. Characters should embody emotions children see everyday.

The Problem

The kids in my son's class had a harder time indentifying the problem of the story when the teacher asked, but when she stated what it was, a lot of them said, "Oh, yeah!" The problem should be one the kids can understand. For example, frustration or loneliness. 

The Solution

The solution has to be something they can identify with. Examples include an act of kindness, sharing a toy, or even a smile.

Being a children's writer can be challenging, but hanging around children, reading to them, and even watching a children's show with them can help to give you the perspective needed to craft a special story they can relate to.

Author Bio: Stephanie Burkhart is a 911 Dispatcher for LAPD. She enjoys working with children at her church. Her books with 4RV Publishing include The Giving Meadow and First Flag of New Hampshire.








Thursday, February 21, 2013

Where to Start your Story

Where to start your story

In the first long work of fiction I wrote, I made the classic beginner's mistake of starting the story too soon., with two chapters of backstory.

I wrote the first version of the book, "The Angry Little Boy," which will be published by 4RV sometime this year, in a weekend. Then I spent the next couple of years learning enough about fiction writing to make it publishable, including signing up for an online course on revising and editing. The first assignment was to post a chapter and revise it.

Taking a look at the first two chapters, I decided they would be poor material for the assignment, so I chose chapter three. It was one of those moments of clarity or perhaps sheer blind luck. Ultimately, with the help of the instructor, I cut out the first two chapters entirely. The necessary information, quite a bit less than I originally had, ended up as a flashback.

Determined not to stumble into the same pit twice, I searched for a method to determine where to start a story. Simply put, where to start is where the story begins, and where it begins depends on what the story is about, which means writing down the key concept.

In my story, a  little boy loses his mother in a fire, but the adults around him are too immersed in their own grief to pay attention to him and help him with his.  Formulated this way, it was clear that the action started when my main character arrives at his grandmother's house. His mother is dead and father in the hospital. The first two chapters, for which I had done quite a lot of research, were about the fire and her death, not about what happens after, and so I cut them.

While stating the core concept of a story may not be quick or easy -- it took me a couple of weeks of staring at my first few chapters to figure out the core concept for my current work-in-progress -- it serves as a guide to both where to start, and how to focus the story. Begin at the beginning, not before.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Any Job Is Easy, If You Have the Right Tools

"Any Job Is Easy, If You Have the Right Tools" by Joan Y. Edwards

My father, John B. Meyer, used to tell me, "Any job is easy, if you have the right tools." I have seen time after time that he was correct.
One day I had defeat simply because I didn't have the right tools for the job. The job at hand was to open a can of green beans.
Problem: none of my can openers opened the can.
I had three different types:
  1. An electric one (No picture. I recycled it.)
  2. A regular hand-powered one
  3. A hand-powered one with a stabber on it.
First Failure: The electric one. It was fully charged. It wouldn't open the can.  Perhaps the ridges on the cans were not as steep as they needed to be in order for it to cut.
Second Failure:  Hand-powered opener; broken, couldn't get it to turn.  
Third Failure: Hand-powered opener with stabber; rusty and old, wouldn't cut metal. 
Luckily for me, I found a can of green beans that had a flip-top lid or we wouldn't have had green beans that night.
The next time I went to the store, I examined closely the can openers available for purchase. Having a war with openers each night at supper time was getting the best of me. I discovered one that cuts the lids off at the top with rounded edges. Perhaps it would cut through no matter what. I've had it almost a year and it's never failed me, YET. Hip Hip Hooray!
Hand can opener; works great, cuts with rounded edges, It has never failed in almost a year.
Hm. Hm. Hm. Does the above remind you of anything?
Yes. I knew you would see it. It reminded you of the parts of a story where the main character has to go through two or three failures before they succeed. Didn't it?
To write a story, you have to have the right tools, too. In the words of Orson Scott Card, you must have Milieu, Idea, Character, and Event. You must have M.I.C.E. in your story.
EEK. You say. Even one mouse might send you to higher ground.
Oh not that kind of mice. Okay. You're all right now. Let's continue.
All stories contain these four elements that determine the structure of your story: Milieu, Idea, Character, and Event. Although each category is present in the story, one generally is more prominent than the others. One has more emphasis than the other three.
The one that dominates your story is the one that you, the author, care about most. Knowing the ingredient you care about the most, will enable you to structure your story effectively.  What is your purpose in writing this story? Knowing your purpose will also lead you to know which part to emphasize the most.
  • Milieu - The Milieu is the world--the planet, the society, the weather, the family--all the elements that went into creating that special world.

    In what world will your character be brought to the utmost edge of desperation and search from within him or around him for what he needs to succeed in his goals for what he wants or what he desperately needs. Science Fiction makes good use of different worlds with varying rules that only work in that world. But the emotions felt are the same no matter which world characters live.
  • Idea - Idea stories are about the process of finding information.

  • What information does your character need to learn to change? Mysteries have a big emphasis on finding information.

  • Character - The Character story is about the transformation of a character's role in the communities that matter most to him or her.

    A classy character one who will be remembered for what she could do or what she couldn't do. What does the character desperately want? What keeps them from getting it? You've got a neat idea for a character. That's good. What would force this character to do something he doesn't believe he can do or would be against his present belief system? Put him in that tight situation, make that event happen and this conflict will drive your story.
    Dr. John L. Flynn says the character's story is about the transformation of a character's role in his community.
    Crisis - Central character becomes so unhappy, impatient, or angry in his present role that he begins the process of change (either consciously or unconsciously).
    Conflict - Others resist the central character's change, and attempt to change him back.
    Climax - Character either settles into a new role (happily or not) or gives up the struggle and remains in the old role (happily or not).
  • Event - Event stories focus on events which rip the fabric of the universe or disrupt the natural order and cause the world to be in a state of flux.

    Perhaps the Plot figures in the event category. A plot - a series of events, cause and effect or coincidence, one after the other leads to a crisis situation and the ultimate win or loss by the main character.
I had never heard of the M.I.C.E. concept before I read Dr. John L. Flynn's work today. However, it makes sense.  The man who actually devised the M.I.C.E. concept was Orson Scott Card. He explains it in his book, Elements of Fiction Writing - Characters & Viewpoint.

Good luck with using these "tools" to create your top-notch story that will have a long-lasting life in the hearts of your readers. It might not make it easy, but it'll be easier because you know a little bit more of the ingredients needed. If these aren't the right tools for you, search for better ones, like I did with the can opener. There's one for you. It's waiting for you.
I'd love to hear about the tools you use to open your cans or to write your stories.

Never Give Up
Joan Y. Edwards

Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Power of Marketing with Video

The Power of Marketing with Video

By Karen Cioffi

From an online marketing viewpoint, video is hot. In fact, it’s red hot. What that means, is that video is one of the top conversion tools, if not the number one tool. People respond to videos. And, along with it being proven to increase conversion rates, it’s gold to your search engine optimization.

Why do videos take your search engine ranking up a notch?

Visit Length

Well, in addition to quality and ‘sharable’ content, search engines rank your site based on visit lengths. Yes, how long a visitor stays on your site matters and videos keep visitors on your site longer.

There’s more though. Video is a powerful selling tool.

Selling Through Showing

A while ago, I happened upon a YouTube video of an amazing little boy guitarist. While watching it, I noticed a music instructor promoted his business with a bit of content at the bottom of the video.

In marketing, one of the best ways to sell a product or service is to SHOW what it can do for the potential customer or client. This music instructor had the right idea in using one of his students (I'm assuming) to demonstrate how a child could learn to play the guitar.

Granted, not all children or adults have the same capabilities or talents, but this is an excellent marketing tool. And note that just listening to the audio wouldn't have the same affect. It's the video (the visual and audio) of this little boy with amazing talent that makes you want to run to the instructor's home and get lessons for you or your child.

So, without further ado, here is one outstanding little guitar player and an amazing marketing example:

Sungha plays 'C*ome Toge*ther' arranged by Michael Chapdelaine

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. I love listening to the guitar, violin, and cello.

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Friday, February 15, 2013

Intra-Company Etiquette

 by Vivian Zabel    

      Several articles concerning different types of etiquette have appeared in this newsletter. I thought I'd follow up with one dealing with intra-company etiquette or good manners. Since I worked in the business world for several years, as well as a teacher in one of the largest companies in the world -- the school system, I learned many things about what helps make life less stressful for employee and employer.

     No, I don't have all the answers, but I do have a few tips that could make a difference. I hope the following article helps make your company relationships work better.

Intra-company Etiquette I

    In any business or company, a protocol exists to address concerns, problems, or day-to-day occurrences or business. Those “rules” make the business run smoother and helps to avoid problems, or avoids aggravating existing problems. Businesses, including 4RV, have protocols in place for those reasons, and when anyone avoids, circumvents, or bends protocol, problems arise. 
    One example, 4RV has the request (actually requirement) that authors and illustrators avoid direct contact with each other unless the president or vice-president gives limited permission. One author insisted that the two be able to contact each other and that the author “guide” the illustrator. The result, part way through the book, the illustrator quit. If a person doesn’t understand the need for a “rule” or requirement, ask and then respect that the “powers that be” know what they/he/she is doing, even if the answer is that is the way the company wants something done.
   Therefore, what does intra-company etiquette mean? Such etiquette addresses the relationships, the procedure, the way things occur between members, employees, employers, staff, etc. in a company; most such protocol or behavior means using good manners and being respectful of others. Below are a few “rules” that apply anywhere, for any type business:

1.  Follow communication protocol. If your superior is to be included in the loop, don’t leave him out for any reason. Doing so undermines his position and creates hurt feelings and a lack of respect for the person not following protocol and for the superior. 

2.   Don’t gossip and discuss company business unknown by a superior who needs to be included, or with people who have no need to be included. For example, an illustrator directly contacts an author and discusses material without including the art director, or a staff member contacts another staff member without including their superior because the first is not happy with the supervisor.  In both examples, someone is showing great disrespect for a superior and for the other person placed in an awkward and compromising position.
      Example: At 4RV, everyone is to Cc certain people in emails. Yes, at times we forget to “reply all,” but leaving a required Cc off an email causes problems and often undermines the position of the person deliberately “forgotten.” Such action also shows a lack of respect.

          3.  Sharing business information with someone else in the business who doesn’t need to know undermines coherency in a company. Unless it’s “George’s” right to know what “Bob’s” salary is, “Craig” is breaking protocol to share the information.

           4.  Complaining about what happens in the company doesn’t help, in fact hinders a solution to an actual problem. Anyone who has a problem should go to his/her supervisor. Only if no solution is found, should he go elsewhere to find help — and then to someone further up the line, not to others who cannot help.

          5.  Do not undermine a superior by telling another person in the company that the superior wants something done a certain way but that way is not what others in the same business do, insinuating the “boss” is wrong. If a superior, especially the “boss,” wants something done a certain way, it is not the right of a person who may disagree to undermine the superior’s position. Such action is rude and disrespectful.
     6.  Management should respect those under themselves in the hierarchy of a company, too. Nothing about an individual should be discussed with anyone who doesn't need to know the information. Respect should be shown and exercised no matter how "important" anyone is within the company.  

     Just a few suggestions for making relationships smoother in a company. I know others exist, but these five are a start. Later I’ll address etiquette between a company and its clients.

4RV Website  
4RV Bookstore    

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Stop Whining, Already!

by Suzanne Cordatos

Are your characters a bunch of whiners? Characters who whine are like static blizzards on TV. The white stuff adds a lot of noise, but it sure isn't entertaining.

My critique partners pointed out the static in my work-in-progress after reading a scene with a typical brother-sister spat. The dialogue? Believable. The action? Lifted from life. Well then, I opened my mouth to debate their thumbs-down verdict. What’s the problem? A total lack of value to the story. Ouch!

Look at these similar scenes:
            “Give it back,” demanded Jon. “It’s mine.”
            Julie ran around the room, the key dancing from her fingers. “You’ll have to catch me.”
            “Give it back OR ELSE!” Jon grabbed at her hand and got a fistful of long hair.
            “MOM, Jon pulled my hair!”
            Mom came to the door, an angry expression denting her brow. “What’s going on?”
            “Give it back.”
            Julie danced the key out of reach from Jon’s grabbing fingers. “Only if you show me.”
            “If I open the box,” said Jon, “can you keep a secret? Can you handle the truth?”
            Jon and Julie shook hands. Mom came to the door, eyebrows raised. “What’s going on?”

Which story would you keep reading? In the first example, I wanted to tell the kids to settle down--The End. The scene contains “loud” action. Running, grabbing, pulling hair. Yet what does it add but a sibling relationship scene that is already familiar to just about everybody? No surprises. No story.

The quieter example propels the reader into a story filled with conflict and tension. Conflict does not have to involve spectacular car chases and fist fights. I want to turn the page to discover answers: What’s in the box? Can Jon trust Julie? Can Julie keep a secret? Can she handle the truth? What truth? How will they answer Mom? All of that in fewer words than the first example!

The more surprise and tension, the faster readers will turn your pages. Check scenes for these points:
            Is the dialogue a time filler?
            Would it change or harm the story if cut?
            Is there tension on every page? In every paragraph? In every sentence?
            Can the action or dialogue be blended with another scene?
            Does the scene add value on multiple levels? Characterization? Plot? Setting? Mood?
            Does the scene conjure questions that compel readers to turn pages?

Questions for you: 1) Did you ever cut a major scene for the sake of a story? Were you glad you did?
                             2) Any guesses what's in Jon's box? 

Sunday, February 10, 2013

What is the etiquette when approaching an artist for your book?

by Aidana WillowRaven

At one time, the only authors who would approach an artist to illustrate their book or cover art were indie authors, but more and more small publishers are permitting authors more creative control by allowing them to hire qualified artists on their own, as long as the work meets their standards. Of course, the majority of traditional publishers still choose the artist for your book without much say from the author, but that is not what this post is about. So let's pretend, for this post, that you are on a quest to find an artist for your book.

First, you need to determine what you can afford. If you can not afford to pay a professional standard rates, don't seek professional artists. It is not only a waste of time for both parties, but it's insulting to the publishing professional, and word like that gets around, especially with today's addiction to the internet.

You especially do not want to approach a professional artist via email with a lengthy description about your book, the characters, and an exhausting description of your mission, only to conclude with a requirement for free samples as well as a vague royalty-only arrangement for compensation with a publisher that they've likely never heard of and has an unknown track  record (at least as far as the artist is concerned). Even worse, upon looking up said publisher, all that can be found is an incomplete website/splash page announcing "Website coming soon" and "New independent publisher." This will not instill confidence  that the artist will ever see a penny of compensation for their work and experience.

If you are guilty of the above, than you more than likely got either a smug response or no response at all ... lol.

If you are on a limited budget, or no budget at all, then target artists that are new to the industry and need to build a professional portfolio, like students or hobbyists. They need the validation and exposure of published work as much as you need a good image. They also need to learn the ropes. College, no matter the degree, does not provide good ole experience. Rarely will you find an experienced artist willing or able to work for royalties with an unknown publisher.

If you can afford to hire the artist you want, then by all means do so. Make sure you ask a lot of questions: if they are knowledgeable of the field in general and their particular industry; if their rates are fair (meaning do research first as to what professionals of your particular genre charge); and if they have the experience to give you what you seek. Also make sure that the publisher approves their work or style before investing your money. Artists don't usually have a return policy. The cover artist and illustration industry has taken a huge hit in the last few years, just like every other industry, so hire when you can. Too many skilled artists are forced to work for beans (and not magic ones, either) or give in and get 'real jobs' outside their true field.

And no matter whether you are approaching a professional artist or a newbie, the first contact is not where you overload them with details about your marketing plans or certainties of a successful book. Just like in a cover letter to a publisher you want to read your manuscript, first contact should be simple and to the point. Let the artist tell you what he or she wants or needs to know before they make a decision. Some will want all of the details, many won't.

Good luck on your search finding the right artist, both for your book and your budget. :D

Art Director & VP of Operations
*All books featured in this post are available through the 4RV Publishing Bookstore. In addition, all of the covers were created by Aidana WillowRaven. 

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Avoid Telling the Truth about the Author

by Vivian Zabel 

     Searching my notes, lesson plans, and textbooks for idea to help make writing stronger, better, and more powerful, I found a collection of different tips, all which are helpful.  However, these are just a few possibilities; I am writing an article, not a book.  From Writer's Digest, page 12, a quote from G.K. Chesterton sums up the need for these ideas: "A good novel tells us the truth about its hero; but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author."

     Although, the quote mentions a novel, any fiction writing can be inserted. Let's look at some things that help our writing tell the truth about its hero and not about the author.

     Use correct grammar, including punctuation, spelling, and capitalization. One area where the lack of the author appears is the way quotation marks are used or misused. Note the following tips:

1. Quotation marks set off dialogue. A quote within a quote uses single marks: "John said, 'You're all wrong.'"

2. Periods and commas always go inside the quotation marks, whether single or double marks: "I really don't understand what you mean," John replied. "Mary said, 'You left the door unlocked.'"

3. If dialogue from the same speaker continues from one paragraph to the next, do not use end quotation marks until the end of the final paragraph of speech. Do use opening quotes at the beginning of each paragraph of dialogue. Remember that each time a different person speaks, a new paragraph is needed.

     That just a few tips concerning quotation marks. A good reference for punctuation should be checked for others. According to Writer's Digest, November 2005, "Written dialogue and nonfiction quotes need structure so your readers can easily follow the story - and using quotation marks incorrectly can cause a lot of confusion."

     Another area of grammar that often is misused is the prepositions between, among, and amongst. One of my pet peeves is hearing or reading "just between John and I" or "just between you and I." Between, just as among, is a preposition but used between two people or objects, requiring the object form of a pronoun. Therefore, the correct usage is between John and me or between you and me. Among requires more than two objects or people. Amongst is archaic, meaning it's no longer used. Between or among should be used instead.
     In fact, anytime a pronoun is the object of a preposition, the pronoun should be the objective case: me, us, him, her, them.  You is used for both the nominative case (subject) and objective case.

     Avoid those exclamation marks! They should be used rarely, seldom in fact, and then only in dialogue. If a author has written well, then no attention is needed to announce something is important.

      I've been asked why an author shouldn't use cliches, generalities, or stereotypes in writing. According to William G. Tapply, in "Don't be a SHOWOFF," The Writer, November 2005, page 20: "Cliches . . . . call unwarranted attention to the lazy, uncreative writer. Banish them from your writing."

     Not only do strong active verbs add to one's writing, but so do nouns that create strong images, colorful ideas, and/or precise people, places, and things. (Constance Hale, The Writer, November 2005, page 38}.

I hope the tips I've given help you make your heroes and writing stronger and better. Writing in itself is full of action and adventure.  We don’t need to make reading more hazardous than necessary.

1. The Writer, November, 2005
2. Writer’s Digest, November, 2005
3. Various grammar textbooks
4.  Notes and lesson plans from Vivian Zabel

4RV Bookstore 
4RV Publishing 

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Book Review for Porcupine's Seeds

     From time to time, The Midwest Book Review will post a review of one of 4RV Publishing's books. The January 2013 issue of their online book review magazine "Children's Bookwatch" features Porcupine's Seeds, written by Viji K Chary and illustrated by Bridget McKinna. The review is found on the Picture Book Shelf for January.

    Reviews are not only posted on their website, and archived for five years, but they are also provided to libraries and book review indexes. Below is the review as printed on The Midwest Book Review website.

Porcupine's Seeds
Viji K. Chary, author
Bridget McKenna, illustrator
World of Inc Network
4RV Publishing LLC
P,O, Box 6482, Edmond, OK 73083
9780983801849, $14.99,

"Porcupine's Seeds" is a magical teaching story, or fable about Porcupine and his attempt to grown sunflowers from seeds. Porcupine loves to visit the garden of his friend, Raccoon. He plays in the grass, eats apricots from the tree, and listens to the fountain's water sounds. Porcupine wishes he could grow a garden, but he has a brown thumb. Raccoon gives him some sunflower seeds, telling him they just need soil, water, and sunshine to grow. Porcupine has many amusing adventures attempting to plant his seeds where they will grow just right. Finally Porcupine gives up in despair, because he dropped the pot full of planted sunflower seeds and it broke. This is where the magic comes in. As time goes by, Porcupine finds that 5 sunflower seedlings have sprouted in his garden where the pot broke. Porcupine waters the sunflowers faithfully, and one day Skunk admires Porcupine's blossoming sunflowers. Eccentric, unusual color illustrations of Porcupine and his friends and garden make the humorous narrative even more memorable. "Porcupine's Seeds" is perfect to appeal to children ages 6-9.

     Porcupine's Seeds can be found through most brick 'n mortar stores, most online bookstores, and the 4RV Bookstore.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Writing, Submission, and Working with Editors

Writing, Submission, and Working with Editors

By Karen Cioffi

Every writer, at least hopefully, will work with an editor from time to time. While, we’d all like it to be on a regular basis, time to time is better than nothing. When in the joyous situation (you’ve gotten something accepted for publication) there are some tips that will help you in your working relationship with an editor.

The first thing, even before you think of submitting your work, is to have your manuscript or article in the best shape possible.

Getting to the Point of Submissions

1. Be part of a critique group. Every writer needs the extra eyes of writers working in the same genre. Their insights and critiques will prove to be invaluable to you.

2. Revise and self-edit . . .  repeat and repeat . . .

3. When you think your manuscript is in perfect shape, send it to a freelance editor. You may think this isn’t necessary, but it is. Ask around for one that comes with recommendations.

Now, you’re set; off you go on your submissions fishing trip. But, don’t just drop the line randomly; be sure you do research and find the best spot – one where you know the fish are biting. What this means is to look for publishing houses that are best suited to your manuscript, and ones that are accepting submissions.

After you’ve found a few publishing houses suitable, read their submission guidelines CAREFULLY, and follow them just as carefully. Now it’s time for the infamous query letter. If you’re unfamiliar with queries, do some research.

Okay, you’ve done everything you needed to, and now you cast off. AND, you get a bite.

Working with Editors

Once you’re accepted by a publishing house, you will be assigned an editor. And, don’t be alarmed, but that manuscript you meticulously slaved over, and even paid an editor to go over, will end up with revisions. This is just the nature of the beast—each publishing house has its own way of doing things. They will want your manuscript to fit their standards.

Note: the purpose of those long hours of writing and hiring an editor is to give your manuscript the best shot of making it past the editor’s trash can, and actually getting accepted.

Now on to 4 tips that will help make your editor/author experience a pleasant one:

1. Always be professional.

2. Don’t get insulted when the editor requests revisions. They are not trying to hurt your feelings; they are hired by the publishing house to get your manuscript in the best possible saleable state. They want your book to sell as much as you do, probably more.

3. Keep the lines of communication open. If you have a question, ask. If you disagree with an edit, respectfully discuss it. Editors are not infallible; sometimes your gut feeling is right.

4. Take note of deadlines and be on time—this is your career, and in some cases your livelihood.


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