Sunday, December 3, 2017

How Do You Build a Successful Writing Career? (3 Tips)

By Karen Cioffi

Writers need to be tough. It’s not an easy arena to be in. Did you know that writers get so many rejections there have actually been studies done on it? And, the statistics aren’t good. Most (well over 90%) authors who seek representation by agents are rejected. (1)

That’s pretty severe.

Another article at Writer’s Digest says, “don’t even think about giving up until you’ve queried at least one hundred agents.” (2).

But, what if Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen gave up after 100 rejections. They were rejected 144 times before landing a publishing contract.

So, how does a writer become successful?

Well, there are at least 3 characteristics that go a long way in giving a writer a fighting chance.

1. Perseverance.

Perseverance is probably the single most important factor.  You can learn to write. You can improve your writing. You can submit you work more often. But, if you get discouraged when successes don’t come as fast as you’d like or expected, you may start writing less, you may give up.

This is where you need to persevere. Know that it’s not the best writers who succeed, it’ those who persevere.

From personal experience I can attest to this. I work in two niches. I did it for years with not much success. Then suddenly, clients began finding me and hiring me in one of those niches.

More often than not, success is just around the corner. You’ve got to persevere.

2. You MUST set goals.

While perseverance is an essential factor in writing success, without setting goals, what are you persevering toward? You need to be a goal setter.

Your goals need to be specific. What do you really want to succeed at?

- Getting ongoing publishing contracts.
- Getting freelance writing projects on a regular basis.
- Supplementing your income.
- Earning $50,000 per year. Earning $100,000 per year. Earning $500,000 per year. Being a millionaire.
- Becoming a New York Times Best Seller.
- Becoming famous.

I found it more tangible to create monthly income goals rather than yearly ones.

You need to find what your goals are and what strategy to use to obtain them. And, you need to make those goals visible. Create a vision board or write them down and read them every day.

3. Focus

One big pitfall in writing is not having focus.

I mentioned earlier that after years of struggling along, I began to get clients on a regular basis. And, I’ve gotten lots of return and series clients.

One important factor how this came about is I began to focus on one writing niche. I devoted the majority of my time and energy in that area and it paid off.

This doesn’t mean you can’t have more than one writing niche, but if you want to succeed in something, you need to prioritize. You need to focus.

As my writing coach would say, focus on what’s making you money.

Get to work building these three characteristics and see if it doesn’t make a difference. And, let us know how you make out.


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

You can connect with Karen at:

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

SCBWI December 2017 Book Critique Boutique

On December 10th, 2017, I'll be at Touro College in Bayshore, Long Island along with other SCBWI members. We'll be selling books and giving 10 minute critiques for ONLY $10.

The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators is having it's first ever (as far as I know) Book Critique Boutique.

If you're in the area and you're a children's author or illustrator, stop on by. I look forward to seeing you!

Karen Cioffi, Children's Author

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Submitting 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.

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

You can connect with Karen at:

Monday, October 2, 2017

Writing to Get Published – 5 Power Tips

By Karen Cioffi

All writers have one primary focus—to get published. What makes each of us different is our slant or perspective on the story we’re telling, and how we tell it.

It’s true that anyone can write, but writing to get published is another story. To accomplish this, there four steps you need to include in your writing. (The fifth tips is a bonus.)

1. Write an out-of-the-ballpark beginning

This is the crucial step that will determine whether the agent or editor keeps reading. Your beginning needs to grab the reader; it needs to lead the reader on without him having to think about it.  

Here are different slants on a possible beginning:

A. Jan saw blood dripping down the wall. She screamed.

This idea is a beginning that might entice a reader to read on, but the problem is it’s telling not showing. To add showing:

B. Blood dripped down the stark white wall, adding to the puddle already formed on the floor. Jane felt a quiver run down her spine. Reacting before thinking of the consequences, a blood curdling scream issued from the depths of her being.

C. Blood slowly dripped down the stark white wall. A quiver ran throughout Jane’s body. An urgent eruption welled up from the depths of her being and brought forth a blood curdling scream.  

D. Jane stood frozen as blood trickled down the stark white wall, adding to the dark red puddle already formed on the floor. A quiver ran throughout her body. Suddenly, a blood curdling scream welled up from the depths of her being and issued forth.  

Examples B, C and D do a much better job of showing rather than telling. While they can easily be taken apart and reworded for tightness, more description or less description, whatever the author deems necessary, for this article they serve their purpose.

And remember, using descriptive words and adverbs adds to the word count. So, analyze each word you use; be sure they enhance the story and move it along, not weigh it down. In today’s writing world publishers and agents want tight writing.

2. The body of your story
This area needs to fulfill the beginning’s promise. It needs to keep the reader interested in the characters and plot—this will ensure the reader keeps turning the pages. You also need to keep track of everything going on in the story and follow through. Readers don’t want to feel cheated or disappointed.

Some authors use character and event cards or sheets to keep track of each character’s qualities and the details to each event. This will guarantee continuity and help prevent loose ends.

3. Your ending
The ending must tie everything together and tie-up all loose ends. If you wrote a paragraph or chapter about John and Jane contemplating marriage then segue into something else, let the reader know how it ends up.

It’s also a plus if you can come up with a twist at the end, something the reader won’t expect.
But, keep in mind it’s essential that you leave the reader satisfied.

4. Submitting your work

You’ll never know if you’ve written the next best seller if you don’t submit your work. Research publishers and/or agents who work in the genre you write. Choose the ones that you think are the best fit and study their guidelines. Then, follow the guidelines and submit your work. Don’t let fear or uncertainty keep you from moving forward—nothing ventured, nothing gained.

5. Attend conferences.

If you’re able to, attend writing / pitching conferences, like the one Writer’s Digest has. A client of mine got nibbles from 10 out of 14 agents and publishers. Big enough nibbles that they requested 25-50 pages of her story. And, one requested the entire manuscript.

This is the power of pitching at a conference.

Along with this, it’s important to network as much as you can – conferences are a great place to do this.

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

You can connect with Karen at:

Monday, September 25, 2017

Last Real Cowboy by Kathleen Gibbs

    Kathleen Gibbs new 4RV release Last Real Cowboy is garnering attention from historical societies and museums. 

     In 1871, Jonathan Calhoun lives an unfulfilled life working for his father’s magazine company in New York City and attending pretentious social events with his fiancĂ©e . Longing for one thrilling adventure in his life before he settles down, he jumps at the job opportunity at the Cripple Creek Cattle Ranch in Armadillo Flats, Texas. He soon realizes this venture might be more than he expected as he changes from an “Easterner” into a real cowboy.

     Gibbs has a flare for taking the reader with her back in time to the period and lives found in her books. 

      One reader sent the following comments about Last Real Cowboy

Comments from Milton Smith Sept. 2017

I finished your book. I am still feeling the emotion from it hours later. I appreciate the honor and respect you gave the cowboy and the feel for the hard job they do. Your book is one that I believe people will enjoy reading the second time. I believe others will appreciate your work, your story and the history that goes with it.
I never felt like this book was written by a woman, per se. I sensed that you understood the cowboys and let them be themselves.

           from Milton Smith, former wheat harvester, former president of Wordwrights ,OKC. and current playwright enthusiast.

       Copies of Last Real Cowboy can be ordered from Kathleen's page on the 4RV Bookstore,  brick and mortar bookstores, and other online bookstores such as Amazon. 

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Edit Like an Editor

         As a publisher and editor, I see many manuscripts that have not been thoroughly edited, are not ready for publication. So, where do writers begin to edit their own work? How can they do a credible job? I am so glad you asked.

Edit Like an Editor

         If you want to ever transition from writing to publishing, you will have to “bite the bullet” and force yourself to edit and revise multiple times before turning your “baby” over to a professional editor, or, perish the thought, you submit your work without doing a thorough editing job.

         However, editing doesn’t have to be a chore. Even if you plan to hire a pro to fine tune the editing, you must do some review and revision yourself. And if you plan to do all the work yourself, you’ll really need to focus and do your best to ensure the editing serves the book and achieves your goals for the manuscript.

         Leading us to the question; how do authors effectively edit their own work?

         Whether self-publishing or dreaming of being published by a traditional publishing house, learning to think like an editor will help you move your writing forward. Let’s examine some tips to help you edit your own work like an editor.


         First, take a break from even looking at your writing. Give your work time to become “new” again before you do a thorough edit. Stephen King advises waiting many weeks (for example, in his book On Writing,, he advises a wait of six weeks). However, I personally give myself a break of anywhere from a week to six months.

         But, you can be working on exercises you can do while waiting to help you better understand your own story:

1. Write down the plot(s)

         What you’re doing here is defining for yourself what the main plot line entails. Who is your protagonist? What drives them? What challenges them? Why? Think about all this and try to write a sentence or two that sums up the main drive of your story.

2. Identify the purpose of each scene

         What you’re looking for with this is a phrase or sentence that describes why each scene is in your story. These should be simple, and if you spend too long thinking about a scene’s purpose, there is a good chance it doesn’t belong in your final copy.

         Once you complete the exercises and have waited to allow your manuscript to “ripen,” you are ready to begin the editing and revision process. Perhaps, the following tips will help your editing skills:

Trim the Fat

         The most important lesson in the writing trade is that any manuscript is improved if you cut away the fat. – Robert Heinlein

         One of the most important pieces of editing advice you could receive is to trim the fat. After reading a scene or even a single paragraph, stop and ask yourself, “does this advance the plot?” and “does this scene add anything to the story?” If the answer is no to either of these questions, then what you just read is fat. Trim it away.

         Trimming away the excesses in your manuscript is not simple. Here’s an example from author George Saunders, rephrased for our purposes.

         Imagine I’ve written the line “Jack came into the room in a huff and sat heavily upon the old green recliner.” What are we trying to say with this line? The only information relevant to the plot is that Jack is now in the room, and possibly that he is sitting (unless of course the recliner is somehow important). So, we can’t trim the entire sentence because Jack’s arrival might be important. But do we care how he came into the room? Or how he sat on the chair? Or the details surrounding the chair? We don’t need that information unless necessary for the story.

         How much better is this sentence: “Jack entered the room.” Clean and simple. Saunders refers to his hypothetical as “Hemingwayesque” in its brevity and simplicity. If we must bring Jack into the scene, we should do so with only the details we need. Is it important to know that he’s entered “in a huff”? If it is, an adjective is probably in order. “Jack stormed into the room” has the gravity we might want, if Jack is about to yell at our other characters.

         The point being to use your words economically. First drafts are notoriously overwritten. That’s fine, if we return to the manuscript and trim the fat later. The challenge is in finding the lines and paragraphs that really do have valuable content, and trimming them down until they are lean and powerful.

Read aloud

         If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that. – Stephen King

         Mr. King refers to reading other writers (he claims to read upwards of 80 books a year), but to re-purpose his comment and turn it on the author, reading what you have written is a tough exercise for some. Actually, reading what you have written can be a chore.

         All authors can benefit from hearing how their words sound. Spoken aloud, your dialog might sound stiff or doesn’t fit the character as well as you thought it did. Or, that the snappy phrasing you’ve used is actually confusing. So much can come to the surface when you change the way you interact with your text.

         In the context of editing, I suggest giving the manuscript a look for grammar and spelling before reading it aloud.

Spelling & Grammar

         The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter. ’tis the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning. – Mark Twain

         You should aim to correct 99% of all grammar and spelling errors. I won’t say 100%, because that would mean the book never gets released while you go over it again and again looking for that one typo or misused word. Catching almost all of the mistakes is enough so long as you are diligent about spelling on the pages that matter the most. Those pages being the cover, the blurb, and the front matter. Any piece of the book a customer will see while looking online at your work.

         The first look for is obvious spelling errors. Word’s spell checker is good for this, but it is not always 100% correct. Another problem to watch for is the similar word issues. Things like affect/effect, their/there/they’re, and the like. Be sure each word is used correctly.

         Watch for overuse of words. Any word or words used to frequently distract the reader. Using the “find” option on MS Word, you can discover how often a word is used or overused.

         One way to check grammar and voice (passive/active) is to use Grammarly –a web-based tool that offers free and paid services. Basically, it adds a grammar and spellchecking tool to your browser. It also has the option to upload a file, run the Grammarly check, and download it back into the original format. Using MS Word, you get a file not only with the Grammarly correction, but those corrections are treated as Tracked Changes so they can easily be differentiated from other edits. One problem with Grammarly is that is isn’t always correct about grammar and punctuation, but it does highlight where passive voice is used. This problem is definitely true with the free program.

         Another way to check for grammar (including sentence structure) is to obtain an 8th grade English text book. I recommend a McDuggal-Littel book.

Think Like an Editor

         The artist, in this model, is like the optometrist, always asking: Is it better like this? Or like this? – George Saunders

         Thinking like an editor is a must to be able to do a good edit. You need to detach yourself from you work and look at it critically. You, as the editor, should look for the ways you can make the manuscript as clear and concise as possible.

         As an editor, you must be willing to ruthlessly cut and alter your manuscript in service of the story. No line is safe. If you ever come to a line or even a single word you think “I can’t change that,” then you’re not doing a fair job of editing. You might find in the long run that your awesome line doesn’t need to be cut, but you have to be willing to look at it with the red pen in hand and not be afraid to strike that line down.

         Getting yourself out of the writing frame of mind and into the editing one can be tough. This is another good reason to leave some space between finishing the manuscript and starting the editing process.

Befriend your Characters

         When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature. – Ernest Hemingway

         This tip focuses heavily on fiction writers, but non-fiction writers may find it useful too. Basically, if the character dialog or tone is too mechanical or distant, the reader will not be held in the story. If characters converse in a way that does not ring true for them as a character or the way people actually converse, you risk losing a reader’s attention.

         To befriend your characters get to know them. I create a large file card for each of my characters and write the following information on the card:

• Full Name
• Date and Place of Birth
• Family
• Work
• Lifestyle
• Appearance
• Hobbies

         I also jot notes about the character I may use in my manuscript. I may not use any of or little of the information on the card in the story, but I “know” that character better and can write about him or her more realistically and believably.

Final Thoughts

         Editing can be a chore, but a necessary one. The purpose of editing is always to make the story better, to make it easier for readers to relate to, and to help you improve as a writer.

         I will share more editing tips later, but these should help you begin to be a better editor of your own work. However, do not depend on yourself alone; let your editing be the beginning before finding yourself a professional editor or a person who knows and understands literary editing.

Sources: Personal knowledge, experience, and expertise

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Willard the Dragon Goes to a renaissance faire

Suzanne Cordatos with one of her books

     The Connecticut Renaissance Faire is a fantasy book reader’s dream come true as they host a different author each day of their fall show. The Connecticut Faire is an annual event held over several weekends in early fall. The Faire organizers invited 4RV author Suzanne Cordatos to present Willard the Dragon Sunday, September 3 from 1-3pm at the fairgounds in Lebanon, CT.

     The Norwich Bulletin reported:  Scheduled authors include Connecticut residents Amber Boccetti, Suzanne Cordatos, Liz Delton, A.L. Davroe and Ashley York; Massachusetts residents J.M. Aucoin and Michael Bailey; and Virginia resident Kim Headlee.

a "street" at the faire

      Suzanne states, "Having fun, just sold the set to a nice pregnant couple building a children's library for their first baby. A rainy day, so it is slow, but the organizer invited me to come back over Columbus weekend."

        The Willard the Dragon books, Willard the Dragon: Sneeze-Fire and Willard the Dragon: Camp Dragon-Fire, can be found on Suzanne's page at the 4RV Bookstore online.

        Learn more about Suzanne Cordatos' books: visit her blog:

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Writing Success with Focus, Determination, and Perseverance

By Karen Cioffi

Focus, determination, and perseverance are essential to just about every aspect of your life. Each characteristic is unique and together create a synergy. This applicable to your writing for children career also.

So, what are these three elements that lead to success?

Focus is one’s ability to concentrate exclusively on a particular thing through effort or attention.

Determination is an unchanging intention to achieve a goal or desired end.

Perseverance takes determination a step beyond by using steady and ongoing actions over a long period of time to ensure its intention is accomplished. It continues on through ups and downs.

These elements combined with positive thinking and projection can be an unstoppable force.

I’m a huge fan of positive thinking and projection. I believe our mind has a great influence over our wellbeing and the direction our life can take. Granted, it’s not always easy to harness that influence, but there is enough content out there, including The Secret, to at least strive to think positive and project.

For example, Jack Canfield and co-creator Mark Victor Hansen, of Chicken Soup for the Soul, were rejected 144 times from publishers. Finally, in 1993, their book was accepted. Since they were in debt and couldn’t afford a publicist, they did their own promotion. In 1995, they won the Abby Award and the Southern California Publicist Award.

In a teleconference I attended with Jack Canfield as the speaker, he said he and his co-author created vision boards of what they wanted. They even took a copy of the New York Times Best Selling Page, whited out the #1 spot, and replaced it with Chicken Soup for the Soul. They put copies of it everywhere, even in the toilet. They had focus, determination, perseverance, and they envisioned and projected success. The rest is history.

On a much smaller scale, my daughter Robyn, practices the philosophy of The Secret. For ten years she had dreamed of being in the audience of the Oprah show. She actually got tickets twice, but for one reason or another she was unable to attend. It didn’t stop her though; she persevered and kept trying. She knew one day she’d accomplish her goal and she did. She attended O’s 10 Anniversary celebration in New York City.

She even got her picture taken. You can check it out at (she’s on the right):

So, what has this to do with you as a children’s writer? Plenty.

The elements for obtaining your goals are the same whether for business, marketing, life, or writing. Just about every writer has heard the adage: it’s not necessarily the best writers who succeed, it’s the writers who persevere.

Be focused and determined on your writing goals. Have a ‘success’ mindset. This means to project success, along with taking all the necessary steps to becoming a successful and effective children’s writer. And, don’t let rejection stop you – persevere.

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

You can connect with Karen at:

Saturday, August 19, 2017

A New Member for 4RV Books: Turning Mountains into Molehills

     Yvonne M. Morgan's memoir, Turning Mountains into Molehills, has  made its  appearance. Yvonne's story follows a path from personal devastation to personal triumph through God's call to mission and serving others through ministry. Her fears, disappointments, and heartaches are all detailed in this adventure about how God's calling beckons her to continue on her mission no matter what troubles arise. Ultimately, God shows her how to turn her mountains into molehills.

         Pre-publication reviews found in the book are copied below:

There is a universal truth in Yvonne Morgan’s unique story that reminds all of us that we don’t really create our lives, but that we are called by life. The discovery of purpose is not found inside us, but serving in the world around us. This story will cause anyone who feels lost in their lives to trust God and look for the direction He is leading to living beyond one’s self. -- Dr. Robyn Goggs, Associate Minister, Women and Mission, Church of the Servant

Every pastor should read this book. It will encourage and inspire you to deeper trust in the work God is doing in your leaders. Yvonne's journey is a tremendous example of how God honors obedience and transforms fear into confidence. As her pastor for a season, it was a true joy to watch God at work and an honor to join her and Bill in their ministry. -- The Rev. Dr. Tom Herrick, Executive Director, Titus Institute for Church Planting

Turning Mountains to Molehills is an honest and beautifully written account of obedience in answering Gods call, then moving out of the way in faith as He takes care of the details. -- Lynn Bouterse, Short-Term Ministries, Society of Anglican Missionaries and Senders

     Copies of Turning Mountains into Molehills can be purchased from the 4RV Online Book Store as well as, B&N. com, and through brick and mortar stores.