According to Urban Dictionary, the word “rad” is used when “awesome” and “cool” just aren’t enough to describe something. Who doesn’t want their writing to be that great? Well, here are three tips to make your writing totally RAD:
*Read books geared for the age group you’ll be writing for—board books, picture books, middle grade, YA, etc.
Make a trip to your local library and check out as many books as you can carry. Whether it’s board books or YA books or anything in between, get to know what’s trending, what’s winning awards, and what never goes out of style. Because trends change so quickly in publishing, you’ll want to focus on books published in the past three years (as well as a few classics). And, you may want to check out the latest Newbery and Caldecott winners.
If you want to write for kids’ magazines, flip through a few issues to get a better idea of what they publish or study back issues featured on their websites.
As you read, take time to study the text. What makes them work? What do you like? What don’t you like?
*Allow yourself to go new places in your children’s writing.
Don’t trap yourself in a corner by saying, “I only write in rhyme” or “I only write chapter books.” Step out of your comfort zone and try sharing your stories in a variety of ways. When we think we’ve arrived in any area of writing, that’s when we stop growing. That’s when we stop getting better. That’s a dangerous place to dwell. Keep learning! Keep getting better! Keep stretching yourself as a writer!
Sometimes I write in rhyme like all of my What Is… books, and sometimes I write in narrative like my books with Mitchell Lane Publishing. Sometimes I write inspirational text like my Dinosaur Devotions and sometimes I write silly concept board books like my Counting Cows. Every story has different needs. Every story has a different tone. And, every story challenges me.
Early in my career, former editor at Waterbrook Erin Healy suggested I write every story in both rhyme and narrative to discover which way the story really needed to be told. I took her advice, and I’ve been doing that ever since. I challenge you to do the same!
*Dig into the emotion of every story.
It might be funny or sad or sweet or inspiring but whatever it is, let that emotion flow onto the page and run through your entire text.
My friend and fellow NF Ninja Peggy Thomas taught me “The Spaghetti Rule” at our recent Next Page retreat, and I loved it. She said you should be able to pick up a single piece of spaghetti from your story—that one long noodle that runs from cover to cover. Yes! That doesn’t just apply to the theme of the book but also to that emotion.
I think one of the best examples of this Spaghetti Rule can be found in The Rough Patch by Brian Lies. It’s beautifully written and illustrated, and that emotional thread is apparent on every page. If you haven’t bought his book yet, you should. Trust me on this one!
So, are you ready to take your writing from kind of cool to totally RAD? Then study up, try new things, and write a great story. By taking those three steps, you’ll be on the road to RAD.
When I look back over my 15-year writing journey, one thing that stands out is the importance of writing mentors. These writers took the time to teach and listen, and consistently pointed me in the right direction. I would not be where I am today without their guidance.
My first mentor, Joanne, was a local writer whose work I admired. I screwed up the courage to invite her to lunch, and her encouragement was the push I needed to start submitting my work. Her invitation to a local writer’s group also opened a door to the writing world for me.
I met my next mentor at my first SCBWI meeting. As I listened to the critiques, I quickly realized how much I had to learn about writing for children. When the moderator mentioned a class she was teaching, I signed up on the spot. I continue to benefit from Laurie’s wisdom and insights to this day.
My agent has been another mentor to me. Before becoming an agent, Vicki modeled professionalism and a sincere desire to help other writers as our region’s SCBWI advisor. She continues that work today as an agent, and I continue to benefit from her example and direction.
There are too many others to list them all here. But I am so grateful to each one! The children’s writing community is amazingly generous and helpful.
So what should you look for in a mentor? To me, a good mentor is someone who is kind but honest about your work. They offer wise counsel and career advice. They help make you a better writer and human being.
A good mentor models success. They don’t need to be a New York Times bestseller, but they consistently achieve results in their own life in areas you want to emulate.
And finally, after listening and giving feedback, a good mentor will step back and let you make your own choices. Ultimately, it is your work and your career. You need to do what feels right to you.
The other side of this equation, of course, is becoming a mentor yourself. Wherever you are on your journey, don’t forget to extend a hand back to someone a step behind. There is nothing more rewarding than helping others succeed!
Who have been the mentors in your life? How have they helped you? Take a moment to thank them, and maybe give them a shout-out in the comments!
Lisa Amstutz is the author of 100+ children’s books. She serves as a volunteer judge at Rate Your Story and as Assistant Regional Advisor for SCBWI: Ohio North. Lisa offers critiques and mentorships for children’s writers as well as website design services. Learn more at www.LisaAmstutz.com.
Over the years my books have won various awards. For some titles, I worked with my publicist at one of my publishing houses to submit my books for awards. Basically, here's the plan we came up with (that I also use when I’m submitting titles on my own):
1. Prepare a budget for awards submissions. Be sure to include the cost of each of your books submitted, plus postage and envelope to mail it in, and the charge for submissions. If working with a publisher, find out if they have a budget for awards, too. Many do.
2. Make a list of places to submit your book to for awards. Note the cost for submission and the qualifications for the award. Only submit your book for awards if it meets their required criteria.
3. Be sure to include places that don't necessarily offer an award, but honor your book by including it on their list of recommended reads.
4. Make a calendar. The calendar notes the deadlines for each place you're submitting your book.
5. Start submitting. Especially submit to award sites that are free.
Here’s a link to my blog for a list of potential places to submit your book for awards:
The philosophy of the publicists I've worked with has been: Don't worry about whether your book wins the award or not. Submit if it's within your budget for one main reason: EXPOSURE. When you submit your book for an award, it lands in the hands of judges, many who are important folks in their circle of literary influence. For my titles that met the submission criteria, my publicists submitted my books for the Caldecott and Newbery awards and even for the Pulitzer Prize hoping solely for exposure.
One other thought...rather than aim for expensive awards such as the Mom's Choice Award if it's too far above your budget, consider contacting several mom bloggers who have a couple hundred of followers each. Offer to give them a free copy of your book if they'll review it on their site. I have one independent publisher who likes this approach and it has
earned them thousands of dollars of sales of my books and great exposure...for a much more reasonable cost!
-Nancy I. Sanders (www.nancyisanders.com) is the bestselling and award-winning author of over 100 books with publishers big and small including her how-to book for children’s writers, Yes! You Can Learn How to Write Children's Books, Get Them Published, and Build a Successful Writing Career.
Rejections, critiques, revisions, more rejections. Let’s face it writing is a tough business and staying motivated can be difficult. I have found that one of the best ways to renew my writing spirit is to attend in-person writing workshops and retreats. Don’t get me wrong – I love the technology that allows me to attend writing seminars and classes in my jammies. But there is nothing that replaces the camaraderie and inspiration of fellow writers.
Sitting down with other writers and sharing questions, brainstorming, and problem solving can re-light that writing fire. Plus, meeting other writers give you the opportunity to develop long-term writing friendships. We all need writing friends in this journey. They are the ones who will cheer us past the rejections and get us back to the computer.
I’ve assembled a list of some of the best writing retreats. Some I have personally had the pleasure of attending, and others are highly recommended by writing friends.
Take a look at these great offerings and find the retreat that will renew your writing spirit!
Advanced Nonfiction Craft Retreat - KS/MO SCBWI - September 13-15 2019
Spend time working on your nonfiction projects and learn from James Solheim, author of It’s Disgusting and We Ate It.
Writing for the Educational Market - Highlights – June 23-27, 2019
Time for writing, and learning from nonfiction gurus like Jan Fields, Paula Morrow, and Karl Jones.
Master Class in Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults - Highlights July 13-17
Learn about the many angles of nonfiction writing from editorial to story structure. And enjoy time to revise and brainstorm.
Adventures in Nonfiction - Iowa SCBWI September 7
Network with other nonfiction authors and learn from Carolyn Yoder, Miranda Paul, and Jaqueline Briggs Martin.
Autumn Frost Retreat - Indiana SCBWI - November 8-11, 2019
Time for learning, networking, and writing in a lovely lodge.
Fall Focus on Craft Retreat - Maryland SCBWI November 1-3
Three tracks including PB, MG and Illustrators.
Squam Lake Writing Retreat – September 6-8, 2019
Speakers from Charlesbridge, and Candlewick with time for writing and renewal.
Big Sur Writer’s Workshop - December 6-8, 2019
Run by the Andrea Brown Literacy Agency, offers workshops by editors and agents with time for networking and writing.
Whispering Pines Writers Retreat October 2-4 and October 22-24, 2020
Rustic retreat in Rhode Island with one-on-one mentorship opportunities.
We are ten authors who support readers and writers through our writing, author visits, and workshops.
The Nonfiction Ninjas are a group of writers with diverse ideas and a strong belief in The First Amendment. The views expressed in each post are those of the author and may differ from others in the group.
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