Tuesday, June 6, 2017


You may have noticed the explosion of small press publishing in the last few years. Some small publishers are fantastic while others leave a lot to be desired. So how do you know if the publisher is reputable or not? Here’s a few guidelines to help you!

UPFRONT FEES: Is the publisher asking for money? If so, this is called a vanity publisher. Traditional publishers pay the author, not the other way around. Vanity publishers may request funds in the guise of providing marketing and publicity, but a traditional publisher will provide those tools to you at their expense. The amount of marketing provided by publishers varies from house to house but they will never ask you for money. Many authors might wonder what’s wrong with choosing to publish with a vanity publisher. For starters you will need to pay upfront fees amounting to thousands of dollars. Since the publisher hasn’t invested any money in the book (except yours), you’re the one that has now shouldered all the risk. Dorrance Publishing, Tate, and iUniverse are examples of vanity publishers but there are many others. If you’re going to spend money publishing a book, why not self-publish instead? At least this route allows you control of the project and you’ll keep a greater portion of royalties.

MARKETING: Does the publisher actively market their books? Social media and blog posts are easily completed by authors and their friends, so if this is the extent of their marketing plan you might want to think twice. A good publisher is submitting books for review (and following the guidelines of the reviewer to ensure the book has the best chance of being reviewed), they’re placing ARCs on NetGalley (and have those ARCs ready months in advance), and they have a marketing plan in place which targets the appropriate audience long before the book ever goes to print.

PW RIGHTS REPORT: Watch this place. If a reputable agent is willing to sell to the house, it could be a good sign. Granted, not all agents submit sales to PW so it’s not necessarily a red flag if the publisher is lacking reports in this venue. If you never see the publisher’s name in PW’s Rights Report though, that could be a warning sign that agents are unwilling to work with them. 

IN THE NEWS: Small publishers rarely make the news but when they do it’s usually not a good sign. You may recall this post about Month9 books or this one about Jolly Fish Press.  If the news looks bad, chances are it is.

NDA: Non-Disclosure Agreements really only benefit the publisher so definitely be cautious if you’re asked to sign one. You could be silenced into submission. A voiceless author can’t warn others.

DISTRIBUTION: Does the publisher have distribution? Anyone can claim to be a publisher but it’s another thing to have distribution and shelf placement in a brick and mortar store. Online availability is much different than physical shelf space, so do yourself a favor and check your local bookstore for any of the publisher’s titles. 

LIBRARY PLACEMENT: Can you find the publisher’s books in your local library? What about the library database (World Cat)? If you can find their titles, how many libraries have a copy? Is it 100, 1,000, 10,000? As writers for children, think about the importance of libraries and reaching your readers.

COVER DESIGN: Speaking of readers, there’s one thing that’s sure to grab their attention: beautiful, eye-catching covers! Readers react to great covers by picking them up off the shelf and reading the blurb. Which, in turn, could lead to a sale. So most authors believe that these beautiful covers are all they need. But be warned, great covers don’t necessarily equal fantastic content, good editing, or fair contracts.

CONTRACTS: Which leads me to the next point. Read the fine print in your contract. Are the royalties based on net or list price? If it’s calculated on net, how is the publisher accounting for the expenses? You’ll want an itemized list of their deductions so you’ll know in advance what you’re getting paid. Is the publisher asking for exclusivity to audio, film, and foreign rights? This might not be a bad thing if they’re actively pursuing these sales. But if they’re not, then your book’s potential could be tied up indefinitely. Is there a FROR (first right of refusal) clause?  If so, is the publisher one that you’d want to work with on your next book? Here’s a post on why FROR clauses (sometimes known as Option Clauses) are bad for authors.  

PHONE A FRIEND: Other authors are your lifeline so it’s vital that you enquire about their experiences with the publisher. Unless they’ve signed an NDA, they should be willing to share their experiences. Sometimes authors are hesitant to speak out as they fear being blacklisted, so there’s a chance they may be tight lipped. In that case, you will simply need to use your best judgement based on the criteria addressed above.

Working with a small press can be a great experience but, like anything, it’s important to do your homework. Authors in every stage of publishing, be it a debut or a seasoned professional, need to protect themselves from predatory publishers. So be cautiously optimistic should you choose a small press as your book baby’s home. There’s nothing worse than having a bad experience spoil your publishing journey.

About the author:

Amie Borst is the author of the Scarily Ever Laughter series featuring three books for middle-grade readers; Cinderskella, Little Dead Riding Hood, and Snow Fright. She is a PAL member of the SCBWI and a founding member of the group blog, From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle-Grade Authors. Find her on her website www.amieborst.com and her blog www.amieborst.blogspot.com 

Thursday, May 4, 2017


There's no magic formula, and it won't work for every story, but sometimes it's possible to turn what you thought was just a little tale into a much bigger deal. It all depends on whether you can make it happen organically; there's nothing worse than a novel that's wordy for no reason.

A few years ago I wrote a short story for the middle grade market. It happened to be a market that took 4000 words, which is rare. But fitting my story into that generous length was a major struggle for me. It should have been a warning: maybe I wasn't writing a short story after all.

The editor I sent it to very kindly rejected it with comments, which is also rare. She said she got the feeling I was trying to cram too much into my 4000 words.

I set about finding ways to expanded the piece. It didn't take long to find 30 chapters where once there had been one. The novel is fully outlined and about a third drafted at this point, and I feel like it's going well. Maybe one of your stories could use that sort of rethinking. But how can you tell?

Warning Signs

Keeping within a maximum word limit is a normal challenge for story-writers. But if you’ve cut out all the fat in the verbiage and streamlined in every possible way, yet your story is still not getting shorter, that's a sign you might be working on a bigger piece. 

Another thing to watch is reactions to the story, like I received from that editor. Do your reader’s eyes spin in her head when she finishes? Does her lip quiver as she admits there are too many characters to keep track of? Be honest: she’s reacting to issues you were subconsciously aware of. Listen to yourself and listen to your critique group or whoever sees your stuff before you submit it. Unlike a cat, which can sit in any box it believes it fits in, a story needs the right-sized vessel.

Also be aware as you're writing the story of a feeling of sadness, or a longing to tell the main character’s story more fully, or to flesh out a minor character. Or maybe you love the world you’ve created, and you really wish you could spend more time there. These are symptoms of novel-itis. Celebrate! Expand! There is no cure. But what to do now?

The Garden of Your Plot

Think of the story as a handful of seeds. Expanding it should be like watering and giving nutrients and sunshine to every element of the story. Just like a plant. No matter how big it grows, there is no "extra." Everything that exists is necessary to the plant. And every part of the story will need to grow and multiply: plot, subplots, dialogue, settings, characters.

If you can tell your story in 1500 words, and it doesn’t feel rushed and the characters don’t feel one-dimensional, then pat yourself on the back and start submitting. But if you feel like you’ve barely grazed the surface, then experiment with expanding in two ways:

1. Grow what’s already there. 

Take a sentence or paragraph, and see if you can imagine it as a chapter of, say, 600-1000 words. Mary walked her little brother to the store. That might do in a short story, but you could expand it. 

First, there are basic details you might add: Is she holding his hand? Do her sandals make a funny noise on the pavement? Is she thinking about something significant?

Then, there are added actions: Does she get distracted by something that delays her arrival at the store? Or maybe her brother runs off? Ooh! Now you have a scene, and Mary can wend her way back to the store eventually.

In other words, you want to find all the points in your story where things happen, and figure out how to enrich them. Don’t just make them longer; give them bigger and better purpose and meaningful new details.

Just be sure there’s a reason for the expansion. This takes planning. Why does the brother run off? What will it have to do with the overall plot? At first, you can just scribble whatever comes into your head, but eventually you’ll need to tie it all together. I’m a big advocate of outlining (some call it planning vs. pantsing) because it helps assure I don’t have loose ends in my novels.

2. Add stories to your story.

Consider writing related short stories about the same characters and setting. But you can’t just glue a bunch of stories together and call it a novel. There must be one or more over-arching storylines to keep the propulsion going and allow the whole thing to make sense. This approach means that your original story will become the first chapter or two or three, and you’ll extend the plot from there.

Even better, insert stories within the existing story, instead of after. This allows the original goal of your plot to remain the goal in the novel. Have your characters do something that they didn’t get a chance to in the original. And create new characters, letting them interact with the original folks. You’ll need to give them subplots that either bring about important actions or reveal something important about your original characters and their motivations. Again, I can’t do this without lots of planning, but I find it an effective way to open out the story.

Long story short (or in this case, short story long!), if you have a story that’s bursting at the seams, don’t be afraid to pick one of those stitches loose and let the words pour out until you have a novel. Your characters will thank you, and so will your readers.

About the Author: 

In addition to being a Rate your Story judge, Anne E. Johnson writes fiction in many genres. Her works include the middle-grade paranormal mystery Ebenezer's Locker (MuseItUp), middle-grade historical mystery Trouble at the Scriptorium (Royal Fireworks), and noir sci-fi series The Webrid Chronicles (Candlemark & Gleam). She has had dozens of short stories published in magazines and anthologies, and many of them can now be found in her book Things from Other Worlds: 15 Alien and Fantasy Stories for Kids. Visit Anne's website to inquire about professional critique services or to learn more about her books and stories. 

Thursday, April 6, 2017


Welcome to Twitterville!

For writers, there are a bazillion (that’s a number, right?) different ways you can maximize your use of Twitter. For example, you can use Twitter to expand your social media outreach and talk to fans, librarians, and teachers or you can network with other industry professionals. Twitter is also great for researching publishers, editors, and agents with whom you’d like to work with. Even better, Twitter is an excellent outlet for spouting off random thoughts of the day. Basically, the possibilities are endless. So where should you begin? 

STEP 1: Sign Up

First you need to sign up for an account. Accounts are free and easy to set up, simply follow the directions at www.twitter.com. The username you choose will then be referred to as your “Twitter handle”. For example, my Twitter handle is @sophiagholz

STEP 2: Upload Photos

Once you’ve established your account, you’ll want to upload a photograph to use as your “profile image”. For writers, I’ve heard it’s recommended that you stick with one photograph for all of your social media outlets (Twitter, Goodreads, Facebook, etc.). They say that using the same photo will help you to be recognized online, at a glance. I also know many authors who don’t follow these rules and that’s fine as well. Some writers use a professional headshot, some use snapshots and others use their book covers. Anything goes. 

Now that you’ve got a profile picture uploaded, you can move on to uploading a “cover image”. The cover image is the picture that’s displayed horizontally behind your profile picture. This banner image is another great way to either show some personality or share your work. 

STEP 3: Tweet!

Congratulations! You should now have your Twitter account up and ready to go. Here comes the fun part: Tweeting! Your status updates (or Tweets) are little blurbs and thoughts that you share in 140 characters or less. You can post random ramblings, funny observances, industry news...anything! 

Now that you're officially on Twitter, 
below are some basic terms and guidelines to help you get started. 

Hashtag or # sign:

A lot of people like to add a hashtag as an afterthought to a Tweet. For example: #WritersLife or #booklove or #AmWriting. Hashtags should start with the # sign followed directly by a word or phrase without any spaces in between.

Hashtags are searchable. So let’s say that you’re writing a nonfiction book about Clydesdale horses. You might want to hashtag some of your related status updates with #clydesdales or #horses. On the flip-side of that, you could search Twitter for those hashtags and connect with other people who are talking about similar things. You can also create your own hashtags using the title of your book, school, a loved phrase, current favorite popsicle flavor....anything.

There are many popular hashtags that writers use and these are good to search on occasion. I’ve included a link to an awesome list HERE. Some of these hashtags include #AmWriting #AskAgent #PubTip and #MSWL (manuscript wish list). Specific groups often use hashtags to organize chats as well. 

Tagging and Twitter Conversations:

Though it sounds similar, tagging or tweeting someone on Twitter is different than using a hashtag. Hashtags consist of the searchable # sign before the text. But if you want to tag someone or tweet someone directly, you have to use the @ symbol followed by their Twitter handle (name).

When you tag someone (using the @ symbol) that person or group is automatically notified about your tweet, which allows them to then RT (retweet) or respond if they'd like. This is also how you have Twitter conversations. Remember, if you don’t use the @ symbol to tag someone (or vice versa) that person will not know you’re talking to or about them. 

Here are some examples of Tweets using both hashtags and tags: 

I'm looking forward to the future when I'm part cyborg & no longer need to eat or sleep. #NeedMoreHoursInTheDay #JustPlugIn

Big congrats to my critique partner-in-crime @JenSwanBooks who was selected to teach an upcoming  @HighlightsFound workshop!

We’re celebrating @RateYourStory’s birthday bash today! #giveaway #writing #kidlit

Likes and Retweets: 

If you see a status or post on Twitter that you like, hit the little heart icon underneath it. This adds the status update to your list of “likes”. It also lets the original writer of that post know that you like it. Or you can hit the little arrows icon underneath of the post. By hitting the arrows you are then “retweeting” that post and adding it to your own newsfeed. People are also notified of your retweets (RTs) and it shows your support. 

One thing to note: writers beware that too much of one thing or another won’t make you Twitter-popular. People tend to dislike it if you use too many hashtags, if you’re only retweeting what other people have to say (without adding anything fresh), or if you’re posting about the same thing all of the time. 

Using the Lists:

As you start networking and following people on twitter, you can start building select lists. When you click on your profile picture (at the very top and right of your computer screen) a drop down menu should appear. On that menu you should see a “lists” tab. If you click on that, you can follow directions as to how to create your own lists. This is a great feature that allows you to curate a personalized newsfeed. For example, you can add people to an “editors” list or an “agents” list or even a “writer friends” list. This way, instead of seeing every single status update, you can view whichever select group you’d like at any one time. 

For more on Twitter terms, popular hashtags, etiquette for writers and all, check out this excellent post by Debbie Ridpath Ohi: http://inkygirl.com/a-writers-guide-to-twitter/

Do you have any Twitter tips that you'd like to share? Add them in the comments below. 
Happy Tweeting! 

For more about Sophia visit her website by clicking HERE or follow her on Twitter: @sophiagholz 

Click here to follow Rate Your Story on Twitter: @RateYourStory

Thursday, March 2, 2017


Full disclosure – the original title of this article was AUTHOR VISITS ARE AWESOME AND HERE IS HOW YOU CAN PLAN ONE FOR YOUR FABULOUS SELF AND YOUR AMAZING BOOK, YEA! But that seemed a tad a wordy. 

Fortunately I have plenty of space down here in the roomy “article” section to share tips that I learned about organizing and executing author visits. So let’s begin with the what – what is an author visit?

An author visit is when an author meets with a group of people to talk about their books, the craft of writing, the world of publishing, and/or related issues like literacy. 

A critical part of planning a visit is figuring out what you are comfortable doing. Singing songs to Pre K kids about a character from your book? Putting on a PowerPoint presentation for 400 third graders about revisions? Speaking at a charity auction about the importance of reading? 

It can evolve over time but knowing what you can talk about comfortably will define your audience. Visits can include all sort of activities but mine usually fall into this pattern: a reading, some sort of presentation, then a signing. 

So with that in mind, the next question is where – where do authors visit?

The most common answer is schools and public libraries. School visits can include small sessions at a daycare, large assemblies at an elementary school, and even creative writing courses at a local college. A book’s target audience is not a limit – you have a lot of knowledge about the craft of writing that you can share with older teens and adults. 

Libraries host story hours and adult-education groups that you can also address. The same is true for children’s museums and other attractions that tie into the theme of your book. For example my third book, LUCY LOVES SHERMAN, is about a lobster so I am working with our local Oceanographic Center to organize a presentation about, well, lobsters! 

Book stores and children’s shops are great places to visit as well. After contacting the store (more on that later), you can plan an event for just your book – or you can find existing events you can join. I’ve been lucky enough to have all three of my book launches at a local Barnes and Noble. But, as an author of a monster-themed picture book, I also enjoyed being part of a Halloween celebration at one of my favorite gift shops. 

Authors are also welcomed speakers at charity events for literacy and youth issues, as well as book fairs and conferences. Children’s hospitals are a wonderful feel-good place to do readings. I promise your heart will swell three sizes if you do that one. One of my favorite “out of the box” visits was at an awards ceremony for young writers. Bottom line, there are dozens of places an author can visit. 

That begs the question – how? How do authors get invited to present, speak, read, and sign their books? 

Assuming you are fairly new to publishing, the first step is introducing yourself via an in person visit, promotional email, or some combination of both. You need to get your name out there as a person who does this sort of thing.

You can use services like Mail Chimp to draft and send out emails to media specialists, school administrators, etc. These emails should include information about your qualifications, what you can present/provide for their audience, your fee (at least a range), and your contact information. The key is to be informative, but also brief. And also hilarious. But professional. And clever. Let’s just say it takes a few drafts.

I prefer to save my in-person introductions for libraries and bookstores. I bring a copy of my book, and a “marketing” packet that I can leave behind. It included a press release from the publisher, a color print out of one of the pages from inside the book, a big sticker (thank you Vista Print!), and my business card (Vista Print strikes again). When I arrive I introduce myself to the most senior person I can find, show them my book, give them the packet, and I get their contact information. I explain that I am local, and excited to do events such as readings, signings, and so on. 

Now that you have an idea of what you could present, a list of places to visit, and some local contacts – it’s a good idea to remember these tips

  • LOGISTICS: Find out where to park. Bring a photo ID, hand sanitizer, umbrella, and back up USB of your power point. If you are visiting a school, at some point you will squat, so dress accordingly. Get a ballpark headcount if you plan to provide giveaways. Track your mileage and keep all your receipts for taxes.
  • GIVEAWAYS: Bookmarks are great because you can sign them and they work for all ages. Black and white coloring sheets of your characters are good freebies too. Or you can raffle off one of your signed books. 
  • PROMOTION: If it is a public event, help to promote the event. The store/charity/organizers will appreciate it and there’s a lot you can do for free / almost free to advertise the visit. Make posts on social media, create a few simple flyers and post at the gym / coffee shop. It goes a long way!
  • COMMUNICATION: Check in twice before the event to confirm times, dates and expectations. Send a thank you note when it’s over, even if it’s by email. And if you don’t anything recorded, tell them ahead of time. 

So there you have it. Everything thing you could possibly need to plan and execute a successful author visit. Ha ha! Just kidding! There are more tips and tricks to learn of course, but many of them come with experience. I hope to see you out there.

Rate Your Story Members may enter the rafflecopter below for a chance to win a 20 Minute Skype Session with author Catherine Bailey. This is your chance to ask questions about the industry, writing, publishing, school visits, agents, you name it! All you have to do is comment on the blog below and be a 2017 RYS member! NOTE: This is not a manuscript critique session. 

a Rafflecopter giveaway


About the Author: 

Catherine Bailey is a children’s author and presenter from sunny Florida. Her current books include MIND YOUR MONSTERS (Sterling Publishing, 2015), HYPNOSIS HARRY (Sky Pony Press, 2016), and LUCY LOVES SHERMAN (Sky Pony Press, 2017) – with more on the way! She is a popular speaker and has visited with hundreds (and hundreds, and hundreds!) of kids at schools, libraries, stores, and special events. When Catherine is not writing, or editing, or swatting at mosquitos, she looks after her husband and two children. All three of them are quite sticky, and none like bedtime, but she loves them anyway

Catherine is represented by Kathleen Rushall of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. For more, visit Catherine at www.catherinebaileybooks.com.

Monday, February 6, 2017


My path to publication was neither quick, nor easy. I had studied the art and craft of writing for children since 1999, after having majored in English in college many years before. I was not a frequent submitter, for which I’m thankful. There’s much to learn in this business (and much to read), so until you’ve “got it,” there’s no point in wasting chances by sending out manuscripts that aren’t ready. Unless it’s for a critique – I am an advocate of critique groups and paid feedback and critiques. 

As I practiced my craft, I tended to write punny animal stories. Still, from time to time, I would write inspired stories that fell in my lap. My picture book manuscript, School Bus Buddies, now entitled Hedgehog Goes to Kindergarten, was one. The premise was based on school experiences my son had encountered (emotion), scenes I had witnessed (plot) and the nervous personality trait of my pet hedgehog, Apollo Nike [Spike] (character). When three important story elements intersect like this, my advice is: Write the story – you never know where it might lead, perhaps even to a sequel or series. 

I rotated School Bus Buddies through my critique group many times in between working on other projects. I ordered over 50 comp titles from the library (on riding the bus, dealing with fear, school days, hedgehogs, etc.) to make sure it was new and different. After reading, I revised accordingly.  I ultimately did fifteen revisions before my critique groups mentioned sending it out. I had done some publisher research while writing it over the years, but I re-approached this necessary step again. After reading information and interviews and checking their current catalog, I knew which publisher to send it to – Scholastic. Four weeks later, I got a telephone call from Scholastic Editor Jenne Abramowitz and I had a sale.  Hedgehog Goes to Kindergarten was born! 

I mention all this backstory for a few reasons. One, to show that I did not write this book to have a sequel or be a series. I did not even have a sequel in mind. I just wrote the best story I possibly could. 

When Spike’s book did well, my editor asked if I had any other Hedgehog stories. I said “Certainly!” To be truthful, I did not. However, I had learned from Guideposts Editor/Author Mary Lou Carney at my first Highlights Foundation Workshop at Chautuaqua, to, when approached with a challenge, always say, “Certainly!” I was not afraid to say this, either. After fifteen thorough revisions, I had gotten to know my character pretty well, and I had pages of children’s magazine clips in my resume, so I was able to write to spec. Do not underestimate the experience of writing for magazines. 

I read 100s of books (again) on going to school and celebrating school events, and the one area which seemed to have both not a lot of titles and not anything I particularly loved, was the 100th Day of School. I pondered the “what ifs?” And all the possibilities.  I realized this was the topic I wanted to approach, but more importantly, I learned something else. Do your topic research before investing too much time writing. You will learn if the topic is relevant, needed and if there is a hole you can fill with your book, and if your idea might beat anything already out there. I found a hole that would fit my market and three drafts later, I got the go ahead from my Mentor Joyce Sweeney and my critique groups that it was ready! This time, it got accepted right away (and officially contracted 1 ½ years later due to red tape and staff changes), and when I finally settled in with my newest editor, I was asked, again, “What related manuscripts did I have?” 

By this time, I had a few, so my agent shot another off to my editor. As long as Spike’s 100th Day Celebration is as big as we hope, he will star in yet another story, with his best friend Sheldon the Turtle from the 1st book. And at that time, I have another Spike story ready to submit. 

There are a few obvious and not-so-obvious take away values from my personal story. 
  1. Read and Learn, Read and Read, Learn and Read. Repeat. Never stop. 
  2. Research your titles and ideas to determine whether a particular idea is something marketable that you should pursue. 
  3. (Is it new, fresh or unique? Does it fill a hole in the current market? Is it better than anything out there?) 
  4. Write out of your usual zone or comfort zone. Try different topics or styles. You may surprise yourself. 
  5. This is a business. Writing what sells is a part of that. So write what you love AND what will sell. 
  6. Research markets. Research markets. Research markets. Repeat. 
  7. Do not underestimate the experience gained by writing for magazines. 
  8. Join critique groups and groups like RYS and pay for valuable feedback. Think of it as investing in your talent and your work. 
  9. When writing, take any notes you may have about where the story may lead, or a possible sequel. Weave potential for a possible sequel subtly into your story. Sometimes, this is just by tapping into a necessary hole, or creating a character that readers will care about and want to see again. 
  10. When you start getting comments like “send it out,” send it out!
  11. When asked if you have another related story to offer, always say, “Certainly!” 
  12. Write anything and everything that YOU can. Sometimes the stories that you least expect will get the SEQUELS. 

Wishing you all the best in your writing journeys. I hope my path and my sequels will inspire you!

About the Author: 

Lynne Marie
Hedgehog Goes to Kindergarten, Scholastic 2011
Hedgehog’s 100th Day of School, Scholastic 2017

TWITTER: @Literally_Lynne

Lynne Marie is the author of Hedgehog Goes to Kindergarten - illustrated by Anne Kennedy (Scholastic, 2011) and Hedgehog's 100th Day of School – illustrated by Lorna Hussey (Scholastic, January 2017). Her stories, poems, and folk tales have appeared in many magazine markets, including Family Fun, Highlights, High Five, Spider, Baby Bug and more. She is an on-staff writer for Jon and Laura Bard's Children's Book Insider, a 2017 Rate Your Story Judge, a 2016 Cybils Panelist for the picture book/board book category, a mentor for picture book writers and a book reviewer. She is a former New Yorker who now lives a simpler life on a lake in South Florida with her family and several resident water birds. You can learn more about her at www.LiterallyLynneMarie.com.