I’ve been revising the same 25 words for 3 weeks. As a picture book writer, I’m forced to care, forced to be precise. Every word counts. With only 500 words to tell an entire story, every word must develop the character, define the plot, and move the story forward. If it doesn’t, it’s out.
While it may be easy to tell a child a story that they like to hear, it is quite another to write a manuscript that an editor wants to publish. Picture book publishing is trending toward spare language. Most are now fewer than 700 words and the greatest percentage of those are under 500. A walk through a bookstore will reveal this reality. Wordy picture books are out. That is a little disheartening for those of us who have a passion for words.
At the same time, using fewer words creates a fantastic challenge. It’s a game. In the same vein as Name That Tune, I can write that story in 300 words or 200 or 100. Can you?
Many of us write a free flowing style of draft and then chop words off to get to the desired (or tolerated) length. Try this: Write your story from the least amount of words and add a few as you need them. For example – Harry. Beach. Scared. Sharks. Jellyfish. Crabs. Teddy bear drowning. Harry saves him. Harry loves water.
OK. It’s not a good story, but an illustration of how few words you need to convey a story. I bet your mind even filled in the description of the scene and the characters. If each of you used this template for a story, we would end up with dozens of different stories. And if each of those stories were given to different illustrators, the variations would become even greater.
Go ahead. Take the challenge. Then let me know how you do.
Yesterday, I changed the title of my blog. I also changed the domain name of my blog. And lastly, but most importantly, I changed my name. Why, you ask? Age bias.
My given name is Lois. My mom just always liked that name. Since I started writing seriously, I set up a Google Alert and receive an email every time Lois Hoffman is mentioned on the web. The problem lies in the fact that nearly every week I get an email with an obituary for Lois Hoffman. Lois is an old fashioned name and I’m not old.
Publishers and agents are looking for writers that have their careers ahead of them. If you are not famous now when writing your first book, the people in charge of your fate as an author want to make sure you have the time and the energy to promote your book and write that next one. When they open up my manuscript, do they look at the name Lois Hoffman and trash it? Has a judgement already been handed down before my work has ever been read?
So, as a person who looks at life as a glass half full, I have made a choice. It’s an experiment really. While I can’t erase all existence of Lois without starting from scratch, my writer self can become someone else. I thought about J.K. Hoffman, but ultimately decided against it. Instead, I’ve become Emily (my middle name) – the younger, more vibrant, most definitely alive Emily Hoffman.
It’s going to take some work. I still have to change my bio, my twitter account, and who knows what else. Will it be worth it? Only time will tell. Look for me soon @emilyhoffmanDE on Twitter.
What does your name say about you? Do you think you are prejudged by your name in this fiercely competitive business?
The Cover Letter Guy
We’ve all been told not to judge a book by it’s cover. I agree that not everything is as it appears. Take for instance the stunning dress that turns a plastic mannequin into a supermodel, but makes you look like a guest on the Richard Simmons Show.
I absolutely judge an actual book by its cover. Why wouldn’t you? If it’s got a bloody dagger on it, I’m guessing it’s not a comedy. If it’s got curly-Q font with bunnies on it, my dad won’t like it. If it has a couple embracing wearing period costumes, I’m guessing I’ll gag.
I have excluded lots of books simply because I don’t like the cover. What have I missed?
Editors and agents judge a book by its cover letter. It must be short, to the point, and captivate the reader enough to to make him/her want to read the actual manuscript you spent half your life writing. If it does not dazzle, it follows that your story will not either.
While there are many resources for formatting your cover letter like The Purple Crayon or Formatting & Submitting Your Manuscript by Cynthia Laufenberg, a few basics are in order.
- Include your name and contact info
- Include the actual name of the editor/agent – do your homework
- Include a compelling “hook” – a one sentence description that grabs the reader
- Include a brief engaging description of the story – 1-2 paragraphs
- Include genre, word count, and target audience
- Define how your manuscript will stand out in the marketplace
- Include your bio, if relevant, membership in writing associations, and any publishing credits – leave out that your kids loved your story
- Thank the reader for their time.
- Fit it all on one page
While there is some debate over whether some editors and agents actually read the cover letter, there is no question that it should be as good as the manuscript it proceeds.
Here are 5 writing contests open to those of you who write for children.
Highlights Fiction Contest
The category for the Highlights Fiction Contest is fiction involving an embarrassing moment. Stories must be under 750 words or 475 for an easy reader. There are 3 $1000 prizes. The deadline is January 31, 2011. For contest rules, click here.
Children’s Writer – Kindergarten Story Writing Contest
A fictional story or nonfiction about family life or school for ages 5-6 up to 150 words. Grand prize is $500. Deadline is February 28, 2011. Free to enter for subscribers. $15 for non-subscribers. Contest rules can be found on the Children’s Writer website.
Writers Digest – Writing Competition
Among other categories, Writers Digest hands out award for best children’s/YA story. Entries are limited to 2000 words. Grand Prize is $3000. Deadline is May 2, 2011. $25 entry fee. Click here for contest rules.
Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators – Barbara Karlin Grant
This is technically a grant, but because you have to submit your work, I have included it in this post. One picture book manuscript per applicant may be submitted. The text may be an original story, work of nonfiction, or a re-telling or adaptation of a fairytale, folktale or legend. The grant is for $1500 and $500 for the runner-up. Submit application between February 15th and March 15th. Open to SCBWI members. Free to enter. Information on this and other SCBWI Grants can be found on the SCBWI website.
Children’s Division -Unpublished or self-published Short Story/Nonfiction Article/Book Chapter/Poem (judged together as one category). Prizes are $100/$75/$50. Entry fee is $5 for members/$10 for non-members for entries up to 3000 words. See website for contest rules.
Have you won any of these contests before? Have you won other contests? I would love to hear from you.
Linda Jo Martin has just launched a new children’s e-zine titled Literature For Kids. Hot off the net, the inaugural publication was released on January 1st. It’s full of stories, poems, and articles for kids plus, articles for parents, book reviews, and more. And, they are accepting submissions. Although the budget is small, the writer with a hankering to get more of your work on the web has another great opportunity. Read the first issue at literature4kids.com.
If you know of additional new markets, please pass them along and I’ll post them here.