Katherine Paterson’s got the right idea about revisions!

Revising your children’s book manuscript got you down? Courtesy of the author of Bridge to Terabithia and Jacob Have I Loved, here’s another way to view things!




What Every Writer Hopes For

This is what it’s all about, isn’t it?


Great Advice From Legendary Children’s Book Authors

As we celebrated the recent 23rd Anniversary of the Children's Book Insider newsletter, we took the opportunity to look back at some of the many author interviews we've presented.  What caught our eye was some of the priceless advice these authors shared with our readers. Here are two quick — but powerful — lessons from our archives:


Judy Blume on writing from the heart (August 1990): What happened when I first started–as in Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret, which is the first book that was really mine–is I was just telling the stories that I knew. I knew what it was like to be in sixth grade, and to be in Margaret's body, because that was my body. Slow growing, slow to develop….So that's what I wrote about, because it wasn't there for me when I was young. I didn't know if anyone would publish it, but it was from the heart. The only thing that works with writing is that you care so passionately about it yourself, that you make someone else care passionately about it. Books that are written to order are awful. It can't work. Children will see through that and they won't read it.




Barbara Seuling on common mistakes (December 1994): The main character is a big one. So often beginning writers will use boy and girl twins as the main character, or use more than one main character, such as a pair of boys going off to have an adventure and you can't pick out which one is the hero of the story. There should be one viewpoint to the book, and this rule hasn't changed since children's books first began. You can occasionally get away with it if you shift the focus to another character when you start a new chapter, but you have to do this very carefully. Point of view is another one. I always feel you should know how to use point of view so you can break the rules.

There are a lot of cases where the rules of point of view are broken very successfully, such as in Charlotte's Web. You can bend the rules but you have to be as good as E.B. White to do it. There are two ways to approach talking animal characters. The big differentiation depends on the story. Either the animals have to truly be animals, or they are really kids that happen to look like animals. If you're writing a story that just needs a substitute child, then you can decide if it's a soft furry animal or a funny-looking animal. It's funny to see a pig in children's clothes, but they always have some pig-like characteristic, such as a large appetite. If you're writing that kind of story, then it's fine to have the animal act like humans.

In a book like Charlotte's Web the animals were very true to their natures, and it was important that they were. Even Templeton the rat was not a sympathetic character. In a story where you're getting close to the animal world, you need to keep animals as true to their natural selves as possible. What you don't want is the animals doing animal-like things part of the time when it's convenient to the story, but then at other times have hands or stand upright to talk to each other. That never works.

To read these — and many  more — CBI interviews in their entirety, check out In Their Own Words: The Best of CBI's Interviews


Use Archetypes to Create Characters

Throughout history writers have used archetypes to craft characters. Archetypes are broad character outlines that explain general behaviors and motivations of particular personalities. They're universal and easily understood. The Hero, the Martyr, the Sage, and the Warrior are archetypes that appear in many classic stories from around the world.

While you don't want to base your characters too closely on familiar archetypes (this can bleed into stereotypical characters), understanding the core traits of a type, and using those traits as the foundation for an original character, can be very useful. If you know a Warrior needs to protect boundaries (emotional, physical, spiritual), how will he react when confronted with a Trickster?

How to Use Archetypes in Literature When Creating Characters for Your Novel from Writer's Digest give some tips on the topic, and lists good books to read to help you understand archetypes. Others I recommend are Awakening the Heroes Within by Carol Pearson, and Archetypes for Writers by Jennifer Van Bergen.


When Corporations Squabble, Readers Suffer…

The publishing world's latest snub-fest raised the stakes this month with two developments:

* Barnes & Noble announced that it will not carry any Amazon-published titles in its stores. This includes Amazon books published and distributed by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt under the publisher's New Harvest imprint. Originally, B&N had vowed to only exclude Amazon eBooks from its stores, but now it's included hardcopy books as well from the online retailer's publishing programs. Some independent bookstores have taken the same position. (A similar reaction happened when Amazon announced its purchase of Marshall Cavendish Children's Books in 2011).

* As of February 10, Penguin has yanked all its eBooks from OverDrive, the public library digital lending system. Penguin had only offered backlist titles digitally to libraries, but now even those won't be available. My guess is this is in part prompted by OverDrive partnering with Amazon to allow library patrons to borrow eBooks via wireless download to their Kindle devices. The article did go on to say that "Penguin is in talks with other vendors in hopes of restoring eBook lending." (By the way, Penguin is not the only big publisher to restrict eBook lending.)

Okay, I get it. Everyone hates Amazon. And I understand that the retail giant's strong-armed pricing policies have raised the hackles of competitors. But can we step back for a moment and look at the irony of this situation? Since Barnes & Noble purchased Sterling Publishing in 2003, it hasn't made any of its eBooks available in Kindle format, though Amazon does carry the hardcovers. I've always been able to read OverDrive books on my Nook, a Barnes & Noble device. And when did B&N cease to become the bully that put hundreds of independent bookstores out of business?

Publishers are continuing to side with B&N (a huge purchaser of their books, at a discount publishers can control), and against Amazon (a huge seller of their books, though at its own terms). Amazon and B&N are pitted against each other, as you'd expect from direct competitors. And independent stores are fighting for their lives, trying to side with no one.

Who's left out of this equation? Authors, illustrators and consumers. The people who create the products, and those who buy them. The very lifeblood of the industry.

Authors who happen to be published by Marshall Cavendish or New Harvest now can't find their books in many stores. Readers who are cash-strapped, have trouble seeing the small print in physical books, or who physically can't get to the library are now having some publishers dictate which books they'll be granted access to. And consumers who desperately want to buy the next book by their favorite author are being told they don't truly love books if they only purchase them at the best price they can find.

Capitalism is messy, and doesn't always play nice. But it's the system we've got. It's time for big publishers and retailers to figure out how to co-exist. Maybe it will come down to Amazon and Barnes & Noble having exclusives on the books they carry, so consumers know which retailer they'll go to for each title (like going to Sears if you want a Lands' End jacket because JC Penney doesn't carry that brand). Maybe all will agree on price points that everyone can live with. Perhaps authors and readers will put enough pressure on publishers that more eBooks will be available at the library. And certainly publishers should list on their websites where their books are available, so authors can know if the sales outlets are extensive enough to even warrant a manuscript submission.

But ultimately publishers and retailers have to figure this out. Because in capitalism, the creator and consumer are king, and the middleman can always be replaced.


Another Self-Publishing Success Story

When Brittany Geragotelis was writing her YA novel Life's a Witch, she posted it chapter by chapter on Wattpad, an online community for sharing writing and getting feedback from readers. Gradually, she gained 13 million fans. But despite that and an active blog, YouTube presence, and proving her chops as editor of American Cheerleader magazine, Geragotelis still couldn't attract a publisher. So she self-published through Amazon, and parlayed her online popularity into an article in Publishers Weekly. Fast-forward six weeks, and Geragotelis now has an agent, is fielding offers from foreign publishers and film companies, and has a big publisher looking at her work, which includes six unpublished novels. All this sparked a follow-up article in Publishers Weekly, which could only help raise her profile even more.

What's the moral of this story? If you want it bad enough, you can make it happen. Of course, it starts with the book, but 13 million fans is a pretty good indication that the story's working. And then you refuse to take "no" for an answer. While being published by a big house is still a worthy dream of many authors (including Geragotelis), the publishers no longer hold all the power. If you want to open that door for yourself, you can do it.


105 Books Later, R.L. Stine Still Gives Readers Goosebumps

Back in the early 1990s I worked part-time at a book package called Parachute Press, which was creating a new horror series called Goosebumps. The series' author, R.L. Stine, had begun his career as a humor writer, then found a wider audience with his YA horror series Fear Street. But no one had ever done a horror series for the middle grade crowd, so Parachute decides to give Stine's series a try.

The rest is publishing history. Goosebumps made Stine the best-selling author of all time for many years. He now occupies the Number 2 spot, right behind J.K. Rowling. There's a Goosebumps attraction at Disney World, Goosebumps TV shows and merchandise, and new Goosebumps titles still coming out every year. Stine's journey is enviable, inspiring and amazing, and you can read about it in this Writer's Digest interview. Here's my favorite quote. When asked about the worst piece of writing advice he's ever heard, Stine said:

“Well, I hate it when authors come into a school and they say to kids, ‘Write from your heart, write from your heart, only write what you know, and write from your heart.’ I hate that because it’s useless. I’ve written over 300 books—not one was written from my heart. Not one. They were all written for an audience, they were all written to entertain a certain audience.”

The problem with such advice, Stine says, is that if you tell people to write from their hearts and to write only something they know, they get blocked totally. Instead, he says, it’s all about the imagination. (Hey, it worked for him.)

Yes it did. Check out this story of an incredibly hard-working writer and a really nice guy.


Check Out the New CBI Clubhouse!

Those of you who are Fightin' Bookworms (members of our CBI Clubhouse online community) know that in the two years since we've launched the site, we've amassed a huge amount of information on writing and publishing children's books. So much information, in fact, that it was getting unwieldy.

So Jon's spent the last two months (days, evenings, weekends, even in his sleep) completely redesigning and improving the site. And as of this week….

The *NEW* CBI Clubhouse is now live at http://cbiclubhouse.com !   

The CBI 1-2-3 System is up and running, bringing you exactly the information you need, exactly when you need it.  No more hunting around through a massive library of information — it's all right there for you.

And, wow, wait until you meet our new Expert Guides!  A Newbery Honoree…multi-million selling authors…a magazine writer with more than 1600 credits….the most famous names in self publishing and book marketing…and on and on.  When we say All-Star, we're not kidding!

And this is just the beginning.  Private critique groups are coming soon. So are advanced and professional levels.  And webinars.  And…   well, we can't give away all our surprises now can we?  :)

OK, then – go check it out:  http://cbiclubhouse.com

And please let us know what you think. Your feedback helps us make the Clubhouse even better!


The Appeal of Fantasy’s Secret World

When I critique middle grade and young adult fantasy manuscripts, I often find myself jotting notes like "Why is this character the one called to this adventure?" and "What's at stake here of monumental consequence?" A cornerstone of successful fantasy is seemingly ordinary teen and tween protagonists who save the world. Without that, you're just writing a novel with quirky characters. Another hallmark is that this usually happens without (or in spite of) any help from adults. Teen heroes, impending doom, absentee parents. What's not to love?

Author Cassandra Clare understands this well, and has written an excellent piece about the secret world teens inhabit in their fantasy novels for The Wall Street Journal. Required reading for any author working on a fantasy, or for a parent with a fantasy-loving teen at home.


November Being Touted as Picture Book Month

Last October, an article in The New York Times declared, “Picture Books No Longer A Staple for Children”. This incited a barrage of responses from the children’s book industry, many in defense of the venerable picture book.

Thus, Picture Book Month was born. Founder Dianne de Las Casas decided it was time to celebrate picture books in their traditional printed format so she created an initiative to designate November as “Picture Book Month.” Katie Davis, Elizabeth Dulemba, Tara Lazar, and Wendy Martin came on board to champion the cause and spread the word. A logo was designed by Joyce Wan. A website (www.picturebookmonth.com) was created to feature essays from “Picture Book Champions,” thought leaders in the children’s literature community. Each day in November, a new essay will be posted from such notable contributors as Suzanne Bloom, Denise Fleming, Leslie Helakoski, Eric A. Kimmel, Tammi Sauer, Dan Yaccarino, and Jane Yolen.Better World Books and organizations like Scholastic Book Fairs Philippines are lending their support. The website will also feature links to picture book resources, authors, illustrators, and kidlit book bloggers. In addition, parents, educators, and librarians can download the theme calendar to help them plan their picture book celebrations and access picture book activities.

Visit www.picturebookmonth.com. The website officially opens on November 1, 2011.

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