Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Thursday Review - Conference for Childrens Writers!

Today I want to welcome fellow writer, Cynthia Owens. Cynthia just got back from the Society of Childrens Book Writers and Illustrators Carolinas Fall Conference. I don't have any expertise writing for children so she's going to share with us what this conference is all about. Thanks Cynthia!

SCBWI Carolinas Conference
by Cynthis Owens

Last Friday I traveled to Charlotte, NC for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators - Carolinas Fall Conference. I went prepared with a credit card and checkbook to buy books, three business casual outfits to dress up or down, note-taking materials, a fresh stack of business cards, an uber-organized notebook with all my conference materials, liquid caffeine and a super-sized carton of my favorite chocolate. If you’ve attended a conference before, you know these are essentials. If you haven’t, copy this list and put it in a safe place.

So, I was prepared, but edgy. I was new to the children’s writing world and needed specific information regarding the business of writing. Would this conference be worth the money I'd sunk into it? Three days and a mind-blowing amount of information later, the answer is a resounding YES.

The workshops broadly covered the basics of writing for the children’s market. Each time slot held a beginner session with topics such as Plot and Pacing, Seeing the World Through 12-Year-Old Eyes, Intro to Writing and Illustrating for Children, and Visual Storytelling with Pictures and Words.

What I didn’t expect was the openness in which business information was shared. Just before lunch on Saturday was a behind-the-scenes look at the editing process between Dial Books Editor Liz Waniewski and author Alan Gratz. If you think your work is over when an editor buys your book, think again. This discussion highlighted the extended revision process, in this case two start from scratch rewrites and five additional revision sets. Their talk also relayed how each division in the publishing house was integral in preparing Alan’s latest work Fantasy Baseball due out in March 2011.

In her workshop The Realities of a Debut Author, Fran Cannon Slayton shared her year-long journey to market her first published work, When the Whistle Blows. Wanting to have no regrets when marketing her debut novel, Fran used a combination of blog reviews, festival visits, a self-prepared book tour, a private publicist, her publisher’s publicist and Google alerts to create buzz for her work. She ended up spending almost her entire advance, but her book is now in its third hardcover printing and a paperback edition is arriving this fall. Another case of money well spent.

Overall, this conference was a great balance of writing craft and business application. The only shortcoming I noticed was a lack of illustrator workshops. The sessions were generally focused on the writing side of children’s book creation.

To learn more about writing and illustrating for children, visit these links:
Don't forget to join the conversation!

Cynthia Owens loved to sing as child but frequently got into trouble for singing the lyrics played on the radio. Undaunted, she made up her own words. “I Love Rock N’ Roll” became “I Love Honeycombs,” and a writer was born.

After spending many years as a trainer and teacher, Cynthia returned to her first love. As an aspiring children’s book writer, she delights in creating whimsical stories of friendship and self-discovery. Cynthia and her husband Robin make their home in South Carolina where they enjoy growing palm trees, hiking for blueberries and traveling to new places every chance they get.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Industry Submission Standards—Part One

Every industry has standards and the writing community is no different. However, since the advent of email submissions, the rules have gotten muddy. Today I’ll share some rules to follow that will help you present yourself professionally.

Font Size and Selection
Times New Roman or Courier – 12 point – are still the gold standard. Try not to vary from these two options unless the submission guidelines request it.

Always justify your margins left. NEVER justify them left and right (like a newspaper).


There are two, equally acceptable ways to space your document for submission. In times past, there was only one acceptable spacing option, double spacing. This has changed with the formatting needs of the Internet.

Special Note: When submitting a book length manuscript double spacing is the ONLY industry standard accepted.

Single Spaced Document
The entire document is single spaced and paragraphs are NOT indented. An extra space is added between paragraphs.

When painting your garage floor the first thing you have to do is prepare the surface. You need to give it a thorough cleaning. Consider using a pressure washer to save time when you need to remove stubborn dirt and debris. If the garage floor has been painted in the past, it’ll be necessary to remove all traces of the old paint.

After cleaning, allow the concrete time to dry. This may take several days depending on the climate and weather. After it’s dry you’ll need to fill any cracks or holes. You can find the correct supplies at your local hardware store. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s directions when applying.

Double Spaced Document
The entire document is double spaced and paragraphs ARE indented. There is NO extra space between paragraphs.

       When painting your garage floor the first thing you have to do is

prepare the surface. You need to give it a thorough cleaning.

Consider using a pressure washer to save time when you need to

remove stubborn dirt and debris. If the garage floor has been painted

in the past, it’ll be necessary to remove all traces of the old paint.

       After cleaning, allow the concrete time to dry. This may take several

days depending on the climate and weather. After it’s dry you’ll need

to fill any cracks or holes. You can find the correct supplies at your

local hardware store. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s directions

when applying.

All of these rules may seem random and arbitrary, but they're not. They help an editor avoid eyestrain when reading hundreds of manuscripts during the course of a week. They also help those who upload or in rare cases, typeset the submitted material.

Next week I'll go over cover letters, queries and synopsis lengths and changing standards.

Don't forget to join the conversation!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Weekend Worship - Welcome to the Family!

Today you're in for a treat! My good friend and fellow writer, Cathy Baker, is sharing a devotion. She has an amazing blog and I encourage you to visit her there.

Welcome to the Family
Although feeling more like the redheaded stepchild with all my questions and quandaries, Cindy from ChristianDevotions recently made this novice writer feel right at home with those words.

I’m quickly learning that the writing community is indeed much like a family. One visit to our Upstate Christian Writers Fellowship—co-led by Vonda Skelton and Edie—and one soon discovers it’s more than just a family…it’s a functional family.
  • Cheerleaders with no need for pom-poms. No hype here—sincere, practical, and wise advice is more than sufficient to spur on even the most defeated lover-of-words.
  • A wealth of knowledge shared, not hoarded. The skilled writer embraces the opportunity to share their expertise with all those desiring to learn.
  • Creativity is encouraged, perfectionism doused. One frees—the other captures.
  • All are welcome, family and friends alike. While writing can be lonely, a community that comes together to merge ideas, plots, schemes, and things, is anything but.
As with any family, true motivations eventually emerge—love, guilt, fear—and this family is no exception. Without a doubt, however, love is the undercurrent that runs swiftly throughout the writing community.

Forget the sweet and sappy type of love that avoids crunched toes at all costs. What family is functional under those terms?

Apparently, crunched toes serve as a badge of honor for this community, proving that vulnerability is both present and active. A true indication of love at its best.

“Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” 1 Corinthians 8:1b

Don't forget to join the conversation!

Cathy Baker delights in observing God at work in the nuances of life, and sharing those observations through writing, journaling, and blogging. She’s a woman who has been forgiven much and strives to live a life that shouts, “Thank You, Jesus!” An experienced Bible teacher, Cathy leads a Bible group in her church, as well as a community Bible study for women. She and her husband Brian live in South Carolina with their answer to the empty-nest syndrome—a pampered pooch named Rupert.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Thursday Review—Is the Conference Expense Worth It?

I’ll be the first to admit attending a Writing Conference is expensive. But I’ll also immediately back that up with the assurance that it’s money well spent. In terms of networking, education and job leads it’s the best money I’ve invested in my career.

The trick to this kind of return on investment is choosing wisely. There are large conferences, mid-size ones and small ones. Each offers a specific benefit, as well as overlapping benefits. Here are some things to consider when making your decision.

Networking/Job Leads
If your primary goal is networking/job leads a large conference is a good investment. These venues offer more opportunities to get to know industry professionals—writers, editors and agents. I recommend you choose one close, if possible. If that’s not an option, look at air fares and associated travel costs to determine your real dollar investment. Generally the conference fee will be augmented by room costs, meals and travel expenses.

There are lots of excellent conferences out there, but here is an incomplete list:

If learning your craft is your primary goal, a smaller venue may be the best choice for you. These smaller gatherings offer targeted education and more individual attention. There are literally hundreds of options in this category. The best way to sort through them all is to get personal recommendations. Find someone who has attended and get their opinion.

Here are some reoccurring seminars that you might want to consider:

Online Options
If a conference is out of your budget, don’t despair. There are online options for networking and education. You may have to work a little harder to stay motivated (for the classes) and to get to know people, but it can be done. Here are some GREAT forums. These are well moderated and craft oriented, promising a professional place to play on the Internet.

Now it’s your turn—what conferences or online groups have worked for you?
Don't forget to join the conversation!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Weekend Worship—Freedom

And you will know the truth and the truth will make you free. John 8:32

Now I have to confess, usually I can only take so much TRUTH when it comes to my writing. And as exciting as writers conferences are, there's a surfeit of truth that goes on here. Everyone you talk with has an opinion, especially when it comes to your writing and how it should be fixed. Add to that the late nights, adrenalin rush of meetings, and a schedule jam packed with classes and you have a recipe for emotional disaster. I found myself on that very roller coaster Friday night. But Saturday morning, after an unusually good night’s rest, worship was a wonderful time of hearing from God.

The worship team led us in several praise songs, but the one that resonated with me focused on the freedom we have in Christ. I found myself asking God how I could hang on to that freedom in a day packed with unexpected highs and lows. Frequently, in the past, I’ve found the conference and the week following, a time of bondage. I’ve felt trapped by expectations of others and the obvious shortcomings within myself.

As I prayed, asking if somehow this time could be different I felt my spirit vibrate with God’s answer. His answer was to remind me that He gave me this story—for this time. He didn’t choose anyone else, He chose me. And I felt that today He would confirm His trust in me.

After the worship time, I went straight to my 15 minute appointment with an editor. As I sat down, I felt slightly nervous, but nothing like I have in the past. The editor listened as I gave him a brief pitch and then asked to see the first few pages of the manuscript. He read for a moment and asked if I’d like editorial feedback.

I felt myself swallow hard—here it came—more of that truth. But I replaced my fear with a picture of the word freedom and nodded. As he began marking up my pages and explaining sections that needed to be cut I felt an unearthly peace. Here it was—God’s confirmation.

The editor stopped talking and looked at me strangely. “You’re taking this awfully well.”

That was when I realized I had a huge grin on my face. I’m sure it must have briefly crossed his mind that I was some sort of a nutcase or maybe he was the butt of a joke and this wasn’t really my manuscript.

Truth was his revisions filled me with joy. The parts he removed were those that I’d let others, against my better judgment, talk me into adding. When he was done, I was left with the story exactly the way God had given it to me.

Today I found freedom—and confidence—to believe in God’s work in me and in my ability to carry it out. I challenge you to ask for God’s confirmation where you feel lacking. His answer will surprise you—it certainly did me. I’d love to hear your story so . . .

Don't forget to join the conversation!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Thursday Review - ACFW Bound - Part Two

It's been an amazing day . . . and I'm exhausted! Those of you who've been to writing conferences know what I mean. It's an "I can't stuff any more knowledge into my brain" sort of tired.

This moring we had the priviledge of learning from James Scott Bell from 8am until 12. I've taken his class twice before, but I learn so much, it all seems brand new. I reviewed his third book on writing, The Art of War for Writiers in my very first Thursday review, if you're curious why I think he's so great.

Then lunch with my newest friends  fellow writers MBT Ponderers. An amazing group of encouraging, praying, talented writers. Several of the group are Genesis finalists so I feel like I have a vested interest in who wins on Sunday evening.

Then, tonight we heard from Tim Downs. He delivered a great keynote. I can hardly wait to gett some of his books to read!

Supper (Jim Bell claimed not to know what "supper" was - said he'd heard of dinner, but not supper - he's from CA, need I say more?) was really good. I can already tell I'm going to eat way too much while I'm here. Tonight their were editor panels and tomorrow night will be agent panels.

Like I said, my mind has turned to mush. Tomorrow my first appointment is with editor Jeff Gerke - I've been practicing my pitch all evening And thanks to my MBT Ponderer friends it's honed to a razor sharp edge.

Tomorrow is packed with appointments, meals and workshops, I miss all my Blue Ridge buddies, but Lisa Carter and I are representing!

I'll be back tomorrow with more updates.
Don't forget to join the conversation!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Thursday Review - ACFW Bound!

Instead of the usual Thursday review, I'll spend the next few days posting about my experiences at the American Christian Fiction Writers Conference in Indianapolis. I'm sitting at the Greenville, SC airport right now, excited and nervous about the conference.

I've been traveling to conferences for over 10 years and the butterflies never seem to disappear. I'm excited about what God has in store for the next few days and nervous about those growth experiences that are sure to come.

I've already had one - this morning my husband complained that my suitcase was too heavy to lift. I just rolled my eyes. It was his turn to roll his eyes when the person at the baggage counter charged me $50 for being 10 pounds over the weight limit. Note to self - pay attention to what those around me are trying to tell me!

I'll give you all an update tonight from Indianapolis. Also, you can follow my tweets at . I'll be using #ACFW to identify the conference tweets. You can just search for #ACFW on Twitter and catch them as they come in. There are bound to be lots of other attendees using the same code so you'll get lots of live and update info about the conference experience.

Don't forget to join the conversation!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Twittering Your Time Away—Part Three

I hope Twitter is beginning to make more sense now. If you’re just joining the conversation you can visit Part One and Part Two and see what the buzz is about.

Twitter is a versatile medium, but because of its condensed format Tweets that are about me, me, me get really old—really fast! Sure we all want to increase our audience and reach more people, but that isn’t the way to accomplish that. The thing you want to be known for on Twitter is relevant content. You want to give those who follow you something worth following.

We need to learn to Tweet in a way that benefits others.
  • Let someone else benefit from what you’ve found helpful
  • Share about someone else’s success
  • Pass along opportunities
Tweeting and retweeting is the perfect way to do this. Tweet—toot—someone else’s horn!

Another helpful tool is something I mentioned last week—Lists. This is simply pulling together tweets of one particular subject and allowing others—those who have joined your list—to follow them as well. One list I particularly like is put out by Alton Gansky.

To make up your own list, click on list on your Twitter homepage and follow the directions. It’s very simple—even I can figure it out!

With this we come to the end of our Twitter Tutorial. I’d love to know if this has been helpful. So leave me a comment—
And don’t forget to join the conversation!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Weekend Worship—Beautiful Colors

Fall is my favorite time of the year. I love the cool, crisp days that bring relief from summer’s heat. But most of all, I love the beautiful colors adorning the trees in our Blue Ridge Mountains. My husband and I get great joy from driving through the mountains to see the changing leaves. It always amazes me how vibrant the colors are, and until recently, I took that beauty for granted.

A few days ago I discovered what determines the intensity and brilliance of the colors—it’s in direct response to the amount of stress the tree has suffered during the previous season. That knowledge stopped me in my tracks. Think about it, the hotter and drier the summer, the brighter the colors come fall.

Inevitably I began to think about people around me who’ve suffered intense pain and come through triumphant. I realized God works the same transformation in their lives, bringing beauty where once there was strife. The more God works through their stress and suffering—the more vibrantly His brilliance shines through them.

Now this knowledge leads me to a choice. Will I fight God’s plan and seek the path of least resistance—the path that leads to a life without color? Or will I let God transform my trials and tribulations into brilliance?

And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. Romans 5:3-5

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Thursday Review—Do I Really Need a Writers Group or a Critique Partner?

Only if you want your writing to improve! Writing for publication is an endeavor built on forging relationships. And those relationships can ultimately determine your success or failure in the writing industry. Here’s a list of those relationships.
  • Between you and other writers
  • Between you and the reader
  • Between the reader and the subject or characters
  • Between you and the editor
  • Between you and your agent
I listed the relationship between writers first, because surprisingly, it’s often the most vital in your writing life. The actual act of putting words on paper is a solitary act and because of that it’s easy to lose perspective. Writing in a vacuum can give us a false sense of whether or not we’re effective in our endeavor. We either wind up thinking we’re a genius or sink into the depths of despair because we can’t string two coherent sentences together. Rarely is either perspective accurate.

We need others in our profession to give us feedback, keep us grounded and provide encouragement. You may be tempted, like I was at first, to insert friends and family into this role. Unless they’re also writers this dynamic just doesn’t work. They’ll unwittingly encourage you when you need a swift kick in the pants and administer the kick in the pants when you need encouragement.

That’s where a writers group, critique group or critique partner will help. But you have to be careful—some critique and writers groups can be toxic. I’ve visited some where the purpose appears to be to build up the one delivering the critique by tearing down the hapless author. You want to avoid these groups at all cost.

Here’s a list of what to look for in a group or a partner
  • An encouraging atmosphere –not all sweetness and light—nobody improves on false compliments. But I’ve almost never found a manuscript that didn’t have some redeeming quality.
  • A mutually beneficial relationship. You should both bring something valuable if it’s a partnership—you may excel at writing dialogue and your partner is a whiz at description.
  • A hunger to improve. If it’s a group there should be a movement toward growth in the majority of members. Even if you’re all beginners, if you’re all reading writing books and attending classes you’ll be able to grow and learn together.
  • A timekeeper. If someone’s not willing to keep track of the time not everyone will get a chance to be critiqued. It’s a dirty job, but someone’s got to do it!
So now here’s your chance—what experiences have you had with writing groups and partnerships?
Don’t forget to join the conversation!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Twittering Your Time Away—Part Two

Stay with me—this week and next is when it gets good!

Last Monday I gave you the basic course in TWITTER. To be totally honest this probably left most of you still in the dark, but willing to at least explore the possibilities. Now that we’re all on the same page, I want to share some of the benefits to becoming a regular Twitter user.

A Marketing Dream
Think of TWITTER like a short commercial spot during the Super Bowl—the place with the most viewers at one time. (See where I’m going here!) During those spots, some people are in the kitchen refilling their plate, others are chatting about the game, but a few are watching. Something in that particular commercial caught their attention. Those few spread the word and POOF a few become millions.

Twitter has this ability because it comes to us in short, 140 character bursts. These bursts are easy to share and reproduce. Remember our definition of RETWEET last week? Retweeting can cause a viral reaction—and that’s a good thing. Having a tweet that goes viral means your message is being seen by millions.

There are certain things that we can do to help others find our valuable TWEETS. Let’s go back to the Super Bowl analogy for a moment. During the game, some of us take watching these commercials a step further—we’re watching for certain ads—think of it as looking for keywords that pertain to our wants or needs. TWITTER is set up to accomplish the same thing, through the use of HASHTAGS # and the use of @.

  • HASHTAGS or # denote a subject. People can search TWITTER for certain subjects, like writing or publishers. So if I want a certain TWEET to reach other writers who don’t yet follow me I can insert #write somewhere within my TWEET. I started using HASHTAGS in my TWEETS and within TWO HOURS added 26 new followers.
A word of caution, don’t overuse the HASHTAG. If you use it too often within one post it will seem like a hard sell and you still only have 140 characters to get your message out.

As a TWITTER user, I search for these subjects and have them arranged in LISTS (more about LISTS in a moment). When I find one that’s interesting I can click on it to investigate further and then FOLLOW that person.
  • @ designates a person or a company. Just like I can search for a subject, I can search for a specific entity. I follow one geeky, technical blog called MASHABLE. I love their posts because I can understand them and apply them. Their TWEETS are even better, so I created a list that follows every mention of MASHABLE.

LISTS are a way of arranging information into usable knowledge. So how do you organize those lists? If you’ve spent some time on TWITTER you know your specific TWITTER page is just one long confusing column. I have the answer to that as well—TWEETDECK. TWEETDECK, like TWITTER, is free.

TWEETDECK is an ancillary program that organizes your TWITTER feeds into manageable groups through the use of columns. AND—get ready for it—it also interfaces with Facebook and other social media outlets! So I have ONE (count it, one!) window open in the background, giving me real time tweets and wall posts. I can chime in (post or TWEET) anytime I please.

I hope this has continued to whet your appetite for all things TWITTER. Next week we’ll continue on with managing lists and customizing your TWITTER page.

Now it’s your turn. Have you gotten your feet wet with TWITTER? Let me know your concerns, questions and triumphs.

Don’t forget to join the conversation!

(Here are the links for part 1 and part 3 of this series)

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Weekend Worship - Be Still

Be still, and know that I am God
Ps 46:10(NKJV)

I finally understand what my grandmother meant by the old saying meet yourself coming and going. Some days I’m so busy with my writing and editing schedule I feel bad about taking time for lunch. Recently I’d even begun waking up in the morning with a stress headache. These headaches caused me to re-evaluate my priorities and I realized that one thing I’d let slide were my regular quiet times in the morning.

In recent years my routine has evolved into a set time every morning spent reading my Bible and praying. Now before you think I’m a morning person or especially dedicated, let me set the record straight—I’m not one of those who can wake up at 5am to do this. I’m a late night person, so my mornings start slow—usually around 8am.

But lately I’ve started the day so far behind I’d begun to skimp on my time with God. It sounds awful to admit, but it’s true. And it seemed the farther behind I got the less time I spent—and the less time I spent with God, the farther behind I got. It looks obvious when I write it out, but it took me a while to see the connection. You may wonder how I finally caught on, and I have to confess it wasn’t anything I did. It was Emily Dickinson—my cat.

You see, Emily has an unusual routine. Every afternoon, if I let her, she spends at least thirty minutes in my lap hanging out. I can be sitting in front of the TV, knitting or in front of the computer, but if I am sitting down, up she hops. She stretches out, cradled in my arms and spends time resting. She is completely at ease, sometimes in a position where, if I didn’t support her, she’d fall to the ground. She is completely unconcerned about any danger, knowing that I love her and will hold her safe. As God’s children we need that same time every day with God. It is necessary to take the time to rest, safe in His arms, away from the trials of the day. He is always there, waiting for us to come, offering comfort and love.

I've reworked my schedule and found everything fits when I put God first. What about you? How do you make sure God has top priority in your schedule?

Don't forget to join the conversation!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Thursday Review - The Power of Body Language by Tonya Reiman

Guest post by Lynn Huggins Blackburn.

What criteria do you use to decide which book will be your next choice in your never-ending quest to improve your writing skills?

Maybe you read about it here at The Write Conversation, which is how I find most of my selections.

Maybe a fellow writer mentions a book that helped them. Or maybe an author you admire has written a book on writing and you want to see what they have to say.

But my guess is that, as a general rule, the books you read to hone your craft are about writing. Am I right? Well, not this one.

Um, Lynn, this is a blog about writing. And this post is supposed to help us find books on writing . . .

I agree. But . . . what if a Christy award winning author told you to read this book?

Yeah. That’s what I thought. You’d read it, too. And yes, that is exactly how The Power of Body Language went to the top of my “must read” list.

The Power of Body Language by Tonya Reiman wasn't written for writers and it has a distinctly secular worldview. But any writer who has ever struggled not to name an emotion will find useful guidance in these pages. With chapters on The Language of the Face, The Language of the Body, The Languages of Space and Touch, and the Language of Sound, a writer can break out of their “nodding and shrugging” rut (come on, you know you’ve got one) and find new ways to add vibrancy to their characterization.

The chapters on first impressions and secret signals are full of details that the creative mind can run wild with. Is one of your characters lying to the other? Or falling out of love? Or about to be fired? You’ll find lists of body movements and signals to describe all of these situations and more.

And it’s not just your fictional characters who will benefit from this book. If you take some of the advice on first impressions to heart, it certainly can’t hurt when it comes time for that face-to-face meeting with an editor or agent at your next writers conference.

Let us know - what other “non-writing” books have you found useful?

Don’t forget to join the conversation!

Lynn Huggins Blackburn has been telling herself stories since she was five and finally started writing them down. On her blog Out of the Boat she writes about faith and family while her blog Perpetual Motion documents the joys and challenges of loving and rearing a child with special needs. A graduate of Clemson University, Lynn lives in South Carolina where she writes, reads, knits, takes care of two amazing children, one fabulous man and one spoiled rotten Boston Terrier.