Giving Basic Writing Advice

A while ago, I was asked to look over a children’s fiction picture book manuscript. This was not a paying job, just a favor.

The ‘new to writing’ authors, who are both health care professionals, had already been calling major publishers to find out submission requirements. They were told their manuscript would not be looked at without an agent.

So, they went to the library to find a book on top agents. While this is a worthy endeavor, there are some basic first steps to take before shooting for the stars.

Just glancing at the manuscript, I knew it needed a lot of work. And, interestingly, I was surprised to see so many errors in a simple 600 word story. It seems as we progress in learning the craft of writing, we forget that we didn’t know the very basics at one time either.

When critiquing or giving writing advice, it’s important to begin with the positive aspects of the manuscript. If the errors are basic and abundant, you may also want to state them in generic terms, not to offend the author/s.

What does this mean?

Well, instead of saying, “You shouldn’t have the children’s picture book manuscript formatted in lists, numbered, or in Australian Sunrise 10pt font,” you might say, “Manuscripts are usually preferred typed in New Times Roman 12pt font, and are double spaced using a free form flow with the first sentence of each paragraph indented.

To help with clarity, you could include a first page example of a manuscript you have, or rewrite the 1st paragraph of two of the authors’ manuscript.

If there are just too many errors, for time’s sake you can make a list of proper manuscript formatting tips. This is the approach I took.

I started out with the ‘positive:’

This is a wonderful idea for a children’s book and has great potential, especially that both of you are professionals in the health field. Children will certainly benefit from the story’s information. It could use some tweaking though.

Then I added a brief sentence:

Here are a few tips for writing and formatting a manuscript to help get it submission ready:

•    Manuscripts should be formatted in 12 pt Times New Roman Font
•    They should be double spaced
•    They should be in free form without numbering for pages or in list form
•    The first sentence of each paragraph should be indented
•    Children love action – actions are better shown through ‘showing’ rather than ‘telling’
•    Notes for illustrations after each of your intended pages are usually frowned upon by publishers
•    Most publishers, especially the major ones use their own illustrators
•    Manuscripts are more likely to make it past the slush pile if they are polished
•    Usually writers go through a process of one or two critique groups and writing groups, after rewrites and editing it gets to a point where it looks perfect. That’s when it needs to be professionally edited.

These tips are part of the advice I offered the authors and I kept it as generic as possible.

After you note the manuscript errors, you should end your advice on another positive note. You might say, “With rewriting and editing, you will have an engaging story that children will be sure to love, and it’ll be submission ready.”

I then provided several writing links about writing for children and editing.

Since every author’s personality is different it’s usually best to use the gentle approach when offering writing advice.

Karen Cioffi is an award-winning children’s author and children’s ghostwriter/ rewriter. For tips on writing for children OR if you need help with your project, contact me at Writing for Children with Karen Cioffi.

And, you can follow Karen at:

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Book Promotion: Creating an Informational Funnel

When thinking of book marketing, there are a number of rungs on the marketing ladder. The first involves creating a quality product, in this case a book. You want a book that you’ll be proud to offer for sale, and a book that customers will want to buy.

Once you have a finished product/book, you need to move onto the promotion basics. This rung on the ladder involves establishing a presence - you’ll need to create visibility and a platform. To do this, the first step is to get a website or blog. Next, you will need to join writing groups in your genre, groups in your target market, and other social networks, such as Twitter and Facebook.

After you’ve established a presence, the next step is to create an informational funnel leading back to your website. The purpose of this funnel is to bring traffic and inbound links, to your site.

The more traffic to your site the greater your visibility in the search engines. More traffic also means a greater chance of visitors purchasing what you’re offering.

When it comes to an informational funnel, content rules. Here are three strategies to increase traffic to your site.

1. Add Content to Your Blog

Make your presence known by offering information in the form of content on your blog. Content is what will make you an expert in your niche, genre, or area. But, just posting the content to your site will not create the traffic you need. Each time you publish content to your site, you need to let your social networks know about it.

Tweet it and post about it to Facebook and your other social networks. Be sure to always include a clickable url link that goes directly to the article. This is a part of inbound marketing – it leads visitors back to your site through an information funnel.

In addition, using effective keywords in your posts and the post titles, related to your site’s platform, will help the search engines index your content.

2. Article Marketing

Once you feel comfortable with adding content to your blog, you can now venture out into the article marketing arena to capture a larger audience. While most article directories have guidelines, they are fairly lenient. Follow the guidelines and post an article to one, ten, or a hundred different directories. Most of them don’t require original articles, so you can use articles you’ve posted on your blog.

Usually you will be allowed to include a brief bio in the form of a resource box. Make it short and sweet. Be sure it links back to your website or blog, whichever you want the traffic to go to (if you have more than one site).

Those who click on the link will be creating inbound links to your site which is a feature Google and the other search engines like. In fact, quality inbound links are an important aspect of search engine optimization (SEO).

3. Offer to be a Guest on Other Quality Sites

Another avenue of inbound marketing is offering your articles to other quality blogs or sites; you become a featured writer on the site by providing a guest article. It might be viewed as visiting another neighborhood. The particular site you are featured on has its own set of visitors, thereby broadening your visibility.

Do your research though, before you approach bloggers. Make sure the fit is right by checking prior posts on the site. In addition, when you approach the blog owner to ask about a guest post, let him know that you are familiar with his site.

And, be sure to always make it a win-win situation. Let the blog owner know that you will promote your feature post, and you might mention that you’ll include his site in your newsletter.

Finally, self-edit all your articles before you post them or send them off.

Tip: Using content to draw visitors back to your site is inbound or organic marketing. It is free, and it works by creating an informational funnel leading back to your site. In order for inbound marketing to work effectively, you need to provide valuable content on a regular basis.


Karen Cioffi is an award-winning children’s author and children’s ghostwriter / rewriter. She is also the founder and editor-in-chief of Writers on the Move and author online platform instructor with WOW! Women on Writing.

If you need help with your author platform, check out:

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This 4-week interactive class shows you Basic Website Optimization, Blogging Smart, Email Marketing, and Social Media Marketing




Book Promotion: The Foundation

Every author has it, said it, and heard it: promotion is the roll-up-your-sleeves, and dig-in part of writing. It’s the much more difficult and time consuming aspect of writing that every author needs to become involved with . . . if he wants to sell his books.

To actually sell a book, you need to have a quality product. This is the bare-bottom, first rung of book promotion . . . the foundation.

The Foundation

Create a Quality Product


The very first step in book promotion is to create a quality product. Hopefully, you noticed I said create a quality product, not just a good story. What this means is that all aspects of your book need to be top notch.

A. The Story

To start at the very beginning, the first factor to be dealt with is to be sure your story has all the essential elements. According to Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute, there are five major elements of a story: characters, setting, plot, point of view, and theme.

All the elements of a story should complement each other, should move each other forward, draw the reader in, and end with a satisfying conclusion. They should work together to create a story that will be remembered.

Suppose your story is action packed and plot driven, but it lacks believable and sympathetic characters, it will fall short. The same holds true if you have a believable and sympathetic character, but the story lacks movement. Again, it will be lacking. As with all things in life balance is necessary, the same holds true when writing a story.

B. Join a Critique Group

Yes, this is part of creating a quality story. Even experienced authors depend on the unique perspective and extra eyes that each critique member provides. They will help find: grammatical errors, holes in your story, unclear sentences and paragraphs, overuse of particular words, and weak verbs, among other elements.

They will also provide guidance and suggestions.

C. Editing

Yes, again, this is a necessary step to take to ensure your manuscript is in the best shape possible before it becomes a book. Look for an experienced and qualified editor to help tweak your manuscript. But, before you send it off to be edited, self-edit it first. There are a number of articles out there in cyberspace on self-editing. Take the time and read a few, then go over your manuscript.

D. Cover and Design

This step is more relevant to those who decide to self-publish, or use a Print-on-Demand (POD). The cover is the first impression a reader will usually have of your book, next is the interior design. These aspects are just as important as the story itself. I’m sure you’re familiar with the expression that you only get one shot at making a good first impression. Well, you can relate that to your book cover.

Don’t skimp on time, effort, or money when coming up with your book’s cover and design.

Tip: If you are writing a children’s book, do not do your own illustrations unless you’re a professional illustrator.


Karen Cioffi is an award-winning children’s author and children’s ghostwriter/ rewriter. For tips on writing for children OR if you need help with your project, contact me at Writing for Children with Karen Cioffi.



And, you can follow Karen at:

Facebook
Goolge+
LinkedIn
Twitter

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Building Scenes with Renee Hand

Renee Hand is an award-winning author, educator, tennis coach and various other things. Hand has been writing for over twenty years and has six publications. She also writes for various chronicles and newsletters, as well as reviews for various authors of children´s books on her blog, http://thecryptocapersseries.blogspot.com.

Renee Hand's love for reading and writing started when she was a child. Renee always had a passion for it and remembers frequently wearing out the stone steps to the local library. When in a bookstore, she would sit in the middle of an aisle perusing a novel that she was eagerly going to purchase, but couldn’t wait to read. Often, when Renee has extra time, she will write stories that pop into her head...locking herself in her room for hours. Now that Renee is older, her love for reading and writing has not diminished. In fact, it has only become a bigger part of her. It is because of this that Renee chose to share her interests with other readers who love books as much as she does.

Building Scenes
I build scenes for all my books in similar ways— yet differently. My Crypto-Capers Series is more in depth, with much more history and suspense for the older readers, so I develop the scenes differently, keeping the readers interest well throughout the book to the very end, adding in more detail. Characters are more dynamic, problems more complicated, with various scenes, and so on. 

But for my Joe-Joe Nut series, because the audience is younger, I make things just as interesting and suspenseful, but much simpler. My chapters/scenes are separated by suspects, making it easier for the reader or teacher to stop and make predictions about what is going to happen next, or to discuss what has already happened.   

The beginning, of course, sets the stage for what the story is about, relaying the problem of the story to the reader. When I create a scene, I think about where I want the characters to go and what sends them there, or what I need them to do, or in this case—collect. 

In Mineral Mischief, someone steals Maple Moo’s rare mineral. All of the suspects collect a specific type of rock and mineral, plus they were all over at Maple Moo’s house before the crime was committed. It is Joe-Joe and Biscuits turn from there to talk to each suspect to determine who committed the crime and discover why they did it. Looking for clues, analyzing evidence, and so on.   

I throw in some misleads here and there. At the end, of course, the problem is solved, but never the way you think it might be. I like to throw a wrench in there to make things more exciting for my readers. All and all, though not entirely, this is how I build my scenes.

Stories for Children Publishing will be touring Renee Hand’s latest children’s book, “The Adventures of Joe-Joe Nut and Biscuit Bill Case #2 Mineral Mischief” all month long in April 2011. 

In Case #2 Mineral Mischief, Joe-Joe Nut and Biscuit Bill find themselves in a dark and dreary cave, and in front of them, sitting on an ornately carved stone pedestal, was Maple’s mineral. To reach out and take it would be so easy. It glistened like stars in a midnight sky, attracting their attention, luring them. However, there had to be a catch somewhere. Something didn’t feel right. Then he saw it.