An Evening with Author/Illustrator Pat Cummings

2019 Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta
It is the first week in October. In Albuquerque, New Mexico that means Balloon Fiesta time. Magical airships fill the skies—600 or so each year—and for almost two weeks the entire city has its head in the clouds. This year during this time, the New Mexico chapter of Society of the Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, SCBWI, enjoyed magical moments of its own with a visit from the incomparable author/illustrator and educator Pat Cummings. Pat is the creator of over thirty books for children, and among other awards, is the recipient of the Horn Book-Boston Globe Award, the Orbis Pictus Award for nonfiction, and the Coretta Scott King Award for Illustrators, in 1983 for the illustrations in My Mama Needs Me.

Google Pat’s name and feast your eyes on books that she has illustrated, among them, Angel Baby, Harvey Moon books, Ananse and the Lizard; and her latest, which she wrote and is available now in hardcover and on Kindle, paperback coming out in April, Trace, a story about “a strange apparition of a little, ragged boy[who] leads [the main character, Trace] on a search into the history of the Colored Orphan Asylum fire that took place on the [New York Public Library's] original site, during the Civil War–era draft riots.”

The More You Write, the More You Love It
The above quote is one of the first things Pat told us. Perhaps due to one of the biggest points she made that evening: FEAR STOPS WRITERS. She said, everywhere you go you will hear negative comments about the arts. I took this to mean that these comments go like this: You’ll never make money in the publishing industry. Better find a more substantial career. Are you good enough? It’s too hard to find an agent. Too hard to interest an editor. And so on, and so on.

Pat urged, “Listen to what you’re telling yourself. Your brain is a muscle. Flip the negative.” Here are some of her suggestions to combat these negative forces:
  • Editors have to be in love with your book. Identify those people. How? Keep a list of agents, editors and publishers you have come in contact with at workshops, conferences, retreats; study what they look for, and query them. Remind them where you’d seen or met them and that they said they’d read the work of attendees. Of course, you have to have the goods. Be ready. She stressed that doing this makes a difference.
  • Judgement is important: Illustrators--weed out any illustrations in your portfolio but the best ones. You could be passed over.
  • For all the shy, reserved writers out there, change yourself. Chat someone up. Make yourself into an outgoing person. If you’re having a good time, it will shine through in your work. Also, you need to work on something you’re in love with.
  • Get cards, give cards.
  • Each editor has different tastes. Find one who “gets” you.
  • If you love something, put it in a book. Do your book your own way.
  • Be flexible.
  • Be sure to be in a critique group.
  • When a germ of an idea comes to you, you will get the work done if you simply sit down and work on it. (My two cents: This sounds easy, but it’s amazing what a novel—no pun intended—idea this is!)
  • Get an agent: Pat didn’t have an agent for forty years. Until . . . all five editors turned down one of her books. An agent had been invited to be on a panel at a Highlights Foundation workshop, during one of Pat’s Boot Camp sessions there. Pat asked her to look at her project. She took it and sold it to one of the editors who had rejected her book. Pat says, “It behooves you to shop for an agent.”
  • Above all, remember to stay positive. Your draft isn’t horrible at all if you take it page-by-page.
Apart from being one of the funniest authors I’ve ever heard—Pat's stories never stopped coming and were hilarious—she brought excellent handouts for everyone and gave us a PowerPoint presentation on illustrating and writing gleaned from her experience in publishing. Pat’s wisdom extends far beyond the scope of this article. According to her website, she travels extensively. If she comes to your neighborhood, be sure to go. You will come away smiling, inspired, and ready to give your work your all.
Additional Sources:
Photo courtesy of: Ben Curry @benxcurry

Linda Wilson, a former elementary teacher and ICL graduate, has published over 150 articles for adults and children, and several short stories for children. She has recently become editor of the New Mexico SCBWI chapter newsletter, and is working on several projects for children. Follow Linda on Facebook.

What’s Different About an Author’s Website?

As authorprenuers, we must market our products 

i.e., books, articles, and niche. 

Platform, Brand, and Website form the vehicle to make that happen.

Today let’s talk about websites. What does a writer need to set-up a dynamic website, or to update up an existing one?

  • Create a Clear Identity
  • Create a vibrant headline with an image that is topic or niche focused and describes what you write and might include an image of your latest book cover, or another highlight of your work
  • SEO Optimization is critical! Search Engines must find your site and the more often the better
  • Create Quality Content, focused and quickly visible
  • Use titles that grab readers’ attention
  • Titles & Subtitles Keyword effective
  • Consistently use Keywords and categories with each post and page
  • Include Social Media button links to your pages—ask readers to like and follow you
  • Create a navigation bar—a menu bar—that is easy to follow
  • What Pages should you include?
    • The Landing page, aka the Home Page
    • An About page, to introduce yourself, what you are about and your professional bio
    • A Contact page
    • A Page for testimonials and/or reviews
    • A Page to describe your product or services
    • A Sales page
    • A Blog page

What to avoid:
  • Clutter
  • Use only one sidebar if at all
  • No pop-ups

Remember to update your website periodically. A website is never finished; it is ever a work in progress. Make improvements as you go, as your work transitions, changes and grows.

  • WordPress: offers free themes for the basic structure of your website, it’s the most versatile; it will grow with you to promote and offer value to your readership, as well as handle sales transactions. WordPress uses Plugins to enhance the functionality of each site.
  • “All in One SEO” is a plugin for optimizing your site with search engines that I have found to be the most friendly to use and the most thorough.

As you consider the design of your website, visit other author websites to check out the ease of using the layout and access to information. The following WordPress Themes for Authors are worth considering: 
  • Astra
  • Ocean WP
  • Author Landing Page
  • Ultra
  • Writee

YouTube instructional guides for the theme you choose work quite well to speed up the process.

Deborah Lyn Stanley is an author of Creative Non-Fiction. She writes articles, essays and stories. She is passionate about caring for the mentally impaired through creative arts.
Visit her writer’s website at:   
And her caregiver’s website at: 
Facebook: Deborah Lyn Stanley, Writer


Snatch Writing Time

By Terry Whalin @terrywhalin

“What are you writing these days?,” one of my friends asked. I had to do some personal accounting for a second. I’m not currently facing a book deadline and I’m not cranking out a certain amount of words each day.

Most of my personal writing is emails to authors and my colleagues at Morgan James. This type of communication does not show up in print.

If you aren’t writing much but would like to do so, are you committing time to regular writing? If not, then I suggest you take a step back and see how you are spending your time.

Maybe you are doing more reading or maybe you are spending more time playing games or watching television or spending time on social media such as twitter or facebook.  Each of these ways of spending time are OK but none of them include regular writing and do not move ahead your dreams and desires as a writer.

I’m writing these words on a two hour flight. As I look around at others. Some people are asleep. Others are making small talk with each other. Still other people are reading while some are playing games on their computer like solitaire.

As writers we can choose a different path and way to use our time. Instead of those other activities, I’m using my AlphaSmart and pounding out a few more words. I’m writing.

Prolific novelist James Scott Bell teaches writers to snatch time. Check out this video where he talks about it:

If you aren’t accomplishing your novel or your magazine writing or your blog, then I encourage you to take an accounting of how you are spending your time. If your writing is a priority, it will get done.

I’m choosing to write some words and get them out to you. What about you? Let me know in the comments below.


How can you snatch writing time?  This article has insights and encouragement. (ClickToTweet)


W. Terry Whalin is an acquisitions editor at Morgan James Publishing. His work contact information is on the bottom of the second page (follow this link).  One of his books for writers is Jumpstart Your Publishing Dreams, Insider Secrets to Skyrocket Your Success. One of Terry's most popular free ebooks is Straight Talk From the Editor, 18 Keys to a Rejection-Proof Submission. He lives in Colorado and has over 205,000 twitter followers 


NaNoWriMo Resources Are for Everyone

Even if you don't participate in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month in November), the NaNoWriMo site has resources and community that you might find useful.

I love the forums, where inspiration is rife and your strange questions may be answered by people all over the world.

You might also like the NaNo Prep 101 Handbook (under Writer's Resources / NaNo Prep), which has information and nice graphics for all fiction writers.

And, of course, if you're planning on writing 50,000 words this November, this website will help keep you sane for 30 days.

Check it out:

A Story is More Than a Good Idea

Many times, writers write what they think is a good story, but it's really only a good idea for a story.

That's because it doesn't include all the elements needed for a full-fledged story.

A story has a protagonist who has a big problem to solve.

As the plot thickens, this character struggles and struggles to solve the problem.

As he does, he encounters obstacles at every turn until, finally, he is able to solve (or at least resolve) the problem.

In doing so, this character changes or grows somehow, so he is no longer the same person he was at the start of the story.

He may be a little wiser now, or a bit more careful, or maybe he just has a better understanding of what he wanted in the first place.

An incident is simply a series of actions and occurrences in a character's life.

But these things don't change the character.

By the end of the final page, he is exactly the same person he was on page one.

Does your fiction contain all of the story elements?

If not, chances are you have written an incident and not a full-fledged story.

In other words, you might have a good idea for a story, but what you have written isn't yet a good story.

Give your main character a big problem to solve right at the start.

The problem could be something he wants, or somewhere he must go, or someone he must find.

As he tries to solve his problem, give him plenty of obstacles—to make things harder and harder for him before he is able to solve the problem and change somehow as a result of this struggle.

All this will make for a good story and not just a good idea for a story.

Try it!

If you're stuck writing your novel, read this to get unstuck.

For more tips, resources, and other helpful information about writing and the business of writing, get your free subscription to The Morning Nudge at

Suzanne Lieurance is a fulltime freelance writer, writing coach, certified life coach, and the author of over 36 published books. Visit her blog for writers at


To do or not to do? That is the question.

No matter what your business, there comes a time when you need to decide what priorities you need to handle yourself and what you can outsource.

Whether you offload work to a live or virtual assistant, a different "team," or an outside specialist, more often than not, the time and energy you save will be well worth the expense.

The Litmus Test

When deciding whether to take on certain projects or offload them, here are some of the questions you need to ask yourself:

  • Is this related to my specialty?
  • Can someone else do it?
  • Should someone else do it?

Characteristics of items that are good to outsource, include:

  • Repetitive tasks, such as data entry
  • Time-consuming tasks, such as transcription.
  • Out-of-your-comfort-zone tasks. If something will take you more time to learn than it will take someone else to do properly, unless it's something that will benefit your own professional development, it should go on someone else's plate.

Professional Services. Unless it's your actual business, look to others for:

  • Web Design and Support
  • Legal Advice
  • Accounting
  • Graphics
  • Finance

Project Support. There are also certain cases where you need get assistance, even when the action item can be done by you. Especially when doing something close to you, such as self-publishing, to get the best product possible, you may need to hire the following contractors:

  • An editor
  • Copy editor
  • Cover designer
  • Book designer
  • Marketer or Publicist
  • Don't forget a photographer for new headshots.

Finding the Right People

If you do decide to outsource, start with your network. Ask friends directly for recommendations, post a request in a LinkedIn update, or go to networking events where you can potential find the right people.

Alternatively, you can look to job boards and ask for suggestions relevant Facebook or LinkedIn groups.

The Bottom Line

When the question is about outsourcing, it usually comes down to money. If you can afford the expense, it enables you to focus on the things you do well and are passionate about ... which will ultimately generate more money. Outsourcing in the perfect world pays for itself.

* * *

How do you decide what to do and what to outsource? What are your tips for finding great resources? Please share in the comments.

* * *

For more on Getting Press, read the #GoalChat recap on the topic.

* * *

Debra Eckerling is a writer, editor and project catalyst, as well as founder of The D*E*B Method: Goal Setting Simplified and Write On Online, a live and online writers’ support group. Like the Write On Online Facebook Page and join the Facebook Group.  Debra is the author of Your Goal Guide, being released by Mango in January 2020, as well as Write On Blogging: 51 Tips to Create, Write & Promote Your Blog and Purple Pencil Adventures: Writing Prompts for Kids of All Ages. She is host of the #GoalChat Twitter Chat and the Guided Goals Podcast, and a speaker/moderator on the subjects of writing, networking, goal-setting, and social media.

Never Ignore Your Dream

Never Ignore Your Dream

By Carolyn Howard-Johnson
Author of the multi award-winning #HowToDoItFrugally Series of books for writers

I once read an article/editorial in the late, great Dan Poynter’s newsletter. It was by Jeff Rivers, an expert in writing query letters titled “What I Learned from Janet Evanovich: Write for your Audience.” It is hard to argue with experts like Jeff and Janet. But I do disagree-or at least mostly disagree.

Certainly authors like Evanovich and James Patterson have done very well for themselves and for their readers by “Writing for Your Audience.” And maybe they followed their hearts and gathered their audience along the way. When that’s the case, it is a risk to take a path going in a different direction from the one an audience expects. John Grisham did that with A Painted House and his courtroom drama readers weren’t much taken with it.

I was, though. Very taken.

I became a stronger fan of his work. And it’s my theory that Painted House was the novel that had been lying inside his little writers’ soul all the time. That it brought him pleasure to write it. Maybe that it kept his writing passion alive. Maybe that brought more readers into his circle of avid fans.

So, maybe sticking to your audience’s tastes too long is also a risk. Or maybe starting out with a project designed only to please others and not your creative self would doom you to be a short-lived author. Maybe an author needs to occasionally open new door and let the beam of passion light the work they are doing.

I do a bit of acting and learned from a dedicated actor who taught new actors that new actors to give to the director not what they think he or she wants, but to give of themselves—to give what they feel is best to give. But life has thrown me mixed messages. When I was a retailer, I certainly learned that one couldn’t “buy for oneself” when it came to selecting merchandise for my store. When I did, I very often brought whatever I bought home because my customers wouldn’t buy it.  See my books on retailing at

But back to writing!

That same balanced note is a good one for writers to follow, too. They must keep their audience in mind. As an example, they must trust their audience to be readers. They, after all, have been reading their whole lives. So we authors don’t want to insult them. And certainly authors should do the research necessary to avoid writing the same book someone else has written.

Still, there is another side of the coin and here it is:

When you write for yourself, your audience will follow. Do not mistake this for advice that writers go off willy-nilly with no training in craft, no awareness of rules (which we may then choose to break). But we must love what we do to be successful. Find your voice and your passion. Keep at it. Keep learning more about both writing and the publishing industry as a whole.  Market your work.  Do all that and an audience will find you. Your audience will find you.

You can do that once and you can do it all over again if you don’t mind risk. Risk of getting less income than you’re used to getting with whatever you wrote when you garnered that first audience. Risk of teeing off some of your original readers who came to you with preconceived expectations.

I’m an eternal optimist. I believe we can balance the two philosophies. But I also see some real danger for the author (or beginning writer who still feels uncomfortable calling herself an “author”) who denies his or her dream and considers only what she figures someone else wants of him or her or—worse—what she has been told will “sell.”

Carolyn Howard-Johnson is an award-winning novelist, poet, and writer of short stories. A many-genered author, if you will. She is also the author of the multi award-winning series of HowToDoItFrugally series of book for writers including The Frugal Editor, How to Get Great Book Reviews Frugally and Ethically: The ins and outs of using free reviews to build and sustain a writing career and the much applauded The Frugal Book Promoter, now in its third edition and published by Modern History Press. Learn more about all of her work at and come tweet with her @frugalbookpromo. When you add that moniker to your book-related tweet, she will retweet it to her 39,000 plus followers, most all of them publishing industry people.

Writing Fiction for Children - 4 Simple Tips

Writing fiction for children has a number of rules and tricks, the very basics of which are creating believable characters and adding conflict.

But there are many other elements that go into creating an effective and engaging story.

Below are four simple tips to help you navigate the children’s writing waters.

1. Show the way to success

While description and a bit of telling have their place, want you to focus on showing the story. T

he technique for ‘showing’ rather than ‘telling’ is to use your character’s five senses, along with dialogue.

The days of, “See Dick and Jane walk down the lane,” are far gone.

Showing allows the reader to connect with the protagonist. The reader is able to feel the protagonist’s pain, joy, fear, or excitement. This creates a connection and prompts the reader to continue reading.

If you’re stuck, and can’t seem to be able to ‘show’ a particular scene, try acting it out. You can also draw on your own experiences, TV, or the movies. Study scenes that convey the ‘showing’ you need to describe.

There are also wonderfully helpful writing sites like One Stop for Writers.

2. Create synergy

Joining the story together in a seamless fashion is probably the trickiest part of writing fiction.

The characters, conflict, plot, theme, setting and other details all need to blend together to create something grander than their individual parts; like the ingredients of a cake. This is called synergy.

It doesn’t matter if your story is plot driven or character driven, all the elements need to weave together smoothly to create the desired affect you’re going for: humor, mystery, action, fantasy, or other.

If you have an action packed plot driven story, but it lacks believable and sympathetic characters, you’re story will be lacking. The same holds true if you have a believable and sympathetic character, but the story lacks movement, it will usually also fall short.

All this must be done in an engaging manner, along with easy to understand content. 

3. Keep it lean

According to multi-published children’s writer Margot Finke, today’s children’s publishing world is looking for tight writing. Choose your words for their ability to convey strong and distinct actions, create imagery, and move the story forward.

The publishing costs for picture books over 32 pages is beyond what most publishers are willing to spend, so word counts should be well under 1000, and be sure to make each word count. Keep in mind that the illustrations will add another layer to the story and fill in the blanks.

When writing fiction for young children, the younger the age group, the leaner the writing.

This means if you’re writing for toddlers or preschoolers, you should limit your word count to a range of 100 to 250 words.

4. Be part of a critique group

This is a must for all writers, but especially for children’s writers. There are so many additional tricks of the trade that you need to be aware of when writing for children, you’ll need the extra sets of eyes.

Your critique partners will no doubt be able to see what you missed. This is because you’re too close to your own work.

They will also be helpful in providing suggestions and guidance. Just be sure your critique group has experienced, as well as new writers.

Belonging to a ‘writing fiction for children’ critique group will also help you hone your craft.

Use these four tips to help create a synergized story.

What strategies do you use to take your story up a notch?

Karen Cioffi is an award-winning children's author and children’s ghostwriter as well as the founder and editor-in-chief of Writers on the Move. You can find out more about writing for children and her services at: Karen Cioffi Writing for Children.

Check out the DIY Page!

And, get your copy of Walking Through Walls (a middle-grade fantasy adventure set in 16th century China. Honored with the Children’s Literary Classics Silver Award.


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