Happy September (even though it is mid-October..)
To me, September feels more like the beginning of the year than January does. And I think my September got my year off to a good start.
School Visits First, I’ve hired someone to update my website. I want it to both highlight school visits, which I didn’t have at all, and also make it more clear I’m a children’s author. I have applied many lessons I learned from Colleen Riordan’s Fan by Fan class I took. Trying to market myself for school visits requires me to write some more engaging and lively copy about myself (always hard), collect some testimonials (that I keep avoiding, see point one) and figure out how much to charge (also been avoiding …hmmm…). This is all part of my goal to envision my future: 1) To write engaging stories for young readers and 2) To establish myself as an expert (another word?) in the field of non-fiction children’s literature. When I think of my goals in those terms it feels a bit more manageable but clearly I have a long way to go.
Good Rejection This month I also got a very positive rejection from an agent for my Pauli Murray biography. She clearly took time to ponder whether she could take me on, gave me suggestion for a publisher who didn’t require an agent. Her comments about the manuscript were encouraging. It has given me more drive. That, plus hearing a speaker at a conference this month talk about how he dedicates four hours a day to his writing and that includes turning off all his internet access. The only way he can check his mail or surf is to restart his computer. Should I try that? Perhaps… The more important step for me is to block off the time and just DO IT.
Volunteering at School Library This month I also began to volunteer at the library of our local elementary school. It’s been more than a decade since my kids were that age and I forgot how much I love the energy there. Shelving books can be meditative, which I like. It’s a task you can see easily see progress. More importantly, I’m also trying to scout out what books appeal to late elementary school age kids, to inform my own writing. So far I have observed a lot of interest in graphic novels (I don’t write those) and funny fiction (nope, not that either!).
Still, I heard another author talk about how we write the things we need and that is certainly true for me. Just because writing about ordinary people doing extraordinary things isn’t up there with Stick Dog and Harry Potter doesn’t mean there isn’t a market. It’s just a smaller market. And maybe it’s also for older kids? A lot of biographies are picture books, but targeted at older readers. And there are biographies for YA. Perhaps my image of a MG reader is, in fact, older than I thought. I will continue to ponder that. Or perhaps MG biographies , like a lot of non-fiction are kind of the step child of kidlit…
Book Reviews I also continue to write book reviews for middle grade readers for the News-Gazette (link here). It is gratifying how many people I bump into tell me how much they enjoy reading those reviews, which come out every three weeks. The time I reviewed a non-fiction book about women pilots of WWII I got three people contacting me by letter, phone and email! That was extra gratifying!
Assistant Regional Advisor, SCBWI Beginning in mid-August I stepped into the role of assistant regional advisor for SCBWI. I stepped up because longtime regional advisor and kidlit author extraordinaire, Alice McGinty stepped down after a decade. We had a small gathering of fellow writers to celebrate Alice and it was so fun and relaxed, we vowed to gather like that on a semi-regular basis. Note to self, find a time to do that in October…
Fearless Writing I often start my morning reading a chapter from either a writing craft book or some other kind of inspirational book. This month it was a book titled Fearless Writing. It’s not a great title but there were definitely some useful tidbits in there. Examples…
I recognize that I struggle to write because there is so much criticism in my mind. But what I’ve just realized is that mostly occurs when I anticipate writing. When I finally sit down to write the criticism is mostly gone. It helped me in the beginning of the month, but after getting that great rejection and hanging out with fellow authors, and finding Linda Skeers’s critique (see below) I am not feeling the need for reading in the morning.
When you are ready, a teacher appears. I experienced a variation on that saying this month. At least 18 months ago I went to a non-fiction conference in Iowa. I received a critique from non-fiction author Linda Skeers. I came across that critique again this month and discovered that, although I know I read it and appreciated it, I had not really taken her comments to heart. In fact, when I looked at my current version it was clear that much of what she recommended I had not done. Perhaps I was not in the right mindset then to change anything. I may have still had my agent then and was hoping she could sell the manuscript as is. Whatever the reason, this critique floated to the top of my paper pile and it was extremely energizing to apply Linda’s remarks to my manuscript. It further affirmed for me that this is a worthwhile story that needs to be told.