Friday, February 27, 2009

Procrastinating, It Isn't All Bad

Can you make procrastination work for you? This past year, I wrote an article on how to make procrastination profitable. (See Absolute Write and Visions.) We all are guilty. We all find ways to procrastinate.

Do you sometimes sit at your computer and realize your office space is a mess? How can you work in all that chaos. Surely your muse will be happier if you move this book to the bookshelf and organize that pile of papers in your file.

Oh, and when that blank screen stares at you, do you suddenly realize you haven't vacuumed the house or mowed the lawn?

Then, of course, there are the animals and kids. Did you spend enough time with them today. If not, surely, writing should come later. After all the kids will grow up and move away and the animals have a limited life span.

Still, even when you're procrastinating, you can be thinking. Use time away from your computer to re-energize yourself. A walk with the dogs can clear your head, and allow you to think about the path your character needs to walk. Taking time to play with your children may help you come up with a new craft or recipe idea. Even spending time on Facebook can be profitable if you've learned to network with other writers. Ask them for an opinion on something you're writing. Seek out expert testimony for your next article.

Sometimes those few minutes of procrastinating can give you the boost you need to restart your creative engine. Don't feel guilty. Use that time to get your muse back into your life.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Networking, Is It a Waste of Time?

Social networking seems to be the "in" thing these days. You have lots of choices; Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, Twitter and others.

I have to admit, I've got all of them. Do I spend a lot of time with them? Sometimes more than I should. Have they been helpful? Most definitely.

LinkedIn is new to me and I haven't explored its full potential. There are some writers who say it's a great resource and a way to get information from experts. One of these days, I will take the time to figure it out. For now, I've got the account, but that's all.

Twitter is a miniblog to which I've subscribed since the beginning of the year. What I don't understand is the people who claim to follow over 1,000 people. I have a hard enough time keeping up with the 95 I'm following. Some people will post everything from what they had for lunch to the time they're picking their children up from school. Others post useful links to articles and information. If you decide to Twitter, be sure you follow someone who will help you out. If you get a lot of useless posts, stop following that person. You want the miniblog to help you, not slow you down.

MySpace was one of the original networking sites, or so I've heard. I decided to sign up for it after attending a writers' conference. Many attendees had MySpace pages and touted how useful it was for networking. I haven't found it easy to navigate, and there are too many ads for my taste. I've made a few friends, but I don't feel like it has been that great for networking.

Facebook is another networking site. It's my understanding it was originally designed for college graduates to keep in touch. Now, it has surpassed MySpace as "the" networking site. I have connected with over 300 other writers around the world. Many of these people have agreed to be experts and responded to interviews for articles I've written. I've chatted with and gotten tips from many of them. They have become a support system for me. I find Facebook much easier to navigate than MySpace. Previously, as a rural writer, I found it hard to connect, unless I was at a conference, with other writers. With Facebook, I've found that connection. I admit I sometimes waste time there, like playing some of the games and following through when I've been "tagged" by someone in a note. For the most part, though, I have found it a useful tool, and I will keep visiting.

If you want to network, check out various sites. Talk to other people to see what they prefer and why. Find out what works best for your needs. Then, determine how much time is too much time. Limit yourself. If you find you're networking more than writing, set a limit. Visit the site once a day for an hour. Write, edit, send out queries first, then check your networking sites.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Cutting back

These days, you hear it from everyone. It's time to cut back. Americans are overweight. They need to cut sugar, fat, carbs, etc., (depending on the diet guru) from their eating habits. America is in debt. Our president needs to cut back and eliminate the deficit. We use too much energy. Americans need to be greener in their way of life. Walk or ride a bicycle. Take public transportation or carpool. Buy local produce. Reuse shopping bags.

As writers, it's important for us to cut back and tighten up our writing. What can we do? The obvious choices are to get rid of unnecessary adverbs. Use an active voice, not a passive voice. Eliminate redundancy. Sounds simple, but if you want to keep your story going, it's imperative.

Need some practice? Try writing flash fiction. There are a number of flash fiction contests, most without entry fees. For the most part, the story needs to be around 500 words. As with any story, it needs to be complete with a beginning, a middle and an end. Five hundred words should be easy. Piece of cake. It's not. Flash fiction is tight writing at its best.

Do a Google search for flash fiction contests. Here are some places to look for flash fiction markets: http://resourcesforwriters.suite101.com/article.cfm/flash_fiction_markets
http://themusemarquee.tripod.com/id310.html
http://wow-womenonwriting.com/contest.php

Good luck and have fun on your new diet.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Small things

Today I was reading an article by Susan Johnson in Hope Clark's Funds for Writers. Ms. Johnson was discussing the things a writer needs to do before sending off a query. Of course she mentioned all the standard things such as checking your market and proofreading your query, but, she also mentioned one small thing that I had never considered. A small thing which I'm sure if we all did it would save some of us embarrassment at one time or another.

Her suggestion was to add the editor's email address last. One small thing, yet this very act could save you from sending the wrong information to the wrong editor. If you, like me, sometimes send multiple queries on the same subject, these queries do need to be tailored and tweaked before sending. I am guilty, I have to admit, of sometimes hitting that send button way too soon. I can clearly recall one incident where I included the words "this would fit nicely with your January theme of...." Unfortunately, when I sent this same query to second editor of a similar magazine, I hit the send button without deleting that crucial sentence. Ooops. Needless to say, when the second editor read my query, she probably thought "amateur." I don't need to tell you, I've never heard back from the second editor.

Had I not already had the editor's address in the "to" section of the email, I might have taken the extra minutes to look over my email one last time. That second glance would have alerted me to my error. Just one small thing, yet it may have made the difference between making a new contact and turning one away.

As you get ready to send your queries, take a moment and re-read what you plan to send. Leave off that editor's address until you are sure you have done all you can to make your query the best it can be. Then, and only then, enter the editor's email address and hit send.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Interview with V.S. Grenier

I want to welcome VS Grenier, founder of Stories for Children Magazine to my blog today.

Virginia, how did you become involved with production of a children's
magazine?

It started as a hobby really. I thought it would be a fun idea to have a website where new authors could post their stories, articles, and poetry. The idea was we could learn from each other while offering children a fun safe place for free and find the love of reading. What I didn't expect, was established writers submitting to me or the support Stories for Children Magazine received not only from my fellow authors, but from illustrators, teachers, and librarians.

What do you look for in a story you select for publication?
The first thing we look for is a story that the intended readership age group can relate to it. After that, we want the stories to be fun. I do believe stories have to have a beginning, middle, and end, but it doesn't mean children need to learn a lesson with every story we publish. Sometimes children just like a good fun story with no lesson, but the story still needs to have a point like an adventure or some sort of conflict.

What do you feel makes the stories chosen for the Best of Stories for
Children Magazine Volume 1 popular with your readers?

I think our readers could identify with the characters of the stories. Or our readers saw themselves with the characters experiencing each and everything happening. The stories that were picked for the Best of Stories for Children 1 opened our readers’ imagination and allowed them to journey into the World of Ink between their pages.

I understand you are a non-paying market, yet you demand a lot from your
authors. How do you continue to attract such high quality work?

I think a lot of authors and illustrators are supportive of Stories for Children Magazine because we do ask for quality work even though right now we're non-pay, but even though we don't pay our contributors with money we do a lot to help promote them such as: offering contests, awards like the Granny's, and payment if their titles make it into the anthology at the end of the year. We also post their good news with other publishers and events they have going so our readers can learn more about our contributors. We also have a bio pages for our contributors with links and contact information if they provide it. Another thing we do is offer our contributors’ books in the SFC bookstore. Not all are contributors have books published, but a very good amount do.

How many people do you have on the SFC team, and how did you recruit them?
Currently there are eleven SFC Team members counting myself. As to recruiting them, I think most of them recruited me. LOL. I say this because I never dreamed of Stories for Children becoming the Ezine it has. It was my hobby and nothing more. How the SFC Team started to grow was two of my contributors contacted me asking if I needed help with keeping the SFC site running. Selena Spain contacted me about helping with editing the published titles and Gayle Jacobson-Huset wanted to know what she could do to spread the word about SFC. I chatted with both ladies via email for a bit and decided it would be nice to have some help so I took them up on their offers. Selena Spain became the first SFC Copyeditor and Gayle Jacobson-Huset my assistant. Selena ended up needing to leave for personal reasons and Gayle moved up from my assistant to my right arm and Fiction/Poetry Editor. For awhile it was just the three of us and then Chrissy Fanslau contacted me about helping with the artwork. She had been a contributing illustrator for sometime and I liked her work. I also don't know anything about illustrations so I took her up on the offer. Chrissy really helped define the look of Stories for Children Magazine. It was a sad day when she resigned, but her freelance illustration was picking up and I totally understood. After that Gayle and I sent out a post to our contributors letting them know we were looking to have some people join us behind the scenes. We were met with a big response and it was hard to choose who would join us as part of the SFC Team. I treasure each and every one of our contributors . . . old and new alike. With out them there wouldn't be Stories for Children Magazine. I’m glad to say I have some of the best and most supportive team working with me: Gayle Jacobson-Huset our Fiction/Poetry Editor (who’s been with me from the beginning), Wendy Dickson our Nonfiction/Youth Editor, Angelika Lochner our Assistant Nonfiction & Crafts Editor, Sandie Lee our Blog & Fiction Submissions Editor, Marie Letourneau our Art Director, Cynthia Sherwood our Copyeditor, Neysa Jensen our Proofreader, Donna McDine our Marketing Manager, Wayne S. Walker our Book Reviewer, and William Lane our Web Specialist.

The magazine has come a long way from its inception. To what do you owe
your success?

All the SFC contributors are why Stories for Children Magazine is the success it is. They all believe in what we are doing, what we stand for, and how we run our business. They know we're taking things slow and not pushing or rushing into anything. The SFC Team and our contributors know I have the best in mind for them and our readers. Foremost I want everyone to have a fair shake and that I'm not doing this to make money. I'm doing this because I love to read and write. I'm doing this because I want children rich or poor to feel they have a place to come and forget the world around them for a few moments while reading one of our issues.

Yes, now that SFC is growing I do have plans to keep the growth going and to branch into new areas, but not because I'm some Founder or CEO looking for my next buck. No. I'm doing this for all those who love the World of Ink as much as I do. It's because of this we have the loyalty we have, the quality authors and illustrators, the support from our readership and team, and why so many established or new authors and illustrators contact us each and everyday to be a part of Stories for Children Magazine.

Here are some links to Ms. Grenier's web sites: Stories for Children Magazine
http://storiesforchildrenmagazine.org
SFC Newsletter for Writers
http://vsgrenier.com/newsletter.aspx
Children's and Teen Author
www.vsgrenier.com
Stories for Children You Tube Channel
http://www.youtube.com/user/StoriesForChildren


Thanks, Virginia. It's been a pleasure visiting with you.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Review Best of Stories for Children Magazine Volume 1


Review
Best of Stories for Children Magazine
Volume 1



Stories for Children Magazine (http://storiesforchildrenmagazine.org/default.aspx) placed in the Top Ten as Best E-zine for Fiction, Non-fiction, and Poetry in the Preditors & Editors Readers Poll 2007. These are good credentials for a magazine which started only a short time ago. The first issue was published in April, 2007. Since that time the SFC team has continued to improve the quality of the magazine and the stories published. They are a demanding group, looking for tightly-written, fast-paced stories with language which is conversational and fun.

The Best of Stories for Children Magazine, Volume 1, is a tribute to the quality of stories found on a monthly basis. Within these pages, readers will find a combination of thirty-two stories, poems, articles, and crafts by leading children's authors.

The book is divided into two sections with stories culled from the past year's issues. There are sixteen pieces taken from the spring and summer issues and an additional sixteen from the fall and winter. There is something from everyone from the early reader rebus, "Hungry Helper," by Lisa Lowe Stauffer (artwork provided by Steve Cartwright) which starts off the book to informative non-fiction articles for older readers such as, "Magnificent Totem Poles," by Randi Lynn Mrvos and "Sticks and Stones Won't Break My Bones,"by Nidhi Kamra a story about calcium. Also included are colorfully illustrated poems such as "Topsy Turvy Tour," by Donna J. Shepard (illustrated by Kevin Scott Collier), and "Sail Away," by Carol Crowley (artwork provided by Candace J. Hardy).

Holiday themes are touched on with stories about Halloween, "The Pumpkin Festival Mystery," by, Mary LaFleur Langdon (illustrated by Steve Cartwright), Eid Al-Adha, "Anisah Celebrates EID AL-ADHA," by Gayle Jacobson-Huset, (with Arabic language help from Dara Becker and illustrated by Candace J. Hardy), and Christmas, "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus!" by V.S. Grenier.

In Volume 1, you will find recipes for cornbread, chicken salad, "magic" reindeer food, and fun to make Christmas tree treats which are easily made from items such as Reese's Peanut Butter Cups (miniatures) Rolos and Hershey's Kisses. Also included are directions for making non- toxic finger paint.

According to VS Grenier, founder and Editor-in-Chief, Best of Stories for Children Magazine, Volume 1, "titles picked for the anthology are based off new visits to the site page, so they are picked by the readers. We don't look at repeat visits only the first time visits, and the page only logs it as a first visit if the reader is on the page for more then 2 minutes." This guarantees the stories you will find are the ones most read by children and their parents.

You can purchase your copy at http://www.lulu.com/content/4892856 for $26.95 as a paperback or download for $5.00. More information can be found at Stories for Children Magazine, http://storiesforchildrenmagazine.org. A video about this volume is available at, Stories for Children You Tube Channel, http://www.youtube.com/user/StoriesForChildren.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Non-Verbal Communication Workshop

Barbara asked me to explain how a person can take an online class in non-verbal communication. The class Margaret Fisk is teaching is designed quite well. It's broken into stages and lasts several weeks. The first week lots of exercises are posted and participants are asked to complete at least two of the exercises. The first exercise offers a baseline for how you, as a writer, thinks about non-verbal communication. There is a forum for questions and answers and daily feedback from the instructor and other students.

The first set of exercises asks the participants to be an active observer. For example, exercise 2, asked us to observe people at a mall, library, or other place where people congregate. As we observe we are to take notes on what people may be doing or how they may be acting. These notes will be based on non-verbal cues we get from the person observed. There are several questions we need to answer to complete your analysis. Then our notes are posted in the forum. Ms. Fisk and other students then comment on the posts.

Another exercise was to watch a movie without the sound on. Then we had to try to describe the non-verbal cues we saw based on body language, facial expressions, etc. These notes were also posted for Ms. Fisk and others to comment.

In the second set of exercises, we put what we learned into writing small scenes, using non-verbal communication. We used non-verbal descriptors such as pointed silently, shook his head, nodded, cringed, etc.

In Stage 1 of the lessons, we were pushed to identify aspects of non-verbal communication and in Stage 2, we use what we learned to perfect our writing techniques.

Barbara, I hope this helps. The class works quite well and I encourage anyone who is interested to check out the Forward Motion site at http://www.fmwriters.com

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Staying On Top

Although we don't need advanced degrees to be writers, we do need to keep our skills sharp to stay on top of the slush pile. While many writers have attended college, have their MFA or English degrees, there are just as many who have earned their degrees from the school of hard knocks. What all of us can do is take classes, participate in critique groups, and be active on forums. Many of these activities are no cost to us, but offer useful information and ongoing education.

Currently, I am participating in a workshop offered by Forward Motion (http://www.fmwriters.com/). In order to participate, you have to register, but classes are free. The workshop I'm involved with is "Non-Verbal Communication." Although I've been writing, and publishing, for a number of years, I am learning a great deal through this workshop. In the early exercises, I thought, "I know this," but it soon became apparent, I was mistaken. Margaret Fisk is the moderator and instructor for this workshop. She offers insightful criticism and encouragement. All attendees are encouraged to comment on each others' posts.

There are a number of writing classes available on-line through community colleges, writing groups, and those offered by writers through their own newsletters. Check them out. Ask for advice from other writers. Sometimes free classes aren't worth your time. Others, like those offered by Forward Motion, are well worth your effort. While you may think you understand the mechanics of good writing, you can always fine tune your abilities.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Check those Guidelines

We've all heard it before, but it's always a good reminder. Before you submit a piece, check the guidelines. Thoroughly. Read and re-read them while looking at the piece you plan to submit.

Recently, I received a rejection, although the editor did ask for a rewrite. I had looked at the guidelines, but missed a critical point. It was a non-fiction piece for which they required three sources. I had three sources, but they were internet based. The line I overlooked was "Bibliographies cannot solely rely upon internet resources." I shouldn't have missed it - it was in bold face - but I did.

Mistakes happen. We're anxious to push the send button, but sometimes our haste only creates delays. Now, if I wish this editor to consider my article, I need to go back and seek out additional resources. Had I paid attention to the guidelines, I would have found the correct reference materials in the first place.

Guidelines are created for a purpose. Each editor has her own preferences. If you want your work to be considered seriously and professionally - read those guidelines.