Monday, October 16, 2017

30 Short, True, Stories

In this series we’ve been writing about short stories.  I’m announcing a collection of short stories—true short stories—compiled in a new book titled 

In full disclosure, I have written one of the short articles in the book. Each of the 30 entries is short, punchy, and entertaining.  It is filled with people you know and people you’ve never heard of before.  I think it will be a great book for classroom teachers to use with students.  And the details learned in the book will make any adult seem like a shining star in any future battle of trivia.   

Carla Killough McClafferty

Click here here to enter the book giveaway for Playing by Heart written by our own amazing and talented Carmelo A. Martino. 

Friday, October 13, 2017

Short Stories--My Guilty Pleasure

     Psst!  You wanna know a secret?

     I am a secret short story writer.

    OK, a sort of secret short story writer. I have stories in two YA anthologies, SUCH A PRETTY FACE: Stories About Beauty and THING I'LL NEVER SAY: Stories About Our Secret Selves, both edited by Ann Angel.

    I grew up writing short stories. After all, what were our school readers but a bunch of short stories?  A five page short story was a doable proposition for an eight-year-old.  Writing a whole book?  That was for grown-ups.  (Sometimes I still think that I am not "grown-up" enough to write a novel!)

   Short stories were everywhere when I was a kid. My mom's magazines....Ladies Home Journal, Redbook, McCall's, Good Housekeeping...balanced out the recipes and housekeeping tips with short stories, two or three every issue. My own subscriptions to Seventeen, Teen and American Girl (a Girl Scout publication, not the doll people) not only had short stories, but story contests for their readers. In high school, I was a prize winner in both American Girl and Seventeen contestsWhile the prize money was cool, the real prize was publication in a national magazine.

First publicity photo, age 15, taken by my dad.

   I continued writing short stories as a young adult, but the market had dried up.  Those women's magazines had either gone out of business or stopped publishing fiction. The short story writers I admired published in "literary" magazines.  So I embarked on the "literary road" to publishing.

    It's a tough road.

   First rule of the pre-published author:  Know thy market. To educate myself, I read tons of digests, journals and reviews with names like Glimmer Train and Monkeybicycle. I discovered that if novels are a journey, short stories are an epiphany, a moment of time.

   Second rule:  Pay attention to rule number one. I learned that literary magazines don't like child protagonists, which puzzled me. I thought I was writing about childhood from an adult perspective like Kaye Gibbons' Ellen Foster or To Kill a Mockingbird.  I didn't write about adults because I just didn't find them interesting.  I was a school librarian, and spent roughly 75% of my day with kids whose lives were endlessly fascinating to me. Just not to acquiring editors. I went on writing about children anyway.

   Third rule:  Get used to rejection. These were the rejection slip years.  Literally, slips of paper with the phrase "does not meet our current needs" paper clipped to my manuscript. (Literary digests/journals/reviews run on a shoestring budget.) All this rejection arrived in my mailbox in a self addressed stamped envelope. When I pulled out those manila envelopes with my handwriting on it, it felt as if I was rejecting myself. Weird.

  Fourth rule: Always read your form rejection slips. You never know when some kind soul might add a personal note of encouragement. Thanks to a Post-it note on yet another returning story, I discovered my writing path.  "You write well about children" said the anonymous note, "but we don't publish stories about children.  Why don't you write for children?"

   Duh! I had spent years and years as a children's librarian. Why didn't I think of that?

   So I did.  Write for children from their POV, rather than about them.

   I still love short story writing. I still harbor a secret desire to wake up one morning reincarnated as John Cheever, although even Cheever might have a tough time breaking into print in today's market. Currently "little" magazines are filled with well-established authors.  I am really lucky to have been included in those YA anthologies mentioned above.  The authors for these collections have some kind of connection to the editor, either personal or professional. In my case, Ann Angel, the editor of both Such a Pretty Face and Secrets I'll Never Tell is a friend from the Vermont College MFA writing program. I keep a file of short story ideas, because you never know when someone might invite you to submit to an anthology, usually organized to a specific theme.

  Speaking of anthologies and breaking into print, here is your opportunity to be part of an anthology sponsored by and to be published by Crown Books for Young Readers in 2019.  Go for it! (I'd enter myself but this is specifically for unpublished writers!!!)

   I'll end this post with a picture of how I wrote my first stories. This is a my dad's 1914 Royal that  he bought secondhand in 1946 to attend night school. Talk about "pounding the keys." If you didn't throw your whole weight into typing, those keys didn't move.  Amazing I ever wrote anything because typing it was a physically exhausting experience!

     Book Giveaway: You have until Monday, Oct 16th to enter the book give-away for fellow Teaching Author Carmela Martino's new book Playing by Heart.  Click here to enter.

posted by Mary Ann Rodman

Monday, October 9, 2017

Let's Hear It for The Short Story!

The long and short of today’s post?

Number One: I get to introduce our newest TeachingAuthors theme - The Short Story, a literary form beloved by both writers and readers that offers an invented story shorter in length and less elaborate than a novel.

Number Two: I also get to introduce you to three of my favorite children’s books that, despite their different formats, surprisingly stand taller because their authors utilized the short story form!

Number Three: Times a-wasting so be sure to enter our Book Give-away of Carmela Martino’s YA novel PLAYING BY HEART, inspired by two amazing 18th century sisters, one a mathematician, the other a composer.  For details on how to enter, click HERE to read Carmela’s post.  The Give-away ends October 16th.

And finally, Number Four: WeNeedDiverseBooks is sponsoring a Middle Grade Short Story Contest!  The winning entrant will receive a US $1000 prize and his or her story will be included in the Heroes Next Door Anthology, edited by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich and published by Crown Books for Young Readers in 2019. The contest is open to diverse writers world-wide who have not previously published a short-story or work of longer fiction.  Click HERE for the details. Entries will be accepted October 15 through 5 pm, EST, October 31.

While I don’t write short stories, I do adore reading them.  My favorite writers of adult short stories include Grace Paley, Tillie Olsen, Jhumpa Lhari and Alice McDermott.
When it comes to children’s literature, Mother Goose, Hans Christian Andersen, Raoul Dahl and Arnold Lobel top my list of short story authors.
Themed anthologies are all the rage now for both middle grade and YA readers.  I’m a Big Fan of Johanna Hurwitz’s BIRTHDAY SURPRISES (Beech Tree), which was one of the first such middle grade anthologies, published in 1997.

in short, here are those three favorite children’s books of mine that maximize the short story in all its glory: a picture book (!), an early chapter book and a middle grade novel.

There’s almost an element of sophistication when sharing author-illustrator Amy Schwartz’s picture book STARRING MISS DARLENE (Neal Porter/Roaring Brook Press, 2007) with little ones.  You can see them sit up just a little bit taller and feel just a little bit older when they realize this is a 32-page picture book with sections that look like chapters!  Each of the three stories’ words and illustrations - in “Theatre Class,” “Outer Space” and lastly “Sleeping Beauty,” can be taken in separately.  Read together, however, they are interconnected by the story’s lead character, one hippo Darlene.  Her dramatic longing and trio of efforts to shine grow in heft and depth as she hugely succeeds.  Three interconnected stories.  Three plays.  Three acts? Oh, how the short story form so serves this format.

I treasure my autographed copy of Cynthia Leitich Smith’s INDIAN SHOES (Harper Collins, 2001).  IMHO, it was ahead of its time as an early chapter book for 3rd through 5th graders. Each of the six interrelated stories is a stand-alone tale of but one adventure Ray Halfmoon, a mixed-blood Cherokee-Seminole living in Chicago, shares with his Grampa.  Read together, though, the six adventures show the fullness of their loving relationship.  Ray and Grampa had been the featured characters, I learned, of several of Cynthia’s earlier picture books turned back by her editor Rosemary Brosnan.  Cynthia thanks her in her dedication, identifying her as the someone “who believed that these two characters belonged in children’s literature and found a place for them,” not to mention, the perfect form.

Jim Westcott’s JACK’S TALES (SplashingCowBooks, 2015) gifts middle
grade readers with three short stories about the very same anxious boy over three successive years.  What better way to see a character overcome his fears?!  As with STARRING MISS DARLENE and INDIAN SHOES, each of the stories -“Jack’s Monster,” “Jack’s Pizza Ghost” and “Jack’s Save” -  could stand alone.  Jack grows before his very own eyes, as well as the reader’s, with each successive short story.

Thanks to their authors’ original use of a well-known literary form, not one of the above three titles falls the least bit short in telling its storied story to its intended audience.

Here’s to the Short Story, written and read!

Esther Hershenhorn

Friday, October 6, 2017

PW: Halloween Book has "Luscious Rhymes"

Howdy, Campers and Happy Poetry Friday! (The link to Poetry Friday is below.)

Be sure to enter our current give-away of Carmela Martino's new novel (inspired by two amazing 18th-century sisters who were far ahead of their time, one a mathematician, the other a composer), Playing by Heart. Details on how to enter are in this post, which introduces the book. The give-away ends October 16th.

Campers--I'm overjoyed to feature one of my former students in today's TeachingAuthors "Student Success Story." 

As soon as Denise Doyen walked into my 2005 UCLA Extension Writers' Program class, "Writing the Children's Picture Book," I knew she was a force of nature. Her writing was so strong, her life energy filled with such forward motion, this gal was going somewhere! She's a perpetual student. Before my class, she'd taken classes with Ann Whitford Paul and Barney Saltzberg. After my class she fit perfectly in Barbara Bottner's critique group.  

Author and poet Denise Doyen with her newest book
photo credit: Michael Doyen

Denise's first picture book, Once Upon A Twice, drew starred reviews (Kirkus raved that it was "Undeniably arrayed in a gorgeous brocade, woven of fresh, inventive wordplay," and a member of the EB White Committee wrote, "Wonderful writing in the spirit of Lewis Carroll. Enchanting. Tickles the tongue and 'comes to life' as a read aloud."). 

And...BOO!  Just in time for Halloween, her newest stellar rhyming picture book is out, illustrated by the fabulous Eliza Wheeler, published by Chronicle Books. Filled with Denise's trademark inventive wordplay, it's earned a starred review from Publishers Weekly which said, "Luscious rhymes and an atmospheric eeriness immerse readers in a neighborhood battle." (Read the whole review here.)

So, let's meet poet and author Denise Doyen, shall we?

Welcome, Denise! We're so glad you stopped by. Could you tell us a bit about how your writing career began?

I had been a director/choreographer for children’s television at Disney. I loved creating entertainment for kids; but production hours are long and Hollywood’s a tad ruthless. I quit so I could closely raise my two sons. Later, when they got to be teenagers (that poignant, inevitable age of detachment, “Mom, drop me off a block ahead!”) I realized I missed having a professional creative outlet. My focus remained children. So, I enrolled at UCLA Extension, in “Writing for the Youth Market.” Over two years, I took in a succession of courses, primarily about picture books.

I really enjoyed your class; we made dummies, visited booksellers and children’s librarians, made fave-book lists, wrote/rewrote stories, read Bird by Bird and generally, got inspired. Great class. After UCLA, I joined SCBWI, and started attending all of its editor/agent days, writing workshops and conferences. I worked hard to make sure I really knew my stuff, then I jumped in! ...and began submitting. 

Boy, you're not kidding you jumped in, Denise. Can you talk a bit more about the critique groups, workshops, etc. you've jumped into? 

I’m in a critique group called GOYA which stands for either the Urdu word for “the suspension of belief created by a good storyteller” or an acronym for Get Off Your Ass! (and get published.) As you mentioned, I also claim a seat in Barbara Bottner’s Master Class, which is sort of a guided critique group with savvy pointers/prompts when you need them. I circled back through UCLA Extension and took novel and poetry classes to expand the scope of my writing. And I still take advanced workshops or seminars when I can find them and fit them in. I think a writer can’t help but keep learning while reading good books, editing, critiquing. But I do consciously search for new tools and shoot for keener insights. 

And how did you connect with your agent?

I went to the Big Sur Writing Workshop hosted by Andrea Brown Literary and Henry Miller Library. The wonderful writer, Meg Medina, was in my group. We synched, liked each other’s work. She rec’ed me to her agent there, Jen Rofe, and we hit it off as well. It was a kind act by a fellow writer, an example of a generous spirit that I’ve continued to find in the kidlit world. And Jen’s proven a true champion of my writing, exactly what one hopes your agent will be. 

(Campers, it's true, we are part of kidlit's generous community, and let me tell you, Denise is one of the most generous--truly.)  Denise, tell us about your new delicious new book.

It’s called The Pomegranate Witch. It’s loosely based on a childhood memory of a mysterious lady in my neighborhood. I told the anecdote to my writing group one Halloween and when I finished they said, “That’s a book!” Hunh. So, I stored that kernel of inspiration in my idea journal and started working on the story the next summer.

How did you go about writing it?

There were underlying themes I wanted to explore/expose: the fact that the hermits, loners or odd cat ladies we sometimes brush by, surely have—on closer inspection—interesting stories, depths or surprising former selves. I also wanted to show kids’ antics and imaginations back in an era of Free Play when an afternoon was full of exploring, scavenging and inventing on your own. Kids back then solved their problems without adult intervention. They learned from successive failures. They kept trying. It’s how one becomes resilient person. In the book, the gang fails time and again before they score a pomegranate—and yet they are thrilled with that singular prize ... because they really, truly earned it. (And yes, presenting those challenges is part of the Witch’s agenda.)

Because all this had a nostalgic feel and the witch and her tree, a legendary vibe – I decided on a traditional ballad form like Casey at the Bat or Paul Revere’s Ride, with their heptameter meter. It took me three months to craft the poem’s 24 stanzas--to make the rhymes unique and the cadences flow. I remember: I was working at a campus café at UCLA every morning from 8:30am – 12:30pm while my son took a pre-calculus course. He’d come out of class and I’d be so happy, “I got a line done!” And he’d be like, “Wait. You’ve been writing for four hours and you got one measly line done? And that’s good?” “Yes!” (Let’s face it: writing a rhyming picture book is a fun but grueling process.)

Then, my insightful editor at Chronicle, Taylor Norman, challenged and goaded and patiently helped me make everything more crisp and clear. It’s an interesting process, figuring out when to defend and when to bend. We worked well together, worked things out. And finally came Eliza Wheeler’s illustrations. <sigh> I was so captivated when I first saw her fantastic, charming, quirky rendition of The Pomegranate Gang! I’m still smitten. Lucky, lucky author here.

The Pomegranate Gang ~ from book, The Pomegranate Witch

I love that--"figuring out when to defend and when to bend." And it's true--writing a rhyming story can be a "fun but grueling" process. Many of our readers know this well.  And finally, Denise, what’s the One Thing You Wished You’d Known as you began your Writer’s Journey? 

Ya know, I naively started out thinking I was already a pretty good writer. But what I actually was―was a natural writer with good potential. I wish I’d gotten down to the nitty-gritty of tackling my craft at a rigorous and professional level sooner, really learning all those boring punctuation and grammar rules, not being content with an overused metaphor, etc. etc. etc. It would have made me competent and competitive years earlier.
That's a great answer--thank you for your honesty, and for stopping by for a chat. I don't want too give much away except to say that your rollicking, rhyming original story make me hungry for pomegranates!


Now off you go, Campers, to Poetry Friday at Violet's today--
and oh, what a pumpkin-spiced feast it is!

posted with pomegranate juice stains on her shirt by April Halprin Wayland

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Wednesday Writing Workout: Connecting with our Characters

For this, my third and final post celebrating the release of my young-adult historical, Playing by Heart from Vinspire Publishing, I'm sharing a Wednesday Writing Workout based on my experience with not only the novel, but also the nonfiction biography that led to my writing Playing by Heart in the first place.

I've found that whether I'm writing fiction or nonfiction, if I want to create multi-dimensional characters I need to connect with them personally in some way. As I've mentioned before, Playing by Heart was inspired by two amazing sisters who lived in 18th-century Milan, and the novel grew out of my research for a nonfiction biography of linguist and mathematician Maria Gaetana Agnesi. I was drawn to Maria Gaetana's story because of my interest in math (I have an undergraduate degree in Mathematics and Computer Science) and in women's history. But when I sat down to write a biography of her, I was stumped. How do you bring a character to life who was born nearly 300 years ago and who lived in a completely foreign society and culture?

The two-volume math text Maria Gaetana Agnesi wrote.
I photographed it at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Library in 2008
For me, the answer lay in finding a personal connection with the character. Our mutual love of math was an obvious bond, but it wasn't enough. We're also both firstborn daughters. That didn't feel like enough either. The connection that really clicked for me was Maria Gaetana's relationship with her father. Pietro Agnesi used to hold academic salons in his home for Milan's aristocracy. After discovering Maria Gaetana's talents, he made her a regular part of his meetings, beginning when she was only nine years old. She spoke to his guests about her studies, in Latin, Italian, French, or whatever language her father wanted. By her teen years, she also debated with her tutors about what she'd learned. Maria Gaetana was a shy girl and supposedly hated being made to perform in this way.

Unlike Maria, I wasn't born into an upper-class family. In fact, my Italian-immigrant parents struggled to make ends meet when I was a child. But, like Maria Gaetana's father, when my father learned I had a knack for memorizing things--prayers, songs, baseball stats, etc., he had me "show off" at family gatherings. Like Maria Gaetana, I hated it. After I recognized that we shared that experience/feeling, I was finally able to connect with her as a character and write her biography, which I'm still hoping to eventually see published.

When I decided to take the research I'd done into Maria Gaetana's life and use it as the foundation for a historical romance, I had a new problem. Since the main character of my novel is based on Maria Gaetana's younger sister, musician and composer Maria Teresa Agnesi, I now had to find a way to connect with her as a character. Much less is known about Maria Teresa Agnesi than about her older sister, so finding something we had in common was more challenging.

I've always loved music but I wouldn’t call myself a musician. When I was six, we moved into a house that had an old upright piano in the basement. I used to pick out simple tunes on it, like “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” I longed to study piano, but that wasn’t one of the instruments my Catholic elementary school offered for instruction. Instead, I studied the clarinet. I played clarinet in high school marching band and orchestra, but haven’t touched it in decades. I never lost my desire to learn piano though, and even considered studying it as an adult but never did.
courtesy of pixabay
To connect with my character Emilia, who was inspired by Maria Teresa Agnesi, I tapped into the longing I felt as a young girl wanting to learn how to play the piano. I imagined that Emilia had a similar longing to play the harpsichord. And when Emilia suffers a terrible loss, she turns to composing music for consolation in the same way I sometimes do with writing. Emilia is a singer, too. I could relate to that since I sang in our church choir during my teen and young adult years. I used to make up my own songs, too, though I never wrote them down. In a way, writing Emilia’s story allowed me to indulge my fantasy of being a keyboard musician and composer.

(The following YouTube clip is a performance of Maria Teresa Agnesi's Overture II, Ulisse in Campania performed by La Donna Musicale. You can find it online here.)

Now for today's writing exercise:

Wednesday Writing Workout: 
Connecting with your Characters

Part 1: Make a list of your main character's personality traits.
Is she or he shy? Or outgoing?
Sensitive? Or thick-skinned?
(If you need help with this, check out this Big Long List of Personality Traits.)

Now, review the list and see if you can find any traits you share with your character.

Part 2: Make a list of your main character's interests, especially any that set her or him apart from what's typical. Does she like math? Does he like to design clothing?

Now, see if you have any interests in common. If not, can you give your character one of your traits or interests?

(If you come up empty with both parts, check out this article about "2 Simple Ways to Connect with Your Characters.")

When you're done, take a scene from your work-in-progress that's been giving you trouble and rewrite it with your new connections in mind. Then come back here and share your experience in the comments.

By the way: don't forget to do this exercise for your villains, too. If there isn't something about "the bad guy" that you can relate to on some level, your villain will likely come across as flat.

Some of you may have your own tips or tricks for connecting with your characters. If so, please share them in the comments.

And don't forget to enter to win a copy of Playing by Heart if you haven't already done so. Details in this post.

Remember, always Write with Joy!

Monday, October 2, 2017

Interview with Vinspire Editor Dawn Carrington

Hello, Readers,
Today I’m pleased to share an interview with Dawn Carrington, president of Vinspire Publishing, and editor of my just-released young-adult historical romance, Playing by Heart. (If you haven't entered for a chance to win the novel, the link at the end of this post will take you to the giveaway.)

For those you who aren't familiar with Vinspire Publishing, here’s some info from their website:

“Started in 2004 by four professional women, Vinspire Publishing is a print and e-book publisher. All of our books, with the exception of our novellas, are available in print, and we offer a little bit of everything for the family including inspirational romance, historical romance, mysteries, romantic suspense, literary fiction, paranormal romance, non-fiction, young adult adventures, humor, and children's stories.”

And now for the interview with Dawn.

Dawn, thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule for this interview. To begin, can you tell us how Vinspire Publishing was founded and what your initial goals were for the company? Also, how have those goals changed over time?

Thank you for asking me to be interviewed, Carmela.

Vinspire Publishing first began as Vintage Romance Publishing in 2003, and it came about because my friends and I saw a need for more books from the bygone era. When we originally started, we were only publishing books set in the 1920s-1950s, but as time passed, we decided to expand to more historical romance. Another year or two later, and we opened our doors to the wide branch of genres we accept now.
Vinspire changed because you have to change to meet the demands of the readers. We still publish historical romances and historical books without romance, but we’ve also found readers that are looking for more young adult, more Christian fiction, and so that’s what we’ve done.

The company started with four people. How many do you employ now and in what roles?

We have nine people who are staff, and that would include my assistant, two readers, a senior editor, a cover artist, an illustrator (now that we’ll be accepting more children’s books), and marketing team of three. We also have a host of contractors we use for formatting our black and white books, formatting our children’s books, as those are two separate teams, preparing ads and additional graphics, preparing our videos, and uploading our books to Netgalley along with a host of other duties that we may need only once.

One of the things that enticed me to submit to you was the quality of your covers. When I handed a bookmark featuring the cover of Playing by Heart to an influential librarian I met at a conference, she commented on how the cover could pass for one put out by HarperCollins. Can you tell us a bit about how the cover design process works at Vinspire? Does one cover artist design all your covers?

It's always so gratifying to hear such praise about our covers. We have been very fortunate to work with Elaina Lee with For the Muse Designs. She designs all of our covers and tries to reflect the author’s vision.

We ask each author to fill out a cover art form which provides an idea of what they would like to see on their cover. Authors can even provide samples of other covers they like. Sometimes, Elaina is able to make their ideas a reality. At other times, they just won’t work, and that’s when Elaina and I will choreograph a cover.

Many times, Elaina gets everything perfect the first time, or it’s almost perfect with just one or two tweaks. So I say again how very fortunate we are to have this talented cover artist working for us!

Vinspire is typically open only to agented submissions. However, you recently accepted unsolicited submissions for one day. What motivated that decision? What were the results from that call? Do you think you’ll offer contracts to any of the authors who submitted?

Vinspire had been closed to unagented submissions for almost two years, working only with agents and through conferences for submissions. Once upon a time, all of our submissions came through authors without agents, and we’ve been blessed to have acquired books that have gone on to be bestsellers with us and authors whose careers have blossomed. So we decided to open our doors for twelve hours only and check out the talent.

The results were phenomenal. In fact, so much so that we’ve had to hire additional readers to get through the influx. We’re still reading through the manuscripts, and it’s already been six weeks. But we were right to open as, without a doubt, we’ll be offering contracts to some of the authors.

Did you see any common problems in the manuscripts that didn’t make the cut? What advice can you give those authors?

I would say the biggest problem we have seen in some of the submissions we will or have rejected is the failure to “catch” us in the beginning. Authors have one shot to catch an editor’s eye so it’s imperative to start the book where the story actually begins.

Unfortunately, many authors still feel the need to set up the story with long narratives that don’t give us the opportunity to invest in any of the characters. We want to dive into the story. Instead, the author tells us every little thing about the main character and the setting of the book, and ten pages in, we don’t know if we want to continue reading.

It’s kind of like going to buy a car, and the salesman extols the virtues of the vehicle and takes forever to get to the price of the car. If he tells you that first, you know whether or not you can afford it. Get the shock out of the way. That’s what you need to do with the book. Shock us. Awe us. Make us feel something other than boredom so we’ll want to read more.

You are an author yourself, writing as Rachel Carrington. How do you find time for your own writing on top of all your responsibilities at Vinspire?

I’ve always been extremely organized. A large part of that comes from having spent thirty years as a paralegal. You can’t do that job if you’re not organized. I make lists. I have set times for everything, including time to relax in the evening. In addition, I enjoy working. Having nothing to do is unfathomable to me. I like to stay busy because it gives me a sense of purpose.

Vinspire is very active on social media, including Facebook, InstagramPinterest, Twitter, and YouTube. Do you have any advice for authors trying to promote their work via social media? Is it worth the time for pre-published writers to participate in social media?

As much as some people might hate it, social media is a necessity in today’s publishing world. It’s one of the best ways, besides a newsletter, to reach your audience.

Promoting doesn’t have to be hard. I have said this countless times to our authors. You can do a lot in ten to fifteen minutes a day, especially on social media. As long as you’re not just shouting “buy my book,” you can get people interested in what you have to say.

For instance, on my personal Twitter account, I share writing tips, promoting tips, articles I’ve discovered that would benefit authors, links to helpful marketing blogs, positive messages, and videos that make me laugh, cry, or feel something. Yes, I include information about my books occasionally, but, more often, I invite people to follow me on social media or to subscribe to my newsletter. I believe it’s more important to give than it is to receive, and authors can make a difference in their own marketing efforts if they don’t narrow their focus to just selling their books.

Pre-published authors need to be involved in social media so they can follow authors and industry leaders and join in the conversations. They can learn what to do and what not to do. Many agents, editors, and publishing houses share writing tips and calls for submissions on social media like we did with our one-day-only submission event. If an aspiring author wasn’t on social media, they missed that call.

It’s important, though, to have a balance. Don’t spend so much time on social media that you neglect other aspects of your career. Continue to educate yourself about the writing process and marketing. Learn how to grow your career. Get involved in writing groups offline and become a part of this community.

Vinspire Publishing is up against a lot of competition: the “Big 5” publishers and their imprints, other small publishers, and authors independently publishing their own work. How do you reach potential readers in the face of all that competition?

This might sound odd, but I don’t see other publishers as competition. We’ve always believed there are readers for every book no matter who the publisher is, and when you think about it, few people purchase books based on the publisher.

Reaching readers is an ongoing process that involves encouraging them to try a new author and to come back after their first purchase. It’s all part of the marketing process.

Some books sell better than others. It’s a simple fact like some shoes sell better than others. But we don’t give up on a book. If you take a look at our social media, you’ll see we constantly promote books no matter how long they’ve been in publication.

I think a big part of being successful in any aspect of life is having a “never give up” attitude. We have been in business for almost fourteen years, and we’ve made it this far because we’ve been tenacious about reaching out to readers, and we have some great authors that have that same spirit.

Do you have any tips for staying positive in the often-challenging publishing business?

I have a quote on the wall in my office that says “always believe something wonderful is going to happen.” That’s how I try to live my life. Staying positive takes effort, but it’s worth it when you realize that there is so much negativity in the world that people grasp onto the positive when they see it.

Like I said above, it’s important to have a “never give up” attitude. We only get one chance at this life, one chance to make a difference, so we have to make every moment count.

If an author is struggling because their book isn’t selling the way they thought it should, I encourage them to think about where they were a year ago. Maybe they didn’t even have a book published then. So, by having a book in publication, they have become an author, and they are taking steps forward. As long as you’re making forward movements, you’re succeeding.

Never compare yourself to anyone else because your journey is different. Maybe you’re not supposed to be a New York Times Bestselling author. That might be difficult to hear, but there are different levels of success. An actor who hasn’t won an Emmy isn’t any less of an actor. So you’re not any less of an author if your book hasn’t won an award or you haven’t reached the pinnacle of the sales charts.

Thank you again for the interview, Carmela. It was a pleasure!

Thank YOU, Dawn. I especially appreciate your advice about not comparing yourself to anyone else. I think that's something we're often tempted to do.

Readers, I hope you found this post helpful and encouraging. If you'd like to receive updates on Vinspire Publishing's books and giveaways, be sure to sign up for their newsletter at the bottom of the home page of their website.

And don't forget to enter for a chance to win an autographed copy of Playing by Heart if you haven't already done so. See my last post for details.

Remember, always Write with Joy!

Friday, September 29, 2017

Playing by Heart Book Birthday Giveaway

Hello, all!

Tomorrow, Sept. 30, is the release date for my new young-adult historical romance, Playing by Heart (Vinspire Publishing)! We're celebrating here by giving away an autographed copy to one lucky reader! (You'll find the giveaway details at the end of this post.) This post is also the first in a three-part series related to the novel. And since today is Poetry Friday, I'm including below a poem with a connection to the book, too.

If you've been following our blog for some time, you may recall my post over two years ago about a novel I'd put in the proverbial "drawer" because I'd been told it wasn't marketable enough. Well, that novel was Playing by Heart. Fortunately, as I announced in January, I found a small publisher who liked the novel enough to take a chance on it. On Monday, I'll introduce you to Dawn Carrington, the editor who acquired Playing by Heart. She'll share a bit of Vinspire Publishing's history, as well as advice for aspiring authors on how to get published.

The editors and agents who rejected Playing by Heart told me it was because "young-adult historical is a tough sell." After studying the market, I realized that the YA historicals that sell well seem to incorporate fantasy, witches, secret societies, or a murder mystery. Playing by Heart has none of that. I'd thought my sales "hook" was that the novel is inspired by two amazing 18th-century sisters who were far ahead of their time, one a mathematician, the other a composer. (I've talked about those sisters, composer Maria Teresa Agnesi, and her older sister, Maria Gaetana Agnesi, here before.) I'm still hoping that fact will help draw readers to the novel and that once they start reading they won't want to stop. 😊

Here's a brief plot summary:
Emilia Salvini dreams of marrying a man who loves music as she does. But in 18th-century Milan, being the 'second sister' means she'll likely be sent to a convent instead. Emilia's only hope is to prove her musical talents crucial to her father's quest for nobility. First, though, she must win over her music tutor, who disdains her simply for being a girl. Too late, Emilia realizes that her success could threaten not only her dreams for her future but her sister's very life.
At its core, Playing by Heart is the story of two sisters struggling to follow their true callings at a time when women had little autonomy. And even though the novel is set over 200 years ago, the Salvini sisters face issues modern readers can relate to, such as coping with the pressure of parental expectations, living in the shadow of an older sibling, and finding true love.

Any of you who have your own novels or picture books sitting in a drawer can imagine how thrilled I am to see Playing by Heart finally published. (I was so excited when my copies arrived that I had my husband take a picture!) Someone recently asked me how long it took to write the novel. That's hard to answer because I didn't work on it consistently. I started the project in 2008 but I kept getting bogged down by research. Then, in January 2009, I banned together with a group of fellow SCBWI members to create our own version of NaNoWriMo, what we called our New Year/New Novel project, or NYNN, which rhymes with "win." (I blogged about that experience here.) Thanks to the support of the NYNNies, I managed to complete (a pretty horrible) first draft. But I don't think I had a polished manuscript until September 2011. That's when I started submitting it. As the rejections came in, I kept revising and submitting, sending the novel to editors and agents, and entering it writing contests (which I've also blogged about). But I eventually gave up and put Playing by Heart in a drawer sometime in 2014.

As excited as I was to finally sign a contract with Vinspire Publishing last year, I also had some misgivings about going with a small press. In particular, I was worried the trade journals wouldn't review the novel, which meant libraries would be reluctant to purchase it. I'm happy to report that the novel has been reviewed by Kirkus and Booklist. I'm especially pleased with what Booklist had to say. Copyright rules prohibit me from sharing the whole review here, but I can tell you that the reviewer called it a "sweet and pleasurable read," saying also:
"Martino's romantic read features lovable characters
and is vibrant in setting and detail."
My publisher liked the Booklist review so much, they featured it in the book trailer they created:

(If you receive this post via email, you can find the video on YouTube here.)

I've got lots of other lovely review excerpts on my website, if you're interested.

Now, it's time for the book-related poem I promised. I've blogged here before about how Playing by Heart grew out of my research for a nonfiction biography of linguist and mathematician Maria Gaetana Agnesi. At one point I considered telling Agnesi's story as a series of poems. Today, I'll share one of those poems, written in the form of a tetractys. A tetractys is a five-line poem in which the syllables per line form the series 1, 2, 3, 4, 10. Agnesi was known for being fluent in seven languages, some said by age eleven. I haven't been able to verify that, but I wrote the following tribute anyway.

Finally, before I share the Giveaway Instructions, I want to invite you to two upcoming events celebrating the release of Playing by Heart:
Now for the Giveaway Instructions:
To enter our drawing for a chance to win an autographed copy of Playing by Heart (Vinspire Publishing), use the Rafflecopter widget below. If the widget doesn't appear for some reason, click on the link you'll see in its place.

If you received this post via email, you can click on the Rafflecopter link at the end of the message to access the entry form.

You may enter via 1, 2, or all 3 options.
Please note: our options are slightly different this time. To enter via option 1, you need to use the link provided to subscribe to my creativity newsletter, which I typically send out once a month. The newsletter contains info about my publishing news, class offerings, and creativity tips/inspiration. After subscribing, be sure to watch for an email to confirm your subscription. If you already subscribe to my creativity newsletter, simply enter your subscription email address. You can see a sample of a recent newsletter here.

If you choose option 3, you MUST leave a comment on TODAY'S blog post below or on our TeachingAuthors Facebook page. If you haven't already "liked" our Facebook page, please do so today! In your comment, tell us why you'd like to win Playing by Heart--is there a particular aspect of the story that interests you?

(If you prefer, you may submit your comment via email to: teachingauthors [at] gmail [dot] com.)

Note: if you submit your comments via email or Facebook, YOU MUST STILL ENTER THE DRAWING VIA THE WIDGET BELOW.

The giveaway runs through Oct. 16 and is open to U.S. residents only.

P.S. If you've never entered a Rafflecopter giveaway, here's info on how to enter a Rafflecopter giveaway and the difference between signing in with Facebook vs. with an email address.

Don't forget Poetry Friday. This week's roundup is hosted by former TeachingAuthor Laura Purdie Salas at Writing the World for Kids.

Remember, always Write with Joy!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, September 25, 2017

That Thing with Feathers

Carmela started us off with Two Things My Students Have Taught Me; Esther followed with My Storied Treasures Treasured Stories! April discussed 2 Poems, 2 Lessons Learned from Teaching .

What we know is that writing is hard, messy work. The business of writing is even harder, and messier.

We have heard all the clichés: Inspiration comes through perspiration. Quality comes through quantity.

“Authors pretend their stories were always shiny and perfect and just waiting to be written. The truth is, writing is this: hard and boring and occasionally great but usually not. Even I have lied about writing. I have told people that writing this book has been like brushing dirt away from a fossil. What a load of shit. It has been like hacking away at a freezer with a screwdriver.”Amy Poehler

Rejection is the very nature of the business. Lord of the Flies by William Golding was rejected 20 times. Carrie by Stephen King was rejected 30 times. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle was rejected 26 times. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by JK Rowling was rejected 12 times.

Gertrude Stein submitted poems for 22 years before finally having one published.

And despite all the advice not to take rejection personal, it is personal. According to Rowling, one editor told her to keep her day job. Alice Vincent reports (here) that one of the 15 publishers who didn't think The Diary of Anne Frank was worth reading, offered his wisdom: "The girl doesn't, it seems to me, have a special perception or feeling which would lift that book above the 'curiosity' level."

Herman Melville's novel about the white whale was rejected by editor Peter J Bentley, stating "First, we must ask, does it have to be a whale? ...While this is a rather delightful, if somewhat esoteric, plot device, we recommend an antagonist with a more popular visage among the younger readers. For instance, could not the Captain be struggling with a depravity towards young, perhaps voluptuous, maidens?" 

Ironically, Richard Bentley of the same London publishing house offered him a contract in 1851. Moby Dick was published 18 months later, when Melville arranged at his own expense for the typesetting and plating of his book to speed up the process. Young, voluptuous maidens never made the final edit.

So what do writers who teach writing learn from our students?

Because students have that thing with feathers, eternal hope.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers -

That perches in the soul -

And sings the tune without the words -

And never stops - at all –“ 
-- Emily Dickinson (For the complete poem, see Hope is a thing with feathers)

Students inspire us to keep trying.

Bobbi Miller
P.S. Photo by Pixabay