Monday, June 29, 2015

How strong is your story's opening? Turbocharge it with this 5-point checklist


Did you ever watch a space shuttle launch? 

It was an awesome thing: the thundering noise, the heat, the deep bass rumble.  Why do they have to put so much energy into launching ships into space?  They have to start out with a ton of power so the ship has enough velocity to make it all the way into space.

And that's what your story has to do, too.

Adding rocket fuel to your book

Pour a ton of thrust into the story's opening to carry readers all the way through to the end.  Here's a quick 5-point checklist to make sure your opening covers all the bases.

If you're writing a chapter book, you should include all these elements in the first chapter, preferably in the first half of the first chapter.   In a picture book, you'll want all of this on the first one or two pages.  That seems tight, but remember that your illustrations are going to be doing at least half the work.

Ready?  Get out your red pencil... here's the checklist:

Does your story's opening...

image1) …Introduce the main character?

We should get a clear idea of who this character is and what they're going to want in the story.  Show, don't tell. Let the illustrations do part of the work here, and whatever you do, don't start with the character's name and age.

Friday, June 26, 2015

How to have fun collaborating on a kids' book–with a kid


Hand in hand in hand in hand.  Collaborating on a meaningful book project together – why not?

The image is so beautiful.  Jodi Picoult writes with her daughter.  So maybe you’re wondering:  why can’t you write a children’s book with your son, niece, granddaughter, cousin, or any other kid you happen to have nearby?


(Jodi Picoult and her daughter, Samantha Van Leer, who have written two books together.)

The answer is a resounding yes.  YES!  Absolutely, you can.  You can write a book together, and have tons fun doing it.  Sure, you’ll both learn a lot, too, but shh… keep that part under wraps.  You don’t want it to seem too educational.

Kids adore making books.  More than just another boring creative writing project, they sense that by creating a book, they’re onto something important.  They’re bringing something wonderful into the world.  And you know what?  They’re right.

Follow these DO’s and DON’Ts to make sure you’re not disappointed, and that you both have fun from start to finish.

DO pick realistic goals ahead of time.

What’s your definition of success?  Be honest.  Pick a definition you can both agree on. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

What do you need to know about the magic of threes?


Close your eyes and think of a number between one and ten.  Umm, now open your eyes so you can read the rest of this post.

Did you pick seven?  If not, you probably picked three or eight.

According to this mathematician, seven was the favourite number from among 44,000 people worldwide.  But the second favourite – maybe not the winner, but the first runner-up – was three.  And I think you will be, too, when you see how much three (3!) has to offer us as writers.

Why are threes so powerful? 

Physically, three is the lowest stable number that stands up on its own.  IF you’re building a step-stool, you can’t use just one or two legs.  You’ve got to have at least three.  (Okay, there is such a thing as a one-legged stool, but it’s more for propping your body up than actually sitting and relaxing on!)

Take a look – this is just such a basic, iconic design because of the central human assumption:  three = stable.


[source:  Nerijp via Wikimedia]

Even if you don’t think about it actively, your brain knows this, and so does your reader’s.  We trust threes in a way we do with few other numbers (even seven!).

Count your way through these 3 crucial principles of threes that will help you write better, stronger kids’ books.

1) The Three-Act Structure of your story

The three-act structure is a model used in screenwriting, writing and storytelling.  All it means is that your fictional story has three parts.  In fancier circles, these parts are sometimes the “Setup,” the “Confrontation” and the “Resolution.”  But I usually just call them Beginning, Middle and End. Winking smile

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The stinky fish guide to choosing and using big words in your children’s story.


What’s your favourite condiment?  What do you love to squirt onto your burgers, your dogs, your sandwiches?

(I’ll tell you what America’s current favourite is in a minute – and why it’s important to you as a writer.)

Know what condiment the ancient Romans loved best?  It’s called garum, a putrid blend made of stinky rotten fish.  The Roman writer Seneca called it an “expensive bloody mass of decayed fish [which] consumes the stomach with its salted putrefaction.”

Yum, right?  (OMG, no.)

Know why the Romans loved the stuff?  Because their food was so, so stinky that they needed a condiment strong enough to cover it up.  Ew.

The perfect condiment for stinky writing

Some people’s writing is like this, too.  Stinky stuff.  Their writing isn’t clear, their ideas are shallow – but they use big, fancy words, splashing them around like garum to cover up the stench.  They hope you won’t notice.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

5 survival tips for the long, uphill journey to a finished book.


You’re standing at the foot of a mountain.  Don’t look up, or you’re done for – there’s just so far to climb when you’re just starting out.

I started a new nonfiction book this week.  I love writing them, gathering photos, putting the information together.  But it’s soooo much work.

Short picture books come easily, but longer stories, like chapter books, are an uphill slog.  Some chapters in a longer book are fun to write – others, not so much.  And when I’m right at the beginning… well, some days I feel like I don’t have the strength.

Does that happen to you, too?

Here are some ideas that get me up that mountain.  I’d love to hear yours, just leave them in the comments at the end of this post.

1.  Sit down and write

“Writing is a struggle against silence.”
― Carlos Fuentes

Writer Cory Doctorow says, “Write every day. Anything you do every day gets easier. If you’re insanely busy, make the amount that you write every day small (100 words? 250 words?) but do it every day.” (read more here)

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

So you want to write a children’s book…? The ultimate Quick-Start tutorial.


When I started out writing children’s books, I was full of ideas, but I had no idea what to actually DO. 

Should I write the story?  Find an artist?  How was it all supposed to come together into an actual book?  Like I said, I had no idea.

You might be right where I was a few years ago, wondering how to get started.

I’ve put this quick-start guide together to help YOU skip over the mistakes I made.  I hope it’ll help give you a smoother launch into this incredible world of writing for children.

1. How can you write (or finish) your book?

You can’t do much until you have a finished book saved on your hard drive (or, if you’re the old-fashioned type, written down on paper).  Here are the basics, the least you need to know to sit down and get writing.

Monday, June 8, 2015

The seriously YOLO guide for children’s book writers and other grown-ups.


If you were around the Internet a couple of years ago, you probably came across the sleazy wad of letters that is “YOLO.”

It stands for “You Only Live Once,” and it’s basically an updated take on “carpe diem.”  Kids essentially used it to justify doing crazy and impulsive things in the name of enjoying their one and only go-round on this earth. 

But maybe you’re wondering how it can help us, as writers, and grownups, who are not so impulsive.

Even now, a few years after its heyday, the #YOLO hashtag is still alive and well on Twitter:

and and


Basically, if you see the YOLO hashtag, you’ll know the person’s doing something you probably wouldn’t do.

But why should teenagers have all the fun, and keep what’s actually kind of a great meme all to themselves?  Let’s take YOLO back and claim it for children’s authors everywhere. 

How can YOU channel the “spirit of YOLO” to help yourself succeed as a writer? 

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Write like a journalist: use the 5 W’s to write captivating children’s books.


How are you on the 5 W’s? 

You know:  “who, what, when, where, why”?  Those 5 W’s.  The ones your high school English teacher badgered you about. 

Maybe you’ve pushed them aside and not thought about them since high school.  But it’s time to dust them off and see how they can help you create a tighter, more fascinating story.

Every journalist knows that if they haven’t answered these 5 W questions in the very beginning.  So should every story writer. 

Open up any newspaper in the world and you’ll see how those 5 W’s have been worked into the first paragraph – known as the “lede.”  Here’s a short news item from Reuters today:

An explosion at a gas filling station in Ghana's capital killed at least 78 people, many of whom had sought shelter there due to torrential rain, a spokesman for the national fire brigade told JOYFM radio on Thursday.

Let’s take a look at those 5 W’s.

  • Who’s it about?  78 people who were killed, and one fire brigade spokesman.
  • What happened?  An explosion.
  • When?  Today, Thursday June 4 (or maybe it happened yesterday).
  • Where?  Accra, the capital of Ghana.
  • Why?  The people were in the gas station to seek shelter from the rain.  The article doesn't given a reason for the explosion itself, but the next paragraph says it may be connected to the rain as well.

Oh, and by the way, I know nothing about Ghana.  That’s another thing journalists realize:  if they’re doing their job right, they can make you feel entranced, utterly fascinated, by anything.  They can make you care.

Now let’s look at the beginning of a children’s book.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Trimming your tribe. 7 reasons a smaller mailing list is better for you as an author.

It may not sound like big potatoes compared to Stephen King, but as my mailing list grows towards 1000 readers, I'm trimming the tribe.  And you might want to consider it as well.

Here are 7 good reasons why a smaller list is better for "business" when you're a writer:

1) Smaller lists are cheaper. 

Most services charge more as your lists grow.  Trimming them regularly to get rid of those who don't read your emails will keep these charges down.

2) Smaller lists are targeted. 

You'll have a better idea who's reading and what their needs are.  Remember, you can't please all of the people all of the time - so quit trying.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The lemonade-stand marketing lesson every indie author needs to read.

One sizzling summer day, my daughter decided to run a lemonade stand.  Maybe your kids did this too, once or twice?

She set up shop in front of our house.  She had a sign, a table, fresh cold lemonade (mmm, I’m making myself thirsty – it’s super-hot here as I write this!), and opened up for business.

And then… nobody came.

What did she do wrong?  She was certainly cute enough.  And the lemonade was sweetly tart, frozen and refreshing.

But we lived on a one-way street that didn’t get a lot of traffic.  People were driving past quickly and weren’t in a mood to buy lemonade.  She sold a couple to our neighbours, but really didn’t attract a lot of interest beyond the immediate area.

So the next time we thought about doing a lemonade stand, we did it at my mother’s place, a block away.  Not such a big difference, right?  But there were a few major factors that changed the game:
  • It was a two-way street, with a major road nearby
  • There were lots of bikes and joggers going past
  • It was close enough that our own neighbours could come there, too
  • It was down the street from a police station, so everyone was driving slowly and paid attention to the little girl with the lemonade stand.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Are your books too babyish? The grown-up way to write kids’ books, with 3 easy fixes.


Writing for kids keeps us young at heart.  How great is that?


But maybe you’ve made the mistake of thinking that “young at heart” means writing in a childish way.  Are you underestimating your readers’ intelligence?  Is your children's book TOO childlike? 

Sure, we’re writing for kids.  Sure, I feel like a kid when I write.  But we shouldn’t make the mistake of creating books that sound like they’re written by kids – or worse, babies. 

Here are three common problems, and quick fixes to make sure you don’t fall into these traps.

1.  Baby talk

Language development experts say parents should try to speak normally to even the youngest kids.  Some “goo goo” is fine if we’re playing around, but when you’re talking to a baby, you should make an effort to use real words.

Same thing if you’re writing for kids, even babies.  Use real words.  A grown-up is going to be reading the story, so you don’t have to worry that your words are too hard for kids to read.

And whatever you do, don’t make spelling or grammar mistakes – especially on purpose.  Don’t spell fruit as “froot” just because you think it will appeal to kids, or emphasize how hard something was by spelling it “harrrrrrd.” 

Would writers REALLY do this?  I assure you, they would.  I’ve seen some horrors out there.  But you’re the one I care about: don’t you do it.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Carnival of Jewish Books – May 2015 / Iyyar 5775


If this is the 15th of the month (which it is), then this must be... the Jewish book carnival!  Don't be scared, even if you're not Jewish, you can step inside and find some great books and writers about books from all over the internet.

What goes on in a Jewish book carnival?

Glad you asked! 

imageHere, you’ll find…

  • Reviews of Jewish books
  • Interviews with authors, illustrators, editors, publishers, librarians, etc. about Jewish literature
  • Reporting on Jewish literary events (or the Jewish angle at non-Jewish events)
  • Reflective essays related to Jewish literature, which may include reflections on the process of creating a specific title (this is the one instance in which authors/publshers might discuss one of their own books, in a meaningful and non-commercial way that serves a larger goal)

The Jewish Book Carnival also has a GoodReads page, for discussions and more. Whether or not you’re participating, we hope you’ll stop by, join and take part!

If you want to host a future Jewish book carnival on your blog (and who wouldn’t?!?), contact Heidi at

And now… for the good stuff: 

The posts!

Heidi at the Book of Life blog hosts a podcast interview with Suri Rosen about her debut novel for teens, a hip and funny Orthodox story called Playing with Matches