Friday, December 19, 2014

Best & worst of the Indie Children’s Covers 2014: 19 hits, 10 misses.


UPDATE:  Want to enter the 2015 contest?  Open NOW to any children’s books self-published between Dec 1, 2014 and Nov 30, 2015.

Covers are hard.  If you’re like most people, I hope you don’t even try to do them yourself.  But even if you hire a pro, it’s easy to wander off the path of good judgment into the jungle of horrific, embarrassing covers.

That’s why we need objective feedback. 

Which is where Joel Friedlander, the Book Designer, comes in.  Every month, he hosts a cover contest.  It’s free to enter, and if you have a cover you love, you really should.  It won’t boost book sales directly, but it’s worth it, I promise.

Remember:  every single buyer is judging your book by its cover.  You can’t escape from that simple fact.

Every month, Joel shows off every cover he gets.  Sometimes he adds praise – but sometimes, his comments can sting.  One author proudly submitted his cover with the words “Fully designed by the author himself.”  To which Joel replied, “That’s apparent.”  About another cover, he wrote, “Impossible to tell what was intended here, but clearly this is a disaster.”  (My personal favourite:  “Pretty much announces: “I’m self-published!” And not in a good way.”)

I have to laugh – even when his criticisms are aimed at me, which they have been a couple of times.  Don’t submit anything unless you’re prepared for him to tear it apart.

Most of the covers he gets are for adult books.  Why not more kidlit?  Maybe because most of us aren’t putting enough money/effort into our covers, and aren’t proud enough of the results. 

That’s REALLY got to change.  I hope this list inspires you to create excellent covers that will hog all the top spots for 2015.

Here (in no particular order) is my personal Top Nineteen of all the kids’ covers that he’s featured in 2014.  NOTE:  I haven’t read the books.  I’m literally just judging them by their covers.

Down below, you’ll find 10 “misses” and “near-misses” that failed on one count or another to make it to that empty #20 spot in my “top” list.  Plus two grownup books with really, REALLY bad covers that make me wonder why anyone would submit them to a contest.  And one I loved that inspired me to buy the book.



The Boy Who Loved Fire by Julie Musil.  There were many great YA covers this year; I think authors in this category are a lot more serious about their covers than if they’re just writing “kiddie books.”  (Again, that’s really got to change.)  Joel didn’t say anything when it was listed in January, but in March when he listed it again, he said, “Although a bit overwrought, it is nicely creepy.”



The Little Girl and the Hill by Brett Henley.  In January, Joel didn’t like the smallness of the text and I agree – you can’t read the author’s name, even with this fairly large thumbnail.  He said the art was lovely but that the cover overall is “a dark and easily skipped muddle.”  Still, something about this concept really appeals to me.  Like finding a good black t-shirt for a baby, it’s rare to see an all-black cover on a kids’ book.  (Caveat:  the interior looks similarly all-black, and I’m not 100% sure how good that would look on an ereader.)  I do wish they’d re-do the fonts, however.


Thursday, December 18, 2014

Drat, foiled again (or the spineless truth about CreateSpace).


I told you a couple of weeks ago all triumphantly how I created a kissable cover and got around Amazon / Createspace’s arbitrary minimum-page requirements for having a proper spine on your book.  I succeeded that time with my 100-page chapter book No Santa!  image

But guess what???  When I tried the same magic again yesterday with an 88-page nonfiction book, Createspace stopped me in my tracks with their silly arbitrariness.

I worked long and hard to create a BEAUTIFUL (if I say so myself) cover, and submitted it along with my interior.  Here’s what the full design looks like:


(Spineless Wonders is the first in what I plan as a series of Jewish, Bible-based science books that’s already available for Kindle here.)

Believe me, everything fit perfectly within the little template they give you. 


But when I submitted all the files, Createspace’s gnomes went to work destroying all that is good.  They must have detected that I was trying to get away with something.  When my files were approved for proofing, I went in to take a peek… only to discover this message:

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Holidays overwhelming you? Here are 3 easy ways to jingle readers’ bells.


How can you even think about writing with a holiday coming up?

Writing may be the last thing on your mind at this time of year.  So let’s get right to the point with three quick MUSTS you’ve just got to have in your children’s holiday book.  Don’t worry, they’re simple, too.

It doesn’t matter what holiday, either.  Easter, Chanukah, Shavuot, Eid, they’re all totally different… but the best books have so much in common that you’re going to succeed no matter what you’re writing about.

1) STORY. 

Do you love a great story?  So do kids.  Unless you’re writing nonfiction (and maybe even then), you’ll want to make sure your book has a good, solid story.  That almost always means tension.  Your character shouldn’t just wake up, prepare for the holiday, celebrate the holiday, and go to bed happy.  That’s not a story; it’s a diary entry, and not a very interesting one.

Save your story by giving your character a real problem.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

12 nights of Chanukah fun: a mega Jewish holiday picture book roundup


Before you read any further, you should know:  these aren’t exactly reviews.  They’re BETTER.

(That’s also why I want you to read this even if you don’t celebrate Chanukah.)

What could be better than reviews?

As writers, we’re at work even when we read for fun (even when we read to our kids), and that’s a serious job.  We have to examine each book not simply for whether or not we enjoyed it (like ordinary readers do), but analyzing it to figure out IF it works and HOW it works.

That’s the only way we can make our own writing better.

Working while we read (for pleasure)

When I took a children’s picture-book writing course earlier this year, I had to research “comps” – comparable books on a similar topic.  Since I was working on one of my Chanukah books, I decided to research what else was out there in the world of Chanukah books.  I chose these books almost at random, but I think it’s a good assortment of what’s out there.

Have fun reading through them, and hopefully discovering a few new favourites. 

  • How Do Dinosaurs Say Happy Chanukah? by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Mark Teague
  • Mrs. Greenberg's Messy Hanukkah, by Linda Glasser, illustrated by Nancy Cote
  • Esther’s Hanukkah Disaster, by Jane Sutton, illustrated by Andy Rowland
  • Chanukah Lights, by Michael J. Rosen, illustrated by Robert Sabuda
  • Latkes, Latkes, Good to Eat: A Chanukah Story, written and illustrated by Naomi Howland
  • The Story of Hanukkah, by David A. Adler, illustrated by Jill Weber
  • Sammy Spider's First Hanukkah, by Sylvia A. Rouss, illustrated by Katherine Janus Kahn
  • Biscuit's Hanukkah, by Alyssa Satin Capucilli, illustrated by Pat Schories
  • Elmo’s Little Dreidel, by Naomi Kleinberg, illustrated by Christopher Moroney
  • Light The Lights! A Story About Celebrating Hanukkah And Christmas, by Margaret Moorman
  • Engineer Ari and the Hanukkah Mishap, by Deborah Bodin Cohen, illustrated by Shahar Kober
  • Battle for Torah: The Message of Hanukkah, by Kay Kindall, illustrated by Neil Kindall

While you’re reading through these short blurbs, take a look at some of the different ways we – as writers –should be analyzing “comps.”

What to look for

Sunday, December 7, 2014

15 gifts writers will scream for: the essential 2015 Write Kids’ Books gift guide.


You’re here because you’re a writer or know a writer, or both.  Either you’re looking for the perfect gift that will draw gasps of delight or screams of satisfaction (is that even a thing?), or you’re hoping to pamper yourself in the middle of this season of selflessness.

Either way, here are 15 great ways to give yourself permission to go for it.

1) Paperback room fragrance / cologne by Demeter

image If you haven’t tried Demeter perfumes, colognes and fragrances, you should.  They’re mindblowingly “real” scents in varieties you’ve never imagined:  Tomato, say, or Dirt, or Thunderstorm.  They all smell great.  Years and years ago, I got a bottle of their gin and tonic scent, and I loved it almost to death.  I still have the bottle, which I refuse to use up.  I sniff it from time to time when I need a pick-me-up.  But what could be a better pick-me-up for a writer in need of inspiration?  Available as a home atmosphere spray – to get you in the writing mood! – or as a cologne.  (The bottles look similar; make sure you choose the one you want.)

2)  Flying wish paper

image Write your heart out, then set it on fire.  Send your dreams upwards.  Hopefully you’ll wish for inspiration, and be rewarded with tons of great ideas and incredible words (that you won’t want to burn).

3) SimplyRain

imageBetter than background music when you’re trying to write. 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The joy of unboxing: start with creating kissable covers.


Want your books to come out of the box looking gorgeous?

You can have that, and I promise you, it’s a great, great feeling.  I love books.  That’s why I do this… it’s all about the books.  Well, that and the kids.  (Which do I love more?  Don’t push me on this question…)

The secret to gorgeous books is… kissable covers.  Covers that you adore.

And when these books came in the mail today, the first hard copies of my chapter book, No Santa!  , that’s exactly what I wanted to do.  Kiss them, hug them, sleep with them tonight and forever.

I was actually worried that they wouldn’t be this good.  Why was I so anxious?  Because…

  • a) this is my first chapter book, and
  • b) I was worried about the covers, which I created completely on my own, from scratch. 

I was especially worried about the spine.  Createspace told me that because my book was so short (exactly 100 numbered pages of story), there was no room for words on the spine.  Maybe you’ve come up against this problem, too?

I’ve held enough kids’ books in my hands to know that this was total BS.  Even very tiny, thin paperback books have words on the spine.

But Createspace insisted that I couldn’t do what I wanted to do. 

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Coping with the KDP Freebie Juggling Act: a simple 2-step system


Are you giving it away for free?

If your books are exclusive through Amazon’s Kindle Select program through KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing), they make it oh-so-easy to give away books for free.  They make it sound like a privilege, even.  Like it’s going to do tons for your books’ sales and your author ranking.

Will it really?

One school of thought, let’s call them School A, says – “No, no, no!  Never give it away for free!  Offering freebies trains your “loyal” readers to pay nothing for your books.  That’s terrible.  Don’t do it!”

The other school of thought, School B, says (equally loudly) – “Yes, yes, yes!  Giving books away for free will help new readers find your books.  They will become loyal readers!  Free books ‘hook’ them in, like a sample at the supermarket.  If they like it, they’re sure to come back and buy more (for actual money).”

As a fairly new writer trying to get established, I’m somewhere in between.  I do think freebies help get attention I wouldn’t get otherwise.  So I’m still doing them.

I don’t like keeping secrets.  I’m going to share what I’m doing here, but I’ll be honest:  I don’t really know yet if it’s working.  I hope this will be the start of a conversation, and I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences in the comments.

If you have more than a couple of books enrolled in KDP select, you need a way to keep track of which ones are free at any given time.  That’s where this simple 2-step system comes in.  Follow these steps, and you’ll never get mixed up again.  You’ll also be able to reward your loyal followers with a chance at getting hold of these.

Here’s how I set up my KDP freebies:

Friday, November 28, 2014

GUEST POST: Moving Small Stones: Closing the Diversity Gap in Children’s Books


Welcome to my stop on The Secret Life of Jenny Liu book tour!  (Want to check out all the stops?  Here’s a list.)

Today, you’ll discover a tasty new middle-grade chapter book, and hear from its writer about why diverse books matter. 

What am I saying?  You’ve probably heard the buzz about diverse books already. 

But are you convinced yet?

Jean Ramsden is.  These days, she’s connecting with her readers one-on-one.  And she’s hearing from them how much it means to kids to see characters “just like me” in the books they read, on the covers, on the pages of magazines and on TV.

Jean’s book, The Secret Life of Jenny Liu (Jam & Jabber Books, 2014) is about an 11-year-old Chinese-American girl who defiantly refuses to be a stereotype.  When the world tries to shove her into a box, she bursts free and discovers she has the strength to be unique. 

The book confronts all the stereotypes head-on – Jenny is Asian, but she’s no good at math and spelling, and she’s not the piano whiz her teacher and slightly-tiger mom hopes she’ll be.  I loved watching Jenny solve her own problems, finding balance in her own life and helping others along the way.

So why do diverse books matter?

Let’s let Jean speak for herself…

Moving Small Stones: Closing the Diversity Gap in Children’s Books

The Secret Life of Jenny Liu, by Jean Ramsden The fury of activity following my book reading had subsided—questions had been answered, books had been signed, kids and their parents and teachers had moved on to the next event—when a girl holding her copy of my middle-grade contemporary book, “The Secret Life of Jenny Liu,” approached.  

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

How NOT to get reviews. Three top turn-offs reviewers HATE.


You’re a writer, right?  So you’re only one letter away from being a WAITER, which isn’t a bad way to think of yourself when it comes to getting reviews.

Like a waiter, you have to serve up your book to reviewers in the most appealing possible way.  And if you forget the basics of customer service, it’ll bounce back to bite you in the form of a lousy tip – er, review.

Here are three ways you may be turning off reviewers – and what to do about them to make sure those reviews keep rolling in.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Caution, Rant: spammy spammers spamming stupid “Children’s Books” in their KDP listing title.


Every once in a while, I’ve just got to rant.  Maybe you know the feeling?

Today’s rant is about that growing breed of Kindle kids’ ebooks that have almost more title than actual book.  I’m sure you know the ones:  the cover of the book has maybe a five-word title, but the title of the book as shown on its Amazon listing is a mile long, like this:

Children books : MARGARET AND THE DONUT: (Explore the Galaxy kids book exclusive collection) (Super-Duper eBook)Sleep & Playtime Books(Short Story) (Bedtime ... Books for Babby & Toddler Readers #15) [Kindle Edition]

You think I’m joking?

Fever Pitch: 1-step first aid for sick stories


Is your story sick?  Something not quite right?

Your spelling and punctuation may be perfect, but if something just seems off… if it’s under the weather, but you’re not sure how to fix it…

… just pitch it.

No, I don’t mean throw it away.  I mean create a sales pitch and start selling your book.  Not (yet) on Amazon, or Kobo, or Smashwords, or anywhere else.  No, to make it great, you have to sell the story to your most important customer – yourself.

You’ll do that with a “pitch.”  Known by a few different names, it’s basically a 1-2 sentence “elevator speech” for the book.  This pitch has to be great.  It must hook the reader – and before it’s ready for readers, it has to hook YOU.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

CLOSING SOON! 3 free (LEGITIMATE) contests for indie kids’ writers.


In the age of spammy contests, with scammy reviews and prizes being awarded left, right and centre (and preying on our eagerness to help our books stand out), it’s nice to know that there are still a few legitimate places you can send your books. 

These are folks you can trust to evaluate your book honestly against the best of what’s out there in children’s literature today.  It’s a tough game, but at least you know it’s not rigged.

Is your book a winner?

Consider submitting it to one of these three free contests.  (I already have, in 2 out of 3 cases.)

But hurry!  They’re all closing soon…

  1. If your planned publication date is January 2015 or onwards, check out this challenge to indie kids’ writers from Horn Book editor Roger Sutton.   Submit by December 15th.  For this one, you have to send a physical copy, and there are some other requirements as well.  I expect that his standards will be very high, but the prize – if someone wins it – is soooo worth it.
  2. Still a week left to submit to the Gittle List 2014!  Submit your picture books (for ages 10 and under) by November 30th.  Your book does not have to have been published in 2014 to enter.  You can submit electronically or send her a physical book (if it gets there in time).
  3. image Another one to submit to by December 15th is the SCBWI Spark Award.  This one is technically free to enter, but you’ll have to be a SCBWI member first (I am for the first time this year, yay!).  You’ll need to submit a physical copy of your book for this one, too.  Read the full guidelines here.

To get a sense of what each contest is looking for, it’s helpful to look at past winners.  It’s not foolproof, but it can help give you a sense of what each is looking for.  Here are last year’s SPARK award winners, and the Gittle List 2013 winners.

When thinking about any other contests or awards (or review “services”), always check out Writer Beware first before entering.  Most, unfortunately, are scams, and will charge you both to enter and to buy their rolls of prize stickers after (surprise, surprise) they announce that you’ve won.

Good luck… and may the best books win.  Wait, scratch that.  When we write great kids’ books, it’s the KIDS who ultimately win.  So submit your heart out, if you dare – and win it for the kids!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

DEALING WITH DIFFICULT TOPICS: 3 Good Christian Children's Books About Death


(Guest post by Sheila C. Skillman.)

There are several appealing children's books on the market either helping parents to explain death to young children, or targeted directly at children for their reading pleasure, which incorporate an explanation of death. But surprisingly few of these are specifically Christian books. However, I am able to recommend three such books which are very engaging.

B00D82131W1) Water Bugs and Dragonflies by Doris Stickney was published by The Pilgrim Press in 1982. This is a very small, slim book, containing a story which starts below the surface of a quiet pond among a little colony of water bugs. The story finishes with the transformation of a water bug into a dragonfly and illustrates beautifully the fact that the dragonfly cannot return below the surface of the water to tell the water bugs what has happened to it, and what life is like in its new body. A prayer follows, which the child reader may use as a guide when praying for the person whose loss he or she is mourning. The book then gives notes for parents advising them on what they can say to a child about death, and backing this up with quotations from Matthew and Mark showing the way Jesus approached little children. The book ends with a prayer for parents. I think this is an ideal resource for parents who might be unsure and insecure about how to handle the subject.


image 2) Will I Live Forever? by Carolyn Nystrom illustrated by Jo-Anne Shilliam was published by Lion Hudson in 2006. Told in the first person through the viewpoint of the young child, it directly addresses the reader with a question about sad, scary thoughts, and then relates those questions to the child's world. The story encapsulates the Christian understanding of why we die, starting with the story of the Creation, and of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. It goes on to incorporate quotations from the Gospels. It is also very honest and straightforward about the physical processes of death - the corruption of the body, the reason why it must be cremated or buried, etc. It goes on to reflect upon heaven - once again answering the kind of direct, logical questions a young child will demand to be answered. This is an excellent book, one you will wish you'd had access to when you were a young child.

Image from Will I Live Forever? by Carolyn Nystrom, illustrated by Jo-Anne Shilliam

image 3) Grandma's Party by Meg Harper, illustrated by Paul Nicholls, was brought out by The Bible Reading Fellowship in 2003. This is a delightful book centred around the funeral of a grandmother, and it offers practical ways to help children be part of the grieving process when a loved one dies. It includes a story and also creative craft ideas for how a child may become involved in preparing for a tea following the funeral; recipes; instructions on calligraphy to make place cards; and how to make picture frames, books of memories, and paper water-lilies. The book has a solid Christian base, explaining the resurrection from the dead, and finishing with prayers which may be read by a child at the funeral. This is a lovely, practical book, helping parents to understand how to involve and include children at every stage, so they may live out the truth that death is a part of life, not something alien and taboo and frightening, to be hidden behind a wall of silence and mystifying rituals.


image S.C.Skillman is the author of mystery romance novel "Mystical Circles" in which Juliet, concerned that her younger sister has fallen for the charismatic Craig, leader of a dubious New Age spiritual group, sets off for the Cotswolds to see the situation for herself. She arrives at Craig's community hoping to rescue Zoe. But intrigues, liaisons and relationships flare and flourish or fizzle out quickly within this close circle and, despite her reservations, Juliet is drawn into the Wheel of Love... with completely unforeseen consequences.
Mystical Circles is now available as an e-book on Amazon Kindle. You can find out more by visiting the author's blog at
Article Source:

Monday, November 17, 2014

$5 to illustrate your book? Yes, please! (a fiverr artist speaks up)


My post How to get your children’s book illustrated for $5 on fiverr inspired a veritable poo poo storm of hostility, not just from non-fiverr illustrators, but from many others in the children’s book world. 

That made me sad enough that I wrote a follow up post , Why hiring a fiverr artist for your kids’ book WON’T destroy the universe which inspired a poo poo storm of its own.

So when fiverr artist Eka Saputra, from Indonesia, stopped by to share his views in the Comments section, I felt he deserved a post of his own to hopefully bring some sanity to this stinky storm.

Here’s what Eka has to say:

After reading this post and the previous one, as one of freelance illustrator in fiverr, I can't stand not to post a comment to show you my perspective.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

GUEST POST: Writing Children's Books: Using Proper Fonts


(Guest post by Irene Watson.)

Writing a children's book is hard, but so is illustrating and designing it. Yet everyone seems to think he or she can create a children's book. Plenty has been written about why children's book authors need feedback from children on the story before they publish a children's book. But just as important is getting feedback on illustrations and from the adults who might actually be the ones who read the book to children. No matter how good the story might be, more than with any other type of book, how a children's book looks is going to determine whether kids or adults want to read or buy it.

In other words, hire a professional illustrator and a professional layout and design person. In this age of computers and all kinds of graphic design programs, everyone thinks she can design her own children's book. The result is usually a disaster made by someone who doesn't understand that less is more. Many things need to be avoided when designing a children's book. Based on years of experience reviewing children's books and seeing what my children and grandchildren have and haven't liked, here are a few tips on what not to do:

Unprofessional Artwork

With a children's book, a picture is worth a thousand words, and trust me, little kids know the difference between good and bad art. You may not be able to tell what they are depicting in their own drawings, but they know when something "sucks."

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

How to be a Super Blogger in 2015 (or why you should give up now).


You may have noticed that I don’t just write children’s books. 

And I don’t just write adult books.

A lot of what I write is here before you on this site.  For better or worse, I’m a blogger.  I’ve been at it for almost a decade.

When I started, I was a mom with a newborn, and that newborn turns 10 this winter.  She’s not the same, and neither am I.  And neither is the state of the blog world.

Here’s my “state of the blogger” analysis of what’s going on in the blog world.

Good news, bad news

The bad news

Blogging is very 2005.  When people hear that you have a blog, they run and hide.  It’s not a cool thing at all.  Hardly anybody under 30 has a blog, it seems.  They don’t have time to read anything more than about 175 characters.  Go over 500 words and you’re downright long-winded.  (Hope I didn’t lose anybody mid-paragraph.)

The good news

Some blogs today are very, very good.  Excellent, even.

The bad news

The good blogs are usually selling something.

Enter to win: “Chanukah Monsters” Holiday Disaster giveaway!


Chanukah’s coming… What could go wrong???

Well, Murphy’s Law of Holidays says anything that CAN go wrong WILL go wrong when it comes to holiday seasons.  But there’s no reason we can’t laugh about it now.

Tell me all about your biggest, baddest, funniest, craziest or most MONSTROUS Chanukah (or any other holiday) disaster and you could win my book Chanukah Monsters (softcover, 8.5” x 8.5”, full-colour paperback, retail value $8.99 on, including mailing anywhere in the United States or Canada (sorry, other people; I love you, but you’re too expensive!).

  1. One happy winner will receive one copy of Chanukah Monsters, by Jennifer Tzivia MacLeod (hey, that’s me!).
  2. Second and third runners-up will receive a free e-copy of any of my books available in digital form (winner’s choice).

    Come on… think up your worst disaster.  Get it off your chest and help the rest of us smile when we’re thinking about what could go wrong (or right) this year.  It doesn’t have to involve fire, or latke poisoning, but it could…

    To win: 

    1. Share your story in the Comments section below.  Nothing fancy; just a couple of sentences.
    2. But wait!  You ALSO have to enter via the Giveaway Tools contest box below (entering a comment alone isn’t enough).  The Giveaway Tools gadget offers you a few other cool ways to win.  These are all optional.
    3. Winners will be drawn on Nov 22/23 via Giveaway Tools, and results will be posted on this page.

    I can’t wait to see your stories!

Monday, November 10, 2014

DIY chapter books in Microsoft Word – a five-step cheat sheet.


Written five books for kids with nothing to show for it but a page of Kindle ebooks? 

It’s time to break into print, if only to have something to show your mom, and your friends, and your kids, and their friends, and… well, print books are just awesome in every way.  If you haven’t released one  yet, you should.

Even if your ebooks are selling great, you may not feel like a “real” author if everything you’ve done is digital.  There are other great reasons to print your stuff as well, especially for kids, even if the profit margins may not be as high as for ebooks.  (They’re not; sorry.)

It may sound like an exercise in masochism, but with a little patience, you can format your own book for print using nothing more than Microsoft Word.

The most popular thing on my site are my free children’s picture book templates, and it’s true:  I could have just made another template to help you do chapter books.  But take my word for it:  you don’t need a template for this.  I want to help you make the book you dream of, quickly and easily, using tools you already have.

That’s what this post is all about.

I originally wrote my new chapter book, No Santa!, in Scrivener, but I knew all along that print was in its future.  Scrivener can output to Microsoft Word format (.doc or .docx), but only provides minimal formatting.  Your book is definitely not ready to print yet.


But don’t panic.  It won’t take much to whip it into shape.  You will need a slightly more-than-basic familiarity with Word, but you don’t have to be a guru.  If you’re comfortable with stuff like Styles and Margins, plus Headers and Footers, you’ll be okay.

Here’s your five-step cheat sheet to take your naked manuscript, Times New Roman and all, and turn it into a professional-looking print-ready PDF:

1) Use global Styles rather than formatting

Don’t format your text!  What I mean by this is don’t just highlight individual sections of your text and set them up to look the way you want.  Instead, assign each section of your text to a particular Style – either one of the many built-in styles or styles you create yourself.  You can change the way that style looks once you’ve done that, and then every instance of that Style will be changed at the same time.  You will save yourself a TON of work in the long run.


I assigned all my chapter titles to the Heading 1 style.  Heading styles are important because they will show up in your Table of Contents later on, if you create one.  Of course, all of your text should be in the same Style.  I usually use the built in Normal style and then tweak the Style for the size and font I need.

2) Choose fonts carefully

Friday, November 7, 2014

How’s that pigeonhole working out for you? The pros and cons of genre-hopping.


How does your pigeonhole feel?  Nice and cozy?  Warm and safe?

Yeah, okay, I’ll admit it.  I don’t like being in pigeonholes.  Maybe you don’t either.

I like to stretch my wings, kick my legs, and fly free, as the mood strikes.  Isn’t that what makes what we do art instead of just churning out ad copy (though there’s definitely an art to that as well).

There are two schools of thought when it comes to “genre-hopping.”  

Monday, November 3, 2014

Ebook non-fiction: 3 rules to hook readers (and keep them coming back).


Ever felt like you couldn’t compete?

Want to know how your books can rise to the top?

Head over to Amazon and you’ll find a virtual deluge of nonfiction kids’ ebooks, and they’re not going away anytime soon.  Most are awful, a relic of the Kindle “gold rush.”  They repurpose free information, slap on free pictures, and charge anywhere between $.99 and $3.99 to call it a “book.”

I’ve recently converted a couple of the projects I created as a homeschooler into nonfiction ebooks, and discovered along the way that I really love writing kids’ nonfiction.  It’s even a little addictive once you get started.  I love creating books that teach kids about the world – in a fun way, so that ideally, they won’t realize they’re learning a thing.

So how do you do that in a way that doesn’t turn them off?  Or even do it in a way that keeps them coming back for more?  Don’t worry, it’s not as tough as it sounds (unlike getting them to line up for a second helping of green beans).

Staying afloat

Sure, it’s tough to stay above the tide.  It’s easy to despair when you see the numbers:  There is just so much out there, and more every day.

But I do believe that quality will rise to the top… or at least, some elusive mix of quality plus quantity.  If you publish a single Kindle ebook, it may not succeed, no matter how great it is.  But if you publish a whole series of them, and you acquire a loyal audience who enjoys reading them… then, I believe you will.

So how do you pick up that loyal following?

Friday, October 31, 2014

Write better, sell more books. Under a buck.


Want to write better?  Want to sell more books?  All for under a buck?

Of course you do.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re writing children’s books, blogs, or full-length adult nonfiction (or anything else).  The basics of writing and publishing in a digital age are exactly the same.

Lots of self-proclaimed “experts” will tell you how you can cash in on some kind of digital gold rush, but they’re all lying to you.  Their tips are gimmicky and most won’t hold true for more than a few months at a time.

Just in time for NaNoWriMo, two bestselling writers and one exceptionally prolific writing team have put together the Indie Author Power Pack.  It’s coming out November 3rd, but if you buy it now, it’s 88 cents.  That’s 88 cents for three books. 

This is easily the best 88 cents you will EVER spend on your writing career.

I literally stumbled across this today on Amazon, so I have no clue how long the presale deal’s going to last.

My current favourite, Write, Publish, Repeat (which I bought in audiobook, but have never sat down and read), alone must be over 100,000; it’s a monster (check out my review of Write Publish Repeat, plus my interview with its author, writer dad Sean Platt).  And it costs $5 all by itself. 

Again, the bundle is 88 cents. 

Get the deal here.

NOTE:  US-based viewers may see a price of 99 cents.  I wrote and published this post before I thought to check how it showed up here.  Here’s a screenshot of how the site comes through at my end:


(Which is funny, because usually we pay MORE outside the U.S.)

Let’s take a look at the math.

Write. Publish. Repeat., by Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant Let's Get Digital, by David Gaughran How to Market a Book, by Joanna Penn

That’s at least $15 worth of ebooks, and these aren’t some second-run thing put out by fly-by-nights who don’t know what they’re doing.  These are the superstars of self-publishing, who have been at it for years and want to share their ideas with you..

I just bought the bundle, and I can’t wait until it comes out.  You should, too, even if you already own one (or two) of the books.  Here’s your last chance for this post…

Get the deal here.

If you do get it, or if any of these books have helped YOU, let me know in the Comments.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Dear Amazon, what’s up with my Kindle prices?


How much thought do you put into pricing your books?

If you’re like me, it’s a lot.  Which is why it finally drove me around the bend that Amazon has been changing all my prices, without even asking nicely.

When you’re pricing a book, you probably pick a nice, clean number with a 99 on the end, a suffix that is invisible to consumers.  If a book is $8.74 (unless it’s clearly marked down, like from $9.99), it’ll stand out and look weird.

Know how I know?  Because for a long time, I’ve noticed that Amazon prices for my KDP ebooks look terrible.  They totally jump off the page.  Oh, they’re close to the numbers I’ve picked… but not exactly.  And that has slowly been driving me mad.

Just to pick a few titles at random, the prices were $5.11, $1.12, $5.14, $1.13.  Those are terrible numbers, numbers that jump off the page and make a buyer reluctant to buy.  That’s very frustrating, especially because I KNEW I’d priced them at $4.99, 99 cents, $4.99 and 99 cents. 

Why bother planning your prices if they’re just going to change, am I right? 

What’s going on here?

I eventually found out why this happens.  If you’re outside the United States, Amazon can tell from your browser’s IP address, and they adjust the price you see accordingly.  Without telling me, Amazon has been detecting my computer’s location and adjusting the prices accordingly.

At least there’s some GOOD news:  buyers inside the U.S. will most likely see the right prices for your books, namely, the ones you’ve so carefully chosen in KDP’s dashboard.

To test this, I ran my author page through two “anonymizers,” sites that hide your current IP address so nobody can tell where you’re surfing from.  One was in Europe and one was in the U.S. 

Here’s what the pricing looks like from each location:

Books for kids by Jennifer Tzivia MacLeod, available on 

There are all those terrible prices!  But look what happens if you’re seeing the same page from the U.S.:

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Writing children’s nonfiction ebooks: Adventures in Scrivener


Writing nonfiction ebooks? 

I hope so.  It’s a great way to get information out there into the hands of kids who (more and more) are reading digitally, as well as on paper. 

If you haven’t considered writing one of these before, you should, even if you think of yourself as a fiction or picture-book purist.  Think about it:  if you want to grab a book about facts, wouldn’t you rather it was written by an author with a terrific imagination and a gift for words? 

Those are gifts that come from fiction that can make your nonfiction simply awesome.

But that’s not what I want to talk about here.  I’m here to convince you that I’ve got the perfect tool for you to do it with:  Scrivener, a word processing program (that’s so much more) from a company called Literature and Latte.


Why should you believe me?  Because I hated Scrivener, just completely loathed the thing, at least at first…

If you’re looking to create basic 32-page picture books that are heavy on art and minimal on words, then Scrivener is NOT the program for you.

But if the book you want to create

Friday, October 17, 2014

Have you joined SCBWI yet? (and why I did)


Are you a member yet???

After a couple of years of putting it off, I finally joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) at the beginning of October, and last week, my membership package finally winged (wung?) its way across the ocean and made it here to me.

Yes, it’s true.  I’m legit now.


Well, kind of legit.  They have a checkbox when you join that forces you to admit that, if you’ve self-published your kids’ books (even if you have been published for adult writing, which I have), then you are not exactly a “published” author.

That part didn’t feel so good.

Nevertheless, I was excited to have a good look through “the book,” the writing / publishing guide and directory that’s included with membership, but there wasn’t much there I hadn’t seen elsewhere.  There’s some good information about self-publishing, and a helpful guide to publishing companies as well as author services and other resources.