Friday, February 9, 2018

What the Cat taught me: Lessons for authors from yesterday’s book covers


Do you have a favourite book from childhood?  You can probably visualize its cover, right? 
Just picture it in your mind's eye and maybe feel the nice, contented feeling that comes with curling up with a delicious book...

Well, this morning, I came across one of my preteen favorites sitting open on the floor where my daughter had left it when she went to school:  The Cat Ate My Gymsuit, by Paula Danziger:


This book meant a lot to me as a kid.  I think it was because of its open acknowledgment that life is sometimes lousy when you’re a teenager but also the gentle message that (thanks, Dan Savage!) it gets better.  That there is a light at the end of the tunnel.  And it does all that with the good-natured humour that the late Paula Danziger brought to all her books.image

I posted this picture on Facebook because it brought back so many memories.  But I also started thinking about both how dated the cover looks (it's from 1978) and also how I doubted publishers would put a picture like this, showing a slightly overweight, slightly depressed teen on the cover of a book today.

Searching Google to find a history of this book cover, and I discovered I was right.  The most current version of this book, on Amazon, just shows

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Make Research Pay: Turn “leftover” ideas into nonfiction children’s magazine articles


Do you groan whenever anybody suggests that your story needs more research?
Does the idea of diving into books and Wikipedia pages, old newspapers or archives bring back nightmares from high school, college, or some other period in your life?

I've been doing a lot of research lately for a chapter book I'm writing that takes place in medieval Egypt.  The subject is fascinating, I love it, but along the way, I've accumulated a ton of information locked up here in my mind... and nowhere to let it out.

Sure, I could write another book.  But I was looking for a quick way to use that information in a way that could help my career as a children's writer.  So I sold it to a kids' magazine, and now those ideas will have new life and reach a lot more kids than my book probably will.

The Problem with Research

I want to explain how, but let's back up a step or two for a second to talk about research overall -- and then I'll share some ideas for how you can make your research pay.

Even if you love writing, heck, even if you love how research gives your writing more depth and authenticity, you probably know at least three things about research already:
1) It's a lot of work - even if you love the topic
2) It eats up a lot of time - especially if you wind up going down all kinds of rabbit holes, as always happens to me
3) You can't just dump all your research into your manuscript or you'll kill readers with boredom!

This last point is most important:  even the most important research isn't always relevant to the story you're telling.  Which means that a lot of research, fascinating as it may be, is going to turn out to be a waste of time.


(This is me, researching my book!)

imageIn this interview with Writers' Digest, Andy Weir, author of The Martian and now Artemis, talks about his in-depth research process.  You can see there how much work he has put into researching every single detail for Artemis, the economics of the moon colony and space travel and whatnot, just like he spent years (while working full-time doing something else!) researching the science of Mars exploration for The Martian.

Dealing with “Leftovers”

Now, if Weir had tried gathering up everything he discovered and tossed it into the story, he wouldn't be the bestselling author he is today. 

So what do you do with everything you find when you research?

Well, you weave it