Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Meeting the Market

Writing Wednesday

There's a great deal of wisdom hiding in the story of the three bears. Of the three, however, I nominate baby bear as the wisest. Why? Because he has everything just right--not too hot and not too cold.

People tend to see the world in dichotomies. Psychologists tell us that the tendency toward dualism (black/white, us/them, etc.) comes from the basic way our brains are wired that enables us to perceive me/not me. In fundamental cases, reducing the complex world to one of two cases serves us well. But living in a complex society, we're better served by an approach more like baby bear's: Neither extreme is as appropriate or adaptive as someplace in the middle.

So what does this have to do with integrity in writing?

There are two inaccurate caricatures of writers: the hack that panders to the market and the artiste whose work must be good because it is so obscure and impenetrable. At best, those stereotypes define the ends of a spectrum.

The goal of every quality writer should be to follow baby bear's example and produce books that are just right. Put another way, you need to meet the market halfway with your creativity.

Everything happens in context. The leading lights among us metaphorically stand a little taller or see a little further. Take your favorite genius (say Mozart or Einstein) out of context (i.e., drop them in the middle of Africa) and they're no longer a genius (or, more accurately, none of their new acquaintances care).

A quality writer produces a book with integrity when they take the parts of context, convention, and expectations, add their love, personality, and creativity, and come up with a whole that is greater than the sum. Indeed, it takes more creativity to do something fresh within a well defined context than to have a field day with a blank slate.

I once heard Stacy Whitman, Editorial Director for Tu Book at Lee & Low, ask rhetorically, "Do you write for love or money?" Her answer, "Yes".

Image: Simon Howden /

Monday, June 28, 2010

Symbolism in Literature

Hi, I'm Julie, new to posting here on Utah Children's Writers. Thanks for having me, and if you want to learn more about me and my writing, see my website at (It should be up by the end of today.)

I want to talk about symbolism in our writing. In todays commercial-type fiction, the importance of symbolism is frequently overlooked. We focus so much on the catch-phrases that have been drilled into us at every conference and every lecture--avoid passive voice, show don't tell, and watch out for cliche--that we forget about the finer points of writing that add depth to our story. And any story can have symbolism--YA, middle grade, or picture book.

Why is symbolism important? Because when a reader recognizes something as a symbol, it invokes an awareness of imagination that engages the reader's intelligence. Even a young child can recognize the symbolism in darkness and get that shiver of dread down their spine.

Here is a basic example of what I'm trying to say:
"When spring is mentioned in a story, a poem, or a play, a veritable constellation of associations rises in our imaginative sky: youth, promise, new life, young lambs, children skipping . . . on and on. And if we associate even further, that constellation may lead us to more abstract concepts such as rebirth, fertility, renewal." (Thomas C. Foster)

What about snow? Sleep? Flight? Even food? Having an awareness of symbolic associations will help us, as writers, create works that settle deep into our readers imaginations.

So, for my next few posts, I'll be discussing some basic types of symbolism that we can include in our writing to add that extra dimension and kick our writing up a level.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

How to Sell Yourself with VS Grenier

It‘s more than writing a good story or article when it comes to being noticed by publishers and editors. Think about it, how many bad books are out there making money? How many awful articles or stories have you read in recent publications? Do you wonder how these writers are getting published and you’re not? Do you think it has to do with the catch 22 system? In some ways it does, but knowing how to sell yourself is key. You’re not just a writer, you’re a Salesman! And the product you’re selling . . . is Yourself!

Readers tend to buy books from authors they know a little something about. They also buy books suggested by family or friends. Now stop and look at your bookshelf for a minute . . . how many books do you have sitting on your bookshelf from an unknown author? Chances are you have none and if you do, I bet it's only one or two books. That's because as consumers we like to buy products we've heard about or have seen around. There's nothing bad about buying products this way. However, as writers we need to understand this logic. Not just so we can sell books, but to help us build a fan base for our writing.

In some ways, marketing does have to do with the old catch 22 system, but knowing how to sell yourself is key, too! A year ago, I posted about this topic for a workshop I was working on for the MuseItUp Online Conference on many different writing chat boards. I asked some fellow writers to share their thoughts on the subject during my workshop. Here is what Kim Justesen had to say, “I agree that writers need to sell themselves. Publishers just don't have the time or resources to devote to EVERY author on their list. They won't schedule all the book signings, school visits, or other events for you, so you have to be willing to hunt those up yourself. Even getting some publishers to look at work requires that you sell yourself as an author. What is a query letter if not a direct sales piece to the editor about your work, and also about yourself as a writer?”

As writers we are a product, not just our books. Many writers aren't successful because they don't know how to sell themselves; let alone their writing. Jill Evans said, “I made the mistake as a first time published author in making the assumption that my big national publisher would handle all the marketing and publicity of my book. The same year my book was released, my publisher was sold and picked up as an imprint. My publicist went from handling 20 titles to handling over 100 titles. All I ever received from my publisher was a few press releases, a couple of posters and a little advertising of my book to go along with several other titles as new releases.”

I don’t want this to happen to all of you. I want you all to be successful and realize you need to be knocking on Success’s door instead of waiting for him to knock on yours. Many writers aren't successful because they don't know how to sell themselves; let a lone their writing. Over the next few weeks I'll be discussing the following topics to help you be a successful salesperson:

  • Query and Cover letters

  • Writing a Synopses

  • Websites

  • Blogs

  • Newsletters

  • Marketing Strategies

  1. FREE Media Releases

  2. Cross Promotion

  3. Book Signings

  4. School Visits

  5. Word of Mouth

Many writers think marketing is nothing like selling . . . and I'm here to tell you they are wrong. This is why some writers are great at marketing and others are not. My major in college was Merchandise Marketing. However, my marketing courses covered all types of marketing from PR firms to international marketing. I learned how Disney markets it products, services, etc. to how Random House Publishing handles marketing. The basic tools are the same and believe it or not . . . selling is at the heart of it. You have to understand the selling and buying process to understand marketing. Understanding your customer and their buying habits is the key. And knowing your product and what sells it, helps you market your goods so your customer will want it. Sounds simple doesn't it? Okay, maybe not simple, but it's simple enough and you can learn this.

To learn more about VS Grenier visit her website at or her blog The Writing Mama.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Success according to

I had a brave (read: random) moment today. I looked up my book on

Ta Da! It is actually on there. Wow!
hmm. You can buy it for a penny (plus shipping). New is going for $6.53.

I didn't even know that my first (and so far only) book had made it to Amazon. I thought it was a great day when I found it on eBay. But Amazon! The holy grail of authorship, right? I made it to Amazon. . . .

uh, my sales rank is #1,317,519


Once again I'm thinking about what it means to me to be a successful author. How do I (will I) define my success. That I'm published at all? That you can buy the book on eBay or Amazon? That I have a newspaper clipping of a positive book review?

When you define success by the numbers, you can guarantee you're going to fail. There will always be better-selling books ahead of you (in my case, 1,317,518 more). There will always be a book that's made more money, got more air time, made it to the sides of more buses, and sold more copies in Europe. (I did once have a bookseller in England who sold my book). Numbers will rob you of your success if you let them lure you in.

My success has to be the letters and comments I get from people whose lives were changed when they read my book. It's the emails from people who thank me for writing it. It's in the gratitude I receive when I learn how it helped educate a teacher or church leader. The success that will last--that will never fluctuate-- is the personal success in changing lives. You can't always see or measure the people who your writing will impact, but they are the legacy you want, they are the definition of success that will fulfill you.

If you make it to Amazon, fabulous! Look for me near the bottom. I'll be hanging out there writing my own customer review. If no one else will give it a 5 star rating, then I'd better take care of it myself.

(if you'd really like to see my Amazon page, click here.)

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Reading This Blog on Your Smart Phone

If you have a smart phone, it's easy to read this blog anywhere and any time. These instructions are specifically for my Android phone, but it should be equally easy on an iPhone or iPad. Since I don't have those, I can't give specific instructions. However, the instructions for those devices are probably very similar to these, so this post should still help you.

1. Install a blog reader on your phone. On my Android, I use the free, easy-to-use ReadAway app.
2. Configure the reader to pull the posts from this blog. It took maybe two minutes in ReadAway. The specific instructions will depend on your app, but it should not be any harder than typing the blog address.
3. Start reading.

You could also just go to the blog site using your phone's browser, but using a blog reader made for your device makes the blog fit nicely on your screen, improving readability.

Have an iPhone, Blackberry, or other device? Let us know which apps you use to read the blog.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Utah Children's Writers Blog is Now on facebook!

Utah Children's Writers is now on facebook! Come be a fan by following this link:

We are also on twitter: so if you tweet, give us a follow!

Please push this out to all of your children's writer friends!

Conflict and the Moral High Ground

Writing Wednesday

I recently listened to a history of the US Marine Corps from World War II (WWII) to the present. There's no such thing as a "good" war, but some of the conflicts during the last seventy years seem more necessary than others.

The Marines say that warfare is fundamentally a clash of wills, and the party with the stronger one will prevail. The will to fight and win is closely tied to the notion of the moral high ground.

What I noticed is that the party that has no choice but to fight often gains the moral high ground. Whereas the party that has more options literally has an uphill battle in the moral landscape because they have to show why choosing to fight is better than choosing not to fight.

This is why so many stories start when the protagonist's world changes because of the actions of the antagonist. The formally ordinary protagonist is forced do do something because of actions the antagonist chose to take. The protagonist essentially has no choice (because doing nothing isn't much of a story). That fact gives them easy access to the moral high ground.

This pattern is probably clearest in stories of overt conflict, but I think it applies just as well in stories about characters where the conflicts are primarily emotional. The character who is "forced" to resolve a difficult situation is more sympathetic than the character who chooses to cause the situation.

Keep this in mind as you develop your protagonist and your antagonist. The one who is forced into a conflict will almost always be more sympathetic than the one who chooses to cause the conflict.

Image: Simon Howden /

Monday, June 21, 2010

When WIP Equals First Draft

According to the poem that Taffy gave us on Thursday, "Tuesday's child is full of grace." Good thing I only act childish or I would be proving that completely wrong. Grace seems the farthest thing from me.

With that snide comment, let me introduce myself. I'm T.J. I write "Timothy Types TMI" (You can also see the link the right-hand column of this page. For the few people that may be wondering: Yes, I wrote the seemingly famous Survivor: LDS Authors blog post back in April. And for those following that blog, I got to give Annette Lyon thank you chocolates for helping make it famous this past week. See, I repay my debts! Anyway, I'm one of two Tuesday bloggers. So, on to today's topic.

Today, I'm going with a topic that is annoying me lately: when revising turns into rewriting. My current work-in-process is in its 4th version and 5th draft. I have decided to change my story a few times since I started it. Well, at least change some things in my story.

Let's digress a bit. Back in September, I attended The Book Academy at Utah Valley University (my alma mater, go Wolverines!) and had a chance to have a short conversation with the great James Dashner. In our discussion he talked about the difficulty that came with selling a series versus a stand alone novel. This was after the 2nd presentation that morning. I had already decided to rethink some of my work-in-process during Brandon Sanderson's keynote address. At this point, I was thinking, "Crap! I've really got to work on this."

So, I worked hard to make my story stand alone. I dropped a storyline (that I loved) in order to keep one that worked and made sense. And I worked hard at redoing this story and was so excited to present this revised copy to LDS Storymakers in April.

Well, as cool as LDS Storymakers is, the worst thing that I got from there was a lack of confidence in my writing. After the first morning's boot camp session, I decided I was going to have to start over again. And that 'start over' process led to a lot of annoying things.

The thing that is annoying me the most right now is that I've redone this story to the point that where I originally ended it is now a turning point to the story, the storyline I kept is completely dropped (which was fine since I hated it anyway), and I put back the main storyline I dropped. But now I'm arriving to the point where my already written stuff will no longer be recycled into this version. I have to come up with a few more ideas. Another try/fail cycle (or two). A few more characters. Another plot twist, because they're cool of course.

But you know why I'm doing this? I want to be published. When I talked to Dashner at LDS Storymakers, he asked if I'd learned much in the first day of the conference. My answer? "That I suck." His kind response was "I don't think that's true." Now, he's never read my stuff, but at least he sounded a little more sincere than some authors could be. Does my writing truly suck? In some ways, it does. But as I keep going through and revising, reworking, rewriting (almost like a recycle/reduce/reuse mantra) I know that I suck less and less. I've learned a lot of analytical skills to help me in my writing from everything I've done.

Yeah, it's a pain to rewrite. But it's more annoying to say "I'm a wannabe author."

Alien abductions are involuntary, but probings are scheduled.

Welcome to our New Bloggers!

You'll notice over the next week that we have new bloggers joining us here. I'm so excited for the new perspectives here. PLEASE take a moment and leave a comment for our new bloggers!

Friday, June 18, 2010

A Writer's Notebook: A Book for Kids about Writing

If you are looking for a good book for young writers, A Writer's Notebook by Ralph Fletcher has so many great ways to explain writing to kids. In the introduction he writes:

What is a writer's notebook, anyway? Let's start by talking about what it's not. A writer's notebook is not a diary: "Today it is raining. We have a substitute teacher named Miss Pampanella. She seems very nice. We are going to have gym right before lunch."

It's not a reading journal in which your teacher tells you to summarize the main idea of a book, or write a letter to a character. A writer's notebook is different from any journal you've ever kept before.

Writers are pretty ordinary people. They have favorite songs, favorite movies, favorite TV shows. Writers have Evil Big Sisters (and, occasionally, sweet ones). They get good or not so good grades, take vacations, paint their houses. . .

Writers are like other people, except for at least one important difference. Other people have daily thoughts and feelings, notice this sky or that smell, but they don't do much about it. All those thoughts, feelings, sensations, and opinions pass through them like the air they breathe.

Not writers. Writers react. And writers need a place to record those reactions. That's what a writer's notebook is for. It gives you a place to write down what makes you angry or sad or amazed, to write down what you noticed and don't want to forget, to record exactly what your grandmother whispered in your ear before she said goodbye for the last time.

A writer's notebook gives you a place to live like a writer, not just in school during writing time, but wherever you are, at any time of day.

A few years ago I was walking in Wheeling, Illinois, and I saw a rainbow so enormous it seemed to stretch from one horizon to the other. But there was something wrong with it-the topmost arch was missing. I came back to my hotel room, took out my notebook, and wrote:

The skies are so huge in the midwest! They just don't make skies like this back east. Today I saw a rainbow, beautiful and damaged, the top part washed away, gone. Never seen anything like it. Wonder what makes that happen. Had the winds swept away the highest clouds? Months later I began writing a series of love poems. I reread my notebook and found that entry. The words-a rainbow, beautiful and damaged-seemed to jump off the page. I used that phrase like a piece of flint to spark this sad poem I wrote:

First Flight

All the way home
I tried to forget
how your lip twitched
how your face flinched
I walked alone
under a huge rainbow
beautiful and damaged
upper arch worn away
just two broken pieces
dangling from the sky

What does a writer's notebook look like? There's really no right answer for this except that your writer's notebook should reflect your personality. Some writers prefer a pad small enough to stick in a back pocket. Others have beautiful notebooks with wildflowers on their covers, and others with plain brown covers. My wife's notebook has unlined pages because she likes to sketch in it, as well as write. My notebook is really supposed to be a business ledger, with lined, numbered pages. It has a hard cover and a very sturdy binding, which is good because I drag it with me wherever I go and it gets banged up a lot.

A notebook doesn't even have to be made from paper, really. Often I work on my "notebook computer" while I'm flying from one city to the next. But a notebook doesn't have to be expensive or fancy-a plain notebook from the stationery store will do just fine.

The book is a paperback with 11 short chapters, 138 pages in all, filled with "suggestions" for ways to use a writer's notebook "to sift and collect important things from your life, stuff that may prove valuable in later writing." It is written with younger writers in mind, but I think this could be a valuable tool for pre-teens and teens as well as adults.

Take a look inside on the Barnes & Noble website

Extraordinary Characters by Danielle N.

I’m Danielle; an author of MG fantasy novels, Sarah invited me to share on a more monthly scale.

Extraordinary Characters

We all repeatedly hear the importance of our characters: Without good characters that readers can relate to and like to the point where they care about what happens to that character; we have no story. In this post I am just going to expound upon the affect the characters can have on our stories.

There’s this popular series that I’ve enjoyed reading recently. A few days ago I read a review on it that roughly stated; ‘I think this book is so good because of the depth of its characters.’ Reflecting on it, I realized that I agreed completely; the characters were really well done; they had definite personalities, great backgrounds, et cetera…

Considering the matter further I realized—no offense to the author, I am still a big fan of hers and of her series—the plot was awful. In fact there was practically no plot; it was about a girl who moved into a new neighborhood and kept meeting the different neighbors. There wasn’t anything ‘special’ about the neighbors or the neighborhood; they were all normal everyday people living in a normal everyday place. The book turned out so well because the characters the heroine was meeting and socializing with were so remarkable.

What if we strove to write stories with THAT level of character development AND a GREAT PLOT?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Greetings From Thursdays Child

Do any of you remember this poem:

Mondays child is fair of face,
Tuesdays child is full of grace,
Wednesdays child is full of woe,
Thursdays child has far to go,
Fridays child is loving and giving,
Saturdays child works hard for his living,
And the child that is born on the Sabbath day
Is bonny and blithe, and good and gay.

How appropriate I'm Thrusdays child. I have far to go in my writing but I'm working it.

I love to write. My writing may not be good or change the world but I get such a lift from writing. When I turn off my computer after meeting my goals, I feel recharged and the mommy juice is full again. My family should be grateful I take time to write. Alas, it also means many things fall by the wayside like a clean house. But who cares when mommy is happy?
If I'm not editing, I'm blogging, writing poems, eating chocolate, weeding the garden, being a mom and wife.
I'm excited, nervous and grateful to be a blogger for Utah Children's Writers.

I have four stories I've written; two are YA, one is sci-fi and one, historical romance. The sci-fi is in critique right now.

I'm in an awesome critique group. Two others write on this blog as well. Hi Julie and Scott!

I've learned many great lessons from my group (and not just that I stink at grammar):
We all write on different levels.
Every story is unique, just like the person who wrote it.
I trust their critiques and ideas.
It's up to me which way my story will go.
It's up to me how hard I work.

What is the best advice you received as a writer?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Barely Flooded

Hello, my name is Deren Hansen and I'm a Utah writer ... (wait, that sounds a bit too much like a meeting for a twelve-step program--something I've heard well-meaning family members suggest to aspiring writers).

I'm currently shopping my second novel (a steampunk adventure for young adults, thank you for asking), and blog at The Laws of Making. Sarah invited me to share my Writing Wednesday posts.

Writing Wednesday

Not too long ago I found a post by Eric Cummings in which he shared the one basic, iron-clad, always-applicable rule of writing: say what you mean and mean what you say.

Eric said that in one of his first writing classes he thought he had a fairly good story, so he was surprised when the teacher read the first line and then stopped. His first line was, "Morning light barely flooded the room." The teacher asked, "What do you mean, 'barely flooded?'"

Barely flooded-- the words fight each other: to flood means, "an abundant flow or outpouring," so how do you barely have an abundant flow or outpouring? The senses of the two words are so different that the thing described can only be one or the other. It's the literary equivalent of the garlic ice cream I once sampled--my taste buds couldn't decide whether it was savory garlic or sweet ice cream.

The problem with thoughtless constructions, like "barely flooded," is that they interrupt the reader's flow and force them to worry that the author doesn't have either the language or the story under control.

The one fundamental rule of writing is that we must use our words deliberately and be willing to take responsibility for each and every one of them.

Image: Simon Howden /

Monday, June 14, 2010

New Bloggers Needed

We need more bloggers for this blog. If you'd like to help, please leave me a comment below!


Saturday, June 5, 2010

The Magic of "What If?"

by Scott Rhoades

If you've told many people that you write, chances are that you've heard one of the typical responses: "I'd love to write, but I can't think of any good ideas."

Ideas come from many places. We get them when we travel, while we read, or when we think about our lives. But there's another way to generate ideas, one that can work every time.

I'm talking about the magical "What if?"

Just sit down with a piece of paper and make a list of what ifs. Don't worry about whether they're any good. If you make a list of 25, chances are only oe or two will really inspire you to write. Don't think about whether they're too weird, boring, cliche, or anything. If you usually write in a certain genre, don't even worry about that. Just make a list of as many what ifs as you can think of.

* What if you're on vacation in Paris and you hear that the U.S.A. has been invaded and you can't get home?"

* What if skeletons invade an amusement park?

* What if all the cows in the world suddenly disappear?

* What if you discover that your cat is an alien?

* What if you woke up one morning and you were suddenly seven feet tall?

* What if you found a treasure map in your grandfather's attic?

Once you start, it's easy to keep going, especially if you don't think too much about what you're writing. Write enough what ifs and you're sure to get the spark of a story. You might even be able to combine some, giving you your plot and a couple subplots.

You could even come up with a random story generator. Divide your paper into three columns. In the first column, put different kinds of characters: soldiers, children, zombies, and so on. In the second column, list interesting verbs. In the third, list complications. Actually, the second and third columns could be just about anything you want. The idea is that the the three columns together create what if statements. Then randomly choose from each column.

Then, after you start your story, continue to ask what ifs about your characters and their situations. This will help keep you from getting stuck.

Even if you don't end up with a great story idea, you've spent some time getting your creative juices flowing, and I'll bet you've had some fun and even a few good laughs.