My very first published book, GET ORGANIZED WITHOUT LOSING IT, came out from Free Spirit Publishing in 2006. Happily, this little study skills and organization tool for middle graders has done extremely well, with more than 60,000 copies in print and editions in seven languages. Free Spirit felt it was time to update the book with some new material and new illustrations.
So – ta-da! – here it is! With fabulous cover and illustrations by Steve Mark.
The new edition features the same popular format, including pages that may be photocopied and lots of humor to guide kids through what might otherwise be the dull but necessary skills to succeed in school.
I’m very proud of this little book and its awards, but mostly I’m delighted whenever a student contacts me to let me know that GET ORGANIZED WITHOUT LOSING IT has helped them navigate the sometimes difficult waters of middle school.
This excellent post from Nerdy Book Club reminds me once again of the importance of author school visits. The post is written by a teacher, describing the enormous impact an author can have on a school – teachers discussing the presentation, students lining up to read, and students determined to write and illustrate their own work.
As a children’s author, I see this from the other side. I can attest to the rapt joy on a child’s face when they are given a glimpse into the world of story. I’ve exchanged correspondence with more than one reader fan after a school visit, and have watched from afar as that child matures into a serious writer. I know that by bringing my love of story-telling into a classroom I’m having a profound impact that will ripple for a long time.
One of the messages I bring to kids is that we each have our own unique story to tell. At a recent school visit, as I said this and pointed to kids, telling them that, yes, “You and you and you each have your own story to give to the world,” one boy shook his head, no. How will he learn to believe in himself without examples? I hope that by the end of my talk, as I gave him tools by which to find his voice, he felt differently. I know that just by being there, as a published writer with a love of expression (and as a former teacher), I offered a very different way of seeing reading and writing than what can be delivered through lessons and homework.
There are so many ways for teachers and librarians to raise funds for author school visits. Here are just a few links:
First, I’ve signed the contract for THE LAST TRUE KNIGHT. I’m very proud of this story. A girl who has visions, her brother who has been kidnapped, a mysterious knight, witchcraft, belief, a country in jeopardy, magic, dragons, the stars………………..
Another contract, for………..!
Second, I signed another contract that I can’t reveal just yet but is something dear to my heart. Let’s just say there’s a debut picture book in the works.
For THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE, Western states region
And finally, this.
Yes, an award, and such a special award it is. It is the acclimation of my peers, with the awarding of the Crystal Kite Award for THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE, in the western states region.
This means so, so much to me. Especially since it’s from members of SCBWI, the organization that is the foundation of my career. I look forward to celebrating this wonderful award with Montana SCBWI members, and beyond.
Thank you all. Because without you – readers and fans – I wouldn’t be sending new books out into the world. I wouldn’t be deeply thrilled by awards, like the Crystal Kite.
At 4:29 on 4/29, we all texted “I love you” to someone.
Some days are like that. You swing from one emotion to the next. And then you stop and take stock and realize there are lessons to be learned.
The Beckoning crowd blowing bubbles.
Last Saturday was one of those. It was Indie Bookstore Day, and I was fortunate to be a guest bookseller for a few hours at my favorite indie, Country Bookshelf in Bozeman. It’s a job I love – picking out the right book and putting it into the hands of an eager and grateful reader. And it doesn’t hurt that the folks who work at Country Bookshelf are simply the best.
Last Saturday was also the late Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s birthday, and if you are a writer and haven’t been hiding under a rock, you’ll know that my friend Kirby Larson started a global event called #MoreforAKR, which celebrated Amy’s extraordinarily giving and way-too-short life with acts of kindness and generosity. Here in Bozeman, the Library hosted a “Beckoning of Lovely” – one of Amy’s signature events. You can watch her initial event here:
Kiddos, as we got ready to hand out books to distribute
It was sweet, sad, joyous, and felt remarkably good. We had met Amy, who was a prolific author of many acclaimed children’s books, when she came to Bozeman for the Library’s Children’s Festival of the Book in 2014, so her passing was truly personal and this celebration was, too. Country Bookshelf contributed a ton of books, which at the end of the event we packaged and left for people to find around town.
Only a week earlier, our area lost another remarkable author, William “Gatz” Hjortsberg. Not only was he an incredibly talented writer, he was one of the most generous people I’ve ever met. His huge heart had room for everyone. When he walked into a party everyone lit up with joy. And, boy, could he tell a story.
They were each, in their own way, Amy and Gatz, people who gave life their all.
When we parted from the Library’s Gathering, librarian Cindy Christin handed each of us this card. I’m keeping mine on my desk, where I will look at it every day. It’ll remind me of Gatz, and Amy, and what truly matters.
I’m in the midst of a difficult revision. Difficult, because like many of you, I’m very distracted by the world’s goings-on. And difficult also because I’ve been challenged to amp up the work with this next draft. To go deeper, exploring characters and theme more fully, and adding tension to that dreaded middle.
I’m not complaining about the challenges, mind you. I want to write the best possible novel, one that expresses my most profound feelings – and those of my characters – while saying things that need to be said, all without didacticism or obviousness or shouting from the platform.
As agent/author Donald Maass has written so eloquently, authors are responsible for crafting books that uphold basic principles of honesty, compassion, and hope. This is especially true, I think, for those of us who write for children. So my so-called message cannot feel like a message, yet must convey those principles through subtext and character behavior all while my story grabs the reader and yanks her along with energy, mystery, and surprise.
I’m one of those writers who has to write every day. If I don’t put words on paper I feel like I’ve dropped the ball. But sometimes, in trying to write the best words, silence is required.
Sometimes it’s necessary to step back and not write. To just let the thinking happen without the effort. To ask my subconscious to work while I dream, or to doodle and noodle until the ideas pop.
Walking is very good for this. So is gardening, I find, and in the winter, knitting or making music or sketching. Sometimes travel helps. And sometimes, just sitting and staring into the distance – that thing I find hard to do. I’ve been doing all of these, trying to get everything to gel, knowing from past experience that once it does, the writing will come fast and furious.
It’s very difficult, this stepping into silence, especially right now. So forgive me if I do go silent for a bit while I noodle and doodle. I hope that the rewards of this silence will be great.
The number one question would-be and new-be children’s book authors ask authors like me is (no surprise) “How do I get my work published?” I understand, because I asked the same question when I was just starting out.
Here’s the thing: the publishing industry is a bit of a different animal than most. There’s no “shark tank”, no product application, no routine “I’ve got this idea” pitch forum. You can’t just walk into a publishing house and ask to meet Editor So-and-so. If you want to be published by a traditional house, whether one of the big five New York houses or one of the myriad smaller presses, there are certain ways to approach the business today.
The publishing industry has changed substantially since I began writing. For one thing, if you don’t want to work within the traditional industry, it’s very easy today to self-publish. I’m not going to discuss self-publishing here because there are plenty of other resources out there (and here’s just one I recommend.)
Today, many traditional publishing houses and editors are closed to unsolicited submissions. Some are still open, but you must know which ones and what their submission requirements are. Many prefer email submissions; some have reverted to hard-copy with SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope) submissions. Some accept queries only. Some accept queries and the first ten pages or three chapters. Some want the entire manuscript.
And many houses are closed, which means you must first find an agent to represent your work, which is just as difficult as finding a publisher.
If you want to become a traditionally published children’s author, here is what I can recommend.
(Note: I’m making one assumption here. You have already studied the craft of writing, and polished your manuscript to a high shine. You’ve vetted your work with critique partners. In other words, you’re not submitting your first draft, because that’s a waste of your time and energy. For more on writing craft see this page, and my previous blog post.)
The primary resource for information on the publishing industry in the children’s field is the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). If you are at all serious about being published, you should join. They provide mountains of information, including details about agents and editors and what they publish, how to submit, and who they represent. On a personal note, I would not be published today without SCBWI, and have been involved in the organization since my early writing days.
You can meet editors and agents at writing conferences or workshops, and those may be places where you can formally pitch, be formally critiqued, or be given the ability to send a query letter later. (But please – no unsolicited pitches during conferences. That is frowned on, big time.)
Having a paid critique from an author at a conference or other venue can be just as fruitful as meeting an editor or agent. An author can open doors for you if they think your work is ready. (However – asking an established author for a referral is only appropriate if you know that author very well, and if they have read your work, and if they have encouraged you to request a referral. It is not appropriate to request either a reading or a referral from someone you don’t know or barely know and who hasn’t read your work.)
Here are some further resources:
AgentQuery.com. About 1,000 agent listings and an excellent community/resource for any writer going through the query process.
Lately I’ve discovered some new writing craft books that have become staples of my reference shelf. I wanted to share my impressions of these recent releases, so I hope you enjoy.
THE EMOTIONAL CRAFT OF FICTION: HOW TO WRITE THE STORY BENEATH THE SURFACE, by Donald Maass (Writer’s Digest Books, 2016). I’ve long been a Donald Maass fan, and pretty much use every one of his craft books repeatedly, but this newest release is absolutely stellar. As usual, Maass sprinkles his essays liberally with exercises that can be applied to your work in progress. But the most important aspect of this newest work is that rather than dealing with the architecture of story-telling (i.e., plot, pacing, character, voice, etc.) Maass tackles the nebulous yet essential emotional journey the writer must invoke in the reader. I’ve long been a fan of brain science and have read a number of articles on the importance of story-telling to us humans, but this is the first time I’ve read a craft book that tackles the “how-to” of invoking our reader’s deepest emotions and tapping into our primal story-loving needs.
STORY GENIUS: HOW TO USE BRAIN SCIENCE TO GO BEYOND OUTLINING AND WRITE A RIVETING NOVEL, by Lisa Cron (Ten Speed Press, 2016). And speaking of brain science and story-telling…I read these two books back to back. They are a marriage made in heaven. It’s almost as if Cron and Maass were channeling one another. The difference is that Cron – who also plants exercises throughout – first taps into the character’s emotional journey through life and how that applies directly to her story, and then, in the second half of the book, delivers a very specific template for crafting a first draft based on the emotional path of the character. For me, the second half of this book didn’t work because I’m a die-hard pantser and abhor any boxed-in template. But the first half is dynamite. And if you like planning and outlining, you may love the second half, too.
THE HERO IS YOU: SHARPEN YOUR FOCUS, CONQUER YOUR DEMONS, AND BECOME THE WRITER YOU WERE BORN TO BE, by Kendra Levin (Conari Press, 2016). Full disclosure: Kendra is my editor at Viking Children’s. I totally love this book. And…surprise! It’s another book about how the brain works and how we writers must harness our individual emotions as the heroes of our own journeys. Kendra has also created numerous exercises to help writers cope with those ever-present nay-saying internal demons, and her research and anecdotal examples are fascinating. Kendra is also a certified life coach and I’ve participated in a coaching workshop with her, and if you are a writer – or any artist – who is struggling with self-doubt or fear, I recommend both this book and her coaching.
And one that I’m looking forward to….
THE MAGIC WORDS, by Cheryl Klein (W.W.Norton, 2016). I’m a fan of Klein’s SECOND SIGHT, so I’ve just put this one on order. When I heard Klein’s lecture at last year’s New York SCBWI conference, I came away with pages of notes. I’ll let you know what I think!
What about you – do you have any recommendations for new craft books?
“Kendra Levin at Viking has signed Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle author Janet Fox‘s second middle-grade novel, The Last True Knight. Edwina, living in Elizabethan England, sets out to find her kidnapped older brother and avenge her father’s murder while disguised as a boy, accompanied by an aging knight whose magical stories not only presage the obstacles they face but hint at larger mysteries. Publication is set for fall 2018; Erin Murphy of Erin Murphy Literary Agency did the deal for world rights.”
And here’s my own version of the novel, which I kind of think is more fun:
THE LAST TRUE KNIGHT addresses alternative facts and gender identity in a magical Elizabethan England.
This is a story I’m deeply proud of and hope will touch your hearts. No, it isn’t a sequel to THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE. But don’t lose faith.
This week, in a continuation of my focus on getting organized for the new year, I have some tips for teachers to share with you. And please do enter the grand giveaway for a classroom set of GET ORGANIZED WITHOUT LOSING IT, and more!
Here again is what the giveaway contains:
a complete classroom set of copies (25 copies total) of GET ORGANIZED WITHOUT LOSING IT
a hard copy print-out set of each of the reproducible worksheets
a hard copy print-out of the Activity Guide written by Deb Gonzales
a free fifteen-minute Skype visit to your classroom, grades 5-7
I’ve been a teacher, and I’ve seen students who have a hard time in school simply because they’re not organized. I’ve tried to work a few lessons into my schedule to teach some basic organizing skills. Here are some ideas for you, especially if you teach grades 4 through 7:
Most kids have no clue where their free time goes. They wonder why they can’t get homework done. Have students keep a record of their after-school activities and time spent on each for a day or two. Have them share any insights with classmates (there’s always a surprise or two!)
Does your school use a planner? If so:
Schedule a “planner walk-through” early in the school year. Students need to feel comfortable with their planners, and be able to customize them. Little things make a difference: “Do I write my homework on the day it’s due or the day I do it?” Show them how to clip pages to mark the current week.
If your school doesn’t have a planner:
Before entering middle school, kids need to learn how to manage their time. Teach “time awareness” by having them estimate how long something takes, then compare how long it actually takes.
You may already have a classroom cleanup time. I recommend that students clean up their desks, backpacks and binders, too. Guide them in this exercise to avoid the “dog ate my homework” look.
Give students interim deadlines on projects to teach long-term planning. Make sure they write these deadlines in their planners, with a clear path to their final goal.