Archive for the ‘Help for Beginners’ Category

*Warning! Shameless plugs and gushing ahead!*JumpFroggiesfinal

Here is a riddle:

By the pond you spot a sign: Writing for Children. In the pond, three frogs sit on a log. One decides to jump.

How many are left on the log?

Three–because there is a difference between deciding and doing.

Author Edith Hope Fine has written a wonderful book for beginning authors and veteran authors as well.

Here is the description:

Do you dream of writing for children but don’t know where to start? Jump, Froggies!: Writing Children’s Books is the perfect book to start you on your path to publication. Award-winning children’s book writer Edith Hope Fine takes you on a step-by-step journey through the world of children’s book publishing. From writing techniques to jump-start your creativity to how to submit your work, from getting your work published to marketing yourself and your projects, this book includes more than eighty-nine practical tips, plus journaling ideas for aspiring writers. Jump, Froggies! is a must-have for anyone beginning a career in children’s books.

*Shameless plug #1* My blog buddy Sarah Tomp and I each contributed to the eighty-nine practical tips.

*Shameless plug #2* I designed the cover and interior art for this book.

Here comes the gushing part: Jump, Froggies! is a must-read for all budding authors. Edith Hope Fine is a genius, she delivers a wealth of information in a clear and concise manner. The tips are sometimes humorous, sometimes thought provoking, but they are all very helpful. This book will be on my recommended reading list.

So go out there and start writing,

Suzanne Santillan

Writing on the Sidewalk

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I spent Monday working in a high school. My job takes me to various public schools, but I spend most of my time in elementary schools. Even though I currently live with a teen, it is always good to hang out with real teens. To see them in action, to listen to them talk, to be reminded who my ideal YA readers are.

If you write for young people, there is an excellent chance that at some point you will be interacting with your readers.

We can’t always predict what your readers will ask (see Suzanne’s post), but you have to be ready for as many possibilities as you can anticipate. I’ve set WIPs aside because I realized I didn’t want to have to represent–or defend–a particular topic or issue. 

May I suggest a Meet Your Reader Test? Some questions to think about:

  • Do you want to talk face to face about your topic/theme?
  • Does the topic thrill you? 
  • Are you an expert?
  • Do you have more to say on the subject than you could ever fit within the confines of a book?
  • Does the story lead you places you want to be?
  • Are you ready to face any controversies that could arise from a discussion about your book?
  • Can you calmly discuss opposing views?

Yes? Well then, write on!

Sarah Tomp



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We had such a great response from my post about creating great promo materials with Kelly Bennett  that I decided to do a similar post. I consulted author David Biedrzycki on the subject of school visits. We have featured David and several of his books here on the blog and I am pleased that he could share some of his insights with us today. David visits 70-80 schools per year (sometimes two in one day) and I would consider him an expert in his field. DavidBiedrzycki 
WOTS: How do you book these events?
Since I do not get help from my publisher I rely on several things:
  • My books being popular and in the school market.
  • Word of mouth.
  • Presenting at State Library and Reading conferences.
  • Networking.
  • Always being prepared, on time and just really nice and appreciative to those who bring you into a school. This will help your career.
  • Librarians, teachers and PTA members share a lot of information.
It is not cheap or easy bringing an author in for a visit. Funds must be raised or procured. Teachers and administrators must be onboard. Students must be made aware of the authors work.
If you do a good job word spreads fast. Also, if you don’t, word spreads faster.
Develop a unique and fun program. Easier said than done, I know, but eventually, just like writing or art, you will find your voice and your presentation style.
I use Facebook to keep in touch with those who’s schools i have visited. I make them aware of new books, stories and art I’m working on.
I also change and update my presentation all the time. There are something’s that stay the same. Teachers and administrators want to make sure you touch on some of the common core standards and you discuss the process of writing a story.
I try and make my presentation fun and fast moving. I rarely read from a book to a group larger than 30. On average my presentations are usually projected onto a big screen and to groups of 200+. I rely on this to keep the students engaged.
Life comes at kids fast these days and you have to do the same.
It’s amazing how they grasp all of it, but they do.

WOTS: Do they approach you or do you approach them?

DB: They approach me most of the time.
The only time I approach librarians or schools is when I’m going to be in the area and they have gotten in touch with me before about a possible visit. DragonCover

WOTS: Can you describe a typical visit?

DB: I’m usually contacted months in advance and a date and fee are set up.
I usually  send out a contract outlining the specifics about my visit and what is expected from both of us as far  as fee and travel expenses if there are any.
As the time approaches we discuss arrival time and schedule. I usually like to arrive an hour beforehand to meet the ones responsible for having me visit, set up and get my game face on.
I usually do from 3 to 4 presentations a day. Sometimes I will meet with two schools in the same district on the same  day doing two presentations at each school.

WOTS: Do you have any special links or connections for our readers?

DB: Sometimes the International Reading Sssociation has information about local and state conferences where you can try to attend.
AASL also has information about their conferences too.
I also suggest starting your speaking career at public libraries. They are always looking to bring authors in. Although they have little or no funds it is a great way to get yourself in front of kids and learn how to present.

Thank you, David for sharing with us today. If you like to know more about David and his work, be sure to visit his website. David’s newest book, BREAKING NEWS: BEAR ALERT will be released in October 2014. You can be sure we will mention it here on the blog.

Happy School Visits,

Suzanne Santillan

Writing on the Sidewalk

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VampireBaby-72dpiThe other day I ran across the promo materials for the book Vampire Baby (Candlewick, 2013) written by Kelly Bennett and illustrated by Paul Meisel. I was blown away. The materials were everything book promo materials should be; entertaining, creative, colorful and built to enhance the reading experience. In my opinion, the materials were a perfect example of how to promote your book. I felt I had to share this with our readers. I have asked author Kelly Bennett a few questions about the creation of the materials and her answers (including links) are posted below:


1. Did you develop the kit on your own with your illustrator or did you have outside help? 

Sure . . . perhaps . . . maybe I could have developed my own promotional materials, but it would have taken loads of time and research—time I could be writing! Besides, why would I when I have an amazing bunch of creative colleagues who are experts? And as for that elephant in the room—money-moola-jingle-cash—$$$ wise professional-quality materials costs less than you’d imagine…much less.

Yes, I have worked with illustrators on promotional materials, but it is not the norm. Terri Murphy, illustrator for two of my books, Dance, Y’all, Dance and One Day I Went Rambling, (Terri Murphy: http://www.terrimurphyart.com/) created SWAG, and our Blog Tour promo material. Vampire Baby illustrator, Paul Meisel, (Paul Meisel: http://www.paulmeisel.com/) served as consultant and adapted art for the Vampire Baby Story Hour Kit and Book Trailer http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=acEzh7iOhVU&feature=youtu.be.  What’s nice about working with the illustrator is that the cost and promotional materials can be shared.

I always check with the publisher’s marketing department to ask if they are creating promotional materials for my books. And if they have ideas about what materials are especially effective. (I also ask if they are willing to help with costs—sometimes the answer is yes!)

Screen Shot 2014-02-05 at 11.23.29 AM

2. How much time do you spend creating additional activities for your books?

Even though I don’t “create” my own supplemental materials, I do take an active part in their creation—from brainstorming ideas, defining themes, choosing activities, creating copy, coordinating efforts, proofreading—all of which does take time. I begin jotting down ideas for support material as soon as I have signed a contract on a book. Once the book goes to print—about a year before the publishing date—I begin seriously working on supplemental material and SWAG. My goal is to have the Teaching Guide and Activities posted on my website, and SWAG in hand prior to pub date.

I keep a “When my book get published” file with ideas for each book. Of course, I check out what others are doing, and the best ideas go into my file. TeachingBooks.net’s database of instructional materials to support K–12 reading and library activities is an excellent source.

Too, as my books are traditionally published, I need to secure permission from my publishers, and when art is involved, from the illustrator, for any/all promotional material, activities, guides, SWAG, trailers, etc. Which takes time, too. (Additionally, some publishers have specific guidelines regarding supplemental material, what can and can be posted on your website, etc. So be sure to check!) The folks at my publishers are delighted with these efforts and are eager to help. However, as any/all materials relating to my books also reflect on the publisher, they do expect final approval.

Don’t Freak or Stress if you don’t have time or jingle to do all of this before your pub date!

In fact I think it’s better not to post everything at once. Adding new material later is a nice way to freshen your website. Besides, new material=new news to share on social media= new energy and attention for your books!

Screen Shot 2014-02-05 at 11.24.10 AM3. Do you have some suggested resources for our readers?

Here is the contact info for the talented band of creators with whom I work. Contact them for pricing, availability and help creating supplemental materials for your books!

Picture book author, retired K-teacher, puzzle wiz, Doris Fisher creates puzzles & activity sheets—mazes, word searches, matching, crossword, etc. http://abcdoris.com/

Author, Educator, Consultant, Deb Gonzales (who’s Simple Saturday blog featuring a new fun, inexpensive craft each week Simple Saturday: http://www.debbiegonzales.com/simple-saturday/), creates CCSS Annotated Teaching & Activity Guides. http://www.debbiegonzales.com/

Library/School Story Hour Kit and I Vant My Vampire Baby=Free Books for Your Library Contest was created by marketing maven Kirsten Cappy of Curious City. http://www.curiouscity.net/

Vampire Baby Book Trailer was created by Tech wiz, author & artist Nathan Hale of Ink in Motion http://inkinmotion.wordpress.com/

Graphic genius, Lindsey Cousins of Bayside Graphics designs and has printed bookmarks, brochures, stickers, postcards, posters, etc. https://www.facebook.com/LindseyBayside

TeachingBooks.net, online multi-media resources for K-12: http://www.teachingbooks.net/

Thank you Kelly, for sharing this information with our readers. If you’d like to win a copy of Vampire Baby for your library details can be found on Kelly Bennett’s website. And while you are on her site be sure to check out some of the other great promotional materials for Kelly’s other books.

Happy Promoting,

Suzanne Santillan

Writing on the Sidewalk

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This week I’d like to discuss traditional vs. self publishing. In the not so distance past, if an author wanted their work published they had very few options. An author could try to get work published the traditional route or they could spend tremendous amounts of money to publish their own work. Financially, self publishing was pretty cost prohibative which left traditional publishing as the only viable option. Today with the introduction of e-readers and print on demand the self publishing world has become relatively inexpensive.

So you’ve written your story and now it’s time to decide which publishing route you’d like to take. In order to help you make this decision, I’ve created this handy dandy flow chart:


As with anything worthwhile there are always pros and cons. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you make your decision:

Traditional Publishing


  1. You have the backing of a large publishing firm for editing, promotion, and sales.
  2. There is no output of cash and most publishers will arrange a cash advance for your work.


  1. Time- It can take years to find a publisher interested in printing your manuscript and several years after that for an actual publishing date.
  2. Control- You will not have control over major decisions; cover art, release date, sales locations and even titles.

Self Publishing


  1. Time- You don’t have to wait years to publish your books. A reputable e-publishing firm can help you prepare your manuscript in a matter of weeks.
  2. Control- You have control over major decisions; cover art, release date, sales locations and even titles.
  3. Money- All profits go to you.


  1. You are responsible for editing, promotion, and sales.
  2. All this freedom comes with a price and you will be responsible to pay.

One final thing to remember: Whether you choose to go the traditional or self published route it is important to make sure that your manuscript has been edited.

Happy Writing,

Suzanne Santillan

Writing on the Sidewalk

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As I mentioned in my last post, I will be spending the next few weeks sharing tips and tricks for beginning authors. Today I’d like to focus on the final goal. Before you can determine the path you would like to take, you must decide what you want to do with your writing. Are you looking for a way to share some cute stories with family and friends? Or are you looking to be the next best selling author? There are many people out there who are convinced that they have the next hot book. The reality is, that there are tens of thousands of books published each year and only a handful will see a measure of success.

To help you determine your writing goal, I created this handy-dandy flowchart:flow chart

Here is a sample of some spiral bound documents. As you can see, they come in a lovely variety of colors.

Here is a sample of some spiral bound documents. As you can see, they come in a lovely variety of colors.

Whether you decide to create a small set of copies for friends and family or pursue the world of publishing, the next step is to sit your bottom in the chair and write.

In the next post for this series, I will discuss the differences in traditional and self publishing.

Happy Writing,

Suzanne Santillan

Writing on the Sidewalk

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Winnie the Pooh mapI’ve been thinking about maps.

Maps have always been a part of my life. My father loved them. He used them everywhere we went – and he made them. One of the reasons I was able to spend idyllic summers in Maine was that he was mapping the geologic formations of the state. One summer he even hired me (for reasons I don’t understand) to help him with the pain-staking pre-digital process of coloring his maps. 

One of my favorite anecdotes regarding my youngest boy-child – the one who is most like my father – is how when he was about two or three he loved to look at the maps we had in the car. I’d be driving along listening to him make thoughtful toddler murmurings and laugh and laugh – over a map. Very curious, indeed!

Treasure Island MapWhen I am teaching writing, I often have my students make a map. I find it’s helpful to do this in order to make one’s setting real and concrete. As you make choices as to where important locations fit within the space of the map, questions and concerns come to mind. It’s easier to imagine characters inhabiting the place of it.

I use some of author Holly Lisle’s ideas regarding map-making. Follow her instructions for a do-it-yourself workshop. 

And Julie Larios wrote a lovely musing on literary maps for the Horn Book. 

Make it real.

Sarah Tomp


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As an author, I would have to say that the phrase I most often hear from others when they discover that I write for children is:

“I’ve always wanted to write a children’s book.” 

The second most common phrase is:

“How do I get started?”

During our break I was contacted by several new authors who were looking for tips and tricks to writing a children’s book. I found myself repeating the same information for each person and after the third time (I must be a slow learner) I decided that in the coming year I will address some of those questions that beginning authors have about this whacky world of publishing.  I have created a new category for the blog titled “Help for Beginners” and it is my hope that in the coming months I can share this basic information and place it one easy to reach location.  I will be reposting or linking to some of our older posts that address these issues as well. In addition to our own posts, I will be searching out great posts to share with our readers.

If you can think of any issues that you would like us to address please let us know. Place a simple comment at the end of the post and I will do my best to write about them in the coming months.

Happy Writing,

Suzanne Santillan

Writing on the Sidewalk

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