Sunday, November 20, 2011

How important is it in children's books to start with a "hook"? Is it really necessary to present a problem or crisis at the beginning?

During a recent subbing assignment, I have the class assembled on the carpet for a read-aloud. The story begins with the promise of something fun that is going to happen. The fun thing is described, and plans are made to do this fun thing. Nothing much has actually happened yet.

By now we are to the middle of the book, and I have not been able to keep their attention, even though I have used my best dramatic voice and have interspersed comments and questions designed to help them relate to the story. I stop and put the book in my lap several times until the group is quiet.

Then, at the mid-point in the book, suddenly something happens that threatens to wreck everything. Instantly I have their complete attention. Everyone is worried and wonders what will happen--it is written on their faces. They are the perfect audience for the rest of the book, and interact appropriately with my questions to them.

Amazing. As soon as there is ACTION and a CRISIS, they are completely engaged. Until that moment, they are not all that interested. Too bad the action hadn't started sooner.

The reader needs to care about what happens to the main character: how is she going to deal with this problem? What will happen if the problem can't be fixed? Great dialogue and great description will not hold the reader's attention for long, unless the author has created tension in the story.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Something I've been struggling with in my mind for several months is learning how I might make my Curriculum Unit more teacher-friendly by aligning it with the new Common Core Standards. Listening to teachers and reading the school board reports, I hear that now everything in the classroom must be aligned to these standards.

The problem is, I don't even know what the Common Core Standards are or how I might do this. Subbing in various schools, I have picked up on the fact that teachers themselves are struggling to figure out the standards and what to do with them. So how is someone like me going to figure them out? And how important is it that I do this? The more I look into it, the more questions I have and I'm not sure who can even answer them.

I started by asking a few teachers, who seemed to think I was on the right track. Then I turned to the internet to find information. I don't know if I need to find someone to help me, or if I can figure out what I need to know by just digging around on my own. But there's only one way to find out--start digging. I'm already getting brain-strain.

I want The Orange Slipknot and my Curriculum Unit to be useful teaching tools in the classroom. Teachers will be more likely to buy them if the necessary work has already been done for them. As an author who is also working in the school system, I hope to use my knowledge and experience to help me market my book to teachers. Being an author is more than just writing a good story--there is lots of work to do after the book gets published.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

I have not updated my blog for some time, as I have been in a "writer's slump" for a few months. I made some nice sales over the summer, but since then, I've done very little marketing. It seems that I have exhausted most of my marketing ideas, some of which involve many hours of work for very little return. Schools and stores have both been hit hard by the economy and are not buying much. I've covered the library market in the western states. My ideas for a third book have not been exactly compelling, and again, knowing the budget woes of my primary markets--schools, bookstores and libraries--I wonder if I should even pursue that project. I've been struggling with guilt feelings.

However, in the past week or two, a half-dozen things "happened" that have recharged my writer's batteries. What a coincidence, huh? Actually, as a Christian I don't believe in coincidence; the Bible says that everything in my life is in God's hands, and it's true I had been talking to Him about my attitude.

A few months ago I read something about book trailers being a great way to publicize and market your book. I looked at one or two and thought, "Whoa! How on earth would you even make something like that? Forget that idea!" And I did.

Then a couple of weeks ago, I received an e-newsletter that talked up the importance of book trailers and included a how-to. Now I was more curious. I googled a few more how-to's, looked at more trailers to get ideas, and decided that maybe I could do this after all.

I love using my many photos in connection with my book, and I found some free music. It didn't take too long, and it was fun! As I wrote in an earlier post, it was much like working a jigsaw puzzle--you locate some interesting pieces, you move them around and try different things until it starts to look right. You find other pieces that seem to go with them. When those last pieces come together, it's such a satisfying feeling!

Here's what I came up with:

Monday, May 9, 2011

I haven't written for quite a while, but I am happy to report that the sequel to The Orange Slipknot--titled Starting the Colt--is finally in the publication process!

I did four school presentations this spring--I added some photos to my website. I have not started working on another book--my limited "book time" has been mostly spent on preparing presentation slideshows and talks, and marketing The Orange Slipknot.

Marketing is not my favorite activity but I force myself to make phone calls and send emails and faxes. It's never as bad as I think it's going to be, but I procrastinate and build it up in my mind so that I dread it. I am not a good salesman! But in today's publishing world, an author does really need to get involved in marketing.

I have received some great feedback from teachers on the curriculum unit that accompanies The Orange Slipknot. Such as, "These are JUST the kinds of questions we are looking for!"