Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Newsletters for Writers - Part 2

This week I'm continuing the article I started a few weeks ago on useful newsletters for writers. Most of the ones described here are free. I'd love to have your recommended additions to this list. Leave a comment or e-mail me directly at maggielyons66 at gmail dot com and I'll add your comment/suggestion to this blog.

Children’s Bookshelf
Publisher's Weekly delivers its free Children's Bookshelf newsletter semi-weekly (Tuesdays and Thursdays) via e-mail. It features news specifically geared to the children’s publishing industry, with an emphasis on books and authors. The website's Children’s page at features news about authors, the publishing industry and new books. You can sign up for the Children’s Bookshelf newsletter on the E-Newsletters subscription page at

Funds for Writers
Author C. Hope Clark’s free newsletter Funds for Writers, which has won numerous Writer’s Digest 101 Best Websites for Writers awards, is delivered weekly via e-mail.  Funds for Writers offers “tips and tools for serious writers to advance their careers!” Though not targeted specifically to children's writers, most writers can benefit from resources that include writing and marketing advice, competitions, grants, awards, scholarships, jobs, freelance markets, and much more. You can subscribe to the free Funds for Writers newsletter on the website’s Newsletters page ( The website at also offers information on grants, contests, markets for freelance writers, and tips.

Total FundsforWriters
For $15 a year for 26 issues you can subscribe to Total FundsforWriters, which features more comprehensive information on competitions, grants, markets, jobs, publishers and agents.

The Publicity Hound
Publicity expert Joan Stewart’s free ezine, which offers “tips, tricks, and tools for free publicity,” is delivered Tuesdays and Saturdays via e-mail. The website features “more than 1000 blog posts and articles, hundreds of learning tools, and lots of free advice on how to tell you story to the world.” You can sign up for the ezine at the Ezine page which also has an index of back issues. The blog page categorizes articles by topic.

 Publisher's Lunch
PublishersMarketplace’s  free “daily dossier,” Publisher's Lunch ( delivers daily e-mail updates on publishing industry news, including activity among publishers, literary agents, and in the job market. A full version of the “dossier” is available for a subscription fee. Paid membership in PublishersMarketplace offers access to databases of agents, editors, writers, a book review index and latest releases. 

Social Media Examiner
Michael Stelzner’s well-written and highly informative magazine—“the world’s largest online social media magazine”—delivers via e-mail a free weekly summary of forum topics (forums are what SME calls “clubs”). You can subscribe at the Free Updates page on the website at The website offers access to Facebook, Small Business, and Blogging “clubs” (or forums) and publishes an annual Social Media Marketing Industry Report. The Browse Categories drop-down menu offers resources on a variety of topics including tools, case studies, how to’s, educational videos, expert interviews, and more. The Starting page offers numerous tips on how to use the most popular social media (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Pinterest, YouTube, and blogging sites to best advantage at Social Media Examiner also hosts a marketing podcast show and a conference.

Writers and Authors
Author Jo Linsdell’s blog site, Writers and Authors, features resources such as a list of useful websites and blog posts on a variety of topics from using Twitter to doing virtual book signings. The posts are accessible via a chronological blog archive. A scrolling sidebar features writing contests. You can enter your e-mail in a window on the Home page to subscribe to the free Writers and Authors newsletter and you can also sign up for Jo’s podcast.

Writers Digest
Writer’s Digest “is the one-stop shop for information, resources and writing community,” offering forum, blogs, webinars and other online educational resources, a conference, competitions, books, a free weekly newsletter, and more, for writers. On the website, the Articles tab has a drop-down menu that leads to a Young Adult/Childrens’ page (  where you can find free articles on items of specific interest to children’s writers. You can sign up for the free weekly newsletter, delivered via e-mail, on the website’s Subscribe page at The newsletter features “tips and expert writing advice.” When you sign up, you get a copy of Writer’s Digest’s list of 101 Best Websites for Writers. For a fee, you can subscribe to eight annual issues of Writer’s Digest magazine.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Skype Makes It Happen

My guest this week, children's author Margot Finke (who also has a manuscript critique service) talks about using Skype to make school visits across the country. 

I have always thought of reading as a Magic Carpet Ride to fun, adventure, and faraway places. I write books for kids because I want them to hop on my Magic Carpet and take a ride somewhere fun and exciting.

I have visited the schools in my district several times – but what about all the other schools in the US, and elsewhere, that it is not practical for me to visit?  And there are many schools that have never had the chance to meet an author,  discover how books are actually written, and ask the author questions.
And then it hit me . . .

All schools need is a Skype connection, a willing and dedicated teacher or librarian, and an author who loves to HOOK Kids on Reading – ME! Now for the nitty-gritty:
Places You Can Find Willing Teachers or Librarians
Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Linkedin and Jacket Flap are great for starters.  Check these places, as well as Yahoo, for writing list, and groups with schools, teachers or librarians.  Watch for anything that pops up on your IN box from or about teachers, schools, and libraries.  Put these all into a separate folder for later contact.
Join up with Skype and get your password and Skype name.  Then register for Skype in the Classroom.  This is where teachers go to find suitable virtual visitors to their classrooms. There you write a blurb about the Skype services you offer schools. This is my Skype Classroom page:

How to Promote Your Personal Skype Visits

You need a blog or web page that is dedicated to your Skype School Visits.  List a short bio + the titles of your books and where they can be purchased.  A simple uncluttered format works best. 

List class program for the grades your book(s) might interest, and stress that you are happy to fit in with curriculum needs. Offer to chat further about the teacher’s class needs, and your willingness to compromise if necessary. Add a link to this site, and any other blogs you feel would be of interest. Include your email address.

Be a Promo Ho!
Use every Social Media resource to promote your Virtual Skype Visits.  Draft a selection of promotional notes and keep them handy.  Every day, slip one of them onto the appropriate Facebook, Google+ or Twitter sites, etc.  Make sure you have a link to your SKYPE Blog on all your other blogs and websites. EXAMPLE:
Virtual Skype Visits
Get your class into reading overtime with
Mary Writer – author of 3 picture books
(Make sure your email address is on your Skype blog)

When a Teacher Contacts You . . .
As soon as you hear from an interested teacher, reply with details regarding what you offer. If she has never Skyped before, exchange Skype addresses. Then plan a practice run ahead of time. A friendly chat, with you offering ideas and help, will go a long way toward creating teacher support and enthusiasm. Ask what grade she teaches, the number of students, and if there is something special she would like from you.  Find out how much time you will have for it all.

Offer a package that fits the teacher’s class needs.  EXAMPLE:FIRST GRADE: Book Reading, short chat about writing your book, and Q and A time. Kids love to ask questions: Approx half an hour.
GRADE #2 and #3: Book Reading, chat about writing your book, ask about their writing, favorite books, and talk about some aspect of writing. Q and A time:  Approx 45 minutes.

The higher the grade, the longer the attention span, and the more likely a teacher will want some sort of short writing lesson, or an expanded version of how you write a book, and what is important in a great story.

A happy teacher, confident that you have done a terrific job, will pass on a good word about your SKYPE-orama!  Teacher jungle drums can be powerful stuff!

Set up Your Magic Carpet with Specific Grades in Mind
HOOK kid interest with the right book.

ADD SHOCK VALUE: if it works for a book, dress up as one of the characters.  Even a wild and crazy hat, false beard or make-up, will grab their attention immediately.  Any great props that fit the book will be a HIT!  Rabbit ears, mustache, magic wand or period costume.

I used to arrive for actual school visits dressed as an Aussie hobo ( bum to you!) Complete with a cork-brimmed hat to keep off the flies, and a pack with frying pan. Plus a tin to boil tea water. I walked in singing Waltzing Matilda. I guarantee no kid fell asleep after that!  And it works on SKYPE as well. Do a practice run with a friend for any new idea, and then adjust it for Skype.  Kids and teachers love a good giggle.
Load up your Magic Carpet with books that fit class needs. Ask the teacher if there are many reluctant readers, or kids with reading problems, like dyslexia.  Make your author visit as interactive as possible.  Ask the class what they like to read, their favorite book, who likes to write, and WHAT they write? 

With older kids you can go into word usage, plot development, and cover art etc.  Leave plenty of time for the Q and A.  Tell them a little about yourself – especially something funny that happened, or how you got a lot of rejections before you learned the right way to write for great kids like them. RELAX and enjoy yourself. The kids sure do!!

Finally  Make Some Money
Once you have all this written out, keep a copy of your plan for each class. With a tweak or so for individual needs, you can send the same e-mail out for all enquiries.
Now for the MONEY SHOT.  In Word, design an attractive and simple order form you can send to the teacher. She will make copies that kids take home ahead of time to the parents. I have found that PayPal is the best method of payment.  Cash means more trouble for the teacher and checks can be iffy.
Your name  (Mary Writer – Author) top center.
Your address beneath this.  Website link and e-mail below the address.
Book title on the left – then price -  number of copies – total
Final total + postage - bottom right.
**Note that you accept PayPal.  Checks will have to wait until cleared.
If you only have one or two books, add small covers. The idea is to lay it all out in an appealing way.
At the bottom of the order form add a note that says parents can look at your books online, and email you if they have questions or concerns. This reassures both the teacher and the parents.  Include your Amazon page link.
If your big Skype day is several months away, ALWAYS remind the teacher a week ahead of time about your visit, and the necessity of copying and sending home those order forms ASAP.  Never leave details to teachers – they have enough to do, and sometimes completely forget about your visit.

Thanks Maggie, for letting me ramble on to your lovely readers.
Margot Finke is an Aussie transplant who writes midgrade adventure fiction and rhyming picture books. For many years she has lived in Oregon with her husband and family.
Gardening, travel, and reading fill in the cracks between writing. Her husband is very supportive, though not interested in children's books . Their three children are now grown and doing very well. Four delightful grandchildren round out Margot’s family.
Margot’s 13 published books are available through Amazon and many other outlets, including her website, and in her current FREE Book Catalog. Her Manuscript Critique Service helps children’s writers polish and tighten their stories before publication. Helping other writers succeed, and HOOKING Kids on Reading, is Margot’s special goal. She didn't begin serious writing until the day their youngest left for college. This late start drives her writing, and pushes her to work at it every day. Margot says, "I really envy those who began young, and managed to slip into writing mode between kid fights, diaper changes, household disasters, and outside jobs. You are my heroes! "
Free "sneak peek" inside 8 of my books: including Taconi and Claude  + the sequel.
Margot's books on Amazon: and also B&N, Powell’s Books, and many more.
My free Skype school visits chat:
Manuscript Critiques:
Free book catalog:

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

How to Make a Book Trailer Using Animoto

by Laura Bowers

Here’s the thing. I’m a borderline non-techy. PowerPoint? Sure, I can fudge a decent presentation. Video slideshows with music? Mine are rather good … after making a zillion mistakes. But creating a book trailer last year for my young adult novel, JUST FLIRT? Forget it. I was daunted, limited, and clueless. Very clueless.

With my release ticking closer and closer, I became more overwhelmed by the mere thought of making a book trailer and when I get overwhelmed, I procrastinate. Tick. Overwhelmed. Procrastinate. It’s a vivacious cycle. I couldn’t afford to hire a professional, but thanks to Chieu Urban’s timely suggestions in this As the Eraser Burns entry, I found my answer:

Enter Animoto.

My apologies for sounding like an infomercial, but it really is a great website for daunted, limited, clueless, and overwhelmed borderline non-techys like me. After much blood and sweat, here’s what I was able to create! it was easy!

Well, correction: It can be easy with no blood and sweat involved if you don’t over-think, obsess, and make tons of mistakes like I did. What might have taken most people only seven hours to complete took me five days. Plus, I wasted a lot of money. Lots of money.

Despite my blunders, though, I like my trailer. The total cost? Had I not made any mistakes, it would have been $165.85. What did it actually cost me? $253.35, but hey, live and learn. At least now I can consider myself quite the Animoto Pro who can help others make their own trailers in seven (kind of) easy steps!

STEP ONE: Storybook
Think about what you want to accomplish with your trailer. To give just a tease? Or make it more like a blurb with a short description? A good way to get a feel for what works and what doesn’t is to search YouTube for “book trailers,” or be genre specific by entering, for example, “young adult book trailers.” Once the ideas start flowing, write down a storybook or script for your video.

For mine, I first decided to go with a short description followed by snippets from a PW review: It’s summer, sweet summer! A secret blog and a flamboyant karaoke DJ collide with a self-proclaimed Superflirt, her sworn enemy, a toxic ex-boyfriend, her flirt-phobic best friend, a lonely outcast, and a very cute but very off-limits go kart racer at the struggling Barton Family Campground. A “sweet and lively summer read,” PW, about a summer of lies, lawsuits … love, and unexpected friendships! By Laura Bowers, author of Beauty Shop for Rent. Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers.

Of course, I’ve since shortened this significantly, but it served as a jumping off point. After you get a rough idea for your trailer, make a list of images or video clips that could emphasis certain elements while keeping in mind that with Animoto, you can’t add text directly below or above an image; all text will show up in a separate frame.

STEP TWO: Selecting Your Software
Don’t just take my word for it. There are many video creating services online besides Animoto that could work beautifully. Also, if you own a Mac, your computer will most likely have iMovie installed, which has been very helpful for authors such as Jeri Smith-Ready, who used it to create her trailer for SHINE

If you feel as though Animoto is a good fit, however, I recommend signing up for the Pro plan. Right now, the cost is $39.00 per month, but you will have more music tracks to choose from, and you can upgrade your video to high definition for no additional charge. Most importantly, your video will be unbranded, meaning there will be no Animoto logo at the end, which adds about five seconds to your video and makes it look less professional.

At first, I went the cheap route and used the free plan only to waste $9.00 in HD fees before upgrading to Pro. Mistake.

Also, if you plan on making only one video, be sure your account is not set up to automatically renew at the end of the month. And yes, I’ve learned this lesson the hard way. Another mistake.

STEP THREE: Create a Rough Version with Temporary Images
If you’ve researched book trailers tips like I have, you know most folks advise that you now select images or video clips that best represent your book and the script you’ve outlined in Step One. That’s what I did. I made a spend DAYS scouring websites for the perfect images: One that represents a blog. A karaoke DJ, a flirt, sworn enemy, toxic ex-boyfriend, flirt-phobic friend, lonely outcast, two trouble-making twins, a race car driver, love, friendship, and, of course, summer.

Total images purchased: 18 for $205.35
Total images actually used: 8 for $165.85
Total money wasted: $87.50

Another big mistake. This is why I’m suggesting you first create a rough draft using generic photos or clips from your own collection by following these steps: Click on “Create Video.” Select a style for your video. Here’s another benefit for purchasing the Pro plan—you’ll have more templates to choose from. For JUST FLIRT, I picked Through the Blossoms because the colors coordinated nicely with the jacket colors and it had a flirty feel. Next, select your music. At first, I was intent on using something instrumental only, but after hearing “Golden Days” by The Memory Stones, it felt like a perfect fit! Very summery, very breezy. Keep in mind that your choice of music determines the transition speed. Something slow and classical with cause slow transitions whereas a peppy, upbeat song will give you faster ones. 

Now skip to “Add Text.” Depending on which style you have selected, you’re going to have limited room for each slide. You can use both the “header” and “text” spaces, which will make two lines. Next up is adding images and videos, including your book jacket cover. For the rest, consider using generic images from your photo collection until the editing process is over so you won’t spend more than necessary. 

Now put your images, videos, and text pages in order simply by clicking and dragging them into proper place. Once everything is where you want it, hit “Preview Video” and see what you created! Near the top right corner of your screen is a gray box saying how long your video is. It’s best to keep your video under two minutes with one minute being ideal. My final version clocks in at 1:20 minutes, but I wish I would have tightened it up even more with less images, so be brutal. Ask yourself if certain text or images will be necessary. If not, cut it!

STEP FOUR: Selecting Your Images
Now that you have a good feel for your video’s length, and you know how many images you’ll need, it’s time to shop! Very important: Be sure you use only royalty-free photos. You’d hate to have your hard work deleted from YouTube by breaking copyright rules. Some good places to check out are:

There are sites where you can get free stock images for commercial use such as Stock.chng, but I didn’t have any luck with them. Maybe you will. Keep in mind that photos with landscape orientation seem to work better than those with portrait.
Regarding size, I mostly bought 1.9 MP or “medium” size images. I was okay with spending more for better quality, but a smaller size might have worked fine. Some photos were inexpensive, such as the one where a couple are holding hands which cost $6.50, but others, like the one where four girls are jumping into the water, cost a pretty penny! I paid $57.35 for that bad boy, but it was absolutely perfect so I have no regrets. (I bought the smallest size, 794 x 605 PX, 989.34 KB and it worked fine.)

STEP FIVE: The Nitty-Gritty Editing
Now it’s time to perfect your video while keeping in mind that shorter is better! 
In the small gray box that shows your video’s length is a white wheel. Click on that if you’d like to either slow down or speed up the amount of time each image appears. For mine, I set it for one notch above “moderate,” which shaved off many seconds. (Note: you can’t change the speed for text pages.) If you’d like the highlight a certain image by slowing down its transition, such as your jacket cover, click on the image and then hit “spotlight” on the right side of your screen. By clicking on “Advanced Settings,” you can change the title of your video and the thumbnail image. It’s best to not include any external links or direction to outside URLs. If you include a webpage or blog, your publisher might want you to create two separate copies of the video: One with URLs and one without, since Amazon will not post a video with outside URLs. You may also want to keep out any release or on-sale dates.

Now, about the backgrounds and transitions. Oh my gosh, this part drove me crazy! You have no control over backgrounds or transitions between images. It’s automatically selected by Animoto, and every time you hit “Preview Video,” they shuffle and change. The problem is, I didn’t care for some of them. And, I really loved the transition where the pool photo looked as though it was dropped into water, and I wanted the trailer to end with the hand blowing a kiss. So what did I do?

*Warning: here comes the obsessive part.*

I kept hitting “Preview Video” and made note of each different transition. If I didn’t like them, I hit cancel and tried again. If the preview was a possibility, I selected “Produce” and saved it under “Draft 1.” After that, I went into “My Videos” and clicked on the small gray wheel underneath the draft copy that will bring up the “edit a copy” option and allow me to repeat the process, cancelling what I hated and saving what I liked. I’m ashamed to say I saved fifteen versions, spent nearly an entire night narrowing them down to three favorites, and then pestered my family to DEATH trying to select the best one. Seriously. It was ugly. And my poor children still cringe whenever they hear the “Golden Days” song. I hope and pray you have better luck with this for your own mental health. Once you have completed your final trailer, then hit the Upgrade to HD option. I went with the 480p option, which seemed to work just fine.

STEP SIX: Get Approval from Your Editor.
The above video isn’t my original uploaded version. After I loaded my first one to YouTube, I sent the link as a courtesy to my editor before announcing it. In return, I received guidelines from my publisher’s online marketing manager, and suggestions to make the trailer much shorter. Plus, if it wasn’t too much trouble, it would be great to add the jacket credit. 
My first thought was, “Do I seriously want to go through this again?” My second thought was, “Well … yes.” By then, I had some time away from the project, so my original 1:54 minute version did seem too long and could be tightened. And I liked the idea of giving jacket credit, seeing as how I love JUST FLIRT’S cover design, so much to my family’s dismay, I got back to work, but it was well worth the time! Lesson learned: Share your trailer with your editor first, either by downloading a MP4 file or posting it to YouTube and sending them a link before announcing it.

STEP SEVEN: Uploading to YouTube
Finally, the best part! Under “My Videos,” click on your final version, then select “Sharing,” and “Export Video.” If you don’t already have a Goggle account, you’ll be cued to do so. (Note: You’ll have to use a Gmail account.) Once your video is loaded, log into your YouTube channel and add your book description, any reviews, plus a link to your website, blog, Facebook account, etc. You will also have three images to choose from for the thumbnail, in case you don’t like the one YouTube automatically chose. 
And that’s it, you’re done! Easy, right? Well … kind of easy?
Now it seems like a total piece of cake to me. I even created a book trailer for my first novel, BEAUTY SHOP FOR RENT

Because of my previously learned lesson on overspending, I didn’t shop for images until the rough draft was finished. I was able to use an image purchased several years ago, so I only needed to buy two more photos. The one with the piggy banks cost $63.70, but the colors coordinately beautifully with the style template, so I bought it! Again, no regrets. Love, love, love this picture. The trailer also clocks in at 1:10, which is a much better length.
The total time to create this one? Five hours. Seriously. Just five hours!
Total cost? $70.20 for two images, $39.00 for Animoto Pro, $109.20 total. Not too shabby.

As for those images that I didn’t use in the JUST FLIRT’S trailer, I put them to good use in an AsThe Eraser Burns challenge exercise:

Hey, sometimes you just have to be creative. Good luck creating your book trailer and I truly hope this post helps anyone who is borderline non-techy like me!

Happy writing,
Laura Bowers

I am delighted that Laura agreed to share this very informative article on my blog. I hope you will contribute comments and your own ideas on making trailers. If you are unable to use the comment system, e-mail me at maggielyons66 at gmail dot com and I'll post your comments.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Why Children Should Read - A Lot!

How important is it for a child to read well? Some states predict their prison populations based on the number of students failing fourth-grade reading tests. (This fact was presented at a Congressional hearing by Dr. Reid Lyon of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.) According to the ProLiteracy organization, 63 percent of prison inmates can’t read. Prison is perhaps the direst of the numerous consequences of illiteracy. 

Here are a few more surprising facts published by the ProLiteracy organization:

In the United States, 29 percent (63 million) of the population over the age of sixteen can’t read well enough to understand a newspaper article written at eighth-grade level.

An additional 30 million adults (14 percent of all US adults) only read at the fifth-grade level or lower.

Seventy-seven million Americans have only a two-in-three chance of correctly reading—and therefore understanding—the label on their prescription medicine.

Illiteracy costs the United States between $106 and $236 billion each year.
These are just a few of the social consequences of poor reading skills in the United States.

Learning to read proficiently takes a lot of effort. Sally Shaywitz of Yale Medical School once observed that “reading is the most complex of human functions.” But the rewards for grasping the skill of reading proficiently make that effort worthwhile. A study by American researchers Cunningham and Stanovich found that, not surprisingly, the more children read, the more they expand their vocabulary, improve their spelling skill, and increase their verbal fluency and general knowledge. And common sense suggests that reading proficiency improves writing skill too.

But the benefits don’t stop there. A British project, Every Child a Reader, has found, among other things, that children who learn to read well enjoy learning. Their social interaction with adults and classmates improves and their self-confidence is boosted.

The key to improved academic achievement lies in the amount of reading a child does. Just adding an extra ten minutes per day can dramatically increase children’s exposure to words and, by extension, improve their ability to comprehend what they read. For example, according to researchers Anderson, Wilson, and Fielding (article in Reading Research Quarterly, vol. 23) students who read for only 1.8 minutes per day, read 106,000 words a year. If those students were to increase their reading to around eleven minutes per day, they would read almost 700,000 words per year, an increase of a whopping 556 percent.

Studies indicate that the most productive reading in terms of academic achievement comes from voluntary, independent reading—that is, reading outside school. Children who enjoy reading so much that they happily read outside school are the ones most likely to develop significant cognitive skills—and most probably social skills—the fastest. This is where adults can have an enormous influence. Encouraging children to read should be a primary goal for all adults who care about the children in their lives. 

(This article was first published on the World of Ink Network blog on August 19, 2012.)