Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Dos and Don’ts of Writing Middle-Grade Fiction

by Penny Lockwood

Writing middle grade fiction is different from writing a picture book.  I’d like to share with you some of the things I’ve learned to both do and not do based not only on my writing career, but also on my career as a line editor for MuseItUp Publishing and Damnation Publishing, and an acquisitions editor for 4RV Publishing.

  1. Do start by reading middle grade fiction written by other authors.  Be sure to read both those which have won awards as well as those with poor reviews.  Look at the differences to determine what makes one book a winner, while the other is only mediocre.

  1. Don’t be afraid tackle difficult subject matter. Young people today are very savvy about what’s going on in the world.  Middle-grade fiction can include content on lying, bullying, jealousy, sibling rivalry, divorce, peer pressure, drug abuse, domestic violence, and suicide. These are all subjects many kids have had to deal with either directly or with family members, friends, or classmates.  Just be sure to deal with these subjects in an appropriate manner.

  1. Do make your characters slightly older than your targeted audience. Kids like to read about other kids a year or two older than they are. When I taught a writing class to 4th, 5th, and 6th grade students, I was always surprised by how old the characters were in the stories they chose to write. Growing up intrigues this age group.

  1. Don’t preach to your readers or talk down to them. They aren’t toddlers or preschoolers. These are kids who know a lot about the world they live in and are exposed to so much through television and the Internet. Treat them as they want to be treated.

  1. Do create three-dimensional characters. Know what your character looks like: keep a descriptive page handy so your character doesn’t have red hair in chapter one and brown in chapter five. Know what they’re good at: keep a list so you’ll know if you’re character is a computer whiz or can hit a baseball to outer field. Know what flaws your character has: make a chart listing things like easily angered, a poor student, too thin or overweight, etc.  Know what quirks your character has: list things like a stutter, eye rubbing if she’s tired, allergies which make him sneeze, an eye twitch, etc.

  1. Don’t forget to use the five senses: sight, smell, hear, taste, and touch. Bring your story to life with vivid descriptions: enticing aromas or horrific odors, owls hooting or cars crashing, Mom’s yummy spaghetti cooking or the moldy sandwich the homeless guy pulls from the trash, and the soft velvet fur of a puppy or the slimy trail of a slug.

  1. Do inject humor into your story, even those dealing with difficult topics. For example in Ghost for Rent, while our characters are adjusting to the fact their parents are separating, my main character’s brother teases her by putting fake spiders in her sandwich and fake worms down her back. 

  1. Don’t leave your characters hanging.  Move your story forward by creating obstacles for your characters to solve by themselves, without an adult’s help, and be sure they solve those problems by the end of the story.

  1. Do spend time with children in your targeted age group.  Listen to their conversations. Observe their clothes and their behaviors. Without this first-hand information, it will be difficult for you to create a story and characters to which your readers will relate. Even if you don’t have children in your immediate circle, volunteer at a school, community center, church, or scout group.

  1. Don’t ignore guidelines.  After your story is completed do a search for publishers who might be interested in your work. Check out their catalogs to see what kinds of books they are publishing. Read their submission guidelines carefully. They are there for a reason. If they want Times New Roman, font size 12, be sure that’s what you send to them. Edit your rough draft. Put it away. Edit it again. Ask unbiased people to read the manuscript and comment on it. Take their comments and make necessary adjustments. Let the manuscript sit for a week, then re-read it and make final edits. Be sure the manuscript is formatted to the specifications of the submissions’ guidelines and send it off.
If you’ve followed my suggestions, you have a good chance of finding a publisher for your work, but remember, it takes patience, a well-written and grammatically correct manuscript, and above all, being in the right place, at the right time, with the right story. Good luck!                                          

About Penny
Penny Lockwood Ehrenkranz has published more than 100 articles, 75 stories, and a chapbook, and her stories have been included in two anthologies. She writes for both adults and children. Her fiction has appeared in numerous genre and children’s publications, and her nonfiction work has appeared in a variety of writing, parenting, and young adult print magazines and online publications.  She edits for MuseItUp Publishing. Visit her website at http:// Her writing blog is located at

Penny's Book Giveaway 
Penny is currently on a blog tour for her recent picture book release, Boo’s Bad Day, available from 4RV Publishing. She has two middle grade novels scheduled to be released later this year, Ghost for Rent and Ghost for Lunch,  through the same publisher.

At the end of the tour, Penny will pick out one commenter’s name and send an autographed copy of Boo’s Bad Day to a United States address only. If the winner is someone who lives outside the U.S.A., she will send a PDF copy of the book. Be sure to leave contact information when you comment! If you missed yesterday's blog stop, check out Tomorrow, she'll be at  Remember to leave contact information to be entered into the drawing for a free book.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

How to Leverage Your Video Content

I'm very pleased to have a guest blog this week by author and marketing expert Jo Linsdell, who offers advice on leveraging the content of your video. Your comments on Jo's blog are very much appreciated.

Get More Social Leverage for Your Video Content

by Jo Linsdell

Experts across the board all agree that 2013 is the year of video and
who can argue. YouTube is one of the worlds most popular search engines and
gets over 1 billion unique users visits per month.

The popularity of social media and the increasing use of iphones and
tablets is also great news for video and a very valid reason why you should be
marketing via video content.

Video's are a great way to improve your visibility online, build
stronger networking relationships and provide fresh web content for your

In this video I talk about how you can get more social leverage for your
video conten

It's not hard to see why video is the fastest growing digital content
category or why it's one of the most effective techniques for promoting
products and services on the internet.

How are you using video in your marketing strategy? What kind of content
are you publishing? What methods are you using to give more social leverage to
the video content you create?

Jo Linsdell is an award winning blogger and freelance writer living in Rome, Italy . She is also the author of several books including the popular Italian for Tourists, A Guide to Weddings in Italy  and the best selling children's picture books Out and About at the Zoo and Fairy May. You can find out more about her at

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Writers' Free Newsletter Resources - Part 1

This week I'm listing more online resources for writers, ones offering free newsletters. These newsletter services offer help with marketing, publicity, technology, social media, publishing, networking, writing, industry news, and more. I subscribe to most of them. 

I'd love to build this list through your recommendations. Please leave comments or contact me directly at maggielyons66 at gmail dot com.

Association of Independent Authors

"The Association of Independent Authors (AiA) is a membership organization representing, advancing, supporting, and encouraging self-published (independent) authors. Our membership spans five continents, with Directors based in the USA, Asia, Australia, and South Africa."

Author Marketing Experts
"A full service marketing and publicity firm with a specialty in social media." 

Beth Hayden
Beth's Marketing Byte newsletter offers tips on social media marketing.

Ching Ya
Social @ Blogging Tracker offers weekly e-mailed tips on using Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Karen Cioffi
Blogsite offering wide range of writing and marketing tips.
The Writing World
Weekly e-mail tips on book marketing from using Paypal to SEO to creating PowerPoint webinars.  

Mari Smith
The Social Scoop
Weekly e-mailed (Top 5 Social Media Tips) advice on how to use social media effectively.

Media Bistro/Galley Cat
Writers' resources, book publishing industry news, book reviews, list of writers' blogs

This list will be continued in an upcoming blog.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

A Peek at the Wild Things of Writing for Children

This week, I'm resurrecting a blog I first wrote for Beverly McClure's blog, The Story of a Writer,  in August 2012, about some of what must be kept in mind when writing for children. 

A Peek at the Wild Things of Writing for Children

Writing for children requires a very different set of skills from writing for adults. In some ways it’s much more demanding. I’ve come across many people who are unaware of that and a few, unfortunately, who dismiss writing for children as if it were inferior to writing for adults.

The criteria for writing what children want to read include suitable subject matter, appropriate vocabulary, realistic dialogue including language today’s children actually use, sentence structure, realistic mindsets, point of view, length of chapters, and length of book. That’s just the start and the criteria differ with each age group, to say nothing about the physical appearance of the book and its cover.

In his foreword to the 2012 edition of the Renaissance Learning report, What Kids Are Reading, children’s author Dan Gutman explained what keeps the attention of young readers, especially reluctant young readers.

As a reluctant reader myself, I relate to those kids. I know what bores them, and what holds their interest. They want short sentences. Short chapters. Dialog. Few adjectives. They’d rather use their imagination than read a paragraph of description. They want one sentence to lead naturally to the next one, rather than jump from subject to subject. They want a chapter to end in a way that makes them want to know what happens next.

Gutman should know. He’s written a hundred books including scores of children’s books that have garnered dozens of awards. He didn’t mention humor in his list of criteria, which is surprising for an author who has made a career of it. Humor’s a key ingredient of many books for youngsters, especially middle-grade readers. As Kemie Nix of Children’s Literature for Children, Inc. put it in her 2009 article What-Kids-Who-Don’t-Like-To-Read-Like-To-Read™:  

The books with the greatest chance of hooking the transitional readers and pulling them out of the pre-book limbo are the humorous ones. And books of humorous episodes are the very best of all! With fifty really funny books, the world could be saved from illiteracy.

What Nix means by “episodes” are books in which each chapter stands alone, as a separate episode. Children enjoy this type of book because it doesn’t require the “mental effort” of a book “with a climax at the end.”

Humor has done well for a long list of other authors too, including Jeff Kinney, Gary Paulsen, Louis Sachar, Frank Asch, Dan Greenberg, Cressida Cowell, Lemony Snicket, Mo Willems, Dave Pilkey, and Judy Blume, to name only a smidgeon of today’s most popular children’s humorists.

Even when writers think they know exactly what children want to read, they still have to jump the hurdle of appealing to the adults who buy the books that children read, and before that, the agents and publishers’ editors who believe they know what books adults will buy for children. Each layer has its own filters and each has its own pattern of influence.

According to a 2010–11 Bowker Pubtrack® report, The Children’s Book Consumer in the Digital Age, the strongest influence on a child’s reading material are parents, particularly mothers, who do most of the book buying, relatives, and friends. After that come teachers and librarians.

When it comes to how adults and children find books, bookstore browsing is important but most books are acquired through school and public libraries. Children ages seven through twelve tell their parents what they want to read, but the main sources of their information remain bookstores, teachers, and libraries. Because most purchases are impulsive, the attractiveness of the book’s cover image is critical. So too are the front cover’s descriptive copy and age rating. But the latter two factors are less important than a friend’s recommendation of the book and whether the book is written by a trusted and known author.

Like Max in Sendack’s classic tale, we hope to make friends with the wild things of children’s writing, not be eaten by them. But a pinch of humor can tame them—well, almost.