Rejections and Acceptances in Writing 2018

I like to keep track of my writing rejections and acceptances by year. Sometimes when I’m feeling frustrated, just knowing I have submitted ideas, stories, and projects gives me a boost.

I use Numbers to track my submissions, but I also use an old-fashioned paper notebook. The paper notebook might be my good luck charm, like an athlete who won’t change socks after a winning game.

My submissions are usually a mix of old ideas and new ones. I like to have a big fat pipeline of stories in production and swirling around in the publishing universe. I really believe you can’t sell if you’re not submitting.

Submissions

Let’s take a look at my submissions for 2018.

A grand total of 126 submissions is pretty good! I had the chance to work on a project for teachers that totaled 11 different submissions, so that boosted the number. Also, I pitched a bunch of greeting card ideas this year, I think about a dozen. But I only counted each email as one pitch. So the number could go even higher.

If you add the rejections and acceptances, you might notice it doesn’t equal 126. That’s because most of the time, I just don’t hear back from places. I could assume those are rejections, but one time I received an acceptance over a year after I had submitted something! So I usually just leave it blank until I hear back.

I also completed one ghostwriting project in 2018 and will complete another in 2019. I could count those as “acceptances.”

In total last year, I had a 20% acceptance rate. That feels very good. I feel very confident when I send some stories out to my favorite magazines. But I also signed a deal for my first non-fiction book that will come out in fall 2019. That felt amazing.

A Busy Year

Here’s how my work looked month to month.


My busiest month in 2018 was November, and I didn’t submit anything in February or June.

I’d like to change that this year and try to submit something every month, even if it’s only one thing. So far, so good on that goal in 2019. I already have 21 submissions. I’m bummed to report I also already have six rejections. But that also means I have six stories that could work somewhere else! Revise! Repurpose! Resubmit!

 

Do you keep track of your submissions? Rejections? Acceptances?

You can see my other yearly recap here.

 

Exciting SCBWI Announcement for 2019!

I’m so excited to announce that starting January 15, 2019, I am the SCBWI Regional Advisor of Pennsylvania: West! It’s a true honor and I’m really eager to build a new leadership team and to work to support the creative members of our region.

We have some great events planned for 2019 already and we’re in the process of planning more.

Check out our events calendar here.

What are your favorite events to attend as a writer or illustrator?

One of my big goals is to reach out to new communities and neighborhoods. I’m hoping we engage new writers and illustrators and learn from the incredible people in Western Pennsylvania. I really believe that by increasing the diversity of our knowledge and experiences we can do our best work as individuals and an organization.

I’m a huge supporter of We Need Diverse Books and hope to guide our region into embracing diversity fully.

Why SCBWI?

SCBWI is a wonderful organization for writers and illustrators.

SCBWI is great for new members. There is so much to learn about the publishing industry. Many new creatives don’t even know what questions to ask. That’s where SCBWI mentors and critique groups and workshops and conferences help. Even the online forums are helpful for figuring out how to write a query…or understanding what a query is!

But SCBWI is also useful for published writers. PAL members, or “Published And Listed” members, still need SCBWI. Connecting with other writers and illustrators helps me stay on top of changes in the industry and learn about new technology that can impact how and what we create. It’s no longer just about writing a good story, it’s about writing a great story that fits the publisher’s need at that exact moment, and one that fits with the market. There are so many options and we need help exploring them. We can now create graphic novels, ebooks, info-tainment non-fiction, and more, that being a part of SCBWI helps published writers and illustrators stay informed even as we hone our craft.

Both new and experienced writers benefit from SCBWI critique groups. Critique groups are an essential part of my writing routine. I have found an incredible support network from my critique groups. I’ve learned so much from my group. And my writing has improved. I’m not sure which benefit is more valuable.

If you’ve ever wanted to create for children, I invite you to join your local SCBWI chapter. Meet professionals and newbies, meet writers and illustrators, immerse yourself in the field and learn all you can. I promise you’ll meet amazing people. You will be inspired, and I know you will find some truly wonderful books that are great for any age!

 

Writing Puns is Fun

I love writing puns and I love writing with puns. Over Thanksgiving, I brought a new game to play with my family called Punderdome. I found this game at Riverstone Books, my favorite local bookstore. I’m very lucky that the family was willing to give it a try, even my 13 year old son got into it! The game is simple. In round 1, everyone tries to guess the answer to a pun. I was not too shabby at that part. For example, what’s the most disgusting store to shop at? A grocery store!

In round 2, the judge deals out 2 cards with categories and the players try to make a pun combining the two.

For example, one of my answers for “Star Wars” and “Winning” was “Yoda Man!” Too bad I didn’t come up with that answer until after the game.

I use a lot of puns in my writing. I used puns in my story “The Pepper Caper,” published in Highlights for Children (September 2017). I have several drafts of manuscripts that incorporate lots of puns.

There’s always thyme for some puns.

People say puns are lowest form of humor, and one reason is because word play is one of the first kinds of humor that children can understand. But that’s irritating to me, because it implies that children’s level of comprehension is low. My 13 year old made some excellent puns. And in my opinion the best puns require knowing A LOT of words AND their meanings.

Games like Punderdome are a great way to practice your humor writing skills. I also love Rory’s Story Cubes and Word Dominos.

Do you like writing puns? What are your favorite puns?

What other games do you like to play that help you be a better writer?

Improve Your Writing: Senses

Writing conferences offer a lot of great tips on how to improve your writing. One tip that’s always stayed with me is to use at least three different sensory descriptions in a scene. Using at least three senses helps readers visualize the scene better and it makes the scene more real.

Here’s a snapshot of a wetlands in Florida. Using sensory descriptions, how would you describe it?

improve your writing senses

You might mention the colors, but what about sounds? The swishing grass and maybe clicking insects. Now what about touch? Maybe the humid air settling on your skin, or the clinging net of a spider web on your face. And smell? I’ll never forget the slight odor of rot that stuck to the back of my throat.

I also remember reading that when people read about a smell, their brain activity is the same as when people actually smell that scent. So, mentioning sensory experiences like smells basically tricks the brain – or convinces the brain – that the person is in the scene, smelling the same aromas and fragrances if they are nice ones, or the same putrid stinks.

Also, in broadening the diversity of our writing and reading, how do we use descriptions that will appeal to readers of different backgrounds? What kinds of descriptions of food smells, hair care product scents, fabric textures, footwear discomfort, background sounds, and more will reveal our cultural, gender, and class biases?

Practice to Improve Your Writing

It takes practice to improve your writing. If you don’t, you’ll just write “he saw” or “she heard” all the time. We need practice describing what people feel in ways that aren’t cliche. And how do you describe the smell of the earth after rain, or the smell of freshly baked bread, without just saying “you know that smell?”

I’m trying to practice my sensory descriptions by writing sensory sentences each day. Not just sentences about my feelings, or thoughts, but sentences that focus in on a sensory experience I’ve had that day. Something I’ve seen, smelled, heard, tasted, or touched. Even if I don’t use the actual sentences I write in a story, I’m getting some writing done. And I’m practicing my observational skills of the world around me, which is good for any writer to do.

Here are two examples from July:

1.The clock on the wall in my office ticks and rocks out of rhythm with the swing of the pendulum.

2. I ate a fresh tomato from the garden and it was sun-hot and huskier in flavor.

3. The carpet under my desk feels flatter under my feet than the carpet over by the printer.

Try writing sensory sentences and see how they improve your writing.

 

Children’s Book Publishers and Reading Lists

If you’re interested in writing for children, it’s essential to learn what kinds of books different children’s book publishers produce. You need to know if they are the right house to give your story life. But how do you figure out if the publisher is right for you and if you are right for that publisher? You read their books.

There are tons of children’s book publishers out there, but one of my favorite is Lee and Low. Not only do they focus on multicultural content, they also focus on emotional learning and awareness. And they produce incredible reading lists!

Here’s the Lee and Low 2018 diverse summer reading list. 

 

And here is the Lee and Low Social and Emotional Diverse reading list. 

 

Both lists contain books from PreK to 8, so there is something for every reader to read, and something for every writer to read. There really isn’t a substitute for reading as a way to find out what different children’s book publishers want. You can learn about topics, characters, language, and themes. You can be inspired and improve your own writing.

Non-Fiction

Pay I want to write non-fiction books. If you want to write non-fiction, it is helpful to study how the back matter is presented in each book. One thing I find valuable is reading the bibliographies at the back of the book. I like to see what resources an author has used and I challenge myself to check out their reference material and see if my interpretation matches theirs.

If you don’t want to spend a fortune on all these books, I recommend requesting the books from your library all at once, picking them up at the library, and scheduling a read-and-critique session with your fellow writers. Pay attention to what the other readers in your group notice. What did they see that you overlooked? Consider the book from title to end pages and learn all you can.

 

Tools for Writing a Novel

I’ve been to many conferences were successful writers share their tools for writing a novel, and I now have my own set to share. I am working hard to get my current manuscript done – and basic proofreading corrections made – before February 26.

The novel is called DNF (Did Not Finish) and it’s middle grade contemporary fiction. Maybe I will post a teaser when it’s out on submission.

Because I love checklists and measuring my productivity, I’m using a checklist log to record my daily activity.

tools for writing a novel

 

This isn’t a word count tracker, although I do have a handy little Numbers file that can function as a word count tracker just like the one NaNoWriMo provides on its website. I decided not to focus on words for this draft of my manuscript. Instead I focus on WHEN I am in the timeline of the story.

Paper Tools

I needed some other tools for writing a novel, and because I’m focusing on WHEN, I needed a calendar. My main character is a runner, so I use a training plan. And because this story has a large cast of characters (many more than in Dare Club) I needed a character list.

Each one of these tools helps me stay on track, minimize confusion, and prevents the kind of writer’s block that isn’t about ‘not having ideas’ but forgetting where you are in the story. I’ve found the calendar to be especially helpful.

Online Tools

My story takes place in a specific year, I use Weather Underground‘s website to find the weather for each of my key scenes. I also look online for popular baby names of the year 2000, and for popular songs, apps, and television shows. I’m sort of a stickler for minimizing anachronisms.

What tools for writing a novel do you use?

 

What a Writing Coach Offers

The writer’s playing field

In 2017, I embarked on a new part of the writer’s journey and became a writing coach. My first client is actually a young man interested in a challenging creative writing program in the area. We are working together to help him set goals and achieve them.

One aspect of his writing that doesn’t work: creative ideas.

As his writing coach, I feel my job is really focused on accountability and productivity.

Almost all writers and creatives could use a little boost in setting reasonable, measurable goals and working to meet those goals. There are lots of little steps between stating a goal and achieving a goal. Sometimes, the ability to achieve a goal is not within our power, it rests in some one else’s hands.

So what’s it like to meet with a writing coach?

First, we discussed some of his hopes and dreams. Then we talked about what he likes to write, doesn’t like to write, and his habits. We also discussed what and how much he reads. After I learned about those aspects of his writing life – and I learn new things in each session – I developed some systems to help him show off his strengths as well as confront his weaknesses.

Coaching Sessions

A typical session for us looks like this:

  • Free write for 5 minutes on a prompt that I choose, usually focused around describing a scene or memory focused around an emotion. We’ve written about moments when we’ve been happy, angry, embarrassed, guilty, and sad. The goal here is to capture the events that caused the feelings and to access the emotion in our brains and bring it to life on the page. Five minutes is short – we’ve got to write quickly and efficiently, as well as honestly.
  • Next, we dive in to the current project. My client shares any new sections, I read them over and offer positive comments as well as constructive criticism on areas that could be improved. We discuss plot, dialogue, the classic show-don’t-tell problem, and setting. We also spend a lot of time hashing out what endings might work and WHY.
  • After his projects, I like to share a short piece of my own writing and ask him to offer feedback and critique. I think this is really important for a young writer. My goals here are to model HOW to accept critique and how to think about revising existing works.
  • As our session wraps up, we discuss next steps. My client, like many writers of all ages, doesn’t relish revising, but that is always one of his assignments. Other goals include selecting a publication to submit to or working on a synopsis of his current story.

As his writing coach, I never tell him what to write. I do encourage him to develop good habits related to writing. Habits like reading and writing every day. Some other best practices I encourage him to adopt are completing his stories (even ones that aren’t his favorite) and being open to writing different versions so he can really find the one that resonates.

Goals

For the new year, I offered four options for big goals. I’m offering you these four goals, too, and I encourage you to attempt them and share your progress!

  1. Write a 500 word story with a plot.
  2. Revise a story.
  3. Re-write a familiar story in your style.
  4. Submit a story to a publication.

For more writing encouragement, check out my Twelve Days of Writing post and get busy.

Girls Write Pittsburgh

Remember when we were in school and we had to write essays or copy lines as punishment?

Why do some people make writing a punishment when it’s so redemptive?

It’s like running laps when you messed up in phys ed or on another sports team. Running doesn’t punish me. It saves me.

Girls Write Pittsburgh knows this and right here in Pittsburgh offers writing as a source of inspiration and empowerment.

girls write pittsburgh

Girls Write

When I was a young girl, I didn’t know it was possible to have a job as a writer. I knew that some people had jobs as newspaper reporters, but that wasn’t exactly what I wanted. I wanted to write and tell stories, fiction and non-fiction. Perhaps I wasn’t particularly bright, because while I knew that people authored and wrote the stories I loved, I didn’t put it together that it could be a job.

Nobody said I couldn’t be a writer, but nobody said I could, either. But it’s ok. That didn’t stop me from writing. I’ve written my whole life. It just took me a long time to realize it could be my real-life job.

I always imagined I’d be a teacher. And in many ways in my life, I’ve done that and loved it.

But now, thankfully, I’ve gone and made a life for myself as a writer.

Being a writer is incredibly fulfilling and not just because I get to do what I love, but because I get to meet amazing people like the creator of Girls Write Pittsburgh.

I’m incredibly inspired by Girls Write Pittsburgh and I’m looking for ways to support this project. First, they need donations. Second, they need mentors. They need places to host events and they need authors and writers to mentor and host workshops.

I’m so committed to expanding the voices that are telling stories in our world, and I see Girls Write Pittsburgh as an important way to do that. If you’re an author, illustrator, storytelling, creative, writer, or just love good stories please consider supporting Girls Write Pittsburgh.

Highlights Foundation Workshop: Novel Beginnings

In March 2017, I returned to the Highlights Foundation for my second workshop, Novel Beginnings. Our amazing instructors were Clara Gillow Clark and Kelly Going (who writes as K.L. Going). This year I was in the Lodge, which I enjoyed just as much as the cabin. Another difference from my October 2015 visit: snow.

highlights foundation

Calkins Creek

highlights foundation

The scary bridge I made myself cross

highlights foundation

Snow!

 

There were about a dozen of us there for four days. Workshops like this are great because they are small enough to get to know the people but large enough to meet a diverse group of writers. And one of my favorite parts of Highlights Foundation workshops are that I don’t have to cook anything.

Each participant was able to submit the first 50 pages of their manuscript and received an in-depth one on one critique on their work. I found Clara and Kelly to be really open and honest about our stories and our writing. I know they offered sound guidance, because one of our attendees re-wrote her first few pages while at the workshop and when she shared them with us…WOW.

Group Critique

In addition to our one on one critiques, we also did a group critique session of our first three pages, hosted by Susan Bartoletti. Susan suggested we structure our critique feedback using the five points below, and I really loved the results.

highlights foundation critique

One thing that pleased me a lot was after only hearing my first three pages, a person in the critique group was able to lay out the overall plot of my story. If a writer can put that in front of readers and still make it funny and interesting, there is something good happening there.

Kelly shared a lot about the business of publishing. The time away from daily life helped me hone in on what I really wanted to do with my story. I received solid, positive feedback on my story from Clara and felt very motivated to keep working.

I haven’t yet told Clara that the week after I returned from the workshop I wrote every single day and made big progress through my manuscript…but was still really unhappy with the arc. I called up a friend, he’s 10, and talked it through with him. He brainstormed so honestly with me and I can’t ever thank him enough. After my conversation with him, I revamped the stakes in my story completely and now have a much better source of conflict that will interest kid readers. I hope.

Highlights Memories

But the Highlights Foundation Workshop isn’t all writing. Aside from working on my own story, I did a lot of running in the snow. And I spent some time traveling down memory lane and looking through Highlights from 1985 and 1986. I recognized covers and stories that I had read, re-read, and re-re-read as a kid, much the same way my son reads Match.

Word play and word history! I would love to write something like this for Highlights today.

highlights foundation

When I saw this story about the marathon, I wondered if it had influenced me, in a subtle way, to try running.

This is probably the first place I read about silkies. They are a favorite mythological creature of mine.

This story stuck with me forever. It could be one of the first science-fiction stories I ever read. It blended ordinary life elements with a strange idea and was also effortlessly entertaining.

This one made me laugh out loud. Reading this made me want to make my own butter so much and now that I’m the grown-up, we do!

Here’s a story about a young woman who played a role in shaping historical events. Could this be any more up my alley?

Six Word Stories Part 2

Who doesn’t love good six word stories? They are short and sweet.

I am so lucky to be able to visit classrooms and hang out with kids. As a writer, there’s nothing more valuable than learning from and listening to your target audience. So when I had a chance to go into my son’s sixth grade class, I decided the topic would be “brevity.” Now, I didn’t tell them that, but it gave me a framework.

Picture Books

First,  I read a short but very skillfully done picture book. You’re never too old to read a picture book and really learn about the essence of story. A picture book needs to tell a story in very few words.

ABCs

Then, we worked on a 26 word alphabet story about sixth graders. There were some funny parts, like when we included eating and farting. We had tech, including iPhone, video games and memes. One girl suggested we delete “sleeping” and write “Zzzz” – which was GENIUS. We had a lot of sports like gymnastics and karate and soccer.

 

Six Word Stories

Finally, we got to dessert: the six word story.

As I took them through the first two parts of the visit, I explained how stories build to a climax of emotion and action and then offer a resolution. I challenged them to include all of those elements in their six word stories.

Here’s what we came up with:

Kids

Last man on earth heard knock.

I am cool, you are not.

Roasted, toasted marshmallow on the fire.

Learn something!

I really loved hearing their stories. And since the main character in my current project is in middle school, I decided to write some six word stories for her.

Mine

She quit everything, until she didn’t.

She botched everything except dreaming big.

For Fun

Do you agree that a lot of six word stories sound so ominous? I love to laugh and have fun and wanted to write a humorous six word story.

Apology accepted. Now explain the bird.