Monday, November 7, 2011

Coping with Writer's Rejection: Tips from Children's Writer Eileen Spinelli

If you're a writer, don't abandon your pen or computer when the rejection letters start rolling in. Even the most successful writers get them. Children's writer Eileen Spinelli gets rejections for her books. So does her husband Jerry Spinelli, a Newbery award-winning writer.

Eileen shared some tips on 'rejecting rejection' in a class I took with her last summer at the Highlights Foundation Chautauqua Summer Workshop:
    • Be sure to have at least one friend who is a cheerleader . . . who loves your work . . . who loves you. Call that friend.
      • Read the biography of any writer. See that you are not alone when it comes to rejection, bad reviews and general disappointment.
        • Move on to another writing project . . . one you are enthusiastic about.
          • Write a caring and supportive letter to yourself.
            • Ask for a hug.
              • Treat yourself to something special . . .a massage . . . a hot fudge sundae. . . an overnight trip.
                • Make something with your hands . . . a card . . . a knitted scarf . . . a pie . . . a bookshelf . . . and then give it away. Bask in the light of the recipient's smile.
                  • If you are so inclined, say a prayer. Ask for patience, hope, a sense of humor.
                    • Write something short and silly just for fun.
                    • Listen to your favorite music. Sing along.
                      • Do something physical. Tennis. Hiking. Dance.
                      • Vent: scream . . . punch a sofa pillow . . . kick leaves.
                        • Make a list of ten people you know of who have had a worse thing happen to them than getting a rejection slip.
                        • Next morning, look out the window. Note that, contrary to all expectations, the sun has done it again . . . it has risen.
                          Spinelli also shared a list of rejection experiences of famous writers. A few examples:

                          Steven King received dozens of rejections for his novel "Carrie."

                          Beatrix Potter's "Tale of Peter Rabbit" was rejected so often that she eventually printed it herself.

                          "Moby Dick" by Herman Melville was said to be too long and rather old-fashioned.

                          According to one publisher, "The Diary of Anne Frank" was scarcely worth reading.

                          George Orwell who wrote "Animal Farm" was told: It is impossible to sell animal stories.

                          "A Wrinkle in Time" by Madeleine L'Engle was rejected 19 times. It went on to win the Newbery.

                          "Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch" by Eileen Spinelli was rejected 25 times. It has won several awards including a Christopher award.

                          Finally, Eileen shared some encouraging words and assorted wisdom for writers:

                          Getting ahead in the arts requires avid faith in yourself. You must be able to sustain yourself against staggering blows and unfair reversals.

                          Your writing affirms your life. Writing is an embrace of life with all its sorrows and contradictions and an affirmation of the creative power within you.

                          Find out more about Eileen Spinelli and her books at her website.

                          Readers, how do you cope with literary rejection? Please share your tales and tips.

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                          Tuesday, August 2, 2011

                          Ten Key Reasons to Attend the Highlights Writers Workshop at Chautauqua

                          • Take writing classes taught by such award-winning children's writers and editors as Joy Cowley, Patricia Lee Gauch, Eileen and Jerry Spinelli, Kathi Appelt, Helen Hemphill, Kathryn Erskine, and Sneed Collard III, to name just a few of the wonderful writers at the Writers Workshop.You also get to have breakfast, lunch, and dinner with them for a week. 
                          • Choose from more than forty-five hour-long workshops.
                          • Meet and chat with the Highlights editors and other staff.
                          • Get to know people interested in writing for children from across the U.S. and around the world. 
                          • Go on such fun outings as a picnic at a farm and a barbecue at a lakefront house .
                          • Listen to inspirational speeches on writing and literature by such prize-winning writers  as Sharon Creech.
                          • Receive two intensive critiques on your writing from a talented, experienced writer.
                          • Feast at gala banquet dinners at the historic Athenaeum Hotel
                          • Enjoy the ambience of Chautauqua, home of the famed Chautauqua Institution, where you'll step back in time as you stroll past the Victorian gingerbread homes and a lovely lake, take in a concert at the Amphitheatre or head down a cobbled path to a lecture.
                          • Connect with mentors - both faculty and attendees - who can help you with your writing.
                          A huge thank you to the Highlights Foundation for gifting me with a full scholarship to attend! And thank you to the hard-working Highlights staff led by Kent Brown. For more information on the Writers Workshop, visit

                          Readers, what writers' conferences and workshops have you attended that you loved or would recommend?
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                          Students leaving a lecture hall at Chautauqua
                          The Athenaeum Hotel

                          Tuesday, July 5, 2011

                          The Making of a Best-Selling Children's Book: Sherri Rinker on Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site

                          Sherri Rinker is the first-time author of the New York Times bestseller Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site (Chronicle Books, 2011).

                          Down in the big construction site, tough trucks work with all their might. But, now it's time to say goodnight! Even the roughest, toughest readers will want to turn off their engines, rest their wheels and drift off to sleep with this sweet and soothing story. Goodnight, construction site!

                          Welcome, Sherri. Would you begin by telling how you learned to write picture books?
                          Thank you for inviting me to do this, Kathy! I'm honored you would ask. This first question is a complex one because I don't have a concise answer. First, I'm a very religious person, and I do think that the inspiration for this book was really a gift. It came to me so clearly and developed so quickly that I don't know how else to describe that process.

                          That being said, I've always had a powerful draw to writing ― in fact, I started college as a journalism major before the art/design bug tugged at me again, and I switched to visual communications. And, because I have such a strong pull to both words and visual, I've always been fanatical about picture books. My boys' shelves are packed with them. (My husband jokes that my advance on Construction Site has almost paid for my picture book habit.) So, I think that having had such extensive exposure to that medium, having seen and read so much, certainly helped me.

                          The last component might be that I both love and understand my audience. I wrote this book for my youngest son, so it was written out of love, for a child that I love. I think (and hope!) that the heart of that is part of what has made the book so successful.

                          Your book seems like it would be fantastic at getting even the most rambunctious kids to go to sleep. Where did you get the idea for your book?
                          Zak, my youngest son, loves trucks. I almost can't state that strongly enough! Books, videos, games, puzzles, toys ― you name it, if the subject is trucks, we probably own it. And, of those, construction trucks were/are a particular fascination because they DO so much cool stuff!

                          So, when Zak was quite small  ―  maybe two years old - our evening routine would begin with reading time, then evening prayers, and then sleep. I soon discovered that reading any of his favorite truck books before bed tended to NOT settle him down... in fact, they revved him up! And then he would begin his "thank you" prayers, including every kind of construction truck he could name. By the end, he was WIRED ― and much more suited to playing than going to sleep! So, we began to conclude our routine by imagining a construction site, talking about how very hard those mighty trucks had worked all day, and how, just like us, they were ready for some much-needed rest. Very soon, the idea for the book evolved.  

                          How many drafts or revisions did the book go through?
                          The draft that I submitted came together rather easily and without much reworking. But the editing process with Chronicle was horribly painful for me ― I think we did seven rounds! Looking back, I can see that the process definitely improved the book. Most of the changes involved the verse meter; Chronicle was determined to make it as perfect and smooth as possible. It was frustrating, but ultimately so worth the effort because many of our reviews have mentioned the book's readability.

                          How did you find a publisher?

                          I joined the the Society of Children's Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI) and used their publication directory to create a long list of publishers who would evaluate an unsolicited manuscript, fully expecting that it would be years before I found a home for the concept. Chronicle Books was at the top of my list, the first publisher to which the manuscript was sent. Three months later, I received a call from Mary Colgan, my editor, that she was interested.

                          How did you help make the book become a bestseller?
                          Wow! I wish I could take credit for that! But, all the real credit goes to Chronicle Books. First, they were fastidious about the editing process and would really settle for nothing short of perfect. Second, they had the vision to have Tom Lichtenheld illustrate the book, and he was a fabulous choice. I think that Tom did an amazing job, and the whole feeling of the book ― just the right combination of tough and sweet with a timeless feel ― that's Tom's gift. He's such a talent, and I'm blessed that he's part of this. And, finally, I think that Chronicle's PR and marketing departments are second-to-none. They are a creative, committed, positive, knowledgeable group that put a ton of work into getting the book noticed.

                          You're also a mother and a graphic designer. How do you manage to carve out time to write? What advice do you have for others trying to find time to write?
                          Throughout this process, I've had the pleasure of meeting other working parents who are also authors. And, we all have one thing in common: we sacrifice sleep to fit it in! There's really no other way. During the day, the priority is our kids, our jobs, our spouses, our homes. Some of us start writing after the kids are in bed. I typically get up no later than 5:30, and often earlier, because I'm fresher in the morning. During the day, I sneak writing in whenever I can. I keep my iPhone near me, and I'm always jotting down notes ― pieces of verse, small fragments of prose that I think I might use... so I'm often thinking about it. I find that, while I'm waiting for the boys to finish swim team practice or tennis lessons or whatever, sometimes that's a good time to give a problematic section some thought. And, I don't typically watch television.

                          Are you working on any new books?
                          I'm working on several, actually. The working title for my next book is, Steam Train, Dream Train, and I'm doing that with Chronicle. I'm super-excited about how it's shaping up! I have other concepts in the works as well, so we'll see...
                          Do you have any tips for writers?

                          1. Write from a place of love and joy.

                          2. Know your audience.

                          3. Write because you have something to say, not because you want to be published.

                          4. One of my favorite expressions is, "When you feel tangled, lie still and let God untangle you, or you'll just make the knot tighter." For me, writing requires that. I need to walk away sometimes and let the thoughts work themselves out.

                          5. After my book was well underway, I happened upon some advice from some agents and editors who had done interviews online. At least three times, I read, "Don't do any bedtime stories" and "We don't want books that rhyme." I feel fortunate that I never read those before I submitted my manuscript!  If you feel passionate about your story or concept, ignore the "rules."
                          Let your soul have its say, and see what happens.

                          Thank you, Sherri, for your interview.
                          Readers, do you have any tips on balancing motherhood with a writing career? Comments are welcome!

                          Tuesday, June 14, 2011

                          Heidi Roemer, Children's Poet: Writing Tips and Interview

                          Heidi Roemer is the author of Come to My Party, (nominated for the Monarch Mockingbird, and Great Lakes' Great Books awards), Whose Nest Is This? and What Kinds of Seeds are These?

                          Did you enjoy poetry when you were a kid?

                          Yes! My favorite poem was “When Daddy Fell into the Pond,” by Alfred Noyes. It cracked me up! My dad wore a tuxedo to work, and I could imagine nothing funnier than my dad climbing out of the pond in a soggy black tux with duckweed hanging from his ears!

                          How did you learn to write poetry?
                          As an avid reader and poetry-lover, I consumed children’s poetry. I brought home armloads of children’s poetry books and magazines from the library every week. Often I read aloud, noticing rhythms, rhymes, alliteration, dramatic voice, personification, and other intriguing nuances that give sparkle to words. I learned to distinguish older poems from more contemporary works. Eventually, I began recognizing various children’s poets by their style: Douglas Florian’s wordplay, Jack Prelutsky’s fifth grade boy humor, W. Nicola Lisa’s delicious sense of sound, Rebecca Kai Dotlich’s tongue-tickling imagery, Greg Tang’s “math-terpeices,” Karla Kuskin’s whimsy, Verla Kay’s terse verse, and more!

                          What is the trick to developing a good ear for poetry meter?
                          There’s no evidence to prove I have an “innate” natural rhythm—just ask my husband; I’m a terrible dance partner! But I knew I’d have to “crack the code” if I were to be a successful poet. Being a tactical learner, I typed up pages (and pages!) of published poems and rhymed picture books. Then I took a pencil and practiced marking the stresses in each line. I tip-tappity-tapped with my pencil endlessly. You’d have thought I was learning the Morse Code instead of poetry! But this helped me develop an ear for rhythms.

                          Do you have any tips for aspiring poets? 
                          Yes. Here are a few suggestions for those who want to write children’s poetry:

                          * Have a clear idea of your message or story.
                          Don’t let rhymes of convenience sidetrack you and muddle up the meaning of your poem. In the case of stories-in-rhyme, first write it out in prose. That way you’re clear on the plot and you’ll stay on track.

                          * Use a dictionary
                          Avoid trite, overused rhymes by referring to a dictionary, thesaurus and rhyming dictionary. These tools will help you select only the best words. Replace bland, colorless words with bright nouns and strong verbs. Perk up your poem with kid-friendly language.

                          * Be aware of various poetry forms.
                          Try writing various poetry forms. When writing a poetry collection, you might focus on a single poetry form, such as Guyku by Bob Raczka, (a haiku collection) or include a wide variety of forms, as in Laura Purdie Salas’ Seed Sower, Hat Thrower.

                          * Check facts.
                          Never submit a poem that makes false statements. If you’re writing about penguins and you’re not sure whether they live in the North or South Pole, check it out!

                          * Learn to revise.
                          Rarely (never?) does a poem come out perfectly in the first draft. C. J. Cherryh says it best: "It is perfectly okay to write garbage—as long as you edit brilliantly." (A supportive critique group can be extremely beneficial.)

                          * Be succinct.
                          New poets often write poems that are overly long. Teach yourself to trim the flab. After writing your poem, go on a “Search and Destroy” mission to eliminate weedy words and phrases. Trim, tweak, twist, toy, cut, maneuver, manipulate, revise, and sometimes— start over. This is word-crafting at its best!

                          * Read your poem aloud. Check it for clarity. Listen for alliteration, assonance, and a regular meter.

                          * Set it aside for a while. In baker’s terms, “Let the dough rise.” Then roll up your sleeves and review the poem again—word by word. A good children’s poem contains a focused topic, kid-friendly vocabulary, fresh rhyme, sometimes meter, and—always—a dash of originality!

                          Since 1995 Heidi has served The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators in various capacities. She has been an instructor for the Institute of Children’s Literature and is a writer-in-residence for Chicago Public schools. "Heidi Bee" has visited over 100 schools and libraries. Her playful presentations inspire students to become better readers and writers!

                          To learn more about Heidi’s books and/or to invite Heidi to your school or library, visit her Website: Blog:

                          Monday, May 9, 2011

                          Finding The Write Words at Target

                               I learned about the importance of finding the right words for communicating with children at Target.
                               I was in the cards section looking for a birthday card when a man next to me said, “Excuse me, can you read these cards to me.” He handed me several birthday cards. “For my daughter,” he said. He spoke with difficulty and had a strong accent. I started to read the cards, one by one, glad to help, but not really interested in the topic. After I read the first card, we both agreed it was nice but nothing special. I moved on and read some more about daughters and birthdays. Some more nice cards, we agreed.
                               To my surprise, the next card I started to read made me tear up a little. I felt embarrassed and a little bit baffled. Greeting cards don't make me teary. What had happened? Was it the father's intensity about finding the right card to express his love for his daughter mingled with his difficulty speaking and reading English and the words in that particular card that touched me? I don't remember what the words were but they did move me when he stood next to me. I tried to continue reading without showing the teary emotion, but he detected it, and it seemed to be what he was looking for. When I choked up as I started to read the card again, he said: “That's the one.” He pointed at the card in my hand. “Read it again.” I read the words again, less teary, but still moved and embarrassed that I was moved to tears by a greeting card while standing in the card aisle at Target. “That's the card for my daughter,” he said. We smiled at each other. Together we'd found the right words. The words he needed to tell his daughter how much he loved her.
                               Maybe it wasn't an accident that I was cast in the role of helping a parent find the right words to communicate to a child. I'm a children's writer and that's part of what I often aim to do. Recently, I finished writing Mouse's Boogie Woogie Ball to help children overcome night-time fears of monsters. 
                               Writers like to discover the words that will make their writing as good as possible. We poke around in dictionaries to find new words and endlessly revise and polish our writing hunting for the right words. This time I helped find them while shopping at Target.