Thursday, December 31, 2015

Top 5 Writing Celebrations of 2015

       Yes, I've been on hiatus for a while (and will continue to be so, see #1 below for my very good reason why). But as it's the end of another year, I feel the need to take stock. One of my favorite posts from last year was Top 5 Writing Celebrations of 2014, which was a great writing year for me. 2015, well...not as great in terms of writing, though I do have a few moments of honorable mention:

5. Starting a new project. I'd been working on The Sleepers and a couple of picture books for so long, that it felt really great to set all that aside and begin research and drafting on a new middle grade novel. My critique group loved the idea, too! Sneak peak: an alternate history set in the 1960's in which females, not males, are and have been the dominant sex. 

4. SCBWI Illinois Spring Thaw. Although I've been a dedicated attendee of Prairie Writer's Day, I found a new conference that offered a smaller and more intimate setting. Here's my full account of the day. Hopefully I will continue to attend in years to come!      

3. Finally reading my book aloud to my students. See the full post here, but this was so fun to hear my story come to life, and the 4th Grader reviews I got made all the hard work worth it! 

2.  Querying my MG manuscript The Sleepers. Although it resulted in a round of resounding "no thank you's," it felt very good to finally put my work out there and give it a try. Round two of querying still on deck.

 1. A big celebration, though technically not a writing celebration. The Very Hungry Author is still quite hungry; just more in the physical sense rather than "hungry to chase my author dreams" sense. I've been busy on another little project.

       That's right, this author is pregnant! When I found out over the summer, I was sure that my due date/deadline in March would motivate me that much more to write, write, write because, of course, once the baby is here I'll be sleep-deprived and barely able to form coherent thoughts. Not to mention, baby's schedule and needs will all of a sudden take a major front seat to MY schedule and needs. 

       I was wrong.

       Evidently, my brain and body can only work on one major creative project at a time (I've always been bad at multi-tasking). My biggest effort in this area in the past 6 months has been one revised query and an earnest attempt to attend my monthly writing critique group meetings. 

       My favorite thing lately is the tremendous guilt I feel when eyeing my stacks of manuscripts and inactive blog, or seeing that my also-pregnant critique partner is still writing, or noticing how successful everyone else is being in their writing careers (like my old time BFF-turned-inspiration Jessica Lawson, who has her 3rd MG novel Waiting for Augusta coming out in spring 2016!) 

       Alas, I'm trying my best not to feel too guilty, as I've been told I'll have plenty of mom guilt over other things as soon as baby arrives. I suppose this is one of those sacrifices I hear about that parents make for their children (did I mention I also gave up my writing office to be a nursery? My desk has been relinquished to the basement). I'm going to count "lack of writing motivation" as my worst pregnancy symptom, in which case I know I can consider myself incredibly lucky because so far I have somehow avoided most of the very unpleasant things that expectant mothers have come to expect. 

       But, I'm not done! Just on a little break from the blog for now, and planning to continue my writing projects. Stay tuned! And, if there are any mommies out there with tips on how to carve out writing time with an infant, I will be happy to hear them.

Happy New Year to all! 
May your 2016 be filled with new adventures, lots of love, and not too much guilt over resolutions not achieved!

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Help! My Query Letter Isn't Working (or, Query Letter Resources)

                                              Query Letter not working? Try again!

       In general, there are two different kinds of rejections in the publishing world. There are form rejections, and there are personalized rejections. What I've been told is that a form rejection means you probably need to work on your query, because the agents probably aren't reading any further. Personalized rejections, while still rejections, are a bit more celebration-worthy because it means the agent probably read some of your actual manuscript and has actual suggestions or reasons the project is not for them. 

       I got all form rejections. This may not sound great, but I'm not surprised. This is where most authors start out, and although I fantasized about being one of the only authors EVER to land an agent on my first round of querying, I knew that most likely would not be the reality. So, after receiving a round of "thanks, but no thanks" responses to my agent queries, I know what I must do: try again. 

       In order to learn more about query letters, and in order to help anyone else out there in a similar position, I've gathered a list of great resources on query letters. Have fun researching, and as always, if YOU have any great resources or tips on query letters, please share!

The Complete Guide to Query Letters: Here are the basic necessities, spelled out step-by-step 

Query Shark: This is a great blog by agent Janet Reid that includes queries that got a YES, and suggested revisions to submitted queries--kind of like a tutorial. You can also follow her on Twitter @QueryShark.

10 Dos and Don'ts of Query Letters: short, sweet and to-the-point, by Writer's Digest. 

23 Query Letters that Worked: I'm definitely a learn-by-example kind of gal, so I love seeing examples of real-life letters that were successful!

Quite the Query: More successful letter examples (and featuring my friend Jessica Lawson...check out her voice-filled query!). 

I Stop Reading When...: Find out some common mistakes that immediately turn agents off.

AgentQuery Connect: an online forum to give and get advice on query letters. 

A Pretty Much Foolproof, Never-Fail, Silver Bullet Query Opening: If you like formulas, you'll like this. 

Read Over 60 Successful Queries: More examples! Because really, we can all read and listen to how we're supposed to do it, but it's hard to know what works unless you see it. 

What Agents DON'T Want in Query Letters: So now that you know what you should have, make sure you don't include any of these...

                                    Happy Querying!

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Happy Birthday to the Very Hungry Author!

       The Very Hungry Author got started one year ago on July 30! In honor of my blog birthday, I'm going to take some time to get a little nostalgic and remind myself exactly why I love children's literature so much, why it matters, and why I've embarked on this challenging, fun journey in the first place. 

       So here, in roughly the order I encountered them, are some of my favorite books that influenced me as a child reader and now, as an adult writer of children's books. 

1. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
       Well, are you surprised? I'm sure I've mentioned before that is is one of my favorite baby/toddler books. I typically gift it to brand-new babies as a board book so they can stick their fingers in all the little holes with no fear of ripping pages. Creative, colorful, and quite literally transformative. Not to mention, all that yummy food! 

2. The Monster at the End of this Book by Jon Stone
       My first exposure to a clever twist ending when (spoiler alert) after much worry, Grover discovers that HE is the monster at the end of the book. Genius and hilarious. 
       I actually adored several Sesame Street books, including Don't Forget the Oatmeal, featuring predictable conflict between Bert and Ernie, and Down on the Farm with Grover, featuring predictable Grover antics like feeding spaghetti to the cows. Children love repetition and predictability, especially if it's all mixed with humor. 

3. Corduroy by Don Freeman
       Who in the world didn't feel awful for the poor bear without a home (and equally important, a button)? This is a simple book with a simple message about belonging and home, yet it's delivered through such a sweet and memorable character that it is an absolute classic. 

4. Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary
       On to chapter books. My first memory of this book is my dad reading it aloud to me at bedtime, then me reading it myself (and the rest of the series) once I was old enough. Love Ramona's fresh perspective on things, love her odd-man-out (er, odd-girl-out) lot in life. Her quirkiness was so refreshing, especially to someone who wasn't necessarily part of the "popular" crowd. 
       In 3rd grade, my best friend and I decided to be Ramona and Beezus for Halloween. I happened to be getting my hair cut in October and asked the hairdresser to cut my hair like Beezus. She looked at me in the mirror and said "What's a Beezus??" Oh, grown-ups. 

5. Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein
       This was read and re-read and re-re-read. Such great humor, rhythms, and illustrations. I still love reading these out loud to my students, and they still love listening. One of my favorites: Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout Would Not Take the Garbage Out. Why can't I be this clever? 

6. Garfield by Jim Davis
       While not technically a children's book, I had a small collection of these books that I would pull out in the middle of the night if I couldn't sleep or got scared (telling you, WAY too active of an imagination here. I still scare myself just starting to imagine creepy things that go bump in the night. Maybe I should still have some of these in my nightstand). Anyway, Garfield is a wonderfully developed character who hates Mondays and loves lasagna. Sweet humor that will take your mind off murderous come-to-life dolls or shadow goblins. 

7. The Babysitter's Club by Ann M. Martin
       This is when it would be accurate to say I started to read voraciously; when I was about 8 or 9 and read literally one of these a day over summer break. I think my mom actually got tired of continually taking me back to the library to replenish my supply. Maybe not the world's most amazing literature, but it doesn't always have to be. Ann M. Martin hit on a niche that little girls loved (and still do; last year one of my students was reading The Ghost at Dawn's House and I couldn't wait for her to finish so we could discuss). 

8. Anastasia Krupnik by Lois Lowry
       Fabulous. Read the entire series and still think of Anastasia as one of the first strong female characters I related to. Funny, thoughtful, smart. I recommend these books still to many of my girl students that don't like the typical "little girl" books that are out there now (not that there's anything wrong with those). 
       I remember one joke that went over my head at the time. Anastasia heard her parents talking about salmonella. Not understanding it was the name of a type of food poisoning, she assumed they were talking about a man, Sal Monella. The irony is that it went over BOTH of our heads, until years later when I learned of salmonella and finally got the joke. 

9. Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
       This book is so chock-full of interesting characters, it isn't dull for a second. And, although I had no idea what they were, the chocolate egg cremes that Harriet got after school had me drooling. 
       In 5th grade, my class put on this play. I was Mrs. Robinson, half of the snobby, stuffy, rich couple on Harriet's spying route. Fun stuff. 

...and saving the best for last, as I love to do, my all-time favorite children's chapter book:

10. The Giver by Lois Lowry
       Where do I start? I've read this book many times, probably because the first reading of it left such a strong impression on me. The book requires the reader to put things together as the pages turn, with little explanations (I know now this is called world-building, as opposed to info dump where the reader is basically told outright what they need to know). 
       As a child, it's a little confusing at first, but I loved that Lois Lowry respected my mind enough to know I'd figure it all out; and how much more delicious it was when it all clicked! This book forces the reader to re-examine so many small aspects of our lives that we take for granted. How would you describe sunshine to someone who's never experienced it? Snow? Pain? Love? And is society better off without these things? (I think we all know the answer to that). 
       This was the book that led me down the path of alternate society/ speculative fiction books, which I now write myself. My favorite question as an author is "what if?" I love answering my own questions by creating new worlds and putting all my imaginings on the page. 

       Thinking about my favorite children's books is definitely inspiring and motivating as I continue to polish my craft. There are dozens more I could add to this list, but these ten were the first that popped into my head (that's right, I wasn't really a Goodnight Moon or Dr. Seuss girl). Even if you're not a big reader as an adult, I guarantee you can think of at least a few books that shaped your childhood. Children make such an emotional connection with books, which is why children's literature is so important. Funny, touching, beautiful, simple, sweet...they're all crucial in developing a child's love of reading, pathway to learning, and new views of the world. 

       Now, what were some of YOUR favorite children's books? Let's reminisce!