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An Inside Look at the Pelican Book Group

I first read about the Pelican Book Group on Kathy Temean’s excellent blog, Writing and Illustrating. I looked them up online and found this description: “Our primary ministry is to publish quality fiction that reflects the salvation and love offered by Jesus Christ. Our titles adhere to mainline Christianity, but are enjoyed by Christians and non-Christians.” I knew I had to find out more for our Write2Ignite readers!

PELICAN’S DISTINTICTVES

CAROL: What distinguishes your publishing house from general publishing companies?
NICOLA:  Pelican Book Group is a ministry before it’s anything else, which is why we publish fiction from a Christian worldview. As editor-in-chief, it is my goal to seek out new life and new civilization…oh wait, that’s something else…it’s my goal to seek out stories that shine a light on the new and everlasting life we can have in Christ, and to publish stories that show readers what civilization is supposed to be, even though we’re flawed and can’t accomplish it without the One who saves us all. Pelican does have a clean/wholesome line that is considered secular in that it doesn’t necessarily have to feature Christian characters or have any of the traditionally Christian elements, but even our clean/wholesome line won’t oppose Christian values or promote a position that would oppose Christ’s teachings.

EDITORIAL ADVICE

CAROL: As a Christian writing my first young adult novel, I have often struggled with how to write a book that is God-honoring and still appeals to contemporary young adult readers who prefer edgy novels and vampires. How do you write a non-preachy book that glorifies the Lord and appeals to today’s teens?

NICOLA: The Christian YA market is tough for the very reason you’ve mentioned. I think the best thing always is to write the story that’s itching to come out of you. If you do that, you won’t have to worry about being preachy, because the Christian element will be an integral part of your plot or your characterization. Don’t write a story with “preaching” in mind. Don’t put unnatural dialogue into your characters’ mouths because you’re trying to make a point (no author intrusion!) Don’t bend Christianity or flake out on it simply to try to make your story appealing to a secular audience. One problem with many Christian stories today is that the Christianity is compromised under the guise of “being real.” One can be both real and Christian. After all, Christ was! He is the standard, not trends in publishing. If you write interesting characters who overcome obstacles, who are scared to death but rise to the occasion, who are tempted but either don’t fall or if they do, pay the consequence and then find redemption, then your story will be appealing.

Speaking to the problem I mentioned, what I see is that authors are writing to the lowest common denominator in order to grasp popularity, and they aren’t showing our young adults that life should be lived to the highest standard, not the lowest thrill. If your book illustrates that choosing well, doing good, being faithful is actually the best way to have an awesome, hopeful and fun life, then God will do the rest to put that book into the hands of teens who need it.

FIVE TIPS TO KEEP YOU ON TRACK

CAROL: Many of the writers who come to the Write2Ignite conference are either new writers or are breaking into the children’s and young adult market for the first time. What are your suggestions for “newbies?”

NICOLA: Here are my top five:

1) Hone your craft and don’t rush the process. The ease with which one can self-publish seems to be making people impatient, and because of that,  a lot of books are being published before they are ready–or even good. You want to tell a great story, and that means you have to learn how to write. Learn the rules (from grammar rules to the rules/formula of your genre.) If you don’t know terminology, that’s an indication that you still have something to learn. For example: If you hear the term show don’t tell and you have no clue what that means or how to accomplish it, then take the time to learn. 

2) Follow the rules/formula for your genre. They are there because that’s what readers expect. Follow those rules. Get so good at them that including them becomes automatic. Once you know your genre and can write it well, then you can bend the rules with your own unique twist. . . and don’t think because you aren’t writing romance that there isn’t a formula. Every genre has its own. Can you imagine an action-adventure without a chase scene, or a [mystery] without a sleuth?

3) Listen to feedback. If editors, crit partners, agents, etc. keep telling you the same or similar things about character development, plot flaws, believability, etc., listen to them. Then, figure out how to fix the issues. 

4) Get crit partners who will tell you the truth. If your manuscript is terrible, you need to know it. A terrible manuscript isn’t the end of the world; it’s a starting point, but if your CP’s will only stroke your ego, then you will never improve. 

5) Don’t just polish the first three or four chapters of your manuscript. I see this very often where a book is great until chapter four. That’s because the first three chapters get revised each time they are submitted to an agent, publisher or contest, while the rest of the book just sits waiting for the magic  request-for-full. You will be highly disappointed if you keep getting requests for your complete manuscript followed by subsequent rejections because the quality of your book fell apart sixty pages in. It’s disappointing for editors, too.

CAROL: It appears that most of your publications are e-pubs of one sort or another. Was that because you see readers moving in that direction? How do you decide if you will publish the book in print?

NICOLA: All titles are released in some electronic format. Many readers like the convenience of being able to read a book on multiple devices without having to haul around paper–or having the luxury of owning a paperback to read when at home, but the e-version on their phone/tablet/laptop when away from home. Some novellas and all full-length novels are considered for paperback and/or hardback editions. Most full-length novels go to print, although not necessarily at the same time as they are released in e-format. The decision is based on prayer and whether we feel the market exists for print. 

CAROL:  A publisher who prays about these decisions–that’s amazing!!

NICOLA: Thanks for reaching out!

********

You will find links to several Pelican Imprints below. Please read the guidelines for each imprint before submitting.

Watershed  Make a Splash!

“All stories must be Christian fiction between 25,000 and 65,000 words. All stories must be written for a target audience of ages 14 to 19, but with an appeal that will transcend the teenager.”

Prism CW  “Clean & Wholesome secular fiction that reflects hope to a troubled world. Prism CW is our clean and wholesome fiction imprint. For this imprint we acquire all fiction sub-genres from romance to sci-fi/fantasy and everything in between. PCW titles feature strong heroes and heroines who have a strong moral compass. While these titles do not have a Christian element, PCW titles feature characters who understand right from wrong and ultimately understand the right choice even if they come to that conclusion by living through not-so-great decisions.”

Prism Lux  “Christian fiction that reflects the the Light of Christ. “Prism Lux is our Christian fiction imprint. For this imprint, we acquire all Christian fiction sub-genres from romance to sci-fi/fantasy and everything in between. Lux titles feature strong heroes and heroines who are Christian throughout the story or who come to a knowledge of Christ before “the end.” These stories contain a strong Christian message that adheres to mainline Christianity (e.g. The Trinity as one God, three Persons; Through the grace of Christ’s Pascal sacrifce, all can receive salvation . . .)”

Nicola Martinez is editor-in-chief at Pelican Book Group, where she is privileged to work with many talented authors and staff.

 

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An Inside Look Into A Freelance Editor’s Work

Check out these bookshelves!  These are just some of the books which Write2Ignite team member, Brenda Covert, has edited. (She edited all of the books on the second shelf and about half on the top shelf.)

Brenda took time out of her busy writing, editing, and grandparenting schedule to answer some questions about what she does and the common mistakes writers make.

CAROL: Do you specialize in editing certain types of manuscripts?

BRENDA: I specialize in editing Christian or family-friendly works for any age. I’ve edited everything from picture books to adult novels, both fiction and nonfiction, and that includes a cookbook or two! I avoid horror and erotica. I don’t read them, so they wouldn’t be a good fit for my editing skills.

CAROL: What are the five most common mistakes you find in manuscripts?

BRENDA: 1) A common mistake new authors make is trying to tell the entire backstory before diving into the story the readers were promised. Don’t waste time doing that. Bring on the drama! Bring on the conflict!

2) This doesn’t happen often, but if an author doesn’t create a timeline of events for themselves, there may be a character who does something unexpected, such as going back to work a few days after dying. Quite entertaining, to be honest, but I’m going to ask the author to fix it.

3) Comma mis-usage. They may be sprinkled indiscriminately throughout the manuscript like pepper, or used too sparingly, but not being sure of comma rules is normal. After all, there are 47 comma rules, and they represent job security for editors!

4) Plagiarism is a problem I’ve seen with poetry, borrowed anecdotes, and occasionally news articles. Just because something is on the Internet doesn’t mean it’s in the public domain and free to copy. Do your research and know copyright law!

5) Including lyrics (because they are meaningful). Even when you give proper credit, you stand a chance of being sued by the owner of the copyright, so always request permission to use, even if you only want to use a line or two! (You will likely have to pay a fee for use.) Otherwise, I tell my authors to use only the song title and share why the song is meaningful without quoting from it.

CAROL: What is the most common advice you end up giving writers?

BRENDA: Make sure to include as many of the 5 senses in your scenes as you can. Make your readers feel like they are there, wherever there happens to be!

CAROL: If you had a HUGE platform to shout out what you want writers to know, what would you say?

BRENDA: First impressions matter! Whether you intend to self-publish or hope to land a contract with a traditional publishing house, you’ll want to take your time to polish your manuscript. Definitely don’t rush to self-publish. If you want readers to clamor for your second, third, or fourth book, your first book has to shine, leaving them wanting more.

CAROL: How did you become an editor?

BRENDA: I started young, grading classmates’ spelling tests! English was always my favorite subject. Every employer I worked for after graduating from university ended up asking me to proofread documents. Once I began writing educational teaching materials for children in 2002, I received on-the-job training to be an editor as well. I moved on to work for a publishing house in 2011. Of all the resources that line an editor’s office, The Chicago Manual of Style is the single most vital tool!

CAROL: What is your favorite part of being an editor? Any success stories you’d like to share?

BRENDA: I love helping authors polish their manuscripts so they can present their best to their readership. I delight in those “a-ha” moments when I’ve offered a suggestion for solving a problem, and the author gets excited about the re-write! As an editor for Ambassador International, I saw a huge number of manuscripts become books, and many of them line my shelves today.

 

Freelance author and editor Brenda Covert was first published for pay in 1999 with an article in the May/June issue of Today’s Christian Woman and a Thanksgiving poem in Clubhouse Jr. Since 2002, Brenda has written more than four hundred short children’s stories for Union Gospel Press’s Sunday school curriculum. Her stories, most of which are written for the nine-to-eleven age group, entertain as well as offer a lesson on living for our Savior. She also published numerous scripts for use in schools, the two most popular being K.C.’s Dream and The Constitutional Convention. Additionally, she has written poetry for the Adult Bible Study published by Union Gospel Press.

Brenda has been editing since 2002, first in the educational field and then in the Christian/family-friendly market. Her editing experience goes from picture books to chapter books—including Johanna’s Journey: Call to Freedom (a finalist for the 2015 Selah Award)—to YA novels and adult fiction and nonfiction, including inspirational books and Bible studies.

Brenda has two grown children, a new grandchild, two blogs that she promises to devote more attention to, and more cats than an allergic woman should have! (Want one?)

You can find Brenda online at BrendaCovert.blogspot.com. If you’re especially fond of Christmas, you’ll enjoy her blog at ChristmaswithBrenda.blogspot.com. Follow her on Twitter, where she’s  @TheBrendaCovert.

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Catching Teen Readers & Writers Through Instagram

Today we welcome guest blogger Maddy Wilson, Write2Ignite’s new social media adviser specializing in Instagram.

Instagram, in my humble opinion, is one of the easiest and most accessible ways to access a teenage audience. But upon first glance, if you haven’t grown up around the social media giant, it can seem daunting.

I got my first Instagram account when I was twelve, in 2011. It wasn’t a personal account, but a “fan account” for a band that my friends and I liked. Over the course of the three years that the account was active, our little One Direction fan-page surpassed all of our expectations. At its height of popularity, it boasted over 20,000 followers, which was an extreme number for its time.

Nowadays this social media “influencer” is a culture that has branded its own version of celebrities with the likes of Tana Mongeau, Huda Kattan, Zach King, and Kylie Jenner. These people aren’t necessarily celebrities by past generations’ standards, but collectively, they have 163.2 million Instagram followers.

These are the people that teens are looking to. These social media influencers are aptly named, because that’s what they do. Sure, Tana and Zach create YouTube content, and Huda and Kylie both have makeup brands, but their main wheelhouse is Instagram. They get paid millions upon millions of dollars by brands to advertise their products. They are the people that the media watches to see what’s new.

Knowing that teens look up to people who have millions of followers, small groups may think Instagram success impossible to reach. But the truth is, you don’t have to have millions of followers to make Instagram effective, especially not in a smaller portion of the app like Bookstagram, which is what book bloggers and readers have dubbed the “book side of Instagram.” Here readers come together under hashtags like #reading and #writer and #amreading to share their love of books.

Here are five key tips ​every​ person who is trying to conquer Instagram needs to know.

Interaction

It’s so important that your account is active. Follow other brands and like posts by bloggers and authors. Comment and share posts. I’ve found that Instagram “stories” are useful for interacting with other accounts. You can share a post that you like to your Instagram story by clicking the arrow in the bottom right corner of the post and clicking “add post to your story.” Customize that story with GIFs and stickers and words as well. Being active on your account is insanely important for growing your following and connecting with people. Some of my teen author friends post once a day, but I personally don’t think that’s needed. A post every two days would suffice, as long as you’re keeping your account active by liking, following, and commenting.

Aesthetic

The aesthetic of your account is also important. People, teens especially, love to look at aesthetically pleasing pictures and accounts. I love @miss.ravenclaw.reads and her aesthetic, and especially @olivia.j.the.wordshaker. Both of their accounts are beautiful. If you’d like to start a theme with your account, clean out the pictures and videos that you’ve posted and start fresh. Instagram themes are all pictures that have the same filter or lighting. Some accounts have a “checkerboard theme” where they post, say, a picture of a book, then a quote, another picture, and another quote, and alternate like that. Overall, it just makes the account more pleasing to look at and makes the person looking at the account more apt to follow.

Consider getting a Linktree account. It’s a single place where you can put in links to your website, your Facebook, and anything else you may have, rather than putting it in your bio where people can’t simply click on it. Part of the aesthetic of your account is in how your bio looks. Here’s an example of a bio that would make the Write2Ignite account more accessible to teens:

“We’re Write2Ignite, a Christian non-profit focused on connecting YA and kidlit authors to the writing tools they need to hone their craft. Come join the fun!”

Hashtags

Hashtags are how your pictures get seen, but you want to be careful which ones you use. Some hashtags get more attention than others. Use only tags that are relevant to the picture rather than a set of tags over and over again. Instagram catches accounts that repeatedly use the same hashtags, like too many pictures, or comment too much. Instagram will “shadowban” those accounts, meaning that they can’t like or comment or post anything. Another thing most accounts do is separate the caption from the hashtags with spaced-out ellipses so readers don’t have to see the tags–most teens consider them an eyesore and think that they make the caption look cluttered.

For example, if you posted a picture of a quote from Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas with a picture of a candle behind it, you could use hashtags like #reading #candle #readers #writers #throneofglass #sarahjmaas and just be done with it. But if you really want the picture to be seen, use things relevant to the book. Here’s what I’d caption the picture as:

“This week, we’re loving Throne Of Glass by Sarah J. Maas–the perfect book to get lost in for rainy days like this. What are some of your favorite quotes from @sarahjmaas?”

Here ere are the tags I’d use:

#reading #amreading #sarahjmaas #throneofglass #acourtofthornesandroses #bookstagram #feysand #rhysand #nightcourt #vscobooks #bibliophile #becauseofreading #igreads #writer #amwriting #teenauthor #youngauthor #youngadultauthor.

You can insert 30 tags before Instagram blocks your post or shadowbans you. In my caption above, the third, fourth, fifth, seventh, eighth, and ninth hashtags were all copied from other accounts who used the #throneofglass tag. All I did was go under the #throneofglass tag on Instagram and copy the hashtags that a fan account used. Hashtags that pertain directly to the book will get your post seen more than it would have been had you just used more basic hashtags.

Promotion

Under every post, Instagram gives you the option to promote. Promotions basically put ads in Instagram stories and on people’s feeds, starting at $5 for a one-day campaign or in the thousands for campaigns stretching over multiple months. It’s a great way to advertise and connect with people who may be interested in your nonprofit organization.

Relatability

Above all, teens want something they can relate to. That’s why my fan account with my friends prospered as much as it did: we were just three eleven-year-olds with this giant Instagram account, goofing around and posting pictures of band members we liked. People could relate to that. By promoting your account, using emojis and “text lingo” and making your account seem more open, you’ll be sure to catch the eye of teen readers and writers.

Are you just getting started with Instagram? Here’s a wikihow page that can help.

Maddyson Wilson is a young adult fiction author from the Piedmont of North Carolina. Her debut novel, Doubt The Stars, came out in November of 2017. Her second novel, Don’t Blame The Reckless , is set to release on July 12th, 2019 with Zenith Publishing. When not writing, she can usually be found with a coffee in hand and “Fall Out Boy” blaring through her headphones. You can find her on Instagram @maddywritesbooks.

Maddy is Write2Ignite’s new social media adviser specializing in Instagram.

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My Wonderful, Terrifying Journey @ Write2Ignite 2018

Today’s guest blogger, Celeste Hawkins, shares her first experience attending a Write2Ignite Conference.

As I opened the doors to check into my first writers’ conference, I held a print-out of my book draft in one arm and the parking-line-yellow purse that makes me feel more optimistic in the other. I pulled it closer to my side as I searched the crowd of faces.

I spotted her and let out the breath I’d been holding in, then sifted my way off to the quiet side of the chattering writers, editors, and publishers. Everyone seemed to be pulling out their schedules and looking over the first session options:

  • Tessa Emily Hall – “Common Mistakes Newbie Writers Make in Their Manuscripts”
  • Kim Peterson – “Is My Manuscript Ready for an Agent?”
  • Jean Matthew Hall – “Children’s Book Categories”
  • Lori Hatcher – “The Day I Wanted to Quit: Tackling the Mind Games That Discourage and Defeat Writers”

When I reached my friend, Leah and I hugged and caught up on life since we’d last seen each other at a birthday party over the summer. That’s when we’d discovered we were both working on our first books.

We looked at our schedules. It felt like trying to order ice cream: you know you can pick any one and be happy, but you kind of wish you could have all of them.

Finally, we agreed Kim Peterson’s was perfect for us. And for the next 45 minutes, Kim shared the top reasons manuscripts got trashed when she worked at the Leslie Stobbe Literary Agency.

I took three pages of notes.

Later, Leah and I sat together again at our first keynote with Jenny Cote, award-winning author of the popular children’s fantasy series The Amazing Tales of Max and Liz and Epic Order of the Seven.

As she took the stage, I noticed her springy blonde hair that matched her personality inch for inch. She presented like the Energizer Bunny, clicking through slide after slide of quirky quotes and reviewing the pros and cons of each option in the publishing world in detail — in a talk she’d titled “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Deadlines.”

It’s the question every writer must grapple with: do you want to call the shots, or let someone else? I’d been grappling with that myself.

Instinctively, I began to reflect on the answer I’d reached. Originally, I’d considered co-publishing my book. Next, I’d staunchly decided on self-publishing. As Jenny went on, the realization sank in like a rock to the bottom of a lake: I’d defaulted to those options because, deep down, I didn’t believe a “real publisher” would ever publish my book.

The familiar fear remained as I drove off at the end of that first day, curving around the dark rural back roads to home.

But the next day, I couldn’t help feeling renewed hope as I walked into a session with my former classmate Daniel Blackaby, who had published eight books since I saw him last in Shakespearean Tragedies.

If he did it, why can’t I?

The chairs were filled, and we had to bring in more from next door to seat the group consisting of teenagers up to 60-somethings. Daniel encouraged us to write even when we didn’t feel inspired. He gave us silly prompts and the results were side-hurting laughs at soon-to-be stories by creative writers.

  • You’re the coach of a basketball team that’s about to lose. Write the worst pep talk ever.
  • You just woke up, looked in the mirror, and screamed. Write what you saw.
  • Write a back-of-the-book description for this picture. (It was an old-timey ship, a long tentacle rising up out of the surrounding tempestuous waves.)

After the session, Daniel and I talked for a minute about our current projects. To my surprise, he even offered to read my book and provide feedback.

I’ll never forget the next session with Jenny.

She took us step by step through her writing process — from jotting down initial concepts on an idea page, outlining, and planning out chapters to finding a critique team, knowing when to stop editing, and even soliciting endorsements for your book cover.

She reminded us that we do everything first for God and the results are ultimately up to Him.

“My book will get rejected by publishers. But if I give God 100 percent of the steps, then when my book gets rejected, they’ve rejected God’s plan,” I scribbled down in big letters.

The words entered my soul as if they’d been meant only for me.

I rehearsed those words as I waited at the large conference table, pulling out my binder and re-reading the title on the front.

Then he came in, the quiet man with the blue eyes and a tie. I stood, and we introduced ourselves.

“Hey, I’m Celeste,” I said, sure to give what one of our family friends used to call “the famous Hawkins handshake” — the one I’d practiced as a girl when people greeted us at church doors. “Good to meet you, Dr. Lowry.”

“You can call me Sam,” he said in his brilliant Irish accent.

I asked him why he first became interested in books, figuring that’s the only reason anyone becomes a publisher. He recounted how his father had built him a wooden shelf by hand. After that, he felt a sense of responsibility to fill it up with books. He couldn’t stop reading.

The conversation turned to me. I told him about my background as a writer, gave him the elevator pitch for my book, and slid over the three-ring binder containing my manuscript. My heart quickened as I felt powerless to keep it safe and un-rejected any longer.

“It’s short,” he said about the word count, listed on the cover page.

“Yeah,” I said, then gulped.

I studied his every reaction, as he began to thumb through the pages, flipping forward then backward.

“Oh, I’m glad you have questions. You need that,” he added, pointing to the end of a chapter.

I nodded.

“Hmm,” he continued.

Was that the good kind of “hmm” or the bad kind of “hmm”? I stretched my shoulders back, willing every muscle to stay calm.

We sat in a silence that felt like eternity.

Finally, he spoke.

“Well, it’s definitely a good book.” He looked up with a smile.

My heart exploded like fireworks and surprise birthday parties. It was one of the best strings of words I’ve ever heard, lined up together like that.

“Send me the manuscript,” he continued.

Did he really just say that? What is happening? My mind raced. Should I say something now?

“Okay. Of course,” I managed to answer, gathering my things and probably saying “thank you” a dozen times as his next appointment walked in and I left, bounding up the stairs to find someone to tell.

Even now, I hardly believe it. I shared my book with a publisher. Then, he actually read it. Then, he wrote back saying that they’d be pleased to publish it. Now I’ve signed a book contract with Ambassador International. And maybe, just maybe, one day I’ll be on the other side of the Write2Ignite Conference table at North Greenville University autographing my first book.

[This article first appeared in the Spring 2019 issue of 1892, the alumni magazine of North Greenville University.]

Celeste Hawkins lived in the same red-shuttered house in North Carolina until she was 22. After studying English education, Celeste started her career in writing and editing. Her work has appeared online at USA Today 10Best.com, as well as in print in edible UPCOUNTRY and 1892 Magazine, among others. She also created the popular travel website Travelers Rest Here. Set to release within this decade (hopefully), Always Been Loved is her first book, a deeply personal discovery of God’s out-of-this-world love for us. Celeste also enjoys sharing amazing stories of what happens when we pray, listen for God’s voice, and then obey at StillGodSpeaks.com.

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10 Questions about the fantasy genre and YA literature:

 While not every publisher accepts fantasy manuscripts, strong interest in this genre exists among children, teens, and young adults well beyond college age. This interview is the first in a series to explore fantasys appeal to younger readers, and to look at connections between this genre and Christian faith. Q: Before we start, how do you define YA literature? A: Literature written specifically to appeal to an audience from teens to young adult, up to 30 or beyond. Single [YA fans] can often be older, still in early stages of developing their adult career, delaying marriage, etc. Whether a person fits into the “YA lit” audience may be somewhat self-defined. There’s no age limit for enjoying YA lit.

  1. Q: What draws young adults beyond college age who continue to be fans and love to read fantasy? A: Fantasy explores a number of timeless themes. It allows the imaginative reader to engage with the impossible, experiencing things beyond mundane life. Additionally, not all fantasy is primarily for YA audiences. Young adults can enjoy and appreciate stories from Ursula K. Leguin (1929-2018) or Ray Bradbury (1920-2012), but they’re often not as simplistic as garden-variety fantasy. And as stories get older, they become less accessible to younger readers, but remain beloved to the adults who grew up with them.

The Dune series (Frank Herbert) is also fantasy (though often considered ‘science fiction’) but is not YA lit. YAs may read it, but many of its themes are oblique rather than obvious. In an early scene of the first book, protagonist Paul Atrides, then a young child, is subjected to a test that would certainly be considered cruel. His grandmother, a high-ranking member of an ancient, mystical, and politically powerful order causes him to undergo intense pain (the Gom Jabbar “Test of Humanity”). This is a scene I have considered multiple times since I first read it, and it remains compelling.

  1. Q: Besides Harry Potter, what are well-known YA fantasy series?

A: I sometimes hesitate to label something YA, because the term to some suggests simplicity and lack of rigor, but quite a number of excellent authors have written for younger audiences. A primary example is C. S. Lewis, who explicitly wrote The Chronicles of Narnia as a children’s series, while many of his other works are intended for adults. His space trilogy offers an intriguing escalation of complexity. Out of the Silent Planet might be considered a YA entry, as on its surface it is a tale of adventure in a fantastical setting. Perelandra, following the same protagonist to a second solar destination, is more a vehicle for philosophical and theological reflection than an adventure. As for That Hideous Strength, I still need to go back and re-read it (probably several times) because it was well over my head as a young adult.

Stephen Lawhead’s early stories are unquestionably YA, though his later novels grow in complexity as he grows as an author. J.R.R. Tolkien (The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings) is often considered YA, though the generational gap makes his writing less accessible to younger readers. Frank Peretti writes both kids’ stories (The Cooper Kids Adventure Series) and books for YA or adult readers (e.g., This Present Darkness).

The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan and The Sword of Truth by Terry Goodkind also fit under the YA heading, as do Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game and subsequent works.

[A search for dragons and fantasy produces another long list of fantasy authors named by fans. A search for Christian fantasy series yields this list on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/list/show/4258.Best_Christian_Fantasy_books ].

Q: What about todays popular series (turned film or TV show), like Game of Thrones and The Hunger Games? A: Game of Thrones, the first book in the series A Song of Ice and Fire (George R. R. Martin), may be more adult than YA. I have only read the first several chapters of the first book, but from the outset it delves into complex themes and difficult situations. The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins) aims at younger audiences, particularly considering the age of the main characters.

  1. Q: What features do young adults (through 30-somethings) appreciate most in the fantasy genre? A: For me, it’s two things: impossible things being possible and an alternate existence.

Q: Do these elements connect to Christianity? A: Many people who don’t believe in God still want to believe in the supernatural; this is one reason fantasy is broadly popular. People are dissatisfied with limitations in their actual lives and want to go beyond those. From wishing they could accomplish certain things to being seriously depressed and imagining other roles or abilities, they gravitate to the theme of wanting to be the hero.

Q: Is this a link to current interest in superhero stories? A: It can be, but there’s also just the idea of regular people performing heroic acts. One example is 300, the graphic novel turned movie loosely based on an ancient Greek historical event. No one in that tale has supernatural powers, but that feat performed well over two thousand years ago will likely continue to be celebrated for a long time.

  1. Q: What elements would discerning fans dislike in a YA fantasy book or series? A: A hero that can literally do no wrong. Some authors fall into the trap of creating impossibly good heroes, often to the point of writing “Mary Sue” characters. [Mary Sue or Marty Stu – a character inserted into the story that doesnt necessarily fit, an idealized (unrealistically perfect) figure, sometimes a self insert representing the authors opinions. https://www.writerswrite.com/fiction/characters/mary-sue/ ].

Another problem is significant, unexplained change in how characters behave from one book to another. A turn-off for me occurs when Terry Goodkind’s original protagonist, Richard Rahl, suddenly appears at the end of Pillars of Creation. That story had intrigued me right up until the end, as the first in the series that didn’t follow the original cast of characters. Then Richard Rahl showed up, saving the day, and speaking with words that, to me, did not sound like his own. Goodkind seemed to be using Rahl as a puppet, compromising the character’s integrity to make a point. This was particularly frustrating because the preceding book in The Sword of Truth series (Faith of the Fallen) was, in my opinion, his best to that point.

  1. Q: Of the most popular fantasy writers since 2000, which are most compatible with Christian worldview values? General themes that are common in much secular fantasy may include a “moral universe” (though not necessarily biblical), clear right and wrong, a creator, and an evil one. The Wheel of Time series features types for God and Satan (“The Creator” and “The Dark One”), and appears to suggest that there are clear standards for right and wrong, but some moral standards vary widely from culture to culture.
  1. Q: Give brief examples of fantasy content illustrating what todays readers find most significant in this type of story. A: The hero’s journey is always a big thing. Otherwise, someone who is marginalized suddenly becoming important, gaining a larger role in society, etc. Readers often see themselves in stories they read, and I’d argue that this phenomenon is more common in fantasy than in some genres.
  1. Q: How do todays fans see themselves and their experiences in fantasy novels or short stories? A: Most people are (or feel) marginalized in one way or another, disenfranchised literally or metaphorically. Characters in a story may not be intentionally limited by another party; their lack of influence may simply be a fact of their circumstances –e.g., growing up on a farm. But regardless of the reason someone lacks agency, people often want to move beyond their current situation.

Readers want to feel they are part of the journey – fighting against evil, whether supernatural in origin or just the result of people being people. They might not directly imprint on the main character (“this character is me”), but can imagine themselves as part of the situation (“this is somewhere I’d like to be, and something I’d enjoy doing”).

  1. Q: What do you see as the future of the genre? Is it trending in a particular direction in terms of content, types of settings and stories, themes, etc.? A: I honestly have no idea what the trend will turn out to be, but I wouldn’t mind if werewolves, vampires, and zombies were forgotten for a couple of decades. That said, I would like to see more genuinely new, creative entries rather than continual “remakes,” or resurrecting old series. The fantasy genre, to me, is all about going somewhere new and different. I can enjoy a particular destination for three books or a dozen, but when I pick up a new author, I want to experience something different enough that I see it as its own world. I am more convinced now than I once was that stories should have definite ends. Plenty of serial works (from TV shows, to book and movie series, to webcomics) have gone from stupendously amazing to “jumping the shark”[refers to criticism of the sitcom Happy Days.
  1. Q: What classic fantasy books are, in your opinion, the best models for fantasy writers?

A: None of them and all of them – don’t follow one particular novel. Read multiple, diverse things and see what grows out of that. Someone writing about 1950s America can go to a library or archive to view film footage or read books and newspapers in order to research the setting. When you write fantasy, you can’t research your setting in the same way; instead, you have to create the world. Research by a fantasy/sci fi writer is twofold. One component is the work you do creating a fictional fantasy world. The other part is reading existing stories (not only novels). In my experience, I get many more ideas when I’m actively reading than when I’m not.

When it comes to creating your world, as when you’re writing the actual stories, try to do a little work every day. Add things to your world that you’re not going to use – this creates flavor, a living, breathing world for the characters to inhabit. And you might find yourself using some of it anyway. Some authors will start the world-building process by drawing a map; others by creating characters.  Of course, not every story needs a map, but every story does need believable characters. Seek authenticity in how characters react to situations.

[ #Write2IgniteConference2019 will feature Worldbuilding workshops by Edie Melson and Daniel Blackaby! https://write2ignite.com/category/2019-conference-updates/

  1. Q: What caveats or suggestions, if any, would you give to parents of tweens and teens who are drawn to reading and/or writing fantasy literature?

A: Read some of it yourself. Talk with them about it, not to lecture, but to initiate discussion. Say things like “I thought this was interesting,” or “I didn’t quite get this.” Ask them questions, and be genuine. Parents who try to prevent their children from being exposed to something specific can’t afford any gaps in their defense; if kids want to make an end run around you, in most families, they’ll eventually succeed. I would not personally suggest restricting kids to reading only Christian literature. There are plenty of excellent Christian authors, but if your only criterion is “author and publisher must be Christian,” quality varies. Some publishers focus on iterations of the same tale, requiring that every story hit certain bullet points: a common example is “someone not saved gets saved.” While a story that fits a formula can be good, restricting oneself to only stories that fit a certain formula can stunt a reader’s growth.

An avid reader as a child, Paul DeCiantis grew up on The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings. The latter cemented his interest in the fantasy genre and helped form his preference for book series over stand-alone entries. Other favorite series include Stephen R. Lawhead (The Pendragon Cycle; The Song of Albion), Robert Jordan (The Wheel of Time), and Frank Herbert (Dune). He has been writing off and on since finishing high school. He finds his pre-graduation writing embarrassing, but greatly enjoys the creative bursts involved in world-building and hopes to finish some of his current projects. Professionally, Paul has worked in Information Technology doing some form of Technical Support, including four years in the U.S. Army. He earned a B.A. in Interdisciplinary Studies (North Greenville University 2009), with concentrations in Linguistics and Literature. He believes knowledge of literature is an expansion of language, as simple references to commonly-known tales can conjure up whole worlds of information in the hearer’s mind. (Consider phrases like “strong as Hercules” and “Cinderella story.”)

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How To Find an Agent:  Six Questions for Picture Book Writers

As an aspiring picture book author, I had high hopes for breaking into children’s publishing. I worked on my craft, joined a critique group, revised and polished my picture book manuscripts, then sent them off to publishers, hoping my dream would soon be reality. That’s when I encountered two seemingly impossible hurdles: the slush pile and, worse yet, the wall – you know the one I mean – the one that has this sign posted: “Open to Agented Submissions Only”.  So, after two years of submitting  picture book manuscripts unsuccessfully, I decided it was time to seek an agent. That search took over a year, but finally, with an agent representing me, I sold my first book, then three more, all acquired by top-notch publishers. What made the difference?  Having an agent. Taking that step, however, required thought. Here are six questions to get you started.

Question  #1: Am I ready for an agent?

Newer writers sometimes seek representation prematurely, so my first bit of advice is to make sure that the manuscripts you are presenting reflect your very best work and clearly demonstrate an understanding of your form. For example, it should be clear from your picture book manuscript that you understand that the story needs to be told in 14 spreads and that the text needs to leave room for the illustrations. Your text should be so smooth and tight and full of heart, that it will be clear to prospective agents that you’ve spent a lot of time revising and polishing. Finally, an agent is not going to be interested in just one picture manuscript.  They will want to see a body of work. So make sure, before sending that first story to an agent, that you have a whole portfolio of at least five solid stories that are ready to be seen.

Question #2: Are you sure you want an agent?

How can you be sure that you want and/or need an agent? Here are a few considerations: 1) If you intend to self publish, you do not need an agent. 2)If you are primarily interested in publishing for the children’s magazine market, you do not need an agent as most children’s literature agents are interested in representing book-length projects.  3) There are still a few publishers who accept unsolicited manuscripts, so it is possible to submit on your own.  4) However, if you are serious about publishing with a traditional publisher and want the expertise of someone who not only knows the market, but also has the skill to negotiate a contract to get the best terms possible, and who also has many contacts within the industry to help connect you with the right editor, then I would recommend that yes, you might want an agent. That is what I decided was best for me.  

Question #3:  What kind of agent do I want?

Once you decide you want an agent, the next consideration is what kind of agent you want. Some agents, for example, are highly editorial. Is that something you are interested in or would you prefer an agent who sends out your work without that editorial stage? Different agents also have different philosophies regarding submissions.  Some prefer to send pieces out one at a time in small batches.  Others send larger batches. And what is their procedure for following up on pieces they have submitted?  Most important, what would YOU like from an agent?  These are all questions to consider before starting your search.  You might even take the time to create a list/chart of what you are looking for in an agent, so that when you start your search you can keep track of which agents fit those requirements. 

Question #4:  How do I start my search?  

I started my search for an agent by doing a little investigating to see which agents and agencies my favorite authors were represented by. Then I went to those agencies websites and read through every bio of every agent, making notes as to which agents I thought might be interested in my work.  I also signed up for my local SCBWI’s annual conference and made a special effort to meet each agent there, not to foist my work on them, but just so I could get a sense of what they were like.  I also looked online for interviews with prospective agents.  A fantastic resource for that is Cynthia Leitich Smith’s blog, which includes a page with links to dozens of agent interviews. Finally, once you are ready to query your list of agents, go back to each agent’s website and follow the submission guidelines EXACTLY. Then, be patient…. This journey is not for those who are in a rush.=)

Question #5 How do I know the agent I am querying is legit?

Unfortunately there are some scammers out there hoping to offer representation to gullible writers. To avoid finding yourself in unwanted situation with a questionable agent, it’s helpful to know a few things.  Legitimate agents will not charge you to read your manuscript, nor will they demand any upfront costs.  They will not charge editing fees, nor will they submit your work to publishers that charge fees.  For more details on this important understanding, I recommend you check out an expert source called Authors Beware, managed and run by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. This, in my opinion, is a must read before beginning your agent search.

Question #6:  What do I do when I get the offer?

Most likely an offer will be preceded by a phone call.  This pre-arranged phone chat is a chance for you and the agent to connect live.  It’s your chance to make sure your are both on the same page and can communicate easily.  It’s also your chance to get to know them a little bit better and to make sure they will represent you in the way you want.  (Remember they are working for you, and you are benefitting from their expertise and connections.) So, before “the call”, as it is excitedly known, go back to that list you generated (see question #3) and create a list of questions that you want to ask during the call.  If the call indeed ends with an offer, be excited, but also keep your wits about you.  Make sure that before signing the contract with your new agent that you read the fine print carefully and ask any final questions that you want answered.  Once you’ve signed, have a little celebratory chocolate (or whatever)!  Then be ready for the next step… going out on submission as an agented writer!
 
Laura Sassi has a passion for telling stories in prose and rhyme. She is the author of four picture books: GOODNIGHT, ARK (Zonderkidz, 2014) which was a 2015 Christian Book Award® finalist, GOODNIGHT, MANGER (Zonderkidz, 2015), DIVA DELORES AND THE OPERA HOUSE MOUSE (Sterling, 2018) which was featured on BBC’s Cbeebies Bedtime Stories and won First Honors in the 2019 Best in Rhyme Award, and her newest release LOVE IS KIND (Zonderkidz, 2018).
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Part IV of “How to Lose an Editor in 10 Ways” BELIEVE YOU ARE PERFECT

Whew! There’s a lot to learn when you’re striving for rejection. Here is your last round of ideas to help you to master the art of losing an editor in ten ways.

Way 8: Don’t Edit Your Work

No one’s work is perfect. So, to seal a rejection of your manuscript, skip editing. Editors who receive manuscripts with typos, grammar issues, run-on sentences and inconsistent storyline have no choice but to slam-dunk your manuscript into the trash bin.

“Don’t submit a story without editing and proofreading it first,” said Courtney Lasater, editor of Keys for Kids.“A polished page will make your story shine!”

Successful freelancers often take a break before going back to edit their work. Allowing themselves to be refreshed while distancing themselves a bit from their work helps them look at it with fresh editing eyes later. Sometimes they will print it out and get away from the computer to edit. During this process, they verify that a problem was presented and solved, that the story flows, characters are appropriately portrayed, and that each scene serves a purpose.

But if your goal is to avoid publication, you won’t need to worry about the editing stage.

Way 9: Don’t Read Your Story to Anyone Else

If you want to fail miserably, don’t let anyone else read your manuscript. Writers who hope to be published have their work read by friends or family members. But a children’s writer who hopes to be published should invite children for whom the book is intended to read and critique their work.

Writers gain great insight as to the quality of their work. Did the children stay engaged? Were they excited when reading the rescue scene? Did they ask any questions about the story? Did they want to read it again?

“Don’t submit a snoozer,” said Stephen O’Rear, senior associate editor of Clubhouse magazine. “If they squirm (or fall asleep) before you finish, then it won’t work in print either. Try cutting run-on sections or adding humor to hold a kid’s interest.”

Way 10: Don’t Welcome Any Changes by the Editor

If an editor has accepted your manuscript for publication, don’t worry. You can still strain the editor/writer relationship and lose your chances of future publication opportunities. Simply complain about any additional edits they have made in the final version of your story.

“Even if it’s purchased, edits will be made,” said Kate Jameson, assistant editor of Clubhouse Jr. She emphasized that the reason for changes is often not because they don’t think the story is good. “We want the piece to match the tone and style of our magazine. Even authors who have been writing for us for years get edited or asked to rewrite the story. So, don’t get attached to your story exactly the way it is.”

Kandi Zeller, editor of teen devotional publication Unlocked, encouraged aspiring and seasoned writers: “We love freelance writers,” said Zeller.  “They are an important part of God’s kingdom: they share the Gospel with their words!” She encouraged writers by stating that even if a manuscript is rejected, it does not mean the author is a bad writer or that the editor wouldn’t be interested in working with them in the future. “It just means that particular piece was not a good fit for the devotional. If you do receive a rejection, please try again.”

Zeller’s statement reflects the attitude of most editors. They desire to work with freelancers and are willing to work on building relationships with them. Don’t let a rejection discourage you. Think of it as simply a redirection notice.

I hope this series was helpful. And I hope that instead of losing an editor, your takeaway will be how to win the heart of every editor you meet. Do the extra work; go the extra mile. Build those relationships and you will find yourself published. If you feel truly called by God to write, continue to pursue the calling.

*********

If you missed the previous posts in this series, you’ll find them here:

Part I: SKIP THIS STEP,

Part II: HOW TO MESS UP YOUR CHARACTERS

Part III: COMPLICATE YOUR CONTENT

Cindy works as marketing manager and brand storyteller for Child and Parent Services, a nonprofit child abuse prevention organization. She has written more than 525 articles for publication and a handful of book excerpts. Her published portfolio includes children’s stories, kids’ activities, profiles, how-to, humor, and human interest. Cindy’s website here.