Nancy's Books

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Writing a Query Letter

Writing a query letter can be as difficult as writing the manuscript and certainly not as much fun. My query letters include three parts. These parts do not have to follow the order listed here, but I incorporate each component into every query letter. 

1.      The opening should include the genre, word count, title, hook and synopsis.

Example: Enclosed is a 521-word picture book manuscript, THE FIRST FIRE, A CHEROKEE LEGEND, an authentic Cherokee folktale about animals finding and bringing home fire to warm their world. (I capitalize the manuscript title but italics will also work.)

One option is to include brief text cut from the manuscript. (First sentence listed here from FIRST FIRE.) When the world was new, nights painted the earth with sparkly, lacy frost.

In another example for an up-coming fictional picture book, GONE CUCKOO, I opened the query letter with a hook: Adoption isn’t just for children. In the animal kingdom, cuckoo birds find foster parents to raise their young.

A one-paragraph synopsis is the most important part of the query. Introduce the character, the conflict, and the basic plot. Write this as though it will be the description on the book jacket. 

2.      Introduce yourself and if the manuscript is nonfiction, your qualifications for writing a book on that particular subject. List your experiences as a writer, along with publishing credits including books, articles, etc. Beginning writers can list workshops and literary groups in which you have participated.
3.      Contact information and appreciation. Thank the editor for reading your manuscript, mention that you have enclosed, embedded, or attached the requested pages (check website for the number of pages the editor wants), and provide address, phone number, and email address. If you have a website or other social media profiles, list those under you name. 

Polish your manuscript and query letter. Strong impressions are lasting impressions.

Call for submissions for Adult Writers
Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Teaches
101 Stories about How You Make a Difference
Being a teacher is hard, and we know that teachers sometimes need a morale boost, some reassurance that what they do matters, and some new, fun ideas for the classroom.

Being a teacher is not what you do... it's who you are. You don't stop being a teacher when the dismissal bell rings. You are always a teacher. Teachers influence and shape the future. Teachers inspire and motivate students each and every day. Teachers don’t teach for the great salaries; they teach because of the rewards they get when a student thrives, or when a student has a "WOW" moment because of a teacher's guidance.

We are looking for true stories by and about teachers.

Here are some ideas but we know you can think of many more:
•     I am a teacher and this is why I teach
•     The teacher who changed my life
•     The student who changed my life
•     My first year teaching
•     Learning from the students
•     Embarrassing moments
•     Staying enthusiastic year after year
•     Tough situations
•     That WOW moment
•     Turning negative into positive
•     Funny moments
•     Challenging yourself
•     Stepping out of your comfort zone
•     Great tips to share with other teachers
•     Your best piece of advice for new teachers
•     Your best piece of advice to re-energize a teacher
•     Reflections on being a teacher

Please remember, we no longer publish "as told to" stories. Write your story or poem in the first person. Do not ghostwrite a story for someone else unless you list that person as the author. If a story was previously published, we will probably not use it unless it ran in a small circulation venue. Let us know where the story was previously published in the "Comments" section of the submission form.

All stories should be true — we do not publish fiction — and should be no longer than 1,200 words. If your story was already published in a past Chicken Soup for the Soul book, please do not submit it. We will not publish it again. If you already submitted a story for this title please do not submit it again. We have it in our database and it will be considered for this title. If you submitted a story for one of our previous books and we did not publish it, please feel free to submit it to this book if you think will fit. That way we will be sure it is considered for this new edition.

If your story is chosen, you will be a published author and your bio will be printed in the book if you so choose. You will also receive a check for $200 and 10 free copies of your book, worth more than $100. You will retain the copyright for your story and you will retain the right to resell it or self-publish it.

SUBMISSIONS GO TO OUR WEBSITE. Select the Submit Your Story link at the bottom of the page and follow the directions.


Sunday, August 14, 2016

Writing Query Letters

Writing a polished manuscript is merely the first step in getting a publishing contract. Next is the query letter, which introduces the writer and the story to the editor. Each submission requires a query letter whether the submission is made via the U.S. Postal Service or an email.

Before writing, I always check the publisher’s website to see what is expected in the letter. Some want a particular set of information. If so, I follow the guidelines exactly. If not, I write a general query letter written specifically for the manuscript. Another step I take is to check for interviews by the editor. I usually fine one or more. Reading the interviews provides information that is not found on a publisher’s website. Sometime an editor may say she is looking for a particular type of story or prefers to know why a writer selected her as the best editor for a manuscript. Interviews provide that information. If an editor states that she enjoys picture book stories with quirky, humorous characters, I include that in my letter if the information fits. This tells the editor that the writer has done her homework and not just picked her name out of a hat. Google the editor’s name plus the word “Interview” and you should find some hits.
Your objective is to make the editor like your character and plot so well they want to read more. The pitch should hook the editor immediately; if not, s/he may not look at the sample pages of the manuscript. If my book is humorous, I add a dose of humor to the query in the same style as used in the manuscript. These letters are intended to be short so keep them to one page. Short and sweet wins the race.
Next week, I’ll give more tips on writing a query letter.
Call for submissions for Adult Writers

Chicken Soup for the Soul. Small gestures can make a big difference in someone's day, even in someone's life. In our fast-paced world many people tend to only pay attention to what is important to them. So it is wonderful and heartwarming to hear stories about people who have gone out of their way to do something for someone without being asked. Just because it was the kind thing to do. Just because it was the right thing to do. Many times the person who receives the act of kindness is a total stranger, someone who will not be able to repay your kindness. Has someone performed a random act of kindness for you? Did you pay it forward and do something kind for someone else? How did it feel to receive that kindness? And how did it feel to perform a kindness for someone else?

We are looking for true stories about random acts of kindness that have happened to you or stories about a kindness that you performed for someone else. Stories can be serious or funny but they should definitely inspire our readers to look for ways in which they can perform kind acts.

Here are some ideas but we know you can think of many more:
•     Changing your life by doing one random act of kindness each day
•     Changing your attitude by doing one random act of kindness each day
•     Performing an act of kindness for a family member
•     Performing an act of kindness for a total stranger
•     Paying it forward
•     Remaining anonymous — doing something nice for someone who will never know who you are or what you did
•     The unexpected benefits of doing something kind for someone
•     The unexpected benefits you got from something kind someone did for you
•     The pleasures you got from doing a kind deed
•     How performing an act of kindness changed your life
•     How an act of kindness you received changed your life
•     Having an epiphany about kindness in your life — what did you learn by performing a random act of kindness?
•     Turning negative into positive

Deadline: September 15, 2016
Guideline submissions at

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Editor Request to Rewrite

I’ve been fortunate this year to receive contracts on three books, possibly a fourth if my revision holds up to editorial scrutiny. About a month ago in my mailbox, I received a return on a manuscript, which usually means a rejection. Not this time. The editor asked me to change the character from an adult (king) to a child (prince) protagonist. Normally, my characters are children, but some popular pictures books of late have quirky adult character so I gave the idea a try.

My quirky character didn’t resonate with the editor but she liked the basic story with its universal problem, so she asked me to rewrite with a child as the main character. No problem. I’d change some narrative, some dialog, some events. Easy peasy!

As I began revising, I soon realized that what worked well for a quirky king didn’t work at all for a young prince. Much of the story (as it turned out, ALL of the story) was not appropriate for a child protagonist: the world view was too mature, the dialog didn’t fit the characters, and even the names had to be changed. 

So what does a writer do? This writer does a complete rewrite. When I completed the revision, about fifteen words matched the original story. That doesn’t mean that the text of the original has to be discarded. Mary Higgins Clark offered sage advice about cutting large blocks of text from a manuscript. She keeps it in a file to be used in a future book.   

Not only do I have a new manuscript, I now have a few bits of dialog and narrative in an old manuscript from which I can pull as some point. Those bits are gold in my literary vault. 

Call for submissions for Adult Writers

NewBBay’s Science Fiction Contest is open to all eligible writers submitting original works of 1,000 words or greater. We suggest a range of 1,000 to 30,000 words per piece, total. Each writer may submit up to two pieces. International entries are welcome, though submitted pieces must be in English. Writers must sign up at, submit a “Writer Petition”, and post their work through our publication platform. Writers must include the word count and appropriate contest tag ( #SciFiContest ) in the description.

Deadline August 15, 2016.
Submission guidelines at

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Tone vs. Mood

A couple of weeks ago, I taught a class on writing children’s books. An attendee asked about the tone of the story, so here goes my answer.

Tone is the author’s attitude toward the subject or the events in the story. It reflects emotion and is revealed through word choice and narrative. In my book, THE MUNCHED-UP FLOWER GARDEN, the tone was amusing and introspective. Told in first person point of view, Liz reveals her anger in witty ways and dreams of winning a blue ribbon. Since the story has an Appalachian setting, word choice included regional phrases (She could iron nails and spit nails) to express emotions.
When Liz’s mother tells her she cannot speak unkindly to a neighbor girl, she whispers “good riddance” to her cat. My word choice expresses how the character feels about the situation in order to evoke a particular reader response (mood). Illustrations showcased the humorous facial expressions and body gestures, which added to the overall tone and mood of the story.
The more intense the tone, the more the reader is hooked. Set the tone early in the book to establish a pattern the reader will look for and identify. If you begin with humor, the reader will expect bits of humor throughout the text. When writing about Appalachia, the tone in my books is always respectful, focusing on the positive attributes of the region. The tone reflects my attitude, and my attitude toward Appalachia is emotions centered: admiring, hopeful, appreciative, and the list goes on.

Call for submissions for Adult Writers

Pockets Annual Fiction Writing Contest is open until August 15. There is no theme and no entry fee! Word count is 750-1000. Click on the link for more information.

Submission guidelines at

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Writing Nonfiction Picture Books

Many nonfiction books are meant to entertain as well as inform, but the emphasis is on the information. The facts must be accurate. In picture books, facts support the illustrations as opposed to books for older readers in which the illustrations support the facts. The illustrations are large with a small amount of text per page, in most cases. 

In writing fiction, authors ask, “What if…” In nonfiction, authors ask, “Is it true?” The goal is to provide enough information to convey the concept without overwhelming the reader. The amount of information and detail is determined by the target audience. When I wrote BARRELING OVER NIAGARA FALLS, a biography of Annie Edson Taylor, the first person to ride a barrel over the Falls, I focused on her method of preparing for the risky ride. I knew readers would be interested in other daredevils, so I added author notes at the end of the book to inform readers. By adding the notes at the end, I did not overwhelm the text with information that detracted from the biography. 

As with fiction, nonfiction requires a strong narrative voice. Authors have the creative license to use lyrical, upbeat, slow drawl, funny, serious…the list goes on. The narrative style is often based on the subject. Think about the angle, the approach to the telling of the tale. Nonfiction focuses on facts but the facts must not be presented in a tired, boring manner. Use unusual or unexpected word choice, similes, metaphors and other literary devices to breathe life into the work.  Delight the reader as well as inform.  

Call for submissions for Adult Writers

American Cheerleader is published four times a year and is available in both print and digital form. Topics they seek include: biographies, interviews/profiles of sports personalities, cheering how-to, health, beauty, careers, fashion, and sports.  

Submission guidelines: If you have a story idea, email editor at

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Writing Nonfiction Picture Books

Which type of picture book is published in greater numbers, fiction or nonfiction? If you answered nonfiction, you are correct. The demand for nonfiction titles is growing, in part due to their use in elementary classrooms. Today’s nonfiction incorporates dramatic narrative and engaging language and reads with as much appeal as fiction. 

Creative nonfiction uses elements of fiction with nonfiction facts woven into the text. In my book, ON THE BANKS OF THE AMAZON, I used two characters, a boy and a girl, that watched the animals of the Amazon rainforest at the same time the animals watched them. I embedded factual information about the various animals into the story. 

As you develop the structure of the story, think of the way you want to reveal the information. I first began by listing the animals I wanted to use but I did not have a structure that seemed to work. A simple listing of one animal after another at page turns wasn’t creative or engaging to me so I knew it would not be for the reader either. 

I played with different approaches and realized that some of the animals were awake earlier than others and some prowled at night. That was my Ah-ha moment. The structure would be circular and some animals would appear in the morning, some midmorning, afternoon, twilight, night, and back to the next morning. Of course, I had to rethink the animals I used to fit the structure that made the story unfold in a natural, interesting way. 

Call for submissions for Adult Writers

Dagan Books, Ltd. is now reading for the next issue of Lakeside Circus (est. 2013), a speculative fiction magazine published quarterly with selected stories published at its website. The editor curates short spec fiction stories of under 2500 words.The editorial team is open to other subgenres of science fiction, including urban fantasy, magic realism, horror, the weird or the surreal, doomsday themes, mad science, etc. The ideal story is layered with meaning, driven by an odd, dark, stylish or extraordinary plot without the story evolving into something too strange to understand. Stories must have a fully fleshed out beginning, middle and end, regardless of how short the story runs. - See more at:

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Gaps in Literature

Nonfiction picture books have grown in popularity in the last few years. State Standards for schools include the use of nonfiction titles in the curriculum and this had motivated many publishers to increased production of beautifully illustrated picture books with informational text and various types of back matter.   

Talk with teachers and ask what topics have not been covered in picture books or what topics/subjects need more books. When I was a librarian in an elementary school, I read an article about pink dolphins. The next day I searched for books on pink dolphins to order for the students. I was surprised when I could find not one book on the subject. Ah-ha! Inspiration struck and I wrote ON THE BANKS OF THE AMAZON, which included information on pink dolphins.  

On another occasion, I read an article about the two Hill sisters who were from Kentucky and wrote the world’s most popular song, Happy Birthday. So little had been written about their lives, I decided to write a picture book about how they got the idea for the song. My book, HAPPY BIRTHDY: THE WORLD’S MOST POPULAR SONG, was the result of my research. 

If you think of a topic that has not been covered or if you think of a new angle for a topic, research it to see if a large number of books are already in the marketplace. If not, you may have a subject that teachers, parents, and young readers will gravitate toward. Let the editor know you have done your homework by explaining that you’ve researched the market and your book would fill a literature gap.  

Call for submissions for Adult Writers

FutureScapes is an annual writing competition that asks writers to envision a particular sort of world, and tell us a story about it. We could run projections and publish reports, but there’s a reason why Wilde didn’t say, “Life imitates empirical studies.” We want to help writers of excellent potential find their voice while shaping  tomorrow.




DEADLINE: July 15, 2016.

In particular, FutureScapes seeks:

Works of short fiction up to 8,000 words, written in accordance with this year’s prompt: Cities of Empowerment

Compelling stories that explore the nuance of technology, science, politics, and/or policy, without forgetting about plot and character!

-Stories that show us both the positives and negatives of this possible future.

-Stories that can provide a road-map for cities, states, and nations to follow.

-Stories that may be built in a rich and full world, but that manage to show us the reality of a single city, neighborhood, and/or life.

Stories worthy of the $2,000 prize for first place, $1,000 prize for second place, and $500 prize to each of the four runners-up.

-Stories that, when placed in the hands of a mayor or governor, could change the course of the future.

Deadline: July 15, 2016