Nancy's Books

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Author Sandi Underwood

Today, I welcome Sandi Underwood, author extraordinaire, to my blog. What makes her extraordinaire? you might ask. Simple answer: She persevered. She didn’t give up her dream of writing a book after receiving a trunkful of rejection letters. She didn’t give up after years of editors saying, “No, thanks!”  

As with many authors, dreams entangle with rejection, and hope seems out of reach, impossible, actually. But when a contract is offered and the impossible becomes possible, it happens suddenly. It’s Sandi’s journey, and mine, too.  

I’ve worked with Sandi as my critique partner for the last 10 years. She’s helped take many of my manuscripts from impossible to possible. Now she has two books in the production line with traditional publishers. I’m so excited for her. She’s living proof that hard work pays off. 

NKA:  Welcome, Sandi. Tell us about your new book.

SU:  Thank you for this invitation. I began THE SECRET AT ONE BELMONT LANE back when my grandson was gearing up to enter sixth grade. I researched what that age group enjoyed and learned that books on shapeshifters were popular. Easy task, right? Not so for this grandmother. That’s probably why the story laid around and collected dust for several years—that grandson is a sophomore in high school now! In my story, the main characters are a pre-teen girl (Erin) and her nerdy neighbor (Elwood). I wanted to write a story that both boys and girls would enjoy. I threw in a sprinkle of Mom and Dad and added a spoonful of bizarre and a dash of unexplainable. The end result is suspenseful and creepy, at times.

NKA: I love mysteries and humorous fiction. THE SECRET AT ONE BELMONT LANE gives me both in one delicious read. Yum! This is your first book. How did your journey lead from dreaming about this book to actually getting a contract? 

SU:  I’ve written most of my life. Growing up, there were books everywhere—being a PK (preacher’s kid), my Dad was most-often found reading. I’ve always loved books, and writing just seemed like a natural path; however, there was a huge jump from writing for my own enjoyment and submitting to publishers. I think the first six years, I submitted around fourteen times and had two small magazine publications to show for it. I didn’t get serious until around 2010 and even then, I was inconsistent. It takes dedication that I definitely didn’t possess in the beginning and a great critique partner. Mine just happens to live in Kentucky and I live in Tennessee, but somehow we make it work. (Shout out to Nancy Kelly Allen for being the best critique partner known to mankind. Nancy and I “met” through an online writing group of four, and we are the last two standing.) I joined her group back in September 2007, and I can honestly say I wouldn’t have this first book without her patient guidance. The give-and-take between critique partners is one of the most important tools a writer can have, and I cannot emphasize enough the value it brings.  

NKA: I’m truly given more credit than I deserve, much more, to be truthful, but I echo Sandi in that working with a critique partner offers numerous advantages to writers.  

What is the theme of the book, the universal experience young readers will identify with? 

SU: As a mom of two boys, (a grandmother of seven and a great-Mimi to one beautiful four-month-old), I’ve read my share of children’s books. My story follows the two next-door neighbors as they stumble onto the big “secret” at One Belmont Lane. I wanted my characters to be believable since very little else in the book is. There are secret codes, suspense, danger and unexplainable events from beginning to end. It was also important that Erin and Elwood were the ones to solve the mystery. Sure, most of the events won’t happen to the young readers; but hopefully, the importance of working together will leave a lasting impression. I wrote about everyday activities and people in ordinary life…things we encounter every day…but with a twist. 

NKA: Books make great Christmas presents, so where can people buy a copy?  

SU:  The publication date for The Secret At One Belmont Lane is Tuesday, November 28, 2017. To pre-order click on this link:

            To learn more about me and my writing path, visit my website at  

NKA: Congratulations, Sandi. I’m sure young readers will enjoy your book as much as I did. Thanks for sharing your insight on the publishing journey. 

Call for Submissions for Young Writers:

Brilliant Star is a bi-monthly, print magazine for ages 8-12 published by the Baha'i faith. According to their website, "Brilliant Star invites children of all faiths to explore concepts that encourage their development as world citizens, such as appreciation for cultural and racial diversity, peace among all religions and nations, the equality of women and men, and the elimination of prejudices." Through fiction, non-fiction, activities, games, puzzles, comics, interviews, music, and expressive art, the magazine seeks to promote values of kindness, courage, creativity, and helpfulness.

Deadline: January 15, 2018

Call for Submissions for Adult Writers:

Spider (for ages 6-9) is looking for fiction, nonfiction, poetry, activities, crafts, and recipes on the theme It’s Raining Cats and Dogs. We want wacky and weird stories about kids and their pets—cats, dogs, parrots, horses, lizards, hamsters, gerbils, bunnies, chickens, fish, guinea pigs, snakes. Tell us about a special relationship with one prized pet or about a whole menagerie. Send us stories about heroism, friendship, loyalty, and odd talents. Take us to a pet or horse show, to the farm, to a city dog park, or in a suburban backyard. Submission guidelines: 

Nancy Kelly Allen has written 40+ children’s books and a cookbook, SPIRIT OF KENTUCKY: BOURBON COOKBOOK. Check out her blog at


Sunday, November 5, 2017

Writing Children’s Books with Child Appeal, Part 3



A character can be a spider, monster, dragon, witch, cloud, rock, or whatever your imagination creates. Think about how the character might act in situations you construct: bossy, loud, shy, intimidated, etc. Whatever the main character is, it should exhibit characteristics of a child.  

A low word count is necessary for books for the youngest audience. Their attention span is short so the text should reflect this. Picture books are usually less than 1,000 words, but the latest target seems to be under 500 words with many publishers. If writers go beyond that, the likelihood of a rejection is greater. 

Is the story delightful? Does it make the reader laugh or contain repetitive phrases the reader enjoys listening to or repeating as the story is read aloud? Are the characters and their antics enjoyable, entertaining, or engaging? Keep the humor and the language of the text age appropriate. 

Picture book plots are simple and fast-paced. Keep them sequential, and based on the character’s actions. A wild, wacky story should have some logic in the cause-and-effect unfolding of events. The plot works best when the main character is highly motivated and likable. A strong character drives the story forward and holds the interest of the reader. 

Transport the reader into another world with a book that has child appeal. 

Call for Submissions for Young Writers:

New Moon Girls. Ideas, Articles, Inventions, Fiction, Gardens, Poetry, Music, Opinions, Apps, Global Villages, Recipes,

Plays, Buildings, Puzzles, Projects, Jokes, Speeches, Games, Screenplays, Sports, Emotions, Equations, Painting, Art, Experiments, Costumes, Activism, Photos, Rockets, Crafts, Designs,Gadgets, Dances, Solutions, Hats and Everything Else You Imagine and Make.
Call for Submissions for Adult Writers:

Narrative Magazine. Our fall contest is open to all fiction and nonfiction writers. We’re looking for short shorts, short stories, essays, memoirs, photo essays, graphic stories, all forms of literary nonfiction, and excerpts from longer works of both fiction and nonfiction. Entries must be previously unpublished, no longer than 15,000 words, and must not have been previously chosen as a winner, finalist, or honorable mention in another contest.

Nancy Kelly Allen has written 40+ children’s books and a cookbook, SPIRIT OF KENTUCKY: BOURBON COOKBOOK. Check out her blog at

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Writing Children’s Books with Child Appeal, Part 2

Fictional picture books often deal with the character solving a problem, and in doing so, the writer’s job is to show the character’s emotional state. A character’s feelings are the gateway into the story.  Emotions make readers feel, make them hunger for the character to overcome the obstacles, and cheer for the victory. Without the emotional stakes, readers are not drawn into the character’s world, so they don’t care. Make readers feel. Make them care. With each scene, consider how the reader will react. Is the event something in which the child can identify? If children see themselves in a story, they identify with it and request it for storytime, over and over. 

Mountains of children’s books have been written on every subject that interest children of every age. Making a book different in some way so it can compete in a highly competitive market is necessary. One way to do this is to write about some thing or experience in which a child is familiar and flip it to present the information or story in a fresh and engaging way. A retelling of a fairy tale from the voice of a minor character: Example: Cinderella as told by the pumpkin or the glass slipper.  

Page turns are fun for the readers and add a ton of child appeal. This approach keeps adding surprises as the story unfolds. Here are three ways to add page turns.

1.      Stop in the middle of a sentence and complete it on the following page. Readers enjoy this because it allows them to predict what my happen next. The more a reader is engaged in a story, the more appeal it has.

2.      Use part of a compound word on one page and the remainder on the next. Example: He found a rattle…snake in the grass.

3.      Transitions words are fun to heighten the interest of turning a page: then, when, but, etc. 

In my next blog, I’ll continue with more ideas for writing books with child appeal.

Nancy Kelly Allen has written 40+ children’s books and a cookbook, SPIRIT OF KENTUCKY: BOURBON COOKBOOK. Check out her blog at 

Call for Submissions for Young Writers:
KidSpirit accepts submissions of poetry, artwork, and nonfiction articles from 11- to 17-year-olds everywhere. Except for artwork, all work should be related to the following themes:
Unity and Division (Fall 2017)
Creation and Destruction (Winter 2017/18)
Submission guidelines at 

Call for Submissions for Adult Writers:

One Teen Story is a literary magazine for teens and adults who read young adult fiction. They publish 12 issues a year digitally and in print. Each issue contains only one story.

They pay their authors $500 dollars and 25 contributor copies for first North American serial rights. The rights revert back to the author after publication.

Submission guidelines at Kelly Allen has written 40+ children’s books and a cookbook, SPIRIT OF KENTUCKY: BOURBON COOKBOOK. Check out her blog at

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Writing Children's Books with Child Appeal

One popular request by editors is the need for books with child appeal. So what can we do to add child appeal to a manuscript? 

Remember, the first person to whom the book must appeal is an adult—the editor. If an editor doesn’t like a manuscript, it doesn’t become a book with a traditional publisher. A parent, teacher, librarian, gift shop manager etc. must also find it interesting and worthy. 

Universal emotions, such as anger, taps into feelings everyone understands and deals with.

Consider the age of the audience. What are the interests of a two-year-old? This age group knows about family, pets, food… When choosing a topic, think about the child’s world and experiences they embrace. A simple walk down a lane is a learning experience for a toddler. They enjoy watching bugs, picking a flower, and blowing a dandelion. Colors and the many hue variations found in nature fascinate them. Shapes and sounds are part of their world. Stay within the child’s experiences and interest. 

Always reflect events that are age appropriate for the intended audience. The theme, subject matter, and events in the story should interest and be appropriate for the reader’s age group. Engaging a particular group of readers directly is the goal. A book that fits “all age groups” is usually too broad in scope for the picture book crowd. Narrowly focus the theme, with one theme carrying the book.

In my next blog, I’ll continue with more ideas for writing books with child appeal.

Call for Submissions for Young Writers:

Magic Dragon, a quarterly publication, presents writing and art created by children in the elementary school grades in a magazine of quality four-color printing and graphic display. We believe that our objectives are special – to encourage the development of creativity in children and to provide a medium to share their creative efforts. 

Submission guidelines at 

Call for Submissions for Adult Writers:


Solarpunk is a type of eco-conscious science fiction that imagines an optimistic future founded on renewable energies. It might take place in a wind-powered skyscraper or on a solar-powered robotic farm, in a bustling green-roofed metropolis or in a small but tech-saavy desert village. Often coupled with an art nouveau aesthetic, and always inclusive and diverse, solarpunk stories show the ways we have adapted to climate change, or the ways we have overcome it.

Submission guidelines at

Nancy Kelly Allen has written 40+ children’s books and a cookbook, SPIRIT OF KENTUCKY: BOURBON COOKBOOK. Check out her blog at

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Central Thread in Writing a Picture Book Biography

I received the following feedback on a picture book biography I’m in the process of revising: Find a central thread that ties all the episodes together, such as wanderlust to move on, an inner struggle to see the world beyond the territory in which the character lives, or an ambition to do something new and exciting.  

This advice makes so much sense to me. I agreed, totally. Whatever route I choose, I need to tie it in at the beginning and carry in through to the end by unearthing some common threads.  

I have a long way to go with this story, but I will continue to read, research, and collect data based on the character’s life. Each bit of information provides another piece of the puzzle. After pondering various ways to tell her story, I’ve decided to focus on her sense of adventure, her desire to travel new trails, and experience new territories.  

Since most picture books are 32 pages, biographies are limited in telling the wide expanse of a person’s life. Instead, focusing on pivotal scenes within a narrow narrative arc (beginning, middle, ending) seems to work for my particular story.

Pondering, that’s the key to figuring out how to approach this revision. Pondering different possibilities. Pondering a way to crawl inside the character’s head and figure out how and where to take her, finding the passionate core to create an emotional impact for the reader.  

My pondering sometimes happens in the middle of the night. I’ve worked out so many character situations when I wake up in the middle of the night and a solution pops into my head. Some pop right back out, and I can’t remember them the next day. Anyone have a popper stopper? 

Call for Submissions for Young Writers:

Launch Pad: Where Young Authors and Illustrators Take Off! publishes stories, art, poetry, nonfiction, and book reviews by kids ages 6 – 14. If we select you as an author, we will send your work to a young artist to illustrate before publishing it on our website. If we select you as an artist, we will send you something from a young author to illustrate! Ask a parent before submitting to our site.

Submission guidelines at 

Call for Submissions for Adult Writers:

Humpty Dumpty and Jack and Jill provide fun, entertaining reading material is our priority. We accept humorous, playful, and witty stories that kids would love to read—not stories that grownups think kids should read.
As part of the Children’s Better Health Institute, we are always in need of high-quality stories, articles, and activities with a broad health and fitness focus. Please keep in mind that we would rather show kids living a healthy lifestyle than dictate a healthy lifestyle to our readers. In other words, health topics should be incorporated into the story or article, not be the focus of it.
Nancy Kelly Allen has written 40+ children’s books and a cookbook, SPIRIT OF KENTUCKY: BOURBON COOKBOOK. Check out her blog at

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Emotional Rollercoaster

A friend sent joyous news: She received her first book contract. Congratulations! The ultimate reward for years of diligent effort had finally paid off. Her joy reached the stratospheric level, naturally. As often happens when facing a time lapse between receiving “The Call” and getting the written agreement, nerves jittered. Doubts swirled faster than autumn leaves when the contract wasn’t in the email the next day, or the next, or the next. A week passed. Two weeks. Nerves jittered into emotional chaos. She asked if she should contact the editor about the delay. 

The emotional rollercoaster she experienced is perfectly normal. She worked for YEARS pounding the keyboard trying to nab a contract. After a ton of rejections our neural pathways form in such a way that our brains tell us, not in thought but in emotions/expectations, that a contract is out of reach. We KNOW that we have received the contract; yet we can’t BELIEVE it because our emotions lag behind our cognitive processes. (Disclaimer: This is totally my theory, and I have no scientific data at hand to support it.) 
On a personal level, my confidence builds as I sign the contract, and reality sets in big-time with my first read-through of the revision notes. The emotional surge revs to tornadic intensity as doubt, jitters, and downright panic overtake my psyche. I’ve experienced every emotion known to humankind when first reading the suggested revisions. One such set of revision notes was longer than the picture book text. Another set was quite short but memorable: delete the last 5 chapters and rewrite, focusing on the child and grandparent. Snap! The best-friend scenes and chapters waved bye-bye, just like that. I gasped for breath, walked away from the computer, and did normal things the rest of the day, steering clear of the email communication. In the meantime, I began thinking about how I could develop the story. The revisions improved the stories, by the way, so the editors were correct. And I lived. The revisions (yes, more than one) failed to kill me. 
Publishing books is a slow business. Revision after revision is usually required. Editors work on several projects simultaneously, which slows the process even more. Two years in production for picture books remains typical with traditional publishers.  
The excitement, jitters, and doubt are critical to the writer’s journey. Embrace them and enjoy making the book the best it can be. Oh, and give the editor extended time to make contact. S/he will appreciate it.
[Beginning this week, I will include Calls for Submissions for Young Writers in each blog through April 2019.]
Call for Submissions for Young Writers:

Bazoof. Youth submissions accepted from around the globe from all ages, with different genres and length requirements depending on age of contributor. Readers can find short stories, comics, games, craft & art projects, jokes, riddles, sports reporting, articles on pets, recipes, personal achievements and community service projects, poetry, letters, true stories and much more!


Call for Submissions for Adult Writers:

Call for Submissions: Children’s Activities

Deadline: September 30, 2017

SPIDER (for ages 6-9) and LADYBUG (for ages 3-6) are looking for children’s activities. This includes clearly worded, playful step-by-step directions for crafts, activities, games, science experiments, and recipes for children ages 3 to 9. The strongest activities will engage a child’s imagination and creativity, can be done at home, and require little adult supervision. We also seek word games, tongue twisters, jokes, riddles, picture-based crossword puzzles, and foreign language activities.  

Nancy Kelly Allen has written 40+ children’s books and a cookbook, SPIRIT OF KENTUCKY: BOURBON COOKBOOK. Check out her blog at

Sunday, August 27, 2017


If you’ve been writing or reading children’s literature for a few years, you’ve probably noticed some changes. Let’s look what editors and agents are seeking:

Graphic novel style of writing has moved into the picture book arena.

Short picture book manuscripts, 500 words or less, are hot property.

Middle grade stand alone and series. Historical fiction remains popular.

In middle grade and young adult books, authentic characters take on real world issues.

Diverse books and diverse voices from around the world are sought by agents and editors.

Fantasy is still fashionable in young adult books.

Nonfiction books retain their popularity.

Biographies of the famous and the not-so-famous are in vogue.

Retelling of folktales are, once again, in demand.

A constant in children’s literature is the author who writes original stories with authentic voice and laugh-out-loud books.

Call for Submissions for Adult Writers:

805. Awaiting Your Masterpiece. We can't wait to see your work!  We seek writing and art that is unexpected, striking, and moving. We accept submissions from residents of Manatee County as well as the rest of the universe. We take submissions from debut, emerging, and established authors and artists.
Art & Photography

Five at a time
Fiction or flash fiction 

One at a time, max 2,500 words
Creative nonfiction

Two at a time, max 2,500 words each

 Graphic fiction/nonfiction

Two at a time, max 8 pages each

Submission guidelines at

Nancy Kelly Allen has written 40+ children’s books and a cookbook, SPIRIT OF KENTUCKY: BOURBON COOKBOOK. Check out her blog at