Nancy's Books

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Today’s Children’s Books

Diverse books are now in demand. Publishers are looking for books about children from different ethnic backgrounds who participate in everyday activities, not necessarily in an activity that showcases a different country or culture, but those are popular, too. Diverse books depict families and cultures, promoting understanding and acceptance.

Own Voices is also popular. The definition encompasses all forms of diversity, including disability, sexual orientation, and religion by authors who write about circumstances within their own experiences. This prevents glaring stereotypes or common misconceptions.

Write about a subject kids enjoy. What do kids like? I wrote a book, THE TRUTH ABOUT PRINCESSES, a nonfiction book focusing on fairy tale princesses. When I do book signings, little girls often reach for that book first.

Boys love trucks and cars and rocks. On a school visit, a parent asked me if I had a book on rocks. She said every time she did laundry, she found rocks in her son’s pants. Voila! An idea for a book. As it turns out, I did a six-book series on rocks. Other topics kids love are robots, ballerinas, heavy machinery, cowboys, super heroes, and animals. Listen to what parents and children request.

Notice what is not in the marketplace. One Sunday when I was employed as a librarian, I read an article about pink dolphins. The next day I checked the distributor’s list and could not find a book on the subject. Once again, voila! I had an idea for a book and a couple of years later, I held my literary baby, ON THE BANKS OF THE AMAZON, for the first time. Editors are intrigued with new and different topics.

Call for Submissions for Young Writers:
Save the Earth Poetry Prize.  Open to high school students, grades 11 & 12. Genre: Poem (1). Poems submitted should, in any way possible, evoke humankind’s awareness of the natural world and nature as such. Prize: $200 awarded to seven winners. Deadline: March 31, 2018.
Submissions guidelines at

Call for Submissions for Adult Writers:

Speculative Literature Foundation Older Writers Grand. Restrictions: Open to writers who are fifty years of age or older at the time of grant application. Genre: Speculative fiction. Prize: $500.   Deadline: March 31, 2018. 

Submissions guidelines at

Nancy Kelly Allen has written 40+ children’s books and a cookbook, SPIRIT OF KENTUCKY: BOURBON COOKBOOK.
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Sunday, March 4, 2018

Getting Ideas and Writing a Book

I had the wonderful opportunity to visit with students at an elementary school last week. Such visits inspire me to write more and to the best of my ability. Students' interest and questions spur me on.
Two questions in particular resonated: How long does it take to write a book? How do you find ideas to write about?
I wrestle with an idea anywhere from a week to years (thirteen years, as in the case of AMAZING GRACE). DEAR KOMODO DRAGON, my latest picture book, required less time, about two years.
When I visited the Louisville Zoo, I saw a Komodo dragon named “Big Man.” At nearly eight-feet long, he lived up to his name. This king of the lizards wagged a long, yellow tongue and shuffled every step. A close look and a bit of imagination conjured my first instinct:  write about this animal, whose ancient ancestors dated back millions of years. The species had staked its claim on planet Earth and held tight. A story had to be in there somewhere.
I wrestled with the idea of how to write about this amazing animal in a way that had not been done. A few days later, I talked with a group of young students about what they enjoyed. One young girl said she loved to receive letters, but almost never did. The others echoed her, voicing the excitement of receiving their own mail.
The two ideas—Komodo dragons and letters—simmered, scrambled, and stuck together. Out popped a brand new idea: a book about a Komodo dragon pen pal. Once I figured out the structure—a series of letters—I began brainstorming and outlining the plot. Since I knew almost nothing about Komodo dragons, I spent a lot of time researching facts. I gathered a basket full of information. From that, I selected the most interesting facts that would appeal to the readers.
Each book is different and the amount of time to write a book varies.
Call for Submissions for Young Writers:
Storybook Online. Tons of activities including writing stories, read original stories, create interactive stories and much more.
Call for Submissions for Adult Writers:
Blue Mesa Review accepts previously unpublished work in Fiction (up to 6,000 words), Nonfiction (up to 6,000 words), Poetry (up to 3 poems), and Visual Art. We have a rotating editorial board, so each issue is fresh and unique. In general, we are seeking strong voices and lively, compelling narrative with a fine eye for craft. We look forward to reading your best work!
Submissions guidelines at

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

Leave a message or check out my blog at


Sunday, February 18, 2018

Writing a Book with a Relatable Theme

The theme is the dominant idea of a book, the author’s statement on which the story hangs. It is often expressed as the character’s learned experience, such as friendship, hope, love, sacrifice, or good over evil. Think of it as the main topic at the center of the story.
When I’m developing a story plot, I don’t think about theme. Instead, I focus on telling the story. If the theme becomes dominate at that stage of the writing process, it may force the characters into actions for the sake of the theme, rather than the plot.
After I finish the first, sometimes the second or third draft, I usually develop a feeling of the theme that lies between the lines of the story. In Forty Winks, a bedtime story, multiple themes exist: fear of the dark, fear of monsters, benefits of sharing. The themes evolved from the story line, rather than the writing adhering to a particular message. When we write to promote a particular message, the story often becomes didactic, too instructive. My first rule for writing a fictional picture book is to focus on the entertainment value.
I also ask the following questions:
Is the theme relatable with wide appeal? Publishers want books that resonate with a large audience or age group. If a child enjoys a book and can “see” himself in the story, he wants to read it again, or another similar book.
Is the theme an issue that’s important in the child’s world? Children often fear the dark, want to adopt a pet, or play with a friend. Consider the age of the audience before writing the first word. Themes vary with age groups. Fitting into a social group is a viable theme for middle grade and young adult readers, but don’t work as well for preschoolers.
A theme is expressed through the ideas, thoughts, and actions of the character and is what the character learns in the journey of the story.
Call for Submissions for Young Writers:

Hanging Loose magazine. High School Submissions.

Since 1968, every issue of Hanging Loose has had a section of high school writing. We’re always looking for new writers. Here’s how to submit your work:
* Send all work to High School Editor, Hanging Loose, 231 Wyckoff Street, Brooklyn, NY 11217. Please also send us a note identifying yourself as a high school age writer, and telling us your age. Include an email address—and include a self-addressed stamped envelope with sufficient return postage. Otherwise, your submission cannot be returned. Be sure your name and address appear on each page of your work.

* Send up to six poems or short stories, or an equivalent combination of poetry and prose.

Hanging Loose has long been known for its special interest in new writers. We read manuscripts throughout the year and we look forward to reading yours.

Call for Submissions for Adult Writers:

Nature Friend. "Nature-loving children and families get Nature Friend. We are primarily about wild nature. Can be animals, plants, birds, insects, rocks, ocean life, astronomy, gardening, learning by doing activities and experiments." Welcomes new writers. Circ. 7500. Monthly. Pays on publication. Period between acceptance and publication varies. Buy first rights. Accepts reprints. Responds quickly. Sample articles on website.

Submissions guidelines at;class=gen.

Nancy Kelly Allen has written 40+ children’s books and a cookbook, SPIRIT OF KENTUCKY: BOURBON COOKBOOK.
Leave a message or check out my blog at


Sunday, February 4, 2018

Originality in Writing


Editors say they are looking for an original story. Most stories are built on universal themes (friendship, loss, anger, etc.) and plot structures with a typical beginning, middle, and ending. Characters face challenges and overcome obstacles. So what’s new!
Manuscripts can and should be creative, but probably will never be totally original. The idea is to make your work stand out from thousands of other books on the subject. One way to foster originality is to rely on your own individuality. Think back to your childhood. Remember your thoughts and feelings and how your imagination soared. Every person has a perspective molded by the world in which they live.
Some stories lend an air of originality and some seem little more than a stale retelling. To make a story feel fresh with an element of originality, write your first instinct for action or dialog in a scene; then question everything about what you have written. What if the character did the opposite of what you wrote? Would the scene still make sense and would it bring some originality to the scene?
Surprise the reader. The unexpected builds reader interest in the scene and creates your own individual style. Therein lies the core of originality.
Some things never change: We want the good guys and gals to win and the bad ones to lose. We are happy with a satisfying ending. But in getting to the ending, we need to push our imaginations out of the comfort zones to create opportunities to lead the reader on a new and surprising journey.

Call for Submissions for Young Writers:

Cuckoo Review. Please ensure that you submit your writing in the correct form. It saves us a lot of hassle and means we’ll be able to get your work on the site quicker.

The word limit for all pieces is 500 words. If you’re writing a feature article then the word limit will be set when the piece is assigned.
All submissions should be emailed to as an attachment (.doc). Please ensure that all reviews include YOUR NAME and:
*Title of book
*Date of publication (if not already published)
*Link to author website
Submissions guidelines at

Call for Submissions for Adult Writers:

The Best Advice I Ever Heard. Chicken Soup for the Soul. Have you ever watched a movie or read an article that really had an impact on you that you haven’t been able to forget? Do you have a friend or family member who gave you some advice that you didn’t necessarily want to hear but really needed to hear that stuck with you and directed you to make positive changes in your life?

We are looking for stories that contain a great piece of advice that you were given or advice that you gave to someone else. Whether the advice is about a little thing that improve your everyday life, or major epiphanies that can change a life completely, we want to hear about them and how they made a difference.

Deadline: February 28, 2018

Submissions guidelines at

Thank you!
Nancy Kelly Allen has written 40+ children’s books and a cookbook, SPIRIT OF KENTUCKY: BOURBON COOKBOOK.
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Sunday, January 21, 2018

Manuscript Wishes

At the beginning of each year, I enjoy trolling through sites and picking up on the latest manuscript wishes as presented by publishers, editors, and agents. The literary offerings are constantly in flow—changing, morphing. New publishers emerge, new styles take charge, and new opportunities for writers abound.

 Here are some of the predicted trends and editor wishes for 2018

 1.      Strong female characters
2.     Kid-friendly nonfiction
3.     Series

4.     Fantasy worlds and creatures

5.     Activity books in STEM areas

6.     Board books

7.     Picture books for ages 4-8—fiction, humorous, wacky stories. Narrative nonfiction. Strong females who made a mark in history.

8.     Historical fiction for middle grades. Action and adventure stories with elements of fantasy and magic (series and standalone) as well as nonfiction.

9.     Young adult fiction and nonfiction. YA thrillers becoming popular.

10. Graphic novels

11. Unusual voices

12. Unfamiliar style and unique perspectives

13. Diverse books by Own Voice writers
14. Subjects on contemporary social matters

Of course, many books that don’t fit within this list will find homes with publishers. Make your manuscript the best it can be, ship it out to prospective editors, and begin a new manuscript while waiting for a response.

Here’s to a bountiful year of writing.

Call for Submissions for Young Writers:

Hanging Loose magazine. Since 1968, every issue of Hanging Loose has had a section of high school writing. We’re always looking for new writers. Poems or short stories, or an equivalent combination of poetry and prose.

Call for Submissions for Adult Writers:
APPLESEEDS: Ages 6 and up, focus on 3rd and 4th grade. Multidisciplinary, nonfiction social studies. Theme-oriented. See guidelines for upcoming themes. Articles should be scientific and/or historical research-oriented. Feature articles, nonfiction, interviews, etc: 1-4 pages. Articles must be proposed first.

Nancy Kelly Allen has written 40+ children’s books and a cookbook, SPIRIT OF KENTUCKY: BOURBON COOKBOOK.
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Sunday, January 7, 2018

Working Together

In a literacy meeting, I heard an African proverb that resonated with me: If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. 

I’m dedicating my first blog post of 2018 to my critique partner, Sandi Underwood, who has enriched my writing over the years. With her keen eye, writing experience, and willingness to help, my writing journey has taken me farther, much farther, than if I trekked alone.  

She is invaluable to me because she questions my work. If all the feedback I receive is positive, I won’t grow as a writer and won’t learn to create stronger stories. Editors will certainly find holes, actually wide gaps, if my eyes are the only look-see my words get prior to submitting to a publisher. My critique partner not only points out what does not work but what works well. I need to know both. Her feedback offers an objective review of my draft, an evaluation of its suitability for the age group, and most importantly, it allows me to “see” my work from another perspective, and a qualified perspective, at that. 

I almost never follow-up with an explanation of why I wrote something the way I did. If she didn’t understand it or the writing was cumbersome on her first read, it will be the same for an editor or a reader. She has my trust, so if she isn’t grasping the flow and rhythm, neither will the gatekeepers. 

In turn, I evaluate her work, which is as valuable to me as receiving a critique. I’m forced out of my comfort zone by engaging in her story and analyzing the many components. 

Regardless of where you are on your writing journey, a knowledgeable critique partner can take you far. Attend writing workshops and conferences to find people who understand the genre in which you write and are interested in working together toward a common goal. 

Sandi, thanks for traveling this literary journey with me!   

Call for Submissions for Young Writers:

Sprout. Our vision is to have a space where young minds can share their thoughts and opinions about society through creative expression. Sprout is a nonprofit, online literary journal for teens, by teens—we look to publish creative media that demonstrates awareness of the world and social commentary, sharing art in its purest, rawest form.

Submission guidelines at

Call for Submissions for Adult Writers:

Upworthy reaches a massive audience with meaningful stories every day, and we're looking for original stories that support our mission of creating a better world. That's where you come in. We're currently accepting pitches from freelancers for stories that are:
  • Surprising
    Is the topic, narrative, character, or outcome something truly new?
  • Meaningful
    If a million people saw this story, would it make the world a better place?
  • Visual
    Are there enough visual elements to engage readers who might be skimming on a phone?
  • Shareable
    Would you share it? Would your friends share it? Most importantly, would your mom's friend share 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


Monday, December 18, 2017

How to Get Published, Condensed Version

At almost every book signing, someone tells me s/he is writing a children’s book and asks how to get it published. The question seems simple, but the answer is extremely complicated, much too complicated to answer in a short discussion. I usually refer the writer to Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market because it is a comprehensive book with how-to information and contains a listing of publishers with submission guidelines. I still use this book as a source, but one of several sources. 

As with many occupations, writing involves a period of practice and growth, so give yourself time to hone those skills and learn the craft. One of the best ways to accomplish this is to read lots of books in the genre in which you write. If you are primarily interested in picture books, go to your local library and choose those that have been written in the past five years. Read a minimum of 100. Yes, you read that number correctly. I’ve read thousands. In the last six weeks, I’ve read over 100, some more than once to analyze the structures or word choices.  

Attend writing workshops and conferences to learn the basic mechanics of writing.  

So now you’ve read, read, read and attended workshops. It’s time to practice. Write. Write. Write. Reading, workshops, and writing serve as the three best ways to an apprenticeship, a learning period. 

If you don’t have the means to attend conferences and workshops, check out free online courses. They pop up all the time. Writing newsletters offer excellent guidance. Books on the writing process are probably at your local library or bookstore. Read them. Study them. 

Join a local writers’ group, if possible. Every member benefits from the collective knowledge. After all, you’ll keep learning long after your first book is published. An apprenticeship is a lifelong adventure for a writer.

Call for Submissions for Young Writers:

Stone Soup welcomes submissions by children aged 13 and younger. Now we are a digital magazine, we no longer have a limit on the length of a story. However, we find that we tend to gravitate toward shorter stories. While we may publish one 10-page story in an issue of Stone Soup, most of the stories we publish are shorter, between 1,000 and 2,000 words (4 to 8 pages).

There is no minimum length—we have published stories that are less than a page!

Call for Submissions for Adult Writers:

CICADA is a YA lit/comics magazine fascinated with the lyric and strange and committed to work that speaks to teens’ truths. We publish poetry, realistic and genre fic, essay, and comics by adults and teens. (We are also inordinately fond of Viking jokes.) Our readers are smart and curious; submissions are invited but not required to engage young adult themes. CICADA does not distribute theme lists for upcoming issues.

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