Nancy's Books

Sunday, January 15, 2017

To Outline or Not

The thought of outlining a manuscript is so daunting to some writers they avoid it entirely. To others, this prewriting phase is a necessity. I fall into the second category for a number of reasons.  

The main reason, since I’m not a workaholic, is the simple fact that outlining makes writing easier. Working smarter, not harder gets my vote. Before I write the first word of a story, I need to have at least a vague idea of the ending. Now, all is need is the middle. The outline works like a roadmap to get me from the beginning to the ending in the straightest path.  

My outlining is simple and basic. If I’m writing a picture book, I write the general idea for the beginning; then add the plot points and on to the ending. By spending time thinking about the story as I outline, I become more familiar with the characters, their actions and reactions, and the order in which events should happen. Does this mean that I will strictly adhere to this order? Probably not, but it does provide direction.

An outline forces me to consider various ways the information can be revealed, which is the structure or skeleton of the story. In my Whose series, I used a question and answer structure, which worked well. With On the Banks of the Amazon, I used a fiction-nonfiction parallel structure. The first paragraphs on each page were nonfiction. A fiction paragraph followed.

When I decide on the structure, I outline the fiction or nonfiction story basics. In the Whose series, I outlined the animals I would use and in what order. Once I have the structure established, I can research and add meat to the form with specific details. Figuring out the structure prior to writing helps to organize the plot logically, so there is less time spent revising.

Next week, I’ll discuss more reasons why I outline.

Call for submissions for Young Writers:

Rookie. Call for submissions! Here’s what we’d love to see from you, Rookies! (And continue to check back, as we’ll keep adding to this list.) All of these must be sent to Please include your name and age, and use the subject line specified for each post.
1. Poetry Roundup. Each month, we publish a roundup of poetry written by you. If you’d like us to consider your work for January’s roundup, please email it to us by Friday, January 14, with the subject line: Poetry Roundup.
2. Advice questions. These can be sent in any time. Life ’n’ love go to, and beauty ’n’ style go to
3. Instagram. We want to see your artwork and photography! Post it on Instagram with the hashtag #lookrookie and we will take a peek and may regram it or spotlight it in our weekly newsletter!
Submission guidelines at 

Call for submissions for Adult Writers:

Chicken Soup for the Soul. Dreams, Premonitions and the Unexplainable. (Formerly titled Dreams & Synchronicities) Sometimes magic happens in your life. You have a dream that reveals a truth or a course of action to you. You have a premonition that changes your behavior and saves you or a loved one from disaster. You meet someone at just the right time and you can’t believe the coincidence. We’re collecting stories for a second book on this topic, following our bestseller Chicken Soup for the Soul: Dreams and Premonitions. Share your stories about the amazing things that have happened in your own life.

The deadline date for story and poem submissions was May 31, 2016 but it has been extended to JANUARY 31, 2017.

Submission guidelines at

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

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Is Your Picture Book Manuscript Ready to Submit?

Is Your Picture Book Manuscript Ready to Submit?

Picture books are designed to be read aloud. So if you are wondering if your manuscript is ready to send to an editor, try reading it aloud first. By reading aloud, you hear the flow, the pacing, of the story. You also hear what the eyes don’t always see: mistakes. Reading aloud helps to identify parts of the story that may be difficult to speak. Do you have a string of words with initial sounds that trip the tongue? This example, “sixth sick sheik’s sixth sheep’s sick,” is extreme but the idea is to make the words flow, not twist in the reader’s mouth. 

Do you have a hook for the story? In a query letter, the hook provides your story’s introduction to the agent or editor. The hook should include Character + Problem/Obstacle + Theme. This was the hook I wrote for an upcoming book picture book, HIRAM’S GIFTS: “Hiram builds fires to heat the two-room schoolhouse and earns dimes for his trouble. With a heart full of hope, he saves his money in a sock and thumbs through a catalog looking at a shiny fiddle, a maple fiddle, the kind of fiddle he dreamed of playing. Tragedy strikes.” 

When writing a hook, capture the theme of the story without giving away the ending. The purpose of a hook is to convey the protagonist’s journey and plot, as well as showcasing the writer’s style, in a concise manner.  

Did the character change or grow in some way from the beginning to the ending? Did the story allow the central character to become empowered? The answers to these two questions should be “yes.” Did the influence resulting in the change and empowerment come from a childlike perspective? Reasoning and world view should reflect that of a child. 

Call for submissions for Young Writers

Canvas Literary Journal. We are seeking writers ages 13-18 to submit:

 Fiction – Please limit submissions to 5,000 words.

Novel Excerpts - Novel and memoir excerpts are acceptable if self-contained (work as a complete narrative).

Poetry – You may submit more than one poem, but please do not exceed 5 pages worth of poetry.

Plays - Please follow standard play format. Limit to 10 pages.

Nonfiction – Essays, memoir, creative nonfiction. Please limit submissions to 5,000 words.  

New Media – Video, images, etc. are fine for website. But must be accompanied by written version to be considered for print and eBook.

Cross-genre - Experimental work (prose poems, art and writing, fiction and nonfiction hybrids) are highly encouraged, but please keep to the word limit for fiction. 

Submission guidelines at 

Call for submissions for Adult Writers

Enchanted Conversation. Each of the six submission periods for 2017 will have a theme. Here they are: January: "Steadfast Tin Soldier," March: "Diamonds and Toads," May: "Donkeyskin," July: "Emperors New Clothes," September: "Godfather Death," November: "Elves and the Shoemaker."
When each window for submissions opens, a theme-related post will be published. Please read the relevant post before writing your submission. All of the themes are classic fairy tales, but I do not want slavish retreads of the original stories. At the same time, your works should reflect the chosen theme, or there is no chance of publication.

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

Sunday, January 1, 2017

New Year, Old Manuscripts

One of the best perks of being a full-time writer is the freedom to choose one’s own hours and space. A flexible work schedule is conducive to productivity, right? Yes, and no. This lack of structure can be conducive to lack of productivity. We have no one to answer to (excluding ourselves) and no accountability for what we accomplish in a particular period of time.

The solution for me is to set goals, those elusive targets that are attainable, measurable, and effective. And what better time than now when a brand spanking new year dawns.  

Last year, I set a goal of rewriting old material that had a budding future. No new material would percolate from me until I had exhausted the potential of manuscripts stored away in the dungeon of my computer. I reread numerous picture book manuscripts and a chapter book that looked promising. One-by-one, I began a revision and pitched each to my critique partner. (Thanks, Sandi!) 

My specific goal for each was to evaluate the marketability of the piece and to rewrite with a stronger voice and according to more current standards, such as shorter word count. Some of the buried manuscripts bore little similarity to the newly minted versions. 

By following this literary roadmap, I revamped each piece from beginning to end.

Attainable? Yes, I revised several.

Measurable? Yes, I garnered FOUR contracts.

Effective? Yes, times 4. 

My goal for this year is to revise more of my buried tales. (Are you ready, Sandi?) 

Call for submissions for Young Writers

Bazoof! General submissions are welcome from youth (ages 7-14) or their parents/caregivers. Stories are welcome from youth of any age. Some ideas of what you could send:

·         Letter

·         Short story (12 years and younger: 500 words or less; 13-18 years: 900 words or less; Doesn’t include any violence, fighting, not too scary, gruesome, or dark natured. Must be suitable for readers ages 8-12 years).

·         Poem

·         Craft idea

·         Drawings

·         Photo of your pet

·         Photo of you doing an activity you enjoy

·         Picture of a project that you made

·         Recipe

·         Game or puzzle

·         Jokes or riddles

·         Tell me about a sport you enjoy playing or a musical instrument

·         Or any other ideas you have!

Submission guidelines at 

Call for submissions for Adult Writers:

Bumples is an interactive publisher for children ages 4-10

Submission guidelines at

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

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Picture Book Savvy, Part 3

Picture book text keeps getting shorter. A couple of decades ago, the target number for most publishers was 1000+. Not today. In order to write a successful picture book for traditional markets, the action has to be distilled into as few words as possible. The story idea should be weighty to provide a narrative tale with a beginning/middle/ending, leave space for illustrations to tell part of the story, and connect with the audience in a positive way.  

Rhythm and cadence are essential, and word choice is the key. Follow your own voice by telling the story as only you can. Write in such a way that your unique storytelling rings throughout. That’s what will define your career. 

Editors are looking for fresh voices, stories that make them stop to reread a sentence and offer something to make them continue reading the next. They want to be enlightened, amused, enthralled, baffled by the actions or questions posed. This does not come from the first draft. Every story needs to be revised until its patina glimmers. 

Revision takes time. Give your manuscript some time off. Walk away and work on another story. This absence is vitally important in order to review your work later with fresh eyes.  

Hand your glimmering draft over to a set of new eyes. Find a critique partner who has read lots of books and who is a practicing writer. Feedback from an informed writer helps you understand what works and what does not. 

One of my dad’s favorite authors, Louis L'Amour, said it this way: Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.  

Call for submissions for Young Writers:

Hanging Loose Magazine welcomes high school submissions.

* 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, and be sure to include a self-addressed stamped envelope with sufficient return postage.
* Send 3 to 6 poems, or 1 to 3 short stories, or an equivalent combination of poetry and
prose. This enables us to get a good idea of what your work is like.
* All work should be neatly typed. High quality photocopies or readable computer-generated
hard copies are acceptable. A brief biographical statement is welcome. We are always interested in knowing how you found out about us, what school you attend, and so forth.Please Note: We prefer to receive submissions from young writers themselves, rather than from their teachers. We strongly discourage teachers from submitting samples of work from members of their classes. Similarly, we discourage teachers from asking students to submit their work as a class assignment. We prefer teachers to encourage students who take themselves seriously as writers to write us directly.

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:

Storytime Magazine. From spring 2017, we’ll be publishing one new short story in every Storytime issue, which will be credited to its author. If your story is selected, that’s your name and your creation in print forever – and beautifully illustrated to boot! Not only that, but you’ll be part of Storytime’s mission to keep short stories alive and to help children fall in love with reading for pleasure!

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

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Picture Book Saavy, Part 2

In creating a story for the picture book crowd, we have to ask, What is the want? In last week’s example, I used—I want to win every game.  

Now we need to ask—Why is that important? Is it because the child thinks the parents expect him/her to win every game? Does the child think winning will produce more friends? 

The “Want” must be believable. That is the heart of the story, the motivation. Why does he want to win every game? 

Once a believable “want” is established, obstacles must be introduced to impede the character from reaching the goal or solving the problem. Obstacles create conflict, and conflict keeps the reader interested in the story. The character must overcome the obstacles, but shouldn’t easily. 

Three types of conflict exist:

1.      Protagonist against another character.

2.      Protagonist against circumstances (weather, luck, nature, etc.)

3.      Protagonist against her/himself (afraid, shy, etc.) 

The ending should be happy or at least offer hope. The last page is an opportunity for a writer to offer a twist in the story to surprise or provide an emotional connection to the reader.

Next week, I’ll provide more golden nuggets of our conversations. 

Call for submissions for Young Writers

Teen Ink. If it has a beginning, middle and end ... if it has a well-developed plot and interesting characters ... it if takes place in the past, present or future ... then submit your story to Teen Ink's Fiction Contest.


Winning stories are published in Teen Ink magazine and contest winners receive a copy of the magazine featuring their work. Plus, they’ll have the opportunity to choose from an exciting selection of Teen Ink merchandise – apparel and other items – available exclusively from Teen Ink.

Guidelines: Teen Ink will only consider original fiction written by teens. Entries of all genres are accepted, whether fantasy, horror, historical, sci-fi, or romance. Short stories should be between 500 and 2,500 words.

Submit entries through our website. All fiction pieces submitted to Teen Ink are automatically considered for the contest. See our submission guidelines for more information.
No deadlines.

Call for submissions for Adult Writers

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Stories about Cats
We are working on and collecting stories and poems for another wonderful book about our cats. The focus of this book will be on rescued cats that were adopted from shelters or rescue organizations and who luckily found their forever homes. Whether adopted as kittens or adopted as older cats in the last few years of their lives, what amazing stories of survival our cats could tell us. We love these heartwarming and inspirational stories about our cats and the amazing and magical things they do. We rejoice in their simple absurdities, funny habits, and crazy antics. Our cats make us smile and laugh every day, but sometimes they really outdo themselves. Whether they came up with the idea themselves, or you put them in a situation that caused them to do something unusual, we want to hear about it! We know you'll have many great stories for us about your cats. Stories can be serious or humorous... or both. Tell us what your cat did. The deadline for story and poem submissions is January 31, 2017. 

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

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Picture Book Savvy

Spending time with authors to discuss writing, publishing, and their successes and failures is like attending an intensive writing workshop. Sharing experiences, ideas, and knowledge are invaluable nuggets of manuscript gold. The following are gilded tidbits:

Picture book authors’ perspective should be the same world view as that of the child. This means no abstract problems or goals. The story must be illustratable and action oriented. Five-year-olds take ideas literally. The characters should react in the same way a child would. If writers can connect with the life of a child in some way, the story will have more appeal to the reader.

Example: I want to win every game. Children will understand this idea and connect mentally and emotionally.

Will the child care about your subject? If not, they won’t want to read the book. Writers have to think like a child and have the characters act and react the way a child of that age would. Always keep the audience in mind with each word. In my latest picture book, FORTY WINKS, the subject is a monster in a closet. Many children are afraid of the dark. I certainly was, and I'm still not crazy about it. The story also deals with resolving conflict, an experience all children deal with regularly.

What is important to the child? Consider his/her feelings. The subject of your story must have relevance to everyday life.

Next week, I’ll provide more golden nuggets of our conversations.

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.

Submission guidelines at

Call for submissions for Adult Writers:
Story is interested in narrative of any shape and kind we can get onto the printed page. Surprise us with traditional and experimental forms of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. We love short fiction, but we love hermit-crab essays, hybrid forms, research, lists, and charts too. Submit work that fits the theme, but don't be afraid to think outside the box. Submissions for online issues should be a maximum of 2,500 words.Submission guidelines at

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

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The following trends seem to be what editors are currently looking for. Check the previous blog post for the remainder of the list.

Diverse books are popular. These works represent a wide range of cultures, family structures, and experiences. The books are about diverse characters that reflect the real world, but the stories themselves are not about diversity. Subject matter includes economic disparity, race, religion, and disability. Authentic characters and a great imagination can lead to a contract.
Nonfiction for all age group continues to grow. Writers are finding innovative ways to approach a wide range of subjects. Nonfiction has evolved into a broader definition. Author’s voice and the structure of how the story is formatted and told offer innovative approaches to new nonfiction titles available today. Back matter is information located in the back of some nonfiction titles.
Creative nonfiction is a growing market. These books read much the way fiction stories do. I used a combination of poetry and prose in my eBook, IF CLOUDS COULD TALK. Editors want more creative nonfiction, especially on subjects that have not been extensively covered.
STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) books are increasingly used by schools and home schooling advocates. My first book, ONCE UPON A DIME, involves the reader using math to figure out how much money grew on the tree each season.
Writers who tap into these types of books and storytelling improve their chances of getting their books picked up by publishers.
Since no overwhelming trend dominates and because children’s literature spans a wide range of age groups, an individual title can shine. Strong writing and creative approaches to subjects always prevail.
Call for submissions for Young Writers: 

Patricia Grodd Poetry Prize for Young WritersRestrictions: Open to writers aged 16-18. Genre: Poem (1). Prize: Full scholarship to The Kenyon Review Young Writers workshop, an intensive two-week summer seminar for writers aged 16-18. Deadline: November 30, 2016.  

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?

Our stories are generally short (usually less than 500 words), but we're open to unusual ideas that will resonate with millions of people, and we love to experiment. Most stories of this short length will be paid at a fair base rate with traffic and distribution bonuses, and all of that will be hashed out in your contract if we decide to work together.

Submission guidelines a t

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