Nancy's Books

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Does the character change/grow/learn something by the end of the last chapter? The main conflict gets resolved by the end of the book. In some books, characters may change the way s/he looks at the world. In others, a character may realize that s/he was doing the right thing all along. That realization is the result of the growth of character. Either way, the character should experience growth.

Sentence structure is as important as word choice. In revision, I reread the entire manuscript looking at nothing but sentence structure. My goal is to vary the structure to help create rhythmic prose. Long, short, and mid-size sentences keep the writing lively. Too many subject-verb sentences craft bland writing, and readers notice with a yawn. Another option is to vary sentence openings: Susie peeped out the window. As the rain pinged the glass, Susie peeked out the window.  

Check the dialog. I read each piece of dialog and question whether is sound appropriate for the character’s age and situation. As I read it aloud, I listen to the words and tone. My goal is to capture the voice of each character. By reading aloud, my brain hears mistakes that my eyes overlook if reading silently. It’s also easier to catch the flow and rhythm of the words. Try it. 

Grammar, punctuations, and manuscript format are my final checks. Professional looking manuscripts are more likely to get read than those with simple, overlooked mistakes.

Revision is our chance to make manuscripts shine. I wish you sparkle and glimmer in your literary output.

Call for Submissions for Adult Writers:
DIG Magazine is a world history publication that targets children aged 9 to 14. They’re accepting queries for feature articles, supplemental nonfiction, and fiction. Writers can pitch anything from plays to biographies. 

Nancy Kelly Allen has written 40+ children’s books and a cookbook, SPIRIT OF KENTUCKY: BOURBON COOKBOOK.
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Sunday, July 8, 2018

Chapter Book Revision, cont’d

Set the tone of the book. Is it serious or humorous? Sad or happy? The tone is the author’s attitude, or the narrator’s. The mood of the story is the emotion the reader feels. Both are important and need to be set early in the first chapter. Setting the tone early provides glimpses into what the reader can expect in the rest of the story. In my chapter book, THE RIDDLERS, mystery and a touch of humor set the tone.

Does the writing zing? Word choice is crucial to voice, and voice is crucial to writing that sparks imagination. Voice is the music of language that spurs on the story and captures the reader’s interest. Zing can be small tingles or mighty zaps. A variety of unexpected descriptions and snappy dialog create surprises for the reader. When reading a sentence, if the reader can predict the finish (hungry as a bear/white as snow) the writing is clichéd with no zap, not even a tingle.

Have I chosen the best word, not merely a good word? Which of the following offers more description: sat/plopped down. Both work, but “plopped down” provides more detail and gives the reader more insight. Choosing the best word doesn’t mean staying in constant contact with a thesaurus; instead, it means using the best word to evoke emotion. Readers want to step into the world writers create and experience the feelings/needs/desires of the characters. One technique to induce that sentiment/reaction is to use strong verbs and show the action. Betty was scared tells how the character felt. Betty’s hand trembled showed her emotion in action. The second example also provides a mental visual. The first does not. Visual images help a reader connect to the action and experience the character’s feelings.

Call for Submissions for Adult Writers:
FUN FOR KIDZ. We are looking for lively writing that involves an activity that is both wholesome and unusual. The Ideal length of a FUN FOR KIDZ nonfiction piece is up to 300-325 words for a one-page magazine article or up to 600-650 words for a two-page magazine article. Articles that are accompanied by strong high-resolution photos are far more likely to be accepted than those requiring illustration.
Nancy Kelly Allen has written 40+ children’s books and a cookbook, SPIRIT OF KENTUCKY: BOURBON COOKBOOK.

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Sunday, June 24, 2018

Chapter Book Revision, continued

In my revision, I’ve reviewed the setting and made sure I let the reader know where the story is happening. The action takes place in a park, in present day, for the duration of three days. The setting provides the backdrop for the action, and that allows me to use sensory language to evoke vivid sights, aromas, and slimy tactile sensations, in this case—snot! Snot works for the chapter book age group.

The park setting is the backdrop for the conflict, too, from sneaky bullies inside buildings, to finding hidden cave treasures on a hillside,  to a deep diving escape in the swimming pool. Nights can be dark with only firelight to see. Sunny days can offer an environment for soundless steps on a mossy bank, perfect for sneaking up on wild goats. I’ve used setting to enhance the conflict and raise the tension. The thesaurus has come in handy in choosing descriptive words and phrases to create the mood of the story. In revising, I’ve tweaked the scenes to make the setting a part of the story narrative, rather than merely describing it, to keep the reader immersed in the fictional world.  

Conflict/problem builds reader interest. I introduced part of the conflict in the first chapter, hinted about another conflict in the second chapter, and fully introduced the other conflict in the third chapter. The goal of the main character is to attend a weather camp weekend at the park, but because he has a problem with a neighbor, he is grounded (the initial conflict). The conflict arises in the first chapter and gives the story direction.

 In my next blog, I’ll discuss more elements of revision.

Call for Submissions for Adult Writers:

FrostFire Worlds is intended for younger readers, from ages 8-17 and up. Genre: Science fiction and fantasy short stories, poems, art, articles, reviews, and interviews. Preferred are adventure stories, space opera, and magic opera [like space opera, but fantasy]. Also preferred are stories that take place on other worlds. Stories must have the following: characters the reader cares about, plots and subplots, and settings that draw the reader into them.
Submission guidelines at 

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

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Sunday, June 10, 2018

Chapter Book Revision, continued

When I revise, I focus on one or two elements at a time. In this latest revision, I worked on changing an unreliable protagonist to a somewhat reliable one. That’s all I worked on, and limited that work to the first three chapters. Once I get the first three chapters polished, I’ll revise the remainder of the book, still focused on the aspects of correcting the actions of an unreliable narrator. At that point, I will begin at Chapter 1 and revise two more elements. I choose to work on one or two elements at a time, so I remain focused on those corrections, alone. If I attempt to revise everything, chapter-by-chapter, I lose focus. Other writers might be able to, but not this one. 

My goal is to intrigue the reader with a character. Here’s a quick method that’s worth your time. Reread the first five pages of your manuscript. From those five pages only, list what the reader knows about the character. If you list only two or three items, revise. If you list eight to ten items, you’re off to a great start on character development. Spend time developing the main character, because the protagonist will carry the story from beginning to end. 

Why am I spending so much time on the first part of the book? I have to grab the reader’s attention immediately and hold it. If the dialog, characters, and plot don’t resonate, the pages won’t be turned.
I've also been working on narrative voice, the use of language that says what it says in an interesting way: phrasing that tickles the ear or surprises in some way, unexpected narrative, and age-appropriate dialog. The dialog should promote the plot or help develop the character. Read it aloud. How does it sound? Does it sound like the age of the reader?  

By honing in on one or two elements, writers give full attention to correcting or improving each. If revision in one swoop through the manuscript becomes overwhelming, give this method a go. 

That’s not all. In my next blog, I’ll discuss more elements of revision.           

Call for Submissions for Adult Writers:
Youth Imagination publishes stories relevant to teens. Genres: Fiction, including modern, urban or classical fantasy, as well as sci-fi, slipstream, literary, action-adventure or suspense. "We particularly love stories exploring their issues, such as bullying, drugs, romance, school, parental issues, teacher issues, etc., as well as about the grit and character of teens and young adults."
Submission 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, May 27, 2018

Chapter Book Revision, cont'd.

At this point in my chapter book revision, I’m focusing on the first three chapters, since that’s what many agents/editors request. If they like the beginning, they may ask to see the entire manuscript. The first sentence, followed by the first paragraph, followed by the first chapter are the parts of a manuscript that have the greatest initial impact (first chapter = initial impact). If readers aren’t hooked in the first chapter, they often read no further. A great first chapter warrents further reading. A not-so-great one earns a rejection. The writing must stand out to the point it beats the competition, which is not an easy task to achieve, but IS achievable.

A lot happens in the first chapter. Here are revision checkpoints I’m homing in on:

 Introduce the hook. A hook is writing that snares  readers' interest and keeps them reading.
Introduce the characters. Begin with the main protagonist. My initial plan involved writing about an unreliable narrator, one who the reader could not depend on to tell the story in an unbiased way. The little boy didn’t get along with his neighbor so from his perspective, everything about the neighbor was negative. A few revisions later I still kept this aspect of the character’s personality. Then, after setting the story aside for months, I’ve decided to make the character narrating the story more reliable and the neighbor can come to life showing her positive and negative traits as the story unfolds. Setting this story aside to work on other projects allows me to be more objective in critiquing because I’m coming back to it with a fresh outlook, a policy I recommend for all writers.

I’ve revised the first three chapters until my fingers tingled, but Chapter 1 is missing the mark, still. What’s a writer to do? Revise, revise, revise. At this point I’ve rewritten the opening about thirty times. Yes, 30! There may be a 31. I’ll run it by my critique partner and find out.

In my next blog, I’ll provide more checkpoints for revision.
Call for Submissions for Adult Writers:
Hunger Mountain is a print journal of the arts. We publish fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, visual art, young adult and children’s writing, and literary miscellany. Our print issue comes out annually in the spring. Hunger Mountain hosts four annual writing contests, which are open to all writers: the Howard Frank Mosher Short Fiction Prize, the Ruth Stone Poetry Prize, the Katherine Paterson Prize for Young Adult and Children’s Writing, and the Hunger Mountain Creative Nonfiction Prize.  We also offer a paid Hunger Mountain Fellowship.

Submission 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, May 13, 2018

CHAPTER BOOKS Characteristics

As young readers (ages 6-9 or 10) transition from short sentences to paragraphs, chapter books become the reading selection of choice. These books are often written as a series, and story is not as dependent upon the illustrations as are those in picture books and beginning readers. Prose carries the story in chapter books along with numerous illustrations. These books bridge the gap between beginning readers and middle grade novels.

Chapter books are written in a wide variety of interests: humor, adventure, supernatural, mystery, and more. Although they differ, they share these similarities:
  • Fast paced—the story/plot moves quickly.
  • Fun to read with loveable/enjoyable characters
  • Plots are clear and simple.
  • A protagonist who is good or means well even if the behavior is questionable. Make it clear to the reader why the character is misbehaving. Characters can be mischievous and make mistakes.
  • Lots of dialog. The voice of the characters should sound like a child whose age is approximately that of the reader (ages 6-9).
  • In comparison to middle grade novels, chapter books have shorter sentences, paragraphs, and chapters. Omit unnecessary words, but sometimes long words can be used if the meaning is made clear by the text or the meaning is evident by sounding out the words. Chapter lengths range from 4,000 to 15,000 words.
  • Interesting, lively language.
  • Humor rules…and sells. Kids love to laugh. Editors love books that make kids laugh.
  • The child protagonist outwits the bad guys.
  • Events can be dramatic. The characters can, and should, experience heightened emotions, including but not limited to joy, embarrassment, or fear (the fear shouldn’t be nightmarish).
  • Most stories are told through the viewpoint of a single character.

Read lots of chapter books to gain an understanding of what publishers are looking for in these tales.

Call for Submissions for Adult Writers:
Golden Fleece Press. Submissions for Wee Tales and Refractions must be age appropriate for the journal (7 to 12 for Wee Tales, 13 and up for Refractions). Refractions short submissions should be between 1000 and 5000 words, Wee Tales submissions should be between 600 and 2000 words.

Submit to  Subject line: QUERY–Title–Last Name
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 My Website is

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Writing a Chapter Book



I’m in the process of revising a chapter book manuscript. I wrote it about two years ago, revised it a few times, and then placed it aside to work on picture books. Now, it’s time to revisit the manuscript. Waiting a few months before revision is important so I can visualize the text with fresh eyes and a clearer editorial sense. Usually, I don’t wait this long, but I want to give this story the best chance possible for publication. Letting time pass without reading it will make it easier to recognize the weaknesses of the story and the mistakes.

Since I wrote the manuscript, I’ve read lots of chapter books. According to Stephen King, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” Reading works of numerous authors teaches writers a variety of ways to approach a subject, plot, or character. You’ll gain an understanding of the nuances of language and recognize how the structure of a story is built. As a writer, I try to read like an editor, and that comes with practice. I read, at least, ten children’s book a week. My mantra: Read more. Write better.  

I’ve also continued to read books on the writing process. As authors, we have to be cognizant of the subtleties of the language: voice, word choice, narrative and dialog humor. These can be learned. A ton of books are available on all types of writing. Every week, I read several articles about the writing process.  

The story is there. I need to smooth the rough edges and there are plenty of them. 

In my next blog, I’ll discuss the basic characteristics of a chapter book.

Call for Submissions for Young Writers:
I will resume the Call for Submissions for Young Writers in September.

Call for Submissions for Adult Writers: Id: 7,424, Version Set: 614, Version Number: 1
A Chicken Soup for the Soul story is an inspirational, true story about ordinary people having extraordinary experiences. It is a story that opens the heart and rekindles the spirit. It is a simple piece that touches our readers and helps them discover basic principles they can use in their own lives. These stories are personal and often filled with emotion and drama. They are filled with vivid images created by using the five senses. This call is for a story about grandparents.
Submission 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