Nancy's Books

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Rejection Letters/Revision/Character Development/Call for Submissions

In the world of manuscript submissions, two simple facts haunt writers of every genre:

Fact #1: Rejection pierces the skin and goes straight to the psyche like a poisoned arrow.

Fact #2: Prepare to be pierced.

If you submit manuscripts to publishers, you will receive rejection letters. The sting of rejection is so painful some writers quit writing altogether. Others fuss and fume but go right back to stringing together more words.

I’ve had two manuscripts accepted without receiving a single rejection: Happy Birthday, the Story of the World’s Most Popular Song and Trouble in Troublesome Creek. Both were requested by editors I’d worked with, and both required at least a couple rounds of revision. I’ve collected enough rejection letters from manuscripts of my published books to wallpaper my house; yet the stories eventually went to press.

If a rejection letter, or a basketful of them, takes a heavy toll on your emotional state, just remind yourself that Dr. Seuss and Stephen King collected a few rejections of their own, so you’re not in bad literary company. Most of all, realize that YOU were not rejected, the manuscript was. But why was the manuscript rejected? Could a rejection, or a series of rejections, shed light on the reason?

In today’s downtrodden economic climate, many publishers are not responding to unsolicited manuscripts, period. For those that respond, even with a one-size-fits-all form rejection, I give them a hearty thank you. Sometimes those form rejections have a written comment or two. For those, I give a heartier thank you, thank you, thank you. So why am I so thankful for a rejection of my manuscript? Actually, I’m not thankful for the rejection, but the acknowledgement, since I now know more about my manuscript.

Parts II and III of my article, From Rejection to Reflection to Selection, will follow the next two weeks.

Grab Bag

Teachers, gather an assortment of small items, such as marbles, pens, and ribbons, and place in a bag. Each student reaches into the bag and pulls out three items. The goal is to write a story about a character who treasured these items. Consider the following:
A. Why were the objects were important to the character?
B. Where did the character live?
C. Did the character need the objects to survive?
D. Did the object have monetary or emotional value or both?

Call for submissions:

"*The Christmas Spirit* is a book project contracted with St. Martin's Press for the fall of 2011, but they want the completed manuscript by the spring of 2010. Debbie Macomber has agreed to write the foreword. We seek *true* stories that emphasize the significance of the Christmas season. We get caught up in the busyness of the season--the shopping, the family drama, and the event planning, and we lose sight of the true meaning of Christmas. Sometimes, what some call a twist of fate, we're able to step back and grasp the real meaning of Christmas and our lives are enriched. These are the kind of stories we want." Pays: "a $50 honorarium and at least one free copy of the book." Deadline: May 1, 2010. Visit for more info.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Laura Crawford, Nonfiction, Contests

This week I have a guest author, Laura Crawford, who has written a fact-filled and beautiful picture book, The American Revolution From A to Z. Pelican Publishing Company, 2009. Grades 2-5. ISBN: 1-58980-515-1.

In The American Revolution From A to Z, history comes to life with the ABCs of America's fight for freedom. From B's Battles of Lexington and Concord to H's John Hancock, this alphabet book provides an exciting and interesting history of the American Revolution. The colorful pages feature George Washington, the Redcoats, the Constitution, and Mary Hays, who brought pitchers of water to the soldiers. Female readers will like learning about Betsy Zane and Deborah Sampson, two brave young women. Each page has detailed, lively illustrations and fun facts about the war that earned the United States its independence from England.

As writers, we need to tap into storytelling when we tackle a nonfiction book. The facts must be included in a way kids will enjoy. Add the OOH, AH, EW, PHEW, or COOL factor and you’ll hook readers from the first paragraph. A story about llamas will interest kids, but if you tell them llamas spit at people and often hit the mark, you added the EW! factor that will make them want to read more. An interesting format is another way to tackle nonfiction storytelling. Instead of a straight narrative, present the subject matter in the form of a diary, top ten list, or other interest-capturing design. That’s just what Laura Crawford did when she used an ABC format to tell her story, and the manuscript landed her a contract.

Teachers, Laura offers this classroom activity for students to create their own books:

Make your own ABC book for any topic. Staple 30 pages together. The first and last pages will be the covers. The second page will be the title page, with a dedication. On each of the following pages, write a letter of the alphabet. You can write in cursive, print or calligraphy (like in my book). You can research your own topic by looking through your science, social studies, or other textbook. A good place to start is the index! Remember not to copy directly from the book-you need to write the story in your own words!

The cover and additional pages will be set up this way:

[Cover page]
The ABC Book

Written by _________________
Illustrated by _______________

[First page]
A is for______________


Sylvia K. Burack Scholarship Award Contest
Are you age 18 or older and a full-time undergraduate student at a university or college in the U.S. or Canada? Enter The Writer's 2010 Sylvia K. Burack Scholarship Award essay contest! This year's theme: Select a work of fiction or poetry that has influenced the way you view the world and the way you view yourself. Discuss the work and explain how it affected you." The winner receives $500, publication in The Writer and a year's subscription to the magazine. New deadline: April 1.

Haiku Competition for High School Students
Entries must be received by this date: March 25th.
Contest offers six prizes of $50 for the best haiku by students in grades 7-12 as of the previous September (no homeschooled students). Send 1-3 haiku, typed in triplicate on 3"x5" cards, with author's name and contact information on only one copy. No simultaneous submissions. Sponsored by the Haiku Society of America.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Environment, Theme, Contests

This week I’m continuing to spotlight themes in children’s literature. The themes of The Munched-Up Flower Garden and Trouble in Troublesome Creek focus on the environment and ecology. Children's books need strong, universal themes. And what is a universal theme? It’s an underlying message—subtle, not preachy—that children everywhere can respond to.

Many children’s books deal with such universal themes as loneliness, new school, new pet, new baby, moving, and friendship. These themes can work whether the characters are people or animals.

Don’t worry about developing a never-before-seen theme. Instead, work toward a fresh and unusual approach of a tried-and-true theme. Think of the books you read as a child or to your child. Throw around ideas, mix them up, and turn them topsy-turvy as you place your unique spin on the tale. Have fun writing a new story with an old theme.

Classroom activity:

Promote student observation and descriptive language through the sense of touch. Allow students to explore various textures of items found in the environment. Examples: ground coffee, pebbles, sand, leaves, twigs, tempera paint, grass, string, pieces of construction paper, crumpled paper, cotton balls, bits of cloth, and other convenient items. Students sort items into groups by similar texture and discuss the way the items feel: This feels smooth or this feels rough. Use a variety of descriptive terms: bumpy, soft, silky, coarse, fluffy, etc. Students will glue items of a similar texture onto construction paper to make a collage. Combine the collage pages into a book and again discuss the textures of the different collages. Students may label each collage with a descriptive word or phrase.

No-Fee Contests:
1. Wergle Flomp Humor Poetry Contest
Deadline: April 1, 2010

"Now in its ninth year. We seek today's best humor poems. Total cash prizes have been increased to $3,600, with a top prize of $1,500."

2. The Smories Prize
Prize: $1,500.
Submission is free. All rights will remain with the writer. Entries accepted from anywhere in the world.
Not be longer than 1,000 words.
Text only, in English.
Must be fiction for children from 3 to 8 years old.
Poetry & rhyming stories may also be submitted.
Deadline for this month: 31st March 2010
All other details on the site:

3. The 4th Annual Cheerios® New Author Contest will be open for entries on 3/15/2010. For more information on the Cheerios New Author Contest, please visit

Monday, March 8, 2010

Theme, Trouble in Troublesome Creek, Contests, Call for Submissions

The Troublesome Creek kids are back with a new adventure. Their favorite swimming hole has dead fish floating in the water. Stiiiinky! Can the kids solve the mystery of the dead fish?

Usually I begin writing a story with a particular character in mind. My fictional characters are often quirky and far from perfect. Sometimes a plot pops into my mind and I work characters into the action. For my newest book, Trouble in Troublesome Creek, my editor asked me to write a story about water pollution. Hummmmm, I’d never written a story based on the concept of a theme. The characters were already developed from a previous book, The Munched-Up Flower Garden. First, I focused on the plot: something was killing the fish in troublesome creek. Next, I created the cause of the pollution—Minnie balls, Civil war bullets—and began writing the text. My goal was to find a positive way for the characters to deal with the pollution and it’s cause. When I finished the first draft, I revised the story to incorporate a strong theme: what happened 150 years ago affects us today so what we do today may affect generations 150 from now.

Writers, when you finish a story, examine the content and determine the theme, which is a viewpoint or concept conveyed in the story. The theme should evolve as the story develops. If the theme is mentioned in the story, write it as dialog, not narration. Children want to read stories that entertain and explore life. They don’t want preachy themes hammered into the storyline. Find ways in which the characters can work constructively to solve the problem. This method keeps the theme positive.

Classroom activity:

Creek in a Bottle:
Add three cups of water to a 2-liter bottle. Repeat the process twice so you have three bottles containing water. Discuss how the bottles and water represent a creek habitat and how the water is clean. Add one cup of oil to the first bottle. Discuss how animals that live in or drink the water can be harmed when oil spills into creeks. How does oil in water affect people who use the water? Add soap and detergents to the second bottle. Again, discuss how the pollution affects animals and people. Add oil, soap, and detergents to the third bottle. Again, discuss the affects of pollution of our water supply. Invite students to make posters encouraging others to not pollute or showing the dangers of pollution.


1. The Glass Woman Prize
Deadline: March 21, 2010
"The Seventh Glass Woman Prize will be awarded for a work of short fiction or creative non-fiction (prose) written by a woman. Length: between 50 and 5,000 words. The top prize for the seventh Glass Woman Prize award is US $600 and possible (but not obligatory) online publication; I will also award one runner up prize of $100 and one runner up prize of $50, together with possible (but not obligatory) online publication. Subject is open, but must be of significance to women. My criterion is passion, excellence, and authenticity in the woman’s writing voice. Previously published work and simultaneous submissions are OK. Previous Glass Woman Prize winners are welcome to submit again. Copyright is retained by the author."

Call for Submission:

2. *Now & Then* ("the Appalachian magazine") is taking submissions for its upcoming themed issue "Appalachian High" until March 31, 2010. "Fiction, news and feature articles, interviews, and personal essays are accepted. Writing can include information gleaned from diaries, letters, and family histories, as well as standard research and reportage. Clearly label any first-person piece as either a fiction or nonfiction essay." Pays: "modest honorarium" and copy. See