Nancy's Books

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Picture Books: Cumulative Stories/Contest/Call for Submissions

The cumulative story is a popular picture book format. The rhythm and beat of the text fall easy on the ears. These stories follow a repetitive pattern or text structure. Each page repeats the text of the preceding page and adds a new line or plot. The details continue page after page until the story builds to a climax. Stories such as There Was an Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly and This Is the House That Jack Built are examples.

The text in a cumulative story can begin as one word, a phrase, or a sentence. As new events happen, the previous events are repeated with additional words added. The story builds and so does the anticipation. This type of story works well for young children, ages 3-5, because the predictability of the story allows them to become active participants.

Word count is important in this type of writing. Keep the phrases or sentences short. Use strong nouns and action verbs to keep word count low and the action high. A specific character and his/her actions is a typical subject and plot for cumulative stories.

Contest for young writers:
The New Cosmic Frontiers International Science Essay Competition On the Nature of our Universe and its Habitats is open to high school and college students. Its purpose is to inspire students to consider careers in science and to nurture their enthusiasm for the subject, and to engage young minds in creative, intellectual activities essential in scientific endeavors.
Winners will be awarded significant monetary prizes to support their education and given an extraordinary opportunity to meet today’s world-renowned scientists and scholars at a conference and award ceremony, held in Philadelphia, on October 12-13, 2012.

Are we alone in the Universe? Or, are there other life and intelligence beyond the solar system?
First Prize – $25,000 cash prize. Second Prizes – Two essays will be chosen for $10,000. Third Prizes – Five essays will be chosen for $5,000.

What is the origin of complexity in the universe?
First Prize – $50,000 cash prize. Second Prizes – Two essays will be chosen for $25,000. Third Prizes – Five essays will be chosen for $10,000.
In addition, up to 10 honorable mentions of $3,000 each will be awarded in either category.
Deadline June 15, 2012.
Details at

Call for submissions for adult writers:
ASK Magazine is a nonfiction magazine for children 6-9 years old who are curious about science and the world they live in. Each edition of ASK is built around a central theme on some question or concept in the natural, physical, or social sciences, technology, mathematics, history, or the arts. Feature articles are usually 1200-1600 words, with sidebars. ASK also occasionally commissions photo essays (400-600 words), humor pieces (200-400 words), short profiles of people, inventions, events, or the arts (200-400 words), and theme-appropriate experiments.
Details at

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Sunday, March 18, 2012

Writing Picture Books: The Format/Contests

Today, let’s take a close look at the format of a picture books. Most are 32 pages and are designed for ages three to eight. Lots of picture books break this rule. Some are 40+ pages; others are geared for children who are eight and older. However, if you’re an aspiring writer with no books published, your best bet for getting a manuscript accepted is to write for the format that is most popular. Of the 32 pages, 3-4 pages are delegated for front matter, such as the title page, copyright, and dedication. That leaves about 28-29 pages for text and illustrations. Some books have illustrations on all 28 pages; others have illustrations on every other page. Both of these formats work well in picture books.

The text of picture books is getting shorter. When I first began writing professionally 22 years ago, 1000 words were common for picture books. Today, the maximum word count for most is 650. The sweet spot is 350-500 words. The text must have a balance of words and action from page to page so the illustrations can tell part of the story.

Within the short text a story with a beginning, middle, and end should be revealed. Usually, this is done in about 15 scenes or pieces of action.

Next week, I’ll discuss the picture book cumulative story.

Contest for young writers:
Hummingbird Poetry Contest. Hey Kids!....We are excited to host our second kids hummingbird poetry contest to give you a chance to write a poem and maybe you'll win a prize! When you submit a poem you will have your own web page!

Tip: You can visit some other pages on our site and learn more about hummingbirds to help write your poem.

Each of the Top 3 Favorites will win everything you need (except your recycled bottle) to make your own "Recycler" Hummingbird Feeder".

Submit original work written by you.
Contest open to ages 6 to 12.
Fill out the "Your Name" box and be sure to include your age.
Winners will be selected based on visitor comments and our judge.
Deadline: September 30, 2012. Winners announced October 31, 2012.

Details at ... gbird-poetry-contest.html

Contest for adult writers:
Limit 2,500 words of short fiction.
Must be unpublished and never have won a prize. Limit two entries per person.
Must be 21 or older and a legal resident of the US. Grand prize may be published in Family Circle.
One (1) Grand Prize winner will receive a prize package including $750, a gift certificate to one (1) course of his or her choice, one (1) year AvantGuild membership valued at $55, and a one (1) year How-to Video membership valued at $99.
One (1) Second Place winner will receive $250, a one (1) year AvantGuild membership, and a one (1) year How-to Video membership.
One (1) Third Place winner will receive $250 and a one (1) year AvantGuild membership.
Deadline September 7, 2012
Details at

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Sunday, March 11, 2012

Writing Picture Books, Part I/Calls for Submissions

Last week, an aspiring writer asked me for tips on writing picture books. Picture books can be deceiving. They look simple to write but can be difficult since every word must push the story forward. In a short span of less than 1,000 words, preferably less than 650, a beginning, middle, and end must be created with an endearing character in a particular time and place. The task is difficult but not impossible. Here are some tips that might make the job a little easier.

1. The plot should be simple and take place in a brief period of time. The structure of picture books take many forms, including cumulative stories; problem resolution tales; days of the week tales; circular stories; and journey stories.

2. The character’s feelings and perspective should represent the age of the audience.

3. Create a theme, a universal truth that resonates with the audience.

4. The ending should have a satisfying conclusion.

5. Allow the illustrator to draw much of the setting and description.

6. Write a text that allows action to be illustrated.

7. Plan for 14-15 scenes for about 28 pages of text and illustrations.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll take a more in-depth look at the different structures of picture books.

Call for submissions for young writers:
Creative Kids Magazine accepts cartoons, songs, stories between 500 and 1200 words, puzzles, photographs, artwork, games, editorials, poetry, and plays, as well as any other creative work by kids aged 8-16. The print magazine is produced by Prufrock Press, a publisher of materials for gifted and advanced learners. Submit via snail mail according to guidelines.
Details for submission and writing examples at

Call for submissions for adult writers:
Boom Writer This site is designed to inspire kids to write (and read). They are looking for "guest authors" to write opening chapters to be used to inspire stories and books from the kids. Kids then write their story using your story start, the stories go online, and when their purchased by family and friends of the child, the "guest author" receives a royalty.
Details at

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Sunday, March 4, 2012

First Draft/Calls for Submissions

Staring at a blank page or bare computer screen can be a scary endeavor for any writer. But it can also be exciting. After all, you’re starting a new adventure called a first draft. The mind set plays a crucial role. Sometimes, we’re afraid we can’t get the story to unfold in a logical, engaging manner. At this point, don't worried since you can’t get it wrong. The first draft is SUPPOSED to be chocked full of mistakes. This won’t be your best writing but it will be a start in developing the idea.

The first draft is the place to let creative juices flow. “Get it down; then get it good” is an expression some authors use. Experiment with the plot and dialog. Mistakes, and lots of them, will pile up. Our words are not chisled in stone. If they were, corrections would be difficult if not impossible. But since we can erase or delete mistakes, no risks are involved. The most important aspect of a first draft is to simply get the story told. Turn off your internal editor. Metaphors? Descriptive language? Sensory images? If you don’t write any, that’s okay too. Those can come later with revisions that add sparkle to the story.

A writing associate gave me this sage advice: The first draft is the starting point, not the finish line.

Call for submissions for young writers:
Stone Soup, the magazine by young writers and artists
CURRENT NEEDS: "Send us stories and poems about the things
you feel most strongly about! Whether your work is about
imaginary situations or real ones, use your own experiences
and observations to give your work depth and a sense of
reality." Pays $40.

Call for submissions for adult writers:
Birds and Blooms
Do you have a funny birding or gardening story to share from your backyard? We want to hear it! Send us your best “backyard blunder,” and the winning story will receive $500.
To enter, email your true story to Please put “backyard blunder contest” in the subject line. All Entries must include your full name, address, city, state, zip, telephone number and email address (if you have one), in addition to your essay which may not exceed 400 words.
The winner of the Contest will be determined by judging all the entrants’ submissions based on the follow criteria: originality 20%, quality 60% and personality 20%.
DEADLINE: March 15, 2012.
Details at

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