Nancy's Books

Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Writing Journey

“I don't teach writing. I teach patience.”—Richard Bausch
In a recent writing workshop, a woman asked me what was the key to my twenty-seven-year writing career and having 50 books published. My answer is patience. A writing career is a journey. It’s not about the fastest sprinter; it’s about finishing the journey (Think Tortoise and Hare). Getting a book published in the shortest amount of time possible sounds enticing, promising, and fun (the sprint). Books that are written hurriedly seldom lead to long careers or win contracts.
In this modern age, we are inundated with instant gratification. A microwave cooks my eggs in a flash. Text messages ping in a second. Facebook and Twitter allow us to communicate quickly, easily, and effectively. So the sprint nature of our lives makes waiting frustrating. I totally understand this since I’m not shielded from wanting immediate feedback on a submission, either.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is publishing. Nothing moves quickly in publishing. Picture books average about two years to be born. (Daniel Boone Trailblazer’s birthing was a bit longer: four years.) Chapter books and middle grade novels usually require less time because illustrations are not a major part of the incubation.
Publishers receive thousands of submissions annually so many no longer respond unless the editor is interested in offering a contract. Even those positive responses can take up to a year or longer to contact the writer. An editor’s response or lack thereof, is merely one step of the literary journey.
How to develop patience? Keep writing. After you polish one manuscript and submit it, begin another. Keep focused on writing, not publishing. Your writing will improve and somewhere along the journey, a contract will be offered.
Next week, I address ways that keep me in a positive frame of mind, literarily.
Call for submissions for Adult Writers
On the Premises Short Story Contest. "For this contest, write a creative, compelling, well-crafted story between 1,000 and 5,000 words long in which the concept of “darkness” plays an important role. You may interpret “darkness” any way you want–literally, metaphorically, or any other way. Darkness doesn’t have to have a value judgment attached to it, and it doesn’t have to be symbolic in any way, although it can." Prize: Winners receive between US$60 and US$220, and publication. 

Deadline: September 2, 2016.

Submission guidelines at

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Writing a Query Letter

Writing a query letter can be as difficult as writing the manuscript and certainly not as much fun. My query letters include three parts. These parts do not have to follow the order listed here, but I incorporate each component into every query letter. 

1.      The opening should include the genre, word count, title, hook and synopsis.

Example: Enclosed is a 521-word picture book manuscript, THE FIRST FIRE, A CHEROKEE LEGEND, an authentic Cherokee folktale about animals finding and bringing home fire to warm their world. (I capitalize the manuscript title but italics will also work.)

One option is to include brief text cut from the manuscript. (First sentence listed here from FIRST FIRE.) When the world was new, nights painted the earth with sparkly, lacy frost.

In another example for an up-coming fictional picture book, GONE CUCKOO, I opened the query letter with a hook: Adoption isn’t just for children. In the animal kingdom, cuckoo birds find foster parents to raise their young.

A one-paragraph synopsis is the most important part of the query. Introduce the character, the conflict, and the basic plot. Write this as though it will be the description on the book jacket. 

2.      Introduce yourself and if the manuscript is nonfiction, your qualifications for writing a book on that particular subject. List your experiences as a writer, along with publishing credits including books, articles, etc. Beginning writers can list workshops and literary groups in which you have participated.
3.      Contact information and appreciation. Thank the editor for reading your manuscript, mention that you have enclosed, embedded, or attached the requested pages (check website for the number of pages the editor wants), and provide address, phone number, and email address. If you have a website or other social media profiles, list those under you name. 

Polish your manuscript and query letter. Strong impressions are lasting impressions.

Call for submissions for Adult Writers
Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Teaches
101 Stories about How You Make a Difference
Being a teacher is hard, and we know that teachers sometimes need a morale boost, some reassurance that what they do matters, and some new, fun ideas for the classroom.

Being a teacher is not what you do... it's who you are. You don't stop being a teacher when the dismissal bell rings. You are always a teacher. Teachers influence and shape the future. Teachers inspire and motivate students each and every day. Teachers don’t teach for the great salaries; they teach because of the rewards they get when a student thrives, or when a student has a "WOW" moment because of a teacher's guidance.

We are looking for true stories by and about teachers.

Here are some ideas but we know you can think of many more:
•     I am a teacher and this is why I teach
•     The teacher who changed my life
•     The student who changed my life
•     My first year teaching
•     Learning from the students
•     Embarrassing moments
•     Staying enthusiastic year after year
•     Tough situations
•     That WOW moment
•     Turning negative into positive
•     Funny moments
•     Challenging yourself
•     Stepping out of your comfort zone
•     Great tips to share with other teachers
•     Your best piece of advice for new teachers
•     Your best piece of advice to re-energize a teacher
•     Reflections on being a teacher

Please remember, we no longer publish "as told to" stories. Write your story or poem in the first person. Do not ghostwrite a story for someone else unless you list that person as the author. If a story was previously published, we will probably not use it unless it ran in a small circulation venue. Let us know where the story was previously published in the "Comments" section of the submission form.

All stories should be true — we do not publish fiction — and should be no longer than 1,200 words. If your story was already published in a past Chicken Soup for the Soul book, please do not submit it. We will not publish it again. If you already submitted a story for this title please do not submit it again. We have it in our database and it will be considered for this title. If you submitted a story for one of our previous books and we did not publish it, please feel free to submit it to this book if you think will fit. That way we will be sure it is considered for this new edition.

If your story is chosen, you will be a published author and your bio will be printed in the book if you so choose. You will also receive a check for $200 and 10 free copies of your book, worth more than $100. You will retain the copyright for your story and you will retain the right to resell it or self-publish it.

SUBMISSIONS GO TO OUR WEBSITE. Select the Submit Your Story link at the bottom of the page and follow the directions.


Sunday, August 14, 2016

Writing Query Letters

Writing a polished manuscript is merely the first step in getting a publishing contract. Next is the query letter, which introduces the writer and the story to the editor. Each submission requires a query letter whether the submission is made via the U.S. Postal Service or an email.

Before writing, I always check the publisher’s website to see what is expected in the letter. Some want a particular set of information. If so, I follow the guidelines exactly. If not, I write a general query letter written specifically for the manuscript. Another step I take is to check for interviews by the editor. I usually fine one or more. Reading the interviews provides information that is not found on a publisher’s website. Sometime an editor may say she is looking for a particular type of story or prefers to know why a writer selected her as the best editor for a manuscript. Interviews provide that information. If an editor states that she enjoys picture book stories with quirky, humorous characters, I include that in my letter if the information fits. This tells the editor that the writer has done her homework and not just picked her name out of a hat. Google the editor’s name plus the word “Interview” and you should find some hits.
Your objective is to make the editor like your character and plot so well they want to read more. The pitch should hook the editor immediately; if not, s/he may not look at the sample pages of the manuscript. If my book is humorous, I add a dose of humor to the query in the same style as used in the manuscript. These letters are intended to be short so keep them to one page. Short and sweet wins the race.
Next week, I’ll give more tips on writing a query letter.
Call for submissions for Adult Writers

Chicken Soup for the Soul. Small gestures can make a big difference in someone's day, even in someone's life. In our fast-paced world many people tend to only pay attention to what is important to them. So it is wonderful and heartwarming to hear stories about people who have gone out of their way to do something for someone without being asked. Just because it was the kind thing to do. Just because it was the right thing to do. Many times the person who receives the act of kindness is a total stranger, someone who will not be able to repay your kindness. Has someone performed a random act of kindness for you? Did you pay it forward and do something kind for someone else? How did it feel to receive that kindness? And how did it feel to perform a kindness for someone else?

We are looking for true stories about random acts of kindness that have happened to you or stories about a kindness that you performed for someone else. Stories can be serious or funny but they should definitely inspire our readers to look for ways in which they can perform kind acts.

Here are some ideas but we know you can think of many more:
•     Changing your life by doing one random act of kindness each day
•     Changing your attitude by doing one random act of kindness each day
•     Performing an act of kindness for a family member
•     Performing an act of kindness for a total stranger
•     Paying it forward
•     Remaining anonymous — doing something nice for someone who will never know who you are or what you did
•     The unexpected benefits of doing something kind for someone
•     The unexpected benefits you got from something kind someone did for you
•     The pleasures you got from doing a kind deed
•     How performing an act of kindness changed your life
•     How an act of kindness you received changed your life
•     Having an epiphany about kindness in your life — what did you learn by performing a random act of kindness?
•     Turning negative into positive

Deadline: September 15, 2016
Guideline submissions at

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Editor Request to Rewrite

I’ve been fortunate this year to receive contracts on three books, possibly a fourth if my revision holds up to editorial scrutiny. About a month ago in my mailbox, I received a return on a manuscript, which usually means a rejection. Not this time. The editor asked me to change the character from an adult (king) to a child (prince) protagonist. Normally, my characters are children, but some popular pictures books of late have quirky adult character so I gave the idea a try.

My quirky character didn’t resonate with the editor but she liked the basic story with its universal problem, so she asked me to rewrite with a child as the main character. No problem. I’d change some narrative, some dialog, some events. Easy peasy!

As I began revising, I soon realized that what worked well for a quirky king didn’t work at all for a young prince. Much of the story (as it turned out, ALL of the story) was not appropriate for a child protagonist: the world view was too mature, the dialog didn’t fit the characters, and even the names had to be changed. 

So what does a writer do? This writer does a complete rewrite. When I completed the revision, about fifteen words matched the original story. That doesn’t mean that the text of the original has to be discarded. Mary Higgins Clark offered sage advice about cutting large blocks of text from a manuscript. She keeps it in a file to be used in a future book.   

Not only do I have a new manuscript, I now have a few bits of dialog and narrative in an old manuscript from which I can pull as some point. Those bits are gold in my literary vault. 

Call for submissions for Adult Writers

NewBBay’s Science Fiction Contest is open to all eligible writers submitting original works of 1,000 words or greater. We suggest a range of 1,000 to 30,000 words per piece, total. Each writer may submit up to two pieces. International entries are welcome, though submitted pieces must be in English. Writers must sign up at, submit a “Writer Petition”, and post their work through our publication platform. Writers must include the word count and appropriate contest tag ( #SciFiContest ) in the description.

Deadline August 15, 2016.
Submission guidelines at