Nancy's Books

Sunday, January 29, 2017

To Outline or Not, part 3

Outlining is the key to an organized manuscript.

Logical sequence is a must in a story. An outline helps me visualize the character’s motivation, followed by the continuity of the action, all before I start writing. I figure out the obstacles confronting the protagonist and how s/he reacts. My mind roams free as I outline with the goal of developing more ideas than will be needed so I have a choice or if one idea fails to work, I can select another. Life experiences or bits and pieces of stories I’ve read or heard inspire me to craft a story that is a reflection of my literary style.

As I researched and outlined the manuscript for BARRELING OVER NIAGARA FALLS, I needed to show the motivation for Annie Edson Taylor, a sixty-three-year-old woman who was not into sports or fitness, to ride a barrel over Niagara Falls. No one had ever performed this stunt, which offered strong potential for a violent and/or deadly outcome. Annie seemed to be an extremely unlikely candidate. As I learned more about her meager savings, lack of potential for long-term employment, and knack for detailed planning, I included this into the outline, clearly defining WHY she performed the stunt.

Next came the HOW of the story. How did Annie prepare for the stunt? Pacing is vital to a picture book. Each page must provide action, something in which the character does or is done to the character. Illustrators rely on specific action. Pacing refers to how quickly, or slowly, the action happens. An outline allows me to see where the action is taking place. As Annie prepared, through a trial-and-error approach, the pacing slowed. When she rode the barrel over the Falls, the pacing picked up speed. Even though the pacing increased with the barrel ride, I didn’t want the scene to play out too quickly in order to keep the tension high and keep the reader wondering if she would live or die. Pacing in a story is much like the ever changing ebb and flow of Niagara River and the Falls—it slows down and speeds up according to the elements involved and is different with every story.

Next week, I’ll list more reasons why a simple, easy outline helps me be more productive.
Call for submissions for Young Writers:

Hello Giggles is a lifestyle website founded in 2011 by writer Molly McAleer, producer Sophia Rossi and actress Zooey Deschanel. The site is currently seeking young contributors for its newly launched teen section. The editors are looking for personal essays, cultural criticism, articles with original reporting, short fiction, and illustrations. Contributors must be at least 14 years of age. Hello Giggles attracts over 12 million readers per month

Submission guidelines at 

Call for submissions for Adult Writers:

Parents & Kids Magazine. In addition to the topics below, we also accept seasonal submissions. So we are always interested in a Valentine's story for our February issue. Submit seasonal things well in advance.  I really don’t mind looking at your Christmas ideas in May.  Really.


Know & Go Guide 


Heart Health & Women’s Fitness 


Ultimate Summer Fun Guide

Summer Camp Guide 


Summer Travel




Metro School Guide 


Birthday Parties 


Maternity and Pediatric Health Guide 



After-School Activities 


Sports & Play

Family Fitness 


Halloween & Fall Fun Guide 





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

Sunday, January 22, 2017

To Outline or Not, Part 2

Outlines are not meant to hold a writer to preset ideas or slot ideas into a particular paragraph, and they are certainly not created to drain creativity from the tale. Most of all, they aren’t there to practice Roman numerals—I, II, III and the alphabet—a, b, c… In fact, I never use a Roman numeral in an outline. Never. My idea of an outline is to figure out the basic plot of the story. Simple, easy, and productive. That’s pretty much my goal for everyday existence, too, and I often have an outline for that, called my to-do list.

I prefer to outline before writing because a simple outline helps me organize my thoughts. Here are more reasons:
Structure. Outlining a manuscript makes it easier to write and to develop a structure in which to tell the story. The purpose of the structure is to tie the characters into the beginning and move them forward in a plot and at a particular pace toward the middle and ending. An outline allows me to pinpoint what the character wants, why he wants it, the conflicts confronting him, and how/where he challenges the obstacles.

Brainstorming tool. I can try out ideas in an outline. If they don’t work, it’s much easier to correct at this early stage than when I reach the middle of the story I’m writing.

Keeps me on path. If I know where my story is headed (ending) when I begin the project, I’m less likely to veer off path. Veering off path leads to major rewrites. This doesn’t mean that I have to limit the story to the outline. However, an outline helps me easily figure out if the new idea works into the original plan of action.

Details. It enables me to be thorough, to include the vital details in the storyline.

Next week, I’ll list more reasons why a simple, easy outline helps me be more productive.

Call for submissions for Young Writers

Young Adult Review Network (YARN) is an award-winning literary journal that publishes outstanding original short fiction, poetry and essays for young-adult readers. It seeks to discover new teen writers and publish them alongside established writers of the YA genre. Material should be appropriate for, and of particular interest to, young adult readers 14 years old and up. YARN is based in the United States and warmly welcomes international submissions.

Submission guidelines at 

Call for submissions for Adult Writers

Girls' Life accepts unsolicited manuscripts on a speculative basis only. First, send an e-mail or letter query with detailed story idea(s). No telephone solicitations, please. Please familiarize yourself with the voice and content of Girls' Life before submitting.

Submission guidelines at 

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

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.