Monday, July 25, 2016

Encore Presentation: WRITERLY WISDOM

***I have a number of writing deadlines coming up over the next couple of months so I have decided instead of stepping away from my blog completely to concentrate solely on my writing, I will bring back an encore performance of my WRITERLY WISDOM series from three years ago. WW is 52 glorious posts by authors, agents, and editors from around the country providing writerly wisdom in categories from why even become a writer all the way to how to publish and market your books.

There will be two posts loaded per week...Mondays & be sure to stop by and check out all the encouraging information given by my lovely writerly friends! I hope you enjoy the encore presentation of my WRITERLY WISDOM series and I will return with shiny, new posts in the fall!***

What is a standard fee to charge when speaking?

By Chip MacGregor

Someone wrote to say, “I’ve been asked to speak several times since my book came out — some large venues, some very small. My problem is that I don’t know what to charge when I speak? A flat fee? A sliding scale? Is there some guidance you can give me?”
Happy to begin this conversation. Okay… start to think about creating a matrix for your speaking events.
First, there are certain topics you speak about. (We’ll name those A, B, C, D.)
Second, there are lengths of time you can do each one — for example, let’s say you can talk about Topic A for 30 minutes, for 2 hours, or for an entire weekend retreat, but you can only talk about Topic B in a couple one-hour blocks of time, so you could do a one-hour or two-hour chunk of content; and Topic C is nothing more than a 20 to 40 minute casual talk.
So now you have some options… You’ve got A1 (30 minutes of Topic A), A2 (2 hours on Topic A), A3 (a whole day on Topic A), B1, B2, and C1, etc. Still with me? That starts to give you important ways to figure out the topic and time.
Third, you need to consider how many times you speak. If they want you to just show up and give a speech, that’s X. If they want you to teach several workshops, that’s Y. If they want you for a weekend retreat, that’s Z. (This will start to get confusing, but it means you’d be doing a Y Day — several workshops, where you’ll do A2, B2, and C1, for example. If you hate my numbering, create your own that makes more sense.)
Fourth, you need to consider the venue. The bigger the venue, the more you charge. Most speakers have one to three tiers (small setting, medium sized setting, large or arena setting). Some only have two tiers, and some have a couple tiers and a retreat setting. And my assistant Holly Lorincz, who spent 15 years as a speech coach, wants me to add that when you ask about the venue, make sure you ask who will be in the audience and what the controlling organization considers the goal of the speech.
Fifth and last, you need to make sure they cover your travel expenses.
Now when somebody calls you to speak, you or your assistant simply asks a series of questions:
–on what topic(s)?
–for how long each time?
–how many times will I speak?
–how big is the expected audience?
–and where is it?
Once you have those questions answered, it’s easy — because you have a grid you use. You just fill in the components, and you begin to see how much work is involved. Now let’s talk money…
The key money issue is called base pay. How much is your base pay for a one hour talk? Let’s say it’s $500 for an hour, or $300 for a half hour. If you make, for example, $300 for speaking one time, for 30 minutes, to a small group, and you’ve been asked to speak several times, you just have to map out the extra costs. They want you to speak once to a large group for an hour, then lead a workshop to a smaller group, then sit on a panel. It will take an entire day. And you have to fly to Atlanta to do it. I do some quick math… $500 to speak to the big group, another $400 to do the seminar, maybe $200 to do the panel. So I say to them, “That will be about a thousand dollars, plus you need to fly me coach to Atlanta and put me up for two nights. I think we can do the whole thing for about $1600.” They offer you $1200… and you have to decide if it’s worth it to you.
I hope I didn’t over-complicate this, but that’s the basics of how to think about charging. Once you know your base pay, it’s fairly simple: Topic + time + number + venue + travel = cost. 
Does that help? Feel free to ask me questions.

One day when he was in first grade, Chip hurried home and announced to his mother, “When I grow up, I’m going to be a book guy!” And he has been a book guy—from high school literary magazine to bestselling books, from conference speaker to an unbeatable track record of representing renowned writers. Creating MacGregor Literary was a natural step for a book guy.

Chip has a comprehensive knowledge of the industry—from book development to writing, acquisition to production, marketing to sales. He has secured more than 1,000 book deals for authors with all of the major publishers in both ABA and CBA, including Random House, Ballantine, Crown, Doubleday, Broadway, Simon & Schuster, Pocket Books, Fireside, Warner Book Group, HarperCollins, Avon, Viking, Penguin, Berkley, Jossey-Bass, Zondervan, Thomas Nelson, Integrity, Baker, Tyndale, Broadman & Holman, Worthy, Crossway, Multnomah, Revell, Harvest House, Waterbrook, NavPress, Cook, and Howard, among others. 

You can check out Chip on his blog at or visit him on his website at

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Encore Presentation: WRITERLY WISDOM

***I have a number of writing deadlines coming up over the next couple of months so I have decided instead of stepping away from my blog completely to concentrate solely on my writing, I will bring back an encore performance of my WRITERLY WISDOM series from three years ago. WW is 52 glorious posts by authors, agents, and editors from around the country providing writerly wisdom in categories from why even become a writer all the way to how to publish and market your books.

There will be two posts loaded per week...Mondays & be sure to stop by and check out all the encouraging information given by my lovely writerly friends! I hope you enjoy the encore presentation of my WRITERLY WISDOM series and I will return with shiny, new posts in the fall!***

"A Block by Any Other Name..."
By Kristi Holl

A Rose is a Rose is a Rose...

If you’ve been writing any length of time at all, you’ve experienced writer’s block. You may have read articles about it, following different authors’ recommendations to blast through your block. Did the solution you tried do the trick? If not, the reason could be that you applied the wrong answer to your problem.

Aspirin or Band-Aid?

If you go to a physician, he doesn’t doctor you with a one-medicine-fits-all or one-treatment-fits-all solution. Instead, there are specific treatments for specific ailments: the broken arm gets a cast, the cut gets stitched, the fever gets an antibiotic. Only when you identify the specific ailment can the right treatment be given, or a cure found. The same is true for writer’s block.

A Multitude of Sources

Reading an article on writer’s block might help you if you happen to stumble across a suggestion that truly corresponds to your problem. However, twenty years of writing and fifteen years of teaching the craft of writing have led me to believe that is no one type of writer’s block.

If you can’t identify the origin of your block, treating it is impossible. Have you stopped writing because you can’t face any more rejection slips, or your spouse (or a parent) is/was overly critical, or you’re disillusioned with having to shape your writing for the market? Are you blocked because you drink too much, or you’re just plain exhausted from waitressing while raising four small children?

Take time to get to know your own blocks. Until you do, until you identify specific sources of blockage, you won’t be able to apply suitable remedies that work.

Possible Causes of Writer’s Block

1. Critical childhood voices: those voices from the past who tell you that you’re not good enough, you’re not creative, you’re untalented, or lazy. They might have originated with parents, grandparents, caretakers, teachers or siblings. While you no longer may hear actual voices in your head, you’ve incorporated their views of you somewhere along the way, and these views (or self-beliefs) crop up at the worst times for your writing. The feelings of anger and self-doubt that result produce confusion, sap your motivation and makes you wonder if you should even proceed. 

2. Personality style: passive or aggressive, outgoing or shy, rigid or flexible, courageous or fearful. An outgoing person may be great at book signings and marketing his work, yet block when it’s time to sit down--alone--and write for three hours. The flexible person may have numerous ideas that flow effortlessly from him, and he may be able to juggle a number of different projects, yet he may block when it’s time to choose just one idea and get to work. The insecure person may write fluidly and happily alone, yet block when nearing the end of her story because she’s too afraid of rejection to submit a finished product.

Your past may have produced defense mechanisms that can also cause you to block. If you have been rejected by parents as a child, you may tend to reject others before they can reject you as an adult. You may quit your critique group, rejecting them before they can reject your work, and end up blocked in your writing. Get to know the quirks--both positive and negative--of your own personality.

3. Self-criticism: harsh and self-punishing judgments on our work and marketing efforts. Even when our criticism is well founded and accurate, harsh criticism defeats and blocks us before we can get started. Self-esteem plummets, courage then fails, and we shut off the computer and head to the refrigerator. We’re afraid we’re deluding ourselves both about the viability of the project we’re working on, as well as our basic ability to tell a good story. This can certainly stop our writing in its tracks.

4. Marketplace blues: delays and rejection. After a few months or years of nothing but rejection slips, it can become harder and harder to keep pouring your heart into your work. Sometimes, after enough “near misses” and “almost sales,” writers can come to mistrust editors, agents, even the writers in their critique group, wondering if they have hidden agendas. After being rejected enough, the writer may feel unable to face another editorial comment, bad review, “lost” manuscript, payment that never arrives and stories that don’t get published. In other words, he’s blocked.

5. Regular life: finding time and energy to write while attending to the ongoing demands of life. All the pressures we human beings face--family and financial needs, inner compulsions, leaky faucets, illnesses, rebellious teens--make us sometimes feel that we can’t have both a writing life and a regular life. (Regular life means different things to different people: children, single friends, volunteer work and hobbies, going out for dinner, being active in sports, etc.) When we’re busy writing, we feel guilty for taking time from the family and friends, yet when we’re socializing, we can feel guilty for not writing. This inner push/pull can eventually cause us to block.

6. Fatigue: physically worn out. You could be tired from the writing and marketing of your work, from wrestling with plot or character problems that seem insurmountable. Your block at this point may feel like you’ve disconnected from your work and especially from the passion for it. Each step in the creative process requires energy, and frequently after working a day job to put food on the table, car pooling the kids to activities, and giving a dinner party for your partner’s boss, there simply isn’t any energy left. You may still want to write, truly want to, but be blocked because your mind is simply too exhausted to cough up a creative idea.

7. Environmental blocks: too much noise and chaos in your surroundings. Writers who can’t write at home--who swear they’re totally blocked--have been able to write easily and prolifically when transported to a cabin in the mountains or an isolated seaside retreat. Why? They were removed from the noise of city streets, roommates’ stereos, toddlers’ crying or whatever was keeping them too distracted and on edge to write. Freed from the noise and chaos, then surrounded by peace and quiet, these blocked writers often find they’re not blocked at all.

8. Information-specific blocks: when you can’t answer or solve a particular question in your writing. Perhaps it’s your first mystery novel, a private eye whodunit, but you realize you don’t know how this should differ from a police procedural. You’re blocked, but it’s because you lack specific knowledge about how a private eye operates. These types of blocks can be taken care of easily, as soon as you identify what it is you need to know.

9. Skill deficiency block: when you simply don’t have the skill needed to proceed with your work. Perhaps you’re blocked in finishing your biography of the first woman astronaut because you don’t know how to write for permissions for the photos you found. Or maybe you want to do a photo essay about beaches, and you have the writing all done, yet you’re blocked from finishing because you don’t know enough about cameras and lighting and film speeds. These are physical skills you need to acquire before you can unblock.

10. Anxiety and/or depression blocks: nerves, doubts, worries, fears, and panic. This may be the first sign of any kind of block, and the foremost symptom to deal with. Sometimes our worries are realistic. Can we afford to spend time writing stories that might never sell? On the other hand, if we sell a book, will our insecure spouse walk away? If we write that “coming of age” novel, will our parents or siblings recognized themselves in our work and abandon us? Anxiety can produce a restless energy that keeps us from being able to sit still long enough to write. On the other hand, depression can leave us too lethargic to get up off the couch and make it to our desk.

A Tailor-Made Solution

Different blocks require different solutions. A few days of peace at a seaside cottage wouldn’t help the blocked writer who didn’t know how private eyes operate (but it could work wonders for the mother of triplets). Taking an assertiveness training/confidence building course won’t help the postal employee exhausted from trekking twenty miles a day from house to house (but it could work miracles for the shy, retiring writer with a drawer full of manuscripts he’s afraid to submit).

So take the time to get to know yourself. If you’re blocked, find out why. Then outline and implement a step-by-step plan for blasting through your block. Read excellent books on the subject, like If You Can Talk, You Can Write
 by Joel Saltzman, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, Deep Writing by Eric Maisel, and The Courage to Write by Ralph Keyes. Help is available if you want to break through your personal blocks and create the writing life of your dreams.

Kristi Holl is an award-winning author of 42 books for children, two nonfiction books for writers (Writer's First Aid and More Writer's First Aid), and over 150 stories and articles for children and adults, as well as conference speaker and web editor. Her stories and articles have appeared in Jack and Jill, Child Life, Hi-Call, Your Life & Health, Touch, The Writer, Children's Writer, and the SCBWI Bulletin, among others. She also wrote a mystery column and self-coaching column for the magazine Once Upon a Time.

Kristi Holl was born in Iowa, graduated from Marshalltown High School and has lived in Mason City, Cedar Falls, Red Oak, Knoxville, Conrad, and Story City (all in Iowa). In July 2003, she moved to San Antonio, Texas, where she and her husband live near their grandchildren.

Kristi started as an elementary teacher after graduating from the University of Northern Iowa in l974, and began writing as a hobby when staying home with her children. She has taught writing for children for the Institute of Children's Literature since l983. In l998 she created and became Web Editor for the Institute's web site at where she monitored Open Forums, wrote articles for the Writer's Support Rooms and Writing Tips, and moderated online interviews with editors and writers. In 2000 she added web editing for the Long Ridge Writers Group web site at She retired as web editor in 2002. From 2008 to 2012 she blogged for the Institute. She now spends the majority of her time writing books, doing manuscript critiques and speaking at writers' conferences.

Her books are on many recommended reading lists and have been nominated for numerous Children's Choice Awards. Kristi's latest publication is Finding God in Tough Times, due out in 2014 from Zonderkidz.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Encore Presentation: WRITERLY WISDOM

***I have a number of writing deadlines coming up over the next couple of months so I have decided instead of stepping away from my blog completely to concentrate solely on my writing, I will bring back an encore performance of my WRITERLY WISDOM series from three years ago. WW is 52 glorious posts by authors, agents, and editors from around the country providing writerly wisdom in categories from why even become a writer all the way to how to publish and market your books.

There will be two posts loaded per week...Mondays & be sure to stop by and check out all the encouraging information given by my lovely writerly friends! I hope you enjoy the encore presentation of my WRITERLY WISDOM series and I will return with shiny, new posts in the fall!***

Dealing With Deadlines
by Carol Munro

Thanks for inviting me, Donna! You’re always such as inspiration to me, and I’m so happy to be your guest today on WRITERLY WISDOM. I’m here to talk about…

Deadlines. *shiver* They sure can make a stomach twist.

I never liked that word much. DEADlines. As though all that writing I agonize over doesn’t mean much of anything once it’s finished. How unkind a word, deadline. Rude even. But alas, I live with this word on nearly a daily basis, as though it’s a room mate ever-yearning for attention.

I’ve been meeting deadlines as a freelance writer for 17 years. Prior to that, I worked in advertising and marketing in the financial services industry. In those days, my co-workers and I rarely lived in the present. Instead, we lost ourselves in projects due by the end of the day, next Friday, in two weeks, next month. Deadlines danced on our desks, whined from our in-boxes, and bumped our elbows as we drafted copy for the deadline most deserving of our attention.

Now, when I’m not on deadline for client work, I’m imposing them on myself in pursuit of getting my own stories and poems written. If you’ve put off your own creative spirit, or you aren’t getting as many manuscripts written as you’d like, start setting – and meeting – deadlines.

First, change your attitude about deadlines. Yes, they’re whiny and rude, but it’s to your benefit to think of them as friends. After all, when you successfully meet them, it means you’ve got writing projects done, right? That’s worth celebrating. Maybe treat yourself to some thing special like chocolate or a movie or dinner out with a real friend you’ve ignored while working on a deadline.

Got your attitude adjusted? Okay then, let’s move on to what will help you start setting deadlines for yourself. Here are a few ideas.

  • Join critique groups. This year, I wanted to get back to writing poetry, so I started a crit group that meets twice monthly. It motivates me to have at least one poem polished for critical analysis by my poet friends at each meeting.

  • Form a weekly review team. For a few years, I met with three other writers every Wednesday evening. Each week we’d set goals for the next – write a new scene for the novel, edit the picture book about bullying, research popular dances of fourteenth century Scotland. Our goals were specific, and we wrote down everyone’s goals, holding them accountable the following week: Did you edit that picture book? Let’s hear it.

  • Meet regularly to write with friends. I write every Thursday morning with my writing group, River Valley Writers. Sometimes I plan ahead to work on a particular picture book manuscript or my novel. Other times, I simply write from the prompts provided, which often results in new poems or the beginning of picture books I finish later. When RVW breaks for the summer, I reserve a meeting room at the library and invite other writers to join me for four hours of quiet writing time. (I’m writing this blog post there right now with one writer sighing quietly over her poetry, dried maple seeds set in a spiral pattern on the table for inspiration, and another tapping away on her laptop keys, pausing occasionally to stare far off where her imagination is playing something out.) Writing with other writers can be energizing and satisfying, and it helps get the work done.

  • Join online groups. Sub Six, Julie Hedlund’s 12 x 12, PiBoIdMo, and NaNoWriMo are deadline-related groups that motivate you to generate ideas, write, and/or submit your work. In some way, you’re held accountable, and you have the support of other members who are similarly accountable. These are just four examples. There are more. Search for them. Join. You may swear at me at times for getting you into them (yes, deadlines are stressful), but you’ll get over it and get the work done, too.

Okay, so now your attitude’s adjusted, you have some ways to start setting deadlines for yourself, and you have some real live and/or cyber friends to hold you accountable. I have one more thing to share with you about deadlines. Managing them.

Sometimes setting a deadline to, say, write and polish a new picture book manuscript by July 31, isn’t enough. On July 23, you realize it’s already July 23! And you haven’t written a word! It happens to all of us. Again and again.

So if you’re serious about getting the work done, stop setting and forgetting deadlines. Just stop it, okay? Okay.

Here’s what you do instead. Break your writing project down into smaller steps, each with its own deadline. Perhaps like this:

  • Decide the idea/theme by July 1
  • Have a story draft completed by July 7
  • Complete any research needed and begin editing ms by July12
  • Finish editing ms by July15
  • Share with trusted first reader (TFR) by July 16
  • Get feedback from TFR by July 19
  • Review feedback by July 20 (then let it mull around in your head for another day)
  • Begin final edits by 22
  • Have polished ms ready to submit by July 31

Polished? Maybe just super shiny, but even so, a completed manuscript you didn’t have in June.

This type of production schedule can be adapted for any writing project. So pick a project, write out all the smaller steps, get your calendar, and set the mini-deadlines. Be sure to accommodate for holidays, family activities, and other life distractions. Give yourself the time you think you need for each step, but don’t be too lenient. You’ll find yourself thinking, Oh, I’ve got five whole days to get that done, and you’ll beat yourself up on day four when you realize all those days have slipped away. If a step takes less time than you allowed, readjust your remaining mini-deadlines so you don’t slack off or lose motivation because of a gap of free time. (Nothing’s free. You’ll pay for it!) Be accountable to yourself for every mini-deadline as well as the big one at the end.

See? Deadlines don’t have to finish you off or kill your inspiration. Instead, they can be like good friends and meeting them has built-in rewards. But have some chocolate anyway.

Carol owns a freelance writing business, Just Write Words, serving a variety of clients from upstarts to Frotune 500 companies. She teaches writing workshops, provides critique and editing services to professional writers, and creates hand bound books.  In November 2012, she completed the Poem-A-Day challenge to benefit the Center For New Americans in Northampton, MA, and was published in their anthology, 30 POEMS IN NOVEMBER.  She's an active member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators and is a co-administrator (elf) for Julie Hedlund's 12 X 12 forum.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Encore Presentation: WRITERLY WISDOM

***I have a number of writing deadlines coming up over the next couple of months so I have decided instead of stepping away from my blog completely to concentrate solely on my writing, I will bring back an encore performance of my WRITERLY WISDOM series from three years ago. WW is 52 glorious posts by authors, agents, and editors from around the country providing writerly wisdom in categories from why even become a writer all the way to how to publish and market your books.

There will be two posts loaded per week...Mondays & be sure to stop by and check out all the encouraging information given by my lovely writerly friends! I hope you enjoy the encore presentation of my WRITERLY WISDOM series and I will return with shiny, new posts in the fall!***
Writing in the Real World: It’s Not A Hobby, Dammit.
By Allan Woodrow

When I tell people I write books for kids, they are surprised to hear that I also have a full time job. “Oh, so writing is just a hobby?” they ask.

“No, not a hobby,” I say cringing, mentally comparing writing novels with collecting stamps, gardening or building model trains.

Not that there is anything wrong with any of those things, but most people collect stamps and build model trains because they enjoy it. I’m not sure if enjoy is a word I would use about writing. That implies I write because it’s fun, rather than because I have to, because I feel like I’m roaming haphazardly though life if I’m not writing, if writing didn’t make me feel like I have a purpose.

So writing isn’t an option, but neither is working, or being a dad to two wonderful girls (and going to their soccer games and dance recitals), or being a husband, or sleeping and eating and practicing good hygiene and somehow cramming it all in a day.

Which means finding time to write isn’t a choice either. Because if it were a choice I would probably choose to do something else, like watching TV or sleeping more.

When I decided to get serious about publication, I met a lot of people who had been working on a novel for ten years, or more, and were still working on it. My first thought was, “You’ve been writing a novel for ten years, every day?” That didn’t seem likely. So I assumed they meant they wrote for a few weeks and then stopped for a few months, and so on and so forth and they were still working on it. For them, writing was a hobby.

If you have a full time job, or a part time job, or if being a mom is your job, you can’t perform those things when you feel like it. You do them every day, or at set schedules. Writing novels it the same thing. You might not be getting a paycheck (right away) but it is a job and you have to treat it as such.

If you treat it as a hobby that’s all it will ever be.

So how do you make the leap? You need to open an office.

Find your office space

If you have an extra room or space at home, then great. Or maybe it’s the kitchen table. Or Starbucks. Or, like me, maybe it’s the train. But pick a consistent, habitual writing spot. Because if you don’t have an office, you don’t have a job.

Set office hours.

When I wrote my first published book, The Rotten Adventures of Zachary Ruthless, a middle-grade graphic novel about the world’s most evil boy, I wrote from 8:45 to 10:00pm every day. That’s after the kids went to bed. Now, I work downtown and am on the commuter train for two hours every day. Those are my office hours. Those aren’t my sleeping or game playing hours, but the time I get to work. Office hours don’t have to be long, but they do need to be consistent and honest. An hour a day is enough. But that’s a writing hour, not a Candy Crush Saga hour.

You also need to be consistent. Your office should be open the same time every day. If you start changing the days or times, then you’ll always find excuses not to open the office that day. You wouldn’t choose to stay home from a job, would you? Well, this is a job.

Respect the office

When the office is in session, your other jobs are not. You can’t be a mom and a writer and make dinner at the same time. Respect the office hours, but make sure the family does, too. Put your husband in charge of the kids for the hour, or if that won’t work, wait until the kids are asleep, or wake up before they do. Turn off your email manager. Tell your best friend you’ll call them back in an hour.

There’s nothing more magical to it than that. Of course, you don’t have to treat writing as a job. You can treat it as a hobby. Maybe you’ll even find success. After all, even a stamp collector sometimes finds that allusive one-of-a-kind stamp. I just wouldn’t want to count on it.


Growing up, Allan was cursed with a boring, happy and loving family, giving him nothing interesting to write about. He resented it for years. Allan eventually harnessed his feelings into writing for kids. He is available for school and library visits, and games of kickball.

Allan is the author of The Rotten Adventures of Zachary Ruthless (HarperCollins), the upcoming The Pet War (Scholastic , Fall 2014) and under the alias Fowler DeWitt, The Contagious Colors of Mumpley Middle School and its sequel, The Amazing Wilmer Dooley (Simon & Schuster, Fall 2014 and 2015), as well as approximately 400 other books in various stages of development.

Visit him at

Monday, July 11, 2016

Encore Presentation: WRITERLY WISDOM


***I have a number of writing deadlines coming up over the next couple of months so I have decided instead of stepping away from my blog completely to concentrate solely on my writing, I will bring back an encore performance of my WRITERLY WISDOM series from three years ago. WW is 52 glorious posts by authors, agents, and editors from around the country providing writerly wisdom in categories from why even become a writer all the way to how to publish and market your books.

There will be two posts loaded per week...Mondays & be sure to stop by and check out all the encouraging information given by my lovely writerly friends! I hope you enjoy the encore presentation of my WRITERLY WISDOM series and I will return with shiny, new posts in the fall!***

Non-Fiction: Researching Your Options
by Donna L Martin
I've been thinking for a long time about dipping my fingers into the non-fiction waters.  You would think writing picture books, middle grade chapter books and young adult novels along with my essays and poetry would be enough to keep me busy.  But I've always had a fascination with non-fiction, particularly when it involves the historic lives of unique individuals.  There are many wonderful non-fiction authors out there and I imagine just as many talented wannabe non-fiction writers in this writing community. 

But where to start?

Last week Tina M Cho showed us an excellent way to create a proposal letter to whet an editor's appetite for our stories.  But what if you are only starting out with an interest in writing non-fiction? 

Where do you go from there?

Here is one plan on tackling your first non-fiction manuscript:

Choose A Topic

You can't write a story without an idea.  What interests you? Historical figures?  Science? Nature?  Travel?  Pick a topic that fascinates you.  Something you might know a little bit about or something of which you know nothing at all. 

Non-fiction writing requires a healthy amount of research and by the end of it, you will in some small way become an expert on your chosen topic.

Outline Your Chapters

While some fiction stories can be written at a drop of the hat, non-fiction stories require much more planning otherwise you will simply drone on and on about your topic while getting nowhere.  A publisher will want to know what each chapter will be about and the more detailed you are about how you will cover your chosen topic makes the actual writing that much easier when the time comes.

Plan Out Your Research

Think of how you will learn everything you need to know about your chosen topic.  Depending on your particular story idea, there will be a number of ways to go about researching the subject of your manuscript.  At the end of this post I will list various resources to help you with your non-fiction research. Make sure you have index cards or a notebook for taking good notes or even a tape recorder for live interviews.

Stay Organized

There must be a method to your research.  A way to categorize your notes and organize your research so that you can properly document your sources.  Fiction dwells only in the imagination of the writer.  Non-fiction, even fictionalized non-fiction, must be based on documented facts which any good editor will ask for when requesting to see your manuscript.

Write, Revise, & Submit

Once you have created your chapter outline, completed your research, organized your notes, and documented your sources, it is now time to write your first draft.  After many revisions, critiques from writing partners, and editing for content and accuracy, your manuscript will be ready for submission to a publishing house.  Time to celebrate a job well done and time to start researching your next non-fiction topic!

As promised, here are a list of potential resources to help you research different non-fiction story ideas:


1.  Interview local experts
2.  Local & out of town newspapers
3.  Public libraries
    a. Research rooms
    b. Online databases
    c. Microfilm
    d. Microfiche
    e. Archived magazines & newspapers
4.  Universities
5.  Museums
6.  Books already published on your idea (how will YOUR story be unique?)
    a. Public & university libraries
    c. (Barnes & Noble)
7.  Local & national corporations
8.  Government agencies
9.  Local & national organizations
10. Library of Congress
11.Smithsonian Institution
12.The National Archives
13. National Geographic Society
14. National magazines
15. Associationas & socities
16. Research institutes
17. Internet
18. Foreign embassies
19. Local businesses
20 Specialized libraries (like presidential)


The resources are out there.  It is our job as writers of non-fiction to search out and discover those little known facts about the topics which interest us and present them in a way to fascinate our readers.

No matter the topic, keep writing and have fun with it!


Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Encore Presentation: WRITELY WISDOM

How to Write a Nonfiction Proposal
By Tina M. Cho

Thank you, Donna, for having me on your fabulous blog! I just finished writing a nonfiction book in which I had written the proposal. In fact, the way I pursue and write a proposal might be slightly different from others.

I was taught by a wonderful mentor, Nancy I. Sanders, who showed me how to get a book contract BEFORE you write the book. And so before I even write a proposal, I send a simple query to the editor to see if they are even interested in my topic. Why bother researching for several months if editors aren’t interested? Furthermore, I select book ideas that will fit in with a publisher’s existing line of books. After I hear back from the editor that yes, they’d like to see a proposal on a certain topic, I reply by saying I’ll send them a proposal in a month or list a date. This way of querying before writing the proposal is a good way to get published. This book may or may not be near and dear to your heart, but it’s a way to get published and build your resume. I’ve written three books this way and have one more being seriously considered.

So once I get the green light to write the proposal, I do the research on my topic for the book. From there, I write the proposal package. I’m calling it a package because a proposal is more than one item. A proposal consists of the proposal itself, a table of contents (TOC) or book outline, and sample chapters (1-3). For all of my proposals, I only wrote one sample chapter but very detailed TOC’s. You’ll want to check the submission guidelines for the publisher you’re targeting. Sometimes they have very specific guidelines.

Now I’ll explain the seven components of the actual proposal document. Other web sites will have the same information but maybe in a slightly different order. This is what works for me.


I. Overview

This is the introduction to your proposal, the overview, general summary and essence of your book. You want to hook the editor by showing why your topic is relevant and important. My overview sections have been 3-4 small paragraphs. Why did you choose this topic? Is it popular right now? Is it in the news? Here is where you can give a tiny bit of historical information if needed as well. The next little paragraph can show your passion and excitement for the topic. Why is it important to you? And lastly, what can your book offer or do for people?

For example, for my proposal The Girls Guide to Manners and All That Good Stuff, which is forthcoming from Legacy Press Kids, I first gave an overview of how the topic was popular and in the news as Prince William and Kate were getting married. I noticed many articles on etiquette. Even Barbie came out with a movie about etiquette. And universities have added etiquette/manners classes! So I used those as a background and hook. Then I told my passion of why I thought this topic was relevant. My own daughter could use a book about it, along with other girls her age. (This book idea fit into the publisher’s existing line of books.) And my last paragraph explained what this book would have to offer to the specific audience, who are 8-12 year-old-girls.

II. About the Book

This is just a small paragraph explaining a little more about your book and target audience. What components will be in your book? Will each chapter have crafts, activities, recipes, or stories? This is where you can hint at your general plan and make-up of the book.

III. The Need

This is where you explain in 2-3 small paragraphs why your book is needed in today’s market. Does it correlate with Common Core Standards? Does it fill a need? Share the research and show or prove why your book needs to be published. You can also share statistics or demographics of your audience if need be.

For one of my proposals, I discovered that no other books existed on the topic for the target age level audience.

IV. Competition/Market

You need to list titles, authors, and publishing information about comparable books to yours. Use the search function in Amazon or Barnes and Noble and find comp books. Even though there might be many on your topic, an editor at another publishing house might say, “Hey, this is a popular topic for school, and we need one in our catalog, too.” However, after listing the comparable books, write a sentence explaining how your book is unique and different from the ones listed.

V. Promotion

How can you help promote the book? What do you already do? Blog? Twitter? Facebook? Book Reviews? Speak? Share your platform of what you already do and maybe list statistics of how many followers. Perhaps you already are an expert on this topic and lecture or speak about it.

VI. About You

Here is where you list your bio, credentials, other published works, and why you should be the one to write this book. If the book is about science projects, and you’re a former science teacher, then show the connection!

VII. Summary

This is just a 1-2 sentence summary of the proposal. For example, “I look forward to seeing the potential “Title of Book” out in the market someday so that it will [whatever need it will fill or offer to do for people.]

After you write the actual proposal, you’ll need to sketch out a book outline or table of contents. How many chapters do you envision? Give a sentence summary for each chapter and then list detailed points for the components of each chapter. In my experience, the more detailed, the better. If the chapter involves activities, crafts, recipes, or other things, then name them. Tell the editor exactly what the reader will be doing. This makes you as a writer more knowledgeable and organized. And, having a detailed TOC helps for when you later go back to write the actual book after the proposal has been approved. This could be a couple months to a year!

And lastly, write your sample chapters and make sure they follow your book outline. When you have your proposal package ready, follow the directions on your publisher’s web site and either snail mail or email it to the correct place. I hope this has been of some help to you all! Best wishes on your future proposals!

Tina is an author of 25 guided reading books from Lakeshore Learning and Compass Media.  A coloring book, God Is So Good, from Warner Press was published in 2013.  Three nonfiction books are forthcoming from Legacy Press Kids.  She is a former elementary teacher who currently homeschools her 5th grade daughter and 2nd grade son.  Though she grew up in Iowa, she is now living outside of Seoul, South Korea.