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    July 11, 2014: Apply for a Thurber House residency!

    Thurber House has a Children’s Writer-in-Residence program for middle-grade authors each year and  guidelines and application form for the 2015 residency were just released.

    This unique residency has been in existence since 2001, offering  an opportunity for authors to have time to work on their writing in a fully furnished apartment, in the historic boyhood home of author and humorist, James Thurber. Deadline is October 31, 2014. For details, go to READ MORE

    July 10, 2014:

    Spread MG books in unexpected places 7/19
    Drop a copy of your own book or of another middle-grade favorite in a public place on July 19 -- and some lucky reader will stumble upon it.
    Ginger Lee Malacko is spearheading this Middle Grade Bookbomb (use the hashtag #mgbookbomb in social media) -- much in the spirit of Operation Teen Book Drop.  Read more ...

June 16, 2014:
Fizz, Boom, Read: Summer reading 2014

Hundreds of public libraries across the U.S. are celebrating reading this summer with  the theme Fizz, Boom, Read! Find out more about this year's collaborative summer reading program and check out suggested booklists and activities. Read more ...
 

April 30, 2014:
Join the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign and help change the world

The conversation on diversity in children's books has grown beyond book creators and gate keepers to readers and book buyers. What can you do? Take part in the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign May 1 though 3 on Tumblr and Twitter and in whatever creative ways you can help spread the word to take action. Read more ….

April 11, 2014:
Fall 2014 Children's Sneak Peek
A peek at forthcoming middle grade books (as well as picture books and YA books) in a round-up from Publisher's Weekly. First printed in the February 22 issue, but now available online. Time to add to your to-read list. Read more ...

April 9, 2014:
How many Newbery winners have you read?
You could make a traditional list of all the Newbery Medal Award-winning Children's Books you've read, but there's something so satisfying when you check them off and get a final tally on this BuzzFeed quiz. Read more ...

March 28, 2014:
Middle Grade fiction is hot at 2014 Bologna Children's Book Fair

For the second year in a row, publishers are clamoring for middle-grade, reporters Publishers Weekly. "I’ve been coming [to Bologna] for 12 to 15 years, and I’ve never had as many European publishers asking for middle-grade," said Steven Chudney of the Chudney Agency. Read more ...

February 14, 2014:
Cybils Awards announced
Ultra by David Carroll (Scholastic Canada) wins the Cybil for middle grade fiction; Lockwood & Co: The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud (Disney Hyperion) wins for Speculative Fiction. Read more.

January 27, 2014: And the Newbery Medal goes to ...
Kate DiCamillo won the Newbery Medal for "Flora & Ulysses"; Rita Williams-Garcia won the Coretta Scott King Author award for "P.S. Be Eleven." Newbery Honor awards to authors Vince Vawter, Amy Timberlake, Kevin Henkes and Holly Black. For all the exciting ALA Youth Media Award News ... READ MORE

November 12, 2013:
Vote in the GoodReads semifinal round

Readers' votes have narrowed the middle-grade semifinals down to 20 titles. Log in to your GoodReads account and vote for your favorite middle-grade (and in other categories, of course). Read more ...

November 9, 2013:
Publishers Weekly Top Children's Books of 2013

Middle-grade and young adult titles selected by the editors of Publishers Weekly as their top picks of the year. Let the season of "top ten books" begin! Read more ...

October 14, 2013:
Middle Shelf: Cool Reads for Kids debuts January 2014

Shelf Media Group, publisher of Shelf Unbound indie book review magazine, will launch a new free digital-only publication for middle-grade readers. The debut issue features interviews with such notable authors as Margaret Peterson Haddix and Chris Grabenstein as well as reviews, excerpts, and more. Middle Shelf will be published bi-monthly beginning in January 2014.
Read more ...

September 19, 2013: Writer-in-Residence program at Thurber House

Dream of time and space to focus on your own writing project? Applications now being accepted (11/1/2013 deadline) for The Thurber House Residency in Children's Literature, a month-long retreat in the furnished third-floor apartment of Thurber House in Columbus, Ohio. Read more ...

September 18, 2013: Vermont College of Fine Arts Scholarship opportunity

Barry Goldblatt Literary launches The Angela Johnson Scholarship, a talent-based grant for writers of color attending the MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults program at VCFA. Up to two $5,000 grants will be awarded each year. Read more ....

September 16, 2013:
National Book Awards longlist for youth literature

For the first time, the NBA is presenting lists of 10 books/authors on the longlist in each category. The 2013 young adult literature list includes five middle grade novels and five YA. Read more ...

Sept. 13, 2013: Spring preview
Check out Publishers Weekly roundup of upcoming children's books to be published in spring 2014. Read more...

August 21, 2013:
Want to be a Cybils Award Judge?

Middle grade categories are fiction, speculative fiction, nonfiction. Applications due August 31! Read more ...

August 19, 2013:
S&S and BN reach a deal
Readers will soon be able to find books from Simon & Schuster at Barnes & Noble. The bookstore chain was locked in a disagreement with the publisher over how much it was willing to pay for books. Read more ...

August 6, 2013:
NPR's 100 Must-Reads for Kids
NPR's Backseat Book Club asked listeners to nominate their favorite books for readers ages 9 to 14. More than 2,000 people nominated titles, and a panel of Newbery authors brought the list to 100. Most are middle grade books. Read more ...

 
July 2, 2013:
Penguin & Random House Merger

The new company, Penguin Random House, will control more than 25 percent of the trade book market in the United States. On Monday, the newly formed company began to take shape, only hours after a middle-of-the-night announcement that the long-planned merger had been completed. Read more ...

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  • Beginning Writers Biggest Mistakes

    Interviews, Writing MG Books

    I like chocolate.  But that has nothing to do with today’s post.  Not really.  Unless of course you like to eat chocolate while you’re writing.  Then, my friends, we’re off to a great start. 

     When I wrote my first novel, I had no idea of how long and difficult the road to publication would be.    Seriously, I thought everyone had J.K Rowling results.  No joke, I was that naive.  I really wish someone had clued me in on that from the start.  Or maybe I just needed to believe them when I read it time and time again.

    I also didn’t know just how important certain aspects of a story were to middle-grade readers.  And honestly, if a blog like this had existed then, I’m sure I wouldn’t have made many of the mistakes that I did.  Or maybe if I had known about SCBWI or the blueboards it would have helped me avoid some serious pitfalls.   

    However, I quickly learned some very valuable lessons.  Most of which were universal: show don’t tell (gah!  Guilty as charged), use active voice and not passive, follow the rules – even if other authors break them you can’t afford to be the exception – and don’t query until your manuscript is ready.  I mean really ready. 

    Plus, I’ve become more familiar with Microsoft Word than I’d ever care to know.

    But the biggest thing I learned was about myself, not my writing. 

    When I first started writing, I read everything about the craft that I could get my hands on.  The one common piece of advice was that a good author should learn to take a critique and apply it to their manuscript.  I decided early on that I didn’t want to be the author who couldn’t take a critique.  So when my crit partners suggested a change, I made that change – exactly as they wanted it.  When friends and family had questions, I made sure that the answers were clear in my writing even if it meant I gave away something important.  If another writer suggested something else, I made that change too, which most of the time caused a conflict in my writing. 

    No, this is not me, though my children would try to convince you otherwise.

    But I was making my manuscript better, right?

                                                              WRONG! 

    Now let me be clear, I’m not blaming my crit partners (or my family and friends) – they were great and had fabulous feedback.  They were my biggest supporters when I didn’t believe in myself.  They gave me energy to press forward when I thought I couldn’t take another step. 

    No, there really is only one person to blame and that’s myself.  I thought I had to please everyone.  But I can’t please everyone no matter how hard I try.  That realization was a difficult one.  Nothing can bring on a chocolate-induced coma quicker than thinking someone is unhappy with me.

    What I had to learn, and eventually did, was that in order to be a good author – one who could take a crit constructively – I needed to take the suggestions from my crit partners that I felt improved my manuscript, not changed it.  Because it’s one thing to fix that telling and turn it into showing and another to manipulate the words so much that it’s changed the voice entirely.  It’s one thing to get rid of back story and another to eliminate important depth in characterizations. 

    As a writer for middle-grade children, characterizations are more than important, they’re vital!  Those same middle-graders love to experience the story with you through showing details, not telling ones.  And those middle-graders love voice; a main character that talks, jokes, laughs and experiences emotions just like they do, in a way that relates to them.

    It’s my job to engage my readers.  And I hope through all my experiences and steep learning curves, I can say that I’ve done just that. 

    One thing (other than chocolate) that has brought me a lot of comfort in this process is the knowledge that I’m not alone.  Many writers have been through some of the same things that I have.  Since most of us learn best from the experiences of others, I’ve asked a few authors to weigh-in for us.

    What they wish they’d known:

    Elana Johnson:  How slow the industry is.  When I first started, I read of other aspiring authors saying they took a year to read other books in order to submerge themselves in the market.  I was like, ‘Whatever. It’s not going to take me a year to do anything!’ LOL! Oh, man. How much I didn’t know…

    Kurtis Scaletta:  Getting published is not the happy ending, it just begins a new chapter. It is extremely competitive and a lot of work to promote your book.

    Rose Cooper:  Before I started writing, I wish I knew how to revise properly.  I would take critiques and try to change my manuscript to how other people thought it should be written, instead of taking suggestions and working those in only if I thought they made sense.  I also wish in the very beginning I knew the age group I would end up writing for. 

    What was most helpful:

    Elana Johnson:  …I read a lot of blogs. I participated in forums, found friends and absorbed as much as I could. After that, I found the confidence I needed and just went for it.

    Tami Lewis Brown:  …I enrolled in the MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program at Vermont College. It changed my writing, sure, but more important, it changed my entire way of looking at the world and navigating my life.

    The biggest mistakes: 

    Elana Johnson:  Querying too early. And yes, I made this mistake. When I realized that hey, maybe my book wasn’t so great, I stopped querying and took the time (remember how slow publishing is?) to get it right. Then I re-queried. Of course, that book was still terrible, and I didn’t get an agent with that one. It wasn’t until my third round of querying, with a second novel, that I found an agent.

    Tami Lewis Brown:  I think beginning authors try to rush the process and submit work before they’re ready. I decided to hold off on all submissions until after I had my degree and I’m glad I did. Instead of slowing me down waiting until my skills were developed and I had something marketable to submit it put my career into overdrive.

    Kurtis Scaletta:  The biggest mistake is having high expectations for your first book — of course some authors do land on the bestseller list and Oprah on the first try, but most don’t.

    This bar ceased to exist after writing this post.

    On a final note, the fabulous Suzie Townsend of Fineprint Literary had this to say:  I want first time authors to query me after their novel is polished – not just finished, but revised and edited based on feedback from beta readers or critique partners who read and write the same genre.  More and more often, I have writers emailing me a few weeks after they sent me the manuscript I requested going, ‘Actually I’ve made some revisions, can I send you the new version?’  While I always say yes, it’s hard to stay organized with the number of emails I get without getting multiple versions of the same manuscript and more than once I’ve read the first version by mistake.   

    In the end, I’m grateful for my learning experience.  And you can bet that I don’t intend to make the same mistake twice.  But if I do, there’s always chocolate to make it all better.  

    Amie Borst is the mother of three girls – two of which are middle grade readers.  She writes fairy tales with a dark but funny twist and would love to have you visit her at her website and blog.

    23 Comments

    23 Comments

    1. Karen B. Schwartz  •  Jul 14, 2010 @7:43 am

      Ah, a post like this would have saved me a lot of heartache back when. Your photos crack me up. Pass the chocolate!

    2. Rena Jones  •  Jul 14, 2010 @8:17 am

      Very helpful article. And like Karen, knowing this earlier on would have saved me a lot of headaches — not to mention headaches of those I submitted to too early!

    3. Sherrie Petersen  •  Jul 14, 2010 @8:40 am

      Oh, man, thank you for putting this into words. Story of my life…changing my book to please others, querying too soon…but we all learn, right? Great post.

    4. Jemi Fraser  •  Jul 14, 2010 @9:47 am

      Chocolate is always good!

      This is a great post with tons of super info – thanks so much :)

    5. Susan Kaye Quinn  •  Jul 14, 2010 @10:17 am

      This is a wonderful and insightful post!

      Learning how to properly give and take critiques is key. Even for critiques where I feel like the crit is not something I want to incorporate, I try to discern WHY this person is having difficulty with this particular part of the MS. And then see if there’s a way I can make it better. There usually (but not always) is, even if the change isn’t at all what the critiquer envisioned. Hopefully it’s better! :)

    6. Laura Marcella  •  Jul 14, 2010 @10:31 am

      Thanks for this post! I like how you incorporated comments from other writers on what they wish they’d known.

      Like this quote of yours: “I needed to take the suggestions from my crit partners that I felt improved my manuscript, not changed it.” So true! You have to tune in to what your critique partners are saying. Is their suggestion only an opinion, something they’d like to see or what they would write, or is it a true element of revision, something that will improve the story, character, style, etc.? Definitely something to think about with a critique group.

    7. brian_ohio  •  Jul 14, 2010 @12:07 pm

      This is so weird… you blame you for not making your manuscript better… and I blame you for not making MY manuscript better. Huh.

      Nice, informative post. Of course it comes about five years too late for me, so thanks for that. ;-)

    8. Jocelyn Carlin  •  Jul 14, 2010 @1:05 pm

      Great post. I’m so glad I have blogs like this one to remind me to be patient, work hard, and learn all I can before trying to submit.

      My husband keeps pushing me to query my manuscript, but I am still revising and it is Just Not Ready. This was a nice pep talk to remind me that when I take my time, I’m doing it right. Thanks!

    9. Sydney Salter  •  Jul 14, 2010 @1:06 pm

      Really great post! I agree that learning to take criticism–and finding the right way to incorporate it into a story–is one of the trickiest thing to learn as a beginner.

      Now I’m going to go eat some chocolate!

    10. Rose Cooper  •  Jul 14, 2010 @1:44 pm

      This is a great post, Amie! I think most writers can relate to this on some level, whether starting out or having been there. It’s great advice for beginning writers…there’s nothing like experiencing it for yourself, but at the same time it helps to know what to expect.

    11. Laura Diamond  •  Jul 14, 2010 @2:18 pm

      Oh, yeah, I’ve become well aware of these rules, LOL! I think hearing them helps, but sometimes experiencing them makes all the difference. Thansk for sharing your thoughts and journey! :D

    12. ::Sylvia::  •  Jul 14, 2010 @3:29 pm

      Excellent post. This is so true, especially about querying too early. I think sometimes we get so anxious to begin our journey to publication that we get ahead of ourselves and submit work that really isn’t as good as it could be.

      Thanks for the reminders!!

    13. Robyn Gioia  •  Jul 14, 2010 @4:06 pm

      Great points and good article. I’m printing this article to read to our SCBWI meeting this weekend. It means a lot to hear it straight from the horse’s mouth.

    14. Amie Borst  •  Jul 14, 2010 @4:28 pm

      Thanks for your comments everyone!
      Brian – you’re welcome. :P
      Robyn – I’m so glad to hear that you’ll be sharing it at your SCBWI meeting. That’s wonderful!

    15. James C. Wallace II  •  Jul 14, 2010 @6:23 pm

      I have been told by others that this is wrong, or that is wrong. Never what is write… Ignore them all!

    16. Elana Johnson  •  Jul 14, 2010 @6:48 pm

      Ah, I agree with Kurtis about having high expectations for your first book. I’ve been there, and done that. I wouldn’t trade it for anything, but it is something to be mindful of.

      Thanks for including me in the post, Amie! :)

    17. Romelle  •  Jul 14, 2010 @8:25 pm

      Thanks so much for this info. This is exactly what all new writers need to know and what all old-timers need to be reminded of.

    18. Laura Pauling  •  Jul 14, 2010 @9:10 pm

      Yes! I think we’ve all been there. Querying too early. Not realizing how slow the process is. Using all the advice we got in critiques even if it changed the tone or style…Been there. But I also think those are lessons too valuable to skip.

    19. Kimberley Griffiths Little  •  Jul 14, 2010 @9:51 pm

      Amen. Amen. And Amen.

      Now where’s the chocolate everyone keeps talking about???

    20. Melissa Snow  •  Jul 15, 2010 @10:09 am

      Great post for us newbies! I love hearing everyone chime in with their experiences. Thanks, and please keep ‘em coming!

    21. Natalie Aguirre  •  Jul 15, 2010 @8:00 pm

      Great post. I love the advice and can so relate to it. I’m struggling now with how to deal with conflicting critique partners’ advice. And you are so right about how slow the process is. I love the quotes from other writers. Thanks.

    22. Amanda  •  Jul 16, 2010 @11:26 am

      Just found your site, and am loving it! Great advice — especially that you can’t please everyone. That’s why there are so many different kinds of books out there! Is it OK to have chocolate fingerprint marks on the queries, though? Best~

    23. Bridgette  •  Jul 19, 2010 @7:52 pm

      I have felt guilty for not hurrying up and sending my manuscript off as I work through my revisions. Months (and months) ago, I promised myself I’d send it when it was ready, but then I begin to fret that I’m only procrastinating. Thank you so much for easing the guilt a bit!