Sunday, September 28, 2014

Kid Publishing Platforms

Publishing Options for Kids.
by Hilde Garcia

So in addition to writing, I teach writing.  There are days where I see many, many stories in my head, dancing around like sugar plums or grammatically incorrect sentences, but the best part of all those stories is seeing my students bring them to life.  It almost makes me want to be a kid in today's day and age so I, too, can get published for the bargain basement price of $24.99.

But all kidding aside, many of us are teachers, librarians, parents, people who reach children and inspire them, so here is a mini review of two sites that help kids get their voices out there.

Tikatok is a digital publishing platform that integrates project based-learning and the Common Core while allowing kids to walk away with a hard copy of their book.  It's completely interactive and fun, very user friendly and kids can't get enough of it.  Three years ago, I had my 6th grade students create original novels in Word and then they cut and paste them into Tikatok's platform. 

They also illustrated their pages, laid out their story, created a style that matched their novel.  My students mastered editing techniques and created plot and setting.  I had a very reluctant group of students who did not want to write and they were the ones that wrote the most.  I think they surprised themselves but it was truly the interactiveness of the site that made them want to write.

I mean who wants to write with pen and paper these days when a computer gives you a much better product?

So how much for this platform? The basic subscription to is $14 for the year and that gives you access to all templates and unlimited student accounts.  The digital plus package ($75) gives you unlimited downloads and 15% off hard cover copies in addition to the basic package's options.  The premium package gives you all of that, but you also get 25 custom-printed hardcover or softcover books and free shipping on the first 25 books for only $399.  For most teachers like me, that later two options are out as our budget doesn't cover pencils, let alone digital publishing, but the first one is very, very doable. And if you can fundraise or use a booster club at school to help you purchase the books, like I did, every kid can take one home.

All the plans have full customer support and access to hundreds of templates and story starters sure to engage even your most reluctant writer.  The quality is wonderful and every one of my students was thrilled with their copy.  It allowed them to also do a cover, a book flap copy and photo and even a dedication page.  The pricing has changed though. The site used to be free and you only paid for the books you ordered, anywhere from $3 for a download to $20 for a hardcover book.

Which is one of the reasons I switched.

Scribblitt™ is a launch pad for creativity where kids grab an idea, and using tools provided and collaboration with other kids, teachers, writers and publishers, take it where they want to go, making their own characters, story and illustrations come to life in a professional product.

It was started by a mom and her two daughters who wanted to collaborate on a book together and this labor of love now helps many more children share their voice.

In a world that is ever changing and one that seems to drown out young people or makes them grow up too soon, it's nice to know that something like this can give them the platform they need to stand up and speak out.

Scribblitt does many of the same things that Tikatok does, but the interface is much cleaner and a bit more grown up, for my very savvy 5/6th graders. It also has one click art where students can create a multitude of images to then later import into their story.  They are also adding an option for students to create a comic book- "graphic novel." 

It has guest blogs, contests, writing tips, games, and many resources for students to use and encourages students to share and discuss their work as they can send each other messages and even send me ones too.  

There is a celebrity corner and currently they are featuring Lois Lowry.  Scribblitt promotes a writing community and the graphics are easier to follow. There's even a cool internal message board that only students logged into Scribblitt can access. It's a great safety option.

This site also lets students create note cards with their own images or photos so they can then purchase it and that gives students something personal that can be connected to their book. The notecards start at about $12.99.

Scibblitt even offers gift cards and has an option for fundraising!  A typical $24.99 hard cover book will give the writer about 17 pages, which for my students is a great amount. Additional pages are .50 a page- cheaper than Tikatok's quote a few years back.

When they choose me as their teacher on the site, they receive 15% off of their book.  I also love this company's One for One program.  A child in need gets a book when you buy one.  

I think that's what sold me to try them. If everything else didn't sell me on them before, this ticket item did.

The One Pitfall

The only drawback to either of these sites is the inability to import a document. If you created something in a word program, you have to cut and paste it into their pre set pages one paragraph at a time.  And if you are not careful, your text will over flow, so you have to watch the bottom line to make sure you don't go passed it. 

If it were an automatic page flow, then that would be ideal. I asked them about it… they are working on it. For now, my students and my own kids, which are so excited to begin using this, will have to master the art of cutting and pasting just right so not one of their precious words gets lost.

If you have or know young people in your life, these are great sites to share. Share them with teachers or people in your writing community. Wish you could do your own fun book? You can. Adult members are welcome. I think I am going to co-author a book with my incredibly funny kids.  My daughter's will be about horses, my son's will be a tie between chess and football.

Happy Writing!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Dispatch #27: How to Start a Story...

by Lupe Fernandez

"Felson McGoo shot me with his Captain Norge X52 Dis-integrator and now I'm going to itch all recess. Today's playground forecast is 80% chance of Dimension X Spiders. Felson McGoo should've known better."

Some kid gets shot by a gun? Fantasy or not, school shootings are a serious business. I better try something else.

"I was in the back of Freddo's car with Lira Ballard watching Freddo make-out with his newest girlfriend Isela Lee. I figured Lira wanted the same so I kissed her with a lot of tongue action and put my hand up her blouse. Believe it or not, this was my first kiss."

Heavy petting in the backseat of a car? On a first date? Reads like sexual harassment to me. I'd never get it past an agent. I'm probably get stamped as a perv author. Let's try dystopian.

"Holly Wa Ming stoops in the carbolic crop field, her boots hiss in the acid runoff. A countdown booms from the Balboa Missile Base across the marsh. She stands and stretches her numb back. Holly Wa shields her eyes from the light of the ascending war rocket. The exhaust flickers like a snake's tongue. The shock wave sends a ripple through the field, revealing the hundreds of other harvesters bend like rusty nails. Holly Wa dreams of catching the snake's tongue, riding the monster to its target and killing the enemy."

Harsh working conditions. Military action. Killing the...who? Enemy? Shouldn't she want peace and a better life? Too militaristic. Needs a handsome, brooding love interest. I can't write handsome, brooding love interest.

Okay. Paranormal. Romantic vampires. It's a sure thing.
"I vant to suck your bloodddd..."
Nope. Can't do it.

I keep wondering who will this piece offend? Will I shock parental sensibilities? Just because I'll read it don't mean the the words will past the proverbial editorial mustard. Second guess. Second guess. Triple guess. Quintuple guess.

I should stop reading so many "How To Write In 134 Easy Steps"  blogs and hermetically seal myself with my keyboard and type away.

The rest is chance and circumstance, and perhaps a good query letter.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Working Writer's Retreat

By Susan J. Berger

Retreat anyone? The opportunity to spend two and a half days at the beautiful Holy Spirit RetreatCenter in Encino  reading in small groups with an acquiring editor or agent?  The 2014 SCBWI Southern California Writer’s Retreat sold out four hours after enrollment opened. 
I put myself on the waiting list. I attended the WWR in 2007 and 2012 and was dying to do it again. I got lucky.
Saturday Morning: I’m on break. Yesterday the entire group divided into two first pages sessions. We each had three minutes to read our first 250 words. Our critiquing panel, authors Stephanie Gordon Jacobs, Judith Ross Enderle and Ann Whitford Paul gave us feedback. This was a practice session for Sunday’s first pages read. Sunday morning, editors Ariel Richardson, Bethany Strout, agent Karen Grencik and a surprise guest editor will be are critique panel.
Waiting to read first pages.

Our small breakout groups took notes for each other so we didn’t have to remember what the panel said about our work.  It’s nerve making getting up there, knowing you’re being timed.
I heard so many wonderful first pages.  My only regret is that I couldn’t hear all of the stories that went with the first two hundred and fifty words.
I read the first 250 words of a non- fiction picture book.  How They Wrote It.  Judy’s, Ann’s , and Stephanie’s responses made me realize I had better use a bit of my three minutes to explain what I intended to picture book to be.
After a stretching session with Lynette Townsend, we went to dinner and on to our first sessions with the acquiring faculty.  We had twelve minutes each for reading and critique time. It was up to the individual to decide how to divide the time between reading and feedback.

Sarah Laurenson
The evening had two sessions for each of the acquiring faculty. Regional advisor Sarah Laurenson worked out a spreadsheet worthy of a military maneuver. We writers were divided into two groups: Best Sellers and Award Winners. Then these groups were subdivided into groups of five
Roommates were in opposite session. This gave us an hour alone in our room to write and revise.

My group of five met with Little Brown’s Bethany Strout.

Bethany Strout, Kim James and ????My mind blanked It's Late I need bed.
I loved my group’s work. Katharyn Sinelli read from her YA fantasy chiller. Maria Johnson and Lynn Becker had terrific picture books. I read Chapter 1 from my mid-grade novel. (Lynette Townsend, our fabulous Stretch Queen, chose not to read. She said work had kept her too busy to do the revision she’d wanted to do. I’ve loved Lynette Picture books in past retreats and I regret not hearing her work.) Bethany Strout’s critiques on all of our work were insightful and encouraging.
Karol Silverstein

Friday night I chose not to revise. I stayed in the main building waiting for the Wine and Cheese party and got into a great conversation with terrific story teller and West side Schmooze coordinator, Karol Silverstein, about our secret love for the  Twilight books, religions and toads.

Karen Grencik came out of her second session and remarked that the level of writing here at the retreat was so much higher than those she heard at conference. I felt all warm, fuzzy and nervous. Karen is the last person my group will read for. I’m praying we’ll all measure up.

Lynette, the stretch queen, Angela and Lynn
The last event Friday was the wine and cheese party. I contributed a solid chocolate salmon. I hope to be remembered as the chocolate bringer.  Although I’d rather be remembered as the writer whose work they decided to acquire. I loved meeting and talking to my fellow authors and getting to schmooze with the staff.

Saturday morning started at 7:30 with a stretch session for those who chose to attend. I love Lynette’s sessions.  Breakfast was from 8:00 – 9:00.
Each group had morning sessions with one of our resident authors. I got some great feedback from Stephanie Gordon and rushed back to my room to make changes. I remembered I had a blog post due and began it.
After lunch came pictures. Nutschell Windsor, the staff photographer posed us in straight and zany groups. She hasn'tposted these yet, or I would show you.
Melody Mansfield, The grant winner, Me and Catherine Modesitt
At 2:15 Best Sellers all had their second session with acquiring Faculty. Ours was with Chronicle Books’ Ariel Richardson. Ariel gave great advice to each of us in the nicest way possible. I can’t wait to revise chapter 2 of Tasha incorporating her advice.

Karen Grencik and author
Tonight’s program is Stretch at 5:00, dinner at 5:30, followed by our last acquiring faculty sessions. Ours will be with Red FoxLiterary agent, Karen Grencik. 
After that, Karaoke!

Ariel and Bethany choosing a song. Nutschell photographing.

Bethany and Karen were both at our table at breakfast. I’ve really enjoyed getting a chance to know them as the delightful humans they are. I want a chance to talk to Ariel and find out more about her. She too feels like a kindred spirit. We are all people who love books and want to see more of them.

Sunday: Breakfast, checkout and three hours of first pages.
Sunday's surprise panelist was Nephele Tempest from The Knight Agency.

Sunday's Panel Bethany Strout, Karen Grencik, Ariel Richardson and Nephele Tempest
I heard lots of revisions in these first pages and the panel gave some wonderful feedback. I left feeling some hope for Tasha, my mid grade multicultural.Sarah will email us the list of submission instructions for each panel member. I don’t know what will be acquired this weekend. Those of us who aren’t, will rewrite and try again. I can tell you, that acquired or not, I had a wonderful weekend. 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

To Die or Not To Die...

When a Character Must Simply Go.
by Hilde Garcia

I have been working on my young adult novel for a few years now and just when I thought I was at the finish line, something tugged at me, but it was hard to pin point exactly what it was.

I began a major revision, knowing that I would be happy with the outcome even before I started.  As I played it out in my mind, it was really sharp and strong, except for this one small problem.

A character that simply would not die. 

In fact, I teach 5th and 6th grade and during our Language Arts class, I showed my students older drafts of my novel. They all marveled at how long I had been writing some of my stories and some noticed that it was longer than they had been alive.

We also noticed an old synopsis that stated that my main character’s father died in an earlier draft.  Hmmm…  so I had been down this road before and how I got lost and ended up back at this point, I have no idea, but it helped solidify my resolve.

I pulled the trigger.

In a very teary scene, my character’s father dies while on a dangerous journey on the ocean with his daughter, leaving her to survive by herself. That’s quite an obstacle for her, but as I wrote the chapter where she finds out he is dead, it wrote itself.  It flowed and it felt right. The chapter read the way I had originally envisioned it, but somehow convinced myself that HE, the dad character, had to be in the story.

I was taking an intensive writer’s workshop with MaggieStiefvater during the SCBWI Summer Conference and she struck a chord.  “If you don’t find a character interesting, don’t write about them.”  And I had been forcing myself to like the father, write about the father, give him a backstory, but in the end, he didn’t need to be there, it wasn’t his story.

Also, Linda Sue Park, during that same day, pointed out that sometimes you have to see what is necessary.  In an exercise, she had us delete an entire chapter- well a section of a chapter- and then try to recreate it from memory. 

“If it was really important, you will be able to recreate it,” she said to us.  When I tried it, I couldn’t recreate it. It made me wonder just how much of my novel didn’t need to be there for me to tell my story.  In fact, one editor on a panel during the Conference said, “If it’s over 100,000 words, I am not going to read it.”  This made me think a bit.  Could I say it with less words, less scenes, less characters?  Maybe I had characters duplicated and they could be morphed into one. 

Of course, we had all saved our precious chapter elsewhere, as a security net, just in case, but the exercise was beneficial.  Sometimes we are redundant in our writing, duplicating characters, adding details and “stuff” that doesn’t need to be there.

These authors enlightened my way of looking at my novel.

Editors look for a tight manuscript and many of the techniques these authors shared at the intensives were extremely vital when you get to that level of polish before you send your work out into the universe.

SO I killed him. The dad. He is gone, caput, rode out into the sunset.

Now what?

Well, time to revise every chapter that followed and erase his existence.

The pen is the mighty sword after all.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Dispatch #26: Day of Labor

by Lupe Fernandez

Today marks the 120th observance of Labor Day, first established as a Federal Holiday in 1894, after decades of labor union members getting their heads bashed in for striking for better working conditions.

Last Saturday I attended a social function with my wife's co-workers. Many of them didn't know each other and thus were introduced and asked, "What do you do?" The same was asked of spouses. "What do you do?" Most of the attendees were engineers, programmers and various managers.

No one asked me what I did for a living?

What would I have said? "I'm a writer" and then get that look of "Have I read your book?"

Answer is no. I'm still looking for an agent.

Is writing labor? Do I work under hazardous conditions? I work near the kitty door to the garage and I can smell the kitty box when Sugar takes a dump. She's a sweet cat, but she lays some stinkers. I'm probably inhaling minuscule kitty litter particles as I type.  I eat my scrambled eggs over the key board and a crumb or two spill in between the keys. Will I create a bacteria hazard?

Writing isn't the same as digging a ditch. I went camping last month and it rained for three days, so I dug a trench around the tent, thinking of that old adage, "If you don't go to college, you'll end up digging ditches."

My wrists and fingers ache sometimes after a long stint at the keyboard. I slam the keys hard when I type, a habit leftover from ye olden days of the typewriter.

Is my labor valuable? No one has ever tried to steal my work. I've been mugged, but Senor Mugger was after my wallet. He didn't say, "Gimme your YA Contemporary manuscript or I'm gonna stick ya!"

To which I would have responded, "The word 'gonna' is not grammatically correct. You could say, 'I'm going to stab you with my sharp knife, thus damaging your liver and inflicting bodily pain. Therefore, you should yield to my demand and hand over your manuscript.'" Though I imagine by this time, I'd be lying in the street bleeding to death sans manuscript and wallet.

I do feel pride in my work. I study the craft. I learn from others. I have joined an organization and networked with others with similar interests. I read about author success stories. I've read about writers arrested and murdered for their work. I recall reading a warning, "At the beginning of a dictatorship, poets and writers are the first to be arrested."

I haven't had my head bashed in for protesting for better working conditions, though my daughters bought me a keyboard tray for I wouldn't have to type on my lap. My wrists feel better, thank you ladies.

But I always think about stories. Yours and mine. Well, mostly mine. I struggle over nouns, verbs, adjectives, character, misspellings, plot, metaphor, and the question "Will this damn thing ever sell?"

Back to work.