Friday, April 30, 2010

From the Editor (for the Last Time)...

It's with both excitement and sadness that I write my last post on my CWIM blog. I really don't have words for how amazing it's been working on the book over the years. And, just like with any book project, it's always been a team effort. So I must offer some shout outs.

To the current market books staff--Robert, Chuck, Vanessa, Kathy and Fharris and honorary member Greg N: Not only have you taken care of business (like Elvis), you made the days enjoyable and interesting and I will miss you all terribly.

To the whole Writer's Digest team: It's been a joy and a privilege to work with you all. (Zac, Chuck, and Brian--I will make fun of you from afar for eating lunch at 11 AM. And Zac--don't forget to water the plant.)

To all the freelance writers who have given me the gift of their 2,500 words over the years: There was nothing I loved more than working on the CWIM features. Thank you all for sharing your knowledge and love of writing and illustrating and publishing with the CWIM audience. Special thanks to long-time freelancers Kelly and Sue BE who since the beginning have offered me great ideas and great pieces.

To my readers: It's always been all about you. Thanks so much for the outpouring of kindness and gratitude over the years and especially these last few weeks. Right back at you.

Finally to my friends who light up my days and sometimes help me through them: My boys Aaron, Michael and Justin--who are awesome, always in my corner, and great with emoticons. And to my girls Megan, Suzanne and Claudean--the thought of not being able to walk over to your desks from 9 to 5 makes me a super misty. (Lunch every Friday for eternity!)

Waving goodbye now...

Be sure to look for news about my new SCBWI Blog on, Facebook and Twitter on Monday--it will kick off in early May. And see you all at BEA and the SCBWI Annual Summer Conference!

xxoo Alice

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Looking Back on CWIM: The 2001 Edition
Agent Steven Malk Chats with Editor Richard Jackson...

Today is my last look back at CWIM and I'm happy to end with an excerpt from an article we called "Listen In: An Agent Chats with Richard Jackson."

A few days ago when I posted part of my interview with Judy Blume and in the excerpt she mentioned Dick Jackson, who was her first editor in the late '60s. In his article on Richard Jackson, which was more like eavesdropping on a conversation, agent Steven Malk recalls "The first time I spoke to Richard Jackson, I was 22, and I had just started to represent books. I was having a hard time getting editors to return my calls, much less have lengthy conversations with me." But Richard Jackson called Steve to inquire about a portfolio and the two struck up both a working relationship and a friendship, and, Steve said in the article, "I've been lucky to have him mentor me through my first years in publishing."

Here's part of their conversation:

So what do you think makes a good voice?
True voice comes from somewhere inside the writer or inside the character. I always ask, Why should I be listening to this person? I want the story and the characters to provide the answer.

It's a hard thing to define, but you know it when you see it.

Yes, or when you don't. I think because I read with difficulty, I read with my ear. If a manuscript catches my attention at all, I know it's because I'm hearing it.

I've heard you talk about the fact that you're sometimes drawn to subjects that you hate.

Well, I'm definitely not drawn to writing I hate. But it appeals to me to examine hateful subjects from a social point of view. I don't like guns, but I've published several books in which guns are prominent. Hatred doesn't mean that I can't bear to think about disturbing facts or fantasies of human nature. I am drawn to the challenge of enabling other people to think about them.

So you like to learn from the books you publish?

Yes. That's why I edit the books that I publish, as in immerse myself in them. Because I want to learn from them. I want to understand them. I want books to challenge me to think about things in new and different ways.

One of the things that you mention to me a lot as one of your primary concerns is how much you care about the characters, and how much of a connection you feel to the characters. Can you discuss that?

I really have to feel some kind of curiosity about or sympathy for the characters. Which doesn't mean that every character has to be good. There are some great bad characters. But you have to understand their motivations.

Do you find that a lot of writers try and cater their work to the market and to different trends?

Writers often ask me about trends. My only answer is: Forget about them! By the time you get your trendy book written, the trend is finished. I understand the compulsion to identify a market, but not at the sacrifice of what you, the writer, have that's personal which you can bring to your book. The only attention I pay to trends is that I try to avoid them.

I find that when people tell me that they wrote their manuscript because the topic is hot, it makes me want to reject it on the spot.

Absolutely. There is a kind of snobbishness about this, I suppose--another thing people associate me with. It may look like snobbishness, but I consider it interest in personal daring. I want people to do something personal. Reading is very personal; books are personal objects. And I think that whatever's in it should come from somewhere inside the writer, not from the latest low-flying fad.

What are some other common mistakes that you see writers make?

I see writers trying to be teacherly through a first-person voice. If you've got an 11 year-old character and suddenly you have a 38-year-old perception popping out of her mouth, that is troublesome and turns me off. Basically, I'm not for little nuggets of truth. Some people can do them, disguise them, but most people come across sounding judgmental and purposeful, and I can just see kids' eyes rolling. Fiction should illuminate, not educate.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Looking Back on CWIM: The 2000 Edition
An Interview with S.E. Hinton...

This edition of CWIM saw the addition of Agents & Art Reps and section devoted to SCBWI Conferences. Among the publishing professionals interviewed: Caldecott Winner Jacqueline Briggs Martin; Allyn Johnston, then editor at Harcourt (who now has her own S&S imprint, Beach Lane Books); YA novelist Francesca Lia Block; SCBWI Executive Director Lin Oliver; Writers House agent Steven Malk; and more than half a dozen others including a feature with the iconic author of The Outsiders, S.E. Hinton who at the time was coming out with her first picture book.

Here's an excerpt from the Q&A by Anne Bowling:

You were 15 when you started writing The Outsiders, and wrote 4 full drafts for the next year and a half before you had the manuscript. Did you have a mentor at that time, or was someone guiding your revisions?
No. I love to write. Actually, The Outsiders was the third book I had written, it was just the first one I had tried to publish. The first two ended up in drawers somewhere--I used characters from them later in other books, but I certainly didn't go back and rework them. Everybody's got to practice.

When I was writing The Outsiders I would go to school and say "Well, I'm writing a book, and this has happened so far, and what should happen next?," 'cause I'd get stuck. Someone would say, "Oh, make the church burn down." And I'd say, "That sounds good, I'll make the church burn down." I was just doing it because I liked doing it.

Because there was very little being published at that time for young adults that included such violent content and emotional depth, were you concerned at all that the book was really pushing the envelope?

No, I wasn't. One reason I wrote it was I wanted to read it. I couldn't find anything that dealt realistically with teenage life. I've always been a good reader, but I wasn't ready for adult books, they didn't interest me, and I was through with all the horse books. If you wanted to read about your peer group, there was nothing to read except Mary Jane Goes to the Prom or Billy Joe Hits a Home Run--just a lot of stuff I didn't see any relevance in.

I know I've been banned in places, but I've gotten so many letters from kids who say, "After reading your books, I realize how stupid violence is." I've never had a kid write me and say, "I read your book, got all hopped up and ran out and beat up someone."

In retrospect, how do you regard your writing ability at the time you worked on The Outsiders?

When I do glance at it again, I'm kind of surprised by that, too. But from grade school on I knew I wanted to be a writer, and I read all the time, and I practiced, and the only way you're going to be a writer is to read all the time and then do it. So I was doing the right things.

I feel differently about The Outsiders than I do my other books. I'm really proud of it, because it's done a lot of good--much more than my personal capacity for doing good could ever be--and I'm really pleased with it that way. I almost don't even think of myself as having anything to do with it. It was almost kind of like it was supposed to be out there, and I was just the way it got there.

While you were writing, were you consciously concerned with elements like, plot, pacing, characterization, dialogue?

Oh no, no, no. I tell people to try to not ever think that. Because that'll freeze you up so badly. So much of my writing is done in subconsciousness, I keep working on a way to take a nap and find a chapter done. But don't think about what you're doing, just keep your story going. Years later somebody's going to write you a letter and tell you what you wrote about. So don't worry about that part of it.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Looking Back on CWIM: The 1999 Edition
An Interview with Peggy Rathmann...

This edition of CWIM included lots of features for illustrators, First Books and First Books follow up (where we revisited Rob Thomas, Karen Cushman and others), features on networking and writing groups, an article by Kathleen Krull called "Nonfiction: Can Informational Books Be Sexy?" and a lucky 13 Insider Reports.

The most fun thing about putting this edition together was interviewing Caldecott winner Peggy Rathmann. Here's an excerpt from her interview in which we discussed her creative process as she worked on 10 Minutes till Bedtime (a book which is on my list of go-to baby shower gifts to this day):

Even for a Caldecott winner "nothing's obvious when you start a new book. You've got all the choices in the world, and all you want to do is make the one that's the best, but there are no real guidelines." As her work on 10 Minutes progressed, Peggy Rathmann's characters went through many incarnations. First she changed the big-headed baldies to salamanders. "Over the months that followed, I changed the salamanders into beavers, the beavers into armadillos, and the armadillos into multi-colored wiener dogs. There was even a brief period in which the boy in the story was cohabiting with flamingos," says Rathmann. "It wasn't until I tried putting the boy into a bathtub with ten manatees that I knew I was in trouble."
Through her revision process, Rathmann talked regularly with her editor at Putnam. "I'd blown through 20 deadlines and was hiding out. I considered faking my own death. I needed professional help," jokes Rathmann. "I broke down and called my editor. She said, ''Would this be a good time to take a few minutes and just talk about what you're trying to say in this book?'"
Rathmann thought, "Yeah. I've just blown a year auditioning animal acts, and now if I want to put this book to bed this century, I'll have to finish the whole thing in about ten minutes." That's when it finally clicked—her book was about deadlines. Deadlines and distractions. "Knowing my book was about deadlines, however, didn't keep me from changing the manatees into gerbils. And then, when someone asked me what ten gerbils were doing watching a boy go to bed, I decided it was because the gerbils were gerbil-tourists who thought the boy's bedtime ritual was an interesting tourist attraction."
With the focus of the book clear, how did the gerbils become hamsters? "I was congratulating myself for having solved all the book's problems when an author-friend told me that gerbils were illegal in California because they were considered an agricultural threat," explains Rathmann. "If the book became popular little children might attempt to smuggle gerbils into California and the gerbils would wipe out the agricultural industry there. Furthermore, my author friend said, ''It will be all your fault, Peggy.'"
So Rathmann turned the gerbils to hamsters. And the ten hamsters became dozens of hamsters.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Looking Back on CWIM: The 1998 Edition
In which I Interview Judy Blume and edit Richard Peck...

There were some intimidating moments as I worked on the 1998 CWIM. First Richard Peck agreed to write a feature for me Looking at YA Past & Present (which he composed on a typewriter just as he did his novels) and I went through revisions with him. It was my fifth edition of CWIM, I was still in my twenties, and I feeling a little like a baby editor.

But that was nothing compared to interviewing the woman who arguably had more influence on my childhood than anyone else: Judy Blume.

I met Judy at an SCBWI conference autograph party to which I arrived ridiculously early so I could be at the front of her line. As I said in my article intro, after she told me she was open to doing an interview, "I ran up to my hotel room and called my husband, my mom, my sister and a few of my girlfriends to tell them I talked to Judy Blume and somehow managed not to wet my pants." (After the book came out and Judy got her copy, she sent me a letter thanking me for the interview. It said "I'm so glad you didn't wet your pants," which she underlined in the purple pen she used to sign her name. I framed the letter and hung it next to my bookcase.)

Here is part of our conversation from the 1998 CWIM in which we talked about teen sex, birth control, my chubby childhood, and masturbation, among other things:

What's your advice for writer who are tackling [controversial subjects]?

For me the best thing is to not even know there's a problem, and to write from the place deep inside, where you're not thinking about anything but telling the best story you can tell. And if it becomes an issue, deal with it afterwards. One of the great fears, with this climate of censorship we have today, is that writers will censor themselves and the losers will be the kids.
Writers are hungry. They want to be published. If they think they can't be published by writing about something, then maybe they won't write about it.

The '70s was a very writer- and kid-friendly time because there was less fear in the marketplace and more concern about publishing the best books and getting them to the kids, books kids could really relate to.
All publishing has changed drastically in the last couple of years. The whole marketplace--everything has changed. That's a topic I'm probably not even qualified to talk about, but it's become much more like the movie business--it's driven by the bottom line. It's all economics, the way things are marketed now. So if you just look at children's publishing--has it changed? Yes. Is there more fear now in publishing? I don't know. There was, but maybe now people are sick of pandering to the censors.

If you would have begun writing in, say, 1995 instead of the late '60s, do you think it would have been more difficult for you to get your work published?

I don't know... I don't know. I think a fresh voice and good writing is always welcome--somebody is going to find you and nurture you. I don't know that everyone will be nurtured as a writer as well as I was because they all won't have Dick Jackson [her first editor]. And that was a very lucky break for me.

But there's always room for that fresh voice and that new way of seeing things.
And certainly the hardest thing about writing when you've written twenty-some books is to be fresh and spontaneous. You know more about writing. You've got a lot more experience. But to be fresh and find a new voice is hard.

My new book [
Summer Sisters] has been hardest book I've ever written. It's probably been through 20 drafts. That's not good for spontaneity. I wrote in in first person present, first person past, third person present, third person past, first and third mixed, and it just became a nightmare. It's not a warm and cozy book. It's pretty tough, and the friendship is not your basic wonderful friendship. It's a difficult book. But it's a story I needed to tell at the time, so there it is. I got myself into a real tough spot by again doing something that didn't neatly fit into any category. If you tell a story you want to tell, and the story doesn't fit in a category, even if you're Judy Blume, you're going to have a lot of trouble.

That's generally a problem with YA, isnt' it?

Yes. Nobody know what it is anymore. "YA" is ridiculous. YAs are read by 10-year-olds. The book I'm working on now is not meant for 10-year-olds, so how do you publish something YA and say I want 16-36s to read this book? That why my new book had been back and forth and back and forth--nobody's known what to do with it. I think the publisher has probably come up with a wise plan, but it's a new plan, and it's a scary plan for them and the marketers--to publish something adult and try to reach a specific audience, especially in today's marketplace. And I won't to do this again, I tell you that! My adult books have been hard for me, because I haven't known as I was writing them that they were. And I don't think that's bad. I think as you write you should just tell a story and not wonder, "Who is this for?" Even though eventually, you have to ask.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Looking Back on CWIM: The 1997 Edition
An Interview with Rob Thomas...

Ah, the one with the lime-green dinosaur cover. It really popped on the bookstore shelves! Weighing in at just over 360 pages and in it's second (and last) hardcover edition, this CWIM included a new and short-lived section of Multimedia markets with submission information from children's software and CD-ROM producers.

What I love most about this edition is that it turned me on to what is still my favorite YA book ever, Rats Saw God by Rob Thomas. (I like the original cover illustrated by Chris Raschka much better than the updated version I linked to.) Thomas followed up his first book with several others then turned to TV, writing for shows I loved like Dawson's Creek and Veronica Mars which he produced. Every few years I pick up his debut novel and re-visit Steve York, Dub, dadaism, and the astronaut. Here's an excerpt from Thomas' First Books interview by my former assistant editor and frequent muse Anne Bowling:

"Getting published for the first time opens a lot of doors. I think the first deal is the toughest," says Rob Thomas, author of the young adult novel Rats Saw God. "Once you've got a book out there, you're in better shape--it's just a lot easier to get publishers to read your work."
With Rats Saw God, Thomas had his work more than cut out for him. Not only was he pitching a first-time novel, but his included substance abuse and explicit sexuality--not the usual territory for the more routine Sweet Valley High-style young adult fare.

"My book is edgy in terms of drug use, and language, and sexual content, and I think it really kind of pushes what can be done in young adult fiction," Thomas says. "I was really considering trying to market the novel as adult fiction."

To young adult novelists, Thomas says focus on the product and write the best book you're able to write. "The best I felt about the process was when I was writing, and not thinking about getting published, or about the audience, or about what was selling or not selling, " he says. "People who talk to me about publishing seem to be putting the publishing cart before the writing horse. So many writer who talk to me about publishing haven't written. Or they've started writing, and they already want to know who to talk to to sell the book. I think your first effort needs to be write a really good book. And selling it will take care of itself."

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Looking Back on CWIM: The 1996 Edition
An Interview with Chris Crutcher...

I was flying solo for the first time as editor of the 1996 CWIM. The book was over 400 pages long, $22.99, had a new trim size--and was hardcover! I included three features on agents, a feature interview with Eric Kimmel, and Karen Cushman was among the "First Books" author interviews.

Among the Insider Reports in this edition was an interview with author Chris Crutcher. His oft-banned books pull from his experiences as a family therapist and are at once comic, tragic and honest. This excerpt from his 1996 CWIM interview offers some interesting comments on the YA market at the time:

Chris Crutcher loves to tell stories, and if his tales are enlightening to the reader, great. Otherwise, he is simply happy to entertain. He doesn't flinch that USA Today puts him behind only Twain and Salinger as author of the most banned books in America. His books make people think and argue, and that's exactly what he wants. Whether the subject is sexual molestation (as in Chinese Handcuffs), free speech (as in Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes) or the growing pains of adolescence, he hopes that this stories inspire readers to understand different viewpoints.
Although billed as a writer of young adult novels, and sometimes even as a sports fiction writer (which couldn't be further from the truth), Crutcher fights against categorization. Out of necessity, he defines himself as a writer of "coming of age" novels. "I seem to have gotten into a place that I didn't know existed, " he says. He cautions other writers of "young adult" fiction that sales are "pretty much by word of mouth, school journals and magazines. Early on, you're not going to get into any bookstores. Serious adult lit is going to get in."

He urges novice writers to starts at the beginning--write a good story. "The better you're able to tell the truth and pull no punches, that's how you get into the passion of the book, the intimacy of the character." Don't get too caught up in how others will respond. "You want no constraints on yourself as a storyteller."

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Looking Back on CWIM: The 1995 Edition
An Interview with Sasha Alyson on LGBT Books for Young Readers...

I have to admit that the cover of the 1995 CWIM is my favorite one ever. (I made it large in this post for your enjoyment.) The slightly deranged looking red book, the rather dandy pencil, and the armless floppy disk hopping down the path--I find it pleasingly weird. And it's the first edition of CWIM I edited. Or I should say I co-edited. I really really wanted to edit CWIM and bugged my then boss about it constantly and finally presented him with my editorial plan for the book. So the market books powers that be decided I could share the responsibilities with another editor to see how I'd do in the role. It wasn't ideal with two cooks in the kitchen, but I got to assign articles for the first time which was great fun. (For the next edition I was on my own--and the rest is history.)

One of the pieces I assigned was an interview with Sasha Alyson about his company Alyson Books, publisher of LGBT titles including picture books and YA. Last year Alyson Books published a 20th Anniversary edition of Heather Has Two Mommies. Here Sasha Alyson talks about what they were doing in 1995:

Alyson Publications was one of the first presses to publish a line of book aimed at gay and lesbian teen and young adults, but the Alyson Wonder line for younger children was a very new direction for the publisher. "We've done about 15 children's books at this point and it's definitely been an experiment for us. We're trying to figure out what the best ways are to integrate gay and Lesbian issues into children's books, and we've done books that take quite a range of approaches. What we've found so far is books that focus just on having gay parents don't hold a child's interest. On the other hand, if the gay parents are just there in the background but the book doesn't deal with that at all, it's too slight a theme and parents don't feel the book meets their needs. So it's the books that find a balance--that actively deal with the issue but don't focus on them exclusively--we find most successful.

Alyson is looking for a story that not only portrays a child with gay or Lesbian parents, but one that also has an interesting story line or predicament to hold readers' interest. "It must deal with some of the differences that come up because the child has gay or Lesbian parents without dwelling on them.

Alyson's advice to writers is similar to what he does with his press. "Talk to the kids and talk to some parents--that's the first step. Then try to do an interesting, fun story that's not preachy, that's not trying to get a message across but that does give kids a chance to see others in their situation dealing with some of the real-life issue they face. The setting may be real or fantasy, but the story must at least grapple with some of these. And please don't avoid writing a book because you think it might be controversial."

Looking Back on CWIM: The 1994 Edition
An Interview with Rosemary Wells...

The is the year I fell in love with Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market. I was splitting my time working as editorial assistant for Writer's Digest magazine and working as a production editor for market books. (I had two desks on two different floors and two phone extensions. This drove Bev in the mail room a little crazy--she just retired after a bajillion year at F+W. Bev was the eyes and ears of this institution, sort of like Carl the janitor in The Breakfast Club.)

By now CWIM was up to about 375 pages and the price was up a dollar from the last edition, now at $19.99. As production editor for the book, it was my job to field all the information coming in through the mail (the snail kind--no email yet), and make corrections on a hefty galley copy of the book. I also spent several months carefully proofreading every word of every listing in the book (a luxury we enjoyed due to our generous staff of about 15; now we have 6).

Today I'm excerpting from an "Insider Report" with Rosemary Wells, author of the beloved Max and Ruby books:

"A good children's book has to stand up to 500 reading aloud," says Rosemary Wells. "The only writer who can do it well are the once with a 'voice.' You also need a sure knowledge of what children are about. You don't necessarily need to have to have kids, but you have to be very close to your own childhood. There are a lot of people who try it, who love children and children's books, but it falls apart because they don't have these qualities."
Wells urges writers to avoid turning storied into vehicles for causes or moral lessons. "One mistake a writer can make is to try to teach a lesson or write a story for a cause or an idea," she says. "Write about character and the rest will follow. Otherwise, you run the risk of having the cause become your character. If my book have certain points to them, that's because they come along with the story, but what I try to do most of all is to give humor and character."

Monday, April 19, 2010

Looking Back on CWIM: The 1993 Edition
An Interview with Ladybug/Cricket Art Director Ron McCutchan...

I was not yet working on CWIM when the 1993 edition was produced. It was about 350 pages long (at $18.95) with the addition of Audiovisual and Audiotape markets and included a piece by Jean Karl called "The Picture Book Troika" and, for the first time, a "First Books" feature.

Today I'm excerpting something for illustrators from a Close-up with Ron McCutchan, then art director for Ladybug and Cricket magazines. (The piece was written by my cousin Jennifer Hogan Redmond who was responsible for getting me my first job at F+W as editorial assistant for The Artist's Magazine and Decorative Artist's Workbook. Thanks Jen!). Here's McCutchan's advice to illustrators in a world before online portfolios:

Ron McCutchan's final word of advice to illustrators is simple: although the recent boon in children's literature provides a market rich with opportunity, remember that budgets are forever shrinking. To make yourself and your work as attractive as possible, be sure that your query package is professional, but don't get too fancy, he warns. "If you go overboard, I might ask 'Can I afford you?' Let your work stand on its own." In your initial mailing, include only 8 1/2 x 11-inch sample or slides of your artwork that can easily fit in a file drawer. And be sure to send a SASE if you want your work returned.
Be smart and leave an art director not only with a sense of your personality and ability, but with something memorable to keep. A clear, modest photocopy (clearly labeled with your name, address and telephone number) can tell as much about you as a slick, oversized promotional brochure, McCutchan stresses. The difference is, the latter item is less intimidating to an art director with a budget, easy to store and easy to find. In a market deluged with capable illustrators, these seemingly small details can make a huge difference.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Looking Back on CWIM: The 1992 Edition
An Interview with Jack Prelutsky...

In 1992 I graduated college with a degree in English Lit and Journalism and I'd been an employee of F+W for about a year but had not yet joined the Market Books department. (I was an editorial assistant for a few of the magazines, including Writer's Digest.)

The edition of CWIM published that year was more than 300 pages (at $17.95) and included "A Writer's Guide to the Juvenile Market: Ten Steps to That First Sale," by Elaine Marie Alphin, an article for illustrators on "Portfolio Power," and nine "Close-up" interviews.

Since we're in the midst of National Poetry Month, I pulled an excerpt from an interview with Jack Prelutsky, who, in 2006, was be named the first U.S. Children's Poet Laureate by the Poetry Foundation.

Jack Prelutsky gets his ideas from everywhere. "Everything I see or hear can become a poem. I don't respond to topical events or trends, although some themes, like my book about dinosaurs, were lucky to hit the crest of waves." He says sometimes ideas literally pop into his head. "I find inspiration from everything. I wrote a poem about a boneless chicken because one day when I was in the supermarket shopping for boneless breast of chicken, I started to imagine what the rest of a boneless chicken would look like and what kind of a life it would have.

"Writing for children in general, and I think writing children's poetry in particular, is harder than writing for adults. Literature for children must be succinct, and yet present in the most artful manner possible.

"The children's book market operates, most of the time, quite differently from the adult book market," says Prelutsky. "Adult books often explode upon the publishing scene with a lot of media hype. But most have literal shelf lives of approximately one year as hardbacks and one additional year as paperbacks before disappearing into remainder bins and the eventual exile known as 'out of print.' Children's books generally take years to establish themselves in bookstores and libraries. But once they achieve the status of 'classic,' they will stay in print as long as they remain in the memories of parents, grandparents, teachers and librarians. Patience in this profession is an absolutely necessity."

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Looking Back on CWIM: The 1991 Edition
An Interview with SCBW's Sue Alexander...

With an increase in the number of markets from the year before, the 1991 edition of CWIM was more than 280 pages (at $16.95) and offered eight "Close-up" interviews and a piece on trends (that is somehow both dry and treacly).

One of the Close-ups by new CWIM editor Lisa Carpenter was an interview with the now late Sue Alexander, one of the original members of the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators which was then just SCBW. (The "I" was added later.) Note that according to the article SCBWI and I were born in the same year, but the founding of the organization was actually in 1971 according to SCBWI now boasts a worldwide membership of more than 22,000, almost quadruple the 1991 membership, and they offer the Sue Alexander Most Promising Work Award.

Here's an excerpt from the Sue Alexander Close-up:

"We are probably the best source of information about the children's book field," says Sue Alexander, chairperson of the board of directors for the Society of Children's Book Writers

The Society of Children's Book Writers was started by approximately 30 Los Angeles writers in 1968. Today the SCBW boasts a nationwide membership in excess of 6,500.

Alexander, herself a fulltime writer of picture books and early readers, has had 22 books published since 1973. She's been writing all her life, or at lease since she was eight years old. Though no longer a novice, her involvement in the SCBW has made her aware of the questions most beginners have.

Alexander say the current boom in children's books is due to the increased enthusiasm about education. "You have a group of parents who married later, has more money and recognizes the value of reading for children."

Young adult novels are slumping for reason of economics, she says. "Young people of 13-14 don't have $14.95 in their pockets to buy (hardcover) books and they wouldn't be caught dead walking into a children's bookstore. So they are going to bookstores in malls and buying the cheaper paperbacks. Therefore, the hardcover book sales in YA books have had to fall back on the traditional market for children's books--libraries and schools. Unfortunately, libraries and schools don't have as much money as they used to."

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Looking Back on CWIM: The 1990 Edition...

The second edition of CWIM was more than 260 pages (still about half the size of the current edition) and it included five "Close-up" interviews and two roundtables.

Here's an excerpt from "A Roundtable for Writers" for which editor Connie Eidenier interviewed editor and author Jean Karl, (who passed away 10 years later) author Lois Duncan, and nonfiction author Kathlyn Gay.

How (in your opinion) are children's books different today than, say, a generation ago?

Jean Karl: There are more picture books. Books are shorter and many are more simply written. Also, they are less complex, faster moving, and in some ways, less varied. There is more fantasy and science fiction now than there was 25 or 30 years ago.

Lois Duncan: Today's young readers have been conditioned by TV to expect instant entertainment. They've developed a short attention span, and if their interest isn't caught immediately, they want to switch channels. For this reason, modern day authors are forced to compete with television by using the techniques of script writing--a lot of dialogue and action and almost no description. You have to grab their attention with your very first paragraph. When I wrote Killing Mr. Griffin, I started the book with the sentence, "It was a wild, windy southwestern spring when the idea of killing Mr. Griffin occurred to them." Griffin wasn't slated to die until chapter eight, but I knew my readers wouldn't wade through seven chapters of build-up unless they knew they were headed for something dramatic.

Kathlyn Gay: In the case of nonfiction, many more books and articles are being published on important topics than were published a generations ago. Often controversial subjects were "wrapped " in a fictional story rather than presented as straight-forward factual information or in anecdotal form to show real people and events. Whether fiction or nonfiction, the preachiness of the past is not acceptable today. Few reader want a lecture. Readers want to be involved with the characters (in fiction) or with real people who are part of a nonfiction work, so I think it takes much more effort on the part of the writer to keep herself or himself out of the way and let the story (factual or fictional) unfold.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

I'm Leaving CWIM...

Dear Readers,

This is a tough post to write. I'm officially announcing that as of April 30th I'll no longer be editor of Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market. For a number of reasons I've decided it's time for me to leave my job at F+W Media after more than 18 years.

In the days before I depart I'll be offering a little CWIM nostalgia. Today I'm pulling from the 1989 CWIM. Connie Eidenier was editor of this debut edition which was well under 200 pages (less than half the size of the current edition) and included two articles and a handful markets sections. (Note: In 1989 is was in my third year of college. I wrote my papers on a electric typewriter.)

Here is some information about the state of children's publishing Connie offered in her "From the Editor" in the 1989 CWIM:

"Children's books and magazines have become a viable force in today's publishing industry thanks to growing interest from parents, teachers and librarians eager to see today's youth develop an interest in reading. According to a December, 1988, issue of Newsweek, more than 4,600 children's books were published in 1987: This is a 50 percent growth over 1978 statistics. In this same article it was reported that publishers sold $334 million in hardcover books in 1987 (compared to $136 million in 1977), and $150 million in paperbacks (compared to $26 million a decade ago.)

The growth in this very specialized segment of the publishing industry is particularly evident in the enthusiasm with which editors are seeking ideas for picture books and stories, young and middle readers, and young adult material. Here at Writer's Digest Books, we've been closely monitoring this growth and decided the time had come to compile a market directory listing the needs of the children's book and magazine industry. How appropriate that our first edition of Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market comes out in 1989--The Year of the Young Reader as designated by the Library of Congress."

Friday, April 09, 2010

Win a Free Major Edit from a Former Harcourt Editor...

Former Harcourt Children's Books editor gone freelance Deborah Halverson (her teen fiction is published by Delacorte) recently launched the writer's advice site, which she describes as a "Dear Abbey" for writers. To celebrate the one-month anniversary of her site, Deborah is giving away one free Substantive Edit of of a YA/MG fiction manuscript. (Recently, four of the writers she's edited landed lucrative 2-book deals with major publishers, so the winner of this giveaway would be in good hands.)

Visit for more details and instructions on how to enter. The giveaway is lottery-style, and the deadline is April 14. Also check out, friend her on Facebook, or follow her on Twitter.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Operation Teen Book Drop Is April 15th...

If you associate April 15th with (ick) filing your taxes, here's a better alternative--think of it as a fantastic day for teen lit. On April 15th Operation Teen Book Drop will deliver 10,000 new books to teens on Native Reservations and Tribal Lands, more than 100 top young adult authors will leave their books in public places for young readers to discover, and members of the public can buy books online and have them shipped to tribal libraries.

For this event, which coordinates with YALSA's Support Teen Literature Day, publishers donated the books, valued at more than $175,000.

“These publishers have shown astounding vision and generosity by supporting Operation Teen Book Drop,” says readergirlz co-founder and award-winning novelist Dia Calhoun. “Now underserved teens can benefit from the current explosion of high quality YA books. These teens can see their own experience, their tragedies and their triumphs in these books, books that become shining doorways to the young human spirit.”

The donations are especially significant to Native teens. “In their lives, they really don’t have new books,” says Mary Nickless, the librarian at Ojo Encino Day School, one of 44 institutions that will benefit from Operation TBD.

In its third year, Operation TBD is part of a massive effort by librarians, young adult authors, and avid readers to spur reading on a nationwide scale. The day aims to encourage teens to read for the fun of it.

The effort is coordinated by readergirlz, the Young Adult Library Services Association, GuysLitWire, and a new partner, If I Can Read, I Can Do Anything, a national reading club for Native children.

Kudos to participating publishers! They include: Abrams Books; Bloomsbury/Walker Books/Candlewick Press; Chronicle Books; Hachette Book Group; Boyds Mills Press; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; Milkweed; Mirrorstone Books; Orca Book Publishers; Scholastic; Simon & Shuster Children's Publishing; Tor/Forge/Starscape/Tor Teen/ Roaring Brook Press, an Imprint of the Macmillans Children's Publishing Group; and Better World Books.

For more information, visit and, or contact

Monday, March 15, 2010

Debut Author of the Month:
Kristina Springer

"I probably always knew in the back of my mind that I wanted to be a writer," Kristina Springer says in the long version of her bio on "But, it didn’t hit me really hard until about 10 years ago." After years of reading and writing (technical, TV, and a little bad poetry), Kristina began writing young adult fiction in earnest. Her debut novel THE ESPRESSOLOGIST was published by FSG in October 2009.

"The publishing process for THE ESPRESSOLOGIST was so great-- every step along the way was fun from the first line edits through getting the final cover. I finally found exactly what I want to do and it's an awesome, awesome thing."

Tell my readers about your debut book THE ESPRESSOLOGIST.

is about Jane, a 17-yr old part-time coffee barista at a Chicago coffee house. Jane has a notebook where she's been recording what type of drinks people order and she notices a trend--the same type of people always order the same type of drinks. One day she tries to match up a customer whose favorite drink is an iced vanilla latte with another whose drink is a dry cappuccino and they're a hit. She tries it a couple more times, with success, and then her boss finds out what she's been doing and turns her into the store's holiday promotion, causing a love and latte craze.

You wrote the entire manuscript for your book from the same table at your local Starbucks. Is the Starbucks culture conducive to writing non-coffee-themed books, too?

Oh yeah. I'm on book #8 now and I've written all of them in coffee shops. Though, I have been fancying Caribou lately--I can't lie.

You had offers of representation from two agents and then your first book went to auction. How did you get to that point?

Mostly just let rejections roll of my back and kept on going! I was inching toward the 100 agents queried mark with my first YA book (I've since buried that book. RIP Book #1) while writing THE ESPRESSOLOGIST. I felt really good about THE ESPRESSOLOGIST and was so excited to start querying it. Once I did, things happened really fast. Suddenly there were a number of agents reading it, two offered, and then maybe a week or so after I signed with one of the agents the first offer from a publisher came in. There were more interested publishers so my agent set up an auction. It was all very exciting!

You have four kids under 7. How do you juggle life and writing life (and don’t say lots of coffee).

I won't say coffee (but it helps!). It is a bit of a struggle. OK, it can be a lot of a struggle some days but I manage to pull it off. Basically, the kids can get loud and cranky so I always attend to their needs first. But if there is a moment that I can sneak to the laptop and post a blog here and there I'll take it. If an idea for a chapter I'm working on hits me I'll write it down anywhere I can. Of course then my notes end up in e-mail drafts and on post-its/receipts/mail/kids' homework/you name it. I do all business calls between 1 and 2 PM (a.k.a. naptime at the Springer house). And I write after the kids go to bed. Usually my husband will get home from work at this time and I can make a dash for the coffeeshop to write. I do promotional type stuff (signings, panels etc.) primarily on the weekends when my husband can take over with the kids.

THE ESPRESSOLOGIST has been out for several months. What have you done in the way of promotion? Online presence? How is it going?

I do as much as I can! Online I blog/tweet/facebook a lot. I'm at and I also blog with a great group of writers at Our group posts five days a week so we're very active.

I've tried a couple of ads on various sites and I've done lots of giveaways. It's especially nice to group up with other authors for giveaways too, Like Kristin Walker (A MATCH MADE IN HIGH SCHOOL) and Rhonda Stapleton (STUPID CUPID) and I did a fun one for Valentine's Day. We asked people to write us a poem and we picked a random winner to receive an autographed copy of each of our books, candy, and handmade Valentine cards.

In person I go to as many events as I can. I've done a number of signings, a YA panel, the yearly Anderson's Children's literature breakfast, an author fair, and a school visit so far. I have a teacher's appreciation luncheon coming up this weekend and another author fair right after that so I try to keep busy on the weekends.

I don’t drink coffee. Does it make sense that I’d marry a Jewish psychologist who’s a java junkie?

No. That makes no sense whatsoever. Um, maybe it's an opposites attract thing? Perhaps you've yet to succumb to the delicious addiction and you'll eventually pick it up? I wouldn't eat salad until I was like 18 and now I love it. Maybe you'll come around.

How many reviewers have called your book “frothy”?

Too many to count! I've seen lots of "cute," "sweet," "frothy" and lots of people talking about reading it while getting cozy by fireplaces/christmas trees/with a blanket/whatever else you like to get cozy by or with. I totally love that people get that from the book because that's what I was going for--the warm fuzzies.

Tell us about your second novel that will be published by FGS later this year.

I am insanely excited about my new book! It's called MY FAKE BOYFRIEND IS BETTER THAN YOURS. It's about two 7th grade BFFs who each think each other's "boyfriend" is a fake. It becomes competitive (like if one says her boyfriend sent her carnations the other says her boyfriend sent her roses) and hilarious. It will be out in the August 31st.

Finally, can you offer some advice to other debut authors? To those pursuing publication?

To other debut authors: Don't read the reviews! Ok, I know you'll read some of the reviews-- especially from the bigger reviewers. But don't read ALL of the reviews. Like all the goodreads and Amazon and random reviews that pop up online everyday. People's opinions vary so widely and if you start reading everything you might let it affect your thinking and possibly your writing. One person may say OMG, this is the BEST BOOK EVER!! Um, no it's not. And another might say OMG, this is the worst thing ever written! Again, not. It's better to not obsess over what everyone is saying and just work on your next book.

To those pursuing publication: Don't give up! You'll be rejected. A LOT. But you can't let it stop you! You need to believe in your work and keep on trying.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Catching Up Post...

Hopefully you've missed me, dear readers. My blog has been quiet for a bit as I was home in bed for a week taking Vicodin and watching Law & Order reruns with frozen edamame in my pants. And one should not post in that state.

But I'm back at work now, almost all better and pretty much caught up on my work. Now to catch you up...

  • My birthday was a week ago Wednesday, but I rescheduled it due to the situation described above. (So if you asked me, I'll tell you I'm still 41.) I've decided it will officially occur on March 20th, at which time I will be in New York to catch the end of the NYC Teen Author Festival. Click here for the event schedule posted on the readergirlz blog. There's all kinds of stuff going on all over the city, including the World's Biggest Book Signing in the World! at Books of Wonder (where they also sell cupcakes). Look for tweets from me during the events and a post or two when I get back.
  • This weekend is our first WD Editors' Intensive of 2010. If you can't make it to this one, mark your calendar for September 11-12 when we'll be offering another weekend of information and critiquing featuring yours truly as well as a raft of other awesome WD editors.
That's it for now. I'm off to do some interviewing, editing and WRITING (all my favorite fun work stuff).

Monday, February 22, 2010

Five Things I Learned from Heather Brewer's Book Signing...

I attend a lot of author events because, well, I love to meet authors. Most recently I saw Heather Brewer, author of the best-selling Chronicles of Vladimir Tod series, doing a signing at my local B&N to support the release of book #4 in the series, ELEVENTH GRADE BURNS. This was a particularly fun author event for me (more on that below) and Heather did a terrific job addressing her young (and not so young) audience about her writing career and her books and her characters. Here are a few things we learned:

1) Give yourself permission to write.
Not to get all Nike on you, but if you want a career as a writer, it's not going to happen unless you just do it. Although it was something Heather longed for for years, she was told by parents and even her beloved librarians that being an author wasn't really an option and she'd need a "real job." Finally, she said, after her youngest child started school, she discussed her career options with her spouse. What would you do, he asked her, if money didn't matter and you could do whatever you wanted? I want to be an author, she told him. Then do it, he said. (She proceeded to write, find an agent, get a book contract, and hit high on the New York Times Bestseller List.) It's OK to give yourself permission to follow your dream. But if it takes a supportive, encouraging significant other, that's OK too.

2) Goal setting is important.
Heather's Brewer's formula: butt + chair = writing. Even when she's on tour she writes 1,000 words a day. Books don't write themselves, after all. So, again, just do it.

3) Mine the painful stuff for material.
Heather told the bookstore audience about growing up in a small town where she felt like an outcast and was bullied. (Except when she spent time in the library. "Bullies don't know there is a library," she said.) She calls upon these experiences as she writes her main character, Vladimir Tod. Because, really, who's more of an outcast than a vampire in junior high?

Heather Brewer's Chronicles of Vladimir Tod books.

4) Boys read.
And they come to author events. There were a lot of them and they were excited. I sat next to kid named Nick who talked my arm off about the books and characters he loved. (I asked him what grade he was in. "Sixth," he told me. Then he looked at me, paused, and said," You're not in any grade, are you?") Another boy raised his hand during the Q&A and when called on he was so nervous he couldn't remember his question. (He did later, then asked several more.) Another boy who seemed kind of shy was in front of me in the singing line. With his head slightly lowered he spent several minutes giving Heather a synopsis of the story he wants to get published (which sounded really cool). These boys love books.

5) Authors are rock stars.
OMG. The kids LOVE Heather. Love love love. A heard a few of them say they'd been there for hours because they wanted good seats. A couple of girls with hair dyed unnatural colors said they wanted to high five Heather and never wash their hands again. Four girls drove in from Michigan. (That's far.) One girl took a photo with the author, ran next door to Kinkos and got an 8x10 printed and came back to get it signed. And they were asking questions, thoughtful ones that could have only come from devoted fans. Tons of them wore vampire smiley face apparel. It was the best, most enthusiastic bunch of slightly awkward, slightly pimply, hoodie-wearing tween fans I'd ever seen. I wanted to take them all home with me. But I bet they all wanted to go home with Heather Brewer.

Heather Brewer at the signing table.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Crawling Out From Under Snowpocalypse & Being Lost in a Good Book...

If you don't live around here, I'm sure you've all seen the news of the recent enormous snowfall dumping on hunks of the country. In case you missed them on my Facebook page, here are a few pictures I took through the windows of my warm house, most likely while wearing a Snuggie.

Because of the snowiness, I was pretty much stuck in the house for FOUR SOLID DAYS. Me, Katkin, the boy, the elderly cat, and a dwindling supply of cereal and canned goods. But instead of watching the Olympics, I engaged in a few glorious days of all-in reading.

A friend recommended Kathryn Stockett's debut novel THE HELP (note: a book for grown-ups) and once I got into it, I was gone. I neglected my family. I ate very little. I wore pajamas. There was no showering. I read chapters out loud and copied down my favorite lines. And when I finally finished it at 3:15 AM on Monday I sat weeping on my sofa. Sigh.

Several times a year I'm completely consumed by a book this way. Nothing exists but me, the characters and their world. And when I read the last page and close the cover, it's as if I'm leaving a lover after a secret weekend in a hotel room. There has been very little sleeping. Scenes linger in my thoughts for weeks. And I wish I could go back and experience it anew.

I am now clean, well-rested and back at my desk. I've loaned the book to another friend and ordered her to start reading so we can discuss. And I'm looking forward to the next snowstorm or airplane ride or day when I suddenly have a few hours and a gem. (Your recommendations are welcome.)

Monday, February 08, 2010

Some Monday Fun: Author Erin Dealey Raps on Writing...

Check out Erin Dealey's Writer's Rap featuring a guest appearance by SCBWI and a cameo by the 2010 CWIM. And remember: Ya gotta have a hook.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

DBW, SCBWI, My Webinar & WD Intensives...

I've been gone for more than a week, so I've got so much to talk about!

I got back from New York last night after attending both Digital Book World and the SCBWI Annual Winter conference. I hope you all were following the tweets (#dbw, #scbwiny10) and the SCBWI Conference Blog. (Mega kudos for my amazing TEAM BLOGgers Jaime, Jolie, Lee and Suzanne.)

TEAM BLOG, l to r: Lee Wind, Suzanne Young, Jaime Temairik, me, Jolie Stekly

One of the sessions I attended at DBW was on Digital Content and Marketing for the Born-Digital Generation. I wrote about it for DBW so click over to read about the cool and successful things Simon & Schuster, Harper and Scholastic are doing to reach out to their young, tech-savvy audience. Agent Holly Root of Waxman Literary also participated in the panel. She offered this advice to writers: "Reach readers, navigate the changing review landscape, use social media to its fullest."

If all the DBW and SCBWI conference coverage has you in the mood for an informative event (and you'd like some tips that can help you better follow Holly Root's advice), I've got a couple things coming up that might interest you.

First, I'm presenting an hour-long webinar focused on children's publishing called Get Your Children's Writing Published. I gave a similar webinar last year and I was thrilled to see a tweet about it the other day (YAY!):
@lkblackburne Last year, w/ no blog, no twitter account, and no clue, I took @alicepope 's Children's writing seminar. So worth it.
You can get more information and register here.

If you've got more than an hour to devote to learning, the Writer's Digest staff is offering one of our popular Editors' Intensives March 13-14. This event offers a day of programming, a one-on-one manuscript critique, and a some solid WD swag. Plus we can only fit a limited number of people in the WD HQ so there's an intimate feel and plenty of opportunity for interaction with WD staff. (You'll get all your questions answered!)

You can get more information and register here.

A side note: Thanks to everyone for your input on Twitter and Facebook throughout my week of conferencing. I so appreciate your comments, responses and retweets.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Alice Has Left the Nati--Follow Me Online...

As soon as I post this, I'm leaving the office and heading to the airport to got to New York for Digital Book World and the SCBWI Annual Winter Conference.

But, never fear--you don't have to miss me...

Watch my Twitter feed on Tuesday and Wednesday for tweets from DBW (#dbw) and check the DBW blog for daily reports on the event. You can also follow DBW on Twitter.

For as-it-happens conference action, stay glued to the Official SCBWI Conference Blog where I and the rest of SCBWI TEAM BLOG will cover the event live. (If you can't join the fun, we'll bring it right to your computer screen!)

Here's a rundown of our exclusive pre-conference interviews with SCBWI Winter Conference speakers (as swiped from Jaime's blog):

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Debut Author of the Month:
Libby Schm

Je suis heureux de vous informer that starting today, I'm reviving le Debut Author du mois feature on mon blog. (Those of you who contacted me for First Books: You may be hearing from in months to come.)

January's DAotM is Libby Schmais, whose YA debut is The Pillow Book of Lotus Lowenstein, released from Delacorte en Décembre. Says Kirkus: "readers of any age will savor Lotus’s panache...Chick lit par excellence." You can read a délicieuse excerpt here.

Describe your debut YA novel,
The Pillow Book of Lotus Lowenstein.

The Pillow Book of Lotus Lowenstein
is a diary book by a teenager living in Brooklyn who is obsessed with all things French. Lotus feels stifled by her life in Park Slope, Brooklyn and fancies herself an existentialist, although her real knowledge of that philosophy and actual French words is a little sketchy. She and her best friend Joni end up both liking the same guy, another Sartre aficionado, and things come to a head during a school trip to Montreal, challenging both her friendship and her freethinking ideas.

You’d published a couple of books for adults—what made you write for a YA audience?

I didn’t consciously set out to write a YA book. The character of Lotus appeared to me one day, and the voice was a teenage one, so I just kind of went with it. I think if I had decided to write a modern-day YA novel from the beginning, I would have been intimidated, because it was out of my comfort zone.

Why did you choose diary format? Have you kept journals at some point?

Well, Lotus is studying The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagan in school, a famous Japanese diary book so that’s part of the reason I chose the diary format. The other reason is that I’ve always wanted to write a diary book. So many of my favorite books are diary books, like I Capture the Castle, Bridget Jones’ Diary, The Diary of Adrian Mole, etc. And in answer to your question, I have tried to write in many journals over the years and have a stack of half-filled notebooks that are impossible to read because my handwriting is so terrible.

Like your title character Brooklynite Lotus Lowenstein, are you a Francophile and/or an existentialist?

I’m definitely a Francophile. I love French food, speaking French badly, and I have recurring fantasy about moving to the South of France, preferably near a field of lavender and an outdoor café. I’m also a bit of an existentialist, particularly on Mondays, when life seems très meaningless.

How did you end up at Delacorte? Do you have an agent?

I do have an agentthe fabulous Stephen Barbara of Foundry Media, who hooked me up with Delacorte. I actually have a two-book deal, so I will have another YA book coming out in approximately a year or so, with a totally different character, although equally quirky and misguided.

You’ve recently completed the My-Life-Is-Merde-but-Have-a-Bonnes-Fêtes-Anyway Blog Tourapalooza, you’ve got a fan page on facebook, and you blog and tweet as your main character. Did I miss anything? How are your book promotion efforts going?

Wow, it sounds so exhausting when you put it like that. Yes, that covers it, except for maybe Goodreads, which is a great site for authors. I have to say all the YA bloggers are a very encouraging and enthusiastic bunch, and they’ve been very positive about the book, so I’d say the online promotion is going well, although I always feel that I could be doing more.

Can you offer some advice to first-time YA authors?

Advice. Hmmm. Probably the same advice I give myselftry not to be too influenced by what everyone else is doing and write the story that you need to write. And don’t be so hard on yourself. Writing is not easy.