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Writing Books Takes a Crowd: Here’s How


We can write alone but we can’t get published alone.

I have found that while writing is a solitary job, to truly succeed you need to be in a room alone—and surrounded by a crowd.

The author John Green wrote, “Writing is something you do alone. It’s a profession for introverts who want to tell you a story but don’t want to make eye contact while doing it.”

This is true in your creative space, but today authors are called on to live uncomfortable public lives which can be hard for introverts. We must get out of our comfort zone. It IS hard to put yourself out there as a writer when mostly we just want to hideaway in our fiction dream worlds.

But we are also SO lucky to be writers in an age where the writing community is wonderfully accessible. We can meet authors in person and online and get to know them as mentors. We can engage with our peers and share resources. Yes, it takes away from writing time, but it also opens up so many more doors for opportunities to improve our writing and get published.


I’ve found no other job like writing that involves constant change…and constant rejection. You need a positive support buoy to keep swimming in this career or you will sink. Wherever you are in the writing journey, look to elevate yourself now with people that can help you finish that first book (or second or third…) and get it to market.

Where to start? Here’s the crowd that filled my space when I was working toward getting published (and still fills my space)–and could fill yours.

Hundreds of people
I was surrounded by writers of all levels at multiple writer’s conferences. Scared stiff, I went to my first writer’s conference eleven years ago and met other writers for the first time. From this one event my entire life changed, and my network of peers expanded into an amazing circle today. Spring forward, and I was back at that conference—as a presenter. I grew into my role as an author, and putting myself ‘out there’ enabled me to do this.

Dozens of people
I surrounded myself with dozens of people as an attendee of local writer coffeehouses, author readings, and book signings. As writers we need to do this! Get out there on a regular basis in small groups and mingle with writers and readers. Online or in person. It’s the human contact we need to keep our spirits up. Sometimes I didn’t always want to leave the house, but I never regretted it. Every time I did, I met a new person or learned something new. I still am.

The same goes for connecting with dozens of folks by joining writer organizations like SCBWI, Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, or International Thriller Writers (ITW). Volunteering with these organizations can play a significant role in meeting influencing people who can help your career path. In past years, I’ve volunteered for ITW doing social media for debut authors and as a contributing editor to their magazine the Big Thrill. I’ve also been an author member for the middle grade blog, Project Middle Grade Mayhem and grateful now to be part of From the Mixed-Up Files. Having mentors and peers to boost you up within your genre is gold. Many authors I’ve met this way have endorsed my books. Authors like to pay-it-forward, and someday you will too. I’ve been honored to have given three book endorsements over the years.

A Dozen People
I fell in love with writing for children with a challenge to myself. I heard of a class called How To Write A Children’s Novel in 9 Months and thought, “Wouldn’t that be different from my writing thrillers for adults?” I signed up right away. It was hard. I knew nothing about writing for kids. I hadn’t read children’s books in years. So I read and I wrote, and I learned from my teachers and my peers. And along the way I fell in love with writing for kids. You never know what road you will go down in thinking outside the box, and taking a risk. I’m glad I did.

A Handful of People
For nearly a decade (until the pandemic!) I met weekly at Wegmans Café with a wonderful group of women writers. We are slowly meeting up again. We call ourselves the Weggie Writers (sounds like Peggy not wedgie!). This informal group grew over time to be eight of us. Writing across diverse audiences and genres. We didn’t all come each week, but when we did we sat and wrote side-by-side. We gave advice, shared resources, and offered shoulders to cry on. We were a giant brain collective that elevated each other! Since getting together, we’ve celebrated getting agents and book deals and MFA graduations. We are awesome. I hope you have your awesome handful.

One-on-One
I’m so lucky to have a critique partner, Erica George, who also writes for kids. We get together for a writing day once a month, go on retreats several times a year, and critique each other’s work. Our friendship and feedback have been critical in getting our books published—and keeping each other going through rejection. I’ve learned in this publishing industry that no matter how many books you’ve published, you will continue to experience rejections and may need to move on to new projects if one doesn’t sell. OR revise the manuscript that isn’t selling OR wait to go on submission again when the market is hot once more for that particular story. My critique partner and I now even share the same literary agent (my second agent—for if one doesn’t work out, don’t be afraid to seek a new champion for your work). Finding that one special person you connect with on the same level can be key to elevating your success.

Once you get a book deal, it’s more people in your room of course! An agent, a publisher, a publicist, and more editors—and editing. Check out my article on the 8 steps to an agent, a publisher, and a two-book deal.

And once your book comes out, you can chuckle over the multiple ways folks butcher the title. Because they will—and it can be funny!

Here are the funniest Blooper Titles of my first middle grade book, Joshua and the Lightning Road:

Joshua and the Lightning Tree
Joshua and the Lightning Rod
Joshua and the Lightening Road
Joshua and the Lightening Rod
The Joshua Tree (one of my fave U2 albums!)

I’d like to see the cover design for these. Wouldn’t you?

Getting published is not all challenging work, of course. There are fun rewards like the week your book releases, doing school visits, talking with readers, getting great reviews, and book trailers. Check out my new one for Secret Beneath the Sand. The crowd in my room helped this book come to life 😊.

 

Do you surround yourself with people as a writer? Do you recommend any other ways to surround yourself with a strong writer network? How have you benefited from a writer network? 

STEM Tuesday — Women Who Changed Science — Author Interview with Kirsten W. Larson

Welcome to STEM Tuesday: Author Interview, a repeating feature for the fourth Tuesday of every month. Go Science-Tech-Engineering-Math!

Today we’re interviewing Kirsten W. Larson, author of Wood, Wire, Wings: Emma Lilian Todd Invents an Airplane. “This inspiring work shines a light on a lesser-known inventor who was the first woman to design an airplane,” says School Library Journal.

Mary Kay Carson: Tell us a bit about your book Wood, Wire, Wings. How did you come to write it?

Kirsten Larson: WOOD, WIRE, WINGS: Emma Lilian Todd Invents an Airplane, illustrated by Tracy Subisak, is the true story of early airplane designer Emma Lilian Todd. Todd was the first woman to design a working airplane on her own, which flew in 1910. That’s only seven years after the Wright Brothers, and she worked during the same period as the Wrights as well as Glenn Curtiss and other notable early aviation pioneers!

The idea for that book came straight out of the pages of the best-selling picture book, ROSIE REVERE, ENGINEER by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts. The book contains a timeline of female firsts in aviation towards the end, and there was Lilian’s name. I had never heard of her even though I’ve lived and worked around airplanes my whole life. I knew I had to tell her story, especially when I found out how few people had heard of her.

MKC: To whom did you imagine yourself writing to while drafting the book? 

Kirsten: Writing picture books is always a balance. I always keep my reader in mind, primarily students ages seven and up. That means I have to think carefully about what students know and what they need to know to understand the story. And then there’s always the question of what can be shown in the illustrations, because often pictures say things far better than my words ever could. Yet because picture books are designed to be read by an adult to a child, especially for younger students, I can often use richer language than you might find in very early middle grade like chapter books.

MKC: Did you chose a particular angle or slant or the book? Why?

Kirsten: When I’m writing a book, I try to think of all the ways it might appeal to different readers and fit into school curriculum. In the case of WOOD, WIRE, WINGS, the narrative of the book closely follows the engineering design process, from Lilian’s to initial design to testing, tweaking, and testing still more. That was deliberate. I wanted to book to be able to be used to teach the engineering design process. I also wanted readers to realize that few inventors or engineers get things right on the very first try. Instead, it’s 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration, as Edison supposedly said. In other words, it’s about persistence. I felt that was a message readers needed to hear.

MKC: What other books for kids about women who changed science would you recommend?

Kirsten W. Larson is also the author of A TRUE WONDER: The Comic Book Hero Who Changed Everything, illustrated by Katy Wu (Clarion, 2021), THE FIRE OF STARS: The Life and Brilliance of the Woman Who Discovered What Stars Are Made Of, illustrated by Katherine Roy (Chronicle, 2023), and THIS IS HOW YOU KNOW, illustrated by Cornelia Li (Little, Brown 2024). THE LIGHT OF RESISTANCE, illustrated by Barbara McClintock, (Roaring Brook, 2023) is her first graphic nonfiction. Kirsten lives with her family near Los Angeles. Find her on social media @kirstenwlarson or at Kirsten-w-larson.com.

Kirsten: I could rattle off at least a hundred. I appreciate that STEM Tuesday has included my picture book here, as many picture books, especially biographies, are for the upper elementary age group. A few of my favorite Women Who Changed Science picture books include Teresa Robeson’s QUEEN OF PHYSICS, illus. Rebecca Huang, Laurie Wallmark’s HEDY LAMARR’S DOUBLE LIFE, illustrated by Katy Wu, and HIDDEN FIGURES by Margot Lee Shetterly, illustrated by Laura Freeman.

In terms of non-picture books suitable for middle grade readers, I am a huge fan of Joyce Sidman’s THE GIRL WHO DREW BUTTERFLIES, Martha Freeman’s BORN CURIOUS: 20 Girls Who Grew Up to Be Awesome Scientists and Tonya Bolden’s CHANGING THE EQUATION: 50+ U.S. Black Women in STEM.

MKC: Why do you choose to write STEM books?

Kirsten: I think I gravitate to STEM books for a few reasons. First, I do have a background in STEM. For many years, I worked in public affairs at NASA, which gave me a crash course in STEM communication. I’m also intrigued by how scientists and engineers go about their work; I find so many parallels between STEM processes and the process of writing and publishing books. STEM and writing are deeply creative fields that require deep observation, a willingness to revise ideas, and dogged persistence. Finally, I gravitate to underdogs and people who turn traditional notions on their heads. That means I often write women’s stories, whether they are in STEM or other fields, or even fictional characters like Wonder Woman.

 

Wood, Wire, Wings: Emma Lilian Todd Invents an Airplane (Calkins Creek, 2020) by Kirsten W. Larson and illustrated by Tracy Subisak.

Download a complete educator’s guide and access other teaching resources on the author’s website. You’ll find all the resources here.

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Your host is Mary Kay Carson, author of Wildlife Ranger Action Guide, The Tornado ScientistAlexander Graham Bell for Kids, Mission to Pluto, and other nonfiction books for kids. @marykaycarson

Great Friendships in Middle Great Books

Honey and Me, my debut novel out Oct 18th with Scholastic Press, which follows the highs and lows of 6th grade with best friends Milla and Honey. Cover art by Shamar Knight-Justice.

In honor of my debut novel Honey and Me—a coming-of-age story about the friendship and escapades of two eleven-year-old girls—being available for preorder, I thought I would do a post about the central theme of friendship in middle grade novels. Although main character Milla has her insecurities and must find the courage to step out of her best friend Honey’s shadow, I deliberately wanted to write about a true friendship, supportive rather than undermining, with give and take, each friend filling in in the spaces where the other needs help.

I adore the friendship between Isaac and Marco in Falling Short by Ernesto Cisneros

For this reason, I just absolutely loved Falling Short, the new book by Pura Belpré-award-winning author Ernesto Cisneros. Isaac and Marco go through sixth grade going to all kinds of lengths to try to help each other when one has a strength and the other a weakness. The two boys continuously respect each other despite their differences, and I can’t think of another book where the friendship between two boys appears in quite this way (please add in the comments any that you know of!) Everyone should be blessed with a friend like Isaac to Marco, and Marco to Isaac.

Alexa & Katie on Netflix, my favorite show about a friendship

 

A special shout-out to the Netflix show Alexa & Katie for one of the most beautiful of female friendships I’ve ever seen depicted. While this is obviously not a middle grade novel, I think it’s noteworthy in this context. I watched it with my seven-year-old (who was watching it a second time), my sixteen-year-old loved it too, and although it’s about two girls starting high school (while one is just finishing a course of chemo for leukemia,) I’d say it’s perfectly pitched toward a middle grade audience. If you haven’t already, I urge you to watch it for its humor, poignancy, spot-on cast, fabulous acting, sharp dialogue, and that perfect combination of every episode making me both laugh out loud as well as surreptitiously wipe tears from my eyes.

 

The Year of the Dog by Grace Lin, a wonderful book about finding yourself and friendship

Another book that I adore for the core friendship at its heart is The Year of the Dog by Grace Lin, about Pacy, known as Grace at school, who is looking for her talent, her identity and a best friend. The essence of the Chinese Year of the Dog, which Pacy’s mother tells her is a year for friendship, comes true when Melody arrives and the two girls develop an instant bond. Especially moving and illuminating is this joint interview of Newbery Honor-winning author/illustrator Grace Lin and Alvina Ling, VP and Editor-in-Chief at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, about how this book is actually based on their own friendship as children!  Or this joint podcast interview with them about the publishing industry, or even better their own podcast Book Friends Forever.

 

WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE FRIENDSHIPS?

I put a call-out to my fellow MUF contributors as well as to the SCBWI-British Isles Facebook group for more suggestions of great, not-so-great, favorite or otherwise memorable friendships in MG literature—whether something that you read as a child and stuck with you, or something you’ve read more recently— and got some great recommendations.

Props to YA author Matt Killeen for immediately suggesting “Anne Shirley and Diana… bosom friends.” Although I used “Judy Blume meets All-of-A-Kind Family” to pitch Honey and Me, I think the friendship between Anne and Diana in Anne of Green Gables was definitely an inspiration for my own characters Milla and Honey. And actually, when I think about it, it really does all come back to Anne and Diana, who are eleven when they first meet, as the prototype for middle grade friendships in modern literature. (Again, please add in the comments if there’s something older I’m not thinking of.)

When I See Blue by Lily Bailey has a gorgeous friendship in it. Hannah Gold’s books have beautiful animal-human friendships of course! And Phil Earles’s When the Sky Falls has an animal-boy friendship too and themes of being understood my someone/thing. The Super-Miraculous Journey of Freddie Yates has a really authentic friendship trio in it and it’s worth checking out Jenny Pearson’s other books as she really gets child friendships right (being a teacher helps).” Anna Gamble

MUF bloggers write:

I like Wish by Barbara O’Connor, Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Patterson, and as a kid I loved the loyalty and friendship between Sara Crewe and Ermengarde St. John in A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett.” Laurie J. Edwards

Soup by Robert Newton Peck was my favorite friendship book growing up. Its about the hilarious adventures during the 1930s of Robert and Soup and it’s based on the author’s own childhood. I also loved All-of-a-Kind Family which explores friendship and sisterhood. Most recently feels almost impossible to choose. So many! But I must include a shout to Simon & Schuster’s MIX imprint (Aladdin Books) which is dedicated to books about tween female friendship. I’ve had the honor of writing three books for the imprint including, Queen of Likes, The Hot List and Things Are Gonna Get Ugly.Hillary Homzie

The Hot List, by Hillary Homzie, about the “de-intensification of a friendship”

I also want to note that sometimes friendships are unstable, toxic, or unhealthy, and unfortunately this is something that most people encounter at some point in their life, not to mention being the root cause of so much middle school emotional injury. Hillary Homzie’s The Hot List is about what she describes as the “de-intensification of a friendship” which I think is an invaluable topic for an MG book.

 


Many people suggested New Kid by Jerry Kraft, which was on my list too.
“I was thinking about your Q[uestion] about MG books and friendship, and how essential friendship is at that age and often how complicated those relationships are. One more recent MG book I really enjoyed was the graphic novel NEW KID by Jerry Craft, about a 7th grade boy named Jordan who starts at a new school where he is one of the few kids of color in his grade. Jordan wants to keep his old friends from his neighborhood and make new ones at his school, but he often feels like he doesn’t really fit in anywhere. This is a smart, engaging, funny and moving #middlegradenovel I think kids really relate to.” Andrea Pyros

Agreed! And I particularly love that in its sequel, Class Act, we also get the POV of some of Jordan’s friends.

THE MAGIC INGREDIENT

I think that one could argue that friendship is both essential in MG literature, and also that little bit of magic ingredient that makes it stick with you long after you are a child, becoming a part of the make up of your own coming of age. Here are some great lists of middle grade books about friendship that have already been compiled. Please add your own favorites, from childhood or more recently, in the comments!

15 Great Middle Grade Books About Friendship

4 of the Best Friendships in Middle Grade Books

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/blog/kids/6-awesome-middle-grade-friendship-novels/

 

50 Must-Read Middle Grade Friendship Stories

12 Books About Friendship for Middle Grade Readers

Better Together: 10 of the Best Friendships in Middle Grade Lit

 

Honey and Me, out with Scholastic Press on October 18th, 2022, and available for preorder now. Visit me at meiradrazin.com.