Posts Tagged authors

Query Cowbells, Yard Art, and Other Ways Authors Celebrate (and Why)

I’ve been reminded lately that celebration is something we should do more often. In the writing world, we are happy when we get to make big announcements – book deals, releases, signing with an agent. Those announcements almost always lead to a celebratory dinner, a launch party, a champagne toast, or a hearty round of “Huzzah!” on social media.

But those BIG announcements can be a long time coming. Some writers are still waiting and working toward them.

That’s why I was so excited when critique partner and illustrator Jane Dippold presented our critique group members with Query Cowbells.


According to Jane’s detailed instructions for use, one should:

  • Ring the Query Cowbell once with extreme exuberance upon hitting “send” on any email query. Twirl in a circle like a puppy and settle into your favorite spot. You did it!
  • Shake the Query Cowbell vigorously two times upon receiving any form rejection: once for perseverance and once for your amazing, but not yet accepted, manuscript.
  • Upon receiving a personal rejection with vague but important revision suggestions, put the Query Cowbell down and REVISE!  Ring the Query Cowbell softly, once, when you finally go to bed at 3 A.M.
  • There are many more Query Cowbell instructions, but you get the idea. If you are submitting, you have reasons to celebrate! 


Author Sarah Aronson has one of my favorite reasons for celebrating. “Every time I get to page 100 of a draft, I make this soup,” she says.  100-Page Party Soup. Why not? Click here for her recipe and you can make it yourself.

Author/Illustrator Lita Judge celebrates in really BIG way. She explains, “I have always felt a strong connection to Stonehenge and other ancient rock circles. I fell upon the idea that I would erect my own stones, adding a pillar each time I finish a book. When I step into the yard or look out my windows the pillars remind me of all the projects I have been fortunate enough to create. Each one is hard won and will stand for my lifetime. They are my special way of celebrating this rich life of creating.” 

Lita’s husband Dave sets an 800-pound stone in their yard.

Lita poses with three of her celebratory monuments.

Author Nancy Roe Pimm also celebrates each book with an addition to her garden.  “I always loved concrete lawn ornaments, even before the well-dressed geese began making appearances on lawns throughout the country. I would never buy a lawn statue for myself, because let’s face it- it’s not a real “need.” When I found the winged fairy reading a book, it suddenly felt like a need. I had two books out that year, Colo’s Story and the Daytona 500 book. I decided to celebrate and treat myself to the book reading fairy.”
There are so many reasons to celebrate.
You finished a draft.
You started a draft!
You conquered that revision.
You found a critique partner.
You’ve signed up for your first writing conference.
Don’t wait for the big stuff. Celebrate every step along the way.
This has me thinking. I’ve just completed a blog post!
Champagne, anyone?

The Problem with (Too Many) Ideas

There are two kinds of people.

People who think like writers. And people who don’t.

Give a class of fifth graders blank paper and and tell them they can write about anything they choose. Those who don’t think like writers will stare at the page. They will fidget. They’ll gaze into the middle distance, as if to summon an idea from the atmosphere. Before long, the teacher will see the frustration begin to rise and she’ll remind them of the time the author came to school and talked about how ideas are all around us and we must only keep our eyes and ears open to find one.

But I want to talk about those who think like writers. Those students may also stare at the blank page, fidget, and appear filled with angst, but it’s for a different reason. Those who think like writers have no shortage of ideas. They have ideas stacked upon ideas stacked upon ideas. If they are hesitating, it’s because they can’t possibly choose between the many fabulous ideas they have swimming around in their brains.Image result for crossroads

Writers talk a lot about where to find ideas.  (Keep your eyes open. Keep a journal. Listen. Engage in the world around you. Observe the world around you. Read the newspaper. Ask questions. Etc. So on. You know.)

But we seldom discuss what to do about all of the ideas we have.

I’ve been struggling with too many ideas myself this past year. Some folks might be unsympathetic to this plight, especially those who feel challenged to come up with ideas. But, believe me, having too many ideas can be just as damaging to productivity.

That shiny new idea always seems better than the tired old one I’ve been working on for months years.

I bounce from project to project, working on many, completing none.

I can’t decide which idea to tackle today, so I flip through social media and waste a few minutes hours days while I consider which idea is the best one to work on.

When the going gets tough on WIP (Work In Progress) #1, I don’t stick it out. Why should I when I have WIP #2, #3,  and #4 through #47 to turn my attention to?

Let’s talk about what to do when we have TOO MANY ideas.

Triage. I love this word. And the first time I ever heard it applied to ideas was at Picture Book Boot Camp with Jane Yolen. Jane has TOO MANY ideas. You don’t publish over 365 books without having an abundance of ideas. But daily, Jane triages her ideas so that she can focus on THE ONE. She might do this several times a day, but that’s okay. We need to rank our ideas: those that will die without our immediate attention and those which can lounge around a while, waiting for us.

But by what criteria do we make these life-and-death decisions? I’ve identified five ways. Here they are, not necessarily in order of importance.

  1. The idea with a deadline. This is often a no-brainer. You work on the project that someone else is expecting. But just like a student with a homework assignment, it isn’t always what you’re excited about working on. Still, if an editor or agent is waiting, it makes sense to put this idea on the top of the stack.
  2. The idea that won’t leave you alone. These ideas don’t like to be pushed aside. They follow you home from work. They jump in the shower with you (of all the nerve!) They lay awake at night and make sure you do, too. If you have an idea following you around like a lost pup, then you might want to give it some attention. It will LOVE YOU for it.
  3. The idea that is new and exciting. Use caution here. Sometimes the idea that is new and exciting is nothing more than a distraction. But, once in a while, that new and exciting idea is one that can’t wait. To be honest, the idea probably can wait. But your enthusiasm carries some clout. If we’re really, really into something, we’re likely to give it our best attention. If you are passionate about a new idea, at least explore it a little. You’ll know soon enough whether it’s a distraction or your new WIP.
  4. The idea that is almost done. This idea used to be new and exciting. A long time ago. When it was new. And exciting. But now it’s the WIP that has been whipping you for months or years. The thing is, it’s still good, but you gave up too quickly (likely when Miss New and Exciting showed up) and now it feels like drudgery to return to the scene of the abandonment. But, consider the time and energy you’ve already invested. If you just put in a little more time, the results might be amazing. And, even if they aren’t quite amazing, you’ll have a completed manuscript. And that has much more potential than an incomplete one.
  5. The idea that is timely.  Sometimes an idea can’t wait. As I put the finishing touches on this post, which is scheduled for April 24th, I notice that today (April 22nd) is Earth Day. I also learned that this is the 49th anniversary of Earth Day. That means next year at this time, the world will celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. If I had a brilliant idea for a book plot that centered around Earth Day, next year would be the ideal time to get that book out into the world. If I had such an idea (I don’t), it would have been worth setting aside something else this past year to work on it. In fact, books that will release in the spring of 2020 have already been written, submitted, accepted, and are in the editing process right now. For some ideas, timing is everything.

Having  too many ideas may make it difficult to focus our energy on just one at a time, but look at the bright side. We’ll never run out of inspiration. We’ll write until we can’t write any longer and, perhaps, leave some ideas behind for others to explore. It’s a lovely problem to have.

If you have TOO MANY IDEAS, embrace them. And triage with confidence.

Back to School: The Teacher-Author Partnership is Thriving

It’s August.

Here’s what Natalie Babbitt had to say about August in the opening lines of Tuck Everlasting:

To me, August is like a breath held for a moment. We’re not quite ready to give up summer. There’s summer left to be savored. And, yet, school bells are starting to ring. A friend in Tennessee tells me that school started yesterday there. Here in western Ohio, it will start in two weeks.

Over the years, I’ve experienced this time of closure and renewal as a mother, a teacher, and as an author, and just lately, I’ve been struck by the number of exciting and innovative ways teachers and authors are teaming up to bring a love of books and a desire to learn to their students and readers. Let’s look at few:

#KidsNeedMentors When author Ann Braden teamed up with fellow author Jarrett Lerner and then with 5th grade teachers Kristen Picone and Kristin Crouch, something magical happened.  Using Twitter as their connection, the foursome created a mentorship campaign that connects a teacher and their class with an author in a year-long exchange of ideas and encouragement. In it’s first year, #KidsNeedMentors will support 300 author/teacher pairs! Click here to read a recent School Library Journal article about the program.

Nerd Camp The original Nerd Camp was held in Michigan six years ago with 180 educators in attendance. Organized by teacher Colby Sharp and his fantastic team, this FREE literacy event has grown to include 1500 educators and over 50 authors. Did you hear me say, it’s FREE?  And it always will be.  Nerd Camp Michigan now receives so much author interest that they have to turn away published authors each year, and most of these authors are volunteering to come on their own dime. (Some receive publisher backing, but most don’t). I can’t think of anything more lovely and genuine than this show of  support for the professionals who teach reading and writing.  Since its inception, Nerd Camps have been popping up all over the United States, borrowing from the model set forth by its originators. If you’d like to know more about starting a Nerd Camp in your area, first, take a look at the Nerd Camp MI website, and then contact Colby Sharp for more information.

Teacher/Librarian Bloggers As an author, I want to stay connected with my readership. And by readership, I mean not just those who read my books, but those who read any middle-grade fiction or nonfiction. It’s good to know their reading habits, but it’s even more important to know about them.  What makes a middle-grader laugh? What are they afraid of? What relationships matter the most?  The best educators are students of their students.  They know them as learners and as human beings navigating their way through life. There are some amazing teacher bloggers out there. If you follow one, share their blog in the comments below. And, I’ll share with you two of my favorite.

First, here’s a link to Pernille Ripp’s Blog. She’s introspective and always evaluating her methods and materials based on her current students. Check it out.

And, another favorite is Matthew Winner’s website and blog. Matthew is an elementary librarian, author, blogger, and podcaster, so his website contains lots of kidlit books, interviews, and information all rolled together into one fun package. See what he’s got to say.

Author Visits Finally, my very favorite way that teachers and authors connect:

School visits!

There’s nothing better than meeting face-to-face with readers, answering their questions (all of their questions, even the personal ones), and hearing their ideas (which are often so brilliant, I can’t wait to see what these young people do when they grow up!) School visits, when done right (which takes communication and planning for both the author or illustrator and the school personnel) can connect children and authors in a very meaningful way. Most of the time, it also means  financial investment on the part of the school, and some schools can’t locate the funds to make that happen. However, with some preplanning, creative funding options, and the use of technology, though, it might be more possible than you think. Here are some links to previous posts about Author Visits.  Face to Face with an Author or Illustrator.   Memorable Author Visits and 21 Ways to Fund Author Visits.

Whether you’re preparing for the Back-to-School season as a parent, a teacher, a librarian, an administrator, an author, or an illustrator, one fact is certain: we’re all connected by the young readers we serve. And, quite frankly, I’ve never been more excited about the ways in which we’re reaching out to one another!