Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Multiple perspectives

First, sorry for not having Marketing Monday feature this week. My scheduled author had to do some last-minute edits so that the ARC of her next book will be out on time. Hard to compete with that! I'll feature her in May, after the A to Z Challenge (since her initials don't fit with any of the Mondays in April).


I didn't post on Monday because my life is about to enter a tail spin, and I really wanted to finish revising my WIP before that happens. So I was working. Really. Hard.

And now I'm trying to figure out the best way to proceed. You see, this novel has chapters from more than one character's point of view. The secondary character provides important information about what's happening in the story; information the MC can't provide. But for this approach to work, each character has to have a unique voice. Therein lies the challenge.
Now I have the storyline where I want it, and I plan to go through only the chapters from the MC's POV to check the voice in those. Then I'll do a second pass with the chapters from the secondary character's POV. Beyond that, I don't know how else to approach it.

Have you ever written from the POV of multiple characters? How did you ensure that the characters' voices were distinct?

Friday, March 25, 2011

Fact or Fiction Friday: what the squirrel?

Some Fridays I practice writing my non-fiction in an interesting way or my fiction realistically. Can you tell whether this is fact or fiction?


The sound came down the hall. I set the dish towel on the counter and poked my head into the hallway, listening.

Again: tap-t-t-tap.

What on earth could it be? I was alone in the apartment, no dog, no cat, no pet of any kind. But it sounded like small nails on the hardwood floor.

I stepped into the hallway to investigate, passing the eating area on my way to the living room.

Tap-t-t-tap. Swish.

I paused. It was definitely coming from the living room. Had a bird gotten in? They stopped on the balcony to visit the feeder I'd put out there. And there was that hole in the lower corner of the door frame, where someone must have kicked it too hard.

I peered around the corner into the living room, expecting to see a sparrow or maybe a starling sitting on the floor. Instead, I saw a fat body covered with gray fur: a squirrel. How on earth had it gotten up to the third floor? There wasn't a tree anywhere near the building.

"Chuck-chuck-chu-chuck." It gave an alarm call and twitched its tail, watching me as warily as I watched it. Maybe it would go out on its own. We stared at each other for several minutes. Maybe not.

Stepping into the living room, I held my arms wide, hoping to corral it back through the hole in the door. Panicked, it turned away from me, headed for the door and swerved at the last second, racing around the perimeter of the room, past me, and down the hallway.

I chased after it, staying close to the right side of the hallway, forcing the squirrel to the left. It took the nearest exit into the eating area, where it leaped onto a chair, then up onto the table, scattering the newspaper across the room.

I stood in the doorway. It was trapped in the room, but how would I get it out? I had to get it back to the balcony door in the living room. Using a chair, I blocked off the rest of the hallway (definitely did not need a squirrel in my bedroom). Then
I eased my way into the dining room.

The squirrel twitched its tail, turning slowly to keep an eye on me as I circled the table. When I was on the far side, I moved quickly, shooing it off the table and back into the hallway. For a moment, it hesitated, and I thought it might leap over my barricade. But the other direction was clearer, and the squirrel took off with me close behind.

It paused in front of the door. Somehow I had to get it out, but based on what had happened last time, I knew it wouldn't go through the hole. I wasn't up for another chase around the apartment. From the looks of it, neither was the squirrel.

How to open the door from a distance?


Yeah, I'm working on it.


The chair! I grabbed a chair from the eating area and carried it at a snail's pace into the living room. The squirrel tensed, and I fully expected it to either race between my legs or to jump up onto the chair legs I was holding over its head. Holding my breath, I nudged the screen door open by its wooden frame.

Nothing happened. The squirrel just stood there, as if completely mesmerized by the chair floating over it.

I shifted my foot, and it jumped. Onto the screen, where it hung for a moment before it jumped again--over the balcony railing and three stories straight down.

I dropped the chair and ran outside, wondering if it would survive. It bounced once, shook itself, and raced off to the nearest tree.

I took the bird feeder in. It wasn't worth the trouble.

What do you think? Fact or fiction?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Second Crusaders Challenge: The Dare

This is my entry for the Second Crusaders Challenge. Our mission, should we choose to accept it:
Write a flash fiction story (in any format) in 100 words or less, excluding the title. Begin the story with the words, “The goldfish bowl teetered” These four words will be included in the word count.

If you want to give yourself an added challenge (optional, and not part of the judging criteria), see if you can write the story in your own genre (eg if you’re a horror writer, write a horror story; a romance writer, a romance story, etc).

The Dare

The goldfish bowl teetered. I threw myself to the right, trying to keep it balanced. Stupid dare. Why did I let them talk me into carrying it on my head? What was I thinking? I was only two minutes down with three to go, and half the water was already spilled on my shoulders. Dumb fish would be high and dry by the time I was done. If it didn't go crashing to the ground. I could picture it flopping around, orange turning red in a bunch of broken glass. Max'd kill me. Stay steady. Don't let it die.

I'm just under the limit at 99 words, and this definitely in my genre (middle grade, not non-fiction science; I did watch a boy swallow a live goldfish in science class once, but he didn't balance the bowl on his head).

That was fun—thanks for the challenge, Rach! You can see the other entries at Rach Writes...

Monday, March 21, 2011

Ringing in spring with prizes

It's finally spring!!!


First a quick note: I finally realized I can't possibly keep up the Marketing Monday every single Monday. People have other things to do, and I can't push them to fit my schedule. I will, however, post them as often as I can. (Tune in next week for sure!)

And then to some overdue business: prizes for the Super-Snooper Blogfest! I apologize for the delay, but it was worth the wait.

I ended up with exactly 30 participants, which called for a second prize. Only another copy of Snoop: what your stuff says about you seemed appropriate, and Sam Gosling graciously contributed a second copy.

And guess what? He happened to come to Berlin (hence the delay in getting these out), so now THEY'RE BOTH SIGNED! How cool is that?

So this is how it worked. I wrote down the people who had participated, using their number under the Mr. Linky gadget (some people listed themselves more than once, so I used only the listing that took me to the entry). Then I used's true random number generator to choose two winners.

Drum roll, please... the prizes go to:
Trisha at Word + Stuff

Teralyn at A Writer's Journey

Trisha and Teralyn, please send me an email at anpstevens [at] gmail [dot] com with your shipping address, and I'll get your prize out ASAP!

And to everyone who participated but didn't win, I wish I could send you each a copy. Thanks so much for making the blogfest such a success!

Friday, March 18, 2011


A few years ago, in my online Ecological Issues course, I had a student who took me by surprise. We were discussing various energy alternatives, and I was trying to give them a balanced view (each and every option has benefits and drawbacks; there is no panacea). This student ranted against nuclear power. In each and every post, he was vehemently against it.

Now such strong opposition to something is unusual in college students (in my experience). I usually find myself trying to pull them out of a state of apathy. Keep in mind, the class was online, and I had never met my students. So it wasn't until this particular student turned in his final paper at the end of the semester that I understood.

He was from Japan. He was vehemently anti-nuclear because of the earthquakes there. What if, he argued, there was a big one? What would happen to the reactors?

And now we watch, hoping the emergency teams may somehow manage to prevent a complete meltdown. People who survived first the earthquake and then the tsunami are now at risk of high doses of radiation. A slow, painful, alternative. Talk about foresight.

You may have heard, but Rachael Harrie, Marieke, Luna, Tessa Quin, and Amanda Milner have started Write Hope, a charity auction to support relief efforts in Japan.

Write Hope's mascot Nozomi

If you have something to donate: ARCs, critiques, or anything else kidlit, please donate!

And if you don't, please participate in the auction. All proceeds will be donated to the Save the Children emergency relief fund for Japan.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

WIP Wednesday

Last Friday I hid away in a hotel in the foothills of the Alps and finished the first draft of Thunderstruck. I was scheduled for a critique of the first chapter with the fabulous Sara Grant (a commissioning editor at Working Partners and co-founder of Undiscovered Voices) the next morning, and it was my personal goal to have the MS done before I met with her.

It wasn't a smooth ride. Oh no, that would be way too simple. A smooth ride? I wouldn't bother writing about that here. Doesn't make a good story, you know.

source (this isn't where I was, but I didn't take pictures, and this is lovely, isn't it?)  
I was madly typing away, at the height of the story's climax--exciting things happening to my MC, who was fighting for his life--my fingers flying over the keys, and then--

The screen went black. At first I expected it to flicker and come back up. But the  dying sound of the fan and lack of power lights told a different story. Either the computer had decided it simply couldn't take any more excitement for one day, or the gods I'd been writing about really didn't want this story told. (Yes, I seriously considered both options.)

I developed a sudden case of asthma* the air rasping through my throat as it tried to reach my lungs.

You see, I had done something that seemed like a good idea a few hours before. Originally, I had the working document on a memory stick (I had borrowed Beloved Husband's laptop for the weekend). But surely, I thought, the file would be safer on the hard drive. Fewer chances for error when saving. I'd just back up to the memory stick. So I saved it to the hard drive and worked from that. But hadn't backed it up since making the little switcheroo.

Jumping up from the chair, I said a number of rude words. Maybe the power had gone out?** I checked. The lamps worked and the little light on the power cord was on. Only the laptop wasn't working.

*insert f-bomb here*

Okay, stay calm. Turn it on, maybe it will just reboot.

Disk error. Press any key to restart.

Okay, I can handle that. I hit a key.

Disk error. Press any key to restart.

Maybe I hit the wrong key. Try another one this time.

Disk error. Press any key to restart.

I'm starting to notice a pattern. Click.

Disk error. Press any key to restart.

And again...

Disk error. Press any key to restart.

*repeat f-bomb word* *several times* (I don't swear often, but this seemed an appropriate occasion.)

Disk error. What were the chances of my most recent version still being there when (if?) I got the thing running again?

Laughing semi-hysterically, I shut it down. Then I wrote down an outline of everything I could remember from the last six (yes six) chapters. Everything I'd written since I'd relocated my working document. And then, in the wisdom that crisis imparts, I decided that maybe some unseen force wanted me to enjoy the sunshine in the Alps, rather than sit at a desk all day.

So off I went, to wander around in the forest. The trees soothed me. I wandered down a narrow path and happened upon a pond, still covered with ice. It sat at the top of a hill, and I followed a meadow down, down, through marshy, boggy lowland, then up a trail on the far side. A deer heard me coming and leaped away through the trees.

Despite my disaster, all was right with the world. Maybe the computer would be okay when I got back.

After two hours, I returned to the hotel and stared at the laptop. Dare I try to reboot? Could I handle another Disk error message? Would I be able to finish the ms before morning?

I opened the laptop, hesitated, then pushed the power button. Lights flashed, the computer whirred and I waited. I'm not sure I breathed while it booted up, but boot it did. And all I'd lost was the last two pages.

I wrote them better the second time.

*I don't have asthma, but now I know what it feels like.
**I was not thinking rationally; I later realized that even if the power went out, the battery would have kept the laptop going.

Because I was single-mindedly focused on writing, I didn't learn of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan until I had finished the manuscript later that night. And I felt like a fool. My crisis was nothing, absolutely nothing, in the face of what was (and still is) happening there. The people of Japan are in my thoughts and prayers.

So what about you? What's the worst (writing-related) catastrophe you've experienced?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Marketing Monday - Susanna Hill

Since last week was the My Favorite Picture Book Blogfest, it seems fitting that I have picture book author Susanna Leonard Hill on the blog today.

Susanna has published several picture books, including The House that Mack Built, Punxsutawney Phyllis, No Sword Fighting in the House, and Can't Sleep Without Sheep (among many others!), and her latest book, April Fool, Phyllis! comes out on April 1.

On top of all that, she put together a terrific post filled with great ways to get PBs - and other books for children - into the hands of teachers, librarians, and, ultimately, the kids for whom they were written.  Read on for more...

When my first book was published in November of 2002 I was over the moon. I was a published author - a dream come true! It never even crossed my mind that I would have to market or promote it. I assumed the publisher would do whatever was necessary to garner interest in my preschool pop-up title.

Even back then, I was wrong. My book had been published by a division of one of the biggest publishing companies in the US. They publish a staggering number of titles in a year, and their marketing budget is funneled toward big names and blockbuster books and titles they really want attention for, not little preschool pop-ups by first time authors :)

Since then, I have been lucky enough to have 8 more books published, 3 more with the original publisher, 3 with another publisher, and 1 each with 2 other publishers. The different publishing houses have approached the marketing of these books in different ways, but I learned early and I learned well: no one has more interest in promoting my books than I do. (And actually, that may not be quite fair. The publishing houses are always interested in having their books do well, but their time and budgets are limited, and since I am not J.K. Rowling, the power of their marketing dollars does not usually extend to me.)

The market has grown increasingly competitive, and publishers' marketing budgets are shrinking.

So I started thinking about things I could do to gain some notice for my books. There are so many talented authors and illustrators out there, so many fabulous books. How would consumers, from teachers and librarians to parents, even know my book existed?

Here are a few things I came up with:
  • I started a website
  • I compiled a mailing list of local schools and public libraries
  • I made a flyer (on Microsoft Word!) and mailed it out to my new mailing list
  • the flyer included the title and cover of my book and a nice review, my website and contact info, and the fact that I was available for school and library visits.
  • I printed up business cards
  • I did several school visits for free while I was learning.
  • Some people may be naturals at getting up in front of large groups of kindergartners, but I am shy (one of the reasons I like writing!) and I had no experience with large groups of children, even though I had plenty of experience one-on-one and with small groups. I knew I had a lot to learn, and I was more comfortable learning knowing no one was paying me. It was enough, in the beginning, to gain the experience and have a chance to sell books.

On school visits, I usually read one of my stories and show the kids the process a book goes through from the original idea to what you see on the library or bookstore shelf. I tailor the amount of detail I go into on this to the age of the group.

For my first book, The House That Mack Built, I built a board with little velcroed on trees, a river with a popsicle stick barge, and brought a handful of construction vehicles that matched the story so I could show the kids how the feller and skidder took down the trees etc...

For Punxsutawney Phyllis and April Fool, Phyllis! I have a groundhog puppet who tells about groundhog facts and groundhog day, and even sings a song she made up. :) I also have a puppet for Can't Sleep Without Sheep, and songs for Airplane Flight, Freight Train Trip, and Can't Sleep Without Sheep.

With 1st and 2nd graders, I often share the first book I wrote when I was in 2nd grade. I always leave time for Q&A.

As time went my, I grew more comfortable with school visits, and I had some new titles published. So I did a few more things:
  • I continued adding to and updating my mailing list, including nursery schools since a lot of my titles are intended for preschool
  • I updated my flyer every year, making sure all new titles and covers were included, and adding a list of schools I'd previously visited and a couple of testimonials that people had been kind enough to send unsolicited. (one thing I didn't do, and that might be helpful, was to ask for recommendations. For you, it might be a way to get more testimonials more quickly.)
  • I started a FaceBook fan page
  • I started a blog
  • When I go on school or library visits now, I always bring a clipboard with a page where people can sign up to be notified of new publications, book news etc.
  • I started making book trailers for my new releases on imovie
  • I started making and sending promotional postcards
  • I asked my illustrators for coloring and activity pages which they and I both post on our websites for teachers and parents to share with kids
  • I made classroom guides for several of the books to make them easier for teachers to incorporate into their curriculum
  • I have made an effort to engage with other blog writers and been interviewed on literacy and children's literature sites
  • I have made an effort to attend conferences which teachers and/or librarians attend
  • I am a member of The Author's Guild, SCBWI, The Children's Literature Network, and The Reading Tub.

My books are in schools and libraries, in part by virtue of the fact that 3 of them are published by a house that sells directly to that market, but also because I have painstakingly built a list of teachers and librarians to whom I can send announcements of new titles, and made an effort to cater to their needs by creating classroom guides and activities they can use.

I find and schedule all my own school and library visits. With one exception where the publisher supplied them, I (or my illustrator partner) have made the promotional postcards for all the books I've sent them for.

I am probably forgetting things! But if you have any questions, please feel free to ask! You can contact me through my website, or my blog,

Susanna Leonard Hill wrote her first story titled, “The Girl and The Witch”, when she was five years old. Born in New York City, she graduated from Middlebury College with a double major in English and Psychology and holds an M.A. and an M.Ed. in Counseling Psychology and Special Education of Children with Learning Disabilities from Teachers College, Columbia University. She worked for many years as an educational therapist, but is now a full-time mom and author. Her published works for children include Punxsutawney Phyllis, which was chosen for the Book Sense Children’s Pick List Fall 2005 and the Amelia Bloomer Project Feminist Books For Youth List 2006, as well as The House That Mack Built, Taxi!, No Sword Fighting In The House, a Junior Library Guild Selection, Not Yet, Rose, Airplane Flight!, Freight Train Trip! and Can’t Sleep Without Sheep. Punxsutawney Phyllis and the April Fools is in production for 2011. Susanna lives on East Mountain in Poughquag, NY.

If you are a published author and you would like to share your experiences with marketing and promoting your book(s), I'd love to share your story! Please contact me at anpstevens [at] gmail [dot] com.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

My Favorite Picture Book Blogfest

I'm deviating from my normal Monday/Wednesday/Friday schedule this week for two reasons. First, I am taking a few days off, enjoying the Alps and a bit of peace and quiet (something I don't often get with two boys) before taking part in an SCBWI revision workshop on Saturday.

Second, one of my critique partners, Megan K. Bickel (The Write-At-Home Mom), is hosting the My Favorite Picture Book Blogfest today. Even if you don't write picture books, you've read them. You may read them to your kids every night, or at the very least you remember important ones from your childhood.

My absolute, all-time favorite picture book is The Lorax, by Dr. Seuss.

Why do I love it? I love the way the words roll off my tongue to reveal the way our actions impact the world around us. Little things we don't stop to consider.
"Look Lorax," I said. "There's no cause for alarm.
I chopped just one tree. I am doing no harm...."
And yet our actions build to have an ever-greater impact on the world around us. The Lorax creates a fictional account of something that affects every single person every single day.

I read this book to my students (I teach at the university level) because the message is so profound. We take just a little more each day, whittling away at the resources nature has provided us, and the slow destruction is difficult to see.
And at that very moment, we heard a loud whack!
From outside in the fields came a sickening smack
of an axe on a tree. Then we heard the tree fall.
The very last Truffula Tree of them all!
That's what happened to a thriving society on Easter Island, and now we know them only by giant stone heads, the Easter Island equivalent of gigantic thneed factories.

Dr. Seuss was way ahead of the curve in terms of environmentalism. He published The Lorax in 1971.

What about you? What was (or is) your favorite picture book?

And head on over to The Write-At-Home Mom to see the other entries. (I'll do that when I get home on Sunday.)

Monday, March 7, 2011


Just like every other mom on the planet, I multitask. Of course, I can only actually DO two or three things at a time (dust and search for lost legos and try to follow my son's description of the dragon he saw fighting a ninja tiger. He saw it. Really.). Ask me to do more than that, and my carefully balanced stack of tasks topples to the ground. And I have to scramble to pick up the pieces.

Why do I share this? Because I've been dealing with sick kids, a traveling husband, and school closings while trying to finish my WIP for an upcoming revision workshop. They've put me way over my multitasking limit, and I forgot to schedule someone for today's Marketing Monday.

But if you're looking for some great marketing advice, check out Raquel Byrnes's tips on putting together a media kit. Next week, we'll be back to the regularly scheduled program. 

Friday, March 4, 2011

A word about prizes...

Wow! Thanks to everyone who participated in the Super-Snooper Blogfest! The entries were great, and it was a lot of fun to figure out the people behind the stuff.  And since we had 39 people participate, I have to come up with a second prize, so I have no prize announcements today. (Sorry.)

In fact, it might take a little while before I know exactly what the second prize will be. But I'm working on something. It'll be great, and I'll be sure to let the winners know as soon as I've got it all worked out.

If you didn't catch the entries for the blogfest, check them out here. They're lots of fun!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Super-Snooper Blogfest

Today is the Super-Snooper Blogfest!. Instructions are to describe a setting that tells us something about your character's personality. Characters can be of any age, living in any time or place. But don't tell us about the character, tell us about his or her stuff. We'll get to know the character from what you write.

My entry:

Sticky notes covered every millimeter of the computer monitor frame. Most were yellow, a few pink or green, each with an important note on it: events, dates, inspirational sayings and little bits of wisdom. Every two seconds, the screen saver flashed a new photo. The same face appeared in each, always with at least one other person: at parties, on the beach, in the mountains, under the wide tent of a hang-glider. Many of the same faces filled frames that littered the nearby bookshelves, obscuring the few books that lay jumbled in a heap. Swim goggles hung from the corner of one frame, a snowboard leaned against the bookshelves, and the harness of the latest bungee jump spilled out of the bottom-most shelf.

What kind of personality do you imagine this character has? What part of their stuff gave you that impression?

As I mentioned, I have a copy of Sam Gosling's Snoop: what your stuff says about you to give away. Each participant will get one entry in the drawing, and the randomly-selected winner wins the book! Check back on Friday to see if you're the lucky winner, and go see what others wrote!