Monday, October 23, 2017

#NaNoWriMo and #PiBoIdMo - Developing Your Idea

Last week, I discussed National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and Picture Book Idea Month (PiBoIdMo), both of which take place over the month of November. If you plan to participate, it helps to do some prep!

Here are some tips for developing your idea. (If you are doing NaNoWriMo, try to do this before you start writing in November. For PiBoIdMo, bookmark this post or print it out so you can use it as you brainstorm ideas next month.)

(The following is excerpted from You Can Write for Children: How to Write Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers. The book is available for the Kindle, in paperback, or in Large Print paperback. That book and Advanced Plotting will provide lots of help as you write and edit.)

Developing an Idea

If you have a “great idea,” but can’t seem to go anywhere with it, you probably have a premise rather than a complete story plan. A story should have three parts: beginning, middle, and end (plus title and possibly bonus material). This can be a bit confusing though. Doesn’t every story have a beginning, middle, and end? It has to start somewhere and end at some point, and other stuff is in the middle. Beginning, middle, and end!

Technically, yes, but certain things should happen at those points.

1.   The beginning introduces a character with a problem or a goal.

2.  During the middle of the story, that character tries to solve the problem or reach the goal. He probably fails a few times and has to try something else. Or he may make progress through several steps along the way. He should not solve the problem on the first try, however.

3.  At the end, the main character solves the problem himself or reaches his goal through his own efforts.

You may find exceptions to these standard story rules, but it’s best to stick with the basics until you know and understand them. They are standard because they work!

Cute, but no conflict
Teachers working with beginning writers often see stories with no conflict – no problem or goal. The story is more of a “slice of life.” Things may happen, possibly even sweet or funny things, but the story does not seem to have a clear beginning, middle, and end; it lacks structure. Without conflict, the story is not that interesting.

You can have two basic types of conflict. An external conflict is something in the physical world. It could be a problem with another person, such as a bully at school, an annoying sibling, a criminal, or a fantastical being such as a troll or demon. External conflict would also include problems such as needing to travel a long distance in bad weather.

The other type of conflict is internal. This could be anything from fear of the dark to selfishness. It’s a problem within the main character that she has to overcome or come to terms with.

An internal conflict is often expressed in an external way. If a child is afraid of the dark, we need to see that fear in action. If she’s selfish, we need to see how selfishness is causing her problems. Note that the problems need to affect the child, not simply the adults around her. If a parent is annoyed or frustrated by a child’s behavior, that’s the parent’s problem, not the child’s. The child’s goal may be the opposite of the parent’s; the child may want to stay the same, while the parent wants the child to change.

For stories with internal conflict, the main character may or may not solve the external problem. The child who is afraid of the dark might get over that fear, or she might learn to live with it by keeping a flashlight by her bed. The child who is selfish and doesn’t want to share his toys might fail to achieve that goal. Instead, he might learn the benefits of sharing.

However the problem is resolved, remember that the child main character should drive the solution. No adults stepping in to solve the problem! In the case where a child and a parent have different goals, it won’t be satisfying to young readers if the parent “wins” by punishing the child. The child must see the benefit of changing and make a decision to do so.

A Story in Four Parts

If “beginning, middle, and end” doesn’t really help you, here’s another way to think of story structure. A story has four main parts: situation, complications, climax, and resolution. You need all of them to make your story work. (This is really the same as beginning, middle, and end, with the end broken into two parts, but the terms may be clearer.)

The situation should involve an interesting main character with a challenging problem or goal. Even this takes development. Maybe you have a great challenge, but aren’t sure why a character would have that goal. Or maybe your situation is interesting, but it doesn’t actually involve a problem.

For example, I wanted to write about a brother and sister who travel with a ghost hunter TV show. The girl can see ghosts, but the boy can’t. That gave me the characters and situation, but no problem or goal. Goals come from need or desire. What did they want that could sustain a series?

Tania feels sorry for the ghosts and wants to help them, while keeping her gift a secret from everyone but her brother. Jon wants to help and protect his sister, but sometimes he feels overwhelmed by the responsibility. Now we have characters with problems and goals. The story is off to a good start. (This became the four-book Haunted series.)


·   Make sure your idea is specific and narrow. Focus on an individual person and situation, not a universal concept. For example, don’t try to write about “racism.” Instead, write about one character facing racism in a particular situation.

·   The longer the story, the higher the stakes needed to sustain it. A short story character might want to win a contest; a novel character might need to save the world.

·   Ask why the goal is important to the character. Why does this particular individual desperately want to succeed in this challenge?

·   Ask why this goal is difficult. If reaching the goal is too easy, there is little tension and the story is too short. The goal should be possible, but just barely. It might even seem impossible. The reader should believe that the main character could fail. 

·   Even if your main problem is external, try giving the character an internal flaw that contributes to the difficulty. This adds complications and also makes your character seem more real. For some internal flaws, see the seven deadly sins: lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride.

·   Test the idea. Change the character’s age, gender, or looks. Change the point of view, setting, external conflict, or internal conflict. Choose the combination that has the most dramatic potential.

You Can Write for Children: How to Write Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers is available for the Kindle, in paperback, or in Large Print paperback

AdvancedPlotting is available in print or ebook at Amazon and Barnes & Noble, or in various ebook formats at Smashwords.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Getting Ready for #NaNoWriMo and #PiBoIdMo

During National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), thousands of people work on writing a rough draft of a novel in a month of November. For those of you who write for younger children, November is also Picture Book Idea Month (PiBoIdMo). There the goal is to come up with a new picture book idea every day. These challenges may sound intimidating, but they are widely popular.

Why? Well, taking on an intensive challenge for a month has several advantages. The most obvious is that it very quickly gives you material to develop. You can get a jump start on a new novel, or brainstorm a few dozen picture books ideas to pursue (though not all will be worth developing).

The time pressure forces you to put aside your editor and critic hats and instead focus on getting words on paper. This helps some people avoid the insecurity that can come with starting a new project, or the temptation to endlessly edit the first few chapters instead of moving forward. For picture book writers, having a lot of new ideas allows you to choose the best one, so you don’t waste time on a mediocre idea.

It encourages you to schedule writing time – plenty of it, every week. It’s easier to give up TV, reading, and other hobbies for a single month. It’s also easier to get family members to adjust their schedule to yours if you are requesting a favor for a month, not forever. (You may even discover that your family, and the world, can function with less of your attention than you thought. Even if you can’t devote the same amount of time to writing after November, maybe you can carve out some time every week.)

Finally, both challenges have a strong sense of community. You can network with other writers, encourage each other, and find inspiring blog posts or helpful tips to keep you moving for your project.

Are You in?

If you want to be ready to write a novel in November, it’s best to start brainstorming and planning in advance. My next few posts will discuss finding and developing ideas. In November I'll have a couple of posts on PiBoIdMo. For NaNo writers, you can bookmark this site and stop by to check out the writing tips on everything from developing characters to building to a strong climax. (Scroll down to see the labels on the right-hand side.) Then check back in March for editing tips during National Novel Editing Month (NaNoEdMo).

The following is excerpted from You Can Write for Children: How to Write Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers. The book is available for the Kindle, in paperback, or in Large Print paperback. That book and Advanced Plotting will provide lots of help as you write and edit.

Finding Ideas

Ideas are everywhere, including in our own lives. Of course, even the most exciting events may lack important story qualities such as character growth and strong plots. (Those qualities are covered in detail in You Can Write for Children.) Still, personal and family experiences can provide the raw material to be molded into publishable stories and articles.

Amy Houts wrote Down on the Farm, about a girl on a farm vacation who wants to ride a horse but must do chores first. Houts was inspired by her own experiences, though not by a specific episode. “I was one of those horse-crazy girls,” she says. “I knew how a girl could long to ride a horse.”

Sometimes the smallest nugget can inspire a story. Susan Uhlig says, “My teen daughters and friends went on a mission trip to do a building project. The man overseeing the project was disappointed that there were no boys. I played the writer game of ‘what if?’ What if the man wouldn’t let the team stay because they were all girls? That developed into a short story very easily – what he would say, my main character girl would do, how the problem would be solved, etc.” The story sold to Brio.

Personally, I sold a story to Highlights based on the experience of finding frogs all over my neighborhood after a rainstorm. They also bought a historical story about the Mayan ballgame. That story, and my Mayan historical novel The Well of Sacrifice, were inspired by visiting Mayan ruins in Mexico and Central America.

Realistic, Not Real

Sometimes real life translates well into fiction – though a twist may make it more fun for children. Leslie Helakoski says, “My picture book, Big Chickens, is about all the things I was afraid of when young and I’d go into the woods with my brothers and sisters. I just turned us all into chickens and played with the language.”

Caroline Hatton drew on school and home memories of growing up in Paris for her middle-grade novel, VĂ©ro and Philippe. Yet she did not simply write a memoir. “I wanted to write about a pet snail because I kept one in a shoebox in my family’s apartment in Paris. But in my real life, my big brother left me and my pet snail alone – not much of a story, is it? So in the book, I made the brother threaten to eat the snail, as escargot.”
Characters and outcomes may also change, Hatton points out. “My brother rigged a thing to scare me in the middle of the night. But in the book, I swapped roles, and it’s the little sister who does it to her big brother. Sharing this with kids makes them howl with the pleasure of revenge.”

Houts adds, “Most of the time I have to twist the reality of an experience so my story can include all the elements of good storytelling: a contrast of characters; a goal the main character strongly desires to reach; and believable obstacles the main character needs to overcome to reach her goal. Time needs to be cut down to a day or two [for a picture book]. That condenses the action and makes the story more focused.”

Author Renee Heiss says, “Use your life story as the skeleton, and then flesh it out with period details, colorful dialogue, and tons of sensory imagery to place your young readers into the time period and setting. It’s not enough to tell what happened; you must show your readers your story and immerse them into your life as if they were a sibling growing up with you.”

Asking friends and family members to share stories can provide ideas, while allowing you to turn the story into your own creation. Uhlig didn’t witness the mission trip firsthand. “That freed me up to create problem, action, dialogue, etc. without being stuck on what really happened,” she says.

You can “borrow” stories from history and the news as well. I found an interesting tidbit in a history of Washington State. A teenage boy had met bank robbers in the woods, and for some reason he told nobody about them. Why? This question, and my imagined answers to it, became my YA survival suspense Bandits Peak.

You Can Write for Children: How to Write Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers is available for the Kindle, in paperback, or in Large Print paperback

AdvancedPlotting is available in print or ebook at Amazon and Barnes & Noble, or in various ebook formats at Smashwords.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

My #KidLit #PoweredByIndie Story + Self-Publishing Advice

I’m not exactly an outsider to traditional publishing. I’ve had 50 children’s books traditionally published, some work for hire and some original fiction, with 10 more currently under contract. But several years ago, negative trends in traditional publishing (lower advances, poor e-book royalty rates, reduced marketing) met the increased ease of self-publishing through ebooks and print on demand. I weighed the pros and cons (there are many of each) and decided to explore self-publishing myself.

For the Children

Most of the indie publishing success stories involve those writing adult genre fiction. Young adult novels – aimed at teenagers with crossover potential for adult readership – have had indie success (e.g. Amanda Hocking). However, authors writing for younger children face more challenges.

Print is still king for kids, and print is more expensive to produce. Younger kids are less likely to have their own e-readers, though that is changing quickly. Some schools are also transitioning toward giving upper elementary and middle school children laptops or e-readers for classroom use. (As a curious side effect, some kids prefer print books for pleasure reading, because electronic devices now seem like part of school.)

As more children get access to e-readers, electronic book sales will grow. However, so far, my children’s books sales are primarily in print on demand. The balance may shift someday – but I haven’t seen any sign of it yet. You could hold onto your work, waiting for that future, but keeping your rights has to be balanced against starting to build a fan base now through traditional publishing (and maybe getting some advance money so you can afford the time to write more books).

Reaching Young Readers

Reaching child readers is another challenge. Children’s book publishing depends largely on school and library sales. Librarians and teachers often turn to review journals for guidance, and schools are restricted in how they can order classroom books. A good contract with a traditional publisher that can get your book into schools and libraries definitely has its advantages.

Illustrated books face additional challenges. Print on demand costs skyrocket for books with color interior illustrations. Even with novels, children’s books are more likely to need illustrated covers rather than cheaper covers using stock photography.

Despite the challenges, many children’s book writers are interested in indie publishing. After all, it’s better to be ahead of the wave than behind it. And at least writers whose work isn’t trendy or who get dumped by their publishers have another option now.

In particular, indie publishing provides opportunities for books that may not otherwise find an audience. I had a middle grade (ages 9 to 12) mystery set in ancient Egypt. The story had gotten great feedback from publishers, along with either “Historical fiction isn’t selling well” or “We already have an Egypt book.” And yet several teachers told me they wished I’d get the book published, so they could use it in the classroom. I sensed a market that publishers weren’t recognizing, and I had a manuscript I loved. Thus, I brought out The Eyes of Pharaoh in POD and e-book versions.

My first traditionally published novel, an adventure set in ninth-century Mayan Guatemala called The Well of Sacrifice, is used in many schools when they teach the Maya in fourth grade. I’ve had contact with some of those teachers, so I let them know about the new book. One e-mailed back that she’d ordered six copies for her lit circles. If teachers find that The Eyes of Pharaoh works well in the classroom, they’ll tell others, so this book could gain popularity slowly, by word of mouth.

Plus, many kids love ancient Egypt. If they go looking for books on the subject, they might find mine. There are a few other Egypt novels out there, but the niche isn’t as crowded as, say, fantasy novels. If you have something unusual that appeals to a small market segment (perhaps too small to attract a big publisher), self-publishing is a valuable option.

Self-publishing isn’t for everyone, but it can be a great option for those who like to control every aspect of their business. More than anything, I’ve enjoyed feeling like I have control of my career again. No waiting six months or more to hear back from an editor, or years to see a book in print. No suffering from the whims of the marketing department or falling victim to power plays at the publisher. No one to blame for setbacks but myself!

If you’re looking for quick fame and riches, you might as well play the lottery – it’s probably cheaper and your chance of success is nearly as good. But if you’re willing to work hard and plan for the future, self-publishing could be part of your business. Plus, if you have a book that doesn’t fit market trends, but may still find an enthusiastic (even if small) audience, you can bring the book out yourself. Knowing your work is being read – and dare I say loved? – is the best reward.

Stop by my blog post on the “Indie Publishing Worksheet” with questions to help you decide whether or not self-publishing is right for you, and if so, what steps to take.

Chris Eboch is the author of nonfiction and fiction for children, early reader through teen. Her novels for ages nine and up include The Eyes of Pharaoh, a mystery in ancient Egypt; The Well of Sacrifice, a Mayan adventure; The Genie’s Gift, a middle eastern fantasy; and the Haunted series, about kids who travel with a ghost hunter TV show, which starts with The Ghost on the Stairs. Her writing craft books include You Can Write for Children: How to Write Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers, and Advanced Plotting.

Chris also writes for adults under the name Kris Bock. Kris Bock writes action-packed romantic suspense involving outdoor adventures amidst Southwestern landscapes. The Mad Monk’s Treasure follows a treasure hunt in New Mexico. Whispers in the Dark involves intrigue among ancient Southwest ruins. Counterfeits starts a series about art theft. What We Found is a mystery with romantic elements about a young woman who finds a murder victim in the woods. Read excerpts at or visit her Amazon page

Monday, October 9, 2017

Self-Publishing Worksheet #PoweredByIndie

Should you self publish? Are you ready to start? This questionnaire will give you an overview on what you need. (Please note that the indie publishing world changes quickly and this is not frequently updated.)

What is your primary purpose for self-publishing? (Earning money, sharing the book with family/friends, sharing a message, breaking into publishing, attracting an agent, etc.)

What are your secondary purposes?

How much time can/will you devote?

What resources do you have?

  • How much money to invest?

  • Proofreading skills?

  • Layout skills (for POD)? Computer processing/HTML skills (for e-book layout)?

  • Cover art/design skills?

  • Interior art, photography, or special formatting (tables, maps) if needed?

  • Publicity/social networking skills/platform?

  • Business experience: accounting, tax, running a small business, etc.?

Who is your audience?

What do you see as your primary sales channel? E-books, print orders from Amazon (print on demand), or direct-sales via author events or your website (in which case consider using a printer for the best price on bulk orders)? (If your answer is bookstores or libraries, focus on traditional publishing.)

How much will your book cost? For POD, calculate price based on size and page count. Will your audience pay that much? How many copies will you have to sell to make back your investment? To meet other goals?

Are you confident that your manuscript is ready for publication? Why or why not?

What steps do you need to take to prepare for self-publishing? Estimate the cost in time and money.

  • Professional editorial feedback.

  • Further editing on your own.

  • Proofreading.

  • Table of contents, index, appendices? Interior art, photography, or special formatting (tables, maps, interior links for e-books)? Include any time/cost for acquiring rights to quotes or images.
  • Interior layout for print on demand.

  • File conversion for e-book.

  • Cover art/design. Will you need illustration or photography? Front cover only (e-book), or spine and back (POD)?

  • Getting an ISBN. (Free to $125 for a single number, free to $250 for 10. Different numbers needed for each version, e.g. paperback, hardcover, and e-book.)

  • Uploading your material for e-book or print on demand, or contracting with a printer.

  • Publicity/marketing. Options include: hiring a publicity firm, sending press releases, e-mailing friends and family, building a webpage, blogging, setting up a blog tour or guest blog posts, developing press kits, sending your work to reviewers or paying for reviews, creating an Amazon Listmania list, and participating in social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Amazon’s Author Central, GoodReads, Library Thing, Shelfari, Jacket Flap, and the Kindle Boards. Social networking in particular is an ongoing time expense—how many hours per week can you devote to it?
  • For children’s books, a teaching guide or lesson plans can be a good marketing tool. These typically cost $200 and up.

Additional Resources/Books on Self-Publishing:
* Anyone Can Make a Kindle Book, by Peter Spenser (easy formatting information): reviewed