Tips from the Northern Ohio SCBWI

First, I e-mailed nhile, winner of the Writing Great Books for Young Adults drawing, but haven't gotten a response yet. Please e-mail me with your mailing address if you would still like the book.

Second, congratulations to Merna, winner of The Narrative Escape drawing. I will be contacting you as well.

As I mentioned before, I attended the Northern Ohio SCBWI conference this summer. My previous post about book packagers was based on a session there by Emma Carlson Berne. Today, I'm passing along some more miscellaneous tidbits from the conference. Hope these are useful!

On the Publishing Industry

When an imprint with a staff of nine takes on your book, you automatically get nine diehard fans who want your book’s success.  -- Martha Mihalick, editor at Greenwillow

An editor’s job is to be your ideal reader. Someone who has read thousands of books and likes yours. It’s also the editor’s job to tell everyone how amazing your book is. She talks to the art director, designers, sales team, etc. Martha Mihalick once even lent a cover model her shirt for a photo shoot.

In her nine years as an editor, Martha Mihalick has taken 1 manuscript from the unsolicited slush pile.

Publishing is about relationships. If editors know you and know you’re reliable, they will start calling you with work and asking about projects you’re working on. -- Emma Carlson Berne, author of Hard to Get

Writing Tips

One good way to test your children’s book. Have someone else read the book to a group of kids, and watch their reactions or better yet, their lack of emotion in a particular place where you expected or wanted a reaction. -- Eileen Robison, former editor at Scholastic and creater of F1rstPages

On building strong characters. Make a strong first impression. The clothes, manner of moving, and the first thing out of the character’s mouth should all establish her character. A side character’s first interaction with the main character should set up their dynamic.  -- Emma Carlson Berne (For more on first impressions, see this post on the Hunger Games)

On Picture Books

Characteristics of strong illustrations:
1. Creates strong, unique, and identifiable characters with their own personalities.
2. Captures emotional connection and interaction between characters through facial expression and gestures.
3. Has an intentional color palette that create mood and communicates meaning
4. Captures movement, action, and gestures, which are so necessary for most storylines.
5. The composition, type, and page design complements the story and emphasizes the action or themes of the story.
6. There is a dynamic between art image & text type on page: creates something new together, balancing the action with the story & creating an emotionally satisfying experience of reading
-- Anne Moore, Art Resource Buyer, Candlewick

Picture books with strong story and characters are always in demand. With strong charcters you can do series spin offs, stuffed animals, a movie spinoff, etc. But uniqueness is King. There are a lot of bunny stories out there. How is your bunny unique?  -- Anne Moore

From Words to Brain to Come Out With 40k Books!

Congratulations to nhile, the winner of last week's drawing for Writing Great Books for Young Adults!

Some of you might recognize the name 40k Books from my twitter stream or the recent interview with Tom Stafford. They are a new press that spends a lot of time thinking about digital books and the future of publishing. Their publishing model focuses on essays and novelettes, and they publish these works internationally in several different languages. I recommend their twitter feed, where they share useful links about writing and publishing.

Today, I'm happy to announce that my essay From Word to Brain will be coming out with 40K books in a few months! Here's a short description from the original query letter:

Tips for YA Writing from Literary Agent Regina Brooks -- Plus signed book giveaway!

Writing Great Books for Young Adults: Everything You Need to Know, from Crafting the Idea to Landing a Publishing Deal

I recently read Writing Great Books for Young Adults by Regina Brooks of Serendipity Literary Agency. Brooks gave some useful writing tips, and I'll share six of my favorites here.

1. To get into young adult minds, there are the usual techniques of eavesdropping on their conversations and talking to them. But for a high-tech option, try going on Facebook. Teens these days live out much of their lives on the internet and it's a great way to see how they think.

2. On coincidences in stories: It's much easier to get away with a coincidence if it makes the characters situation worse. If a coincidence happens to solve one of the characters problems, it will seem like a copout.

3. Focus on what is unique about the setting of your novel. How does this particular town, planet, or culture  shape the behavior of the characters in a way that another setting wouldn't?

4. If you are writing for particular age group and don't know what vocabulary is appropriate, spelling and reading textbooks at that grade level can give you a general idea.

5. People often recommend reading your manuscript aloud to check the writing. Brooks recommends against this because you, as the author, already know how you're supposed to inflect all the sentences. She recommends instead to have someone else read the manuscript to you, both with natural inflection and in a flat monotone.

6. On theme: Brooks describes theme as the moral of a fairytale. She spends an entire chapter explaining the concept, but one tip that stuck with me was that the theme should play a major role in the protagonist’s greatest choice -- the choice that resolves the conflict.

I received a review copy of this book from the author to review.

Tips for Dealing with Carpal Tunnel and Repetitive Strain Injury

I've gotten enough questions about carpal tunnel that it’s easier to write a blog entry than rewrite the same e-mail repeatedly. Even if you don't have full-blown repetitive strain injury but just suffer from the occasional wrist pain after a long day, you may find some of the software or equipment I mention to be useful.  Prevention is better than treatment.

I've had repetitive strain injury from computer use for about seven years. At its worst, it hurt to turn doorknobs, but now I've found ways to keep it under control. These are the treatment options that worked for me and also the tools and the technologies that I now use to work at a computer.

First, the obligatory disclaimer. I am not a doctor. What I share is what worked for me, but other cases might be different.

Books and resources:

1. It's Not Carpal Tunnel Syndrome  is  worth reading to better understand repetitive strain injury. It has exercises too, but I found them less useful than the other books mentioned below.

2. Sharon Butler has a good book with stretching exercises called Conquering Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Since then, she has developed more specialized stretching programs that she sells on her website.

3. The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook is a good book for a massage based self treatment. It covers soft tissue pain in all areas of the body, and not just the arms.

4. Another book worth looking through is Pain Free at Your PC by Pete Egoscue, for its alternate viewpoint on ergonomics.

Professional Treatment: 

I tried many kinds of therapy, including physical therapy, massage therapy, shiatsu, acupuncture, and Alexander technique. These might have helped a little, but not much. The only therapy that made a difference was active release therapy. It's a soft tissue release technique, and I had it done with a chiropractor. This gave me noticeable results after the first appointment, and after a few weeks I was able to start typing again. This is pretty impressive since I had been unsuccessfully trying therapies for over a year at that point.

Self treatment:
1. I highly recommend the Armaid for forearm and wrist pain. It helps get rid of knots and loosen up the muscles.
2. If you suffer from tight back muscles, the Theracane (in conjunction with the trigger point therapy workbook) is also nice for treating muscle spasms.

Office Equipment:

1.  I highly recommend typing gloves from Handeze. They are inexpensive and offer really good support to the wrist. Many of people are told to wear hard wrist braces. I didn't find them useful and found that the pain would return in a different place after a few days. One thing the hard wrist braces are good for however, is to wear to sleep if you find that you bend your wrists in a weird or irritating position at night.

2. For upper back pain, get a reading stand that will hold books and papers vertically on the desk so you don't have to bend over them.

Computer Hardware and equipment: There are many resources on ergonomic computer set up, so I won't cover that here. I'll give my preference is for hardware, but this can be subjective and these things are expensive, so ideally you want to try them out before you buy them

1. An ergonomic keyboard is very important. I swear by my Goldtouch, but since they switched manufacturers, their keyboards haven't been as good and actually seem to exacerbate my symptoms. Some friends of mine prefer the Kinesis keyboards, but they take some getting used to.

2. Ergonomic mice also help. I don't have a clear favorite here, but I like the 3M vertical mouse and the Kensington trackball. I've never used track pads but some people like them.

Computer software:

1. Install a stretch break reminder software on your computer. You can find lots of them for free online

2. Because mouse clicking irritates my wrist, I use a software that clicks the mouse for me when I stop the pointer. The Windows version is called Mousetool. It's been so long since I downloaded it that I don't remember where I got it, but you can find download sites for it via Google. Just remember to take the necessary precautions when downloading programs from unknown websites.

3. I also use voice recognition software. Dragon NaturallySpeaking has come a long way even since my college days. It does make mistakes, and annoyingly, the types of mistakes it makes tend to make you look like a bad writer, for example verb agreement mistakes or its/it's errors. I don't use Dragon for the final draft of anything important, but for first drafts that will still undergo several rounds of proofreading, it's helpful. If you use voice recognition, then you MUST get a good quality microphone. The microphone that comes in the box is worthless. I use the Plantronics DSP 400.  Here's a website that lists and rates compatible microphones.

Okay, so that is all the information I can think of for now. Let me know if you have any questions or suggestions.

On a completely random note, I was recently interviewed on an article about work related injuries at Redbook. This is what happens when you spend too much time hanging out on HARO.

Erotic Romance, Condoms, and Social Responsibility

Hey folks. Sorry for the sporadic posting lately. My writing time for the last two months has been tied up on a sekrit project. In true graduate student fashion, I attacked the project with some top sekrit procrastination, and things got pretty hectic towards the end. But that should be wrapping up soon.

But enough about me. Let's talk about something more interesting. Like erotic romance novels. And condoms. And of course, science.

Raymond Moore at On Fiction recently described a study about the influence of romance novels on condom use. Erotic romance as a genre generally focuses on spontaneous and passionate sex. Since rubbers don’t exactly scream passion, love scenes rarely mention their use.