Story Starters

May 28, 2010 at 12:37 pm | Posted in Education, Kids and reading, Publishing your story, Writing | Leave a comment
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Throughout the past year we have written a lot of blogs on how to  encourage writing in children and we have found excellent resources from teachers and educational blogs. Well, we found another one! Here is a great idea for a child who has a hard time beginning a story. (Introductions are always my hardest part to start too.) These story starter activities are more like games, so they are fun as well as education! If you try any of them, please let us know how it went!

How a book is born: Author signings

March 2, 2010 at 3:27 pm | Posted in about life, Mystery books, Publishing your story, Writing | Leave a comment
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Authors always wonder if they should participate in book signings as a route to increased sales. I am not sold on the idea.

The other night my husband and I were in Barnes & Noble. A good cup of coffee and a good book for an hour of relaxation. (If a B & N manager is reading this blog, I do buy books…my credit card will attest to that.) At their entrance was a local author displaying her works and ready to sign her book. She is not a new author, by any means, but no one entering the store stopped at her table. It is true that the traffic was light that night, but that was an expensive night out for this author.

Gloria Smith Zawaski, the author of The Trunk in the Attic, loves meeting kids. But I feel that a book signing event for an author who is not well-known just doesn’t work.

Who would you wait in line for…Jeff Kenny, the author of the Whimpy Kids series or Gloria Smith Zawaski, the author of The Undercover Kids book series? Kenny wins hands down!

Last night I met the manager of our local B & N bookstore at a PTA event. She heard of our book through one of her employees. And she knew that we were not on the B & N online book site. But she said they do author signings for local authors, even if the store does not carry the book. My first questions was, ‘who would show up?’ Her response, “People show up for children’s author signings.” “I figure young children but the eight to eleven year old crowd?” I asked. We are going to meet next week to discuss the process, and then I’ll decide how best to proceed.

I will say that when Gloria participated in events, the kids who bought her books really enjoyed meeting her.  But in general, I don’t think book signings for unknown authors are the way to go.

In my opinion, you have to really work at promoting the author and promoting the book before you begin the book signing route.

How a book is born: The independent book stores

February 17, 2010 at 12:31 pm | Posted in Education, Fundraising, Kids and reading, Publishing your story, Writing | Leave a comment
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Looking for distribution that gets your books into the hands of kids while earning you money? That’s the ultimate challenge.

I downloaded a list of independent bookstores from the web. They all specialize in children’s books. But will that work?

Studies show that:

  1.  Fewer people are reading
  2.  Online services are ruining  brick and mortar stores
  3.  Book readers like the Kindle, are making printed material obsolete.

The statistics are against me, but I was going to plow forward. Based on what is going on in the book industry, my independent search results were not surprising. First, I started by calling stores in New York State where I am located. Some were too small to do any volume and others were not quite making it. Others were only interested in purchasing from national distributors.  And still others would carry  but only if they get 65% of the sales price. Plus I have to pay for shipping the books to the store and the shipping for returns.

At this point, I only have three local stories who have agreed to carry the book. I will use their logo in my local advertising to encourage people to go to their stories to buy.

Personally, I think our one book will get lost on the shelf and is not worth the investment.

I have also placed our book on They sold ten books in the last six months. I will also look into Barnes and Noble online. I have placed my book on Amazon not because I thought it was a great distribution stream but it gives us credibility. I found that some online book reviewers will only review the book if you are on at least one of the online booksellers. (Does that include Wal-Mart…only a joke.)

It does take work to make your book stand out. If bookstores or the online booksellers are not the best distribution stream, then what’s next?

Make Story Writing a Family Event

January 14, 2010 at 12:04 pm | Posted in crafts, Education, Grandparents, Kids and reading, Mystery books, Parents, Writing | Leave a comment
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Encourage time together with a homemade storybook! This is something that Jake and Katie would love to do with their parents or their Aunt Jean!

Check out this craft from the great book “101 Great Gifts Kids Can Make” by Stephanie Mueller and Ann Wheeler.


three-hole punch                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           white copier paper                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       three-ring binder                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      markers or crayons                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       black permanent marker

Before beginning the activity: Use the three-hole punch to make holes along the sides of the white paper.

What to Do:

1. Think of a story and draw pictures to make a book using the white paper with the holes in the sides.                                                                       2. Dictate a statement or story about the pictures that were drawn. Write these along the top of the pictures that were drawn using the permanent black marker.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  3. Place the pages into the three-ring binder, along with 10 (or more) blank pages.                                                                                                               4. Decorate a white piece of paper without holes using the markers. Write “Family Story Notebook.” Many binders have a clear cover pocket in which the cover page can be inserted. If this is not the case, use clear contact paper to adhere this cover page to the front of the notebook (with adult help, as needed).                                                                                                                                                                                                       5. Once you complete one story, keep going until your binder is full. You will have a complete collection of family stories!

How a book is born: Working with a distributor

December 2, 2009 at 12:02 pm | Posted in Education, Educators, Kids and reading, Mystery books, Parents, Publishing your story, Writing | Leave a comment
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I looked for distribution houses, even though I knew the liabilities associated with them: small financial rewards and many book returns. The larger groups don’t accept publishers like me with only one book under our belt. I was referred to Greenleaf Book Group. They work with newcomers. To be considered, you must complete a series of questions, which is essentially a business plan. Once you submit the information together with your manuscript, they promised to get back to you.

And they did. First a received a series of emails telling me they were very interested in my manuscript. I was wary of this email communication approach and asked to receive a call. It took a while but finally a pleasant young man called saying they were very interested in sell my book and they will develop a comprehensive marketing plan. Great thought.  There is always a but. All promotional expenses are mine. I pay all shipping costs. I am responsible for returns. And the percentage they take (sorry, I don’t remember the numbers) is huge. So huge, that after I figured the numbers, I would owe them money for selling my book. No earnings for me.

Now I am curious how this works. Who signs up for such a program? According to their website, the numbers are substantial.

So I looked for answers to three questions:

1.  How many children’s books have they promoted?

2.  What would my marketing plan look like?

The answer to the first question was, “Not many.”

“Then how do you know your marketing strategies will work?”

“We can’t offer any guarantee, but it has worked before.”

“Not for children’s books!”

“How about referrals? I would like to speak to someone you have worked with recently.”

It took a while, but finally I spoke to an author in California. He confirmed my worst fears. He was spending promotional dollars and had not seen any return.

I called Greenleaf back. “I would like to speak to someone in your marketing department to understand their approach to my book.” After all they are the ones who said they really liked the manuscript. The rep said he would get back to me.

I’d like to insert a note: I own a marketing and public relations company. In my 36 years in practice I never found that a client stole my marketing plan ideas after I introduced the program. If they could do it on their own, they wouldn’t bother contacting me.

The Greenleaf rep never got back to me. I let Greenleaf go. Or, maybe they let me go.

How a book is born: Reaching out to other publishers

November 25, 2009 at 11:08 am | Posted in Education, Educators, Kids and reading, Mystery books, Publishing your story, Writing | Leave a comment
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My book is taking shape. I hired two people to proof copy. We worked with an editor who helped improve the story. (I’ll tell you about that later.) The layout looks great. The illustrations are almost complete. But I wondered how other small publishers get their books in front of their readers.

Here is what I discovered:

  1. Two publishers only work with authors who are will to spend their time promoting their books. They feel the author will be the primary sales person. For example, one author is a psychologist who speaks at large conventions. She sells the books are the conferences. Another author does the school circuit and puts books in the trunk to sell.
  2. All the publishers list their books on and, but they do not get a great return.
  3. One sells through Scholastic Books. They order large quantities, 12,000-15,000 books, but the money he makes has been diminishing.
  4. One sells through a book distributor, but there is a small return on investment and they have to worry about book returns.
  5. One publisher would only speak to me if I paid her for her time. Oh well. You can’t win them all.

I learned two things:

1.Very small publishing groups have a really rough hall. As I am writing this blog, two of the publishers I spoke to have closed down their operations.  

2. There is not one distribution channel. I will have to try a number of different ways to get my book into the hands of readers before I realize what works for me and what doesn’t.


How a book is born: Bringing the book to life with illustrations

November 11, 2009 at 11:45 am | Posted in Education, Educators, Kids and reading, Mystery books, Parents, Publishing your story, Writing | Leave a comment
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Our publisher Terrie Goldstein continues to discuss how she brought the Undercover Kids book series to life.

I am still using my first rough edit to complete the initial layout with 11 chapters. Now I am ready to decide what illustrations will support the story. For this phase, my magazine publishing experience comes in handy. I grid the pages using ½ and full-page illustrations, as well as two full-page layouts and two half-page layouts. I decide not to use graphics for the chapter headings or to use spot illustrations which are placed anywhere on the page. (Although in the final layout I insert two spot drawings because it supported the story.)

I decide how many illustrations I need and the sizes. And then I create a 5 page Request for Proposal, commonly called an RFP. But how much am I willing to pay? No idea! So I call some of my artist friends to discover the going rate and balance it with what I think I can afford.

My author is local, so I would like a local artist as well. I sent the RFP to all the artists I know plus all the local art organizations. I get back 10 responses and contact five.

I ask them to create their version of Katie and Jake. I wanted to make sure I had someone who understood Katie and Jake. Once that happened, everything else would be a piece of cake. Boy…was I wrong.

I picked an illustrator and asked for he first full-page drawing. We went back and forth maybe five times before I realized that this just was not going to work. I paid for the illustration, even though I wasn’t going to use it.

Now I am in trouble. I have no illustrator and my printing deadline is fast approaching.

Phillip Ritzenberg, my book layout guru, comes to the rescue. shows great worldwide talent.

Since I really botched my first attempt at hiring an illustrator, I call in the big guns…my husband, who is a fine artist. We go through the site together and we both realize from my first hire, that not all illustrators can draw people AND animals. For us that is important, because Cooper, Katie and Jake’s dog, plays an important role.

While researching the illustrators on the web, I return to the library and the bookstore to find illustrators that I enjoy. For example, Dave McKean’s illustrations for Neil Gaiman’s book The Graveyard Book is one of my favorites. His black and white drawings set the stage for Gaiman’s wistful tale.

Research done and I am ready to pick a new illustrator. Wish me luck.

The Undercover Kids Journey Continues: Alden Place Elementary

November 9, 2009 at 4:23 pm | Posted in Education, Educators, Kids and reading, Librarians, Mystery books, Parent Teacher Groups, Parents, Puppets, Writing | Leave a comment
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The Undercover Kids have now performed at three schools and we are practically pros. Last week we visited Alden Place Elementary with Gloria and The Undercover Kids  (Katie, Jake and of course Cooper). The performances went well. But while we were at the school, I couldn’t help but think about how whirlwind these past couple of months have been. As I started looking back towards our past, I couldn’t believe how far we’ve come. Two months ago we didn’t have our puppets or even a script and now as almost through magic we have managed to visit three schools and provide a show for children. I think this is a testament to how hard work can pay off and if you put your mind to it you can accomplish anything. Another thing that surprises me about our performances is the reactions from the kids. So far, every school has been different. Some groups are rowdy and some are more reserved, but they are always full of curiosity. For example the children really enjoy interacting with Gloria (Katie and Jake too!) and asking her questions. My favorite question and answer interaction between Gloria and a student would have to be when a young boy from Alden Place asked Gloria if she could write a book about a car and when Gloria said sure what kind of car, The boy replied, “A 1969 Ford Mustang.” As funny as that response was it really made me think that kids really know what they want and we really have to listen to them. We will have to keep that in mind for any future performances we have in the future. Until next time!

How a Book is Born: Copy doesn’t just jump off the page

November 5, 2009 at 3:46 pm | Posted in Publishing your story, Writing | Leave a comment
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You never know what you don’t know until it hits you in the face. That’s my new motto.

For the past 16 years I have been the publisher of two niche magazines. I have been responsible for getting at least 250 publications to press. On the other side of the coin, I am also an avid reader. So how hard could it be to oversee the publication of one book?  As I look back over the last year and a half, I realize that I didn’t have a clue on how to approach this new project.

I had my author and the rough edit had been completed. What about an illustrator? It was only then that I realized that I couldn’t see an illustrator until I created chapters and completed the layout. Layout? With our magazine we studied which fonts work best for families…that which is most easily readable… and what works for older adults. But what do we use for kids? I know I wanted an easy to read font but fonts are not part of my expertise. So I turn to my two favorite sources…the public library and bookstores. I copy pages from books that I like. For example, I love the font family used in Cornelius Funk’s books. (Actually I love her storytelling techniques. Ever read The Thief Lord?)

So what fonts do I have to look for…body copy, chapter headings, table of contents, illustration captions, cover copy, book title, author and illustrator copy? It’s too much for me so I turn to Philip Ritzenberg, a longtime newspaper designer who has won many awards. He admits this is his first book (Mine too. So we are in good company.) but he feels good design is good design.

He uses some of Gloria’s story copy and completes layouts for my review. Not only do I have to approve the font, but the font size, spacing between lines, page size and margins and more. Decisions don’t come easy but I finally choose Nimrod for the body copy and Clearface for all chapter heads.

Now more than ever I realize that I have to turn to experts to produce a quality children’s book.

Books can open the door to new discoveries

October 23, 2009 at 4:52 pm | Posted in Education, Educators, Kids and reading, Librarians, Mystery books, Parent Teacher Groups, Parents, Writing | Leave a comment
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When I was young and read a book, I never did any activities that went along with that book. I might have said to my parents, “I just read a really great book,” but that’s it. I would just move on and start reading another book (or as much as I hate to admit this, wait for the movie to come out). But, there are so many other activities that you do while you are reading a book. That’s what is so great about the Undercover Kids, even though it is just one book there is so much you can do along with it for fun. For example, we just developed a teacher’s guide that is filled with great activities teachers and students can do together with or without reading the Undercover Kids. You can download it on the Undercover Kids homepage. Also, be on the lookout for our Undercover Kids Column in  Hudson Valley Parent magazine, where we will post various fun and educational activities that you can participate in with your family. If you are a student reading this blog tell your teacher about the guide and if you are a parent or a teacher thanks for visiting our page! Remember open up a book and let it take you on an adventure and have fun. Happy reading!

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