Wow, it’s November. I’m not sure how that’s possible. On one hand, it still feels like 2020, and on the other, I could fill encyclopedias with how much has happened each month, day, and moment of this year. It’s been wonderfully busy—full of ups and downs, and all very dizzying. But...I’m finally readying myself to work on a big writing project that I set a goal to complete . . . LAST OCTOBER.
Was that a sigh and nod from you, too? Oh, good! I’m not alone. This, I know. In fact, if there’s one common thread among *everyone* these days, it’s probably that we need to give ourselves a little, or a lot, of grace.
It’s okay. I keep reminding myself of this. Because in this time that I have not written THIS THING, I did write a handful of new somethings. Some of which are becoming books! Some of which are out *there* finding the perfect champion. Some of which were scribbles and scrabbles . . . and maybe, some day, something more.
But now, it’s November. That’s two months before the new year. Next year is going to be busy-in-the-best-way for me. I have five books releasing in 2022—the three TEENY HOUDINI chapter books, and picture books, SOMETIMES LOVE, and GRUMPY NEW YEAR!!! So . . . I am setting a *new goal* for myself to start and finish THIS THING before the end of the year. (unofficially like the NaNoWriMo challenge, but I'm giving myself two months!)
When I’m drafting, I purposefully do not read any books in the same genre/vein of what I am writing. I don’t want any voice except my own coming into the story. However, I *do* do some work beforehand to infuse myself with books that I love. Books that I’ve fallen head over heels for, whose essence I want to become infused into part of my subconscious so that it guides my writing in an intentional way. I make a point to choose a variety of books, from various authors, to study.
What is it I’m studying? I’m seeking a tangible way to answer, What Makes Me Fall For A Book?
And, after much research, it comes down to this:
The author’s voice.
What is a literary voice?! There are a lot of fancy and official definitions and resources to explain it*. To me, an author’s voice is their individual personality coming through their words. It’s distinct, palpable, feels alive, and yet, through their different stories, feels consistent. It’s the way *only they* can tell that story. It’s both full of them, and yet, fully open to become the reader’s story, too.
Here are some notes for myself (and now, for you, too!) that I’ve taken from studying some of my favorite authors’ books:
Author: Kate DiCamillo
What Captivates Me: characters are memorable, full of warmth and hope
How? Use very specific, unique, quirky details
Example: “Frank thought how mysterious the world was, how unexplainable and sometimes frightening. But to sit in the kitchen and read to someone he loved and to push back the darkness with a story—that was a wonderful thing.”
- pg. 88, Franklin Endicott and the Third Key, Kate DiCamillo, Candlewick 2021
Author: Tammi Sauer
What Captivates Me: she creates extremely lovable characters that we want to be friends with; their struggles are very relatable and they have true to kid emotions
Example: check out A LITTLE CHICKEN, illustrated by Dan Taylor, Sterling 2019
She shares Dot’s story in such a sweet, fun, pun-ny way that remind readers it’s okay to feel chicken, and when you need to, you’ll be brave. And what a perfect name for this adorable main character who feels too small to be brave!
Now it’s your turn.
What makes you fall for a book?
How can you capture those tangible elements and infuse them into your own writing voice?
I’m rooting for you. Maybe yours will be the next book that I fall for!
*More Resources For You:
How To Get Six Pack by Tammi Sauer “You need to feed your muse and writing ability.” - Tammi Sauer https://taralazar.com/2018/09/26/how-to-get-a-six-pack-by-tammi-sauer-plus-a-giveaway/
Six Golden Rules for Writing Middle Grade: “See through their eyes, not yours.” -Erin Entrada Kelly https://www.writersdigest.com/write-better-fiction/6-golden-rules-of-writing-middle-grade
How and When to Develop a Voice: https://literaryterms.net/when-and-how-to-develop-a-voice/
Hello, writers! Happy 2021! I’m writing this blog post from the same house I’ve quarantined in for the majority of 2020, in the same home-office, in the same chair . . . yet something feels different.
Despite it being below freezing, I’ve got the windows cracked open. The air drifting in is cold. But it’s also crisp, cathartic, and new. It’s full of possibilities.
That’s what a new year promises . . . possibility. A blank page to be filled with anything.
Personally, I’m hoping to flesh out a new middle grade idea that I’ve collected bits and pieces for in 2020. Through the darkest days of the year (and there were many, unfortunately), I found myself needing to write. I had so much to let out, and my notebook was the safest place to release these raw and honest feelings.
In these dark moments, I wrote and wrote and wrote. Not much made sense. Not much tied together. But I wrote and wrote my way back to joy, however fleeting it was.
And I captured the joy of each day. I wrote down those moments, too, to remind myself to focus on the light. To let the light guide me.
And it did.
One of these cathartic writings morphed into a picture book manuscript that will be published by Dial/Penguin in 2023 (stay tuned for more soon!).
So when I look back to 2020, despite the many tragedies of the year, and in some ways, because of some of them, there was much joy, some magic, and so much love. That’s what I’m hoping to capture in this next middle grade project, now that I’m in the proper headspace to start writing it . . . joy, and magic, and love.
As I begin to draft this new novel, I’ve pulled out a checklist that I made for myself, something I’ve named CHAPTER 1 & 2 CHECK. It’s a checklist I’ve made after studying many of my favorite middle grade novels, including THE TIGER RISING by Kate DiCamillo and HELLO, UNIVERSE by Erin Entrada Kelly. When I “study” a novel, I re-read the book as a writer…looking for those literary devices that make the writing wonderful.
To do this, I’ll type out the first chapter or two of the book (or the scene I’m studying). Then, I’ll make notes on my typed version of the text (because I can’t bear to mark up the beautiful book!). Finally, I’ll re-read the notes I marked, write out the revelations I made, and turn it into a checklist question to use when I revise my own writing.
A revelation I had after studying the first paragraph in THE TIGER RISING by Kate DiCamillo was that “we get a sense of who the main character is, we’re intrigued, and it’s hooking us!” all within the first few sentences.
And a note I wrote down after studying chapter one of HELLO, UNIVERSE by Erin Entrada Kelly was that “by paragraph one, we know who, where, a sense of why, and we’re intrigued to know the details.”
If you haven’t studied books in the genre you’re writing, I’d highly recommend it. I do this frequently and with a wide range of books within the genres I write in--
picture books, chapter books, and middle grade.
It’s the best way I’ve learned what works. And reading and studying widely, and taking notes on my notes, allows me enough space from the mentor text to then apply what I need specifically for my own writing.
So, without further ado, here’s my CHAPTER 1 & 2 Checklist. I hope it’s helpful to you! (If you're looking for my picture book revision checklist, it's here!)
Of course, nothing will be more powerful than studying mentor books yourself, and making your own checklist. But here’s mine to supplement yours:
CHAPTER 1 & 2 CHECKLIST:
By Katrina Moore
I have an “Every Chapter Checklist” that I’ve compiled as well. I’ll share that in a later post (make sure you’re subscribed to the blog so you don’t miss it!).
As we begin this new year, I wish you endless possibility and a notebook full of magic. A blank page to be filled with anything.
What will you fill yours with?
Happy Writing & Revising!
Katrina Moore writes in New Jersey. She holds a M.A. in Teaching and has been an elementary teacher for eleven years. Her mission is to create books that children will hug for ages. She is the author of the picture books, ONE HUG, illustrated by Julia Woolf (HarperCollins/Tegen Books, Dec. 2019), GRANDPA GRUMPS, illustrated by Xindi Yan (Little Bee Books, April 2020), and the forthcoming SOMETIMES LOVE, a powerful and poetic exploration of love---from giving, to growing, to sometimes letting go, illustrated by Joy Hwang Ruiz (Penguin/Dial, Summer 2022). Her humorous chapter books series, TEENY HOUDINI, illustrated by Zoe Si, star the magical, mischievous, mayhem-maker Bessie Lee. Books 1 and 2 will publish Winter 2022 (HarperCollins/Tegen Books).
When she is not writing or teaching, she is cooking without a recipe, painting outside the lines, or snuggling up with her two kids, husband, pups, and of course, a cozy book. Connect with her on twitter @kmoorebooks or at www.katrinamoorebooks.com.
It's the end of the year (and the end of a decade). For me, this is a time of reflection. It's actually something I do at the end/beginning of each month, and then, again, at the end of the year as a whole.
Throughout the year, I have ongoing lists in my journal. I title a page for each, and then add to it throughout the year.
This year, my page titles included:
Of course, there's the rest of my journal for musings, learnings, sketches, early drafts, revision notes, outlines, etc.
After reviewing each of my lists at the end of the year, and going through my journals, I make a new list for the new year: GOALS. (I'll come back to goals in a later post!)
I was proud to fill (and overflow) each of these pages this year. In fact, my major highlights page was bursting this year.
Some Major Highlights This Year:
-Trusting my gut & seeking new representation. Knowing what I need and want in a professional agent-author relationship.
-Taking it seriously & staying grounded (and true to myself) when receiving multiple offers of representation. Taking my time to be thoughtful and ask potential agents and myself the hard questions.
-Signing with the perfect-for-me agent & agency! Later, meeting my agent (on the east coast) and celebrating hopefully-soon-to-be-announced news, meeting Writers House agents on the west coast in person, and touring the west coast office!
-All the moments along ONE HUG's journey to becoming a real book in the world, on the shelves for readers. What a long journey it's been! This year I got to celebrate this book in it's various stages!
-Connecting with others as an author! Presenting at my first SCBWI conference, and attending and signing books at my first nErDCamp!
-Of course, connections made are the best, biggest highlights of the year. I chatted about this during a twitter #PBCHAT with my New In Nineteen Debut Group. Also, this group of creators debuted AMAZING books this year. Check them out if you haven't already!
-And last, but certainly NOT least, ONE HUG debuted in the last month of this year, and I've been overflowing with joy and gratitude!
-So honored to have guest posted and been interviewed all over online! I share more on my writing journey, how ONE HUG came to be, what I hope it will do for readers, and some other fun traditions and tidbits! Check some of ONE HUG's online appearances here:
Whew! What a year it's been! I've filled four notebooks, sold books in a new genre, and began writing in another genre!
While the major milestones are definitely worth celebrating, it's also worthwhile (and important) to celebrate each moment that brings you to that milestone. Every moment that pushes you forward, and up, and along on your journey.
It's been a year of new beginnings, branching out, and what's been most challenging, but also most important to my overall health and well-being, a year of balancing. As a mother to two young children and two high-energy dogs, a teacher, and a wife, I'm most proud that I've been able to balance it all and find the time to nurture my passion---my writing. I've grown in craft and curiosity. And I'm excited for what's to come in the new year (I'll write up a goals post to share in the New Year).
For now, I'm wrapping up the year by spending New Year's Eve with my family. We're playing, partying, and not planning much of anything else!
What are you most proud of this year?
How are you wrapping up 2019?
Check out my Featured Author Post on the 12x12 Blog! I share more about my writing journey and how to take your career into your own hands:
So here's a letter to you about why I wrote this book, what I hope it will do, and who I think it's for (Spoiler alert--it's for you.)
When I set out to write One Hug, I wanted to celebrate how powerful and transformative one connection could be—how one hug connects us uniquely, yet universally.
At its heart—it’s about one hug connecting us in ways that sometimes words cannot.
Like the overwhelming joy that one feels when reunited with their far-away family after a long separation. Or that comforting hug from a sibling that soothes us more than a thousand “it’s okays” ever could.
I also wrote this book to give a voice and stage to the little Chinese-American girl in me who never saw herself accurately represented in the media. Growing up, none of the characters I knew were Chinese. Not on TV. Not in books. The few stories featuring Asian-American characters were issue-driven books surrounding race and identity. I never felt like being Chinese-American was my singular identity, but the media made it seem so.
This book shows the more accurate version of myself and others. Like the characters in One Hug, my cultural identity influences my life, but it’s not my whole story.
Upon first read, this book is a fun, rhythmic, easy read aloud that’s perfect for bedtime—celebrating summer nights, simple pleasures, and the people we love. And yet, when we dig deeper, asking, “Who are these characters? What are they doing? Why are they celebrating?” children, as astute as they are, will notice a cross-cultural family dinner, an immigrant family reunion, and three generations of a family.
I hope it’s a book that all children will cozy up with—anyone who needs some love, and also those who love to hug!
Hugs and Love,
Ready to pre-order?! Available here
and wherever books are sold!
Want to know more about the book? Click here:
By Katrina Moore
A writer’s journey is full of waves. Some knock you down. Some push. Some pull. Others wash over you with warmth and glimmer with hope. And on this journey, landing the right literary agent can provide both a powerful wind to to push you in the right direction and an anchor to keep you grounded. So how do you get there?
Shall we set sail?
There is a sea of excellent and in-depth resources to surf through online. So instead of restating what’s already out there, I’ve fished through and organized links with boat loads of information.
But first . . .
Are you really ready?
Do you have at least three to four “ready manuscripts?” Ready as in, ready for agents’ eyes and ready for editors’ eyes?
Why is this important? Honestly, your first manuscript might not sell. Your second manuscript might not sell, either. Your agent has to know they can get behind your body of work. And the wider range you can show them early on will ensure that they will be able to be a champion for your career, and not just this one book.
If you’re not sure if you’re ready or not, check out these articles:
Yippee! You’re still aboard!
Let’s journey on . . .
How do you research agents?
Research is so important. You want an agent who can be your champion. Who will sail with you through the ups and downs, keep you afloat when you feel you’re sinking, who is so passionate about your work that they’ll practically jump off the boat running to shore to share your work with editors. And yet, finding the right agent is such a personal thing. Not only should they check the list of qualities you’re looking for in an agent, but there are also so many intangibles that you can’t know until you at least talk to the agent on the phone. Just like with dating, sometimes a person can check all the boxes and yet, they end up being all wrong for you! (More on how to gauge this in “What Should You Ask Before Accepting Representation?” below)
Here’s advice that Senior Agent Jen Rofė recently tweeted on researching agents:
So back to that list. . .
Have you made a list of the qualities you’re looking for in an agent?
Doing this will help to narrow your search down. Once you make your list, here are a few different ways you can go about researching agents:
This article provides a wealth of information including whether you might need an agent or not, how to research agents, how to tell if an agent is “real”, how to write a synopsis, etc:
And here are some more great links to check out:
Ready to take the plunge and Query?
What to put in your query letter:
I would add that you should tell the agent why you are querying them (succinctly) in your query. If an agent knows that you specifically took time to think of them because of xyz, they may be more excited to consider your submission.
And when rejections start rolling in, because most likely, some (or a lot, a lot, a lot) will, don’t get salty (I know, nearly impossible). But, it really is about being a good fit for each other, otherwise the agent won’t be able to best serve you. So if they’re not passionate about your work, they really shouldn’t be your agent.
Here’s what agent Molly O’Neill recently tweeted regarding agents not "saying yes":
QUERY LETTERS THAT WORKED! There are real examples of query letters that landed agents and book deals here, plus an analysis of why they’re so great:
What should you ask an agent before accepting representation?
How do you know if it’s the right agent for you?
"Is It Normal?" A great twitter thread by Amy Tintera on what to expect from an agent:
Best Practices from Agents and What an Agent is Supposed to do Podcast from senior agents Jennifer Laughran and Kelly Sonnack:
And finally . . .
How do you prepare for this long and arduous journey?
The 3 Ps! I originally shared the below advice on my “How I Got My Agent” post on Julie Hedlund's Blog:
Patience – It’s about the journey. It’s a long, long (rollercoaster of emotions) journey. But have patience and faith that you will find that great match. It’s worth waiting (and researching).
Perseverance – There’s so much you cannot control in this process. I kept my mind off the waiting by focusing on the only thing I could control: my writing. I continued to hone my craft so that every time my work was viewed, it was my best.
Positive Thinking – Eye on the prize! (The prize being that you continue to grow into a better and better writer. There are so many different paths to take. What is perfect for someone else will not be perfect for you. But you will get where you want. Keep going!
And if you’re worried that you’ll fall off the boat,
that you’ll be unable to find your way to land . . .
**P.S. If you have links, questions, or advice to add, please do so in the comments!**
Katrina Moore writes and teaches in New Jersey, outside Philadelphia. Earning her M.A. in elementary education, she has been a teacher for almost a decade in Maryland, Massachusetts, and New York. Her mission is to create books that children will hug for ages. Her debut picture book, ONE HUG, illustrated by the talented Julia Woolf, is a lyrical celebration of the different ways that hugs bring people together, forthcoming from HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Books in 2019. The book follows an Asian-American boy as he and his family prepare to welcome their immigrant relatives. When she is not teaching elementary kids or writing, she is cooking without a recipe, painting outside the lines, or snuggling up with her two kids, husband, pomapoo pup, and of course, a cozy book. Connect with her on twitter @kmoorebooks or at www.katrinamoorebooks.com.
When I “send” a new story to my agent, I usually feel a mix of excitement, hope, and worry. Excitement because I love this story. I spent so much time and energy getting it to a “ready” state, hoping that my agent will love it and tell that me it’s magical and marketable enough to submit to editors. But that brings worry, too.
Because what if it’s not?
OR…what if, recently after hitting “send,” I see promotion for a picture book coming out this year that has an almost identical title, similar concept, and same characters as the story I just sent my agent?
*could* we still submit this?
It’s NOT the first time this has happened. It’s not the last time it will happen. It happens for a lot of different reasons, and most of them...are out of my control.
So instead of wallowing (I allowed myself 5 minutes 😭), I will:
1-set this story aside for now. It is not the right time for this story.
2-focus my energy on different projects I can move forward with (I purposefully am always working on more than one thing at a time),
3-check out the upcoming comparative book when it comes out so that I can ask myself:
“HOW WILL THIS STORY STAND OUT FROM WHAT ELSE IS IN THE MARKET?”
“What value will my book add?”
“Why would a reader/buyer choose my book over the others?”
**these are questions an editor will ask, and have to answer when they present my manuscript to acquisitions**
4-develop/revise this story (and others), thinking further about it’s marketability. I’ll ask myself:
“What are the themes?”
“What are the hooks?”
“How will an editor pitch this?”
“What type of consumer will want to buy this? Which readers will love this?”
(Is that a wide-enough audience?)
“What element from this story can I highlight that will widen it’s audience and make it pop?”
And when I have the answers to those questions, my story will be stronger and more marketable for having gone through this process. And I’ll be a better writer. I know this. I’ve been through this (more than once).
When my debut picture book, ONE HUG (HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Books, 2019), was on submission, it got a pass from a couple of editors because they had a similar backlist “hug” book or forthcoming “lyrical” book. Yet, when it sold in 2017, there was interest from multiple editors because among other things, it felt fresh. But still... at a big bookstore, I saw a recent picture book release featuring hugs. It seems similar by title, but it’s completely different than ONE HUG. Am I worried? No. Am I excited? Yes! There is room for both these books (and other hug books!) in the world.
So if you’re in the same boat, don’t despair! There is room for all our stories. Your voice, your take, your YOU-NESS is what makes your story unique.
How can you best capture THAT in your story?
Trust that your story will find the right agent, editor, and publisher. In the meantime, keep learning about the market and improving your craft. Have patience, persistence, and perseverance. The time for you and your story will come.
Have hope. ✨✨
Katrina Moore is an author and former elementary educator. She writes in Georgia. where her mission is to create books that children will hug for ages. She's the author of ONE HUG, GRANDPA GRUMPS, SOMETIMES LOVE, GRUMPY NEW YEAR, HOPE IS A HOP, and the forthcoming CHANG'E ON THE MOON (HarperCollins, 2024), and THE STAR IN YOU. (RBP/Macmillan, 2024), as well as the humorous TEENY HOUDINI chapter book series, starring the magic-loving, mischief-making Bessie Lee, and more. Connect with her on twitter!
Katrina has professionally critiqued over hundreds of picture book manuscripts at writing conferences she has presented at, through her work as a council member, mentor, and presenter for the Rutgers One-on-One-Plus conference, as a Critique Ninja, and through her freelance editing services. Her editorial work and services, attention to detail, and ability to bring manuscripts to the “next level” have been highly praised by editors, agents, published authors, and those receiving critiques. For more details, and to inquire about rates, contact Katrina.