June 2010

For those of you who have kids, or even if you don’t, if you’ve spent much time around children, you know that it doesn’t take long to realize boys are different than girls–very different. So, when we write for them, why shouldn’t our writing be different as well? The truth is, it has to be.

You will find books that are targeted to both boys and girls, especially for pre-readers or early elementary levels. Once the child reaches a higher reading level, however, you’ll notice how books are typically geared to either boys or girls. You’ll find that some girls enjoy reading “boy” books, but the converse of this is hardly ever true.

As a writer, what this means to you is that you need to target your writing to either boys or girls. If you don’t feel comfortable writing strictly to girls, but also don’t want to eliminate girls from your target audience altogether, you can learn to write for boys in a way that also appeals to girls, which I’ll talk about in a minute.

First, I’d like to offer a few straightforward tips for writing for girls vs. boys:

1. Boys need to get into the action immediately. Don’t waste ANY time on background info or establishing characters within your first paragraph. They want to know from the start that your book will keep moving. Girls can handle some background information upfront. They’re more apt to stick with you as you talk about your characters’ families and explain why they act the way they do. But even with girls, you can’t wait too long to let them know the good stuff is coming!

2. Keep the action moving when writing to boys. You’ll need to set up lots of conflict, dangerous situations, “man” moments of ego-defending, and what not. Be sure you are always showing and not telling. Boys do not want to read through a lot of narrative. They just want to go from action scene to action scene. They want to be caught up in danger and suspense. This means you’ll have to develop your characters through conflict situations or other forms of action, as opposed to describing them. Obviously, you’ll need to have some action breaks; just make sure they’re not too long.

Although girls also enjoy action, it’s not as paramount to them. You’re not expected to keep them on the edge of their seat the entire time. You can use more description when writing for girls and go into more detail regarding your characters. They tend to use their imaginations more when it comes to the people in your story–their personalities, what they sound like, how they look, etc. Boys will use their imaginations more to picture the action!

3. When writing for boys, use dialogue to move your scenes along and to help develop your characters. Don’t use dialogue just for the purposes of having two characters communicate. Boys will get bored. With girls, you can typically get away with this. Girls like to talk, and they like for their characters to talk. Sharing information is how girls get to know others, so they expect that for the characters they read about as well. Of course, you don’t want to drown your “girl” books in dialogue, but you can certainly use it more freely than you can with boys.

4. When you develop a character you want your boy readers to look up to, this character should be like an average boy. Don’t make him the best-looking kid at school, or the one who gets straight A’s. Your “hero” should be a character boys can attain to.  Show that your hero has faults; he doesn’t have to be perfect to be a hero to your boy reader.

With girls, you can make your heroine a little more unrealistic. Again, she shouldn’t be perfect, but girls like to have a true princess they can look up to–someone who embodies what they really want to be like. You shouldn’t stress physical appearances in your heroine, because girls are more apt than boys to do whatever it takes to look like someone they think they should be. But you can give them qualities that they will have to reach for. Also, incorporate a sense of romanticism that helps them escape into your heroine’s life.

5. With boys, try to keep details to a minimum and use strong verbs instead to keep your story moving along. They really don’t care what the inside of Joey’s tree house looks like and how his dad helped him decorate it. All they want to know is how it serves as the perfect spot to fire water bombs on their little sisters.

Girls are more into the details, and you can afford to spend some time painting a vivid picture to help put them into your scene. They almost need to have a complete description of where they are and who is there with them before they can really engage in your action. Boys just don’t care.

Of course, these tips assume some generalizations of boys and girls. But for the most part, this is how your boy and girl readers are. With boys it’s all about the action! If you watch boys play together–or even by themselves–you will notice this as well. Girls, on the other hand, are more relational and verbal, so you need to appeal to this part of them to get and keep their attention.

There is a way to write for boys that will also capture a girl’s interest, but it’s definitely a balancing act. You absolutely need to have action, but at the same time, make sure you have strong relationships form between your characters. These can be relationships of conflict or they can be friendships, but without the relational elements, you will lose your girl readers. And boys can handle the relationship moments as well, just don’t draw them out too long. Make sure to hint of action on the horizon and use fast-paced dialogue to keep your boys hanging in there.

An additional way to appeal to girl readers in “boy” books is to sprinkle the story with description. You must do this very carefully and with a light touch or your boys will start yawning. Best thing to do is to write a scene a couple of different ways then test it on girls and boys. See what they liked and what they didn’t. Keep rewriting and testing until you get both sides saying, “This is awesome!”

Next time, I’ll focus on writing for the teen market—a whole different set of issues here!

I recently taught on preparing for and attending writers’ conferences, and I’ve had several people ask me which conferences are on the horizon. While there are far too many to list, I chose some that are taking place this summer and into the fall. These are ordered by date without any categorization, so you’ll have to go the website for specific information. Most are general conferences, meaning they cater to all levels of writers as well as various genres.

If any of these links do not work, please let me know!

Highlights Foundation Children Writers Workshops, June through November, New York, NY

Jackson Hole Writers Conference, June 24-27, Jackson Hole, WY

Antioch Writers Workshop, 7/10-16, Yellow Springs, OH

Sewanee Writers’ Conference, 7/13-25, Sewanee, TN

Pacific Northwest Writers Summer Conference, 7/22-25, Seattle, WA

Mendocino Coast Writers Conference, 7/29-8/1, Ft. Bragg, CA

Greater Philly Christian Writers Conference, 8/12-14, Philadelphia, PA

Writer’s Digest Editors’ Intensive, 9/11-12, Cincinnati, OH

Orcas Island Writers Festival, 9/17-19, Orcas Island, WA

American Christian Fiction Writers National Conference, 9/17-20, Indianapolis, IN

Maranatha Christian Writers Conference, 9/27-10/1, Muskegon, MI

Write on the Sound Writers’ Conference, 10/1-3, Edmonds, WA

Flathead River Writers Conference, 10/2-3, Kalispell, Montana

New York Writers Workshop: Pitch Conference and Workshops, 10/8-10, New York, NY

South Carolina Writers Workshop Conference, 10/22-24, Myrtle Beach, SC

If anyone knows of any that I missed that you absolutely love, forward the information and let us know why you love it!

Let’s face  it, pulling together a well-researched, feature-length article is a lot of work. So, when you’ve finished, put it to work for you in the form of spin-offs. Spin-off articles are simply articles you can write from your original article that have different angles or slants. By selling spin-offs to multiple markets, a writer can successfully stretch the work he’s put into his original article and make several sales from one basic idea.

Selling spin-offs is not that difficult, but it requires some planning upfront. When you have one market in mind you want to write a certain article for, before you begin your research, identify several other magazine markets that may serve as spin-off possibilities. Then, while you’re researching, keep these other markets in mind so you can capture the additional information you need for them at the same time. Otherwise, you’ll end up retracing your researching steps to put together the pieces you discover you’re missing down the road.

Realize that each article you write will have to be different enough that your first editor will not see it as competition to the one you wrote for her. Editors realize that we writers try to get the most mileage possible out of good research, so they are usually sympathetic to spin-offs. But at the same time, you won’t be helping your reputation any by making an editor mad at you.

To ensure that your spin-offs are not recognizable from your original, be sure to use completely different quotes from your sources (another reason to over-research the first time; you don’t want to go back to your expert for additional quotable material), make sure your slant is totally different than your original, change up your lead and close, and don’t recycle specific phrasing.

If you’re thinking, well, you might as well just write a brand-new article, you’re half right. It will–or should–end up looking like a brand-new article, but keep in mind you’re using the same research and material, just handling it with a different approach. Spin-offs should take much less time to write than your original article, and it can be a lot of fun to come up with creative ways to spin your topic.

You can even think outside the box a little when it comes to spin-offs by not limiting yourself to only spinning off new articles. You can also write fillers, sidebars, poems, or children’s activities from your original article and research. As you consider possible spin-off markets, don’t forget to look for places that buy such features for their magazines. This is a great way to stretch your idea!

Happy spinning!

If you’re a freelance writer, you know by now that this is a tough way to make a living. But while you’re waiting for your ship to come in, so to speak, there are some good ways to supplement your income with writing gigs. Here are a few you may want to research:

1. Strive for regular income from regular clients. This may seem obvious, but I know lots of writers who are stretched into so many different markets that their income is too sporadic to make ends meet. It’s great to have multiple streams of income, but a couple of those streams should be consistent.

For instance, you could choose to write for the same magazine for a while. By doing so, the editor may ultimately ask you to become an assignment writer for them, where they call you with an idea (imagine that!). Or, you could get to know the magazine well enough that you are known as one of their regular contributing writers, which typically means a monthly paycheck.

Another avenue is to become a columnist for a local or regional magazine or newspaper. To do this, write 3-4 columns and submit them, along with a resume, to papers that do not already have the type of column you want to write. You may also want to have an additional 10 or so ideas ready and stated in your cover letter to the editor. Columns are a great way to gain name recognition and produce steady pay.

2. Provide blog or website content for others. It’s not uncommon for businesses, even other writers, to contract out their blog or website writing, strictly because they don’t have the time to keep up with it. Start with who you know, and offer to write their blog, website, or even electronic newsletter for them. Many small businesses would love to have this taken off their hands!

3. Research publications that do work-for-hire contracts instead of strictly royalty. Children’s writer, Nancy Sanders, just had an interview on a previous blog of mine regarding the benefits of work-for-hire writing. Be sure to check that out if you’re not familiar with work for hire.

To get in the door with these publishers, you’ll need to send writing samples specifically geared to their publication, along with the topics you are interested in writing for. If they believe you’re well suited for their needs, they will call you with assignments.

4. Develop writing courses. If you know how to write, you should have some topics about writing that you can teach to others. You can either develop these courses to sell them online, contract them to other writing companies who do sell online courses, or teach them yourself in person at workshops.

5. Learn about copywriting. Every business, even freelancers, need to have good ad copy written in order to promote their services. Start local or with who you know and offer to develop text for marketing brochures, fliers, websites, sales letters, and more. This is a huge market, and usually quite lucrative.

So there you have it! Five possible ways to make some extra money writing while you’re waiting on your bestseller to get recognized! Be sure to chime in if you have other ways of making money writing that’s worked for you.

Nowadays everyone’s talking about platforms. If you’re a writer looking to be published, you have to have one. Period. I just finished writing a book proposal, and the most difficult aspect for me was writing about my platform. I’m still a fairly new writer and haven’t had the opportunity to develop much of one, although I am working on it.

But I knew that without including all I could in the platform part of my proposal, I would have zero chance of getting it sold. Publishers have to know that you are able to get the word out about your book and that you have “circles” of people to sell it to. Without that, you really don’t stand a chance. So it has become a very important buzz word for a reason.

As I’ve been working on developing my platform and speaking to other writers who are doing the same, I’ve identified several ways an author can build a platform for themselves. I’d like to list 5 here that I believe will give you the most bang for your buck:

1. Identify trade magazines or other newspapers or magazines that will reach your target audience and write for them on a regular basis. Try to get in with the editor as a contributing writer to his or her magazine so your name will begin to be associated with your niche by your particular audience.

2. Take article writing one step further and aim to develop a column to write for local or regional newspapers or magazines. Columns are an excellent way to establish yourself as an expert in your field.

3. Create websites and/or blogs specifically geared to your expertise, and engage in other forums or blogs within your niche. Establish a strong online presence for yourself so when your audience searches online, your sites/blogs will come up as the “go-to place” to meet their needs.

4. Begin to speak at trade or organization shows, for church groups, at schools (for children’s writers), or anywhere throughout your community where your target audience may be found. People tend to associate speakers with being experts at what they are talking about. If you can show a publisher that you have X amount of speaking engagements lined up during the next year that will directly reach your target audience, that is a good thing!

5. In addition to speaking on your topic, you can also develop workshops or seminars where you are acting as an educator. If you don’t charge for these workshops, you can typically get free space at libraries or community centers. Advertise well in advance where you know you can reach your target audience to ensure you have an audience when you conduct your workshop.

Speaking events are perfect places for selling your books, and publishers know that, so the more you can get out in person in front of your audience, the better.

There are other ways to build a platform as well, and sometimes it’ll just be trial and error to see what works best for you. But if there’s a book in your future, now’s the time to start thinking about how to build your platform–not after the book has been written!