August 2012

Writing can be such a lonely profession. We’re not seeking sympathy, however, for many of us prefer it that way. But, then comes the day when we actually have to reach out as a writer (face to face, that is!)–to our readers, to our target market to sell our book,  or perhaps even to other writers for help.

I used to find this entire process quite intimidating and draining, but I’ve learned some things over my writing life that have really helped me connect with others in a way that’s not too daunting for introverts like myself. And, I have to say, the benefits have paid off handsomely.

Here are some tips I’ve discovered for connecting with…

1. Readers: One thing that really helps when connecting with readers is to make sure that you call the shots as to where you will be speaking to or meeting with them. If you don’t like speaking to large crowds, then arrange for a smaller group in a more intimate setting, like a library, bookstore, or coffee shop. I find speaking with small groups and being able to do Q&A is actually a lot of fun, and it helps your readers to get to know you better than if you were hundreds of feet away at a podium.

Get creative and develop some form of activities, crafts, games, and so forth that may work with your book’s theme. If none of these ideas would be appropriate, then design a time where you can do a couple of readings from your book, along with a discussion session or even workshop. This takes some of the pressure off you to “perform” and gets your readers more involved with your book.

2. Target market: It’s easy to “hide” behind the internet nowadays when it comes to book or self-promotion. I’m not knocking this, because blogging and promoting through various other online venues can be quite effective. All I’m saying is, don’t stop there! A great way to connect with your target market is through book signings, on-site promotional events, or, again, workshops. And, these can be as low-key or extravagant as your personality dictates.

I would not do well in a huge arena trying to sell my book to everyone who passes by. But having a book signing where my target market gathers or teaming up with a local radio station to do on-site promos is perfect for me. You may not reach the masses this way, but again, people have a chance to talk to you, get to know you a little, and through this you have a better chance of selling them on your book.

3. Other writers: Most writers attend writers conferences to talk with publishers or agents, but I’ve found it quite helpful to use these opportunities to get to know other writers as well. To make the most out of this experience, however, you probably need to step out of your comfort zone a little. If you’ve noticed at conferences, many people tend to sit at the exact same tables in the cafe meal after meal after meal. Your job is to not do this. Purposely sit in a different spot each time, seeking out people you don’t know.

Also, be sure to come with a ton of business cards. Sure, give them out to potential publishers or agents, but also hand them out to other writers. You never know when you’re going to need to pick someone’s brain over something, and it’s nice to be able to break the ice with “I met you at Writers R Us conference last year…” As you talk with writers, ask what genre they write, who they write for if they’ve been published, and how they got their big break. You’ll be amazed at the chain of networking that can come just from asking the right questions. Definitely don’t spend your whole conversation talking about yourself!

Other great places to network with other writers are, of course, writers groups, critique groups, local author events (libraries often hold these), and local writing workshops and seminars. But keep in mind, your main goal is not only to make friends, which will naturally be a byproduct of your efforts, but also to find writers who can walk with you on your journey. Some of these writers will be more experienced, which will be wonderful, because perhaps they will be willing to help mentor you. Others may not be as experienced as you, in which case you can be the one offering helpful tips and encouragement. And some may be exactly where you are, which is also good because you can navigate the waters together.

And, believe it not, like it or not, this is something we as writers need. There are times when it’s good to be holed up in your office pounding on the keyboard. But, there are also times when we need to poke our heads out and find others to connect with. I hope some of these ideas help in knowing where and how to make these vital connections.

Welcome to the 5th and final installment of learning to write alphabet or ABC books. I hope that you’ve picked up at least a couple of helpful nuggets along this journey. On this post, I want to discuss how to format and package your alphabet book to send to publishers or agents.

Please take the time to carefully review all submission guidelines that the publisher or agent has put forth on the website. They will tell you exactly how your manuscript should look, and it’s in your best interest to not deviate from these rules. The following are some general guidelines that will typically apply to formatting an ABC book:

1. Manuscript should be double spaced with all margins set at 1″.

2. Use a simple, readable font at the equivalent of a Times New Roman 12 point size.

3. Add a header to each page (starting on page 2) that includes the book title (you may shorten this to the first 2 or 3 words if the title is lengthy), then your full name, then the page number. Some publishers may request that you add your phone number or email address to your header as well.

4. On the first page in the top left corner, add your full contact info, including physical address, email, and phone number (s). In the top right corner, write “Picture book,” then the age range for your book (e.g.: “Ages 4-7”), then your total word count. Place each piece of information on a separate line (see below). Then, type your title half way down the page, with your byline under the title; both lines should be centered.

Renee Gray-Wilburn                                                                                             Picture book   

123 Main Street                                                                                                                   Ages 4-7

Colorado Springs, CO 80919                                                                                      250 words


Both the right and left columns should be justified to the outside margins, and you can single space these lines (this wordpress program will not allow me to do that and keep my columns straight!)

5. Because ABC books are types of picture books, you need to think in terms of page spreads. Unless the publisher states otherwise, there will only be one alphabet letter per page.  Since standard picture books are 32 pages long, and there are only 26 letters in the alphabet, those extra pages will be devoted to front and back matter.

6. You won’t know exactly which page the publisher will start your book on, so it’s acceptable when  formatting the manuscript to begin with page 1. Your title page will most likely be page 3 or 5, with your first letter (“A is for…”) starting on the following even-numbered page.

7. Type:  Page 1, double space, then “A is for Apple.” Double space twice to separate the pages then continue in this manner throughout all 26 pages. It is also okay to omit numbering the pages as you go, and instead simply write the text for each page with 2 double-spaced lines in between the alphabet letters.

As always, there may be some deviations to these formatting guidelines, especially if the publisher has specific requests. But this is a very standard and professional way to format an ABC book.

Now, on to packaging…

There are a variety of pieces of information a publisher or agent may ask for in your submission package. These include:

Cover letter–a 3-5 paragraph letter (no more than one page!) explaining what your manuscript is (an alphabet book that takes the reader on a journey through the oceans to meet all sorts of interesting sea life), who your target market is (this book is appropriate for early readers, ages 4-7), why you believe your book will be a perfect fit for this particular publisher’s current line (An ABC Swim through the Seas will make a great addition to your “Wild Animal” alphabet book series), and finally why you are qualified to write this book (having taught science to kindergartners for five years, having authored two other animal picture books, etc.)

Like a query letter, the cover letter is all about selling your project to the publisher. They should finish reading your letter excited about diving into your manuscript.

Resume–a one-to-two page (depending on your amount of experience) account of your writing or otherwise relevant experience. If you do not have much writing experience, add other work or volunteer projects that may be relevant to your book’s subject matter. Also include any formal writing training you’ve had. For more information on developing a writer’s resume, please see my two previous posts on this subject: Part 1 and Part 2.

Clips–articles, book excerpts, online pieces, or any other published work that you have. If you have several pieces of published work, select those that are most relevant to the manuscript you’re submitting. If you do not yet have any published material, you may send a writing sample in its place. Make it clear that it is a sample and has not been published, and make it as relevant to your manuscript as possible. In the case of an ABC book, you would want to provide a sample geared to the same target age of your book.

The publisher or agent may ask for a hard copy, mailed submission or an electronic submission sent as an email attachment. If you do submit via regular mail, include a self-addressed stamped envelope with sufficient postage for your manuscript to be returned.

Finally, be sure to send the publishing house just what they ask for–no more and no less! And, as usual, proofread everything at least twice before sending it off, and make sure that everything you submit is as aesthetically pleasing and professional as possible.