Sunday, January 15, 2017

Serendipity YA Finalist!

Thrilled to learn a WIP (Work In Progress) manuscript has placed in the 2017 Serendipity YA Discovery Writing Contest.  It is now off to renown agents and editors who will help choose the top five and...Grand Prize Winner.

Writing contests are one of the best ways to garner the attention of agents and editors.  For tips on how to win (or place), see my blog post: Seven Tips for Winning a Writing Contest.  Write on!!

Seven Tips for Winning a Writing Contest

So you’ve written an amazing manuscript.  Now what?  Before shopping it around (only to have it die in the slush pile), why not distinguish it as an award-winning manuscript?  Quite simply, agents and editors are more apt to read your manuscript with interest if it has already been vetted and stamped with approval in a writing contest.

Easier said than done, right?  Perhaps.  After all, prominent writing contests receive thousands of entries.  However, the bennies are worth it!  To give your manuscript the best chance possible of clinching a win, I’ve compiled a list of Seven Tips:

Seven Tips for Winning a Writing Contest

1) Be a rule worshiper!  When it comes to writing contest rules, follow the guidelines precisely.  Nothing will get you disqualified quicker than shrugging off formatting rules or having your name on the manuscript.  In other words, read the rules and then read them again! 

2) Titles matter.  A title is the judge’s first impression of you as a writer.  Find something inviting and perhaps a little mysterious.  A zany title or one that uses alliteration is sure to get the attention of the judges.  One word titles can be effectively potent! 

3) Proofread!  Make your persnickety high school English teacher proud and proofread!  Judges will literally judge you as unprofessional when grammar and usage errors run amok.  Have someone else look over your work for spelling, punctuation, and tense shifts.  Strive for active rather than passive voice. 

4) Submit Early.  Most judges begin reading as soon as the entries come in.  The smart play is to have your work read while they are fresh.  An editor once told me eighty percent of entries are submitted during the last few days of the contest, so judges will be inundated towards the end.   

5) Include a bio if possible.  Some contests may not allow this, so check it out first.  A bio outlining your credentials will give credence to your writing and put the judge in a good “head space” before reading.   

6) Lead with a great hook!  It’s just a hard fact that judges will write off (pun intended) entrants with weak openings.  Start with a powerful, moving, or hilarious first sentence, and you will hopefully snare the judge for a win. 

7) Write the most compelling piece you can!  Kind of obvious, but submit your absolute best work possible.  Incorporate a lively theme, memorable characters, and vivid words that evoke imagery.  It’s trite – but show, don’t tell!

Still feel intimidated?  Don’t!  Remember the number one golden rule of writing contests: You never win what you don’t submit.  Write on!!

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Hooking Reluctant Readers: A Guide for Parents

            Hearing the words, “I hate to read!” can be a parental nightmare, conjuring up images of below basic standardized test scores, remedial classes, or worse – dropping out of school and not going to college.  Yet, it is a universal reality that many parents have reluctant reading spawn – even those parents who firmly classify themselves as voracious readers.  When I meet with parents at conferences, the following scenario is not at all uncommon:

            “What can we do about Tommy?  My husband loves to read.  I love to read.  Tommy’s older sister loves to read.  Tommy’s younger brother loves to read.  The dog loves to read.  But Tommy hates to read!  I don’t understand it.  Help us – Pleeeeease!”

            Seeing the panic in their eyes, I tell the parents the first step is to determine if their child is in fact a reluctant reader (R.R.) or just a passionless one.  To determine where the child is on the Reluctant Reader Richter scale, I ask three questions:

1 - Does your child avoid reading whenever possible?
2 - Does your child complain when doing it?
3 - Does your child have little to no retention or comprehension when they are finished?  

            If the answer is yes to all three questions, I tell them it is safe to assume that their child is in fact allergic to books.  And that’s when I smile and say, “Let’s give them an antihistamine they’re going to love.”
RR Strategy#1 - Ownership

            Parents should allow children to choose their own books.  If children “see” themselves in what they read, they will naturally become more interested in reading.  Guide your child to books classified as Hi/Lo (High interest / Low Level).  These books have major RR appeal: humor, a face paced plot, kid relevance, and visual appeal.  I also encourage parents to give their child a monthly or weekly book allowance so they can start their own personal library.  Make their bedroom a literary lair by preparing a reading corner with comfy pillows and beanbags.  Decorate the walls with book cover posters or have your child design their own.  

RR Strategy #2 - Keep It Fun!

            Eventually kids will read independently, but before they to, they need to have a series of positive experiences.  Make reading relaxing and low key.  Allow them to read graphic novels, joke books, and choose-your-own adventure books.  Encourage them to read aloud funny or interesting parts of the book.  Utilize technology and download audio or e-books.  Dispel any Rigid Reading Rules your child has picked up in the past.  For example, it’s okay not to finish a book.  I even tell my students I have my own page 7 rule.  If a book doesn’t grab me by page 7, I put it down and choose something else.  A reluctant reader might have a page 1 or 2 rule, and that’s okay.  On the flip side, it’s okay to reread a favorite book, as this builds fluency and confidence through repetition.  Be patient with your child and don’t EVER use reading as a form of punishment.  Remember, positive associations are essential.

RR Strategy #3 – Be a Buddy

            Finally, be your child’s reading buddy. Schedule regular library or local bookstore visits.  Assist with comprehension in a disarming way by asking open-ended questions:

·      Why do you think the character did __________________?
·      What would you change the title to?
·      Who would you want as a best friend?
·      What was your favorite part?

When your child has a book report at school, work with the teacher to ensure a positive experience.  Ask if they can choose their own book and if extra time is needed, request an extension.  Most teachers understand the plight of the reluctant reader and want to be a part of the solution.

            A love of reading is a lifelong gift parents can give their children.  Like any pursuit, some children are more receptive than others.  Nevertheless, by giving your child ownership, making reading, fun, and being a partner in child’s journey as a reader, your reluctant reader will turn voracious in no time.