Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Wrong Question

“[A]sk not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.” These words were spoken by President John F. Kennedy at his January 20, 1961 inauguration. They were applauded at the time and have become one of the best-known quotes in American history. But even though people still give those words lip service, how many of us really agree with them?

Today’s generations (yes, all of them) have become self-centered. Before we do anything, we ask, “What will I get out of it?” Or we think we can have or be anything we want without working for it. But the truth is, what we get out of anything depends on what we put into it.

That also applies to membership in organizations such as Indiana Writers’ Consortium. Some members complain because IWC has been cutting back on its programs, and other refuse to join because they don’t see the value of membership. But whose fault is that? No nonprofit organization can survive without a committed membership.

Although money is always an issue, time is a greater one. The “Eat and Exchange” series has no overhead, but it faltered this year because nobody had the time to organize it. We put out a call for volunteers and got no response. Our call for people to fill Board positions met with the same lack of enthusiasm. People ask, “what can IWC do for me” rather than “what can I do for IWC.” So they get out of it what they put into it.

Let me get a couple of things straight. This blog post is my personal opinion and doesn’t speak for the organization. And IWC is not dying. We still run a vibrant conference, and I expect that to continue. But if you want more, you have to get involved.

To rephrase President Kennedy’s words: Ask not what IWC can do for you—ask what you can do for IWC.

You won’t regret it.


The photograph of President Kennedy was taken on February 20, 1961 by a member of the White House Press Office. It is in the public domain because it was created by a federal government employee as part of his or her official duties.


Kathryn Page Camp is a licensed attorney and full-time writer who writes adult non-fiction as Kathryn Page Camp and middle-grade fiction as Kaye Page. Writers in Wonderland: Keeping Your Words Legal was a Kirkus’ Indie Books of the Month Selection for April 2014, and her first middle-grade historical novel, Desert Jewels, was released in August 2017. You can learn more about Kathryn at

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Excited about Steel Pen

Emily Baginski

With the Steel Pen Conference coming up, I’m eager to see what it will be like. Since this is my first conference in general, I have to admit I’m a bit nervous as well. I’m 20, unpublished, but intrigued. Being around a variety of people will be exciting. Also, I looked at the panel of guest speakers and can’t wait to learn and hear what they have to say. Having the privilege and advantage to attend a conference like this will give me experience and guidance for when I take the next big step to getting published.
As the day gets closer and closer, I’m starting to gather my thoughts and questions I want to possibly ask. Along with this, I have checked out the Facebook page and looked up the workshops that are being offered. The one I am most interested in is the Cover Design 101 workshop. I’m a creative person, and learning how to make a successful cover that is appropriate for my work will help make sure I don’t go overboard with design.
Meeting people is also something I’m excited for. Networking is a big thing I’ve learned in college, and the conference will offer me this opportunity as well. Overall, I’m excited to see what the conference will teach me. College can only teach you so much. This will be an experience that can’t be taught in a classroom. 

If you haven't signed up for the conference yet, beat the October 15 deadline by registering at

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Do Your Christmas Shopping at Steel Pen

Did you know that a witers' conference is a great place to do your Christmas shopping?

The Bloomsbury Bookbag pictured here is one of the many items that will be up for bids in our silent auction. Stop by the tables at the back of the room to bid on a wine tasting for four, writing tools, and various themed baskets.

You can also shop in our bookstore, which has IWC mugs and books for all ages and interests, including:

·       Romance,

·       Mystery,

·       Literary fiction,

·       Historical fiction,

·       Fantasy,

·       Young adult,

·       Children’s fiction,

·       Memoir,

·       Poetry and short story collections, and

·       The craft and business of writing.

There are other, more important, reasons for attending a writers’ conference than using it as a shopping venue. But if you are going to be there anyway, it’s a great opportunity. So bring cash or plastic and do your Christmas shopping at Steel Pen.

Registration for the 2017 Steel Pen Creative Writers’ Conference ends October 15. You can find more information and register at this link:

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

How to Get the Most Out of a Writers' Conference

The 2017 Steel Pen Creative Writers’ Conference is just over a month away, and registration closes on October 15. So whether you are signed up or still considering it, what can you get from a writers’ conference, and how do you make the best use of your time?

Here are some tips from the Conference Committee’s members own experience.

1.     Prepare before you go.

a.      Research the presenters as well as reading the breakout session descriptions, then rank your choices. Unfortunately, you may arrive at the conference to discover that your top choices conflict. But if you have ranked them in advance, your decision will be easy even if it isn’t happy. 
b.     As a relatively young regional conference, Steel Pen doesn’t offer pitch sessions with editors and agents yet. If you go to a conference that does, however, you should look at their websites and review the types of books they accept before deciding to pitch them. (The same goes for critiques.) If an editor or agent specializes in adult science fiction and you write children’s picture books, you will be wasting your time and theirs. That said, there are a few conferences where editors and agents are there primarily to mentor rather than to acquire. In those cases, you may gain some benefit even when you talk to someone outside your genre. 
c.      Make sure you have plenty of business cards. If you are worried about giving out personal information, leave off your address. But make sure you include an email address and preferably a telephone number. If you have a published book, you should also take promotional bookmarks or postcards.

2.     Know what you want to accomplish at the conference, but keep your expectations realistic and your goals flexible. You may go to learn about writing memoirs and come away with a great idea for a murder mystery. Or you may hope to sell a book but meet the perfect critique partner instead. Few writers sell their first book at a conference, but many develop relationships that eventually lead there.

3.     Take notes at the sessions you attend. The notes probably won’t be as extensive as the ones you took in your high school or college classes, but if somebody says something that gives you an “ah-hah” moment, write it down. Steel Pen will give you a notepad and a pen, but that may not be true at other conferences. If you don’t know, take your own. And even if note-taking materials are provided, you may prefer your favorite portfolio and lucky pen.

4.     While the rules about session attendance vary from conference to conference, if the conference allows (and Steel Pen does), don’t feel bound to spend the entire breakout session in the same room. If your top choices conflict, maybe you’ll want to spend some time in each. Or if that session on flash fiction reiterates information you already know, it is not disrespectful to leave (quietly) and head down the hall to the session on poetry where you may learn something new.

5.     Whether or not the conference offers pitching sessions, it helps if you can describe what you are working on or trying to sell in one to three sentences. If someone asks you—and they will—about your current project, they are looking for a thumbnail sketch, not a dissertation. They can always ask for more details if they want them.

6.     Part of the value of conferences comes from what the business world calls “networking” but is more accurately described as developing relationships. Writers tend to be introverts, but conferences are a good time to meet new people, so make the effort. Even if you don’t sell your book, you may find a new critique partner or meet somebody who has experienced the good and bad of hiring book cover designers and is willing to pass on that knowledge. But don’t lead off an informal conversation by talking about yourself. Ask about their current project or expertise or what they expect to get from the conference. At some point they will ask you the same question, and then it’s your turn.

7.     If the conference offers pitching sessions with editors and agents, however, you will begin those sessions by talking about your book.  The special rules for pitching sessions deserve their own blog post. Since Steel Pen doesn’t offer them yet, this tip is limited to the highlights.

a.      Don’t pitch a book that you haven’t written (and rewritten and polished). There are some exceptions for nonfiction and experienced writers but none for beginning novelists.
b.     As noted above, research the editors and agents in advance and don’t waste their time, and yours, by pitching somebody who doesn’t handle your genre.
c.      Unless otherwise invited, limit your pitching to the pitching sessions. At other times, wait until an editor or agent asks what you are working on or selling. And give editors and agents some room. Don’t corner them or follow them into the bathroom. They may remember you, all right, but only as someone to avoid.

8.     The last and most important tip is to relax and enjoy the conference. Writers’ conferences seldom make or break careers, but they can open doors.

Registration for the 2017 Steel Pen Creative Writers’ Conference ends October 15. You can find more information and register at this link:

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Many Roads to Publishing

Indiana Writers’ Consortium has the good fortune to receive interns from Purdue Northwest each semester. In the spring, we had Louis Martinez, who continues writing blog posts as a volunteer. This semester we welcome Emily Baginski. Here is her first post.
The Many Roads to Publishing
Emily Baginski
Being a college student working towards an English Writing degree can be intimidating at times, but being a college student working towards an English Writing degree without many experiences in life is even more intimidating. When I first walked into classes, I thought this degree was a fight for getting a story published. I was a scared little puppy that had nothing notable happen in their life. So here I was, scared, intimidated, and fearful about the choice I made.
As I continued on through classes, I slowly learned that there is more to English Writing than publishing books. This soon gave me light at the end of the tunnel. The possibilities in writing are endless. Grant writing, business writing, writing for magazines, writing for video games, etc. There are so many routes to take. There is no need to be stressed about publishing a book. Find something you are interested in writing and look at publishing that way. 
This may seem like common sense, but I was unaware of the wide range of publishing options I could experience. There was more to publishing then writing or creating a story. I wrote this post to give hope to a lost writer out there who thinks the only road to publishing is through stories.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Optimizing Your Writing Process

Louis Martinez

Writing is difficult enough as it is, so anything that can streamline the process is invaluable. And if you’re citing sources, one thing you can do is sort your list of references out early so you can type those in-text citations at the end of a sentence as smoothly as any punctuation. When you’re on a roll with a rough draft, you don’t want anything to disrupt your flow of ideas. Any stray thought can potentially derail the train on its journey to the end of the document, causing you to omit a statement that may have made the difference between agreement or disapproval in your reader’s mind.

If I’m writing a non-fiction piece with sources to cite, I find it invaluable to have my references readily available so I can insert them in-line as naturally as I would a period or comma. In the past, I have made the mistake of pushing through my rough draft from start to finish, only to realize I now had to go back line-by-line for the expressed purpose of picking out sentences that should have citations and tediously adding them in. This added an entire new step to the writing process; a step that was unnecessary, and one I’m glad I now have a system to accommodate for.

When I have a large number or sources I’ll be citing for a piece, I like to form my reference list as I come across information I’ll be using, rather than simply recording where I found it so I can form the reference list later on. This may require some detailed familiarity with the citation style you’re using, which I am fortunate enough to have at this point. Having this information compiled in advance becomes a useful tool I can use when writing my rough draft.

When I’m writing a research paper; a report on an experiment; an analysis of a case study; or some other piece which may require a reference list several pages long, I like to have that list available at the side of my screen in another window next to my document so I can easily place the appropriate information in-line right when it comes up without having to stray from my spot on the page. I used to scroll down to my references, gather the information, then return to my spot to type it in, but I found moving my eyes slightly to the side to be much more efficient than scrolling all over the place.

Using this method has substantially decreased the amount of time I spend writing, especially over long pieces. I encourage anyone referencing other material in their work to develop a system that enhances efficiency. By cutting down the time spent on drafting, you can increase the time available for editing, which will ultimately result in an overall higher quality of writing.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Ezine and Print Magazine Rights: Part II

Kathryn Page Camp

Last week I described three major types of ezine and print magazine rights. This week I’ll talk about some other common types.* This is not a complete list, and even the ones talked about in these two posts can be modified by contract, so make sure you read the submission guidelines and any formal contract you may be offered. More about that at the end of this post.
As a reminder from last week, when used in this post the words magazine, publication, and periodical include both print magazines and ezines. References to story, piece, or item include stories, articles, poems, and any other type of work that can be submitted to a magazine.
One-Time Rights
One-time rights allow the publication to publish your story once. If it wants to publish it again, it must get your permission.
Simultaneous Rights
If you grant simultaneous rights, you are probably trying to sell the story to more than one publication. As the name implies, simultaneous rights allow several periodicals to publish the piece at the same time. These rights are not the same as reprint rights since you may be selling the item for the first time.
Nonexclusive Rights
When a publication buys nonexclusive rights, you can sell the piece again at any time. Unlike one-time rights, however, nonexclusive rights authorize the magazine to reprint the piece in subsequent editions of its publication without further payment or permission.
You can explicitly agree to sell nonexclusive rights, but it is also the default. If you don’t say what you are selling and the publication doesn’t say what it is buying, it gets nonexclusive rights.
A Word of Warning
Rights can be modified by agreement, and even if the magazine doesn’t make you sign a contract, you still have one. In that case, the contract will usually combine the terms of your submission letter, the publisher’s acceptance letter, and the submission guidelines. If your submission letter offers one type of rights and the publisher doesn’t object, that is what you have sold. If the publisher says it will buy a different type of rights and you don’t object, then the acceptance letter governs. If both letters are silent but the submission guidelines tell you what the magazine buys, that is what you are selling. So read the submission guidelines carefully.
Because it’s important to know your rights.
* The two posts in this series are taken, with modifications, from pages 166–170 of Writers in Wonderland: Keeping Your Words Legal by Kathryn Page Camp and are used by permission from me to me.
Kathryn Page Camp is a licensed attorney and full-time writer who writes adult non-fiction as Kathryn Page Camp and middle-grade fiction as Kaye Page. Writers in Wonderland: Keeping Your Words Legal was a Kirkus’ Indie Books of the Month Selection for April 2014, and her first middle-grade historical novel, Desert Jewels, was released in August 2017. You can learn more about Kathryn at

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Ezine and Print Magazine Rights: Part I

Kathryn Page Camp

In last week’s blog, Louis Martinez encouraged writers to find markets for their short stories. Some of the best markets out there are print magazines and ezines. And as Louis noted, what rights you sell them determines what you can and cannot do with that same content in the future. So this week and next I’ll talk about what those rights are.*

Since I don’t want to have to use “print magazine or ezine” and “story, article, or poem” repeatedly, I’m going to do the lawyer thing. When used in these posts, the words magazine, publication, and periodical include both print magazines and ezines. References to story, piece, or item include stories, articles, poems, and any other type of work that can be submitted to a magazine.

All Rights

Some periodicals, such as Highlights for Children, buy all rights. That means the magazine has complete control over what happens to the story you submitted. Essentially, the publication now owns the piece, and you are not allowed to resell it. You don’t even have the right to post it on your own website without the magazine’s permission.

Selling all rights does not usually prohibit you from writing another story on the same topic (but read your contract). However, the new piece cannot be merely a revision but must have a fresh approach. In other words (pun intended), you may have to start all over again.

Highlights pays well and is a prestigious name to have among your credits, so some writers are happy to sell it all rights. That’s your choice, but it should be a deliberate one.

First Rights, or First North American Rights

Most magazines buy first rights. That’s the right to be the first to publish the story. Similarly, first North American rights give the publication the right to be the first publisher in North America. Once the magazine has published the piece, however, control reverts to you and you are free to post it on your website, include it in a compilation, or resell it.

Reprint or Second Rights

The biggest advantage of first rights is second rights—also called reprint rights. Once the first rights holder has published your story, you can resell it as many times as you want. Reprint rights don’t usually pay as well as first rights, and some magazines won’t buy reprints at all. But when a magazine does buy reprint rights, it is paying for work you already did, so any size check is good. And second rights aren’t limited to the second time you publish the item—they also cover the third sale, and the fourth, and so on.

Since you can only sell first rights once, subsequent submissions should explain where and when the story previously appeared. You should also wait until the item is actually published by the first rights holder before submitting it elsewhere. This ensures that the second rights holder doesn’t publish it first by mistake.

I’ll cover several other types of rights in next week’s post.


* The two posts in this series are taken, with modifications, from pages 166–170 of Writers in Wonderland: Keeping Your Words Legal by Kathryn Page Camp and are used by permission from me to me.


Kathryn Page Camp is a licensed attorney and full-time writer who writes adult non-fiction as Kathryn Page Camp and middle-grade fiction as Kaye Page. Writers in Wonderland: Keeping Your Words Legal was a Kirkus’ Indie Books of the Month Selection for April 2014, and her first middle-grade historical novel, Desert Jewels, was released earlier this month. You can learn more about Kathryn at

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Making Use of Your Short Stories

Louis Martinez

If you love writing, you may have stocked up a virtual pile of short stories that lay about in your files and do nothing but hog space on your hard drive. After all, it tends to be a whole lot easier to pump out short stories like a literary assembly line than it is to craft a novel-length story with a grand, over-arching theme. Given that, one may be able to stir up as much content in short stories as they can in long stories, but in significantly less time. A day or so may be all it takes for a dedicated writer to draft a short story; show it to a group of trusted writers for honest feedback; and refine it into a high-quality piece of work.

In the many years it could take to complete a single novel, one could have alternatively completed hundreds of short stories. And the catch? That lonely novel, and the several hundred short stories stacked up side-by-side, would likely all sell for the same starting price. And so, for a writer who isn’t well known, it becomes abundantly clear that writing short stories is substantially more productive than writing novels.

Now, I don’t mean to imply novels are a waste of time and effort. On the contrary, they comprise an important part of our world and should not be neglected. However, if you find yourself writing lots of short stores, why not put them to good use?

One of the most common, and perhaps the most efficient means of selling a short story is as an eBook through Amazon. Getting started is quick, easy, and explained here step-by-step. This is no get rich quick scheme, but writing never really is. You’ll probably start by selling pieces for $0.99 and only get paid 35% of each sale. In the beginning, a new writer should be happy to make a dollar or so a month. But after a few years and a few hundred stories, who knows? Things could really take off. And no matter what, your stories will always be making more on the market than they do on the hard drive.

I hope you’re feeling motivated to take the plunge and get your work out there, but before you do, there are two things I’d like to say.

First, get lots of feedback before you publish anything. And I mean harsh feedback, from passionate writers who aren’t afraid to tear your work apart. You don’t want a bad reputation for publishing sub-par content. Anything you put out there in your name should be your very best, because once something’s on the Internet, it may haunt you forever.

Second, be cognizant of copyright law. Unless you self-publish, you may be selling away your rights to the content you produced, and exactly what rights you sell will determine what you can and cannot do with that content in the future. Your publisher will tell you what rights you’re giving up by selling your work to them, and it is your responsibility to know what that entails. Copyright laws may seem daunting at first glance, but you’ll be fine. A good writer just needs to understand what rights they have, and what rights they don’t.

I hope I convinced you to get your work out there for the world to see, or at least got you to consider it. Don’t be shy. Just do your best; make sure you’re putting out good work; and be glad in the end when all those tales put some extra money in your pocket.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Age It Right, Part III

Kathryn Page Camp

Vocabulary is an important part of aging a children’s book. There are several resources to guide you on vocabulary level, including Children’s Writers’ Word Book by Alihandra Mogilner and online vocabulary and spelling lists for parents and teachers arranged by grade. Use them.

But don’t rely on them.

First, these lists can’t cover every word in a child’s vocabulary. Just because a word isn’t on the list doesn’t mean your readers won’t know it.

Second, readers want to be challenged. For each of the middle-grade books I have completed so far, I used between six and nine beta readers spread over four grades. I asked them to complete a questionnaire, and here are two of the questions I asked:

Were there any words you didn’t know before but could figure out from the story? If so, write them here.

Were there any words that you didn’t understand unless you looked them up in a dictionary or asked someone older? If so, write them here.

Even though I frequently used words from the fifth and sixth grade lists, the third and fourth grade beta readers listed them in response to the first question rather than the second, indicating that they got the meaning from the text. So don’t let these lists limit you.

While it is important to challenge your readers, it is equally important not to frustrate them. If they have to make frequent trips to the dictionary (or to the kitchen to ask their parents), they’ll put the book down and leave it there.

So how can you challenge without frustrating? The best approach is to use context clues. In my first middle-grade book, Desert Jewels, Emi’s parents tell her to come to the parlor after she finishes washing the dishes. I don’t come right out and tell readers that “parlor” was a common word for living room or what we might now call the family room, but when she got there she found Papa reading a newspaper and Mama knitting a sock and she sat on a piano stool to talk to them (implying the presence of a piano). Other passages explicitly mention the piano in the room and a fancy clock that sits on top of it. The piano and Emi’s parents’ activities while in the parlor help today’s readers understand what the room is.

Then there is the word “spews,” which occurs in a tanka (a type of Japanese poem) that begins the book. It was on one beta reader’s list of words that she had never heard before but could figure out from the context. In this case, it is the words immediately around it that provide the clues:

Hate spews from your lips,

Calling me a “Dirty Jap.”

I don’t understand.

Although I don’t look like you,

I am an American.

Although context clues are the best way to increase a child’s vocabulary, there are rare times when they are not sufficient or when using them makes the passage convoluted or clunky. Desert Jewels tells the story of a Japanese American girl caught up in the anti-Japanese sentiment of World War II. I used some Japanese words for authenticity, but I couldn’t define them by context alone. In some cases the solution was simple—my protagonist didn’t understand them either, so she asked what they meant, and the reader learned along with her. But that approach won’t work if the person asking would already know, so use it sparingly.  

“Oh,” you may say, “I’ll just use a glossary.” Personally, I think that’s a copout. Expecting your readers to leaf back and forth between the story and a glossary is only a little better than sending them to the dictionary. Rely on context clues and a rare question instead.

That said, I did add a short glossary to Desert Jewels because of the Japanese words and some important but now mostly archaic English words and terms used at the time. But it is there to reinforce what the reader learns through context clues and the occasional question, not to replace it.

So when choosing vocabulary, write your story to challenge your readers without frustrating them.


Kathryn Camp writes middle-grade fiction as Kaye Page and adult non-fiction as Kathryn Page Camp. Her first middle-grade historical novel, Desert Jewels, will be released this month. She has written two more middle-grade historicals that are currently circulating to publishers and agents and is developing a new website devoted to her children’s books. In the meantime, you can learn more about Kathryn at

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Age It Right: Part II

Kathryn Page Camp

When writing for children, the subject matter must be suitable for the age level. That doesn’t mean you can’t deal with tough issues, but you must do it appropriately.
I’ll use death as an example.
Even the youngest children can be faced with the death of a loved one, so it makes sense to cover the issue in picture books. Some tell a story using animals as characters. Others talk about the death of a pet. Then there are books like Tomie dePaola’s Nana Upstairs & Nana Downstairs, which emphasizes the memories that remain after a boy’s great-grandmother dies. Regardless of the approach, the purpose at this age is always to comfort and never to frighten.
In picture books, the death usually occurs by natural causes, such as sickness or old age. There is no violence.
Although violence is still unusual, middle-grade books treat death differently. Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia is the classic middle-grade novel on the subject. It beings by developing the friendship between the protagonist, Jess, and the new girl, Leslie. We come to love both characters, and when Leslie dies in an accident we cry with Jess over his (and our) loss. But the death takes place off-stage, and Jess learns to live with it. If you want to know more, you’ll have the read the book for yourself.
Bridge to Terabithia doesn’t treat death as gently as picture books do, but it still has a lighter touch than most young adult fiction. In fact, YA books can be quite dark. Two World War II novels by Ruta Sepetys illustrate this.
In between shades of gray, fifteen-year-old Lina, her mother, and her brother are arrested by the Soviets and sent to Siberia. Salt to the Sea follows four young people, three of whom are fleeing through East Prussia to escape the Soviets. Both books contain multiple deaths. Many are onstage, and all result from cruelty. As readers, we never come to terms with those deaths, and that’s how it should be.
As you can see, the age of the audience doesn’t necessarily limit the subject matter, but it does dictate how the writer treats it.
So tread carefully.
Kathryn Camp writes middle-grade fiction as Kaye Page and adult non-fiction as Kathryn Page Camp. Her first middle-grade historical novel, Desert Jewels, will be released later this month. She has written two more middle-grade historicals that are currently circulating to publishers and agents and is developing a new website devoted to her children’s books. In the meantime, you can learn more about Kathryn at

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Age it Right: Part I

Kathryn Page Camp

One of the most important—and difficult—aspects of writing for children is getting the age level right. Unfortunately, aging books appropriately is more of an art than a science. The best advice I can give you is to read recently written, currently popular books aimed at your audience. If you don’t know what they are, go to a physical bookstore and see what it carries on its shelves, then take them home and read them. Or you can get them at the library (or for your e-book) after you’ve complied a list of titles, but don’t do your original research there. A brick and mortar bookstore gives you a better idea of what today’s children are actually reading.
Years ago, I decided to write a series of early chapter books. I read books in that category, studied length and vocabulary levels, and wrote my first two masterpieces. Then I submitted them to publishers and my dream collapsed. I’m particularly grateful to the one publisher who gave me detailed comments that helped me see that I didn’t understand what was appropriate for my audience.
I shelved that project and turned to writing for adults. But eventually I gave children’s books another try, this time at the middle-grade level, and my first historical novel, Desert Jewels, is coming out later this month.
Although the general process is more art than science, there are some guidelines you should be familiar with when writing for children, and these guidelines are more science than art. They aren’t rules, and if you are J.K. Rowling or have an established following, you may be able to ignore them without serious consequences. But most of us are better off sticking to the guidelines.
The guidelines vary from publisher to publisher and few people are in complete agreement about what they are, but the following chart is representative. The categories come from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and I referred to several sources when preparing the actual guidelines.

In general, children prefer to read about main characters who are just slightly older than the reader. As for length, when writing middle grade and young adult fiction, the longer lengths listed in the chart apply to fantasy and science fiction only, which tend to be longer than other genres. And don’t confuse category and genre. Children’s books—especially at the middle grade and YA levels—cover the same range of genres as adult books do, from historical to humorous to fantasy to YA romance. The “type” in the chart is a category, not a genre.
The guidelines are helpful, but the hardest part of aging your book is finding the right subject matter and sensitivity level. That is the topic of next week’s blog post.
Kathryn Camp writes middle-grade fiction as Kaye Page and adult non-fiction as Kathryn Page Camp. Her first middle-grade historical novel, Desert Jewels, will be released later this month. She has written two more middle-grade historicals that are currently circulating to publishers and agents and is developing a new website devoted to her children’s books. In the meantime, you can learn more about Kathryn at

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Small Changes and Big Differences

Louis Martinez

Sometimes, changing a single word can make a world of difference. It can drastically shift the connotation of your character’s statement, and elicit different responses in a reader’s mind. Changing one word can alter the implications of how your character feels and acts. Take these following two statements into consideration.
“I didn’t find the time.”
“I didn’t have the time.”
Both might convey largely the same turn of events: something was meant to be done that was not. And in truth, both statements could mean the same thing, without any differing connotations, depending on the character’s speech patterns. However, the difference between “find” and “have” may also be indicative of the character’s feelings toward the topic at hand.
For example, a character who states they did not “find” the time may indicate they tried to fit whatever it was into their day, but were ultimately unable to. They may have started the task, maybe even multiple times, but were continuously interrupted. More pressing matters kept getting in the way, and the task was never done.
However, a character who states they did not “have” the time for something may indicate they never attempted it. Someone may have asked them previously to perform said task, and the character disregarded it, never intent on taking the time out of their day. And now that it’s been brought up again, the character is vocalizing the perceived irrelevance to the task-giver by implying they do not have room in their life for such trivial matters.
The connotations of these two statements could be reversed; altered from what is defined here; or dismissed altogether, depending on the character’s development and personality. Changing one word for one character may elicit a different meaning than it does for another. There are infinitely more twists and turns the meanings of words can take.
Give it a try. Write a sentence, and change one word to another that fits. As you’ll see, the message conveyed can change substantially. This effect may be confounded by different characters with unique personalities. Use this phenomenon to your advantage when crafting those intriguing plotlines and foreshadowing dialogue segments. Soon, you’ll master the art of making small changes and big differences.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Rules to Live By

Dr. Anastasia Trekles

There’s a lot of interest lately in the brain – how it works, how it keeps us thinking and doing stuff and being productive day after day. However, even after research from just about every angle imaginable, there are very few clear-cut answers. The brain, turns out, is pretty darn complicated.

The latest brain research does give us some pointers on how writers (and everyone else) can be more creative and productive. First things first: you can’t multitask. You might have heard someone tell you this already, and you probably ignored them. We have too much going on in our lives, quite frankly, and most of us are unable to turn off all of our distractions, even for a little while. Our phones are our lifelines to our families and our social circle. Our email is our link to the people who need us most, and it tantalizes us with ads and newsletters about various cool stuff. We just can’t turn these things off for an hour – think of what we could miss!

But all of those things wind up keeping us from our real work. Some scientists even think that all this multitasking we do as a society is having a long-term impact on our brain function. When we switch tasks and attention so frequently, it tends to have the effect of reducing our concentration in such a way that it temporarily lowers I.Q. by a few points, requiring about fifteen minutes before you can become deeply engaged in a task again. That means that when you’re writing that next chapter and an email comes in with that familiar “ding,” you just lost at least fifteen minutes of productive work.

Dr. John Medina gives us some concepts to help this all make sense. He calls them the “Brain Rules,” twelve things that neuroscience has taught us about how these valuable and mysterious things on the top of our shoulders really work (probably). In short, these rules include:

·       Survival: Our brain is wired to keep us alive, and that means that if something alerts us, it tends to draw our attention away from everything else. That’s great when the alert in question is a man-eating tiger chasing us across the plains, but not so great when it’s your son texting you to ask what’s for dinner.
·       Exercise: Take a brisk walk periodically. Do a yoga pose. Hope on the stationary bike. Your body and your brain will thank you.
·       Sleep: Yes, we all need to get more rest. Many of us have trouble with that, since those distractions from our daily life often seep into our nightly life, too. A great deal of research has shown that people who get more sleep are more productive. And before you ask, no, you can’t “catch up” on lost sleep.
·       Stress: Stressed brains don’t learn very well. When you’re feeling overwhelmed by thirty emails and texts to answer while simultaneously feeling guilty about working on your writing before you answer, you are less likely to be productive. So stop that.
·       Wiring: Everyone is different. What works well for me might not work well for you. Be your own judge when someone gives you new strategies to try to “do more, learn more, be better!” To that end, a companion Brain Rule, Gender, reminds us that men and women think differently. They handle stress and emotion differently, too, which can in turn impact attention.
·       Attention: As we’ve said already, we need to focus to be productive, but also tend not to pay attention to boring things. So if you’re not that excited about sitting down to work, don’t force yourself. Wait for a better opportunity
·       Memory: “Practice makes perfect” is an age-old favorite for a reason. Repetition can be extremely helpful in helping us learn and remember.
·       Sensory integration: Stimulating more of your senses tends to make you a better worker and learner. So, when you work, try lighting a scented candle and surrounding yourself with things that comfort you. You might even try another Brain Rule, Music, and play soft music in the background while you’re working. Research says it can increase your attention and productivity, but only if it is not so enjoyable that you find yourself distracted by it.
·       Vision: Pictures tend to be very helpful for learning. Writers can benefit by finding pictures based on their characters or settings, to help give those ideas a more concrete form. For example, I use an app called Sutori to create timelines for my stories, and insert concepts of characters from photos I find online. Pinterest is another great option.
·       Exploration: If you spend more time than you budgeted looking for pictures that match your hero, that time is not necessarily “wasted.” Sometimes setting daily page or word counts can be counter-productive and limit your creativity. Don’t be afraid to go where the journey takes you.

So what’s a modern writer to do about all this? Balancing your tasks and setting timers can be helpful to keeping yourself in touch with the outside world while staying productive. For example, set a timer for twenty minutes when you start writing, and at the end of your time, get up and exercise. Or go ahead and check that inbox. Then, start another twenty-minute timer and get back to work. Working in these short blocks of time may sound counter to how a lot of people operate, but in the long run, it is much more likely to be productive.

Have a problem with keeping those distractions away while you work? There’s an app for that! Many programs have “distraction free modes,” including popular apps like Scrivener and yes, even Microsoft Word. Or if you’re on the go or looking for something cheap, there’s the free ZenPen. Even WordPress has a distraction free mode for you bloggers out there. In each case, everything of “interest” on the screen is pulled away and you’re left with a full screen of your page, where you can type away without infiltrations from email programs, Facebook, Twitter, and even your writing program itself with all of its shiny tools, buttons, and notifications.

These programs won’t turn off your phone for you, of course, but if you can’t bring yourself to do that, try an app called Forest. You plant a tree and set a timer, and when you’re on task, your tree grows. But if you wander off and start looking at the latest cat video your aunt posted on Facebook, your tree will die. That’s right – multitasking kills trees. Think about that the next time your email dings in the middle of Chapter Three.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

A Conference Panel for Everyone

In past years, attendees at the Steel Pen Creative Writers’ Conference listened to a brief welcome and then headed for the first breakout session. The 2017 conference will change that pattern and begin (after a brief welcome) with a general session panel titled “That’s Not What My Grandma Said: Preserving Regional Stories.”

People die, memories fade, and cultural history is lost. With them go the color and flavor that make any region unique and the seasonings that add authenticity to our written stories. So how do we keep cultural history alive? Join Jane Ammeson, Heather Augustyn, and Roland Cohen for a panel discussion on preserving regional stories. Kathryn Page Camp will moderate the panel.

The bios of the three distinguished panelists follow.

Jane Simon Ammeson is a freelance writer who specializes in travel, food and personalities. She writes frequently for Northwest Indiana Times, Edible Michiana, AAA Home & Away, Heartland Boating, Lakeland Boating, Cleveland Magazine, Long Weekends Magazine, Travel Indiana and the Herald Palladium. Her Bindu travel apps include Michigan Road Trips and Indiana Journeys. She’s authored ten books including Hauntings of the Underground Railroad: Ghosts of the Midwest, Murders That Made Headlines: Crimes of Indiana, A Jazz Age Murder in Northwest Indiana and East Chicago. She is a James Beard Foundation nominating judge for the Great Lakes Region.

Forever a Harbor girl, Jane attended E.C. Washington and worked after school and during the summers at the E.C. Public Library, a job she got through nepotism as her mother was employed there for a half century.

Heather Augustyn is author of Ska: An Oral History, McFarland, 2010; Don Drummond: The Genius and Tragedy of the World’s Greatest Trombonist, McFarland, 2013; Ska: The Rhythm of Liberation, Rowman & Littlefield, 2013; Songbirds: Pioneering Women in Jamaican Music, Half Pint Press, 2014; Alpha Boys School: Cradle of Jamaican Music, Half Pint Press, 2017; Dragon: The Story of Byron Lee, Ambassador of Jamaican Music, Half Pint Press, 2017; and Bob Marley: The Music of Pain and Promise, Rowman & Littlefield, 2018. She has been a correspondent for the Times of Northwest Indiana for 12 years and she teaches composition at Purdue University Northwest.

Ronald D. Cohen is an emeritus professor of history, Indiana University Northwest, Gary, Indiana, where he taught for 34 years. He is the author (or co-author) of numerous books, including Children of the Mill: Schooling and Society in Gary, Indiana, 1906-1960; Gary: A Pictorial History; Moonlight in Duneland; Rainbow Quest: Folk Music and American Society, 1940-1970The Pete Seeger Reader, and numerous others. He lives in Gary, Indiana, and is a member of the Gary Historic Preservation Commission.
This year's conference will be held on October 28 at the conference center at Fair Oaks Farms, just off I-65 near Renssselaer, Indiana. To learn more about the keynote speaker and the breakout sessions, go to You can find the registration link on the same page. Or, if you have additional questions, contact us at

We're excited about this year's conference, and we hope to see you there.