Monthly Archives: October 2010

Middle Grade Submission Guidelines

Here’s an example of Sourcebook’s submission guidelines for Middle Grade novels.  Gives an idea of what publishers are looking for, and what I’m aiming toward.



Minibar Wisdom: Whatever you do, pour yourself into it.

“Whatever you do, pour yourself into it.”

I didn’t make that up.  I read it on a cork.  This morning.  In the bathroom.  At the Amalfi Hotel in Chicago.

Last night, I raided the minibar and enjoyed a chilled Twix bar and a sip of Robert Mondavi Private Selection 2008 Chardonnay.   Sure, the label boasts a fine vintage and claims that  “…our Chardonnay displays crisp apple, tropical fruit and spice notes, with subtle oak nuances integrated to a crisp finish.”  At $16 for just 375ml, I have a mind to rewrite that text:  “…For such a  little bit of wine at such a ridiculous minibar price, good luck tasting anything as you gag over the price tag.  Cheers!”

Back up even farther.  Yesterday, I checked into this downtown Chicago hotel for a mini writing retreat.  In a very nice, quiet, clean room, I spent eight hours in front of my laptop revising my novel.  I took just a few breaks, one of which was to walk to the hotel’s 5-7pm complimentary happy hour.  I figured I’d get a free glass of wine, rather than paying through the nose with the bottles in my room’s minibar.

I walked into the “happy hour” on the 6th floor.  What a trip.  Held in a windowless, interior room of the hotel, there were about twenty 20-somethings sitting around tables and on couches.  Voices were hushed, lights were dim, and candles were everywhere.

Think Rosemary’s Baby.

I almost didn’t go in…it was that creepy.   Still, I wanted my free wine, so I walked up to the bar in the voodoo room.

As I asked for a glass of white wine, I was hit by a strong odor…it was either the very pungent cheese & cracker table to my left, or the unfortunate scent of a recent and lingering overindulgence by one of the 20 twenty-somethings.  Suddenly, that expensive, minibar wine sounded really, really good.

However, I’d already asked for a glass of white wine, so I couldn’t just leave.  I waited for the bartender to pour my glass.  As he inspected it, his brow furrowed, and he picked out a large piece of something.  Something green.

I tried not to stare, and slid my gaze instead toward the funky cheese table.

My pupils tried to capture enough light to register what, exactly, was laid out over there.   Nothing looked too gourmet…lots of sliced cheese, some round meat-type offerings, and crackers.  Nothing to gorgonzola-ish or blue-cheesey, so where was that smell coming from?  I turned back to the bartender, only to realize I hadn’t seen whether he retrieved a clean glass or not.  As he poured, I knew I wouldn’t be drinking it.  Still, I was polite and waited for him to hand it to me.

I carried my glass up to my room and promptly poured it down the bathroom sink.  Ah well, I thought.  Better safe than sorry.

I unlocked the minibar and pulled out the bitty bottle of Robert Mondavi Chardonnay with the oversized pricetag.  It had come to this.  Did I really want this glass of wine?  Sure do, I thought.  I’ve been working hard, and I’ll be working hard tomorrow, too.  There’s just over a glass of wine in here…the perfect size for a nightcap.

I attempted to open it with the plastic wine-bottle-opener supplied in the minibar, but I couldn’t extract the device from the tiny bottle.  It was almost as if the opener was too big.  At this point, I didn’t even want the wine anymore, but I also didn’t want to give up.  Maybe it was a subconscious attitude…don’t give up your novel, don’t let go of your characters.  But this, with the wine bottle, was   pathetic.

I remembered the bottle of wine I recently opened at home…something my husband had purchased…WITH A BOTTLE CAP!  Oh how I wished I just had one of those.  I could practically rip one of those off with my teeth at the right angle.  Not that I would.  I’m just saying…

I called down to the front desk and asked for a travel sized tube of toothpaste (which I really did need), and mentioned that I was also having trouble opening my wine bottle.

The (apparently) 19-year-old woman at the front desk said, “Oh, I’ll send our guy right up.  Everyone has trouble with those openers!”

My toothpaste delivery man/wine extraction specialist arrived moments later.  He popped the opener out with little effort, prompting me to utter an embarrassed chuckle.

I locked my door and put the toothpaste on the bathroom counter, next to my toothbrush.  I grabbed a glass and brought it to the desk.  Sitting down, I poured half a glass of wine, took a sip, and decided it was time for bed.

Anyone who knows me can attest that I enjoy a good glass of wine (and even a not-so-good glass) with quite some frequency.  But to be so tired that I choose to take a sip and go to bed?  Well, “What up with dat?”

I brushed my teeth and promptly fell asleep.

My wakeup call came at 6:30 a.m., and I was (unbelievably) out of bed and in the shower by 7:00.   Again, NOT my usual routine.  I’m a night owl by nature; weekend mornings are sacred sleepy-time for me.  Especially here, in a hotel room, with no distractions, no obligations, and no other compelling reason to get up — save for my novel — I could have easily slept in.

Did I also mention I’d NEVER ONCE turned on the television?  I’m such a creature of habit that, when left alone, I’ll almost always turn on the TV for some company.  Not this time.  I made a conscious effort not to turn anything on except the lights and my novelist brain.

Ah, my novel.  I’m back.  Back to feeling its pull.  Back after a month-long hiatus while getting my feet wet with and the twice-daily blogging that was keeping me up every night until the wee hours.  I’m back to feeling connected to my novel, the characters, my story, and the importance of the message I’m trying to share.  I was worried that I was losing my mojo, worried that jumping in to blogging head-first would zap all my novel writing motivation. I’m not worried anymore.

Back to this morning:  I got out of the shower and got ready for the day.  Wiping down the bathroom counter, I noticed the cork from the minibar wine bottle.  Turning it over in my hands, I read the printed message:  “Whatever you do, pour yourself into it.”

I might not have wanted to drink that wine last night, but now I know:   the effort to get that cork out and find that message was worth every extra penny.


Whatever you do, pour your heart into it. --Robert Mondavi


Let’s Talk About Books, Baby. Let’s Talk About You and Me.

I signed up for something called  I heard it’s a great online resource for women writers.  I haven’t done anything with it yet…just created a quick profile of who I am and what I’m doing.  But then, today, I received an email notice that someone was welcoming me to the site.  Her name is Meg.  She wrote The Wednesday Sisters, which is sitting (unread) next to my bed.  I think Mike bought it for me for Christmas, and it’s been one of those books I just haven’t made time to read.

I replied to Meg’s short and kind greeting with a little note about how I’ve got her book and look forward to reading it (I do).  And then, she wrote back, about how she’s got a child at the University of Chicago right now…about how I should join a group on for first time novelists.  It was extremely helpful to get a little boost from someone with that sort of cache (and believe me, it doesn’t take much to impress me…so coming from her, I was blown away).  Here’s a little bio on her from Amazon:

Meg Waite Clayton is the author of the national bestseller, THE WEDNESDAY SISTERS, THE LANGUAGE OF LIGHT, which was a Bellwether Prize finalist, and the forthcoming THE FOUR MS. BRADWELLS (Ballantine, March 2011). She’s also the host of the blog, 1st Books: Stories of How Writers Get Started, which features award-winning and bestselling authors sharing stories about their paths to writing and publishing. Her short stories and essays have been read on public radio and have appeared in commercial and literary magazines. She’s a graduate of the University of Michigan and Michigan Law School, and lives with her family in Palo Alto, California. Visit her on the web at


That’s one end of my “book spectrum” today.  The other end involves my purchase, made in preparation for our oldest child turning 13 next month.  I just ordered  Get Out of My Life, but First Could You Drive Me & Cheryl to the Mall: A Parent’s Guide to the New Teenager, Revised and Updated

The author’s last name is Wolf, which is comforting.

I think I’ll get a kick out of the book based on the title alone.  I see glimmers of teen-ish-ness from my son, but he’s truly a great kid (all my kids are…I’m extremely lucky).

I’ll admit that in the past 4 weeks of writing 2 posts a day for, I’ve drained my energy reserves to an all-time low.  As such, my patience and ability to “roll” with things have both sunk far below the realm of recognition.  On the bright side, I’ve got two things working for me here:

1.  The wisdom to know that I’ve got to recharge, and

2. A husband who hears me and knows it’s important to step out, even for 24-48 hours.

I found a hotel downtown to bring all my files and notes and folders for my novel.  My neglected novel.  The novel I cannot WAIT to hand to young girls.  The novel that will empower them and celebrate their strength.  That will speak to them and make them laugh and cry and learn things about life in Chicago and sailing and living with less materialism.  That will be discussed in mother-daughter book groups far and wide.  That will transform the way kids look at the toy aisles in Target stores — from desire to disdain.

Lofty expectations from an unpublished author, no?

The way I see it, I need this hubris.  I need to believe I can do it.  An hour ago, I didn’t believe I could.

I was stressing about how I’d get all my obligations handled tomorrow before meeting with my critique group…until I had a breakthrough.  What if I don’t turn in pages this time?  I’ve never NOT turned in pages.  But when I’m really feeling down and overburdened, why not think about my group — and all its unwavering support — and try something new?  I emailed them and said this:

My goal for Thursday is to get some suggestions on how to tackle a major writing weekend.  Good news is, I’m getting out of my house for the weekend to write, but I’m a bit overwhelmed at the task of my novel (maybe b/c I’ve been writing short bursts of blogs for the last 4 weeks).  No need to read anything of mine this week.  Just looking for a little hand holding.  Wondering if my book’s any good, and if I’ll ever finish it.  Feeling a little defeated about my neglected novel.  Would love a motivating speech about how I can finish it AND polish it in time for the Winter Conference.  I signed up for it tonight and I’m excited and terrified about that deadline.

That’s right:  I’ve signed up for the New York SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) Conference in January 2011.  I’ve also signed up for the Writers’ Intensive Group, which is when you sit with an editor/agent and let him/her read the first 500 words of your novel.  If the person likes it, they’ll ask for the whole thing.

Last year I went to the conference, and an editor read my pages.  She asked if I was finished (a great sign), but when I said I was 75% done, the conversation was abruptly through.  She came to the conference looking for manuscripts to take home.  I went to the conference (wrongly) hoping an editor would say, “This is great!  When you’re done, call me and we’ll sign a contract.  Keep going!  You’re awesome.”  Sadly, that’s not the way it works.

I now get it.  Well, I get it more than I used to. In this economy, editors are trying to find the best and the most polished manuscripts of the day.  They’re not there to soothe and coo and coddle us writers.  Their eyes are bugged out by the end of those writers’ intensive workshops.  They want to take something that’s ready to present to their board back at HQ.  Something that justifies getting out of the office for an entire day rather than pouring through the slush back at the office.

I want my manuscript to be the one to make the right editor shiver at the end,  to catch his breath midway through, lost in tangential thoughts like “how on earth will this story ever turn out?”  To compel the right editor to ——

Hold up.

Realistically, I’d like an editor to look at my first 500 words, put the page down, and simply say, “May I see more?”  That, actually, is what I’d really love.