Thursday, March 31, 2011

Back into the Swing of Things--Writing Pitches

Week of March 27: Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered
Thursday: Back into the Swing of Things—Writing Pitches

I am working on a non-rhyming picture book that is heavily metered. As I’ve been playing with the text I’ve also wondered how to pitch the book. I emailed my friend and mentor, the great Joyce Sweeney—poet and novelist. “What do you call a non-rhyming, heavily metered picture book?” I asked. Joyce wrote back: “A hard sale.” Thanks for that bitter taste of reality, Joyce! LOL! And thanks for reminding me that pitching a book is an art, not a science.

Ask ten writers how to pitch your picture book in a cover letter and you’ll get ten different answers. I’ve come to the conclusion that there is more than one way to write a successful pitch. Some folks wouldn’t even call it a pitch, but rather, a synopsis. I’m not going to pretend I’m an expert on the subject, but I’m going to share some of the things I’ve learned/heard/been taught about pitches/synopses and then share one of my pitches. I’d love your input and comments. You’re welcome to share your pitches, too.

In their Children’s Writing Boot Camp, Linda Arms White and Laura Backes advocate stating your plot using this structure:

This is the story of _________________________ who more than anything wants to _______________________ but can’t because _____________________ until _____________________.

This statement, when completed, gives a good nutshell summary of your book and could be used as a pitch/synopsis in a cover letter.

Joyce Sweeney and Jamie Morris lead many workshops in their THE NEXT LEVEL: Craft Intensives for Dedicated Writers series. When I attended their marketing workshop, Jamie told us that the pitch in a cover letter should be a synopsis. According to Jamie: “For the purposes of your [cover] letter, the synopsis is only a paragraph. Writing in third person/present tense, use this section to introduce your main characters, what they want, why they want it, and what stands in their way of getting it. Make sure your synopsis includes the resolution to your story, including what your main characters learn during the journey.”

I have tried to use everything I’ve heard and learned and combine it together into pitch/synopsis writing. Along the way I’ve found some things that I think can make a pitch/synopsis distinctive, for instance:
1.  Tell about the story in the same style/tone as the story. (If you have a wacky, zany story, then the pitch/synopsis needs to depict that.)
2.  Use some words from the text if possible.
3.  Think of book flaps and their intriguing, market-driven approach. They can help you organize your pitch/synopsis and find your voice in the process.
4.  Show your writing style in your pitch/synopsis. If you write with lots of dashes and ellipses, then show that. If your writing strength is your verb and noun choices, show it. If the distinctive flavor of your writing is in the sensory details, show it.

Below is my pitch for Cowboy Christmas which I sold to Golden Books-Random House and that will be published in fall 2012. This pitch illustrates my hybrid approach.

In Cowboy Christmas, Dub, Dwight, Darryl, and their cook, Cookie, are stuck roping steers, wrestling longhorns, and wrangling up strays on Christmas. “Santy Claus will never find us out on the range,” Dub moans. The cowboys try to recreate their childhood Christmas memories, but each attempt ends with a hilarious failure. A surprise is in store for the Circle D dudes when Santa (who looks a lot like Cookie) makes a visit.

I recommend that we write out our pitches/synopses and share them with our critique groups. Since the pitch/synopsis will be read even before the manuscript, it’s vitally important that it be the best it can be. Wouldn’t be awful if the pitch/synopsis caused the editor or agent to not be interested in reading any further?

It’s Your Turn!
1. Write a pitch/synopsis for one of your manuscripts. Share the finished product with your critique group or post it here for input. I’d love to pitch in and share my two cents!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Welcome to Rob's World of Delusion!

Week of March 27: Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered
Wednesday, March 30: Welcome to Rob’s World of Delusion!

Have you ever had a thought like this:

“I know that publisher says they don’t want animal books, but they’ve never seen an animal book like mine. I’ll gonna send it.”


“Sure she says she doesn’t want rhyming books, but this isn’t you’re ordinary rhyming book. I’ve already stuck it in the mail.”

Oh, you have said similar things? Then welcome to Rob’s World of Delusion (aka: RWofD)! This amazing playground/amusement park allows me to live out . . . okay, dream out . . . my writing fantasies. In Rob’s World of Delusion you can hop on the Rollercoaster Express that will take your manuscript anywhere you want it to go and directly to the editor's desk! Then you can jump on the Writers Ferris Wheel and have the belly-dropping highs and lows of mailing off manuscripts and checking the mailbox/inbox daily with hearty anticipation. In Rob’s World of Delusion all the rides rotate around me (for that matter, so does the universe) and I magically, mystically, madly convince others that what they really want and need and feel is actually what I want them to want and need and feel!

Because so many writers visit Rob’s World of Delusion, publishing companies have started adding statements like the following to their entries in Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market®:

·        Study our catalog before submitting. (p. 166)
·        As a guide for future publications look in our latest publications, do not look to our older backlist. (p. 170)
·        Learn about publishing and book marketing in general. Be familiar with the kinds of books published by the publisher to whom you are submitting. (p. 204)
·        Read our books before approaching us. (p. 206)
·        Study our catalogs and get a sense of the kinds of books we publish, so that you know whether your project is likely to be right for us. (p. 208)

If you’re still visiting Rob’s World of Delusion it’s time to ask for a refund and come back to Writer Reality Land. Admittedly it’s not as much fun as RWofD, but Writer Reality Land will probably yield more results in the long run.

I told you earlier this week that I had found 30-ish publishers of picture books who accept non-agented submissions and the kinds of stories I write. Well, I’ve spent several days and evenings researching some of those publishers and my lists is now a bit shorter. It seems that when you actually do check publishing houses websites, book lists, etc. you discover what would not fit in the brief notes in the Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market® or whatever source you are using.

For instance, I found a wonderful lead for a publisher who listed the topics they wanted in picture books. Among the list were folktales, animals, and cultures. I have a wonderful rewriting of a folktale that is set in Appalachia—a decidedly different culture in my mind. Well . . . when I visited the publisher's website I realized they meant new folktales from foreign lands and that almost all of their releases in the last year focused on Africa. My first thought was to draft a letter offering my advice and my manuscript:

Dear Publisher:

I know you love folktales—who doesn’t? And do I have a doosey for you. The best news is it’s not set in Africa. Haven’t you spent enough time there all ready? Isn’t it time to give your readers a break? How about a nice trip to the luscious backwoods of Appalachia? Now there’s a culture you’ve never had the insight to publish a book about. I’m happy to say I’m here to help.

Okay, I didn’t actually write that letter, but when I send a manuscript that is an ill-fit for a publisher, I am either saying I don’t know what I’m doing or I don’t think they know what they’re doing. Either way, the scenario is not going to work out any better than that fantasy letter.

As I’ve been delving in to learn more about the publishers where my manuscripts might fit, I’ve found a wealth of info. The best discovery has been to see that some of my favorite picture books come from some of these publishers and that some of my favorite authors have published with those houses. I’ve run across names of editors that I remember from conferences or that I’ve read about in other blogs. I’ve discovered topics that I never knew anyone would want and that I actually have ideas for.

I’m continuing my search from the best publishers for me. The current stage of the process will be completed this week and I’ll begin to send out a boat-load of inquiries—but my boats are going to be setting sail on voyages that have real possibilities instead of just sailing up The Denial River at Rob’s World of Delusion!

It’s Your Turn!
1. Are you ready to confront any of your delusions today? If not, just be happy you don’t have mine! LOL!
2. I encourage you to keep searching for those publishers who are the right-fits for your manuscripts.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

If You Caught It, You've Got It!

Week of March 27: Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered
Tuesday, March 29: If You Caught It, You’ve Got It

Have you ever been in a book store that specializes in resources for 12-step recovery programs? Those people have the best bumper stickers.
·   Hokey Pokey Anonymous: A place to turn yourself around
·   If nothing changes, nothing changes
·   Once you’re a pickle you can’t go back to being a cucumber
·   Yes, I am Irish. No, I don’t drink. Yes, I am aware of the irony.
·   The only difference between God and me is God doesn’t think he’s me.
·   I am allergic to drugs. I break out in felonies and misdemeanors.
·   When one door closes, another one opens. But the hallways are a bitch!
·   Fake it ‘til you make it
·   I plan, God laughs.
·   Do the next right thing!
·   When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change
·   WARNING: I have character defects and I’m not afraid to use them!
·   Progress Not Perfection
·   If you caught it, you’ve got it

That last bumper stick drives me nuts every time I see it—If you caught it, you’ve got it. The Robinition of the phrase is this: If something about someone else bothers you, chances are you have the same character flaw/habit/personality trait.

Lately as I’ve found myself being bugged by other writers and what they say and do, I’ve been trying to stop and say to myself: If you caught it, you’ve got it. So let me come clean today and tell you some of the stuff that has been bugging me and how it really is all about me as a writer and how I need to improve and grow. Maybe you’ll see yourself in some of my reflections.

Someone said recently, “This is my second revision so I’m sure I’m finished now.” Another time someone wrote, “I’ve revised this three or four times and I’m sure it’s ready to go. Don’t you think so?” The three people who critiqued the manuscript did not think so and encouraged more revision. I definitely know I caught this one ‘cause I’ve got it. I like to finish a project and I want others to say, “Oh, this is perfect. You don’t need to do one more thing to it.” Interestingly, no one ever says that. As time goes on, I find myself nipping my “I’m finished” in the bud, but I always have to watch it.

I’ve had some experiences where fellow writers have said things like this: “My hairdresser knows the cousin of a woman who works maintenance at the Scholastic building. She thinks she can get my manuscript on the desk of an editor there!” Or this one: “I wrote in my cover letter that I enjoyed her presentation at the conference. Of course, I wasn’t in her presentation, but she’ll never know.”

I caught it! I got it! I too am always looking for the magic bean, the smoke and mirrors, the fairy god mother who will get my manuscript into the hands of the right person. This comes from reading too many fairy tales. Hijinks won’t get me published and it won’t get you published either. We’re going to have to go through the same process and hard knocks as everyone else. Supposedly it builds character. Frankly, I would give up a bit of character for a good book deal, but I don’t think it’s going to work that way!

I recently answered a query posted on a web site. The writer asked, “Can anyone tell me what the margins should be on a picture book?”

My first instinct was to write: “Yes I can. But I’m not going to.” But I stopped and thought: Have I caught/got something else? Yes. The attitude of wanting someone else to do for you what you are capable of doing for yourself is something some folks struggle with all their lives. Thank goodness for co-dependent people who step in and provide the answers! LOL! Seriously, searching for info and exhausting all the possibilities yourself can lead you to not only find the answer you’re looking for (hopefully), but also you’ll discover fifteen other things in the process. Of course, after all that work if you still can’t find your answer, you ask for help! (By the way, I gave the writer with the question links to two web sites that could provide the information he wanted. Hopefully I helped him help himself!)

That is one of my favorite Missouri colloquialisms. Both of my grandmothers and both of my parents used it frequently (sometimes with more colorfully word choices). The phrase fits many writers. I shared a cab from the SCBWI, LA, conference to the airport last summer. The woman was a writer I’d never met—the doorman hooked us up with a taxi as we waited in the lobby. She asked what I was writing and I went into a list of stories. Then I asked her the same question. She responded: “Oh, I’ve been working on a manuscript for ten years now. It’s almost ready.” Friends, it was a picture book manuscript. Both of my grandmothers shouted from heaven, “Poop or get off the pot!”

My friend Heather and I talked about this subject before our March critique group meeting. When do you let go of a manuscript and move on to something else? I don’t know that you ever let go of a manuscript . . . but you certainly have to move on. Before my first writing boot camp I had one manuscript I had played with off and on for years. But after that conference my list of manuscripts in various forms of completion grew and grew and grew. I firmly believe I have to have many projects in the works. Most will never be published. Some will make it to a critique group. A few will be submitted to editors and agents. One or two will hopefully get published.

“I didn’t make any changes. I like it the way it is,” a writing friend told a group of us. She had ignored all the critiques she was given and went ahead and sent off her manuscript (which was promptly rejected). I suffer from this ailment from time to time. I am so close to a manuscript that I can’t listen to the input of others. I am so convinced that I am right, that I can’t get it right. Sometimes it takes hearing the same comment from multiple people in multiple settings for me to “get it” and make the changes.

“Should I abbreviate SCBWI or spell it out in my letter to the agent?” a writer recently asked. Followed by: “Should I put said before or after a character’s name?” This is small stuff, folks. A manuscript is not going to be rejected for either of these reasons. Why put focus there? I’ll tell you why (because I’ve got this one, too). If you/I focus on the small stuff it will keep us distracted from the big stuff, the hard stuff, the stuff that really matters. If I’m worrying about whether to place said before or after the character’s name I’m probably not thinking about character development, story arc, tension, and more. At least that’s been my personal experience.

When I first joined an online critique group I was astounded one or two people could be so blunt, bordering on mean, in their critiques. These were good people who had lost focus of that old sandwich approach to critiquing—a positive, some constructive criticism, and another positive. I am sensitive about this when conferencing with students about their writing and I’m usually a kind critiquer. But if I caught it, I’ve got it. Sometimes I come on too strong and it usually means I need to stop critiquing at that moment in time. I’m usually tired or maybe frustrated about something else and need to check myself before decking someone else.

Have you ever been with someone who apologized all the way through a critique? It drives me nuts and it totally undermines even a quality critique. But I caught it, so I’ve got it. There are times when I’m afraid of hurting someone’s feelings or coming off to strong—especially in face-to-face critiques. I become mealy-mouthed and ineffective. I need to stick to my guns, especially when I know my intentions are correct.

Well, I feel like I should pay someone for a good therapy session. Today’s post was worth a month of visits to a shrink’s sofa. Maybe if I’ll just keep remembering if I caught it, I’ve got it then I can focus on keeping my side of the street clean. (Oh, by the way, that’s another recovery bumper sticker!)

It’s Your Turn!
1. Got a bumper sticker burden to get off your chest? Write it down and then start analyzing yourself. It’s cheap, relatively painless, and can be immensely helpful.

Monday, March 28, 2011

A Dose of Reality--Searching the Market

Week of March 27: Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered
Monday, March 28: A Dose of Reality—Searching the Market

I’ve had a difficult time getting started on blog posts this week. I have no idea whether it’s been a lack of inspiration, frustration, laziness, or what. I would blame writers’ block (or blogger’s block), but I don’t ever let me students use that excuse. If they try I say, “What does your mom (or dad) do for a living?” Then comes the answer: hair dresser, truck driver, teacher, preacher, whatever. Next I’ll ask, “Does she ever get hair-dresser block? Truck driver block? Teacher block? Preacher block?” No one else uses that as an excuse not to work, so why should writers?! Truth is that right now I am a bit bewitched, bothered, and bewildered about where to send my manuscripts.

Even though I’m a baby boomer, I’ve spent most of my life in an immediate gratification kind of world. Hungry? Throw something in the microwave. Lonely? Call someone on the phone. Have a question? Google it. Writing—whether my picture book writing or my blog writing—is not like that. The closest I get to immediate gratification in writing is using spell check or finding the perfect rhyming word.

Having exhausted my contacts from conferences and online sources, I started methodically scouring through the 2011 Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market®. Editor Mary Pope says about 50% of publishers still accept unsolicited manuscripts. That may be true, but by the time I’d sifted through categories that I’m not currently writing for—Christian, YA, MG, Jewish themes, nonfiction, etc.—and sorted out publishers with criteria I didn’t meet—Canadian only, Alaskan authors only, Martians with three eyes only—I first found 26 U.S. publishers who would take unsolicited manuscripts for picture books. (By the way, why are Canadian publishers who only take Canadian authors listed with the American/North American publishers and listed again with foreign publishers? Not judging, just wondering.)

As I searched through the book again (and read between the lines), I found a total of 32 publishers who would take unsolicited picture book manuscripts. But still, you have to admit that 32 is pretty slim pickin’s. On the other hand, having 32 potential publishers is much better than not knowing any publishers who might want my writing.

As I read I found quotes like these:
·   “You should find a reputable agent and have him/her submit your work” (p. 211). Sounds easy, huh? Face it, most of us would take an un-reputable agent at this point!
·   “This publisher does not offer payment for stories published in its anthologies, and/or book collections” (p. 193). Sounds lucrative, doesn’t it?
·   “Do NOT send a self-addressed stamped envelope. We regret the inconvenience, but unfortunately, we are too understaffed to maintain a correspondence with authors. We will continue to accept unsolicited manuscripts but we can contact you ONLY if we are interested in acquiring your work” (p. 149). This is purgatory for an author—never knowing, never being able to ask, eternally thinking if you’ve not been contacted maybe they’re still interested.
·   “[We] have a moratorium on manuscripts” (p. 158). That doesn’t sound promising for us or them.
·   “Publishes one picture book a year” (p. 169). There will be some stiff competition for that slot!
·   Then there are the publishers who want an exclusive submission and will get back to you in four to six months. That just doesn’t seem wise to me.
·   I swear I saw a quote that said one publisher received 20,000 manuscripts a year, but now I can’t find the quote. Perhaps I was really over-indulging my poor-pitiful-me side.

I guess I’ve been reminding myself that this is a tough, tough business. You just don’t start a career overnight or (perhaps) even over years. There is real competition out there and only the best, most unique manuscripts will survive. That means my creative muses and work ethic have to kick into high gear.

By the way, while reading through Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market I did find two or three publisher entries that made me remember stories I had started and put away thinking they weren’t commercial enough. Some publishers are looking for a very niche market stories—nature, Buddhism, gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgendered-friendly, kids with special needs, etc. I’ve revisited some of my manuscripts this weekend. A few would probably never pass muster with an agent or a traditional publishing house, but they might find a home in a more “specialty” house.

My next step is to research a handful of the publishers I discovered and get more manuscripts in the mail. Then next weekend (while riding in an RV to and from Atlanta) I will be pouring over the agent section of Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market to try to scrounge up the best agents to pitch to.

I don’t know that I’m any less bewitched, bothered, and bewildered . . . but at least I have a plan!

It’s Your Turn!
1. When’s the last time you spent time looking through a book, magazine, or web site searching for possible publishers for your manuscripts? You may need to start this week.
2. Make a short list of publishers you will research further.

Sunday, March 27, 2011


Week of March 27: Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered
Quote of the Week:
I am not judged but the number of times I fail, but by the number of times I succeed and the number of times I succeed is in direct proportion to the number of times I fail and keep trying.
—Tom Hopkins

Monday: A Dose of Reality—Searching the Market
Tuesday: If You Caught It, You’ve Got It
Wednesday: Welcome to Rob's World of Delusion
Thursday: Back into the Swing of Things—Writing Pitches
Friday: Hovering Over a Cover Letter

Friday, March 25, 2011

Idioms--Familiar, Wise, and Fun Sayings!

Week of March 20—Language Play for Lively Writing    
Friday, March 25—Idioms—Familiar, Wise, and Fun Sayings!

     A sentence should be clear, concise, and straightforward. Or should it be? In addition to a slew of precise nouns and verbs, our language includes a rich smorgasbord of idioms and colloquialisms that allow any writer to express a range of ideas. A idiom is a phrase whose meaning cannot be determined by the literal definition of the phrase itself, but refer instead to a figurative meaning known only through common use.
From: Pyrotechnics on the Page: Playful Craft that Sparks Writing by Ralph Fletcher, p. 51.
Idioms, expressions, and colloquialisms--I love 'em. As I read Fletcher’s book I was interested to see that he lumped all these types of sayings into one category under the heading of idioms.
I read in a professional education journal years ago that idioms were a way of helping English-as-a-second-language learners master English. After all, if you can begin to understand these sayings that actually mean more than the words themselves, you truly are mastering the language. As time has gone by, I’ve found that many children are intrigued by this playing with words and meanings. I let students help collect idioms they’ve read, heard, or discovered in other ways. My favorite idiom of all time is from one of my students. Ryan, half of a pair of fourth grade identical twins, added one of his dad’s sayings to our Idiom Notebook:
 Silence is golden, but duct tape is silver.
One student after another discovered Ryan’s idiom in the notebook and soon the saying started cropping up in other peoples’ writing. I frequently share colloquialisms and idioms from my upbringing in Missouri. Those, too, start cropping up in student writing. The first step in mastery is often copying the work or ideas of others.
How do picture authors use idioms in their writing? Well, let’s look back at our friend Margie Palatini for an example. (Maybe we’ll find something to copy! LOL!)
     Ah, yes! The perfect hide-out. It was close. It was clever. And—eats were included.
     “We’ll go on the lam,” chuckled Willy.
     “Pull the wool over their eyes,” chortled Wally.
     “Fleece the flock,” the both snickered. “Oh, yeah, we’re bad. We’re bad. We’re really, really bad.”

From: Bad Boys by Margie Palatini and Henry Cole, pp. 12-13

Three idioms in a row, all lamb related, and all spoken by two wolves. How hilarious is that? Here’s another example from Margie:

   “Who’s crossing my bridge?” shouted the Troll.
   “It’s just Jack. I’m bring my poor mother some magic beans I traded for our cow.”
   “Beans? You need a reality check, junior,” said the little man with a stamp, a stomp, and a snort.
   The boy held out his hand. “But all I have left are these beans and two pennies.”
   “Then hit the road, Jack!” shouted the Troll, spilling the beans into the river.
   Poor Jack didn’t have a clue what to do.
   “Don’t worry, kiddo,” called out Billy Bo. “Put in your tow centers over here.”

From: The Three Silly Billies by Margie Palatini and Barry Moser, p. 22

Is it necessary that the reader understands all of the sayings/expressions/idioms in this excerpt. No. The piece is funny and effective even if you don’t understand the literary devices. Of course, once you do understand them, the excerpt is even funnier. Fletcher says in his book that many authors don’t expect their readers to understand all the idioms and expressions used in a piece of writing—interesting, huh? But there are ways to help the reader “get it”.
Those wacky Amelia Bedelia books frequently use illustrations to explain idioms and other expressions.

“This is my daddy,” said Amelia Bedelia. “He is a telephone operator.”
“Then he helps people make calls,” said Mr. Rogers.
“He does not!” said Amelia Bedelia. “He operates on telephones.”
“I see,” said Mr. Rogers

“This is my mama,” said Amelia Bedelia. “She is a loafer.”
“You mean she does nothing,” said Mrs. Rogers.
“Certainly not,” said Amelia Bedelia. “She words hard. She makes dough into loaves of brea. That’s what a loafer does.”
“I see,” said Mrs. Rogers

From: Amelia Bedelia’s Family Album by Peggy Parish and Lynn Sweat, pp. 7-10

Of course, defining a word, term, or idiom in context is the easiest and most effective way to help a reader understand meaning.

   The Three Silly Billies were ready to kick up their heels and have some fun in the sun. They packed up their old jalopy, and with a spit, a chug, and a honk, off they tootled. Down the hill and through the woods went the billies until they came to a small wooden bridge that crossed a very deep river.

From: The Three Silly Billies by Margie Palatini and Barry Moser, p. 4

Sometimes authors don’t really want us to understand—they just want us to enjoy. Below is a great example.

   But the middle bill, who was Bo, had an idea. “What we need is—a car pool! We can share the fare!”
   So Billy Bob opened the trunk. Billy Bo pumped up the pool. And Just Plain Billy fetched some pails of water. With a splish, a splash, and a slosh, the Three Silly Billies grabbed their rubber duckies and jumped into their car pool.

From: The Three Silly Billies by Margie Palatini and Barry Moser, p. 10

It’s Your Turn!
1. Why not start collecting idioms, colloquialisms, and other figures of speech in your writer’s notebook? Who knows when you might pull one out and put it to good use!
2. Go on an Idiom Hunt through some of your favorite picture books. Add the idioms you discover to your list. (It's ok to copy! LOL!)

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Similes and Metaphors—Comparisons R Us!

Week of March 20—Language Play for Lively Writing    
Thursday, March 24—Similes and Metaphors—Comparisons R Us!

s A simile is a comparison of two things using like or as.
s A simile usually compares two things that are different, but have some common link or connection.

His feet were as big as boats.
The twins are like two peas in a pod.
The baby’s hands were like an octopus’ tentacles.

s A metaphor states that one thing is something else.
s It is a comparison, but does NOT use like or as.

Her hair is silk.
Harold is a wet blanket at parties.
My pillow was a soft cloud.

Similes and metaphors are powerful tools for making connections for readers. Something totally unknown to the reader (my brother, Butch, for instance) and compare it to something the readers does have knowledge of or can picture (a snarling bull) and you can help the reader know more about Butch. For instance:

Butch is like a snarling bull.
Butch is a snarling bull.

The two most common mistakes writers make with similes and metaphors are to use ones that are too common, familiar, and trite AND to compare things so unrelated that the reader doesn’t make the needed connection. Yes, go for the unexpected, but make your simile or metaphor cause the reader to understand and think, NOT wonder and ponder.

Let’s look to some great books for examples of similes and metaphors.

Do you know that Jane Yolen has written more than 300 books? So when Jane Yolen speaks, we need to listen and when she writes, we need to read. Look at this gorgeous description that includes a simile.

Well, child, I recall once upon a time
an old woman lived on our street,
oldest woman I’d ever seen.
Her hair was white and fine
like the fluff off a dandelion.

From: Miz Berlin Walks by Jane Yolen and Floyd Cooper, p. 4

Quality similes populate All the Colors of the Earth. Here are a few:

Children come with hair like bouncy baby lambs,
Or hair that flows like water,
Or hair curls like sleeping cats in snoozy cat colors.

From: All the Colors of the Earth by Sheila Hamanaka, pp. 15-18

This warm-hearted picture book is filled with superb writing. Notice how the simile is tucked into a sentence to complete the description. I now know exactly what tap shoes sound like!

The song and dance man begins to dance the old soft shoe. His feet move slowly at first, while his tap shoes make soft, slippery sounds like rain on a tin roof.

From: Song and Dance Man by Karen Ackerman and Stephen Gammell, p. 16

In Shades of Black: A Celebration of Our Children, Sandra L. Pinkney use metaphors to compare the color of children’s skin to various items. The excerpt below is one gorgeous metaphor after another. (I’ll highlight every other line where the metaphor is most obvious, but the other lines are continued metaphors as well. NOTE: This metaphor scheme continues throughout the book.)

I am the creamy white frost in vanilla ice cream
and the milky smooth brown in a chocolate bar
I am the midnight blue in a licorice stick
and the golden brown in sugar
I am the velvety orange in a peach
and the coppery brown of a pretzel

From: Shades of Black: A Celebration of Our Children by Sandra L. Pinkney and Myles C. Pinkney, pp 4-5

I love how Georgia Heard wraps up her description of an eagle with a metaphor.
You must get a copy of this book—it is a master class in writing.

Eagle gliding in the sky,
circling, circling way up high—
wind is whistling through your wings.
You’re a graceful kite with no string.

From: Creatures from Earth, Sea, and Sky: Poems  by Georgia Heard and Jennifer Owings Dewey, p. 12

Ralph Fletcher has entered the blog again! Years of great writing by Fletcher give added credibility to his book Pyrotechnics on the Page: Playful Craft That Sparks Writing that I mentioned earlier this week. The following excerpt shows some of Fletcher’s creds.

My brother Tom swoops in
like an F5 torado (SIMILE)
and destroys by bedroom.

He’s a human wrecking ball (METAPHOR)
that crashes through my room
leaving trampled toys behind.

From: A Writing Kind of Day: Poems for Young Poets by Ralph Fletcher, p. 12

It’s Your Turn!
1. Try some similes of your own. If you need idea starters, use the ideas below. If not, just get busy creating.
_________________ is smart as ___________________.
_______________ is mean like  __________________.
___________________ is as strong as _________________.
_________________ is fast like  ____________________.
2. Now try some metaphors of your own making!
3. Feel free to click CONNECT and add your creations!