Iceland: Facts for Fiction

If you’re considering Iceland as a setting for your next book, I highly recommend, it. As one friend put it, it’s “otherworldly.” It’s known for amazingly beautiful, natural underground hot springs like Blue Lagoon. Fantastically colorful cityscapes. Volcanoes. A geyser (Geysir) from which all other geysers are named. The spot where European and North American continents split (tectonic plates). Waterfall after waterfall. Some great music. Black sand beaches. And sure, where Game of Thrones has filmed.

Unfiltered photo from my camera! Copyright Bitsy Kemper

Having recently spent a week there, I want to share some ways this landscape can make for an interesting background–if not supporting character–in your next book. Here are some random facts as told to me by historians and locals (that I backed up by other sources):

  1. Names: Besides being crazy long with letters that look like a fly got stuck on the page, there are some things you need to know before you name your Icelandic character:
    • Parents who want to give their child a name that’s never been used in the country before have to get it approved by a governing Icelandic Naming Committee. Really.[https://www.island.is/en/icelandic-names/] I’ve heard they are pretty easy going, as long at it’s not disparaging or derogatory (or, I’m guessing, something like Moon Unit [sorry Frank Zappa] or YouTube). Imagine the fun you’d have with the backstory of the first person named Jane or Pepe!
    • Brothers and sisters have different last names. That’s because the child takes the FIRST name of the dad and adds -son if it’s a boy and -dóttir (daughter) if it’s a girl. A family might have kids named Christopher Vincentson, George Vincentson, and Carolyn Vincentdóttir. (Of course their names wouldn’t be so Anglicized but you get the idea.) The mom can choose to not acknowledge the father and use only her name, although it’s not very common. In that case they’d be Christopher Elisabethson, George Elisabethson, and Caroyln Elizabethdóttir. Rarely, the child can use both names…Christopher Vincentson Elizabethson. [https://wsimag.com/culture/2248-the-peculiarities-of-icelandic-naming]
    • Phonebooks list names alphabetically by first name! Wouldn’t that be a great nugget to sneak into your novel? Well…assuming it’s in a time period when phonebooks were still commonly used…
  2. Space: The population of the ENTIRE COUNTRY is about 340,000, of which about 220,000 live in the capital area of Reykjavik. Think about that…there are fewer living in all of Iceland than in the city of Raleigh, NC; the capital has about as many people as Chesapeake, VA. Average capital city commute time? 11 minutes. (Not a typo. Eleven minutes, door to door. Can you imagine the luxury?) [https://www.worldometers.info/world-population/iceland-population/,
    http://worldpopulationreview.com/world-cities/reykjavik-population/,
    https://www.icelandreview.com/news/commuting-takes-an-average-11-6-minutes/]
  3. Capital: The city looks more like a town with homes that have been there for generations, with many of the same families living in them since they were hand built. Although there is a (small by US standards) industrial area with high rises, the main part of town has homes and historic buildings side by side everything else. Everything is accessible. Even the Prime Minister’s office is smack in the middle of town, a lovely but nondescript two-story building with no guards or parking lot, that anyone can walk up to. (Due to the high wind, almost no buildings in the main downtown are taller than a few stories.) But even though the capital city is lovely and beautiful and the only “real” city on the island, do you really want to write out “Reykjavik” 600 times? Consider picking a smaller town outside the capital so you don’t have to spell it over and over–or force your reader into trying to read and pronounce it in their head over and over. (FWIW “ray-kuh-vek” is the simplified way to say it…RECK or REYK-ya-vek or REYK-ja-vick with a very soft/minor j sound is how I’ve heard locals say it.) Just know almost all towns have equally awkward names, spellings, and pronunciations, at least by American standards. Maybe make up your own city name. Your call. P.S. The cathedral in the center of the capital city is a landmark that seems to be one many people recognize, and is a common tourist meeting place since it can be seen from far distances and is easy to find while walking from almost any point around town. The church was built in an art deco style of the New York Chrysler Building and is supposed to resemble their famous erupting geysir. P.P.S. The city, and well, island, is pretty darn windy, no bad hair jokes!
  4. Weather: beware of stereotyping.
    • You picture a vast snow-covered land, right? Well surprisingly, there is very little snowfall! And even less accumulation. Reykjavik only gets an average of two to three inches of snow per month in the winter. Due to the natural warm springs resting underground, most snow melts soon after it lands, making for little need to shovel driveways or pave roads. Compare that to Alaska, that might get two feet in January! Virtually no snow May to Oct. Note: it rains often throughout the year in Iceland. Precipitation numbers will be different from snowfall. [https://weatherspark.com/y/31501/Average-Weather-in-Reykjav%C3%ADk-Iceland-Year-Round]
    • Don’t like the weather? Wait five minutes.” Since it does rain at least a little bit almost every day–or at least it seems like it, that doesn’t mean it’s a hard rain. It might be a light mist while cloudy or while sunny. Or ten minutes of hard rain that fades out like nothing ever happened. Given the year-round island wind (told you it was windy!), no one but a tourist carries an umbrella, as it’ll just be blown inside out or down the street. I like that a variety of same-day weather might make for a fun backdrop, especially if your character is wishywashy or their future uncertain.
  5. Landscape:
    • There are 600 different types of moss covering land and rocks. [https://grapevine.is/mag/articles/2017/12/07/the-life-and-death-of-icelandic-mosses/] They’ve been around since the Ice Age. Some take 100-150 years to regrow if disturbed, kids are told, so they are taught at a young age to respect and stay away from it. Don’t have characters running off the beaten path. Or if they do, it’s has to be hugely significant.
    • There’s a saying that if you ever get lost in an Icelandic forest, just stand up. 🙂 The Norse deforested most of the original land when they arrived a thousand years ago, using trees for ships, warmth, housing, etc. Around 1950 a plan was put into place to start replanting. Most trees are relatively new to the island, and therefore not very tall. So don’t create any dense forest scenes! Hmm, actually, a pre- and post-1950s landscape might make for some interesting comparisons in character growth.
      [https://guidetoiceland.is/best-of-iceland/the-forests-of-iceland]
    • You’ll find one of the biggest glaciers in Europe on the island.
      [https://www.icelandontheweb.com/articles-on-iceland/nature/glaciers/vatnajokull] (Honestly makes me wonder how many European glaciers can there be to compare it to?) Great place for a character that leads expeditions, ice hikes, or conservation efforts, wouldn’t you say?
  6. Drinking: How’s this for a fun fact? Beer was banned in Iceland from 1915 until 1989. Seriously. [https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-31622038] Overall, I found Icelanders to not be big drinkers. Or drinkers at all. Stats agree; studies show they drink less than other cultures: in 2014 there was a reported lifetime abstinence for 14.1% of the drinking age population, and 32.1% of not drinking in the past 12 months, compared to, say, Denmark that had 4.5% and 11.4%. [https://www.who.int/substance_abuse/publications/global_alcohol_report/msb_gsr_2014_2.pdf?ua=1] Any bar scenes you put in might need to have a larger percentage of visitors with the local beer (say, Gull–pronounced sorta like ‘gulsh’) or vodka (say, Reyka) in their hands. Don’t ask me how I know, lol. Drinking age is 20.
  7. Prices and food: Ah, gee, don’t get me started. Prices are out of control.
    • A pint of that draft Gull beer? $12-$15 (1450-1800 krona). FOR ONE. Mojito? That’ll be $24, please. I got a vodka soda and was charged the equivalent of $22 for the vodka, and an additional $5 for the cute little bottle of seltzer. Dinner meals will cost a solid $40 each for nothing too fancy. Chinese food, Italian, Mexican, etc, all available. And all AT LEAST $25 a meal; most closer to $35. If you’re itching for just a burger and hit a version of a TGIFridays, you’ll get a pretty good burger and fries (only served medium/medium rare) for $25. Iced tea (no refills) $3-$5. I bought a large bottle of Icelandic water in California before I left, for $2, and the exact same one IN ICELAND was almost $4. Explain that to me? But I digress.
    • Their economy seems to be doing well, although some still understandably complain about inflation. <No political discussion will be had here!>
    • Their meal staples are lamb (pretty gamey I hear, since they are only fed a clean diet of grasses) and lots of fish dishes. They are vegan and vegetarian friendly, but are quick to make jokes about the lifestyle (as are the rest of the world, it appears!). Lots of farming generations there…sheep and cows…so the older generations are slower to warm up to meat-free diets.
    • Also they breed special Icelandic horses too but not for eating! It’s a pretty big exporting business; the horses can fetch upwards of $8,000-$20,000 each (told you everything there is more expensive!). They are smaller than other horses but have a unique gait.
  8. Oh–and one more set of random interesting facts: Taco Bell and Dominos are there. McDonalds is not. Nor is Uber. Both are banned.
  9. Ack, I could go on and on but I started this three weeks ago and keep thinking of new things to add. You get the picture, right? If not, see below 🙂 I think this is good enough for now. I hope you do too. Time to hit the PUBLISH key.

One stereotypical and broad-sweeping comment I will make is that I found the Icelandic people to be truly kind and nice and open. While once a secluded country, it’s slowly getting more diverse with people from all over the world moving in and finding a happy home, whether it’s in the fishing industry, aluminum, retail, educational, tourism, whatever. So if you’re looking for a unique main or supporting character you don’t have to limit yourself to the “typical” Icelander. Because just like with every other country in the world, there isn’t one.

There are plenty of ways to make your characters and setting stand out. Iceland just might be one of the better ways.

Let me know if you do!

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Getting Conference-Ready: 10 Conference Tips for the Introvert, Beginner, and Beginner Introvert

Whether you’re headed to your first conference or your fifth, you’re gonna want to plan ahead. Most writers are introverts, and panic at the thought of being in a room with strangers. Relax! You’re going to be fine. The children’s book industry is wonderfully welcoming and supportive. (I’ve attended and presented at conferences across the U.S., from local to international events, and never cease to be amazed at the kindness.) To help maximize your precious time, and all that coin you’ve already dropped on the event, here are some tips I’ve found most helpful:

image from luckylittlelearners

Conference tips:

  1. Have an overall goal in mind. This might change for every conference. Most people assume they are they are there to get published. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. You’re not going to get a contract at the conference (seriously, toss that thought right now). Be realistic. Let’s assume you’re there to figure out how to get published. Try to break that down into measurable steps.
    • Maybe your goal for that one conference is to find an agent, or to find out how to get an agent, or simply bust out of your comfort zone. OK. Can you make it even more specific? If you’re looking for in an agent, for example, what qualities or skills are important to you? Figure that out before you go so you know what to look for in the agents that are there, and you’ll be able to better size up and decide if anyone there is right for you. No sense submitting to an agent you don’t want to work with, right? If you want to break out of your comfort zone, list out two or three specific actions–like initiate a conversation with two strangers, attend that awards banquet by yourself, and/or refuse to sit in your room doing email every night.
    • Center all your time/schedule decisions around that one overall goal. Attend only those sessions that fit your goal, for example. It will help you manage your time AND challenge yourself to achieve that specific goal. (Next conference you can attend the other sessions that sounded equally good–odds are you’ll have a difference goal by then.)
  2. Get ready to smile and say hey. I hate the slimy connotations of the word networking, but conferences are really about the people. Otherwise you’d stay at home. What I mean by that is don’t just focus on the workshop topics, look at who’s teaching them. Read their bios. Try to read the book of the keynote speaker and/or whoever you’re taking classes from beforehand, so you know their background and you’re not coming in cold. That’s how you feel like a insider! By doing your homework you’ll feel like you already have an edge. Odds are you’ll be eager to meet the presenters. When else will you have the chance to meet them, and see what they’re really like? You can take just about any class online these days, but meeting these professionals in person? That’s why you’re there.
  3. Have your “elevator pitch” ready! You’ll be using it throughout the conference, that is, if you’re taking the conference seriously and are out there meeting people. (Here’s a good primer to get yours shiny.)
  4. Pack with a theme in mind. Not as in 1800s or hippy, but something that is consistent. It not only helps make packing easier, but makes it much easier for people to find and remember you every day, as well as afterwards. “I’m the one in polka dots” or “I was the one with pink striped hair.” You won’t be in the same thing everyday but people will start to recognize you by how you dress.
  5. Get your class act together. Speaking of clothes…at writer’s conferences you don’t have to dress to impress, but c’mon, this isn’t your mom’s basement. Make an effort. Dress like you’re going out to eat, not like you just woke up. If you look like you’re taking this seriously–others will take you seriously too. (But skip the heels, ladies, that’s one fashion item that’s just silly at a conference.)
  6. A simple trick: stick business cards (people still use them!) in your badge holder, so they’re handy. Make sure your website and whatever social media handles/hashtags you use are included–if not, write them in with pen. Consider adding a QR code to your card that allows a cell phone to take people directly to your contact info, including your website URL, without them ever having to type a thing. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WS7jdYZomu0 tells you how to create a free vcard. https://blog.4colorprint.com/great-designs-for-business-card-layout-inspiration has ideas for unique looking biz cards. [Note: I have no affiliation with either of them whatsoever]
  7. You never know who you’ll be sitting next to so be nice to everyone you meet. Author and illustrator Debbie Ridpath Ohi has some great conference tips on “making the first move” – you need to suck it up and introduce yourself around! Remember the part abut people being the reason you’re there? [See more of Debbie’s advice, including charming comics about being an introvert, at her website here.] Since most of us will be attending the conference alone (even if we traveled with a friend), it can get nerve racking. Wracking even. Take some “survive attending a conference alone” tips from themuse.com here. [Again, no affiliation]
  8. Be open to learning. If you’ve attended a hundred conferences before and find yourself saying “I already know this” at every session/workshop, then you’re preventing yourself from learning anything new. I mean, if you already know everything, why are you there? (<— remind me of this one, ok? I’m always the one rolling my eyes saying I knew that, when, hmm, maybe I didn’t)
  9. Prepare ahead of time. Review the schedule. Figure out why the keynoters are keynoters and not session presenters. Plan your day(s). Choose your workshops carefully so it’s not a last-minute choice made in haste. (They need to support your goal, remember?)
  10. Speaking of preparing…if you’re a true beginner, and are looking for basic tips on writing your first children’s book so you don’t feel out of place at your first conference, check out a video I made for the beginning picture book writer. It’s fun. Really. https://bitsykemper.wordpress.com/2014/03/19/179/

I joke about lotion-ing up so you’re not remembered as the hand shaker with the rough skin. But bottom line: do your homework. And get ready to smile. You’re going to have a great time!

He’s following me, isn’t he?



Creative Gifts for Writers 2018

Looking for that perfect gift to give your writer friend? We’re a quirky unique bunch. As an author myself, I’ve amassed my share of “Here’s a notebook I think you’d like”s over the years. I’m not complaining! Any well-intended gift is sincerely appreciated. But if you’d like to wow the pants off of your writer friend (or just get an all-caps THANKS!), here are some out-of-the-box, creative gift ideas. Some are standard but fun [wacky bookmarks] but others I guarantee you’ve never thought of before–and are–get this–free [book reviews]!! 

Please note I get no royalties or kickbacks from any of these external sites, and I cannot otherwise vouch for their awesomeness; I just happen to think they rock. 

1. Adorable, unique bookmarks

Sure, anyone with kids has bookmarks climbing out of our ears and flowing off our desks…but do we have any creeping out of our books? Creative ideas like these are sure to please even your writer friend that MAKES bookmarks.


2. Ways to not keep spouses/kids up at night when ideas strike

Don’t let them wake the house when they are up late catering to their muse. This cool nightlight not only opens up to the shape of a book (see what I did there!), it’s attached to a USB cable, allowing them to write by hand by plugging in their cell phone which is next to their bed anyway, or write on the laptop with just enough light to see the keys. This way they can stay in bed writing copious notes, or drift off to the side of the room without needing to turn on all the house lights to head downstairs.


3.

Books on the craft of writing

Great books on writing are super easy to order online and have delivered to their door (but of course I’m going to suggest you get from your local bookseller). 


Cheers to you, writer friend!
  • 4. Champagne! 

Show them you have your full support, and that you believe in them, by buying them a bottle of champagne to celebrate their first/next/upcoming contract or milestone. It doesn’t have to be a fancy bottle, or break the bank. It’ll mean even more if you include a handwritten note of encouragement for them to reread when they are having a bad day. 


  • 5. Yoga class pass or membership

Give them time to get past redundancy and perhaps writers block, as they FINALLY LEAVE THE HOUSE to let those ideas simmers once they hit the yoga mat. Good energy begets good energy. Couldn’t we all use a little of that?


Photo credit: our local indy bookstore
  • 6. Buy their @%#! book!

This may sound weird, because technically you aren’t giving them anything. But trust me–you are! Telling an author you just bought their book is like giving them a warm hug wrapped in chocolate cake (without the mess). If you already PAID FOR their book–not already have it–(which, unless you are their mom, sorry but I doubt you have), then buy another one to give to a friend or donate to a school library or teen shelter or neighbor. Even if you know you’ll never read it–they don’t need to know that. Support your friend fer pete’s sake. It’s Christmas!

Buying it at a local independent bookstore (if they don’t carry it–ask them to order it) is more helpful then buying at the website where everything is 40% off, because it helps the local economy and introduces the bookseller to your author friend. [Fork over the retail price you cheapskate. The amount you’d have saved won’t even buy a cup of coffee.]


  • 7. Art 
    How can you not love artwork like the above, lettered on clear glass and matted in a circle? Head over to etsy  for this mantra made by JaneAustenandCo, or pick your/their favorite quote and make your own.

  • 8. Support — via a book review

If you’ve got zero money in your pocket but want to give SOMEthing, give a book review! Did you know that the number of book reviews can help boost a book’s placement on websites like Amazon Books and general Google searches? The more reviews, the higher  up it will likely show. Reviews of any kind are a HUGE factor, if not boost, to an author’s success. Even if they aren’t glowing reviews! A review shows the book has been read. And that the reader took the time to review it–which means it made an impact on the reader. In fact, a mention of the book in any form of social media is welcomed. I mean, who can’t give a free gift? Just make sure you’ve read the book, and make it a genuine review. Websites are cracking down on what they perceive to be “buddy reviews” and are deleting them without warning. Give a fair review. I mean sure–round up on the number of stars by all means–just don’t go too overboard on the comments or it’ll come across as fake. No one wants that, not even for the holidays.

If free is the only way you’re going this year, at a minimum, check out their book from a library–or ask your local library to carry their book (and tell your friend you did so). It might not seem like a big deal, but checking a book out of library, or even taking it off the shelf and having a librarian re-shelf it, can make a big difference in how long a library keeps a book. This is how a California librarian explained it: “If a book has not been checked out in a certain number of months, it gets chucked. Yep. And then [the] book will be gone from the system, forever.” Sad, right? She went on to say, “Basically, librarians are always actively looking for books to ‘weed.’ They have to get rid of books on a regular basis to make room for new ones coming in. If they find a book that hasn’t been checked out for ages, and it’s a book they love, they might put it on display or do something else to increase its circulation. But they might also just decide this book has lived its life, and because there is no demand for it anymore, it’s time to pass it on. Sad but reality. ” So check out your friends book(s)!


image 0

  • 9. (Nice!) Clothes

Scarves, leggings, pins, you name it. A friend bought me a scarf that has banned books listed/crossed out. I sometimes wear it as a skirt–see above (writers are the creative type afterall). Other scarves have bookshelves [found on etsy, Amazon and Zazzle], ones with the text from your favorite novel such as the Alice in Wonderland scarf and other classics from storiarts, and ones (like above) that look like a stamped library due-date card. Google “books scarf” or “word scarf” or a similar combination and you’ll be amazed at the selection. Order now, though, as many are special order (and most likely worth it).

Then there are ADORABLE pins like a set of images from The Little Prince Book from Out of Print (typewrtiters, Edage Allen Poe with a Santa hat, oh…too many too list). They can go on the scarves or be standalone gifts–they are small in size but sure to win over any heart.

Leggings are fun too. I will warn against ordering leggings online without checking their material and reading reviews. I ordered a pair from a company that rhymes with Brave New Rook and while I’m sure the company is full of wonderful people, their leggings are HORRIBLE quality (100% polyester) and there was no way to tell from the their website how awful they’d feel or look in real life. The stitching is atrocious. The fact that there was only one review should have tipped me off. [They also took weeks to arrive but that’s another story]. You don’t have that issue with scarves so I’m thinking they are a safer sight-unseen purchase. And scarves look so classy!

All these suggestions are conversation starters too. Many writers are introverts so any are a welcomed party accessory.


Image from 
TeroVesalainen
  • 10. Education

Sign your writer up for a class, a workshop, a conference. I love SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) and it’s one nonprofit I can vouch for. Why not buy your writer an annual membership? It’ll last all year long (join SCBWI). Everyone has a chapter near them (check here for where yours might be) and every region hosts local events, meet ups, etc.  Kidlit411 has no membership fee, and offers a list of reputable places to look for events/conferences/workshops practically worldwide that might be wroth signing them up for. Other online and/or downloadable classes seem to be cropping up daily. Most are hosted by solid industry professionals and offer sessions year round. Just carefully investigate the credentials of who’s presenting, and comparison shop for prices. SCBWI tends to offer stellar webinars throughout the year, for example, for $10 or $15 members (only $20ish for nonmembers). Have a look at some upcoming ones here — check back often for updates. Make sure the topic is a good fit. I mean, don’t get your writer a workshop on editing if they haven’t even written their story yet; if that’s their situation, suggest they take a beginner’s class on how to write or how to get started first. 


  • 11. Some bling, or anything Harry Potter, or both

Jewelry is a slam dunk most of the time. So is anything Harry Potter. Harry Potter jewelry? Oh my. Then there’s simple bracelets like the one above, with bookish sayings, for $14. For your writer/illustrator friend, here’s a great crayon charm necklace for only $12! They’ve got it with typewriters too.  Plenty of jewelry out there for all tastes. Google key writing-type words or phrases and add “bracelet” or “necklace” to see what crops up. There’s lots.


  • 12. A professional critique 

We could all use a helping hand when it comes to making our writing better. Why not buy your writer a professional critique of their work? [Note: NEVER do this on the fly. ONLY go with a reputable, experienced author who you’ve gotten recommendations from. (What have they published recently, by what publishing house, to what acclaim? If you’ve never heard of them, get names of people they’ve critiqued for and see what they say.)] Here are some writers I can vouch for. There are plenty of others too! These are literally off the top of my head. Check them out yourself–carefully! You want to make sure you get the best fit for your specific work.

  1. Carol Munro, https://carolmunrojustwritewords.com/services-for-writers/
  2. Nikki Shannon Smith, http://www.nikkishannonsmith.com/Contact.html 
  3. ME! Bitsy Kemper, https://bitsykemper.wordpress.com/contact-bitsy/

13.  Better-than-your-average tee

Nothing I like better than supporting small businesses, especially when they have quality goods. This one even has a “Gifts for book lovers” page! I know, I know, the last thing we need is another book bag, but the book-themed tees are super cute. Anyone can find a crass shirt with text. Why not find a pretty one they WANT to wear, and can wear anyplace? Since I’ve purchased from this vendor before, she’s kindly offered up a 20% off for anyone to use as much as they want: KEMPER20 (and no, I get no profit or benefit from your purchase–I just like her stuff).


Regardless of what you get your writer, knowing you shopped with them in mind will make all the difference.  They will love you went out of your way for them!

When it’s all said and done, the particular gift you give isn’t what matters most. What matters most is how the particular gift made the recipient feel.


Lisa Bader, gift-giving expert, http://www.wrapwithlove.com

I’m betting some of these you haven’t thought of. And maybe you’ll give one (or two?) a try? No excuses to not do SOMEthing! 

If you found other cool stuff, let me know. Or send it to me 🙂

Whatever part of the season you celebrate, may you celebrate it with love. Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and, of course…

Happy Gift Giving!

Do you Want to Write For Hire? Take This Quiz to Decide

workforhireagreementredquestionmark

You may have wondered if Work For Hire is right for you. If you’re considering writing in the children’s book industry, I’ve created a quiz that might help. It’s based on my personal experiences as well as several colleagues I interviewed. [To give you some perspective on collective experience that I’m drawing from: I’ve written 16 kidlit titles for hire so far; picture books, chapter books, and YA–most of them as part of an existing series where the other titles were written by several other people. The fellow writers I talked to have authored close to 100 for-hire titles total.] We’ve all written for different editors and publishers, on different topics, in different genres, with different parameters. Every contract was in some way unique. But generally speaking, Work For Hire has similarities that differ from traditional publishing.

It’s not for everyone.

Is it for you?

First, a definition. “Writing for Hire” means a contract from a publisher or third party—usually from an outline, writing samples, or pitch—to write a book as assigned. For them. It

—might have pre-established characters and settings

—might be ghostwritten under someone else’s name

—might include a “tie-in” or “media-related” connection to an existing product, entity or trademark, such as a movie, comic book, game (typically referred to as intellectual property rights, or i/p)

Lawyers define it as “an exception to the general rule that the person who creates the work owns the copyright. If a work is made by an employee within the scope of their employment or if it was a specially commissioned contribution…it may be a work-for-hire. The employer or hiring party is considered to be the author and thus the copyright owner. A work-for-hire agreement must be signed by both parties before the creation of the commissioned work.” (emphasis mine)

Sometimes you work directly for a publisher. Sometimes you work for a middleman, called a book packager or book producer, who in turn works for the publisher. The book or series might be your idea, but is more likely their in-house idea that they are hiring out for–usually part of a series such as early readers featuring popular TV characters like Spongebob or a history series for K-3rd grade.

Bottom line is: you write it, they own it.

Quiz time:

  • Do you prefer innovation over purely-from-scratch invention? (More like, say, creating a collage than painting)
  • Can you work with a pre-existing format, one you didn’t create?
  • Can you write in someone else’s voice, and/or match the general tone/voice and target age range of an existing series?
  • Are you okay handing over your work and having someone else do whatever they want to before going to print–even though it (probably) has your name on it?Do you take direction well? (See earlier reference to pre-existing format and matching voice)
  • Are you good at research, note taking, keeping files of resources and interviews?
  • Can you handle rewrites without arguing? (See all of the above)
  • Are you good with deadlines–possibly short ones? (Typically in the six-eight month range, start to finish)
  • Can you handle someone else telling you exactly what needs to be done, then possibly changing gears midstream?
  • Are you okay getting a flat fee, with no royalties? (Note: there is a chance you’ll come out ahead this way. Slim chance, sure, but a chance.)
  • Are you okay with the fact that even though it has YOUR name on it, the contents and everything about it may not have been your preference or decision?

If most answers are Yeses, you might be on the right track.

If most questions made you clench, well, relax. Before you get too nervous, know that the publisher isn’t out to screw you. They don’t want to mess up your work on purpose. Their goal–like yours–is to get the best possible product in the hands of their customer/reader; but the main caveat is it’s usually the best product possible created in the shortest amount of time. You might disagree on what the best product ultimately looks/reads like. (It doesn’t matter though. They have final say. On everything.) Just know they really do have the best interest of the customer in mind. They want to sell books! This is their business! They fully understand a crappy book won’t sell as well as a well-written one. They don’t want to put their reputation on the line for shoddy quality. They have your back; their name is on the cover, too.

There are feel-good questions to ask yourself about Work For Hire too:

  • Would you like a shorter time to market? (That is–getting your book on the shelf faster? Most WFH is on the shelf within a year, vs up to potentially 2 to 5 or even 7 years later going the traditional route.)
  • Would you like getting paid in a timely manner? (Many pay half the fee upon acceptance of contract and the other half upon submission/completion of the work)
  • If the project is cancelled, would you still like to get paid some of the contracted amount? (Make sure you’ve got a “kill fee” in your contract!)
  • Do you like direct feedback on how to make your assigned work better?
  • Do you like taking an idea and running with it? (Assuming you are okay when they need to rein you back in)
  • Do you like a clean set of rules, with a detailed schedule, giving you less time to goof off online and on social media? [Maybe that’s just me, lol]
  • Do you like being in control of which projects you agree to and which you decline? (It’s always okay to say no thanks)
  • Do you like researching and choosing which publishers and packagers you work with?
  • Do you like having a built-in opportunity to work with the same WFH people again? (Assuming you’re not a jerk to work with…)
  • Do you like learning about new topics you may have never considered writing about?

And most importantly:

  • Do you want to get published?!

If you took this quiz and are a yes (wo)man, then Writing For Hire is for you! Give it a try!

How to go about finding Writing For Hire opportunities will be the topic of my next blog… Hint: it takes just as much effort as pitching your current manuscripts! But worth it.

If you’ve had experiences similar or in contrast to these Quiz questions, tell me about in in the comments. I love hearing anecdotal WFH stories.

College Applications, Manuscript Submissions, and Lessons Learned

There was a big College Information Night at my son’s high school. There are still years to go before he’s ready, but he’s a planner.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

So we went.

Approximately 50 reps from colleges all over the country were there. They ran from big and big name schools (UCLA–the most-applied to school in the entire Unite States) to so small I don’t know how else we would have heard of them (Holy Cross–921 students, total).

We talked to lots of them, asking most of the same questions about GPA needed, acceptance rate, majors offered, class size, etc. The school my son most wants to go to had one of the biggest lines (guess others want to go there too). We waited quite a while to talk to the rep, who patiently repeated the same information over and over. (Seriously, why weren’t the parents just listening in while they were in line? But I digress.) While we waited, we grabbed their college brochure and started flipping through it. We noticed some more obscure majors listed for the school, ones my son was sorta interested in, and wondered if applying for one of those would make sense, instead of those which were sure to be the most popular/crowded/competitive. So we asked the rep, if our son were to major in, say Japanese, would that up his odds of getting accepted, as opposed to him majoring in engineering.

The rep waited not even half a second before answering flatly: “Major what you want to major in. Don’t apply to something you aren’t interested in.” And we felt stupid for considering it, or even asking about it. I did, at least.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Now bear with me as I cut over to Manuscript Wishlist, an amazing resource where editors and agents tell you EXACTLY what they are looking for. And I mean exactly. It’s a website as well as a “hashtag” (which means you can do an internet search for “#mswl” and up will pop the most recent posts about it). It’s fantastic because if you are working on a book, say, about kids and frogs you can type in “#mswl kids frogs” and see if there is an editorial match. If so, you know who you should add to your sub list! The more specific the less likely you’ll get a hit, but hey it’s worth a shot. One recent post from an editor, I swear, read “High-tech elves with internet while everyone else is trying to figure out the Iron Age.” It’s that specific.

Scanning the posts or website can be a fount of inspiration. Even if you don’t find a perfect match for your current work-in-progress, it can give you manuscript ideas. Knowing there is someone waiting for that topic/character/etc means you’re one step closer to acceptance! I’ve found myself creating and re-creating all kinds of story ideas from trolling around. Sometimes, I’ll see an element an editor shares about him or herself, and I’ll add that character tag to one of my main characters just so I can add in the cover letter, “Emma loves jelly beans just like you.” I’ve raced to complete a final product since I can almost taste the sweet reward of publication from an already-ready editor. Any edge helps, right?

But here’s the rub. It’s never panned out. The problem is, those stories I was working stories weren’t really my stories. The ideas weren’t my ideas. Even if I can run with a concept, my heart isn’t in someone else’s idea of what makes a great plotline. Just like picking a major just to get accepted at the school you might want to get into, a school you might not otherwise have a chance at, writing a story just to get published at a house that might not otherwise notice you is a waste of time. No one wins. Not you, not the editor or agent, and not the story.

The reader suffers too.

In that moment back at the college fair, I was struck by the similarities of the college app and manuscript submission process. We both search and search for the best fit, then send our submission package after years and years of hard work. (We also fret and fret after hitting the send button, having no control and no idea when we’ll hear back…)

All the time I spent creating those MSWL story ideas? It took me away from MY stories, the ones in my soul, the ones I WANT to write. I’ve wasted my time. I thought I was being clever. But I screwed myself. (Is it OK for me to be frank?)

I hope I haven’t been wasting your time with this analogy.  All this is to say: write the story you want to write. Write the story you need to write. Don’t waste your time writing the story that you think will get you a leg up in the industry.

Write the right one.

Yours.

Laptime with our little ones

This guest blog post originally appeared on The Bedtime Stories Blog on May 2, 2018 on https://medium.com/bedtime-stories-blog

Turning Classic Fairytales Upside Down

Keeping The Old, With New Modern Twists!


We all know the classics fairytales and storybook rhymes our grandparents taught us or read to us. But do our kids know them? Unless it was made into a movie or TV show, maybe not. If our kids have heard the rest of them, they probably think they’re dated. The challenge: How do we keep these classics, and traditions, alive? We make them relevant to today’s world.

When I think of storybooks or fairytales, I think of a cosy, dusty old room in the back of my grandparent’s house, where my grandmother kept the kid toys we’d play with and books we’d read over and over again when we stayed at their house. There was one book, in particular, that was thick, with gold-rimmed pages (so fancy!) and lots of, well, really weird pictures. Cats wearing tall black boots and kittens wearing mittens and butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers. The stories were crazy too. A man that ate pumpkin all the time. He put his wife in a giant one! A lady that had so many children she didn’t know what to do. And get this — they lived in a shoe. A shoe!! A cracked egg that even kings couldn’t help. Princesses. Oh, the princesses. And riches beyond reason. I couldn’t get enough of that book. I read those pages over and over, the gold trim slowly fading wherever I tended to touch the most. The fact that my grandmother had so many of those rhymes and stories memorized blew my mind. How did she do it?

Year after year I realized she did it the same way I was doing it…by hearing them read over and over by my grandmother. She must have had them read to her over and over by HER grandmother too. As I grew, I was reading them on my own, over and over, to the point it became ingrained in my brain much the same way I can still remember her home phone number (Mohawk5–1104). Those stories aren’t just something written in a book, they are something I shared, and treasured, with my grandmother. I grew up without a mom, so she was the closest adult to me, and that bond over reading is absolutely life changing and irreplaceable. Parent to child, or grandparent to grandchild.

That’s how tradition becomes tradition, and classics become classics.

Yet somehow, we’ve lost that sense of tradition. The classics, unless they’ve been turned into a movie, Broadway musical, or (often unbearable) TV show, are no longer retold. Don’t get me wrong — I understand why. Those classics are often horrifying! They’re awful, and weird, terribly politically incorrect, and not something I ever read to my own kids. Lots of kids getting eaten. Child brides. I mean, some versions of the original Sleeping Beauty are so horrific, I can’t even tell you. And the very beginning of the Snow White movie when the queen sends the squire to bring back Snow’s White’s HEART?? Oh my gosh, when I bought that CD for my daughter I had to fast forward through that part every time, I had completely forgotten.

We have to admit the classics might not be worth retelling AS-IS in today’s modern world. I think we as parents realized we didn’t want our kids hearing that stuff anymore, and we stopped retelling the stories.

The bad part of that is we lost tradition. We lost that part of “let me tell you a story that I heard from my mom who heard it from her mother who heard it from her grandmother…”

What happened in the meantime is someone else started telling our kids stories. Some one, or some thing. Our kids are watching these stories on TV or on their iPad or reading it piecemeal off someone’s Twitter feed. They aren’t sitting on our laps anymore. Or not as much as they could be.

I think it’s time to take lap time back. Take those classics back, too. But hang on a second, let‘s turn those classics on their heads. Make them fun and relevant — something a kid today WANTS to listen to. Something that both parents AND kids can have fun with.

That’s why I wrote the Bedtime Stories series “Kid Joey: Fairytale Detective” They take conventional storybook rhymes and fairytales, but add a twist. So the story you THINK you know, the story you’ve heard over and over, has a new ending or new twist, or new angle — with lots of laughs along the way. It’s fun for adults because they don’t know the ending or details either, and they get to experience the story in a new way, together with the child.

I figured it would be fun to take those same stories we know so well, and add some unexpected perspectives and new twists. These “new” stories let kids of today relate to the classics while parents and grandparents get to see, and enjoy them, in a new light. And not be horrified! What if we met PRINCE Midas, before he was King and before he turned into a selfish jerk? What if the 3 Little Pigs were a set of chatty girl triplets? I mean, an egg sitting on a wall makes no sense, and it spilling its guts all over the places is terrifying. But what if Humpty Dumpty was a football player, and his defense strategy was called “The Wall”? What if there was another kid named Joey who made it his mission to make sure Humpty did NOT have a great fall? I mean, sure, it’s still a leap of faith that a giant egg is walking around school, let alone playing football, or that pigs can talk, etc, but there is a certain degree of creative license fairytales allow us. It works. The fun comes in when we turn those fairytales upside down, on their heads, and see what shakes out. Let’s have a laugh while we read these stories. (Spoiler alert: there are no guts splayed about! No evil stepmoms either. (You’re welcome.))

What’s extra fun about the series is it gives parents, grandparents, and caregivers the chance to open up a dialogue about the old fairytale and storybook tales. Maybe it‘s the chance to tell the story for the first time. For example, in one story, Jack Spratt is mentioned, but no reference to him eating no fat and/or his wife eating no lean is brought up. Ask your kids “Do you know who Jack Spratt is?” When they say “No,” which they are bound to reply, pause for a minute and recite the silly rhyme. Share the story with them. Embrace that laptime. We all know it’ll be gone in a flash.

Let’s start the conversation back up, and have fun doing so!


About the Author

You may have seen author Bitsy Kemper on CNN, profiled in Writing Children’s Books For Dummies, or in literally hundreds of American TV news programs, newspapers and magazines. Maybe you passed her at the airport and didn’t even know it! Author of over 16 books, from picture books to chapter books to YA, she has enjoyed resuscitating old fairytales and bringing Joey to life in these (hopefully charming!) bedtime stories.

She enjoys dark chocolate, yoga, and church — but is careful to never indulge in all three at the same time. Busy raising three kids (four if you count her husband), she loves presenting at schools, libraries, and conferences all around the world.

Find out more at www.BitsyKemper.com.

Author Visits: First Questions to Ask Before Booking

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Most authors and illustrators focus on “what should I charge?” and “what should I talk about” when looking to book their first rounds of author visits. Here are just a few questions to ask from the very first time you connect with the school or group, before you pick the date.

1. What are the age ranges in attendance they want you to speak to; is it the whole school or a few classes/grades, and if so–which grades?
2. How many students/kids total? You’ll want to know for handouts, any giveaways, yes, but initially to gauge the amount of work so you can properly set your honorarium.
3. Is it going to be one assembly, or a few smaller class-by-class-type presentations? [If the latter, put a cap on it–state “no more than three,” for example. Your max number should be stated clearly in your contract anyway, and you’ll get to that later. But you need to know their expectation up front.]
4. Is there anything else going on at the same time, such as is it Parents Night, a spaghetti feed fundraiser or book fair, etc? You need to know what competition there is for the kids’ attention (and possibly book money).
5. What do they have in mind or set aside for honorarium? You don’t want this to be the first thing you talk about, but I think it should be brought up early. You can bring it up gently in the form of “My typical fee is $350 per presentation, is that about what you have budgeted? If there is a problem, we can get creative,” and prepared to negotiate. Wait for them to respond, though, don’t offer a lower a lower rate right off the bat.
If they do get back with you about not having that high a budget, be prepared to  offer several options (you did say you’d get creative, right?). You can shortening the length of your presentation for less money, or point them towards places they can turn to for grants or other ways Scholastic suggests, such as fundraising, here. A past SCBWI bulletin offers tips on getting local community groups like the Rotary to pitch in here. You might need to suggest postponing the event until they have the funds.
Bottom line is, do not expect them to know your standard fees, as (for some inexplicable reason) some schools may assume you won’t be charging them, even if your rates are clearly marked in your contract or Contact Me page. I’ve had schools suddenly realize “they were booked that day afterall” once we got through all the details, had the date scheduled, and I then asked them about my honorarium…which is why I mention it early on now. Don’t waste your–or their–time. Get the money talk out of the way early. [And yes, you’re worth it. Convince yourself, and the school/group, with this “Why Pay Authors for School Visits Anyway?” post if needed.]
6. Is there anything in particular the school/group is, or is not, looking for, such as asking kids to come on stage, tossing out candy to kids that answer Qs, talking about feelings, etc? You’ll want to know how much adjusting you might need to do on your presentation. I know one school wanted me to talk about the art side of things, and I had to tell them it’s not what I do, it’s out of my area of expertise, but that I could certainly touch on it as far as the overall book-making process. Better they know right away if you are a match for what they are looking for.
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Once they get back to you answers, and it sounds good to you both, you can look at scheduling a date and time, and agreed upon honorarium. It’s only THEN you present a contract for you both to sign with all the blanks filled in. Yes, you both sign a contract, no matter how sure you are it will happen, no matter how nice they are, no matter how eager and excited you both are to have it on the calendar. EVEN IF IT’S A FREE VISIT. We all know authors that have arrived at their pro bono appointment only to be met with unprepared staff (“who are you?” “no one told me you were coming in” “oh, that’s today?”), or ungracious classrooms (teachers walking out as soon as you start, staff not helping quiet down troublemakers)–unfortunately as I’ve seen firsthand, time and again: people don’t respect what they don’t pay for. They just don’t.

 

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Bonus materials to add to your contract, if you mutually agree the visit is a go:

  • State you are unable to add ANY additional responsibilities or presentations outside of the stated contract. No last-minute additional presentations, added minutes, or additional classes/students can be added in without additional honorarium.
  • Add in a a clause about the teachers not leaving the room while you’re there. Many states have laws that you’re not allowed to be solo in the room with kids anyway, so it’s a matter of legality.
  • Ensure ahead of time they make plans to have at least one of their teachers or school representatives for at least every 30-50 or so kids. I suggest you also make sure it’s not a proctor or someone like that; kids behave differently around principals (better!) and substitute teachers (worse!).
  • Is there a mic available to you IN THE ROOM YOU’RE PRESENTING IN, overhead projector, screen, flipchart, etc (whatever you need)?
  • Ask about book sales: Will they be set up by the school (not you!) beforehand, and will you sign books after your presentation only for presales (which means families that didn’t have their act together ahead of time to buy won’t have the opportunity, or kids that forgot their books), or will sales be after (which still means families that didn’t have their act together ahead of time won’t have the opportunity b/c they will have forgotten to bring money to buy)? Do you want to only sign bookplates while you’re there, so everyone gets one? You and the school need to decide ahead of time and have the time blocked out. [Also, sorry to break it to you but be aware that book sales will probably be low, but the demand for autographs will be high, especially with the kids that didn’t get to buy a book. You’re a rock star to them!]

The more prepared you are, the better your visit will be.

Go get ’em tiger!

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