Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Is Your Book a Dummy? It Should Be!

Book dummy. Kids laugh when I say this. New writers might think I’m insulting their story. What exactly is a dummy? And where, I wonder, did the flattering term come from? In the publishing world, it’s a manuscript that's laid out in book form, with one or two pieces of finished art. It’s an important tool for author/illustrators who want to show their story with some of the art. But dummies can help us non-artistic, picture book and easy reader writers as well.

I think dummying out a manuscript is one of the best tools at a writer’s disposal. I frequently dummy out my stories after that initial feeling that it’s finished (usually around the third or fourth draft). Once the story has gelled and I have a strong sense of the plot, I know I need to work even harder on word choice, pacing, flow and finding those defining page turning moments. And that’s where a dummy can help.

How do you make your manuscript a dummy? Don’t send it to school! (ha-ha). Okay, seriously... It’s simple. All you need are eight sheets of blank paper, a stapler, your manuscript, scissors and removable tape (sounds like art class, huh?).
1. Collect the 8 pieces of paper (doesn’t really matter what size, but I use 11 x 14” legal size).
2. Cut them in half (midway down the long side).
3. Staple them together. You know have a mock-up for a 32-page picture book (standard length for most picture books--the exception being 48-page books for older readers).

Now comes the fun part. Take a hard look at your manuscript. Try to envision it in scenes. Remember, a picture book has 13-15 page spreads, so you’ll have to have at least this number of scenes in your story. Okay, back to envisioning... You can either play around with where the scenes fall by marking it with a pencil, or you can start cutting.

On your dummy...

4. The “cover” of your dummy is where the title page of the actual book would go, so cut your title out and tape it there.

5. The next page is where the copyright info and dedication usually go (on the left-hand side of the page spread), so I just note © on that page.

6. Then, depending on how you envision your story beginning, you can begin cutting and taping your manuscript. If you have a short, snappier start, you can start it right there on page 3. If you see it as a scene that requires a full-page spread, then go to page 4-5.

7. Continue cutting and taping, playing with it until you've worked it into the full dummy. I guarantee you’ll find spots that scream they need more revision, and others that will fit perfectly. Wordy scenes will stand out, sparse scenes will too. You’ll discover some great page turning places that will carry the suspense and add to the tension.

8. Once you’ve make changes to the dummy, add the changes to your manuscript.

Okay, now here’s the hard part. As much as you now looooove your dummy, DO NOT send it to an editor. This is a learning tool for your eyes only (or your critique group). Editors do not want to see our cut and tape efforts (unless they specifically ask for it). Really. Cross my heart.

After I've made the changes to mymanuscript, I put it away for a few days. Then I go back and start over (read, make changes, dummy it out again). I usually end up with 3-5 dummies per story I write.

I hope you find this as useful of a tool as I have. Happy dummying!

Thursday, November 13, 2008


Pint-sized interviews that leave you smiling.

Sandy Yoon has worked in all kinds of libraries for almost 34 years. Her master degrees are in English (CSUB) and School of Library and Information Management (USC). Her current occupation is Coordinator of Library Media Services for the Bakersfield City School District. She’s also adjunct faculty for Fresno Pacific University in the Teacher Librarian graduate program. Currently, she is president of the California School Library Association and an Area Director for the California Reading Association.
Traveling is a great excuse with two children who are Navy aviators. Reading is a passion that has endured since she gave her oral book reports in first grade. Her love of storytelling is an offshoot of the reading bug and a family chock full of interesting stories.

I thought Sandra could offer writers and illustrators a unique perspective in regards to school visits and networking.

You are involved with one of the largest California author fairs in the state (Kern Reading Association YAF), so you've had much experience in observing authors in action. What advice would you give to authors/illustrators who are starting to do school visits?
I coordinate the author selection and financials for the annual Kern Reading Association’s Young Authors’ Fair ($100,000 for authors, book sales, and school payments). The event is actually a combination of committed volunteers who assist with every aspect of the schedule and timing.
The advice I would give to authors/illustrators who are starting to do school visits—communicate! Once you have the booking then you need to ask for schedules (autographing, lunch, breaks), transportation details, honorarium (how will it be paid), AV possibilities (most schools do not have state-of-the-art microphones, etc.), and physical description of the speaking area (is it a classroom, auditorium, library). How big is the audience? What ages/grade levels will be in the same presentation? How many presentations does the school/library expect for the honorarium that is being paid?

What are some advantages that writers/illustrators could benefit from by joining state reading and library associations, and attending their conferences?
Advantages of joining state reading and library associations: exposure! The author/illustrator may have to pay their own expenses but the contacts made at state conferences are invaluable. I’ve selected numerous authors and illustrators because I saw them in action at a state event. It also provided a venue to talk to other people who have had the presenter at their school/library in the past.

What is your favorite children’s joke?
I love knock, knock jokes!

Sandra asked me to post a knock-knock joke for her, since she loves them all. So, I thought this one might work for her, especially when mid-May rolls around ;-)

Who’s there?
Harvey who?
Harvey done yet?

Thank you so much, Sandra!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Cinderella Writer Goes to the Ball

What a week it was! My every day life is usually about as exciting as watching paint dry (which is just fine by this little ol' introvert), but last week I made two school visits, to the high desert city of Apple Valley (home of Yucca Loma Elementary--a gem of the high desert) and the Central Coast community of Santa Maria (home of Liberty Elementary). The latter event was part of the San Luis Obispo California Reading Association's Central Coast Author Fair.

On Saturday, I visited the Santa Maria Valley Children's Discovery Museum (more on that later--awesome place for kids and adult who are kids at heart), Dandelion Wishes Children's Boutique and B Wise Supply. I was able to hobnob with fellow authors Teri Sloat, Alexis O'Neill, John Archambault, Sherry Shahan and Greg Trine.

Yes, I felt a bit like a Cinderella writer getting to step out of her normal work routine of sharpening pencils, tidying stacks of manuscripts that consume her office, pouring through piles of books, and madly scribbling down story ideas and working on those pesky revisions, and getting to dress up in her finest authorly clothes and spend time at the finest ball in the land (well, central coast California land) and spend time with royalty (although there was no ballroom dancing, I'm sure to Sherry Shahan's disappointment, but Alexis O'Neill, the Recess Queen was there :-).

It was indeed a joyful weekend. I really do believe that time spent with children and authors does not count against one's life on earth. It only adds to it!
PS: Photo courtesy of Alexis O'Neill :-)

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Don't Let Their Efforts Be Wasted...Vote!

It’s hard to imagine the periods in our history when certain people did not have the right to vote based on their race or gender. The right for all to voice their opinion has been something I have taken for granted for most of my life.

Yet this year, this landmark year in American election history, has reminded us of the many people who sacrificed their health, well-being and even lives in order to assure that those who came after them were secured the right to vote. These were the true unsung heroes of America.

Hillary Clinton’s historical bid for the presidency and Sarah Palin’s vice presidential nomination have reminded us of how far women have come since the Women’s Suffrage Movement and the creation of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920. Barack Obama’s historical presidential nomination reminds us of the long and painful path in which African-Americans have marched, from the creation of the Fourteenth Amendment in 1865 until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (to learn more, click here).

We cannot let the efforts of those who have come before us go unnoticed. People suffered and died for the right to step into that booth and cast their vote—to let their voice be heard.

Author Ayn Rand once said, "Individual rights are not subject to a public vote; a majority has no right to vote a way the rights of a minority; the political function of rights is precisely to protect minorities from the oppression by majorities (and the smallest minority on earth is the individual."

So, for those who came before you, and for the future of those who will come after you, get out there and VOTE!

Visit BLOG THE VOTE for more non-partisan readings on the importance of voting.