Book Birthday: Applesauce Day!

By Lisa J. Amstutz

Today I'm happy to announce the release of my newest picture book, Applesauce Day!

The story is based on my family's applesauce-making tradition, which goes back generations. It was amazing to watch it come to life with Talitha Shipman's exuberant, colorful art. I'm so pleased with the way it turned out, and hope you will enjoy it as well!

From the publisher: Maria and her family visit an apple orchard and pick apples. Then it's time to turn the apples into applesauce! Every year they use the special pot that has been in the family for generations to make applesauce. First they wash the apples. Then Grandma cuts them into quarters. Follow each step in the process as everyone helps to make delicious applesauce!

Freedom to Read

By Kate Carroll

 Having just celebrated America’s Independence Day, I pondered all the freedoms we enjoy in this country. Many of the obvious come to mind, but  in particular, I’m thankful for the volumes of books that were available to me throughout my childhood - in school libraries, public libraries, home libraries and bookstores. I have glorious memories of laying on a lounge chair, reading stacks of books in the warm breezes of CT summers.

 But I know, first hand, that not all children have the freedom of reading or owning books. Our daughter, Hope, came to us three years ago from Rwanda as a high school senior and had never read a book for fun. She attended excellent schools, by Rwandan standards, but rarely had a textbook!

In a country like Rwanda, children don’t have the luxury of reading books, visiting libraries, or owning books. The literacy rate is climbing there, but the amount of available reading material is minimal. Rwanda’s adult literacy rate is around 70%, but that is not reflective of the situation in more rural areas of the country. Education is highly valued, but there is little access. Other African countries have alarmingly low statistics. For example, the  countries of Mali and Niger have literacy rates of 33% and 19% respectively, according to the UNESCO Institute of Statistics. Most developing countries face the challenges of expanding education but not having the tools to advance the cause.

Initiatives addressing the lack of literacy through grants and charitable organizations is on the rise. The USAID organization suggests, “Literacy is considered a linchpin in Rwanda's ascendance as a major player in communications and technology on the African continent.”  In Rwanda, pilot programs exist to increase the use of books in primary grades. They even teach teachers how to read stories aloud to increase interest among students. Through a local publishing company, actual picture books created by local authors exist in some elementary schools, giving kids stories that pique their interest. Reading is a key to unlocking amazing opportunities in countries like Rwanda.

Many African countries endeavor to join in the technology age. The emergence of e-books appeals to these impoverished nations and provides easier access to the written word than a physical paper book. It may be that digital reading in some places in Africa will jump over conventional book reading and the paper book will barely exist in their learning culture. Without the tradition of curling up with Mommy or Daddy and reading one’s favorite stories, it’s very possible that populations and cultures will never have that chance.

I believe that the sky’s the limit for joining in the race to advance reading ability in Africa. Check out the foundations below to see how you might help. Or see how your local school districts may take on an initiative to share a book with African students.

On a personal note, Hope caught the reading bug last summer. Here’s a “shout out” to Nicola Yoon for her captivating debut YA novel, Everything, Everything.  Her work marked the beginning of a love relationship with reading for a girl from Africa.  
Friends of Rwandan Education (FRE) is a new non-profit whose goal is to assist Rwanda in achieving their educational goals through cultural collaborations, advocacy and fundraising.The current goal is to build a new secondary school for 800 students.

10 Tips for Self-Editing Your Manuscript

By Gloria G. Adams

Editing a manuscript is part of the writing process. But isn’t that the job of an editor or agent? Absolutely. But first you have to sell your manuscript to one of them. Give yourself a better chance by taking the time to do some editing yourself before you send that manuscript out.

Here are 10 tips from Gloria G. Adams and Jean Daigneau of Two4One Kid Critiques, a critique editing company.

1.  Cross-examine your main character. What does he/she want in your story? How bad does he/she want it? What is his/her motivation? Have you conveyed your main character’s feelings strongly enough to make the reader want what he/she wants? Is his/her voice consistent? Is he or she too perfect? What is he/she afraid of? What things make him/her angry? frustrated? happy? sad?

2.  Amp up your language. Are you using too many passive verbs? Read through your whole manuscript, searching for weak or passive verbs. Replace as many as you can with stronger ones. Get rid of any overused clich├ęs. Look for “-ly” adverbs (She whispered quietly, he yelled loudly.) Ditch as many as you can. Re-examine your descriptions; can you make them better?

3.  Polish your plot. Have you forgotten any plot elements? Is there a problem to solve? A goal to reach? What do your characters do to solve that problem? When they solve it, what has changed? Does your story have a satisfying ending? Does the conclusion happen too abruptly? Does it make sense?

4.  Don’t rely on Spellcheck. While Spellcheck can be useful, it is not always helpful. Check spelling yourself, as well as grammar. Have someone else look it over for you for spelling or grammar mistakes.

5.  Keep that back story sparse. Do you really need the reader to know every single detail about that flower that is growing beneath the window where your main character lives? Does it have anything to do with your story? If not, you really don’t need it. If it’s crucial to your story, leave it in. Apply this test to everything in your back story. If it’s necessary, find a way to let your readers know, but don’t make your back story so long and detail-filled that you lose them.

6.  Dialogue. Examine every scene. Does the reader always know who is speaking? Have you used dialogue to show what your characters look like, what their personalities are, what action they have taken or are going to take? Can you use it to describe the scene? Check for double tags; eliminate them. (Example of a double tag: Mary turned the crock pot on High, slipped her apron off, and stretched out on the couch. “I’m exhausted,” she said. We don’t need the words “she said” because we already know Mary is the one who is talking.)

7.  Check for sensory details. Read through your entire manuscript and see how many of the senses you have used. They can help your reader relate to your characters and add more depth and interest to your story. Almost everyone uses sight, but what about sounds and taste? Look for ways to use them to draw your reader deeper into the book.

8.  Be specific. Specific details give a much clearer picture of the world you have created. Don’t just say the child carried a balloon. Say the little girl’s sticky fingers clutched the smooth, white string of a cherry-red balloon. Paint a picture with your words.

9.  Be consistent. Make sure you have not changed from past tense to present tense or vice-versa. It can be very easy to do, and to miss, unless you comb carefully through your manuscript. Search for any inconsistencies in your character’s actions. If you’ve told us she’s allergic to peanuts, don’t have her munching on peanut butter sandwiches later on in the story with no consequences. If you’ve created a fantasy or sci-fi world, make sure what you’ve said in one part doesn’t contradict what you say in another.

10. Get critiques from your trusted writer friends. If you don’t already belong to a critique group, join one if possible. Others can spot things you might have missed, or can make suggestions to improve your story.

Two4One Kid Critiques offers a unique service. They offer two critiques instead of one for each client’s manuscript, along with a collaborative summation. Workshops are also available. Check them out at

Ode to a Piano

by Lana Wayne Koehler

While I don’t consider myself a poet, every now and then I feel the urge to write something that doesn’t have to be vetted and critiqued by impatient peers and editors alike. To that end, I indulge in poetry.

No one would accuse me of being devoid of ideas, but following Michelle Barnes on her blog, “Today’s Little Ditty”, she invites authors and others to give parameters with which to focus my attentions. And, occasionally, if the poetic muses visit, she likes what I write and makes it a focus of the day.

Her recent challenge by Helen Frost, When My Sister Started Kissing, was to find an object that had no sentimental value but could be described using each of the five senses, one for each line. And, in the end, ask a question, answer a question, or both.

This was my offering for March, 2017. If you want to see it on her blog, here’s the post


It was love at first sight: Watching fingers tickle the ivories as
the sound tickles my ears;
Tasting joy,
While the fragrance of the music
Lingers, waiting to embrace

© Lana Wayne Koehler. All rights reserved.

One of my poems was selected for her end-of-the-year book, “The Best of Today’s Little Ditty Volume I”, but you’ll have to buy it to find out which one it is!  

If you have a little bit of the crazy and want to join me on my poetic diversions, check out, “Today’s Little Ditty”,

May the odds be ever in your favor!

An Unexpected Journey

By Kate Carroll

Often the end of a journey signals the beginning of another. This past fall, I ventured out to a Highlights workshop moderated by the award-winning illustrator Eric Rohmann and guest lecturer Lindsay Barrett George. Little did I know that this journey would prompt new steps into new places for me as a writer.

All in all, it was a fabulous trip, but I didn’t feel like that at first. Please understand, I absolutely love attending workshops at the Highlights Foundation. But I dragged my feet on this one because I worried that it would emphasize the illustrator’s role in picture book creation, and I’m “only” an author after all. Since the timing fit for me though, I jumped in - nerves, insecurities and all.

My early thoughts proved accurate, as most of the attendees were illustrators or the gifted author/illustrator types. But, I was there and I would make the best of it. Step 1 of my journey – opening up. Surrounded by the beauty of the Pennsylvania woods and welcomed warmly by the Highlights staff, it was hard to be anything but excited in that place. It was clear that the students came to learn and to grab as much from the experience as possible. And that example proved vital to my learning and growth as a writer.

So often, writers empty themselves out onto pages and find themselves too attached during the post-writing process to make the necessary changes. Never was this more true for me than at this particular event. The piece I brought for critique is a story about a spider monkey. I pride myself on being an economic writer. My manuscript had a mere 535 words when I submitted it for the conference. (Pause for applause.) Seriously, I thought, how much tighter could I write? It has potential for classroom use. It’s funny. It has a diversity component. It’s great. They’re going to jump on this.They didn’t. Bummed, right? Well, yes, but something even greater happened to me and to my manuscript. 

The first assignment was to create a dummy of our books. Ugh!  I’m not a fan of the dummy. And now surrounded by amazing artists, I had to pull off this gruesome task. Step 2 – becoming vulnerable.

At my first one-on-ones, I sheepishly handed my dummy to Eric and to Lindsay. It didn’t take long for them to whack me with some reality. They pointed out some problems with my manuscript. Imagine that!  Lindsay said it was “so long.” Now, I hope you’re thinking, like I was, that it barely exceeded the magic 500-word mark. But she noticed something not working with it. Step 3  - changing perspective. Lindsay’s helpful comments made me look at my words and my storyline with fresh eyes. Soon my own opinion about it started to change.

Then, Eric gave me the best piece of information I’ve ever gotten at any conference, workshop, or critique group. To be fair, I had already heard it many times before. But in his mentoring and artistic way, Eric explained that my words had handcuffed his job as the illustrator. WAIT!  WHAT? How often do we hear that picture book writers SHARE the story with the illustrator? I know I’ve heard it dozens of times, but sitting down with an accomplished illustrator and looking at my story from his vantage point gave me a whole new perspective. Step 4 – gaining new ideas. He pointed out specific places in the manuscript where I had taken away his illustrative creativity. Of course I didn’t mean to. But it was true.

I couldn’t get out of that meeting fast enough!

But it wasn’t to run back to my room and bury my head and project under my pillow. It was so I could get to work! My head whirled with ideas following Eric’s meeting. And get to work, I did.  Step 5 – adjusting attitude. I studied many of the examples of great picture books that were shared with us. I studied my manuscript. I studied with other writers and illustrators. When I felt brave and confident, I pulled out my folder and began the creative process again. With new understanding and fresh perspective, I eagerly approached my revision. When I finished I had a lively manuscript of 335 well-appointed, non-competing words! My next step on this journey is to find a home for it.

So many of my projects gather dust because they need to change and grow in order to go from good to great. The task of revision awaits, but now I approach it with enthusiasm. It’s part of the journey.

Fellow picture book writers, if you have the opportunity to attend training led by illustrators, or even have the opportunity to present your manuscript to an illustrator, go for it! It may change your perspective on how you write and take you on an unexpected and exciting journey of writing with an illustrator’s eye.

Five Things I’ve Learned About Marketing: Part II

By Lana Wayne Koehler

Part I: It’s All About Me
Part II: It’s Not About Me
Part III: I Can’t Do It All
Part IV: I Have To Do It All
Part V: It’ll All Turn Out in the End

Part II: It’s Not About Me

In Part I, I talked about how marketing my book is all about how I connect with other people to promote my book. In Part II, I’ll help you understand how and why it’s really not all about me.

The best relationships with a readership take time. Internet platforms require not only following lots of people, but having them follow you back. To do that, you have to offer something of value. Ideas, advice, and recommendations all require lots of research and time. Take the time to build a solid platform. Which segues nicely into Part II—It’s Not About You…

Have you ever gotten a Robocall? You know what I’m talking about—the call that tells you everything they can do for you—and they don’t even know who you are! My favorite call was the one I got because I bought my daughter some baby stuff on the Internet and they offered me diapers for life! Although I’m advancing in years, I don’t think that I need that yet.

So, they missed the mark. They spent time (and money) sending out something that I had no interest in buying. In fact, I was a little insulted by what they offered.

Don’t want to insult your reading audience? RESEARCH!

Find out who is buying your book. Find out why they are buying your book. Find out why they’re not buying your book.

Who’s buying your book?

Of course, you worked hard to make your book as perfect as possible. You joined critique groups, had it heavily edited, sent it out to the editor or agent and cashed your advance check. Congratulations!

But do you know who’s buying your precious book? Does it meet the needs of teenage angst? Are parents buying it or is your book a “Grandma” book?

When marketing your book, make sure you are sharing what you love with the people who want to hear it.

In my book, “Ah-Choo!”, I thought that parents who had a child with an allergy would buy the book. What I found out was that aunts and grandmothers bought this book for children of parents who had allergies. Who knew?

Why are they buying your book?

I thought that as long as someone was buying my book, it wasn’t up to me to find up why. But, how can I market my book unless I know why someone would buy my book in the first place.

One of the best examples of knowing why someone is buying your book is “Oh, The Places You’ll Go”. Who ever thought that a Dr. Seuss book would be the number one graduation gift? Watch the ads and displays of this book as the graduation season approaches. The Dr, Seuss people know who is buying their book and why. Do you?

Why are they not buying your book?

Have you done any kind of promotion to let people know that your book is here? No one can buy a book that they don’t know exists.

Yes, if your book is traditionally published, your publisher will promote your book when it first comes out, but after that, it’s all up to you.

Did you know that Facebook has an algorithm that only allows 30% of the people on your friends list (or Follow/Like list) to see what you post? Facebook has “campaigns’ that allow you to boost your posts, for a price. They also have demographics lists to help you focus your boosts.

Twitter, Instagram, and Amazon have similar programs. Each individual search engine uses Key Words, sometimes called Meta-tags. Choose your words wisely. For my book, I always choose animals, siblings, and allergies (there are character or word limits for each platform). The order is important, too. Animals probably get more hits than allergies so I put it first.

Amazon rates your book (and you, as an author) based on reviews. Get as many as you can on your site! I highly recommend that you establish an author page, which will give you a lot of information about your sales. It also gives you another platform as an author. Use all of the tools available!

If you’re not tech savvy, you can hire someone to do all of this for you. Or, to save significant amounts of money, you can learn the process yourself. I recommend local library classes or webinars to help you navigate the maze of internet marketing.

The bottom line is that it’s still up to you to market your book. How you do it depends on your time and resources. Use them wisely to target your readership. After all, not everyone needs diapers for life!

Next: Part III--I Can’t Do It All

Lana Wayne Koehler is an author, speaker, and teacher in Northeast Ohio. To contact her, please visit:

Writer’s Workout

By Gloria G. Adams

As I sit here willing myself to get up and do my morning cardio workout (moan), I am reminded that it’s good to work the writing muscles as well.

In addition to working on my current project, I sometimes take some time for some fun/different/silly writing exercises to stretch the writing “muscles.”

Flash fiction stories are challenging, but fun. Tell a story, with an arc, in anywhere from 15-500 words. The shorter, the more difficult.

Poetry offers a plethora of forms from which to choose: shape poems, cinquains, sonnets, palindromes, etc.

One of my favorite things to write is ABC poetry, something I learned about on a site called Fan Story (

This is the format:

ABC poetry contains five lines. Begin your poem with any letter of the alphabet.

The next three lines must follow sequence. If you start with the letter "G", the next line must start with the letter "H". The last line can begin with any letter of the alphabet.

The poems can be anything you can think up:

They can be sparse…

I am

Just a fragile

Kite in the sky,                               

Living only as long as

The wind.                                                     Be very


                                                                     Don’t drop those



They can invite discussion…

Always a bridesmaid, never a


Could be a blessing in


According to my married friends.

                            Therapy creeps

                         Underneath the psyche’s skin, conducts a

                      Visual inspection, then lays

                    Waste the pretense

                    Of sanity.

They can rhyme…

Procrastination, full of

Quiet hesitation, never

Reached my destination,

Should have made that reservation,

All from lack of…motivation.

They can be funny…

We added a wolf tetra to our aquarium that already had an

X-ray fish, a

Yellow-tailed violet cichlid, and a

Zebra Loach.

He ate them.

Whatever you do with them, have fun. Have you stretched your writing muscles today?