SIX Self-Editing Tips

By Lisa Amstutz

Finishing a story you’ve worked hard on is something to celebrate! Now it’s ready for submission—right? Not so fast! You’ve missed an important step: the self-edit. Once a few days have passed and you can look at your manuscript clearly, take time to revise before sending it out. You’ll want to do this again and again as you continue to get feedback from critique partners and others.

Below are six steps I always take when editing my own work, along with that of my critique clients and mentees. Hopefully they will help you too!

1.     ASSESS YOUR ARC. Before you worry about tweaking words here and there, look at your story as a whole. Is the story arc compelling? Does it evoke some emotion in the reader? Has your main character made several unsuccessful attempts to solve their problem before succeeding? Does the main character solve their own problem? Is the main character relatable to your intended audience?

 2.    PEP UP YOUR PACING. Once you’ve nailed down the story arc, look at the pacing of the story. Have you rushed through some parts, or spent too much time on others? For a picture book, break down the story into spreads (facing pages). Make sure you don’t have too much or too little text on each spread.

 3.    STUDY YOUR SCENES. Are your scenes complete and visual? Do they have a character, setting, and action or turning point of some kind? If it’s a picture book, can you envision different illustrations for each one? This is important for visual interest.

 4.    POLISH YOUR PROSE. Polish your language and make it really sing. Replace passive verbs (e.g., was walking) with active ones (e.g., walked, strolled, sauntered, etc.). Look for adverbs and adjectives and replace them with stronger nouns and verbs whenever possible. Find and simplify “double tags”—places where you’ve used both a dialogue tag and an action. Only one or the other is needed. Look at ways to make your reader want to turn the page in a picture book, or start the next chapter in a longer book.

 5.    READ IT ALOUD. Reading the text aloud is extremely important for picture books, which are intended to be read aloud, and for rhyme. It can also be helpful for longer books. Listen to yourself: are there any places you stumble? Sentences you could make more lyrical or exciting? It may be helpful to have someone else read your text aloud as well.

  6.  PROOFREAD! Before you send your manuscript out, be sure to proofread it and check the formatting. You want to present yourself as a professional, not as someone who will create extra work for their editor or agent. While an error or two will probably not affect an editor or agent’s decision, a manuscript riddled with spelling and grammatical errors will reflect poorly on you. If you use Word, review your spelling and grammar settings. Not only can the program flag potential spelling errors, but you can also set it to catch things like passive voice and extra spaces between sentences (one space is now standard). If grammar and spelling aren’t your strong suits, or if you are not writing in your first language, ask a friend to review the manuscript too.

Self-editing can only take you so far—at some point, you’ll want to get feedback from critique partners or a professional editor—but it will give you a solid start, and learning these skills will help you at each step along the way.

Happy editing!

 Lisa Amstutz is a freelance editor and the author of 150+ books for kids. For information on her editorial services and mentorships, see

A WORLD OF YOUR OWN: SIX Tips for Fantasy World Building

 By Gloria Adams

Creating your own world for your story is one of the most enjoyable activities for a writer. At least, that’s what I’ve found. 

While I usually limit this to my adult short story writing, I am currently having a wonderful time building a fantasy world for my middle grade novel. But even when you’re “making stuff up” you need to make sure your world makes sense.

Here are Six Tips for successful world-building that will make that happen:

1.   Write out everything you can about the world you want to build before you begin. This will provide a great base to which you can refer as you write your book. And even though some things may change as you write, and, let’s face it, that’s when the magic happens, your original plan will still provide a resource to help it change logically and accurately.

2.   Be consistent. This is vitally important. Since your world is fantasy, there is no collective reality from which your readers can draw like there is in realistic fiction. If one of your characters can only discern where they are by their sense of smell, make sure you never have him or her (or it) looking at something. Or, if you create a world where certain flowers only grow in the snow, make sure no one is picking them in the summertime.

3.   Make your setting work for you. Your setting can add to the mood of your book, create obstacles that must be overcome, or be the reason for the premise. Does it take place in a dark, damp cave? A scary forest? Somewhere over the rainbow? Is there an insurmountable mountain? Forbidden rooms? Do your characters live in an undersea world that is being threatened by pollution or a world that is about to explode?

4.   Pay attention to the details. What kind of government does your world have? How do people communicate? What about transportation? Do they use money or barter or neither? What do they eat? Where does their food come from? Are people separated economically, socially, physically or not at all? What’s the weather like? What about ethics or morals? Their mythologies or world view? Make sure all these issues get addressed, or at least the ones that you want to include in your story.

5.   Don’t info-dump. While you need to let your readers understand your world, make sure you don’t explain everything in chapter one. or worse yet, a prologue. Determine what is absolutely necessary to get your story going and what can be woven in throughout the next few chapters.

6.   Make it a destination where your reader wants to go. Who doesn’t want to go to school at Hogwarts, ride a dragon in Pern, or open a door in the back of a closet and step into Narnia? Use your setting to keep the reader in your story. What about it will make the reader want to stay there or come back and visit it in your next book?

What kinds of worlds will YOU imagine?

For a great resource, check out Randy Ellefson’s series, The Art of World Building.

Putting the Puzzles Together with Evelyn Christensen - and a Giveaway!

By Kate Carroll

In this pandemic, I often imagine that we’re living in an alternative universe. Many changes have abruptly impacted our world.  Each day, I embrace a new normal but also cling to the constants that will never change for me.  Among those is learning more about craft and those who have creatively carved a successful career in children’s literature.

I’m confident that writers still write, and children still read. That’s the good news.  In some instances, children and adults are indulging in more reading since their time isn’t as divided as before the pandemic.

We also rely on digital communication for so much of what we do nowadays, and today’s interview with amazing author/puzzle creator, Evelyn Christensen, is no exception. Evelyn, as gracious as ever, has shared so much about her life and her career with us. An expert in her field, she parlays multiple passions into a successful and unique writing career. My humble gratitude to Ev for her professionalism and her generosity in helping others on their journey to publication.  She makes it look easy!


Thanks to Evelyn’s generosity, we will have a drawing in conjunction with this blog post.
Simply comment at the end of this post by August 21st for a chance to win a PDF of one of Evelyn's books. Check out her TPT site to see what choices you have, should you be the lucky winner. 


As a celebrated author/creator of so many books and puzzles, is there a favorite type of project that you enjoy doing?

I have the most fun with puzzle books that use a variety of formats, like my Mensa for Kids: Fun Puzzle Challenges or my state puzzle books. The majority of my other educational puzzle books have used a specific kind of puzzle throughout an individual book.


What is your first memory of your love of writing?

I was 8 or 9. We were driving home to Kentucky from visiting my grandparents in Georgia (the only kind of vacations we had). This was before seat belts, and with 6 kids in the family, my parents would pack the station wagon so the back of it was a ‘bed.’ At least part of the long trip was at night and we kids were expected to sleep. I remember lying there, looking out the car window at the moon and stars and the shadows the car made on the mountainside, and composing an 8-line poem in my head. It wasn’t a very good poem, but I still remember it more than 60 years later!

How did you find this great connection between your love of math and writing?

The math ideas came first and the writing was just a way to share them with others. My first book was the result of a Christmas gift (a container of colored paper clips) that one of my children gave to a sibling. We were playing around with them one day on the bed, putting the clips in rows and patterns. Using math manipulatives in classrooms was just getting its big push, but most of the manipulatives were very expensive. I suddenly had an idea! Colored paper clips, cheap enough that any teacher could afford them, would make great math manipulatives. I started creating puzzles in which you try to determine the colors of the clips in a line using clues I gave. The result was my book Clip Clue Puzzles.


Where do you find the wellspring of ideas for your many publications? How do you keep the creative and unique ideas flowing?

If you don’t believe in God, then you probably won’t understand my answer to this question, but I truly believe my creative ideas and the inspirations for my books have been gifts to me from God. Being creative makes me feel especially close to God. I think that’s because I believe in a Creator God, who made us in his image, so when I’m creating, I’m expressing some of that image of himself he’s put within me.


Do you rely on common core or grade level objectives to direct your writing?

Not explicitly, but having been a classroom teacher for many years, I know from experience what kinds of things are taught at different grade levels                     .


What was the most exciting or the most challenging job for you? Why?

Writing The Twelve Days of Christmas in Kentucky was the most exciting, because it was my first picture book. It was also the most exciting because it was about my beloved state of Kentucky and I cherished the opportunity to get to research and write about it and share about it with others. The job was challenging because my editor gave me a tight timeline to meet and because I was sick. I was actually at the hospital having a bronchoscopy when the email arrived saying I’d been selected to write the book. I was thrilled, but hesitated to say yes to the offer; I wasn’t sure I had the energy. I was glad that I did in the end, because it was therapeutic to have something to focus on other than my illness.


How has the industry changed since you started out in the business?

When I started, we didn’t have the ease of emailing submissions. Everything went ‘snail mail,’ which cost more and was a lot more hassle. Of course, the ease of subbing by email meant exponentially more subs landed in publishers’ inboxes, which in turn, meant lots of publishers closed to unagented subs. That put additional pressure on authors to find an agent. Another change in the industry is the ease of self-publishing which many authors opt for now.  The industry is also beginning to be more open to ‘own voices’ which is an excellent change, in my opinion.


Do you still face rejection, and if so, how do you look at rejections now as compared to when you got your first one? What advice can you shed on looking at rejection in this industry?

Yes, I definitely still get rejections! Early on, rejections hurt more because I had unrealistic expectations of the industry. I expected to get acceptances more easily than I did. After about a thousand rejections, I no longer expect acceptances. If one comes, I can be ecstatically happy. (Of course, with some magazines, mostly out of print now, I built relationships with the editors over the years and knew what they wanted. I expected acceptances there and usually got them.) When I was a fledgling submitter, this is what helped me with rejection: as soon as I put a sub in the mail, I planned where I was going to send it next. Then when I got the rejection, I immediately popped that manuscript back in the mail (assuming there were no suggestions for revising it). As long as I had manuscripts out there in Submission Land there was hope. And hope is what kept me going. If I didn’t make a plan in advance, then a rejection could discourage me so much that I might wait weeks or months before getting the courage to send it out again. Not a good way to get published.

A hallmark of your journey is helping other authors in their publishing quests. Thank you for your generosity!  What advice would you give aspiring writers in the fields of nonfiction and magazine publishing in today’s market? How do you think things will change in the wake of the pandemic?

For nonfiction, if you’re interested in doing work-for-hire for educational publishers, you’ll want to prepare a high-quality resume and writing samples and get them sent out to lots of publishers. If you’re looking for an educational publisher for a nonfiction manuscript you’ve written or are proposing, you might want to consider whether the subject can be expanded into a series or at least a two-book set. In my experience, educational publishers usually prefer series, as opposed to stand-alone books, because they sell better for them.

Magazine writing for kids and YA is tough in today’s market, because so many magazines have folded. If you’re an aspiring writer, you may want to begin with writing some for low-pay or no-pay publications. It will give you experience and will give you some publishing credits to mention in your cover letter when you’re later querying higher-pay magazines.

The effects of the pandemic are uncertain. In the spring, when so many children were learning at home, sales of math and science books, activity books, and language arts books for young readers did well. We don’t yet know what the fall will be like, but if lots of kids are still having remote instruction, nonfiction books and books for helping with learning are likely to continue to do well.


In ONE word  - share your advice for writing success.   


Can you give us a peek at what you are working on?

Actually, my goal for the summer is to finish reformatting my educational puzzle books that have gone out of print to make them available on my Teachers Pay Teachers site ( These were  royalty contracts and the rights have reverted to me. I hate to have them just ‘gathering dust’ on my computer drive when they could be available to help kids have fun learning.

What are some of your personal favorites?

Guilty Food Pleasure?  Turtles (chocolate, caramel, pecans)

Favorite hobby?  Interacting with my five young grandchildren

Dog or Cat?  Cat (I’m allergic to cats so we don’t have one, but I still love them)

What time of day/night are you most creative?  Evening

I hope you enjoyed this peek into the “puzzle pro” and her many other distinguished credits. Be sure to comment by August 21st to enter the drawing!

You may also go to to see what Evelyn has available.  Should you win, Evelyn will forward you a PDF of your choice.


Evelyn Christensen grew up in eastern Kentucky, one of six children of a Presbyterian minister and a teacher. Family values focused on God, helping others, and education. After marriage and a doctorate in math education, Evelyn was blessed to be able to stay home for ten years with her three little ones. When she was ready to look for a college job teaching prospective teachers how to teach math, she realized she should probably have some elementary school teaching experience first. That was supposed to be just for a couple of years, but she fell in love with the little ones and taught K-2nd the rest of her career. Along the way, she discovered that God had given her a gift for creating fun learning materials. She compiled some of these ideas into educational puzzle books and math games and had success in having more than 50 of them published by traditional educational publishers. Over half a million copies of them have been sold. Ev also discovered that it was fun to write for children’s magazines, where more than 400 of her puzzles, poems, and stories have appeared. As a writer, Ev’s greatest joys are helping kids have fun learning and helping other writers succeed in their publishing goals. She lives in Lexington, KY with her husband Ralph who has always been a wonderful support and encourager of her writing career. More about Ev and her books can be found at .











Six Thoughts About Writing Nonfiction For Kids

By Gloria Reichert

Since I have been immersed in researching and writing a new picture book biography, ideas about writing nonfiction for children have been swirling in my mind. Here are a few for writers in this genre to consider.

1. Ask yourself, “WHY would a kid want to read this?” Try to find some interesting way of connecting to kids. It could be a quirky fact, a delightful detail, or something humorous you discover doing research. Don’t pass up items of this nature. They could be just the hook you need.

2. Make sure your research is flawless. We owe it to our readers to make sure the truth is told. Use primary resources, such as diaries, letters, and newspapers as much as possible. Search for something in the person’s childhood that laid the path to his/her adult accomplishments. Also search for a connection that you personally share with the subject. This will lend both authenticity and heart to your writing.

3. Share the information in creative ways. Few children will be enthralled with a list of facts that reads like an encyclopedia entry. Write in scenes to show what happens and pull your reader into the story. Use a variety of sentences and punctuation. Fill your sentences with figurative language and sensory details. Incorporate word play. Write the story in different ways until you find the best way to tell it.

4. Read and study mentor texts published within the last five years for inspiration. Many of them have taken approaches that model creative ways of sharing information. Examples include No Monkeys, No Chocolate by Melissa Stewart and Allen Young, illustrated by Nicole Wong, Stonewall: A Building, an Uprising, a Revolution by Rob Sanders, illustrated by Jamey Christoph, and Moth: An Evolution Story by Isabel Thomas, illustrated by Daniel Egnéus.

5. Consider ways to use back matter with your project. This supplemental material can provide   the reader with a deeper look into the subject about which you are writing. It can provide background knowledge to enhance the reader’s understanding. It can provide curricular tie-in’s for teachers to use.

6. Use online resources to keep up with the latest about writing nonfiction for kids. Check out the six sites below for tons of helpful information.                                    


Happy researching! Happy writing!