Interview Transcripts

Lisa Wroble: Writing for Children and the Specialty Magazines 2/19/04



Legend:
Questions from the Audience are presented in red.
Answers by the Speaker are in black.
The Moderator's comments are in blue.

Mary Rosenblum

Hello, all!

 

Welcome to our Professional Connection live chat interview with Lisa Wroble.

 

Lisa really impresses me. She is truly a multi-genre writer

 

who writes fiction and nonfiction for children, as well as adult nonfiction.

 

So Lisa, welcome! I'm so pleased to have you here tonight!

Lisa Wroble

Thanks, Mary! I'm pleased to be here. Hello everyone!

Mary Rosenblum

Lisa is also an instructor in Long Ridge's sister school, ICL.

 

So just how did you get started, Lisa? What came first?

Lisa Wroble

Well, as a kid, writing fiction of course. I wrote puppet skits and performed them with a friend for the neighborhood .

 

I dreamt of writing when I "grew up" but got involved with science in high school.

Mary Rosenblum

Ooh, another science person! I did that same exact thing! :-) And you have fans in the audience!

kay kay

Hi Lisa! I was your student. I just graduated--Katie Clark. When I heard you were going to be here tonight I got so excited!

Lisa Wroble

Hi Katie! Great to see you!

Mary Rosenblum

So when did it dawn on you that it was writing and not science that mattered?

Lisa Wroble

I prepared for a career a a medical technologist all through high school.

 

I still wrote for enjoyment, mostly poetry .

 

I guess when I realized I'd spent 4 years in college looking through a microscope I panicked.

 

I have so many interests and we have lots of artists in the family. I dreamt of writing books introducing kids to the arts so

 

I boldly told my parents I was going to be a writer and switched to English. I did an internship in public relations and also worked as a technical

 

writer after college.

Mary Rosenblum

You figured it out sooner than I did! So when did you make your first sale?

Lisa Wroble

Actually, a poem in 8th grade. But about 4 years after college. The first credits were

 

press releases written for a PR (public relations) job which ran in local newspapers and trade journals.

 

My first freelance sales were to a Christian girls' publication Touch (now called Shine Brightly).

Mary Rosenblum

Cool! Actually, I was particularly intrigued by your history series mentioned on your website!

 

Want to tell us about that?

Lisa Wroble

Sure! The Kids Throughout History is a hi-lo series. That means high-interest, low-vocabulary.

 

It's nonfiction, very short -- each book is only 800 words! -- and focuses on what

 

life was like in different time periods through the eyes of typical child living then.

Mary Rosenblum

Do you do them in fictional form, even though they're nonfiction...use a storyline I mean?

Lisa Wroble

No. Actually, each spread in the book serves as a sort of chapter and instead of a storyline.

 

I focused on daily routine. First introduced the time and/or country, then the city, then a family,

 

and details in a family's life, like work, school, recreation, food, clothing, and so on.

 

The final page summarizes the time period and how it relates to today.

Mary Rosenblum

VERY cool. I'm teaching a week long workshop for fourth and fifth graders this summer and may buy some of these to base the workshop on!

Lisa Wroble

Cool! Let me know if you need any other details. I'm happy to help.

Mary Rosenblum

We'll talk! I think I'll use them to get the kids to write stories about a kid in that time...aha, I'm rubbing my hands together in glee here! Just got asked to do the workshop today!

Lisa Wroble

Excellent! Yes, I'm always searching for new ideas for my workshops and such.

senicynt

Hi Lisa, What is your URL?

Lisa Wroble

Hi seni -- it's www.lisawroble.com  Just updated it this week!

peterjb

How do you deal with such low word count?

Lisa Wroble

Ugh! It's a definite challenge. The first detail is to focus on the main points

 

and this means if you don't have room to fully explain or define details, you can't bring them up!

 

So, you need to carefully plan, then you do a lot of rewriting and rephrasing. Active voice is important,

 

details that show and during rewriting you go sentence-by-sentence and find a way to say something

 

in fewer words. Luckily, my technical writing classes were the perfect training for this type of writing.

Mary Rosenblum

I assume vivid verbs and adjectives are critical!

Lisa Wroble

Absolutely! But, you have to keep the reader's limited vocabulary in mind, too. Some words

 

they haven't learned yet. This is why rephrasing sentence-by-sentence is so important.

kay kay

How long after you started freelancing did you sell your first book?

Lisa Wroble

Good question, kay kay. My first freelance magazine sales were in 1989 and the Kids Throughout History

Lisa Wroble

were published in 1997. I wrote for a variety of mags, though, for both children and adult in between. I kept learning as I went.

senicynt

One of my problems writing for YA is reducing the vocabulary to the proper level. Tips?

Lisa Wroble

For YA, I don't think you need to reduce the vocabulary as much as for younger readers. You need to challenge the reader and I think the key is defining in context.

Mary Rosenblum

You mean in other words

 

to show the meaning of the word through the character's actions, the scene, etc?

Lisa Wroble

Yes. Showing is so much more engaging for the reader. In writing for children, especially, you need to engage the reader

 

through the senses, through emotion, and through action. This all connects with the reader.

 

Adults react at a different level. Help me here, Mary. I don't write as much fiction for adults.

Mary Rosenblum

No, it's exactly the same, Lisa. Although you can use narrative form

 

with adult fiction, basic show don't tell works best and YA and children's books can be great examples!

senicynt

What age range is YA versus young children?

Lisa Wroble

Seni, it really depends on the project. In general terms, YA is around 12 or 13 and up. 8-12 is middle grade and younger than this are chapter books and early-readers, like the Kids Throughout History. They are K-4 interest and 2nd reading level.

senicynt

Can you recommend a dictionary of some sort for age level appropriate vocabulary?

Lisa Wroble

EDL Core Vocabularies published by Steck-Vaughn, or my favorite, Children's Writer's Word Book by

 

Alijandra Mogilner. You can find the latter in most bookstores. The former I believe you have to order from the publisher.

Mary Rosenblum

They're probably on amazon.com, too.

sailor

MS Word tells you the Flesch Kincaid reading level of a document. How accurate do you think it is?

Lisa Wroble

Hi sailor. Yes, the reading level on both MS Word and WordPerfect are good indicators. Flesch Kincaid was the popular one when I was in technical writing classes but I know some new methods have

 

been developed. They all measure length of sentences and multi-syllable words in a formula to measure

 

reading level by grade. Newspapers are generally written at 6th grade level and I believe Hemingway also wrote around that level.

babbles

I'm late maybe already answered this one. What is a good length for a YA novel?

Lisa Wroble

Hi babbles, it depends on the project. Generally between 25,000 and 80,000 words.

 

Quite a range, I know. But complex characters and plot warrants longer novels.

melster

I'm interested in knowing how you may have used your tech writer background to your advantage when marketing to trade journals (I've been a tech writer for 10 yrs, don't know if that'll be a help or hindrance!)

Lisa Wroble

Hi melster.  Your work as a tech writer is a huge help. The reason trade journals are a great way to break into the market

 

is due to the limited focus of these mags. Unlike consumer magazines, they're read by people in the field or industry they target -- to get their daily jobs done and

 

to keep up on news and trends. As a tech writer you are probably familiar with some journals you could write for. I discovered that the sort of tech writing I did

 

required me to learn new jargon quickly and this is an important aspect in writing for trade journals .

 

You don't need to define industry jargon, as you might for a consumer magazine, and editors and interviewees don't have to worry about teaching you. You're able to write on the level of the reader without worrying about the terms or vocabulary used.

Mary Rosenblum

So you're writing for something like the National Beef Breeder's Journal?

 

Barb Wire Fence Monthly?

Lisa Wroble

Yep, or Cleaner Times, for the pressure wash industry. Or Facilities Planning News for architects and engineers

 

or Communications Concepts for PR professionals and staff writers.

 

Actually, some recent trade mag start-ups (in the past year or so) include Lupus Now, JP Magazine (for Jeep owners), La Vida (a consumer mag launched by Kmart for Spanish-speaking consumers

 

in Arizona, Chicago, LA, Palm Springs, Miami, NY and El Paso) and 5 -- for Saks Fifth Avenue shop customers.

Mary Rosenblum

Where do you find these journals, if you don't work inside the industry? Not in Barnes and Noble, I bet!

Lisa Wroble

No, you won't find them on the newsstands. I've discovered three good sources on the Internet

 

including Newsdirectory.com, publist.com, and the American Society of Business Publications Editors at

 

www.asbpe.org/jobs/jobsites.htm  This one is especially helpful because it lists the companies that create

 

these journals and specialty magazines for their customers. For example, the Hearst Corp publishes 5 for their client, Saks.

 

Also, the reference section at your public library has directories such as Bacon's Magazine Directory (for periodicals and newsletters)

 

Bacon's Newspaper Directory (includes dailies, weeklies, and news services and syndicates), Ulrich's Periodical Directory, and

 

Gale Directory of Publications and Broadcast Media. Most of these are multi-volume directories and you can find the address and editors name for

 

most any magazine you come across. When I travel, I pick up magazines in hotel rooms, on the airline, at visitor centers

 

and then I look up info on them to see if they may be potential markets.

kay kay

As you've sold many nonfiction books, what do you think is the most important part in marketing one? The query/cover letter? A good hook?

Lisa Wroble

Well, both, kay kay -- a good hook in a query letter. The beauty with nonfiction books, is that you don't write them until you sell them.

 

You'll write a strong

 

query letter and include an outline or propose how you'd approach the project. When the editor asks to see more, you generally present an opening chapter with a detailed outline, depending on what the guidelines require.

babbles

Do you think that writing for children today is more difficult as with each passing year, they are getting so much more sophisticated for their age levels with all the technology that's available to them.

Lisa Wroble

Good question, babbles. I don't find it more difficult, only more challenging to keep up with where kids at a certain grade are at. You're not writing for the fourth graders of 5 years ago!

pjwriter2

As a new unknown writer how can you sell nonfiction without writing first so an editor knows you can write it?

Lisa Wroble

Your query letter provides plenty of clues on your ability to follow-through on your proposal. This is why writing for trades and specialty mags is so helpful.

 

In most cases you approach the editor with a letter of interest. It's similar to a query letter, but you present your background, or your familiarity with a topic.

 

Perhaps you worked as a legal secretary and you'd like to write for a journal targeting legal secretaries.

 

When I approached Facilities Planning News, I mentioned my work at a construction company, that I was familiar with blueprints

 

and that I'd soon attend a Construction Expo in Detroit. I asked if I might cover an event from the Expo and included a

 

few clips. I received a positive response saying they only had need for writers for their Healthcare Facilities insert.

 

I followed-up with info on my work in PR for two medical centers and my original college major to assure the editor

 

I knew medical jargon as well as construction jargon. I ended up writing for that magazine for at least 4 years, possibly longer.

Mary Rosenblum

So you really do need some sort of 'expertise' credentials when you query one of these magazines?

Lisa Wroble

Well, the point is to draw on your current background -- to gain a few clips. What is your current career? What past jobs have you held? This is experience

 

and there are probably journals or specialty magazines covering the topic. Once you gain a few clips

 

use them to open doors for other markets. Most of these publications need good writers and the pay is decent, especially for starting out.

babbles

Did you apply for a grant to get your career started and should new writers take advantage of grants?

Lisa Wroble

Sorry, babbles, the only grant I applied for was the Wroble Family grant! : ) I can't answer that question, since I know very little about grants.

Mary Rosenblum

There is a website devoted to grants...search 'grants for writers'.

pjwriter2

Is it harder to write for children or adults?

Lisa Wroble

Hi pj, this will be a tough one for me to answer, too. I enjoy writing so much that I don't think of it as difficult, even when I feel overwhelmed with deadlines

 

and I don't think writing for children is any easier than writing for adults. In writing for children, there are definite

 

details to keep in mind, like vocabulary and interest level, complexity of plot depending on the age level, but I find both equally challenging.

babbles

What do think the market is looking for in the next three years in children's stories?

Lisa Wroble

I wouldn't even attempt to guess, babbles. One thing I stress with my ICL students is that

 

publishing is a very subjective business. The trends seem to remain multi-cultural and anything

 

that ties into school curriculum, such as science and history. Historical fiction is big in this regard

 

and I've seen science fiction used to get kids interested in science.

 

I know the school-library market is struggling due to budget cuts. I know editors feel pressure to forecast the future, but at conferences, most tell us

 

they're looking for "something different" but they won't know until they see it! : )

kay kay

Lisa, do you, or did you ever, belong to a critique group? If so, did you like it?

Lisa Wroble

Kay kay, I miss my crit group from Michigan terribly! We were together for 12 years until I moved.

 

Crit groups are incredibly helpful because it's hard for us to edit our own words. Sometimes we fall in love

 

with phrases that need to be cut and crit group members slice them out for us.

 

Sometimes it takes fresh eyes. Our group worked on the "gut level reaction" an editor might have. We didn't allow

 

explanations or defense because you're not sitting on the editor's shoulder to explain why you did something.

 

Another important feature of crit groups is that you realize how much you do know about what to do right in your own writing when you "teach" a fellow writer.

kay kay

Have you ever written a self-help type book for YA? Any tips?

rupbert

Are arts and crafts books a big hit with middle-YA readers?

Lisa Wroble

Kay kay, never attempted a self-help book -- yet. Sorry. I can only suggest you read as many similar books to your own idea to see how it compares marketing-wise.

 

Hi rupbert, arts and crafts are big with elementary readers, especially in magazines. Most of the books I've seen

 

are targeted to librarians and teachers. But this may be due to the fact I used to work in a library and helped with children's programming. See what's on the bookstore and teachers' store shelves to get the best idea.

pjwriter2

What is your favorite type of writing?

Lisa Wroble

pj, I DREAM of writing fiction but I keep cycling back to nonfiction. I think about possible articles and slants like fiction writers twist up plots.

 

I believe I enjoy writing articles more than nonfiction books, so maybe I'm a novelist in training. I'll always write nonfiction, though.

owlybear

Hi Lisa.  It's nice to see another instructor here... not that we don't adore our usual information giver, but it's good to have another POV as well...I have to do a workshop for the writing guild I belong to and I would like some input as to what I should base it on since it'll only be about an hour long.

Lisa Wroble

Hi owlybear, what type of writing does the guild focus on? Let's see. I guess for an hour-long workshop, I'd

 

focus on finding ideas or maybe sensory detail. This is something important to both fiction and nonfiction writers.

 

A great book for quick activities is Pencil Dancing. Sorry, don't have the author's name handy,

 

but I'm sure it's listed on Amazon. I use an activity with my workshop students where they have to describe

 

a forest from the perspective of either a bee, or a bird, or some other creature. It forces them to think outside the box while working on the five senses.

peterjb

Could you talk a little bit about your revision process? Average number of drafts? Major rewrites or minor tweaks?

Lisa Wroble

Wow! Do you want to know about the YA historical novel I've been "tweaking" for 10 years, or articles? : )

 

My articles tend to be service-oriented journalism-type pieces so I usually accomplish the task in about

 

two or three revisions. The draft gets info from notes to basic form. Then I revise for clarity and then I go back to trim to required word count.

 

My thought process is certainly different for articles. I do a lot of planning in my head as I gather info or interview

 

and as this settles I create a bullet-and-build outline. This is similar to a topical outline, but it's key points I want

 

to make. Then I fill-in the "outline" as I write. For books, I require many more revisions, and I tweak the beginning to gear up for the next writing session. I hope this is helpful, peter. I did come up

 

with my methods by trying those suggested by other writers. The more you try and practice, the faster you settle into the method that's right for you.

babbles

I picked up from my library today "The Everything Guide to Writing Children's Books" by Lesley Bolton. Are there any other books you'd recommend to novice children's writers?

Lisa Wroble

Gosh, I'm still a fall-back on the Lee Wyndam book, Writing For Children and Teenagers. It was the textbook when I took the ICL course.

 

Let's see. How to Write a Children's book and Get it Published, by Barbara Seuling and one on

 

characters, Creating Characters Kids Will Love by Elaine Marie Alphin are the two that come to mind, babbles.

pjwriter2

I have always enjoyed variety in any jobs or hobbies. I enjoy doing non-fiction and fiction, my question is should I use a pen name for each gene I write in?

Lisa Wroble

Gosh, Mary may be the better one to ask about this. I haven't separated my children's nonfiction from adult nonfiction, though I have used my grandmother's maiden name for some non-children's fiction.

 

It seems it would get very confusing to prospective editors if your bylines on clips are all different. I became an author because I have too many interests too stick with one job, so I don't see any problem in having

 

a variety of topics written under your own name. Visit my website and look at my resume and you'll see I'm really all over the place

 

and used this name to publish them all.

Mary Rosenblum

Really, there is no reason to use a pen name unless you think readers of one genre would dislike your work in another. I started using a pen name for mysteries because the series was very different than my SF, but I wish I hadn't done that now. My readers like both genres just fine! But it is quite accepted in adult fiction genres to have multiple names.

 

And if you're writing erotica and Christian fiction you had BETTER have two names!

Lisa Wroble

Funny Mary . . . and so true. I believe I will use

 

a pen name for my adult fiction because I write such a variety for kids. If those readers pick up one of my stories and the content is "too grown up" I could have trouble.

kay kay

Thanks Lisa! It was nice to get advice from you again. Just an update--I'm up to 14 publishing credits, both fiction and non!

Lisa Wroble

You go girl! That's fantastic. I'm glad you visited with us tonight!

Mary Rosenblum

We're just about out of time, Lisa, and you have been a great guest! Tell us what you have coming up in writing!

Lisa Wroble

Other than STILL revising the orphan train book, I'm working on a children's book about the Mackinac Bridge in Michigan.

 

Neither have pub dates and/or publishers yet. I'm also exploring my new locale with regional and specialty markets,

 

the latest is for homeschoolers. And, working on speculative fiction for adult readers.

Mary Rosenblum

I'll be interested to hear what you find in the homeschool market, Lisa!

 

You're certainly busy! Good for you!

kay kay

Lisa, I miss your input terribly. I just joined a critique group and am looking forward to starting.

Lisa Wroble

I'll keep you posted. It's been a pleasure tonight. Sort of like last nights workshop wrap up. Lots of questions!

babbles

Thank you Mary tonight was very informative as usual. Lisa thank you for your time and answers.

Mary Rosenblum

Ditto that thank you, Lisa! You have been...

 

a great guest and I'd love to have you back here again!

Lisa Wroble

Kay kay, I miss you too. E-mail me!

 

I'd love to come back. Thanks everyone for being a great -- patient -- audience.

Mary Rosenblum

Thank you so much for coming!

Lisa Wroble

I enjoyed Mary!

kay kay

Thanks, Lisa!

molly

Thank you Lisa, It s been very informative and interesting.

Lisa Wroble

Molly, It's been a pleasure. Thanks for attending.

Mary Rosenblum

Thank you very much, Lisa, and we'll let you go rest your fingers.

 

I'm looking forward to our next visit together!

Lisa Wroble

Me too! Bye all. See you at the chats soon!

Mary Rosenblum

Bye Lisa, good night!

 

Good night, all!

 

Thanks for coming!

 

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