Writers Coffeehouse: March 2019

Henry Herz was kind enough to take on hosting duties this month, giving us more insight into both the children’s book markets and indie (adult) publishing.

My notes from the meeting are below. Thanks again to Mysterious Galaxy for the space, and to Henry for hosting a lively and informative meeting!


  • san diego writers and editors guild: around 40 yrs, offers manuscript review service, meets fourth monday each month, next meeting will be from sd zoo publishing house, also has a marketing support group
  • upcoming events:
    • charlotte huck children’s book festival (all the way up to ya): march 9-10, university of redlands
    • henry teaching class about writing picture books, san diego writers ink, march 10 and 17
    • wondercon in anaheim end of march
    • april 13th: san diego writers festival, downtown library
    • san diego writing workshop: may 11th
    • nebula conference in LA later this year
    • san diego comic fest is next weekend
  • tips for being more efficient in using your limited writing time?
    • david morel (writer of rambo) got up at 4:30 every morning and wrote for two hours before work
    • henry uses spreadsheet to track writing pieces and where he’s submitted them to (or queried, etc)
    • using google calendar to set deadlines and reminders
    • managed flitter: lets you schedule social media posts ahead of time
    • 4thewords.com: gamified rpg that you play by writing (250 words in 15 min to fight a monster, for example)
    • another trick: when stopping for the day, stop mid-paragraph so it’s easier to get back into it the next day
  • scbwi (society of childrens book writers and illustrators) has ad-hoc critique groups that form at their monthly meetings
  • indie author found personal appearances took a lot of time but yielded fewer sales than putting same time in to online marketing (10s of books vs 1,000s of books)
  • indie author uses service to do all the formatting for him, makes it easier but he spends $4,000-$5,000 per book to publish it
  • how do you find an editor?
    • san diego professional editors network
    • reedsy: website with professional editors that have struck out on their own
  • agents don’t usually expect exclusivity when querying, check their guidelines, but usually can send out queries to as many agents as you want at a time
  • if you don’t hear anything after three months, ping them, if still don’t hear back, assume it’s dead
  • another short story marketplace site: “entropy: where to submit”; will show contests, etc coming up for the month
  • childrens books: advice is to avoid inanimate objects as characters, because they’re harder for children to empathize with
  • authors guild: join, if you get a contract but no agent you can hire lawyers through them to review it for you
  • henry’s editing process: edits on own, then sends out to four different critique groups for feedback, multiple iterations with each one, polish off the rough edges

Writer’s Coffeehouse Notes, Sep 2017

Went to the Writer’s Coffeehouse at Mysterious Galaxy again yesterday. This time it was hosted by author Henry Herz, so we got to dig into the details of writing and submitting children’s books. I might try to polish up and submit that picture book draft I have, after all 😉

Many thanks to Mysterious Galaxy for hosting, and to Henry for running the show!

My notes:

Possible to have agent and still indy publish; Indy Quillen does it, because her agent sent book to publishers first, she indy pubbed only after publishers all passed on it

Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators: has local chapter, can join and get critiques

San Diego Writer’s Ink: has critique groups

Can take classes at local colleges to meet other writers and get feedback

Indy: recommends using real name (or pen name) for twitter handle, makes it easier to find you

Posting comments on blogs of authors you like in your genre can help drive traffic to your own website

Picture books: birth to 6-7, then easy readers, then chapter books, then middle grade

400-500 words, perfect for 6-7 yr old protagonist

Don’t do art notes! Leave that for the illustrator, they’ll come up with better art than you can

Leave out all your normal descriptive text

Run your manuscript through an online tool to check the vocab level, needs to be appropriate for your age group

Usually don’t send artwork with the book, publisher picks them

Educational tie-in great for selling picture books to editors, something for teachers to hook into

La Jolla Writer’s Conference: small, but pulls big names; November

Southern California Writer’s Conference: September in Irvine, good for people that haven’t been to a conference before, low key, Indy got her agent there

Tuesday, Sep 12th: look for #mswl on twitter (manuscript wish list)

Recommended reading: Donald Maas’ Writing the Breakout Novel; Invisible Ink

First Draft

First draft of the children’s book is done!

I’m way over the target word count, but at least I’ve got the story beats and page layouts done. And I did manage to hold it to 28 pages, so revisions can focus on cutting words from individual scenes (hopefully).

Now to send it out to some alpha readers, see what they think. 

In the meantime, I’ve gotta get started on editing my first novel. It’s been almost a year since I finished that draft, so I should have enough distance from the text to fix what needs fixing.

Harder Than It Looks

Making good progress on the children’s book. Taking each page as a single scene, a single beat in the story, is helping, as is thinking of the image I want on the page and using that to substitute for most of the description I would normally put in text.

But man, is it hard to be that brief.

I read that children’s books — the ones made for the age group I’m targeting, anyway — are usually somewhere between 400 and 500 words. For a 28-page story (again, typical target length), that’s only 17 words per page!

I’ve found it’s really, really hard for me to say anything significant in so few words. With each page, as I write it, I keep an eye on my word count, but several times now I’ve blown right by it.

It’s one more thing I’m telling myself that I’ll fix “in post”; that is, in the next draft. I imagine I’ll be cutting every scene down to the bone to fit within the limits. 

Which I guess will be good practice for me: can I hold on to some form of my writing voice, even in so few words?

Details, Details

Spent the week working through the rough outline, filling in details as I go.

I’m writing up each page like a comic panel, describing the image that should be there and what’s happening in each scene.

This next week I’ll do another pass and add the text. I’ll try to keep my vocabulary simple and the words brief, but I won’t worry about actual word counts until the first draft is done.

After working on two novels, it’s a bit of relief to have something this small to write. I feel like I can hold the whole story in my head, and more easily see its structure and how everything plays out.

It’s a Comic! Sort of.

Had a realization this week that’s guiding how I outline the children’s book I’m working on: it’s a comic!

…in a way. Instead of multiple panels per page, there’s just one. But it’s got a similar interaction between words and images that a comic does (with the images doing a lot of the descriptive work), and a two-page spread in a children’s book is similar to a splash page in a comic, a chance to break out of one-page-one-scene and do something sprawling and dynamic.

I’ve been wanting to try my hand at a comic for a while now, so I’m thinking of this as a kind of warm-up, a practice run. I’ll think of the book in terms of layout, of how the words and the pictures will work to tell the story, rather than relying on just the words themselves.

It’s good timing, because I’ve got the basic outline done, and now I’ve got to drill down into each scene (page/panel) and work out the details of what should be in it. With a little luck, I should have a draft ready by next week.


This week I’ve started outlining a children’s book my wife and I came up with last month.

Which means I’m back to not knowing what I’m doing, as I’ve never written a children’s book before.

So I’m looking up average word counts, learning about vocabulary levels for the age group we’re targeting, and trying to wrap my head around thinking in terms of pages instead of chapters.

But hey, at least kid’s books are short, right?

Here we go again.


Taken the last few days off from writing. That’ll likely extend into the weekend, when my wife and I go out to celebrate completing the draft.

But I’m feeling a little listless, like I don’t know what to do with myself. So I’m already thinking of what to work on next, what project to use to keep the writing part of my brain busy.

There’s a children’s book idea I’ve had recently that I’d like to take a swing at. Should be very different from writing a novel, and something I can hopefully complete a draft of fairly quickly.

I’ve also got a draft of my first novel (working title: The Hungry Cold. don’t judge me) that needs editing. Gotten lots of feedback from first readers about it, including several spots that need fixing.

Those two projects should keep me pretty busy for a few months (at least). I’m thinking of starting the children’s book next week, as way to clear my head before starting in on some edits. I’ll be traveling, though, so probably won’t be able to do much more than outline.