Saturday, April 30, 2016

Happy 20th to National Poetry Month

Did you know that National Poetry Month is celebrating its 20th year in 2016? According to their website, it is the largest literary celebration in the world, with tens of millions of readers, students, K-12 teachers, librarians, booksellers, literary events curators, publishers, bloggers, and poets marking poetry’s important place in our culture and our lives every April.
Although I only write poetry occasionally, I enjoy reading and hearing it. To me, poetry is music with words.
Learning this was National Poetry Month, I began to search the web and found there were many activities. Maybe next year I will do this earlier so we can take part in this celebration.
The Academy of American Poets established National Poetry Month in 1996. National Poetry Month is a registered trademark of the Academy of American Poets.
Working together, poets, booksellers, librarians, and teachers chose April as a month when poetry could be celebrated with high level of participation and “it seemed the best time within the year to turn attention toward the art of poetry—in an ultimate effort to encourage poetry readership year-round,” according to National Poetry Month faq.
Okay, It’s good to have people focus on poetry early in the year, but I also wonder if this could have anything to do with T. S. Eliot poetic statement “April is the cruelest month,” from The Wasteland. Coincidence?
Much of what is written here came from the related poetry websites. Listed goals of National Poetry Month are:
·         highlighting the extraordinary legacy and ongoing achievement of American poets
·         encouraging the reading of poems
·         assisting teachers in bringing poetry into their classrooms
·         increasing the attention paid to poetry by national and local media
·         encouraging increased publication and distribution of poetry books, and 
·         encouraging support for poets and poetry.
Organizations do not need permission to participate in the celebration and are encouraged to plan their own events. They can use the official National Poetry Month logo, which can be from their website.
There are thousands of ways to celebrate. The website provides a list of 30 ways people and groups can join the celebration.
National Poetry Month is just one of the many programs of the Academy of American Poets. To keep the celebration going, consider becoming a member, which entitles you to special benefits throughout the year. You can also sign up for Poem-a-Day to receive free daily poems by email all year long.
It’s a little late to celebrate this April, but maybe try being a part of this celebration next year.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Book sonograms

As I listened recently to author Lois Szymanski talk to writers  about different ways to get published, I was reminded of an old Frank Sinatra song, “My Way.”

Like Frank, she did it her way.

As an author of 27 books, she was well qualified to discuss publishing, marketing your work without an agent and viable ways to sell your work other than inside the pages of a book.

Perhaps because of the approaching birth of my first grandchild, Lois’ mention of a sonogram of her book caught my attention.

She explained that while she was writing, she told her children that she was pregnant with a book. So when the cover came in the mail her daughter ran in and said “Mom You’ve got a sonogram of your book.” The term was repeated with future book covers.

Book signing at Constellation Books
Lois combined her love of family, horses and writing to form a successful career. She helped build her writing credits with publication in at least 50 magazines, such as Highlights for Children and Weekly Reader.

“I wrote a lot of rebus,” she said. A rebus is a story of 100 words or less with characters, conflict and a resolution.

She started her career by selling nine novels for young readers to Avon Books, a large publishing house. After her editor left the publishing industry, she began self-marketing manuscripts and selling to small presses.

When her first nine books went out of print she resold the rights to those books to HarperFestival - a division of HarperCollins for a series called Charming Ponies. This also led her to sign a contract to do ghostwriting for the HarperCollins group.

Since then she has written picture books and fiction for young and middle grade readers, as well as numerous fiction and nonfiction books for adults.

Her love of horses is reflected in her writing. Her favorite book as a child was Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry. Lois’ first published book was Patches by Avon.

The idea for the book Little Icicle, came from a story told by an old man she met at Chincoteaque. A Kindle edition of Little Icicle is now available on Kindle. Westminster artist and author Lona Queen provided the cover art.

“You should build a body of work,” Lois said. “Think about everything in your life and write about it.”

She recommended going to writing conferences and paying extra for a critique, participating in pitch wars, entering publisher contests, and considering small presses. Self-publishing also is fine, she said, but hire an editor.

Catherine Donaldson reading a
Gettysburg Ghost Gang book
After you are published you can promote your books by writing articles, building an author page, or using Twitter, Facebook and other social media. You need to promote yourself and your book.

Lois encouraged writers to think outside the box.  She uses non-book items such as horse note cards, jigsaw puzzles and identification cards.

“Persevere, follow all avenues, do not let your work stay out of print, she said. “Always ask for a reversion of rights in your contract.”

The True Story of Seafeather was edited and published again in 2011. The book tells how she and her husband were able to purchase a pony for their children and about the creation of The Feather Fund, which helps children purchase Chincoteaque pony foals. ( or visit them on Facebook).

I’ve known Lois for about 10 years and have been impressed by her enthusiasm, optimism and easy way of communicating. I look forward to buying more Gettysburg Ghost Gang books co-authored by Lois and Shelly Sykes and many of her other books for my grandson as he grows and learns.

I will always remember his sonograms in connection with Lois' books.

Check out her columns and articles in the Carroll County Times and visit her on the web at If you want to write for children, look into her writing classes at Carroll Community College.

Lois also is a former Regional Advisor and supporter of the MD/DE/WV Chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrator.