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.


  1. It's a funny thought--being pregnant with a book. The big difference, of course, is that you don't know if it's going to be nine months, or several years before delivery.

    Jo, thank you for writing this, because I had to miss Lois's presentation. It sounds informative, and best of all, maybe a little bit funny and entertaining. There is a lot of great advice in this post. I will confirm that paying for a critique at a conference can pay far more than the cost.

    I recently paid for a critique at the MD/DE/WV SCBWI conference from agent Vicki Selvaggio of the Jennifer De Chiara agency. To say that I got my money's worth is a huge understatement. Not only did she clearly spend time to really read through my submission, but she also provided a three-page comprehensive assessment of things I had done right, and things that I didn't get right. But... she also tracked changes in my submission, and explained her reasoning in person. And... then she emailed me the edited file. If you get see that an agent who seems to represent what you're writing will be at a conference you are attending, jump on the opportunity!

    And before you go to that conference, read everything you can about the presenters. On Twitter, I followed all the presenters, and all of them gave up some good info.

  2. Great post! I love the idea of a book sonogram!

    1. Thanks. She gave us so many ideas, but that one phrase really caught my attention. How about my grandson's sonogram. He was already special at that stage.

  3. It was a great presentation! Lois is such a great speaker. I think I may just have to check out one of her classes at CCC. Great blog Jo.

  4. It was a great presentation! Lois is such a great speaker. I think I may just have to check out one of her classes at CCC. Great blog Jo.

    1. Thanks Joelle. I've been to some of her classes and several of her presentations and have never been disappointed. She may not be a great or famous writer, but she is so inspirational. I always walk away more motivated.

  5. I agree Mike. I have been pleased with what I've learned at conferences and from our various speakers. Good luck with getting your book published. I look forward to reading the finished product.


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