2021 Year of Writing in Review

2021 Wrap Up

2021 is almost done. I like to take a look at the past year and acknowledge the highs, the lows, and all of the “I don’t knows.”

I have kept a tracking sheet of my writing pretty regularly since 2013. I use Numbers, but I also use a little book. Yes, I keep the same info in both. But the Numbers spreadsheet does a nice job of helping my analyze my results.

Based on these numbers, 2021 was a better year for me in terms of Acceptances.

I sent out 96 projects in 2020 and less than 10% of them led to publication. But in 2021, I sent out 33 projects and had a 15% acceptance rate! That’s pretty good based on my past results.

In comparison to 2020, I only received 5 acceptances this year, while I had 7 in 2020.

I was thinking I have to add a new column to my tracker because this year I actually turned down two offers.


I said no to a writing project. Twice.

Can you believe it? It felt very weird. I don’t like saying no, I still have the feeling of “say yes to it all, you need it!” But a long conversation with my agent Miranda Paul helped me keep an eye on the bigger picture.

I’m also waiting to hear back from Highlights on some submissions that are still in progress. So this data can change.


In past years, I haven’t always been that productive toward the end of the year, but I did send out three pitches in December. The Y axis on my graph might need to change because I doubt I’ll be sending out 40 of anything in one month in coming years.

I also worked on more longer projects in 2021. I completed two middle grade novel manuscripts. That’s a lot of words – even though one is a graphic novel. I estimated over 60,000 words between the two. I also revised a middle grade manuscript this year (but I had written a few years ago) that was 56,000+.

But how much did I make?

I am working to make writing my career. That means I want to make a good income as a writer. I haven’t shared my income information yet, but author Laura Purdie Salas does an amazing blog post every year detailing her income streams.  I want to get brave enough to share my information sometime soon.

One thing I can share for now is that I made about $200 more last year. A big part of this came from my offering editing services on Reedsy. That has been so much fun, I’m really glad I signed up as a professional there. I am proud of my 5 star rating!

But I spent twice as much on continuing education this year and that was hiring professional editors for several projects. So in the end, I netted about $1,000 less.

I’m so curious to see how 2022 goes!

My 2020 data for comparison:

You can take a look at previous years at these links:

2019 and 2020 Writing Tracking

2018 Acceptances/Rejections

Submissions, Acceptances, and Rejections 2016-2018

Let’s Count Birds

There are lots of great community science programs available for counting birds!

Share this graphic with friends you know who would love to count some birds.


Second Saturday in November through April 30

You pick a site and watch for 2 consecutive days in a row.



Christmas Bird Count

December 14, 2021 – January 5, 2022

You go to a location inside a “circle” drawn on a map and count birds at different locations for a day.

Then you submit your data to the compiler.



Great Backyard Bird Count

February 18–21, 2022

Decide where you will watch birds.

Watch birds for 15 minutes or more, at least once over the four days.

Count all the birds you see or hear within your planned time/location.

Use the app or paper and upload your count to the website.



I’ve Written a Children’s Book. Now What? Part 2

Congratulations! You’ve written a children’s book! You love reading children’s books so much you have dedicated yourself to learning the craft and written one yourself. And you’ve done the homework from Part 1, right? No? OK take a minute and go read that post and then do the homework. Then come back here.

Done now?

Great job! I’m proud of you, because doing all of that reading is great research.

But there’s more work to do. Now that you are familiar with current children’s books, it’s time to learn the essentials of writing a good story. I teach a picture book writing course for McDaniel College, and we spend weeks learning about the structure of a strong picture book.

There is a basic formula to writing good stories, regardless of the age of the audience. It comes down to a creating a compelling character with a goal. Then you must introduce an obstacle that is keeping them from reaching that goal. Finally, the main character uses their unique traits or behaviors or qualities to overcome the obstacle and achieve their goal.

It’s not too hard when you think of it like that. Anyone can write a story with those elements.

But it’s also really hard. Because most of the time people write stories that leave out those elements, and then the stories aren’t any good.

Now I have a question for you. Do you want to write ANY story? Just drop some words on paper, slap some illustrations on the pages, print the book and be done? OK, then you don’t have to do this next homework assignment. But if you want to write a GOOD STORY, then take the time to do this homework. Whether you are self-publishing or aiming for the traditional publishing industry path, these books will make your story better. You will be a better writer. You will create something that satisfies readers and they will want to read more.

As always, the choice is yours. If you choose to continue, then for your next homework assignment, you have more reading. Pick up these books from the library or your local independent bookstore.

Wired for Story by Lisa Cron

Story Genius by Lisa Cron

Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul

Save the Cat by Blake Snyder

Second Sight by Cheryl B. Klein 

From Cover to Cover by Kathleen T. Horning 



Don’t forget to take notes!

I’ve Written a Children’s Book. Now What? Part 1

I see this question a lot on social media sites and forums about writing. People ask, “I’ve written a children’s book. Now what?”

I love talking with people about writing for children, so I’m always tempted to answer. But the answer I want to give is not the answer people want to hear. They want to hear one or two of a few things:

  1. How to get it illustrated
  2. How to get an agent
  3. How to get it published
  4. How to start selling it

So while I know what answers they want to hear, I also know those are the wrong questions to ask. Look, I get it. I’m impulsive and impatient, too. When I do something difficult, or something that I really love, I want to hear a word that rhymes with “Gongratulations!” I don’t really want to go back and hear about how I could have done it better. Or where I went wrong. Or that it’s not quite done.

Since these people are asking on social media or websites, I have to be really careful how I answer. Because it’s hard to convey tone in a quick, written post. I can easily come off as rude or flip. And I don’t want to be rude. But I know my answer will sound rude, because the first answer I want to give is actually another question.

My answer is “How many children’s books, like the one you’ve written, have you read recently?”

And the second answer is, “Have you read children’s books, like the one you’ve written, that have been published in the last two-three years, or even stretched to five years?”

If the answers to those questions are “zero” or “none” or “I don’t read children’s books” then the red flags start popping up all over the place.

The phrase “red flags” reminds me of a children’s book my kids loved but I don’t think would get published today. Have you ever read the book Tootle? It was a Little Golden Book. I’m not sure this book would get published today.

Tootle was at train who didn’t want to stay on the tracks, he wanted to frolic in the grass.


This book is actually a perfect analogy for people who don’t read children’s books, or who have read a few and say, “Well, my book is totally different from what’s out there.”

I get it – we want to forge our own way.

But folks, publishing is an industry. A business. There are rules that publishers and bookstores follow to sell their products. They know what people want and products are created to meet those needs. That’s why we don’t see t-shirts with three sleeves.

Sure, that kind of shirt is totally different from what’s out there.

But no one is going to buy it because it won’t fit.

What we do see is t-shirts all kinds of styles with all kinds of unique features and designs that appeal to all kinds of personalities. But they are still all similar in certain important ways. The essence is still there.

You need to KNOW those ways. These are the rules of the game. You need to KNOW the basic features of children’s books that are common across all books. Then you can go wild and free and create your unique version while understanding the essence of the product.

Here’s your homework:

  • If you’re going to write a picture book, go read 100 picture books from the past 2-3 years.
  • If you want to write a chapter book – don’t. Too hard. Will discuss in later post.
  • If you want to write a novel, read a minimum of 25 novels directed at your age group. Yes, there are different age groups. Do you know them? No? OK, will discuss in later post.
  • If you want to write nonfiction, read between at least 25 nonfiction books that are produced for your age group. Yep, there are different age groups for nonfiction, too.

Once you’ve done your homework, then take a look at your manuscript again. Does it have that essence of the children’s books you’ve read? Really? OK, how can you revise to fill it with the essence while keeping it true to you?

Sure, that’s hard. But I know you can do it.


Ready for the next step? Read Part 2 of “I’ve Written a Children’s Book. Now What?”

What is NaNoWriMo?

NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month. It’s a great event for writers who love deadlines and external accountability. The challenge is to write a novel about 50,000 words long in one month.

I made some great friends through NaNoWriMo in the past. I’ve “won” the event, or reached 50,000 words, a few times. So I have fond memories of this month.

But I’m not doing it this year. This year I’m doing my own “NaNoRevMo” – or “National Novel Revision Month.” I have two novels, one fiction and one historical fiction. I am so lucky that people in my family will read my drafts and offer honest, helpful feedback.

Excellent feedback from my personal editor

Once I get through the suggested changes, I can’t wait to send these two projects to my wonderful agent.

If you are doing NaNoWriMo, I wish you luck! If you are doing a different project, I wish you luck, too! The goal is to write, create, and explore.


I love the look of a completed manuscript!


Is #PitMad Worth It?

Is #PitMad worth it?

Did you have any luck at the most recent #PitMad? I think a lot of people think that unless they get a book contract sent via DM that day, they failed. But I say you need a broad definition of success.  Here’s how it worked for me, and why I think it’s worth it.

In June 2019 I tweeted this:

Then I tweeted it again in September 2019. An editor liked it. So I contacted the editor. She told me her publishing house didn’t do picture books. So she asked if I’d put together a middle grade proposal. I said YES!

So, I did. I sent in the proposal in January 2020!

But they said NO. Or at least, they said “not at this time.” Here’s the direct quote:

“While we aren’t ready to make an offer on this proposal right now, I’d be happy to follow up with you in a few months…”

So I took the proposal to SCBWI NY 2020. I pitched it at a pitch session there, and an agent asked to see it. In September 2020, she said “I don’t like it like this – would you rewrite it as a graphic novel?” The picture book that became a middle grade nonfiction is now a middle grade historical fiction graphic novel. After a lot of research and writing, I’m almost done the first full draft.

BUT. ALSO. The editor who first liked my tweet? I contacted her in August 2020 and asked if she had any projects that needed authors. She said YES. And after I sent in two proposals, then revised one, and revised it again…I got a contract for Animal Allies.

book contract announcement

And as you can see, I signed with my wonderful agent, Miranda Paul.

That’s how #PitMad worked for me. The next #PitMad is in December. Give it a shot. And keep your definition of success nice and broad.

Help for Writers who are Parents and Parents who are Writers

In 2016, I was picking my kids up from art camp when I received a phone call from a New York phone number. Since this was the summer of 2016 (and the election had not yet happened) I was just still a naive, optimistic person. I answered the phone.

It turns out I had won a fellowship from Pen Parentis. It was an incredible feeling.

Read more about the all the Pen Parentis fellows here! 

In 2021, Pen Parentis is once again giving me incredible feelings. I’m reading and speaking at their opening salon featuring middle grade writers on September 14, 2021!!! That’s my birthday!!!

I hope you join us!