How Many Pages Should Your Manuscript or Book Be?

Sometimes it’s easier to see than explain:


Revision: Taking A Step Back


Image result for image person asking help

Have you ever been asked to read a friend’s manuscript, and, well, their work was borderline horrible? But that friend is so clueless that he/she thinks it’s PERFECT and is honestly thinks a movie deal will be offered any day now?

Well I’ve been that friend. My first drafts were horrible. In fact, I didn’t even know they were drafts. I thought I had a final product. And I thought I had a GOOD final product.

After the first pieces of feedback, I got busy rewording a few things here and there, changed a description or two. What I didn’t realize is I was waaaay off the mark in what needed to be fixed. It wasn’t a matter of copy edits. It was the story overall needed some attention. “Revision” was something that needed to sit tight while bigger issues were figured out.

Here’s what I wish helpful folks would have told me:

Dear Bitsy,

Thank you for the chance to review your manuscript. It’s a charming concept with some wonderful moments. But it needs a bit of work.

A book is a story, a destination. HOW you tell the story is almost more important than WHAT the story is. Both need to be solid.

A simple question to ask yourself is: My books is about _______ but underneath it’s about ________. Wanting to dance, for example, is really a story about wanting to find a partner, or wanting to belong. Knowing what your character wants is what your story is about. Continue reading

Setting Means More Than Location


We recently moved. We are only a dozen miles from our last house, but it’s a world away. We went from “the middle of flippin’ nowhere” to “closer to society.” The drive time alone makes a huge difference to my peace of mind. But there are other, seemingly smaller things that have an impact on the everyday me.


It got me thinking about setting. I’ve been writing more now, and have been hyper sensitive to what is going on around my main characters. Where a story takes place is more than location. It affects a person’s (or character’s) mood, mindset, and inherent and unknowingly learned truths.

looking_over_london    brain      girlindress

Let me give you some examples.

In the new house, I’m surrounded by things I’ve forgotten. Maybe I never realized how much I enjoy them. They include:

1. The sound of a lawnmower   lanmower

Country living provides the every-so-often drone of a far-off tractor. Or the faint hum of a riding mower. Now, hearing a lawn being mowed in close range reminds me there are people nearby. In my mind, when I hear the mower, I see a person pushing the mower. People–my neighbors–are up and about, caring about their yard and tending to it. It makes me feel like I’m part of the bigger picture. Had I not lived the rural life for the past 14 years, I probably wouldn’t even notice the sound. Or, it might make me crazy to hear it all the time. Maybe I’d wake in a fury if the buzzing was wafting through my open window at 7am on a Saturday. Now, though, I love it.

When your main character hears the whir of his next door neighbor’s lawnmower, how does he or she feel about it? And maybe more importantly, why?

2. The smell of cut grass                                                                                                     rotarymower

I’ve always thought heaven will smell like a freshly-cut lawn. That smell is so overwhelming wonderful to me, I can’t even tell you. And I get to smell it now! The sound of a lawnmower being pushed around next door is wonderful to me not only because of a sense of community, but because the soft wind will carry that lovely, earthy scent directly to my haven’t-smelled-that-in-ages nose. It smells divine. And I have the loud murmuring lawnmower to thank for it. rainbows from Amys window at delapre abbey

Does you main character even recognize the smell of grass? Why does where they live make a difference to their reaction?

3. Construction sounds                                                                                                 tractordirt

BEEPBEEPBEEP throughout the day might make one go mad. But now, I hear it and smile. It’s the sound of progress. It’s the sound of roads being made and homes (not houses) being built. It’s a harbinger of a future community, a community I can’t wait to be a part of. So bring on the beeping and pounding and shouting. It’s worth it.


What would your main character think?

4. Blasted radios and shouts from construction workers

The daylong hustle and bustle is a welcoming noise to me. Maybe it’s because I grew up in a city-like atmosphere so shouting-over-the-banging reminds me of that simpler time in my life? Those sounds I hear today come from the very people that are making way for MY neighbors. No, I don’t like the chosen radio station and no, you shouldn’t park your truck in the middle of the road every morning, and would it kill you to walk five feet instead of shouting? But I know it’s temporary, and I know it’s the price to pay for the incoming greater good. These people made my home too. I don’t begrudge them; I thank them.


How would your main characters react to construction going on down their streets? How do they feel about commotion they can’t control? Would they try to change it? How? Would they complain to a supervisor, write a letter, complain yet do nothing? Their reaction (or lack of action) is telling.

5. No ever-lingering horse-poo scent, no roosters, no windy roads, no driving three miles to get my mail and newspaper

Have you ever heard a real sheep? I swear to you, it sounds like some guy is standing out in a field going “BAA baaa BAA BAA.” It’s hilarious. Maybe I’ll miss that sound just because it makes me laugh. But probably not.


Other frustrations are sure to replace the ongoing eau de manure we had at the old house. But I know for CERTAIN I will NEVER EVER EVER no matter what EVER miss hearing cock-a-friggin-do ALL DAY AND NIGHT. Whoever told you roosters cackle at the break of dawn is lying. ROOSTERS CROW ALL DAY EVERY DAY AND IT NEVER STOPS NOT EVEN WHEN YOU REMIND YOUR NEIGHBOR THAT FARM ANIMALS ARE AGAINST ASSOCIATION RULES. There are no chickens or roosters or horse droppings in my new suburbia. None. And that’s pretty flippin’ cool.


How would your main character react to city racket vs urban din vs suburbian quiet? What are they used to hearing, smelling, seeing? Which do they prefer? Do they even realize they prefer one over the other?

These are just a few ways my outlook has changed since moving. I’m sure the fondness will wear off, but I’m thinking I’ll miss the clamor when construction ends. I really like being in the middle of things. It’s why we moved. If I hadn’t had all those years surrounded by our home on the range, I doubt I’d feel any of the above. I’d probably be tired of seeing garage doors and dream of moving out to the country.

Our stories need all this background too. Setting is more than location. It affects more than you think. Make sure your characters feel what they feel not just because it’s how you wrote it, but because it’s their truth.

Garden Path

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some windows to open.

8 Phrases that should NEVER come out of your mouth

Here are eight words and phrases that should never, and I mean NEVER come out of your mouth. At least not to me. In random order:

1. When you see I’m in the midst of a book you’re already read: “Did you get to the part where…

Don't. Say. A. Word.

Don’t. Say. A. Word.

Are you serious? What if I’m not there yet, you idiot? You just ruined it for me!

2. When discussing a book or movie I haven’t read/seen, but you have “Oh the ending of that is sooo unexpected.”

"This is the part where they all die in the end..."

“This is the part where they all die in the end…”

 Come closer so I can smack you. You pretty much just ruined any surprise I wouldn’t have seen coming. Now I’m gonna be on edge the whole time thinking Is that the shocker? Or is that it? She said surprise, so it can’t end up this way. I wonder if x or y will happen… Oh, I bet he turns out to be that guy’s father… Anything creative I come up with will make the real ending suck. Continue reading

Exceptions to Top 12 Tips for Writing a (Good) Picture Book

Writing a picture book is easy.

Writing a good picture book is hard.

Exceptions to the top twelve newbie tips for writing a picture book, plus one bonus thought*

(which okay technically makes it 13 but who’s counting?)

A refute to “The top twelve newbie tips for writing a picture book, plus one bonus thought*” which was also written by Bitsy Kemper and posted just moments before this one–so read that one first, then this one

By Bitsy Kemper


There are plenty of exceptions to the rules mentioned in my last post. (If you haven’t read it yet, please do so now, or this post won’t make any sense)

(Seriously, scroll down and read that last post to put this one in perspective)

(I am not warning you again)

  1. “How do you find an illustrator?” The answer to this was “YOU DON’T.” But if you are a professional artist and happen to also be a stellar writer, oh how lucky you are. (Also: I hate you. It’s so hard to master both skill sets. Sooo jealous.) If you are a member of this very small minority, you might consider submitting your manuscript complete with illustrations. But know the editor might love the art and not the words, or love the text and not the illustrations. I still suggest you pick one, especially early on, and work repeatedly to hone that chosen skill. You can dabble (or excel) in the other one once your foot is in the door. The DON’T answer still applies to having your niece illustrate, hiring an artist, submitting with clip art or photos, overdoing it with art notes, etc. You only have one chance to make a first impression! Show the editor or agent that you’ve done your homework and know enough not to submit artwork with text.
  2. “A story has a beginning, middle, and end. A series of anecdotes, no matter how charming, isn’t a book.” The exceptions here are concept books: something that teaches a certain skill such as ABCs, counting, or colors. In those cases you’ll still want to make it unique and compelling as you’re competing against hundreds and hundreds of these long-shelf-life books already in stores. What makes yours different or better? (If you find a way to create a beginning, middle, and end with a concept book, you get bonus points but also I hate you because that’s pretty hard to do well too.)
  3. “Good writing is rewriting.”  No exception to this one. Sorry.
  4.  “Do your homework.” There is no exception to this one, either. Sorry.
  5.  “Take it out of rhyme.” If you’re a learned poet and know what you’re doing, and others can give a cold reading of your manuscript aloud without a single falter, yes of course I hate you. YOU, my friend, are allowed to keep your manuscript as written. If your rhyme works, stick with it. Just make sure the story doesn’t suffer because of it…that you’re not rewriting sentences to force a rhyme or using obscure words to make the meter work (only Yoda can get away with that), or that the plotline jumps all over the place.
  6. “NO alliteration and anthropomorphisms (giving human qualities to something non living, like a talking mop).” Peter picking a peck of pickled peppers might work as a nursery rhyme, but not as a title or when constant within the text of a picture book. First off: you may think your alliteration is clever and cute, but most editors find it annoying as heck. It shows a newbie is at work, because so many new writers think if you use alliteration, kids will be drawn to the story. Not so. The story needs to stand on its own. Alliterations sprinkled in here and there, sure. But not in the title and not every three words. Friends don’t let friends use alliteration.                                                                                                                                                                   There are a ton of exceptions to the no talking objects rule too. Talking animals you can usually get away with. But talking objects just doesn’t work. Exceptions include Veggie Tales and Cars and very few other others—but remember they are cartoons, not books. It’s not that your story about a talking flying carpet will never get picked up. It’s just that kind of story has to fall WAY to the extreme thumbs-up end of the lame-to-awesome scale. If a kid can’t find a universal truth or common ground with the main characters, you’ve lost them by page one. The easier you make it for them to find themselves somewhere in the main character and story, the faster you’ve found an enthusiastic reader.
  7. “Speaking of editors/agents, they DON’T CARE if it’s a true story, or if your grandkids love it, or if getting a book published is something you’ve always wanted to do. All they care about is the story.” Exceptions here fall ONLY under “true story.” Non-fiction stories, biographies of famous people, or an average person overcoming a huge obstacle in a unique way are good ideas. But writing about the swell dog you had when you were a kid, well, not so much. Everyone has a great pet story from childhood. You have to tell a good story, nay, a greater-than-life story that’s well written. It being true doesn’t tip the scale, and may work against you because newbies assume true stories are better jut because they’re true. It’s not WHAT you say, but HOW you say it. As for mentioning how much your grandkids like it, well, of COURSE your grandkids love it! They love everything you do. Same goes for neighbors/friends. Let the editor/agent decide if THEY like it. They have years of experience in spotting talent. Your posse doesn’t count. Sorry.
  8. “Don’t moralize. No one wants to be talked down to or lectured.” No exceptions here. Kids enjoy coming to conclusions on their own.
  9. “Join SCBWI!”  No exceptions here either. In fact, I’ll even add to it. Join a critique group. Take a class. Attend a workshop. Read blogs by other children authors. Come join our tribe! You’re gonna love us.
  10. “You don’t have to have an agent—but it usually helps.” I don’t have one. Many kidlit writers/illustrators don’t. Surprised? It can be just as hard to land an agent as it is to land a contract deal with an editor/publisher. Where do you want to spend your time? Many writers get an agent AFTER they’ve had publishing success. Many prolific authors don’t have or want and agent at all. I have a friend that’s authored >25 children’s books; not one of them was sold by her agent. That’s not to say her agent isn’t working hard; but my friend is working harder. She trusts her agent and they work well together. But it hasn’t resulted in sales yet. You can put your future in the hands of someone else, or you can boldly storm some doors on your own. This is one of the few industries that give you a choice.
  11. “Plan on getting rich? AHHAHAHAHAHAH! Contracts can range from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand.” The only exception here comes with experience and popularity. The more books you sell or have sold in the past, the higher the contract amount will probably be…it’s akin to paying extra for the master hair cutter vs someone that started yesterday. Experience is respected for a reason! Some publishers shy away from new writers, or offer them a lower amount to start, because new writers have no track record. One hit wonders can prove expensive.
  12. “If you don’t have patience, find some.” The only exception here is ebooks—which are not to be confused with book apps. An ebook is formatted for instant download, bypassing the long time spent at the printers and the transportation and set up time it takes to get on store shelves. An ebook has minimal illustrations so it’s rare to find a new ebook; most take what’s already out there and format it for a computer or handheld screen without any additional features. Book apps need to not only be illustrated but enhanced for reader interaction, which if done right, can take many many man hours of work. Book apps might take just as long as if it was sent to the printers, or even longer to perfect and beta test, but they skip the time-to-store-shelf line. Nothing worth it is ever easy, kid.
  13. “The good news? Even if you never get published, I bet you’ll enjoy the process.” The exception here is a person that whines and complains and only does the minimal amount of effort, with the thinking that the end justifies the means. “I’m only doing this crud to get published.” Don’t be that guy. Enjoy yourself as much as you can. Sure, there’ll be times when you’re bombarded with tedium and distractions and all kinds of unexpected stuff flying at you that you can’t control. Please see earlier reference to nothing worth it being easy. Doesn’t mean it can’t be fun at the same time. Lighten up, have some fun, sneak in a glass of champagne now and again. You’re the only one who can make you happy.

*There are probably exceptions to these exceptions. There may be reasons why none of this applies to you. Take it all into consideration regardless. Hit the road untraveled if you feel so inclined, but do so with your eyes open. Knowing what challenges await will prepare you for that bumpy road ahead.

Now get out there and start creating something wonderful! (Unless you want to hang out for a minute and comment on this blog, which is a great idea, I’m so glad you thought of it…go ahead…hit the comment button…)