Trash for Teens?

man-258449_150What are your kids reading? What you don’t know may shock you. Book publishers trying to keep young people’s attention are taking cues from the sex-charged playbook of today’s media-saturated society.

Some books for young people are full of not-so-innocent material while making their way on to bestsellers lists and into your child’s hands.

Several books in the Gossip Girls series hit number one on the New York Times children’s book list. Intended for young girls, the series has been likened to “Sex and the City” for the younger generation. It details teen characters’ exploits in sex, money, drugs, alcohol, and other dramas of high society teenage living. Young readers are eating it up.

Another book, Rainbow Party, made waves among critics when it debuted earlier this year. The plot deals with the subject of oral sex and how a group of girls’ plans to host an oral sex party. Paul Ruditis, the writer of the book, states, “We just wanted to present an issue kids are dealing with.”

Read the rest of the article here:

Readers, from pre-teens through adults, also desire books depicting normalcy, dealing with matters we all face, especially as young adults. Readers want books that entertain while exploring life’s important questions.

My hope is that Ken’s War does that.


When teen hormones and culture shock collide. Get your copy here Ken’s War A new YA novel

ken's war coverNancy Springer, ( an award winning writer, wrote: “KEN’S WAR by Beth Fowler: Vibrant with authority as it depicts Japanese culture, American military life, and the angst of an Army brat, Beth Fowler’s elegantly written novel risks exploring the full range of teenage behavior and emotion, mirroring the messiness of real life. Ken’s psyche includes a plethora of contradictory impulses, including an awakening sexual awareness handled with delicacy and tact by this gifted author.”



Fantasy Well-Crafted for Middle-Grade Readers

Co-authors Anne Rothman-Hicks and Kenneth Hicks launch into “Things Are Not What They Seem” without wasting time on background and descriptive junk readers of any age group dislike.The authors masterfully set the fantasy in present-day New York City, featuring regular, relatable kids.


This middle-grade fantasy adventure starts with, “When the pigeon first spoke to Jennifer that morning in the playground, she responded by pretending to examine something absolutely fascinating at the top of a nearby tree.” The pigeon speaks in precise British English, which adds humor to the situation, at least for my inner tween who found something grin-worthy on nearly every page.


Jennifer, who’s almost 13, is smart but not smart-alecky. She has a sense of humor, but never makes others the butt of her wit. She can be sarcastic, yet possesses a strong sense of right and wrong, compassion and a well-developed altruism. Like girls her age, she’s concerned about her appearance and what peers think of her. Being trustworthy is important to the tween. She’s a likeable and engaging protagonist. Her brother, James, provides some of the comic relief, often while bantering with the pigeon. Then there’s Sleepy, the sidekick with allergies. And of course, there are bad guys.


(Sometimes young characters use phrases – “come down on them like a ton of bricks,” – that I have trouble picturing anyone other than adults saying.) Chapter ends are written with page-turning finesse. The story keeps adults in their place, that is, the kids shine in the limelight. They face challenges, push the plot arc to the climax and back down to the satisfying and appropriate end.


Jennifer learns that the pigeon is actually a man named Arthur Whitehair, a 19th-century Englishman who’d been turned into a pigeon that will live forever by misreading an ancient spell meant to give him eternal life as a human. Likewise, an devious colleague of his, Malman, had been turned into a hawk by Whitehair’s mis-incantation. Jennifer, et al search for the manuscript of the spell so they can reverse it, turning Whitehair the pigeon back into a man.


Without becoming pedantic, the authors weave in Shakespearean quotes and Latin phrases, and there’s a nod to the Harry Potter stories, too. One senses a depth of history and tradition, without the burden of boredom.


Some scenes are reminiscent of classic Disney antics. Others remind us that the stakes are high. What young fantasy reader doesn’t love sentences like this one spoken by the aptly named Malman? “Mind me! I’ll rip out your throats and peck the eyeballs from your heads—dainty morsels that they are. Even your mothers won’t recognize you.”


With more than 63,000 words, “Things Are Not What They Seem” is longer than typical middle-grade books. Even though every scene has its purpose, I wonder if some could have been written more economically.


Things Are Not What They Seem unobtrusively incorporates important values, while never losing sight of the plot and always maintaining readers’ trust and interest. It’s a well-crafted fantasy for younger readers and their adult cohort.

Review by the author of Ken’s War.





So You Wrote a Book – Now What?

Follow guest blogger Melissa March’s ( 5 lessons learned, and you won’t get blindsided. Melissa includes great links for writers.

So you wrote a book.

Now what?

Besides the incredible urge to shout it out to the masses, what do you do next?

I had no idea.

So I did what I do best, research.

I never expected that writing a book would be the easy part of getting published. Getting published is hard but you can do it. I’ve listed the five things that were the biggest surprises to me when I blindly started out.

#1: Lather, rinse, repeat.

Many writers advise authors with new manuscripts to fuhgettaboudit. Shelve the masterpiece and don’t obsess over it. Put the newly finished book on the back burner.

“Focus on getting an agent,” they say. “An agent is what it is all about.”

They’re the experts, right?

So, I focused on getting an agent.

BAM-BAM! It was a one-two I didn’t see coming, rejection after rejection.

After a bit of pouting—okay a blubberfest—I went back to my book. Wow. Talk about typos and grammatical black holes. No wonder I couldn’t get someone to read the manuscript.

Know your book!  Know it front, back and inside out. You can’t read it enough.  Better that you find the misspelled words and grammatical errors than the person you’re hoping will represent you.

Oh and a few beta readers would be nice too. You know the kind: The ones who will be honest and tell you if your book is polished or still in the need for more tweaking; the kind of people who will help you by giving you positive critique. They are priceless!

If you don’t have anyone try Critique Circle, a website devoted to writers helping writers.


#2: In or Out of the Box.

Define yourself. What kind of writer are you? What’s your genre?

Are you contemporary or mainstream?

Are you fantasy, romance, mystery, young adult or sci-fi?

Even if you think you know your genre, it doesn’t hurt to make sure. has a list with good descriptions.

Searching for an agent or publisher will be a smoother ride if you determine your place in the genre world and it will help you find the needle in the haystack of agents/publishers looking for your kind of work and the best options available to you.

It’s wasted effort if you submit your work to someone who isn’t remotely interested in what you wrote. And no one has time to waste.

A good website for sorting through the many agencies and what they are interested in is Predators and Editors.

#3: Introducing…

Get cozy with everything literary. Google til you can’t see straight! There are plenty of sites— including this one: Writing for Writers—that are hand holding helpful as you dip that toe into the publishing waters. A personal favorite of mine is Miss Snark’s First Victim.

Miss Snark is a writer who stays anonymous in order to create a safe place to issue lots of tips and advice and contests that help you tweak and polish not only your work but your perspective as well.

#4: Query On.

I loathe even typing the word. Q-u-e-r-y.

For me writing the query letter is the unknown level of hell in Dante’s Inferno and the bane of most aspiring writers. The paper cut, the stubbed toe, the bee sting, the appointment for a root canal, the—never mind, you get my point.

It’s a necessary evil that most of us never know about until we have to write one. Honestly, I never knew about them.  And it was an unwelcome surprise.  But I’ve learned that a well written query letter is your foot in the door.  So do your homework!

However, you can write the best query letter in the world but if you don’t know your genre or what the agent is looking for (first three points above) it won’t matter—at all.  If Mr. Agent wants the next big dystopian story and you wrote a western he’s gonna send you the ‘thanks but no thanks’ letter.

One website offered me some great examples that finally showed me what I needed to catch the eye of a publisher.


#5: Do I Know You?

 Get noticed!

Join Facebook. Twitter your heart out. Join groups.

Meet all the other people who love all things writery as much as you do. Don’t be afraid to get personal.

I’m a hermit—born and bred for my own company above all else. But I found that it is impossible to promote my work if I don’t make myself available. Tell your new friends how you love to bake or how you have ten grandkids or how your dog likes to chew the remote.

Don’t rely totally on Aunt Bea’s knitting club to get the word out.

Promote yourself!


Melissa March is a fiction writer. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and young son.  She’s a quasi-klepto when she sees a great looking smooth writing pen and loves almost anything plaid. (It’s the Highlander in her.) She drinks too much diet coke and maintains a love/hate relationship with all the social media in her life. Her newest hobby is experimenting with her hair color.

Her first published novel Love You to Death will be released this spring. You can read all about her on her website

She is on Facebook and Twitter

Tired of Rejection Letters? One Change Can Land a Publisher

If your manuscript for a kids’ book has been rejected, maybe you’re pitching it to the wrong age group. Or maybe the story is appropriate for the age group you intend, but the length doesn’t fit publishers’ requirements for that audience.

My novel Ken’s War was rejected countless times. Then I changed the query and described the story as a Young Adult novel. Bingo!

Children’s Book Categories

Publishers’ definitions of categories vary. Categories overlap from one to the next. Manuscripts crossing many categories, (teen vocab with toddler plot) won’t sell. Regardless of age, kids read books appealing to their interests and developmental levels. Kids don’t care about book categories. You should care because editors do. Generally here’s how categories break down.

A. PICTURE BOOKS – Illustrations play significant role in telling the story.

1. Baby or board books – Infants and young toddlers, lullabies, nursery rhymes and wordless books. Length and format vary with content. Some made of materials other than paper.

2. Toddler books – Ages 1-3 (under 300 wc), simple stories familiar to a child’s life, or concept (colors, numbers, shapes). Short (12 p), format can be board books, pop-ups, lift-the flaps, books that make sounds, have different textures, etc.

3. Picture books or picture storybooks – Ages 4-8, 32-p books, sometimes 24 or 48 due to multiple of 8-p binding. Stories up to 1500 wc, with 1000 wc the average. Simple plots (no sub-plots or complicated twists) one main character embodying child’s emotions, concerns and viewpoint. Illustrations (on every page or every other page) play as great a role as the text in story telling. Range of topics and styles. Non-fiction picture books can go to age 10, 48 p in length, or up to about 2000 wc.

B. STORY BOOKS – Stories too long for picture books, illustrations included although stories can stand alone without them.

1. Easy readers or easy-to-read – Ages 6-8 starting to read on own.  Smaller trim size, short chapts. Length varies by publisher; 32-64 p, 200-1500 wc, occasionally to 2000 wc. Told mainly through action and dialogue, not description, in grammatically simple sentences (one idea per sentence). Average 2-5 sentences per p.

2. Transition books or early chapter books – Ages 6-9, bridge gap between easy readers and chapter books. Like easy readers in style, about 30 p, 2-3 page chapts, small trim size, b & w illustrations every few pages.

3. Chapter books – Ages 7-10, 45-60 p, 3-4 page chapts, 4000 – 12,000 wc. Meatier than transition books, still contain lots of action. Sentences can be a bit more complex, but paragraphs still short (2-4 sentences average). Chapts often end in the middle of scene to keep readers turning the pages.

4. High interest/low vocab, second chance, remedial, ESL, fast paced, short sentences, simple vocab, interest 2 years above vocab. 3-4000 wc.

C. NOVELS & NON-FICTION – “Real” books.

1. Middle Grade, Junior Novels & non-fiction – Pre-teens 8-12, 100-150 p, 18,000 – 30,000 wc, chapts of equal length, intriguing titles, complex stories (sub-plots involving secondary characters woven through the story), themes more sophisticated. Kids get hooked on characters, hence popularity of series of books with same cast.

2. Young adult or adolescent novels or senior fiction & non-fiction – Ages 12 and up, 130 – 200 p, 8 – 35,000 wc. Plots can be complex with several major characters, one character should be focus. Themes relevant to problems, worries and struggles of today’s teens. J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye set the mold for this genre.

Ken’s War,” slated for publication by Melange Books LLC in 2014, follows Ken as his life is turned upside-down when he and his dad are stationed in Japan. If Ken doesn’t figure out how to reinvent himself, his life will be a painfully long sucker punch in the gut.

Learn 10 hot (and true) tips for writing for children  here!

Children’s Authors Writing Gibberish

Meghan Cox Gurdon, Children’s Book Reviewer, The Wall Street Journal, says in The Case for Good Taste in Children’s Books, “The body of children’s literature is … shelf after shelf of books, many almost gibberish, but a rare few filled with wisdom and beauty and answers to important questions. These are the books that have lasted because generation after generation has seen in them something transcendent, and has passed them on. Maria Tatar, who teaches children’s literature at Harvard, describes books like The Chronicles of Narnia, The Wind in the Willows, The Jungle Books, and Pinocchio as ‘setting minds into motion, renewing senses, and almost rewiring brains.’ ”

Before you weigh in on her opinion, skim the rest of Meghan’s transcript.

Really. Look at the article. You’re in for a shock if you haven’t read kid lit lately. . . and I don’t just mean Harry Potter books.

Gibberish!  What’s your opinion on Meghan’s stance that children’s lit is becoming too grim, gruesome, dark and pushes the limits of taste and normalcy? Do you think it’s possible that topics covered in children’s lit could be contributing to kids’ problems?

If this blog made you think, then “like” and share with other writers who want to get published.

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Ken’s War, a YA novel by B.K. Fowler, is slated for publication in 2014 by Melange Books LLC

Books and other articles by Beth Fowler are available at