An Interview with Donna McDine: Children's Author and Freelance Writer
Award-winning children’s author Donna McDine published her first book The Golden Pathway, August 2010 with Guardian Angel Publishing and has two more books under contract with said publisher for The Hockey Agony and Powder Monkey. She writes, moms, and is the publicist intern for The National Writing for Children Center and Children’s Writers’ Coaching Club, and the editor-in-chief for Guardian Angel Kids e-zine from her home in the historical hamlet, Tappan, NY. McDine is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators and Musing Our Children.
WOW: Donna, welcome to the Muffin! We're thrilled you've decided to share your experience on freelance writing. So, let's start at the beginning. How should a writer prepare herself to enter the freelance marketplace?
Donna: Before someone jumps into a freelance writing career, keep your day job. The comfort of a steady paycheck will lessen the stress until you build up your publishing credits and clientele. It is imperative to study the market or genre you are interested in writing for by visiting various websites, blogs, and discussion boards to educate yourself on each unique opportunity. Since I write for the children, I offer the following suggestions to get you started:
- Institute of Children’s Literature
- National Writing for Children Center
- Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators
- Verla Kay
WOW: Thanks for the specific examples! We know that a writer's bio and resume are an important asset to a publication, but what if she doesn't have any published clips yet? What should she do to build her platform?
Donna: Building one’s platform is not as difficult as it sounds. Start out by writing book reviews and post them on your blog, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble. Conduct interviews of authors, publishers, editors, agents, and illustrators and post these too on your blog. I highly recommend Christina Katz’s book, Get Known Before the Book Deal published by Writer’s Digest Books.
WOW: So, as we learn from example, what was the very first freelance publication you were accepted to? And what did your query letter entail?
Donna: Stories for Children Magazine was my very first acceptance for my non-fiction article, “What’s Not a Fish, But is Called a Fish?” Even though my submission was via e-mail, I made sure to keep it professional and to submit it according to their submission guidelines.
WOW: That's so true! And I love that title. In your opinion, when you write query letters, what do you find is the key ingredient that entices an editor?
Donna: A key component I always make sure to include is my research of their back issues, themes (if a themed magazine), and submission guidelines. To show you have done your homework is important to the publisher or editor and that you are not submitting on a whim.
WOW: Do you have a query letter you could post here for us to learn from and see a good example?
Donna: The below query letter met with such success with Boys’ Quest that it was published as a sample in 2009 Magazine Markets for Children’s Writers.
Dear Editor XX:
Don’t think you can enjoy your favorite past time of fishing in the dead winter? Well think again. Unbelievably, fishing on a frozen lake is possible and fish can be plentiful. Not only is it exciting to learn a new way to fish, you will also enjoy the great outdoors in a very different way.
For many years my father took me on ice fishing trips. I always found it amazing that you could drill holes in the ice and catch live fish out of the frozen lake.
Enclosed for your consideration is a 500-word article on ice fishing, entitled, “Fishing Through A Frozen Lake.” The article includes information on safety tips, equipment required, clothing, and tips for ice fishing. As per your writer’s guidelines, I have included two black and white photos, which I have the .jpeg files for if you are interested. Also included is a bibliography for your review.
I am a graduate of the Institute of Children’s Literature and a member of the SCBWI. My writing has been published in Stories for Children Magazine, A Long Story Short, Kid Magazine Writers, and The National Writing for Children Center.
Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to your response and an SASE is enclosed for your reply.
Donna M. McDine
Enclosure: ms, bibliography, B&W photos & SASE
WOW: Thanks for sharing! You are the National Writing for Children Center publicist intern. What is the NWCC and what are your duties?
Donna: The National Writing for Children Center is a showcase for children’s book authors and illustrators.
Each month, the NWFCC showcases up to 12 authors and/or illustrators to let children, parents, grandparents, teachers, librarians, and others interested in the world of children’s literature know about these artists’ wonderful new children’s books.
Authors and illustrators who are interested in being showcased here should visit the Showcase Application page for a complete list of all the promotional activities included in the monthly showcase.
As for my responsibilities, I manage and implement the social networking efforts through Facebook, Twitter, JacketFlap and blogging for promotional announcements for authors and illustrators in the children’s publishing industry. I also create and post media releases announcing NWFCC events.
WOW: You are one busy lady! You are also the editor-in-chief at Guardian Angel Kids e-zine. Who is this magazine’s target audience? Where can writers find submission guidelines?
Donna: A children's e-zine that expands the Guardian Angel Publishing (book publisher) mission and is designed for healthy and safe entertainment for children.
Audience: 2-12 years; Parents, Teachers, Librarians
WOW: Thanks for sharing the link! Besides the two jobs mentioned above, you also have your own media release service, Dynamic Media Release Services. What type of work does your service do?
Donna: Since I’m a children’s author myself and know the time constraints in creating marketing materials while working on a writing project, I offer a media release writing and posting service to authors and illustrators who need assistance in getting the word out on their newest book.
Details of my service can be found at: http://www.donnamcdine.com/dynamicmediareleases.html
WOW: Great idea! Your first children’s book was published in August. Tell us about your book and where we can get a copy.
Donna: The Golden Pathway is a historical fiction children’s storybook based on the Underground Railroad.
Be transported through time to the Underground Railroad, where high-pitched screams echo each night. David’s cruel Pa always chooses the same victim. Despite the circumstances during slavery, David uncovers the courage to defy his Pa.
Raised in a hostile environment where abuse occurs daily, David attempts to break the mold and befriends the slave, Jenkins, owned by his Pa. Fighting against extraordinary times and beliefs, David attempts to lead Jenkins to freedom with no regard for his own safety and possible consequences dealt out by his Pa.
Guardian Angel Publishing: http://www.guardianangelpublishing.com/pathway.htm
For author signed copies visit: http://www.donnamcdine.com
WOW: I love historical fiction!!!! In recent years, big print magazines have moved to online publishing only. What do you think about this move? And, in your opinion, how does this affect the freelance marketplace?
Donna: With the ever changing technology, our young muses are much more computer savvy than previous generations. They have never experienced a time without being wired in. We must keep up with the times and provide a safe and enjoyable location where individuals can visit and learn--whether it is with an enticing story or article and interactive games. As for our environment, moving online is a step in the right direction to conserve our natural resources; but on the flip side, we are using more energy through our computers, so concerted efforts towards the environment need to be made every day.
The Internet opens up a wealth of opportunities for freelance writers because the e-zine may not even exist in print because of the cost factors. Mark Haverstock’s article “The Year in Magazines, Slow Recovery Fuels Cautious Optimism and Change,” in the Writer’s Guide to 2011 published by the Writer’s Institute Publications is a terrific article worth reading.
WOW: You bring up some great points. It is a complex issue! Do you have any motivational/inspirational tips you can share with our freelancers?
Donna: Focus on three major goals for the year. Under the expert guidance of Suzanne Lieurance of the Children’s Writers’ Coaching Club, we were encouraged to complete the January 2011 assignment, which entailed exploring our three major goals for 2011 and what we would do to achieve said goals, and then break down each of the three major goals onto calendar pages for the first quarter of 2011. By doing so, it forced me to take my ever growing to-do list (I know you have the same long list that just keeps getting longer and longer and more and more daunting) and break it down to manageable tasks instead of feeling like I had to tackle each and every task every day (Hey, pick yourself up off the floor…I can hear you laughing…one can dream, can’t they?). This has provided me with more focus and direction as to where I want to go in 2011, and I’m sticking to it like glue.
WOW: That sounds awesome! I know Suzanne, too, and she has wonderful ideas! Do you have a mentor? And, what does being a mentor mean to you?
Donna: I have to say that Suzanne Lieurance of the National Writing for Children Center and Children’s Writers’ Coaching Club is my mentor. Even before I came on board as the publicist intern in August 2010, I’ve been a member of the CWCC since 2008. The guidance, monthly assignments, and teleclasses have been instrumental in my writing career and continue so.
A mentor to me is someone who has successfully navigated the career path you’ve chosen to take, and she is willing to take you under her wing and share what has and hasn’t worked for her. Remember too, everyone’s career is different and does not have to match your mentor. Make your own path and soar.
WOW: As freelancers, we know it's all about promotion. So, feel free to tout your flair! What are you up to?
Donna: Promotion takes effort every week. Even if you do just one task per week to promote yourself and your book, it’s a step in the right direction. I have also found promoting others is a key component, so you don’t get stuck in “it’s all about me” mentality. That’s a dangerous pitfall.
I feature authors and illustrators on my blog through interviews and book reviews, and I also feature them in my bi-monthly newsletter, Write What Inspires You! (Come along for fascinating and intriguing interviews from writers, illustrators, and editors of the children’s publishing industry. It is imperative for your writing career to grow on a daily basis by learning from others in the field. Donna McDine’s monthly FREE newsletter, Write What Inspires You!, will certainly help you do so. Additional features include a "Proclaim Your Successes" column, submission based "Reflections" or "Dreams" column, book reviews, and supporter ads. With each issue, you will walk away with new inspiration for your writing career. Go ahead, opt-in today at www.donnamcdine.com.
For those of you interested in being interviewed for my blog and/or newsletter, please feel free to contact me at donna (at) donnamcdine.com. I’d be happy to hear from you.
WOW:The newsletter sounds great, and what a generous offer. I'm sure some readers will be contacting you! Any closing words of wisdom for our readers?
Donna: Don’t give up. You have a unique voice; don’t emulate someone else’s writing style. Be true to yourself, and success will come.
WOW: Thank you, Donna, for taking time out to chat! We appreciate the wisdom you've imparted with us today. I'm sure our readers will want to check out all you have in store!
And continue to "Think Green!"
interview by Margo L. Dill http://www.margodill.com/