The Owl has another tricky apostrophe question in the grips of his apostrophe-shaped talons.
Is it its or it’s? If you sometimes have trouble answering that question, you are not alone. Knowing when to put in the apostrophe and when to leave it out causes many people to stumble.
The problem is, of course, that we’re used to an apostrophe s being added to a word to make the word a possessive. And unfortunately, that’s not true in this case.
With its/it’s, the apostrophe s is used ONLY when it’s is standing in for the longer it is or it has.
It’s an inflexible rule. It’s been that way for a long time. (It is an inflexible rule. It has been that way for a long time.)
If you’re writing a possessive, you leave out the apostrophe. The owl lifted its foot and scratched its head with its talon. (The owl possesses the foot, the head and the talon.)
Withthe apostrophe –it’s – the word is a stand-in forit isorit has.
Withoutthe apostrophe –its– the word is thepossessive.
So to check which form you should be using in any given situation, substitute the two words it is or it has. If it makes sense to say it is or it has, put in the apostrophe. If it doesn’t make sense, leave out the apostrophe.
It’s or its Beth’s hat. Does it make sense to say it is Beth’s hat? Yes. Therefore use it’s. It’s Beth’s hat.
The lion stalked its or it’s prey. Does it make sense to say the lion stalked it is prey? No. Therefore use its. The lion stalked its prey.
That last one looks odd to our eyes, because we are so used to the possessive having an apostrophe, but you just have to accept that its is one possessive that does not possess an apostrophe.
The Owl and I hope that this problem never raises its claws at you again and that from now on it’s easy for you to decide which form to use.
I hope this is helpful for you. If you have a question or quandary you’d like answered in the next Grammar Owl post, you can ask your question in the comments below, or send an email through the Owl’s contact form.
This week, we’re talking about the creative and highly useful products she offers for writers of children’s books.
As I said last week, Emma is an author (a New York Times bestselling author!), educator (besides her online courses, she also teaches writing for children in the MFA program at Stony Brook Southampton University), and freelance editor (a very talented one, I might add).
I first got to know Emma when I took her Just Write for Kids picture book writing course in 2010, and we have worked together on many projects since. I respect her knowledge, and delight in her warm, encouraging, and personable manner.
This interview was first posted on my general blog at www.bethstilborn.com, but Emma has graciously updated it for this posting. Thanks, Emma!
BETH: At the end of your online courses on writing children’s books, Just Write for Kids, Just Write for Middle Grade, or Just Write for Young Adults, the student has a viable draft manuscript. But that isn’t the end, is it? The draft must be revised and edited. Here’s where your fabulous revision products, Editor-in-a-Box for Picture Books, and Editor-in-a-Box for Chapter Books and Novels come in. What led you to create Editor-in-a-Box?
EMMA: All three courses conclude with a lesson on revision, which incorporates many of the tools, resources and checklists that are in Editor-in-a-Box (with the exception of the bonus materials, such as interviews with editors, a video on revision techniques, and so forth.)
So there’s no upsell, or pressure within the courses to have to buy Editor-in-a-Box after finishing a course.
That said, I created Editor-in-a-Box because in addition to teaching children’s book writing courses and writing children’s books myself, I also work as a freelance children’s book editor – and for years I’ve been seeing clients and students making the same basic mistakes over and over again, causing me to spend my time (and their money!) focusing on avoidable issues more than the heart and meat of the story. I’m also aware that not everyone can afford to work with a freelance editor to polish a manuscript before submission.
So I wanted to come up with a tool that empowered writers to edit their own work into the best possible shape, thereby making the most of working with a freelance editor (should they choose to do so) and/or of every submission opportunity. It was also enlightened self-interest on my part, since I enjoy working with clients on meatier manuscript issues than weeding out grammar gaffes or overused words! Working with clients who’ve used my revision system prior to consulting with me is much more fun and productive for both of us.
BETH: Could you open that box to give us just a peek at the contents? (I love the graphic for the product, by the way!)
EMMA: Editor-in-a-Box comes in two versions – one for picture books and one for novels. Both versions contain:
A comprehensive 6-step revision system, with specific recommendations for revising your story as well as your storytelling – in video, print and checklist form. (I set it up this way because everyone learns differently, so I wanted to offer three ways to absorb and use the information.)
A list of “Commonly Overused and Unnecessary Words”
A “Grammar Crammer” – basic grammar and punctuation rules and commonly made errors
Manuscript formatting and submission guidelines
A “Guide to Finding, Hiring and Working with Freelance Editors”
Interviews with several esteemed professional children’s book editors, in audio, transcript and “Top Takeaways” formats
The material is designed to be evergreen – meaning it can be used again and again with every manuscript… it’s lather, rinse, repeat.
Oh, and thank you for your appreciation of the photo of me as the Editor in the Box! My son Sam made that for me. I love it, too!
BETH: Again, there are two products, not just one. Why two?
EMMA: Because the issues are so different when it comes to revising a picture book versus revising a novel. The revision strategies for chapter books and middle grade or YA novels are more or less the same (unlike the writing strategies.) But picture books are poles apart from novels, because of their limitations in length and the necessary economy of words, and also because of the illustrations. For instance, assessing your manuscript to make sure you are not writing what the art will show is a big key to revising a picture book, but is more or less a non-issue with novels. So the revision process is quite different. Also, the interviews in the picture book version of the kit are with picture book editors, and in the novel version, they are with middle grade and YA editors.
BETH: Do you still recommend a second set of eyes on a manuscript? Or are you doing yourself out of freelance editing opportunities by providing this product? (I hope not! I’ve found your manuscript evaluations to be invaluable in making my manuscripts the best they can be.)
EMMA: Thank you for your kind words about my editing skills! Alas, these days I have less and less time to take on editing clients, given my teaching schedule and my own writing deadlines, but I do still take on an occasional project from time to time.
I will always recommend working with a freelance editor if you can afford to do so, regardless of whether or not you have used my Editor-in-a-Box revision system or any other, for several reasons. First of all, in today’s publishing environment, you get ONE chance to make a first impression. Unless a publishing house editor specifically says they’d be open to seeing a re-write, if they pass on a manuscript, that pass is final; you may not submit a revision. And in some cases, this policy extends to other editors within the same house. So it’s essential to do everything in your power to polish each manuscript into the very best possible shape you can before you submit. It should feel publication-ready (even though an acquiring editor will always find something else to tweak!)
The single best way to achieve that is to have a second set of eyes, and professional ones at that, review the manuscript. All the revision systems and tools – of Editor-in-a-Box or anything else – notwithstanding, we can never truly view our manuscripts with the same degree of perspective that a professional editor can. We’re simply too close to our own work. I mean, I’m an editor as well as an author, and I always hire a freelance editor to look over my manuscripts before I submit them, because when it comes to my own work I lack the perspective of distance that I bring to editing other people’s work.
EMMA: Thanks for asking! In my experience, school author visits and manuscript submissions tend to be the most mystifying and daunting things for aspiring children’s authors – and yet they’re an essential part of the process of writing and publishing books for children and young adults.
School visits help authors build their audience, and can also boost author income exponentially…. but so many new authors are overwhelmed by the idea of reaching out to schools, getting booked and planning presentations. So I created School Visit Wizard as a one-stop, comprehensive system to help authors research, cultivate, book and deliver school visits with confidence.
The program is broken down into 7 modules containing videos, slideshows, written documents and customizable forms that writers can adapt for their own school visits. It’s a step-by-step system encompassing everything one needs to know about School Visits, including:
How to Research, Cultivate and Book School Visits
Whether – and What – to Charge for a Visit
Dozens of Suggested Topics for Engaging, Age-Appropriate Presentations
Customizable Forms and Checklists, including: Sample Invoice, Booking Contract, Presentation Schedule and Details, Backpack Flyer, Book Order Form, Evaluation Form, etc.
Potential Problems & Solutions
Managing Book Sales
Do’s and Don’ts
Answers to 60+ FAQ’s About Doing School Visits
Insider Tips from Other Authors
Virtual School Visits
PLUS 3 Bonuses:
1 – Advice from the Experts – Interviews with School Visit Expert Mary Brown and Booking Agent Catherine Balkin, plus tips from fellow authors and educators with school visit experience
2 – Presenting Your Work: Developing Presentation Skills, Conquering Stage Fright and Presenting with Confidence
3 – All About Teacher’s Guides with Marcie Colleen
The Ultimate Guide to Picture Book Submissions is a product I co-created with my friend and colleague Julie Hedlund, who is a wonderful picture book author and the founder and host of the 12 x 12 Picture Book Challenge.
We only open it up once or twice a year, because we both have such full plates with respect to our other commitments… but it is a step-by-step system to research, write, perfect and send winning picture book submissions to catch the eye of an agent or editor and snag the representation or book deal you dream of.
The System is entirely online and self-paced, with the content available in video, slides, and transcripts. Here’s what it encompasses:
MODULE 1 – GETTING STARTED
Unit 1 – Submitting to Agents vs. Editors
Unit 2 – Researching Editors and Agents – including dozens of direct links to resources
Unit 3 – The Query vs. The Cover Letter
MODULE 2 – QUERY LETTER COMPONENTS
Unit 1 – Introduction
Unit 2 – Hook
Unit 3 – Bio & Market Information
Unit 4 – Conclusion
Unit 5 – Putting It All Together, including fill-in-the blank query letter templates
Unit 1 – Formatting Your Submission – SEVEN examples of how to format every kind of picture book manuscript
Unit 2 – How to Submit illustrations (for author/illustrators)
Unit 3 – Submissions After Parting with an Agent
Unit 4 – Query Etiquette
Unit 5 – FAQs updated with answers to many more questions
MODULE 6 – UNDERSTANDING REJECTION LETTERS
Unit 1 – Interpreting Rejections
Unit 2 – Dealing with Feedback
MODULE 7 – I’VE GOT AN OFFER! NOW WHAT?
Unit 1 – Evaluating Your Offer
Unit 2 – Offer Etiquette
Unit 3 – What to Look (Out) For in a Contract
The Picture Book Webinar Bundle focuses on these two all-important picture book styles/topics: Concept Booksand Rhyme, Verse and Lyricism.
The Concept BooksWebinar discusses writing concept picture books for children. Topics covered include:
Understanding the purpose and value of concept books in today’s market
What constitutes a successful concept book
The difference between concept and novelty books
How to balance story with concept
The Rhyme, Verse and Lyricism for Children’s Book Authors Webinar addresses writing rhyming picture books and using verse and lyricism when writing in prose. Topics covered include:
Understanding how to scan meter
True rhymes versus slant rhymes
Free verse versus blank verse
Tools for incorporating lyricism in prose
Both webinars are presented in video format, with downloadable PDF’s of the slideshows.
BETH: What’s next for Emma Walton Hamilton? Any new books in the pipeline? Any other brainwaves like the ones we’ve discussed that are dancing in the back of your mind?
EMMA: My mom and I have another Very Fairy Princess book in the pipeline, due out in the Fall of this year. We’re also working together on her second memoir, and brainstorming another middle grade novel. On top of that, we’re currently developing two projects for children’s television – one is an animated series based on The Very Fairy Princess in partnership with Nelvana, one of the world’s leading international producers and distributors of children’s animated content. The other is a live-action series for young audiences, in partnership with the Henson Company, celebrating the arts.
BETH: Very exciting projects, all! Is there anything you’d like to add?
EMMA: I’d love to mention one other resource for children’s authors – the Children’s Lit Fellows Program. This is a yearlong graduate certificate program that I head up, which is sponsored by Stony Brook Southampton’s MFA in Creative Writing and Literature. Twelve Fellows per year work independently from home with mentors from our outstanding faculty and, twice a year, they come together at the Southampton campus as a cohort, once in July during the Summer Conference and again in January for a special Publishing and Editing Conference. During their year, Fellows complete one publishable YA or middle grade manuscript, or, for chapter and picture book writers, either a series concept with one completed manuscript or three separate manuscripts. Faculty mentors over the past three years have included Patricia McCormick, Maryrose Wood, Cindy Kane, Amy Krouse Rosenthal, Chris Barton, Libba Bray, Dan Yaccarino, Peter Lerangis, Samantha Berger, Tor Seidler, Megan McCafferty, Donna Freitas, Tricia Rayburn, Ann Whitford Paul, Amy Sklansky, Grace Lin and yours truly, among others. Admission is highly selective, and those interested in learning more should go tohttp://childrenslitfellows.com.
In addition, we host an annual summer conference for five days in July – theSouthampton Children’s Literature Conference– that is open to the general public. This is a unique forum in which to study and discuss the craft of writing for children. World-renowned authors, illustrators and editors offer inspiration and guidance through workshops, lectures, group discussions and special presentations. The conference is open to new, established and aspiring writers, and is located in the Hamptons at the Eastern End of New York’s Long Island—a resort area of natural beauty.
Our Children’s Lit writing workshops are led by authors and editors of the first rank, and are the heart and soul of the conference experience. Workshops meet daily for 3 hour sessions. Enrollment is limited to 12 students per workshop.
BETH: Very importantly, how can people find more information on your courses, services and products?
Emma is also an award-winning children’s book editor, and hosts the Just Write Children’s Books self-paced, home-study courses in writing picture books, chapter books and middle grade and young adult novels. In addition, she is a Grammy Award-winning audiobook narrator and an accomplished public speaker, regularly addressing arts and literary conferences, schools, universities and other groups about the value of, and synergy between, the arts and literacy.