Welcome to the Bookshelf Detective, a site packed with tricks and tips for readers and writers of children's literature. Thank you for visiting!
Kim Tomsic

Thursday, April 25, 2024

Revise First, Edit Later: Do You Know the Difference?


Updated: 4/26/2024

Hello, Creative Writers!

Sometimes the words "editing" and "revising" get interchanged, but they are different. 

Know the Difference:

Editing includes micro changes like making stronger verb choices, choosing language to match the mood of the scene, slowing down or speeding up a scene depending on what it needs, working out when to include dialogue tags and when to leave them out, deciding on paragraph fixes that could tighten your prose, making better word choices, noticing the read-aloud quality, the sound of the dialogue, etc.

Revising covers the macro changes such as deciding if a character could be cut from your book;  considering if each scene matters and how scenes are threaded through a "because of this then that" connection. In revision, you also track the pace of your plot, the turn of your scenes, the ticking timeclock and tension. You make sure that breadcrumbs are placed and that they have a payoff. You track if your protagonist has agency and is driving the action throughout the story; if they don't, you have reasons for why. During revisions, you make sure you've given the readers reasons to root for your protagonist, and you flesh out characters to make sure nobody is cardboard, and more! I can't wait to hear your ideas for revisions.   

You can look to the lists of others to find revision ideas that could possibly serve you. I hope you keep (or start) a personal revision checklist. Keep in mind that your list will be a work in progress. As you fix some of your writing issues, other issues will emerge.

Ideas for your Checklist:

Creating a personal editing and revising checklist helps me remember to look for things I know I can do better later. I don’t want to revise or edit in the middle of creating – it interrupts my flow. So when I'm creating a draft, I like to keep a running list of items to consider later during the editing and revision stages. If I don't keep a list, those items bug me and beg for my attention.

Examples of things on my editing checklist:

  • Search "to be" verbs and update with action verbs.
  • How can I amplify the tension on page x?
  • How can page x feel more tactile?
  • What's a fresh way to say ___________?
  • Do I have too many em dashes or exclamation points (I tend to abuse these)?
  • Can I delete 95% of of the times I say "just" in a chapter?
  • How many times did I say "began" and/or "started" and can I delete?
  • Are my intensifiers needed?
  • Did I have too many dialogue tags, and did I do a good job with invisible dialogue tags? 

Examples from my revision checklist:

  • Did I maintain good momentum turning the scenes à la Robert McKee style? (If you're curious to know more about turning a scene, read Changing the Positive and Negative Charges of a Value to Create Truly Effective Scenes)?
  • Did I establish rules to my worldbuilding and did I follow the rules?
  • Do I have an effective ticking-time clock and does the reader feel its presence?
  • Are all the characters carrying their weight? Does every character matter to the plot, or are some of them "darlings" who/that should be cut or combined?
  • Do any characters need further developing (does anyone disappear halfway through the novel)?
  • Does every scene with dialogue ring true? 
  • Did I carry motifs through in a meaningful way? 
  • Are there moments the narrator reveals that could be better carried in dialgoue?
  • Is my reader connected to how the protagonist feels throughout the story? The Emotional Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi might help with this. For example, if you want to show that a character feels "defeat", flip to “defeat” in The Emotional Thesaurus, and you’ll see ideas like, “lowering chin, toneless response, false bravado, cracking voice, and thick swallows.” For “anxiety” you’ll see, “rubbing back of the next, scratching, adjusting clothing, biting cuticle.” Obviously, you won't write ALL of these into your story 😼 Brain science shows us that readers want to put their feet in the protagonist’s shoes. Adding a light touch of feels will help bring the reader a step closer.
  • Are all the scenes in the best order and connected by interstitials or by "because this happened then that happened" moments?
  • Does my protagonist change or change the world around them by the end?
  • Did I weave in the five senses effectively throughout the story?
  • Did theme show up in a meaningful way?
  • Are the protagonist's wants/goals apparent on the page so the reader can track what the character thinks will happen, what they hope will happen, and what is at stake throughout the story? I like how author/retired agent, Nathan Bransford, asks, "Are my characters actively going after things they want in each scene?"
  • Am I giving my readers a close experience instead of leaving them behind by a nanosecond? What does this mean:
    • Giving readers a shoulder-to-shoulder experience with the protagonist means letting the reader see, hear, smell, and realize at the same time as the protagonist. Instead of “I smell cinnamon”, your character might say, “Mmmmm, cinnamon!” or “Gross, who brought the stinky cheese?” Let your reader and the protagonist smell at the same time. Same can go for sounds, sights, and realizations—e.g., Instead of, “I heard a loud crash” replace with, “Crash! Shards of glass scattered at my feet.”

Stay in the flow! Try not to edit and/or revise in the moment, so you can stay in the creative flow. When I'm finished writing the first draft, I continue building my editing and revising checklist, adding items that are my know issues (oh, I have many 😉).

Please share ideas from your list!



p.s. Revise first. There's no point in editing scenes that might get deleted. Once revisions are done, you are ready for the micro changes. Here's a fun editing checklist on the blog Fiction Writer's Mentor.

Saturday, December 30, 2023

11 Mistakes to Avoid When Querying a Literary Agent

Congratulations! You’ve completed and polished your manuscript. You’ve written your three-part query letter. Now, here are a few things not to do—no matter how tempted you are. Why? Because publishing is a business, and you want to showcase yourself as a professional.


11 Mistakes to Avoid When Query a Literary Agent by Kim Tomsic


1.     Don’t tell the agent that your mom, sister, classroom, and neighbor LOVED your book.

2.     Don’t call your manuscript a fiction novel (that’s like calling it a story story or a book story).

3.     Don’t submit to multiple agents WITHIN the same agency (but do send to your top five or ten agents at one time. Almost nobody expects an exclusive submission unless you’ve had that conversation).

4.     Don’t forget to ask your critique group to review it.

5.     Don’t pack your letter in an envelope and mail a query to a "green" office (and certainly don’t include rainbows and glitter!). Most agents only accept emailed submissions or online forms. Read their agency guidelines.

6.     Don’t skip the submission guidelines – notice if you are supposed to paste your manuscript pages within the body of the email, or if you are supposed to attach it as a Word Document. Don’t add attachments UNLESS the agent says they prefer to receive submissions that way.

7.     Don’t send a “Dear Sir or Madam” email and then email ten agents on the same outgoing message. Not only is it unprofessional and lacks the personal touch, but your email might also filter to their trash as spam. Avoid getting filtered as spam by refraining from adding special do-dads and gifs.

8.     Don’t misspell a name and please don't say "Dear Agent." Remember, address the letter to their name, spell it correctly, and let them know why you personally selected them.

9.     Don’t query an agent with a picture book manuscript if they only accept YA. Read their #MSWL

10.  Don’t query if they are closed to queries.

11.  Don’t query too soon. Slow down and make sure your manuscript is polished.

12.  Don’t worry! Be professional and let your writing do the talking.

Friday, December 29, 2023

3 Quick Tips on How to Write Dialogue Tags


"Let's chat about dialogue tags," she said.

"Okay!" I said. "I'm game."

I know, I know. Riveting conversation above.🤣

What is a dialogue tag? It's what you put after you close the quotes and designate the speaker.

Some tags you might have written or seen include:

...," he said.

...," she whispered.

...," they bellowed.

...," Kaia exclaimed.

...," Sharma whimpered.

And the list goes on. 

Firstly, no! Please try to stick with "said" and use the other examples sparingly. More on why below.

Secondly, formatting: Notice that there is a comma inside the quotation marks. The sentence ends after the tag. For example, "We are talking about dialogue tags," they said. If the statement ended in an exclamation point or a question mark, it would replace the comma. For example, "What are you talking about?" she asked. But look - "she" remains lower case. 

Thirdly, why dedicate a blog post to dialogue tags? 

There tends to be a lot of opinions on this topic. But remember, opinions are not rules. Here are my thoughts (and I'm not alone on this, so please feel the peer pressure😼): Using the tag "said" keeps the characters talking and the author out of the scene. What does that mean? It means when tags are used to add pomp and flourish to the prose, they demand attention and the dialogue takes second place to the tags. This happens when an author feels unsure that their words are doing the work, so they plant tags to carry the weight. 

Not always. Never always. But too many flourishy tags in a row can stifle flow. Uh-oh, there goes the suspension of disbelief. 

Links to an external site.

Style books and editors often prefer he said or she said or they said  or Stephen King said or Kim said, because such a tag is invisible. It's invisible because the reader can rush past the word "said" and stick with the moment and characters. With a rhythm of simple "saids", the tags fall away and the story remains front and center. 

On the other hand, if an author injects themselves on the page and shows off with a lot of effusive tags, the rhythm is interrupted, the reading slows down, and the reader is reminded that there is a clever author in the background. They are reminded that they are reading. Alas, they are robbed of the experience of being immersed in the magic and the moment with the characters.  

Brian Shawver in his book,  The Language of Fiction: A Writer’s Style Book, says, “Part of writing smoothly about a character involves moving the reader from the external events to the interior world of the character with elegance.”

This is not to say you'll never add extra flare to a tag. Simply consider choosing other tags sparingly as a way to allow the dialogue the chance to flow smoothly. Make strong word choices and verb choices so your tags don't need the bonus lift. 

Furthermore, sometimes you can leave a tag out altogether. Trust your readers. If they know who is talking, don't tag. For example, if there are only two characters on scene, there will be many sentences where the tag is unneeded.

Here's a blog from Mastercraft covering Five Tips for Writing Dialogue Tags

 If you’d like to read more on this topic, Master Class has an interesting article Links to an external site.. Mary Kole has an even better article on dialogue tags on the KidLit.com blogsite called How to Write Excellent Dialogue Tags 

Sunday, December 17, 2023

3 Steps to Demystify How to Write a Query Letter and Attract a Literary Agent


Congratulations! You've finished writing your manuscript. Now, you're ready to query an agent or editor.

Let's go! 

There are three parts of a query letter: 

the hook, 

the book, 

and the cook. 

All parts should fit on one page.

Paragraph One (the hook):

Include the following in  “The Hook” paragraph:

  • WHY - Why you chose the agent (e.g., I enjoyed your presentation at the 12x12 webinar)
  • HOOK - Include a sentence with the logline/hook: a “hook” is a single sentence that fast-forwards a readers' understanding of your story, and it can include comp titles (e.g., SEE SHELL is a friendship and perspective story that's like Carson Ellis's DU IZ TAK meets Brenden Wetzel's THEY ALL SAW A CAT but set at the bottom of the sea). 
  • Title (in all caps, e.g., SEE SHELL)
  • Genre
  • Word count
Links to an external site. title, genre and the word count of your book. Julie Fogliano had a sale post this week in Publishers Marketplace, so I’ll use the posted logline as an example (want to see more examples, subscribe to Publishers Lunch). If Julie had been querying this story, her hook++ lines might sound like this: 

FIRST LINE of the paragraph: Your first line should tell the agent why you carefully considered and queried them: Thank you for speaking at SCBWI New York or I enjoyed your webinar at blah blah blah or I enjoyed your interview on such-and-such blog and …your #MSWL…

SECOND and THIRD and FORTH LINE  (or so) for this paragraph: Your hook, TITLE, and word count. Agents might have a particular order in which they’d like to see your first paragraph. I've made this executive choice on the order for the sake of this example. I'll also refer to Julie Fogliano's sale that was announced this month in Publishers Marketplace.  If Julie had been querying this story, her hook++ lines might've sounded like this: 

EXAMPLE: Please consider my 464-word picture book manuscript, BECAUSE OF A SHOE, the story of a tantrum, and how even in the middle of NOT putting on a shoe, parent and child are still their unconditionally loveable selves.

EXAMPLE - a novelist might write: Please consider my 70,000-word YA sci-fi manuscript, THE UNACCOUNTED. It's teenage Jason Bourne meets The Prisoner of Zenda.

PRO TIP: want to see more examples of loglines, subscribe to Publishers Lunch). 

Paragraph Two (the book):

Write a paragraph about your manuscript that reads like jacket flap copy. Present an exciting glimpse of the story, and make us care without giving up the ending.

If you wrote a hero's journey story (rather than a concept book or something else) consider showcasing:

  • The protagonist
  • The inciting incident
  • The stakes (why we care)

Look through your favorite books that fall in the same genre as your manuscript to understand the cadence for how a jacket flap sounds (you'll leave off the “about the creative team” portion). Imagine that you only have mere seconds to capture the reader's attention. A good jacket flap describes the story in such a gripping way that bookstore browsers are ready to slap down their hard-earned cash to buy the book. Agents may use this copy to help present your manuscript to a publishing house, so create a compelling and tight paragraph. Make it easy for the acquisition team to say yes! 

PRO TIP: Once you’ve created your tight paragraph, notice if your copy sounds like a bunch of stuff happening to the protagonist (uh-oh, that won’t be good), or if your protagonist sounds like a character in action (huzzah!).

Paragraph Three (the cook):

Links to an external site.

This is your biography. Make sure you include only relevant information—memberships (e.g., SCBWI), high-caliber writing courses, your MFA, publications, publishing awards, work as a librarian or work in schools. If you've written a STEM book about a scientist and you are a scientist, include that information - that would be an example of relevant information. Nobody explains the “how’s” of writing a biography better than Chuck Sambuchino in Writers Unboxed , so please visit the blog post. He includes an important list of dos and don’ts (e.g., don't say it is copyrighted, don't say how many drafts you went through, don't say your neighbor's children loved it, etc.).

You've got this! Congratulations on arriving at this step. Query letters take a lot of time and research. It's worth the effort!

Good luck!

P.S. SUBJECT LINE: A subject line will typically include the TITLE + GENRE. However, it might also include the word "Query". Please carefully read submission guidelines/instructions for each agent or editor you query. They will have these guidelines listed on their website. Don't assume any two will be alike.

Sunday, December 10, 2023

7 Quick and Easy Tips for Writing Dialogue Tags

Let's chat about dialogue tags - when to use them, where to place them, and how to format. Below you'll find five best-practice tips to look like a professional.


          Dialogue is what your characters say. 

A dialogue tag is how you designate who is saying what (e.g., she says or Mom says). Use a dialogue tag whenever you need to make it clear who is speaking. If the reader knows who is speaking, then no tag is needed. For example, when only two characters are speaking, you won’t need to tag every single line. When your character has a distinct voice or distinct phraseology, you probably don't need to tag. When your character speaks while doing an action, you don't need to tag. More on that below.   



Ideally, you will tag with he said, she said, they said, or Proper Noun said rather than placing the said before the pronoun or proper noun. This isn’t a rule. Sometimes one or two variations can feel fresh and welcome, but when you write “said Kim” rather than “Kim said” it takes on the old Dick-and-Jane book sound.

Tip Two
CHOOSE SAID (instead of exclaimed, declared, etc.)

Use “said” as an invisible word. You can also use “asked” here and there or “answered”. But it becomes too heavy handed when an author uses back-to-back lavish or effusive tags like, “Wow!” she exclaimed (or any of the like phrases). That doesn’t mean there’s not space for one or two specialized tags, just don’t use them like confetti.

Why “SAID” for the win: Using “said” disappears nicely and keeps the dialogue flowing, it puts the characters center stage, and it keeps the author’s presence from intruding on the page (which messes with the suspension of disbelief).  



“Hello!” she says. “Are you reading this?”

“Yes,” you answer.

"Can you believe this post?" she says.

Notice that after the dialogue, the tag of he says or she says or they say (all pronouns) are not capitalized even when it follows an exclamation point or a question mark. If you’re using a tag, the sentence is over after the tag, and it ends in a period. If the character is asking a question, the question mark goes within the quotes, but the period comes after the tag, e.g.,

“How did this happen?” Dad asks.


“How did this happen?” my dad asks.


“How did this happen?” she said.


Obviously, when dialogue is followed by a proper noun, the proper noun will be capitalized as proper nouns always are, e.g.,  

“Hello,” Kim says.

Tip Four: My Mom vs. mom

Notice that when you refer to my mom, it is not a proper noun, but when you refer to Mom as a name (I asked Mom vs. I asked my mom), then it is a proper noun and capitalized. For example, all work:

“Dinner time!” Mom said. “We’re having fried rattlesnake.”

“Dinner time!” my mom said. “We’re having fried rattlesnake.”

“Dinner time,” my mom said. “We’re having friend rattlesnake.”


Tip Five: PLACEMENT (tags at beginning, middle, or end)

You should decide if you need a tag or not. If you do, choose the best tag placement (beginning, middle, or end) for your story and for the moment. Read your piece as a whole to make this decision.

Tag Placement Examples Round One:


If you’d like the tag before the dialogue it will look like so:

My mom said, “Dinner time! We’re having fried rattlesnake.”


Mom said, “Dinner time! We’re having fried rattlesnake.”


“Dinner time!” Mom said. “We’re having fried rattlesnake.”

“Dinner time!” my mom said. “We’re having fried rattlesnake.”


“Dinner time! We’re having fried rattlesnake,” my mom said.

“Dinner time! We’re having fried rattlesnake,” Mom said.

Tag Placement Examples Round Two:


If you’d like the tag before the dialogue it will look like so:

She said, “You know we only wear vegan leather, right? I thought John told you.”


“You know we only wear vegan leather, right?” she said. “I thought John told you.”


“You know we only wear vegan leather, right? I thought John told you,” she said.



If you are not using a question mark or an exclamation mark after the dialogue, BUT you are going to add a dialogue tag, then you will end the dialogue with a comma ,followed by quotes, followed by the dialogue tag, followed by a period. For example:

“Wow! It’s a gorgeous day,” she said.

“Wow!” she said. “It’s a gorgeous day.”

“How did you come to land on a star?” she asked.

“Harshita landed on a star,” she said.

“Amazing! You landed on a star,” she said.  

“You did it,” she said. “You landed on a star!”

Tip Seven: 
Replace a dialogue tag with an action:

When you put your character in action, you can simply end their dialogue with a period, and then write their action on the same line to indicate which character is talking. For example,


“It’s cold outside.” Mom wrapped a soft scarf around Anson’s neck. “Would you like mittens, too?”


“I didn’t eat the cookies.” Amita brushed crumbs from the corner of her mouth. “I swear.”


Notice in the above examples that you don’t need to say who said the dialogue lines. We know it is Mom in the first example and Amita in the second example, because they are the ones doing an action.


Let’s put it all together. Here’s a peek at what I turned in with my manuscript GUITAR GENIUS.



In a three-story schoolhouse near the Fox River in Waukesha, Wisconsin, children scrambled into the music room.


Tambourines shimmied, drums boomed, and bells clanged. Little Lester loved it all—the punchy pluck of banjo chords, the bright twinkle of piano keys, and the rise and fall of notes.

Lester couldn’t read the music sheets. Those tracks of squiggly lines and black dots didn’t make sense. But it didn’t matter. The fun part was all the sounds he could make.


At his after-school piano lesson, his teacher sighed and pinned a note to his shirt.

He skipped all the way home.

“What does it say?” he asked, grinning from freckle to freckle.

“Well,” Lester’s mother said gently. “It says you’ll never be musical.”

Lester’s shoulders sank. His eyes stung.

“Don’t listen to her.” His mother tore the paper into tiny pieces. “You are going to be great.”


“You can do anything you put your mind to.”

Lester thought about that.


He did a lot of thinking. One day while he was stuffing newspapers for his paper route, his buddy, Harry, showed up wrapping wire around an empty oatmeal can.

“What are you doing, Harry?”

“I’m building a crystal radio set.”

Well, that was interesting. So Lester gathered bits and parts [art: aluminum foil, telephone receiver] and built his own crystal kit. Then he wired it right to the bedsprings in his mattress for an antenna . . .

Out from his home-built radio floated the warm drawl of guitar strings. Wowza!



Happy writing



Monday, December 4, 2023

11 Tips on How to Format Your Picture Book Manuscript or Novel Before Submitting to an Agent or Editor

Curious about how to format a picture book manuscript? How about a novel? The age of your reader might vary, but your formatting will remain consistent. Here are 11 tips to properly format your manuscript before submitting it to an agent or editor. Check out the two bonus tips I include at the end.

11 Formatting Tips Before You Submit

1.      double-space

2.     12-point font

3.     Times New Roman—this is a profession font choice (you don’t want this to be a distracting choice, nor do you want reading hard on the eyes).

4.     One-inch margins

5.     Add contact details. Include your name and contact information on the first page in the upper left corner:


Email address

Mailing address

Phone number

6.     Center your TITLE and the manuscript's word count on the first page (title in all caps or cap first letter of words)

Place your name and word count centered under the title:






phone number


This is My Title and it’s Really Great


by Kim Tomsic (488 words)


7.     Include page numbers starting on the second page and forward. HOW: Select the “Insert”  and click “Page Number” and then choose one or the other - "Top of Page" or "Bottom of Page" -I prefer bottom) and select based on the positioning you like (usually "Plain Number 3", then type your title/last name, and then choose the box “Different First Page” so it starts numbering on the second page forward. It should be formatted like so:

This is My Title and it’s Really Great/TOMISC            Page 2


8.    Indent new paragraphs and/or new stand-alone lines within the manuscript. Also indent new lines of dialogue (watch for my dialogue post to come next week).

9.     When you change which character is speaking, make sure you create a new line break and indent it.

10.                        Black ink (please don’t get distracting with colors).

11.  Use brackets [  ]  to indicate when something is in the illustrations and not in

the text. For example my nonfiction book, The Elephants Come Home is a true story, and so the facts needed to remain factual. The elephants arrived during a downpour, it was part of the mood and tone, but I did not write it in the text. Therefore, I left a note for the illustrator [raining]. Avoid illustration notes unless absolutely necessary.


Hitting the Tab Key to Indent:


          Each line that comes after a purposeful line break will be indented like so. This means that the first line in the paragraph will be indented (as you see in this paragraph example). However, once you move on to a new line of text or new dialogue and hit the return key, you’ll indent the next paragraph or the dialogue that follows.

          “Now,” I say. “Does this make sense so far?”

          “Yes,” you say. “Tell me more!”

          And so I will 😊. Next week, I will cover dialogue, dialogue tags, where to place the tags, how to add punctuation, and more. Let’s go! By the way, I am a card-carrying exclamation point abuser. However, I urge you to avoid getting carried away with punctuation in your manuscripts. Let your words carry the weight and meaning of your prose.

Sidenote for novelists
– the first paragraph of a new chapter is served in a block (the first line is not indented), but then each new paragraph after the first paragraph is formatted with the first line indented.     

Good luck!


P.S. Here are two bonus notes:


An ellipsis is three evenly spaced dots (periods) and stands in for an unfinished thought or action. It looks like this


An em dash is when a character or thought gets interrupted or abruptly cut off for another reason like a car crash or a cake shoved into a mouth. The em dash name comes from the fact that it’s the typeset length of the letter “m”. It looks like this




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