Homicidal Fairies and Other WriteOnCon Lessons

WriteOnConI spent the last two days glued to WriteOnCon, plus several days before in the forums critiquing and posting. If you are a writer and don’t know about WriteOnCon–particularly if you write for kids or teens–head over there now! The conference was online, and everything remains posted forever.

Thank you to all of the published authors, agents, and editors who participated. I’m going to share a few of the points that stood out most to me.

1. Not everyone defines the lines between MG and YA the same way. I thought I had a pretty good handle on what’s MG vs. YA, but not everyone agrees. Here are a few of the points agents and editors made, with links to the source material:

Agent Jen Rofe: “If the fairies in your book are doing mean things, it’s MG. If the fairies in your book are homicidal, it’s YA.” (more people retweeted this quote than any other I posted)

Editor Liesa Abrams: “In MG, the characters are learning how they fit into the world. In YA they’re learning how they stand out!” (my favorite definition)

Peter Knapp conducted a query/pitch workshop in the forums. If an MG pitch didn’t include a friendship element, he rejected it. He said MG must have friendships, and in his case, that must be highlighted in the query to get a request. (You must register in the WriteOnCon forums to view this event.)

Editor Martha Mihalick: A middle grade book is usually about a kid and their place within something. YA is about finding your own path. (similar to Liesa’s definition)

In the final live event, agent Katie Grimm said a lot of “tween” is disguised as MG and explained it as: “Well, of course there’s the obvious age difference of more 9-11 and those creeping on 12,13,14…and calling it MG. … And although it doesn’t seem like a big difference to us, there’s a HUGE DIFFERENCE between elementary and middle school.”

I found this last one interesting as I’ve always considered MG to be aimed at middle school, whereas her definition implies MG is aimed at elementary school kids. I think it’s an excellent example of how agents see things differently. My take-away was that I shouldn’t pitch Katie Grimm my 13-year-old character as MG :).

While it was interesting to see how agents and editors viewed the MG/YA divide differently, the best post on the topic was by author Claire LeGrand. It includes a comprehensive list of options with examples. My favorite? “Kissy-Kissy or Kissy-Kissy?”

2. It’s all about an agent/editor connecting with your writing.  Another common theme was that for an agent or editor to take on your novel, they have to connect with it. Here’s how a few of them explain it.

Editor Liesa Abrams: “If I connect to what the character feels then I can go with the character on any kind of plot journey.”

Agent Jen Rofe: “I want something that will make me read it in one sitting. Something that, pages into it, I’ll be rushing to offer representation.”

Agent Mollie Glick: “I’m always looking for a great story. A manuscript that I pick up, intending to read just a chapter or two and pass, and wind up staying up all night, ignoring my husband, to finish.”

Agent Sarah Davies: “I often know very soon – like a few lines in – whether a new writer has that ‘something’ or not. Obviously I have to see how the story/characters will develop, but that sense of voice and the moment is often there from the start. It’s like listening to a young musician. You can hear the musicality even if they just play a simple scale of C.” (I can’t even express how much I love this quote!)

Agent Katie Grimm: “We are all looking for a book where we say, man why hasn’t anyone thought of this before?”

So specific, right? Actually, I think it’s very telling. What I take away here is that your novel doesn’t have to be perfect, but it has to make an agent/editor care. That’s going to be subjective, but all you need is one.

3. Consider critiques carefully, but don’t make every suggested change. I posted in the query, first 250, and first 5 pages forums. On the plus side, these are people who haven’t read your manuscript, so they’re looking at it the same way an agent would. On the negative side, they’re seeing each piece independently, whereas an agent almost never sees the writing without a query. I wish there’d been a forum where you posted the query with the sample. Regardless, here’s how I approached it. I never make a change as soon as someone suggests it. First I ask myself these questions:

Did more than one person comment on this issue?

Is this critiquer’s point a matter of taste or a real issue?

If I make this change, will it improve the piece or bring up even more questions? (mainly on the query)

Is this change in line with my theme/the overall feel of my manuscript?

After evaluating each critique, I decided whether to revise or ignore. I didn’t get any Ninja Agent visits, but the process was still valuable, and I met some great new writers in the forums. There are so many exciting projects out there!

If you didn’t attend WriteOnCon, go check out all the posts and review the live events. You’ll get insight into the personalities of agents and editors, as well as excellent advice as you start, revise or query a project.

On a personal note, points No. 2 and 3 have made me decide to jump back into querying. I had been waiting to hear back from the agents who still have my manuscript, but the events with the agents and editors reminded me that it’s never going to be perfect. It’s just a matter of finding that agent who connects with Miranda. Guess I need to learn the same lesson my character does!

I’d love to hear what everyone else learned from WriteOnCon. Tell me in the comments!

Responses to “Homicidal Fairies and Other WriteOnCon Lessons”

  1. kiperoo

    Thanks so much for this great summary, Michelle! Once again, I’m in the EXACT same place as you. 🙂

  2. Poppy

    Great Post! Good luck with jumping back into the query fray. This was my first WriteOnCon, and I learned tons! One of the biggest lessons for me was learning to write through my fears!

    • Michelle Mason

      Thanks! I thought it was strategy to wait for agent feedback, but now I’m wondering if it was more of a fear thing. Either way, I appreciate the good wishes! Glad you learned a lot from the conference, too.

  3. Andrea

    Great highlights, Michelle! I like your point about posting both the query and a sample.

    The middle grade and middle school thing IS confusing. Where I am, middle school is usually grades 6, 7 and 8 or grades 7 and 8 which is ages 12 to 14. Elementary school would include grades 4 and 5, ages 9-11.

    • Michelle Mason

      It’s interesting because I’ve never heard an agent single MG out as being aimed at elementary school kids, but those younger ages definitely are. Even though my character is 13, she is in middle school, and I’ve always been told kids read up anyway. A friend of mine has a 9-year-old who’s reading THE HUNGER GAMES right now! So, I’m not sure what to do with that, but I’ll continue classifying mine as upper MG until an agent tells me otherwise.

    • Michelle Mason

      You definitely should. What I’ve shared above is just the tip of the iceberg. I could do several more of these posts if I were inclined. Enjoy!

  4. Lynn Guelzow

    I’m glad you tweeted this as I missed your re-cap last year. I’m new to WriteOnCon in 2013 and I found your tips and lessons learned very helpful. Good luck!

  5. Rosemary Freeman

    This is a terrific post and I loved the different agents giving their take on the difference between MG and YA. It’s no wonder the fairy quote got a workout on Twitter! Thanks for posting this, Michelle.


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