Character, Critiquing, Giveaways, Querying, Revising, Synopsis, Writing

New England SCBWI Conference: So Worth the Trip!

This past weekend I traveled to Springfield, Massachusetts, for the New England Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators Spring Conference. It wasn’t my first SCBWI Conference. I’ve attended the Missouri conference multiple years, and it’s been very valuable. However, the IMG_2576New England conference is significantly larger and offered the draw of my long-time critique partner, Kip Wilson, who I’d never met in person–until now!!!

Here we are, together at last. We had a fantastic time, staying up way too late discussing our various projects, the conference, and the angsty “what should I do about this” kind of conversations that take much longer over the back-and-forth of email :).

I met a ton of other amazing writers and published authors I’ve chatted with over Twitter as well, including several whose books I’ve highlighted here on the blog. I mentioned a few of those in my blogiversary post earlier this week. I made a point of picking up signed copies of MONSTROUS by MarcyKate Connolly and THE SECRETS WE KEEP by Trisha Leaver to give away. There’s still time to get in on that. Just click here. I also met many new writers and illustrators whose careers I will now be following.

So, on to what I learned at the conference. In a nutshell: fantastic presenters with exceptional content. But here are some of the highlights.

  • Editor Aubrey Poole, speaking on killer openings: Your first line should present a question in a way that is unique to your story. Maybe that’s a voice the reader has to hear more of, a spoiler missing critical details, two facts contradictory enough to intrigue, or a statement that sets the stage for the entire story. Most of all, don’t be boring!
  • Author Erin Dionne on critique
    • On receiving critique: You have to know the core of your story before asking for feedback—not what it’s about but the heart of the story and what you consider sacred.
    • On giving critique: Grammar and wordsmithing are important but not your number one job as a critiquer. Also, ask where the person is in the process and what level of critique they want.
  • Agent Ammi-Joan Paquette on taming the synopsis: One of your primary goals in a synopsis is to avoid questions. You want to bring in your internal story arc in addition to the plot; you may have to go out of your way to include it.
  • Author AC Gaughen on antagonists: The antagonist is not necessarily the villain. It is something that gets in your character’s way; it doesn’t have to be a person but anything, even themselves. Stories are most satisfying when we can see the character arc of the antagonist.
  • Author Jo Knowles on characters: Dig deeper for what your character really wants. Try to go five stages deep. Also, secondary and tertiary characters give complexity to your main character and help establish the world.
  • Author Padma Venkatraman on voice: Go with your heart and your unique pair of ears—or eyes, because most of the time we’re reading. As you begin to write, listen to your voice. We all have one voice. Give yourself that space so only you can write that novel.

I’ve already started applying many of these tips in the manuscript I’m revising (that one that won’t let me go). I shared a few others on the #NESCBWI16 hashtag. I gained so much insight from talking one-on-one with other writers, listening to the keynote speakers, and participating in the more intensive sessions. I highly recommend this conference if you’re in the New England area or have the resources to travel. If not, find an SCBWI conference near you. It’s worth the investment of your time and money!

 

Conferences

Romance in Kidlit and Other 2014 MOSCBWI Takeaways

Last Saturday I attended the Missouri SCBWI Conference. 2014 was my fourth year attending, and it’s interesting how my attitude toward this conference has changed. My first year, I soaked up everything. I was new to the world of writing for middle grade and young adult. I was just discovering all of the resources available on the internet, and so the information available at this regional conference was golden. These days I go less to learn something new than to catch up with writer friends, meet new writers, and hear something interesting. So for those purposes, it met my expectations.

The first speaker had interviewed seventeen editors and agents to gauge where the market is now and where it’s headed. She didn’t share anything I hadn’t already seen from the editors and agents I follow online, but I could tell that the information was extremely valuable to others in the room, so it was definitely a relevant topic.

The most interesting–and hilarious!–speaker of the day was author Cecily White, author of PROPHECY GIRL, who gave a keynote on “The Space Between Us: Layered Romantic Tension in Young Adult and Middle Grade.” She approached the topic from a psychologist’s perspective, giving background on how experts like Freud and Erikson defined these age groups and how they view the opposite sex. It was quite fascinating and gave a unique insight into why romance is different at these reading levels. Not your typical MG vs. YA presentation! Oh–you want to know what the difference is? Well, I don’t think I can just give her presentation away, but here’s a taste:

  • Middle grade love: Are we friends or what?
  • Young adult love: We’re dating! It’s forever love!

I also found author Steven Sheinkin’s keynote presentation, “Research or Detective Work,” fascinating. Mr. Sheinkin writes narrative non-fiction–which is something I never intend to write–but after listening to his process I’m now very interested in reading his books on Benedict Arnold, the guys who tried to rob Abraham Lincoln’s grave, and the men who staged a mutiny at Port Chicago. Honestly, I didn’t take a ton of notes during his presentation. I just enjoyed listening to him tell stories about how he’d tracked down all of the facts behind these untold histories. And it’s all because he worked for a history textbook company that wouldn’t let him put in the interesting bits! Now I must make sure our school library carries his books … But if you do write narrative non-fiction or even historical fiction and want to get your facts straight, a few tidbits I did catch that I might not have thought of are:

  • You can request FBI files, military files, etc., on people. They might blank things out, but the Freedom of Information Act gives you this right.
  • If possible, interview primary sources or people in the area who are experts on that topic, including authors of other books. He contacted one author who had done in-person interviews no one else knew existed.
  • Check old newspaper accounts.

I would highly recommend Ms. White and Mr. Sheinkin to any SCBWI chapters looking for speakers!

The day ended with a First Five Lines critique by two agents and an editor. It’s always interesting to hear industry professionals respond on-the-spot, especially to gauge their individual tastes. One of my writing friends received some very helpful feedback through the critiques, so yay!

Overall, I was glad I attended, although I’m excited to try something new next year. Some of my writer friends across the country have been urging me to branch out, so I may be headed toward the northeast …

Were any of you at MOSCBWI? What did you think?

Conferences, Revising, Writing

Missouri SCBWI 2013 Conference Recap

On Saturday, I attended the Missouri Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators conference. I would categorize this as more of an inspirational than a working conference. It consists of a series of keynote addresses with one breakout session. There was the option to attend an additional breakout session on Sunday morning, but as I have church commitments, I didn’t attend that part. Oh, there were also critiques available from two agents or an editor. Didn’t do that part, either. While I enjoyed the speeches, I’m going to focus on the two that gave me the most takeaways.

Krista Marino, Executive Editor, Delacorte Press

I’ve heard editors speak before but never with the approach Ms. Marino took. She centered her talk around books she’s purchased, starting with how she encountered the author and then unique aspects of the deal. It was interesting to hear the range of stories, from the traditional offer after an agent submission to buying an unfinished manuscript from an unagented author after a 10-page critique at a conference. It definitely brought home that each writer’s journey is different. Here are a few interesting things I learned from Ms. Marino.

  • E-book serials/novellas are a lot of extra work for the editor. Digitizing a work is a complicated process, and these books still require publicity plans, covers, etc. They can be a great publicity tool when done well, but they are becoming so common the novelty is wearing off.
  • Meta data and internet search marketing have become an essential part of an editor’s job. Book and series titles are extremely important when it comes to searches. Editors spend a significant amount of time considering what terms should be included to ensure the book shows up.
  • Editors are willing to take on books they believe in, even when they know they won’t sell big right away.
  • Editors will pass projects on to colleagues if they see something special but know it’s not for them.
  • When a publisher signs a two-book deal with an author, the second book doesn’t have to be determined yet. Editors often work with authors to come up with the idea for the second book.
  • While publishers do get input from booksellers, they will sometimes go against them if they really believe in something. For example, Ms. Marino is sticking with a cover one bookseller asked Delacorte to change, even though it may cost some sales with that particular bookseller.

I found her discussion of exclusive editions particularly interesting. An exclusive edition is sold to a particular bookseller with special content, whether an annotated first chapter, full-color illustrations that could be torn out, or an extra scene. An exclusive edition guarantees sales with that particular bookseller. It sounds like a great tactic, although a lot of extra work for the publishing team. Ms. Marino has worked with authors on as many as five exclusives for a single book. Once the exclusive deal ends–usually after a year–the content reverts to the publisher. In one case, Ms. Marino’s team compiled all of the exclusive content into a single package and sold it to fans with a teaser for the author’s new series. It was a successful promotion.

Lisa Yee, Author

Lisa Yee was hilarious. I haven’t read her books yet, but I definitely will now! I attended her revision workshop, and here are some of the gems I wrote down:

  • Sometimes when you work too hard on something, you can ruin it. (I so get this. There comes a time when you have to stop revising and set your work free!)
  • Cut ruthlessly. You can probably cut 20 percent of your manuscript. If you think it could be cut, try it, then re-read. If you don’t notice anything missing, it was the right cut.
  • Read your work aloud, or have your computer do it for you. (I agree. Check out my post about reading aloud.)
  • Change the margins and font so the manuscript looks different. It will force you to slow down and you’ll be less likely to skim.
  • Sometimes we do what’s easiest instead of what works. Make sure you’re writing in the correct POV, tense, etc. for the story.
  • When revising, take your work and turn it upside down.

Ms. Yee had us do an exercise in which we wrote a paragraph and then revised it several times from different viewpoints. It was a great way to see how different characters in the same scene might experience their surroundings, particularly depending on what baggage they bring to it. If you ever have the chance to hear her speak or do a workshop with her, I highly recommend you seize the opportunity.

While I could share tips from the agents or other authors, these two stood out the most from the conference. I hope they’re helpful/interesting for you, too!

Conferences

Missouri SCBWI Conference Recap, Part 1

I attended the Missouri SCBWI conference on Saturday. I drafted a single post with my key takeaways, but it was too long, so I’m splitting it into two. You’ll get Part 1 today and Part 2 tomorrow.

The first keynote speaker was the very entertaining David Harrison, a prolific author who’s been publishing since the ’60s. Here are a couple of quotes that stood out to me.

“What’s the best part about writing? Falling in love with this idea.”

He expanded further on this during his breakout session. He developed a whole book out of noticing he was losing his hair and another after reading a Far Side cartoon. It’s funny how one little thing can be the starting point for a story.

“Six years and 67 rejections later, I sold my first book. It was easy.”

Ha! And he was submitting in a much less glutted publishing marketplace, but what was true then is true today. I’m not at six years yet, but I’ve definitely received more than 67 rejections :).

The second keynote was by editorial consultant Emma Dryden, who spoke about the digital landscape. Ms. Dryden went through an alphabetical list of companies/trends that are affecting the industry. One that stood out to me was the iPad. I’m not sure I got it all exactly the way she said it, but here’s what I wrote down:

“The iPad put the capability of digital reading into the hands of millions of readers who didn’t know they wanted digital reading.”

Think about that for a minute. It really makes sense. The Kindle came out the same year, and it offers the same reading opportunity, but the iPad is different because the e-reader is just one part of the device. I don’t know the statistics, but I’d guess a small percentage of people originally bought it for reading, but a large number of people who bought it for other purposes now use it for reading. I know that’s been the case for my husband.

Ms. Dryden spoke about publishers getting into apps and bookstores figuring out how to stay relevant. Publishers have to re-imagine their business models. Bookstores are no longer the main customer. Publishers also need to go through Apple, Google, and Amazon and even direct to the consumer. Another interesting note was that enhanced ebooks are not as lucrative as publishers expected them to be. She said they’re only worth it if there’s extra value in the enhancements, and that’s not usually the case with fiction.

Thanks to YALSA also happening in St. Louis on Saturday, we had a panel of YA authors do a Q&A during lunch. They included Beth Fehlbaum, Jo Knowles, Deborah Heiligman, Selene Castrovilla, and Shannon Delany.

The first question to the panel was: How do you write about something true? I didn’t keep a good record of who said what, but the basic answer was that it’s a mistake to keep the story too close to what really happened. Instead think about what could have made the situation better. Take yourself out of the story and make it the character’s story instead. Then the story can take flight.

I did take down some other quotes. Most of these are related to how and why the authors incorporate character details and quirks.

“What do we remember about a book? We remember moments. We remember little things.” Selene Castrovilla

“Listen to the characters. Even when we don’t know where they’re going, they do.” Shannon Delany

“The characters that you love most in fiction, you can probably name things about them.” Deborah Heiligman

“You can’t just add quirks. Characters need to have a reason for them. They have to have a purpose.” Jo Knowles

So, I hope those quotes give you something to think about as you’re imagining characters. I’ll definitely keep them in mind.

Check back tomorrow for Part 2 of my recap. If anyone else was at the conference, I’d love to hear your thoughts.