I attended the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators in LA last weekend. Being an old cynic, I was pleasantly surprised. A lot of writing cons I’ve been to seem to want to sell you stuff: websites, consulting, self-publishing kits, and so on.
Not here. This was really focused on writing, finding an agent, getting published. No BS marketing. The list of speakers included dozens of published and award-winning authors, including Kat Yeh, who was eloquent in describing her shyness and struggles to “get out there” when she was just beginning her career.
It was, for me, a chance to continue my search for an agent for Losing Normal. There were a dozen or more agents there, and they all announced that they’d be happy to read queries from SCBWI attendees, even though some were not currently open (No, I will not tell you the secret code to query. You have to have been there).
There were dozens of breakout sessions/workshops on aspects of writing and getting published, all focused (mostly) on the children’s/YA market: useful info for beginners, pros and illustrators. The schedule is still available at http://bit.ly/2nwJHyF , so I won’t repeat it here.
Los Angeles last weekend was a gigantic sweat lodge, so I mostly stayed indoors at the LA Marriott location.
I met some nice people, fellow writers, had some good food and was glad I went.
A definite perk of the conference for single guys is that attendees were about 90% – 95% female. Are there no men who write kids’ books?
I was in a room with a crowd of people I didn’t know. A guy stepped away from the crowd and pointed his finger at a book, leaning on edge against a wall. He waved his hand and the book slid behind a piece of furniture, hidden.
“Wow. Telekinesis!” my dream self thought. “I can do that.”
I walked over to the wall, looked down at the book behind the furniture, waved my hand and the book slid out, visible again.
My takeaway: there are obstacles to getting my book published, but I will overcome them.
I’ve been thinking about this for a while, during the writing (and thinking about writing) of KillGirl. I tend to agonize and fret about how I’m writing badly, or I’m out of ideas for this or that part of the book. Then I go sit at my computer, read my pages, notes and chapters, and fret and agonize some more, maybe waiting for that old inspiration to strike.
But the problem is, nothing is really happening. I’m not writing, I’m thinking about writing. Or worse, thinking about what I haven’t even written yet. So, one day, I sat down and told myself, I’m going to write, no matter how much it sucks, no matter how much I hate it. Even if I know I’ll shitcan it, I’m going to write.
Guess what? I start to feel better, about the writing, about myself. And (if today is any proof), my writing, IMHO, gets better. There must be a rule out there by some writer: nothing EVER gets better by thinking about it. Writing only gets better when you write.
This might be a “duh” moment for some of you, but I have to keep remembering it, over and over again. And keep writing.
Here’s a chart showing the importance of the most influential social media–Facebook, Twitter, Instagram–as related to search engine visibility. Of course, if you don’t have a blog, it’s of little importance to you. But it might encourage you to start blogging.
Besides the workshops and Rogue Reads, the SCWC was a great place to meet fellow writers. Oz Monroe liked my ten pages, and I got good feedback from John Rudolph of Dystel, Goodrich and Bourret. As an encouraging side benefit (more emotional than strategic), there were many writers there as old or older than me! SCWC is having another conference in Irvine in September, and I plan to go.
Spent the weekend in rainy (!) San Diego at the Southern California Writers Conference — SCWC — and I have to say it was very good. I learned a lot, met some wonderful, talented writers and writing experts, and got some great feedback on my book, Losing Normal.
Among the best for me were the ‘Rogue Reads,’ late night gatherings (9PM is my late night, & these went on until midnight or later), with other writers and two very helpful facilitators, Melanie Hooks and Laura Perkins. Writers brought samples of their work, some just for general critiques, others (me), with specific problems to solve. I got (blushing here) very positive responses, and learned a lesson: Prologue not necessary; trust my story.
There were lots of daily seminars on topics like Genre, Plot vs. Character, Authorial Voice, Publicity and a three-session panel, Novel Intensive. It wasn’t possible to attend them all, so I had to pick and choose. Marla Miller and Jennifer Redmond ran ‘Pitch Witches’ (formerly ‘Two Bitches Who Take Pitches’), wherein we read our agent queries and they responded. “You lost me after ten seconds” was Marla’s first response to mine. Her point was that I spent too much time after the first paragraph describing the world of my book, and should have spent the time with my characters. I rewrote it.
I also found out some very useful information for those of you planning to attend a writing conference, especially if you’re going to meet with agents and/or editors: many conferences PAY the agents and editors, which means they’re possibly just coming for a vacation, nicer-than New-York-weather or something, with no intention of actually taking on new authors. SCWC doesn’t pay its guest agents or editors. Good advice: ask the conference organizers.
Those of you writing, or thinking about writing, a children’s or young adult book ought to read The Magic Words: Writing Great Books for Children and Young Adults by Cheryl Klein. As the Amazon review says, it’s a “master class in writing children’s and young adult novels…”
Klein, and executive editor at Arthur A. Levine Books / Scholastic uses extensive samples from Marcelo In The Real World, a book she worked on, to demonstrate how to fix matters of plot, tone and style for the book you’re writing.
The Magic Words focuses on three kid book categories: chapter books, middle-grade novels and young adult novels, using examples and reader exercises to make her points, and demonstrates essential differences in the sub-genres.
Klein’s basic guidelines:
A) The book will be centrally interested in the life, experience, and growth of its young protagonist.
B) The protagonist will contribute to the action, consistently doing things or making choices that move the narrative forward.
C) The novel will be narrated with relative immediacy to the protagonist’s youthful perspective, and not with the distance of, say, an adult looking back at his preteen years.
D) In more literary novels, the protagonist will be different at the end of the novel than he was at the beginning, and usually for the better.
The Magic Words is one of the most useful books on writing I’ve ever read.
I discovered a great resource called QueryShark. There’s nothing I’ve found that’s quite like it. The blogger is Janet Reid, an agent with New Leaf Media. Her blog is http://jetreidliterary.blogspot.com/, but the site I found most useful is http://queryshark.blogspot.com/.
There she practices the old-school, “this sucks,” style of critique. Writers who want to improve their query letters send in a draft, and she offers sometimes sharply-worded advice on how to make it better… or start over. She welcomes new queries, but you have to follow her rules, and be prepared for public humiliation. But, as writers, we know all about that, right?
I’ve read almost the entire archive and it is just plain fascinating to see how many writers improve their queries after a few back-and-forths. If Ms. Reid is truly enthused–which happens rarely– she’ll ask for pages, but be advised: her preferred clients are usually in the narrative non-fiction and fiction categories, not YA or Middle Grade genres. But she’ll read and comment on your query no matter what the genre.
Prepare yourselves with liberal doses of Tuff Skin.
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After two-plus years of clinging to a title that I should have known wasn’t working 18 months ago, I finally let go of it.
It wasn’t just that the title didn’t fit: the whole concept began to feel shoehorned in to another, very different story. I got feedback on that from the very first (thanks, Mel Gilden!), but you know how hard it is to kill all your darlings.
The story originated in a dream, which I think made it harder to give it up. Something sacred about my dreams, I suppose. But, as tends to happen, the story took another direction, one that was very different from the kind of fantasy world I’d begun with.
The new title fits because my hero, Alex, needs things to be normal, and things are getting less and less that way.
Please enjoy the first ten pages. Let me know what you think.
Based on feedback and the PCCWW workshop, I’ve rewritten my first ten pages of The Story Store. You can read them here. Let me know what you think.