Tuesday, June 21, 2011

"Almost There"

These two words bring about contrasting emotions: hope and frustration.

Do you agree? If your agent writes back to you after almost a year of revisions and says something like, "I absolutely love it! Just a few more tweaks. We're almost there!" what would you be feeling?

First, I admit, comes a tad bit of frustration (at least for me). The whiny child within me wants to yell, "but I'm sooooo tired of rewriting this book! Wahhhhh...." (yeah, it's not pretty). What's also frustrating though is that I've reread and reworked the novel so much that I feel I'm going cross-eyed. I'm not catching tiny errors that I would have caught before. Or I left a sentence or two from a previous draft that doesn't make any sense because that scene has been taken out.

However, I am happy to say that I like hearing these two words. They mean that after a lot of work, it's about that time to send out to editors and see if I get any bites. It's another step closer to this dream of mine really happening. It's exciting and nerve-wracking, and well, hopeful.

Are you "almost there" with whatever you're working on? Maybe you're "almost" ready to send out queries, or you're "almost there" to the end of the story. Wherever you might be on this journey, don't discredit "almost there". Sure, it's frustrating, but focus on the hope of knowing that your goal is just around the corner!

P.S. I'm going to start posting interviews soon. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Have you taken the time to WRITE today?

Okay, it's summer time, and the living is easy. Just today I enjoyed a sun-filled day on the boat. Plus there's grilling with family and friends. There's bonfires and the deliciousness of s'mores. There's swimming and sand-castle making.

Who has time to write??

Um, hello, YOU! That's right. You heard me (I'm writing in my "teacher voice" right now). A few of my friends have commented on how they are "too busy" to write. No, no, no...that is an incorrect answer.

A few years back Laurie Halse Anderson came to our fall Michigan conference. I remember her opening speech, and how she hammered the nail on the head about giving yourself permission to write. Things take up our time. Work, family, get-togethers. I'm not advocating throwing all that out the window. But life is too short for you (or I) to keep proscratinating. That book isn't going to get finished...or revised...or critiqued...if it sits in your head gathering dust. Another speaker at a more recent conference I attended was agent Jennie Dunham. She hosted an early-morning journal session. I was pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed that! She didn't say it had to be specifically your creative piece, but I have been "journaling" my novels since that conference.

Whatever your excuse, throw it in the garbage. I don't want to hear it. Carve out some time. But get something on paper (or computer). I have a set of goals that I have used for the last year or two. These goals work!

Here are some goals of mine (feel free to use them, tweak them, laugh at them, or use them for dart practice) :)

  • Write at least five times a week. Do not stop until three pages have been written. (and I give myself permission to write garbage.)

  • Participate in a critique group once a month (via e-mail or meeting in person). This helps me check over my work, as well as letting me see others' creative processes. Plus critiquing others helps me turn a critical eye on my own work.

  • Read a young adult or middle grade novel at least once every other month. During the summer, I read about two a month, but that's because I'm a teacher. Yay, teachers!

  • And this summer, I have a big goal: finish the novel I'm working on!!! (I'm really good at starting cool novels, but then they sit and wait for awhile...

These goals are not set in stone, but I try to make writing a priority. Even during the school year, I try to "journal" my story ideas, or continue story ideas as much as possible. My friend told me about the book, Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell, and one of the chapters is about people who are extremely successful follow the "10,000 hours" rule. In summation, it's where a person is dedicated enough to spend 10,000 hours learning/practicing whatever it is they are passionate about. That's when they start seeing success take place. (And I'm so sorry to the author(s) if I flubbed on that summation.) The point is that in order for us to be successful, we need to pursue writing passionately and diligently.

So what are you waiting for? Get writing!



P.S. Hopefully, this post inspired you. I wasn't really trying to be all "teacherish" on you!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Conference write-up (Editor's Day in Lexington, KY)

This weekend I had the opportunity to travel to Lexington, Kentucky to attend an Editor's Day. Speakers were Maggie Lehrman from Abrams/Amulet Books and Kate Larken from MotesBooks. Now I've been to at least a dozen conferences, but I can honestly say I learned a lot from this one day event. Maggie Lehrman was absolutely exceptional. Her two sessions were so informative I dare-say I learned more from her than any other speaker. And Kate Larken, who represented a small, independent press, was a riot. I ate lunch with her and enjoyed our table's conversation. I feel like she'd be my buddy if I was a Kentuckian. (wink)

So I thought since you did not get to travel with me, that I'd bring snippets of the conference to you. I do have to be careful. SCBWI is big into intellectual property, so I will try to summarize the sessions, giving credit to the editors for doing a stellar job.

The first session, Maggie Lehrman really hit home about what stands out from the others in that infamous "slush pile". She pointed out four things that really catch the editor's eye: Voice, Grasp of Story, Originality, and Reader Appeal. Voice is more than just point of view, language and word choice, it's also attitude and emotion. It's about authenticity. Grasp of Story is simply HAVE A PLOT. Have a story that BUILDS. She also mentioned how every scene should be necessary to the furthering of the plot. Avoid predictibility. Plots should be inevitable but surprising at the same time. For originality she discussed how you need a unique perspective to keep it fresh. For Reader Appeal (which I found interesting), she said that there has to be an ideal audience for the book. Who is the book written for? Will it sell to that demographic?

These were the main points of the first session. Kate Larken then discussed the world of small presses. She is more into niche markets, such as biographies of prominent Kentuckians. She also explained how and why she created MotesBooks. The key from this presentation is that even though small presses don't have the powerhouses behind them, they provide an open door for writers who fit into their niche. She also joked that she hadn't gotten rich yet off of any book, she's published, so a writer shouldn't expect to get rich from a small press either.

The last session I found soooooo informative. Maggie Lehrman described what happens behind the scenes at Abrams/Amulet Books. She started from the point of being interested in a book, then walked us through every step and detail of how that book gets created and put on the shelves. There was actually so much to this session, I don't know where to begin as far as summarizing it! Let's just say that getting a book published takes a lot of "behind" the scenes work. (I'd love to have her come to a SCBWI-Michigan event; she was fabulous!)

Throughout the day, they had first pages. This was so much fun because they were able to get to everyone's first page. If I could be blunt, many of the first pages were very, very rough, and I felt bad for the two editors who were asked point blank if they would keep reading. But I will refrain from being judgmental because there were a lot of first-timers at the conference, and I was once a first-timer too.

Excellent job to those behind this fabulous Editor's Day! I really learned a lot and enjoyed myself. If you have any specific questions, respond to this post, and I'll answer as quick as I can!


Monday, June 6, 2011

Top 5 reasons you need an agent...

The question: do I really need an agent? comes up a lot at the conferences I attend. Most children's book writers wonder if an agent would truly be helpful. Most of the time it's just as hard to land an agent, so doesn't it make sense to bypass all of that and send directly to editors? Here's my answer in short: You bet your bottom dollar you need an agent!!

Here are my top 5 reasons you NEED an agent:

  1. Editors RARELY look at slush pile, yet they READ everything that comes to them via an agent. Out of the editors I've met and talked with, they are way too busy to conquer that slush pile. Most of them have assistants who try to attack it, but even the assistants are busy helping with the books that have been signed. But it's more than that, editors have a small pile that comes from agents. Now THAT is what they look at. An agent has given a manuscript his/her stamp of approval. Editors and agents have great relationships (for the most part), so when an agent puts his/her name on a project and says, "Yes, I love this, and I believe this is a good fit for you", editors take that seriously. Editors also respond much faster to agents.

  2. Agents are the gatekeepers, and they hold the key. One of the BIG things I've learned in my several years or writing and pursuing this dream of mine is this publishing business is busy, and I am not the only one who thinks I have a fabulous book to publish. I was so naive back in the day. I wrote a middle grade novel in a month, sent it off to the top companies, and truly expected a book offer. After a few conferences and some research on my part, I realized that my book is up against tens of thousands. One editor told me that maybe 10-15% of what she reads from submissions is even publishable (alas, that's why it's called the slush pile). Out of that 10-15%, she might be interested in one or two of the books. So, do the math. That means 1,000 submissions out of 10,000 might be publishable, but out of that 1,000 only one or two grab her interest. YIKES! Having an agent helps you SURPASS that 1,000. Yes, it's true. With an agent, your manuscript lands right on the editor's desk. The agent helps get you in the door. It doesn't guarantee a contract, but at least an editor is reading your entire manuscript.

  3. Agents are in the business of making money. I don't mean to sound superficial, but it's true. The better a deal an agent makes on your behalf, the more money in his/her pocket. Not to mention they are knowledgeable regarding all types of contracts that would make you and me go cross-eyed. There're all types of rights, including foreign rights, movie rights, etc. and they deal with all of that. And obviously, the more money they make for you goes into your pocket.

  4. A good agent is an awesome editor. My agent, Marissa Walsh, from Fineprint Literary, used to be an editor from Delacorte, and it shows. She makes me rewrite like crazy (see earlier posts), and even though I'm sick to death of revision, my book is so much more amazing because of her AWESOMENESS. I'm talking about things I would have never caught on my own. Or adding depth to characters that make me just fall in love with them. When an agent edits your work and helps you tighten and fix it, they are doing a lot of the editors work for them. And remember when I said how busy an editor is? Okay, you get the drift.

  5. An agent (a good one) is the best cheerleader you will ever have. It humbles me when Marissa e-mails me all excited about a revision I made. This business professional in the "publishing world" is excited about my work. It lets me know that my dream isn't that far away. I couldn't imagine submitting to editors without having an agent. And are cheerleaders important? Go to any football game, and you'll have your answer. A good cheerleader stirs up the crowd, gets them empassioned, and encourages the players on the field.

New agents are diligently searching to build their lists, and even more experienced ones are continually looking for the next manuscript they fall in love with. I'll have more on this later!