What I Learned at the SCBWI LA Conference – Part 2 Editors Discuss What Books Need and What They Don’t

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There was a very lively Editors’ Panel this year, and the discussion was all about what you should have in your manuscript and what you shouldn’t. The dynamic panel included:

Alessandra Balzer, VP and Co-Publisher at Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins Children’s Books

Mary Lee Donovan, Editorial Director at Candlewick Press

Allyn Johnston, VP and Publisher of Beach Lane Books, a San Diego-based imprint of Simon & Schuster

Wendy Loggia, Executive Editor at Delacorte Press/Random House Children’s Books

Lucia Monfried, Senior Editor at Dial Books for Young Readers

Dinah Stevenson, VP and Publisher of Clarion Books, a small imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Julie Strauss Gabel, VP and Publisher of Dutton Children’s Books, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers

 

Editors Panel w/Lin Oliver moderating. Pic from Official SCBWI Conference Blog
Editors Panel w/Lin Oliver moderating. Pic from Official SCBWI Conference Blog

 

 

The first question addressed to the panel asked for one good thing they looked for in a manuscript.

Overwhelmingly, the answer was voice.

Mary Lee Donovan expanded on this: Voice is what you bring to your manuscript automatically. Don’t try to imitate, or echo another writer or style. Make sure you are writing authentically as yourself so your voice comes through. “If you are writing authentically, you are writing in your voice.”

Allyn Johnston added that she wanted the unexpected; something that gives her goosebumps. And no elaborate cover letters, for her. She would rather you spend more time developing your manuscript.

Lucia Monfried said, “Originality. It’s a rare quality that grabs you.”

Dinah Stevenson said she’d like to see a beginning, “Not only an invitation into the story, but something that contains the seeds of the ending, so it sets up a satisfying journey.”

Julie Strauss Gabel echoed the importance of voice, and then mentioned for her personally, she’s very attentive to fit. As in fit for her imprint and for her as an editor. And she said this isn’t just a surface fit, it’s about that unique one-on-one relationship. Never write to general masses or trends. From your voice to your manuscript, you have to be able to stand by it. “I’m looking for something I can champion.”

Others echoed this and the importance of diligent research before submitting. Suggesting writers look over editors’ lists, read interviews, and find other useful information that is available on the internet.

Alessandra Balzar, Mary Lee Donovan, and Allyn Johnston. (pic from Official SCBWI conference Blog)
Alessandra Balzer, Mary Lee Donovan, and Allyn Johnston. (pic from Official SCBWI conference Blog)

 

Second question asked editors to discuss things they did not want to see in manuscript submissions.

Allyn Johnston said, “Don’t be weird.”  Don’t send your manuscript inside a green plastic fish (which she held up for all to see) or with a satin eye patch.

Boring manuscripts was another common theme.

Alessandra Bray added that she sees some writers, in an effort not to be boring, overload the start their manuscript with so much action or sex drama that it is overwhelming. She suggested we as writers should, “introduce us to your characters” and leave out the “dark and stormy night bits”.

Wendy Loggia gave this insight on how to know if you have a boring manuscript: If only you get excited about your work, it’s probably boring. When you practice pitches, if others show interest, that’s good. If not, that’s bad.

Julie Strauss Gabel added that If she doesn’t get engaged or see the voice or if it’s pedestrian, she’s out. She then said that the very best stories come from very personal places. Always think about why this story has to be told.

Allyn Johnston, Wendy Loggia, and Lucia Monfried (pic from Official SCBWI conference blog.)
Allyn Johnston, Wendy Loggia, and Lucia Monfried (pic from Official SCBWI conference blog.)
Dinah Stevenson and Julie Strauss Gabel (pic from Official SCBWI conference blog.)
Dinah Stevenson and Julie Strauss Gabel (pic from Official SCBWI conference blog.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Third question asked each editor to discuss what they looked for in a fresh, snappy manuscript.

Many reflected on ideas of craftsmanship and dealing with a writer who understood story structure. An emphasis on educating ourselves as writers was expressed over and over. Too many manuscripts come in that read like first drafts. Writers are not taking enough time to edit.

Lucia Monfried stated, ” There’s no speeding up how to get better as writers. Take your time; learn your craft.”

Dinah Stevenson said that a manuscript screams out first draft when a writer has thrown in everything and the kitchen sink. “Craft means making choices. It’s part of the process.”

Wendy Loggia added that she looks at the overall structure of the manuscript. Paragraph structure, sentence breaks, chapter endings, etc. “I love to step in and make suggestions, but it’s great when I can tell that a writer has an idea of how they want the manuscript to look.”

Allyn Johnston said, “When I’m in the hands of a professional, I can relax.” She then shared a quote from Mem Fox to share what she’s looking for: “When the emotional temperature of the reader has changed through the experience.”

Julie Strauss Gabel expressed ‘sharability’ as something she looks for. “Word of mouth is the key to this business. We’re here because we care about who is going to read this book.”

Alessandra Balzar said she wanted to see a hook – that thing that makes a manuscript fresh, unique. “What hook really means is the ability for the book to stand out.” What’s going to make someone say, ‘Oh, you have to read this book.’ – and that book is yours?”

Allyn Johnston and Mary Lee Donovan both commented on wanting books that fulfilled this golden moment when they become a reader. When they let go of the editor part of themselves and just enjoy the story. That is the golden moment and that’s when they know they’ve found something special.

Overall, a fabulous panel with lots of great insights and pearls of wisdom from these experts in the field of publishing.

 

 

 

 

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4 thoughts on “What I Learned at the SCBWI LA Conference – Part 2 Editors Discuss What Books Need and What They Don’t

  1. That was super helpful, thanks for posting a lot of good tips that a lot of first time writers need to hear. For me, there is always something to learn to make my writing better, so I love my online community of writers!:)

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