Year End #okscbwichat Round Up

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We had some fantastic #okscbwichats during my blog hiatus – a poet laureate, a literary agent, and an independent book store owner all stopped by our Twitter hashtag for a chat. We ended the 2016 #okscbwichat season at the end of last month with quite a bang.

Here’s the round up of the final chats and a link to each discussion.

Benjamin Myers

Ben MyersBenjamin Myers is a professor of literature at Oklahoma Baptist University and is the current Oklahoma Poet Laureate. He is the author of two books of poetry LAPSE AMERICANA and ELEGY FOR TRAINS, which won the Oklahoma Book Award for Poetry.

His poems may be read in numerous literary journals including The New York QuarterlyTar River Poetry, BorderlandsSalamander, Nimrod, and the Chiron Review, as well as online in Devil’s LakeDMQ ReviewThe Pedestal MagazineElimaePoetrybay, and elsewhere. He lives in Chandler, Oklahoma. You can follow Ben on Twitter.

Ben was our guest in September. During our Twitter chat, Ben talked about what inspired him to become a poet, how the study of poetry can help authors with their writing by calling very careful attention to language, and he explained how a poet uses a poem to convey a reader into an experience like Dr. Who uses his TARDIS. Fascinating!

*If you missed the chat, you can view the Storify version of the entire conversation here.

 

Adriana Domínguez

Adriana-DominguezAdriana Domínguez is a literary agent with Full Circle Literary with 20 years of experience in publishing. She will also be one of our off-site critiquers for our SCBWI OK Fall Workshop in November.

Her author client list includes award winners and best sellers such as Michaela and Elaine DePrince, Reyna Grande, Katheryn Russell-Brown and Angela Cervantes. Adriana is interested in picture books that are funny or endearing, with an element of the unexpected; voice-driven contemporary and historical middle grade and young adult novels, and narrative nonfiction, including biographies, and memoirs written by authors with strong platforms. Twists, strong concepts, and diverse points of view are all on her general wish list; works that are at once timely and timeless will always get her attention.

Adriana also represents artists with distinctive styles, and not-so-secretly yearns to bring more diverse illustrators into the market. You can visit her agency website to view her full bio and complete manuscript wishlist. You can also follow her on Twitter

Adriana was our guest for a special edition of #okscbwichat in early October. Adriana discussed diversity and who has the “right” to tell a story, she talked about how her experience as an editor influences her style as an agent, and she also told us one thing she wished new authors and illustrators knew about the publishing business.

*If you missed the chat, you can view the Storify version of the entire conversation here.

 

Joe Hight (BOB at Best of Books)

Joe HightJoe Hight is not only the president of Best of Books, an independent bookstore in Edmond, Oklahoma, he’s behind the online persona, BOB, and the delightful tweets of the store’s Twitter account @bestofbooksok.

Best of Books is a family-owned bookstore celebrating its 30th anniversary as an Edmond institution. Joe and his family took over ownership a few years ago after they moved back from Colorado Springs, Colorado, where Joe was the editor of The Gazette. While working there, his paper won the Pulitzer Prize. Prior to the move to Colorado, Joe worked for The Oklahoman. He was inducted into the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame in 2013. You can follow Joe on Twitter.

Joe was our final #okscbwichat guest of the year. He chatted with us at the end of October. Joe shared many insights, including the one thing he wished local authors knew about their local bookstores – always seek to build relationships! He talked about the advantages an independent book store can offer an author over a chain book store as well. Joe discussed the mistakes authors can make when approaching them for events, he also shared some ideas that can help authors have more successful events. Very enlightening discussion.

*If you missed the chat, you can view the Storify version of the entire conversation here.

 

I really enjoyed all the conversations with our guests throughout this year. My Social Media Committee and I are already planning some exciting new things for next year! If you have any suggestions for a guest you’d like to see – author, illustrator, or industry professional – feel free to leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you!

See you back for our first #okscbwichat of 2017 in January!

#okscbwichat

 

 

 

SCBWI LA Summer Conference Impressions – Part 1

Artwork by Liz Wong
Artwork by Liz Wong

 

Yes, I’m back! I took some much needed time off from the blog to recharge my creative battery, which was getting frightfully low.

Part of that recharge included attending the 45th Annual SCBWI Summer Conference in Los Angeles with my tribe. I never feel more at home anywhere in the world than when I’m surrounded by these people. I always come away feeling fulfilled and motivated.

 

Biltmore Hotel Gallery Bar

We started out in a new venue this year, the (extremely haunted) Millennium Biltmore Hotel, which boasts many specters, one of the most famous being Elizabeth Short, known as the Black Dahlia, who was last seen in the bar before her death back in 1947.

Throughout the conference there were reports of doors and cabinets that refused to stay closed and bathtubs that filled up all on their own. Still, the spookiest thing that happened was when one of our own group from Oklahoma snapped a selfie all alone in the hallway of the infamous eighth floor. But it wasn’t quite a selfie – something was in the background behind her. It freaked everyone out who looked at it, I’m telling you. (If you’re really curious, just ask Ginny to show you sometime…at your own peril.)

DAY ONE

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Our Oklahoma SCBWI gang is ready for the conference to start!

Day One began with a marvelous welcome by the incomparable Lin Oliver and the always entertaining faculty parade. Then it was on to the first keynote.

Drew Daywalt Embraces His Inner Voice

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Drew Daywalt launched the conference with his keynote entitled “Does This Keynote Make My Butt Look Big?” And yes, it was just as funny as you would imagine. But it was also touching and inspiring as well. His first two picture books, THE DAY THE CRAYONS QUIT and the sequel, THE DAY THE CRAYONS CAME HOME have both been very successful. This is not something he was expecting. “I come from a long line of failed picture book writers.” crayonsquit

After growing up one of six kids in a house that was most likely haunted (sensing a theme for the weekend?) he started his adulthood writing screenplays in Hollywood, but found that world very unsatisfying and a little too cutthroat. He kept coming back to something author Jack Gantos once told him, that he had a voice for kids’ books. Yet, he kept put off writing for kids.

Then one day, he saw a box of crayons and thought about how they always had crayons but he never remembered buying them. He gave it a shot and wrote his first children’s book. Ten long years later – it took his agent four years to sell the book – it was published.

After his first school visit, a kid “broke through security” to give him a hug and kissed his cheek. He talked about how that experience changed him.

“Hollywood knocked me down, and a million tiny little hands caught me.”

(Yes, there was a collective “Awww” heard round the conference room at that.)

His picture books express a unique voice, a unique vision. When addressing the concept of voice, he said, “it is absolutely your fingerprint.”

Every story has been told, so it’s been said, but none in YOUR voice. You have to be willing to be vulnerable, too.

Writing a story and asking someone what they think about it is like standing there butt naked and saying, “Hey, do you like it?”

It’s about honesty.

You have to be honest to your own voice, and then you’ll be fine.

Fantastic way to open the conference!

 

Arthur Levine Gets Personal

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Moving into the workshop portion of the morning, the fabulous Arthur Levine, (Scholastic’s imprint Arthur A. Levine  – Harry Potter’s American publisher, that Arthur Levine) gave a talk entitled, “When It’s Personal: Translating Life into Fiction”. He’s also an author and has written several stories that have been inspired from his own life.

“Arguably, all good fiction is drawn from the personal.”  

How do we do this well? We take a story we care about that already has setting, emotions, and characters.

Blindspots are the problem.

When we’re telling personal stories to friends, we don’t have to be as careful about timelines, backgrounds, and setting. There’s a history built in with the audience.

When we try to translate these stories, we forget what’s visible. Interpersonal dynamics aren’t always clear. We don’t know how well this is showing up on the page. We still have all the work of creating characters that live on the page. It’s not visible unless we make it visible.

Sometimes memories aren’t complete. You may only have snippets of  memories from one event that don’t give you a cohesive story.  Diligent research can fill in for memory lapses.

Readers don’t know that you’re mixing and matching as long as it works and there’s fidelity.

Your stories and anecdotes are tools.

What are you trying to say? Does this plot support that? If not, you need to change it. The more changes you make, the more distance and objectivity it gives you.

“Feelings are clothing that other characters can wear – have to tailor to fit.”

Many great ideas for future stories came out of this session!

 

LUNCH!!!

The great thing about our new location is that we were smack in the middle of downtown LA and there was so much going on around us and so much waiting to be explored. After dreading the long line at the hotel café, I saw a tweet mentioning food trucks across the street. Not only food trucks, but live music, and a beyond fascinating moving art sculpture canopy. Lunch time was saved!

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Never-ending line for the café. Blerg.

 

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Food trucks to saved the day!

 

 

 

 

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Me squinting in the ever-so-bright California sunshine while trying to capture the constantly moving reflective sculpture/canopy thingy behind me. (NOT a professional photographer.)

 

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Over head shot of the full floaty art sculpture canopy. Looks like a school of shiny minnows. You can peek through it and see the high rise buildings above.

 

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More floaty sculpture and lunch date, my daughter. Notice the enormous shadows this thing casts on the ground.

 

Sara Sargent Cuts to the Edge of YA Fiction

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Sara Sargent speaking in the very intimidating Crystal Ballroom
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The room was packed and I felt way under-dressed for the décor.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After a fascinating lunch time diversion, and a few more interesting talks,  came a brilliant workshop by HarperCollins Executive Editor Sara Sargent. I just love her – and not because she remembered me from our Spring 2016 SCBWI OK conference and gave me a hug while we were in a crowded elevator together. I’ve never had an editor do that!

Sara’s talk was entitled, “Cutting Edge YA Fiction”. She started at HarperCollins about a year ago to develop books that teens really want to read. She studied these teens in-depth. She thought we should get to know these readers, understand them, “and dare say, even love them”.

What a radical concept!

Here’s some marketing data on this Gen Z:

  • They are the 1st generation to be majority non-white
  • Have an average attention span of 8 seconds
  • Use an average of 5 devices – smart phone, laptop, desktop, tablet, TV
  • More tolerant of gender diversity than previous generations

Their experience at school is totally different than what your was.

**One of the main reasons Sara rejects a manuscript is because it seems like the author is writing to the teen they were instead of to who teens are today.

Excellent point.

Who are you telling the story for? Do you know today’s teen audience?

Sara then gave many ideas on how an author could immerse themselves in teen culture to see what teens today are interested in.

So what does ‘cutting edge’ mean? It plays with expectation and form. To Sara, it’s pushing boundaries and trying new things – “Making me think in new ways.”

Here are some brainstorming ideas to get you started:

  •  Using Adult Novels for Brainstorming – What exciting things are your favorite adult authors doing that you’re not seeing in YA? Same goes for TV shows, movies, webisodes, and Youtube.
  • Backward/Parallel Universe – Think BEFORE I FALL by Lauren Oliver or Sliding Doors movie
  • Using Video Game as a Framework – Like Ready Player One.
  • Complete Opposite – Instead of something to escape FROM, give characters something to escape INTO.
  • Think about a world that has one element our world doesn’t have – one element. Take it away or add it. Think Pleasantville and color.
  • At the Plot -level – Think about character dynamics. Does the football player always need to be popular?
  • Period of time – Play with the limit of time your story takes place – 24 hours, a couple of hours. How would this change/affect a story?

There were so many great ideas. You can rethink storylines and come up with something innovative. The one point she made at the end was that you can be cutting edge while staying true to your own story.

DINNER!!!

Only way to top the first day of great speakers was with dessert…

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Chocolate with chocolate sauce and more chocolate inside? Heaven!
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Me and one of my writer friends from our Oklahoma group, Ginny. (Yes, of the infamous spooky photo.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And more relaxing time with my writer friends at the Golden Kite Awards Dinner.

My artistic soul on the mend at the end of Day One.

More to come!

 

September #okscbwichat – Special Guest Brett Wright

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I co-hosted this month’s #okscbwichat on Tuesday evening with our Special Guest, Bloomsbury Editor Brett Wright.

Brett Wright

Brett-WrightBrett Wright is an Editor at Bloomsbury Children’s Books, where he’s worked for the past five years on everything from picture books through YA. He will also be one of our off-site critiquers for our SCBWI OK Fall Workshop in October.

He has worked with authors like E.D. Baker, Jennifer Brown, Nikki Grimes, Carrie Jones, Paul Tobin, Sarah Crossan, and many more. He has also written three books in Random House Children’s OMG Shakespeare series, including Yolo Juliet. He lives in New York, NY. You can follow Brent on Instagram or Twitter.

During our Twitter chat, Brett talked about what he looks for in a manuscript and what he doesn’t. He discussed the rise in demand for issue-driven Middle Grade books and why that seemed to be. Brett also discussed what it was like to turn the tables and work as a writer. His OMG Classics series books are written in modern texting and emoji to make the language of the bard more accessible. Brett found working as an author quite challenging. Brett had many other insightful things to say during the chat.

Brett will be critiquing manuscripts for our SCBWI OK October Fall Workshop. Although all critique spots for our October SCBWI OK Fall Workshop are taken, any attendees will be able to submit to Brett for a limited time. For more information about the workshop, visit the SCBWI OK website.

 

*If you missed the chat, you can view the Storify version of the entire conversation here.

 

**Later this month, we have our regularly scheduled #okscbwichat with very special guest Benjamin Myers, the current Oklahoma Poet Laureate, and son of our SCBWI OK Resident Advisor Emeritus, Anna Myers. Join us for our next chat on Tuesday, September 27th!

 

#okscbwichat

 

To see a full list of our upcoming Twitter chats on #okscbwichat for 2016 CLICK HERE.

 

Going the Distance with SCBWI OK Spring Conference 2016 – The Recap Part II

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We began the second half of the Oklahoma SCBWI Spring conference after a lunch filled with engaging conversation and good food – did you see the dessert? To die for! I always enjoy that our conference provides more intimate interaction with real industry professionals at each table.

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The speaker in the challenging position after lunch was more than ready to keep us awake and attentive with his talk on creativity. A native Oklahoman, he introduced himself to our OK SCBWI group earlier this month when he was our guest for a special edition of our #okscbwichat. You can read about his Twitter chat here.

KarlJonesKarl Jones – Associate Editor with Grosset & Dunlap/ Penguin Young Readers.

Karl works on a variety of licensed and original middle grade and activity books, as well as some early YA projects. He acquired and edits the Just Jake series from New York Times best-selling kid author, Jake Marcionette and edits a middle grade/YA transition series by established stage and screenwriter, Justin Sayre-the first book in this series, Husky published in September 2015.

Karl gave a talk entitled, “Go the Distance by Cultivating Your Creativity” where he asked us all to define this big question:

“What does creativity mean to you?”

Karl talked about his educational history here in Oklahoma, and teased about his school resembling Hogwarts aesthetically, although much of the learning relied heavily on rote memorization. It wasn’t until college that he began to think critically. He also encountered his first major writing influence there, THE COURAGE TO CREATE by Rollo May.

Within its pages, he came to understand that being creative takes courage, in fact creativity demands courage. According to May, creativity defies social order; it makes other people uneasy.

 

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Cheers to an inspiring session on creativity by editor Karl Jones!

Knowing these things, how do we begin to cultivate creativity?

Failure is one way, and the way most of us learn.

Exposure to new experiences is another.

Karl encouraged us to say ‘yes’ to new experiences and to collect everything we create – to keep dream journals, idea hampers, or whatever it takes. The more you cultivate your work the faster your ideas will come. The important thing is to keep track of your ideas.

Once you’ve collected your ideas, you need to synthesize them. Part of this is making time to work. Another part is getting feedback from others – critique. The final step, as always, is revision.

Karl ended with a great quote:

“Recall how often in human history the saint and the rebel have been the same person.” – Rollo May

Follow Karl on Twitter here.

 

Our next speaker was also no stranger to this blog. She gave an outstanding interview to introduce herself prior to the conference. Her talk discussed the different types of humor and how they could be applied to a manuscript.

Sara SargentSara Sargent – Executive Editor at HarperCollins Children’s Books.

Sara acquires picture books, middle grade, and young adult fiction and nonfiction with a focus on pop culture, social media, and digital platforms. Previously she was an Editor at Simon Pulse, an imprint of Simon & Schuster.

Sara has worked with New York Times bestselling author Abbi Glines, National Book Award finalist Deb Caletti, Jennifer Echols, Julie Cross, Aaron Karo, and Martina Boone, among others. She also received her Master of Science in journalism from Northwestern University.

Sara’s talk entitled, “You’re Funnier Than You Think You Are”, showed how humor can vary from the overtly funny to something more subtle to a recurring joke spread throughout the entire novel.

“The involuntary laugh is such a strong response; I feel like you get me.” You make a connection with your reader when you accomplish this.

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Sara was so thrilled she made the local paper in an article about the conference that she requested additional copies from audience members.

One place you can add humor is in pitches or query letters. Sara said if a writer uses an engaging title or uses humor, it will stand out from the rest.

Another place one doesn’t see a lot of humor is in Girl YA books. She gave some examples of different types of humor from GALGORITHM by author Aaron Karo.

Things like:

Misdirection – Making someone think one thing, then going the other way.  She was feeling many things, “happy, sad, bored, and umami”.

Quirky Character Traits – Take this to its craziest conclusion. “He looked like a 1950s football star with knuckles that needed constant cracking.”

Specificity – Express the sharpest image in your mind. “Her nail polish is pink and her ring finger also sports a yellow smiley face. I hate the fact that I know this is called an ‘accent nail’.”

Sara also suggested going through your manuscript and highlighting the punchlines. You may find your comedy isn’t evenly dispersed, and you may need to revise. She suggests that you start with your best/funniest stuff at the beginning of your manuscript.

Learn more about Sara and read her Acquisitions Wish List here.

Follow Sara on Twitter here. Follow Sara on Instagram here.

 

Our final speaker of the day came to us via Skype from Australia, and he was well worth it. His talk about failure was strangely inspiring.

CarterHasegawa-257x300Carter Hasegawa – Associate Editor at Candlewick Press

Carter came to children’s publishing in a roundabout way. After a decade of working in grocery, followed by a two-year stint in textbook publishing, he left everything behind to follow his passion for children’s books, and he went back to school to get his MA in Children’s Literature from Simmons College.

Since 2008, he’s been a children’s bookseller at various independent bookstores in Seattle and in Cambridge, which he still continues to do part-time when not at Candlewick. Some of his favorite non-Candlewick books include: The Notorious Benedict Arnold, Jellicoe Road, Ready Player One, Three Times Lucky, and many, MANY more. Basically anything that has a great voice, is a good story, and is “unputdownable.”

Carter’s talk entitled, “You’re Gonna Lose. And That’s Okay” addressed the humungous elephant in the room – failure is a big part of writing.

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Carter speaking to us from Australia at 6am his time via Skype.

He started off by showing us a clip from the original Rocky movie where Rocky is expressing doubt about beating Apollo Creed. He adjusts his idea of success then. “All that matters is that I go the distance,” he says. (Ties in nicely to our conference theme, right?) He decides this because no one else has ever done it before. His idea of success is his own.

Carter applied this to writing and said, “The only barometer of failure to follow is your own.”

The only rule to follow with running is to show up. The same can be said of writing. “Sometimes just turning on the computer is a victory in itself.”

One perceived failure is that everything we write is crap. Chances are our first attempts will be abysmal.

“Writing is an exercise, a process.”

When we’re so used to consuming our entertainment as fast as we can, we expect everything to come that easy. Part of the rush is the need for validation. First drafts are rubbish. Maybe a character or a sentence are worth keeping, but the rest must go. Sometimes we’re not willing to do the work.

Another type of failure is cherry-picking critiques. When we do this, we hear only what we want to hear, then our writing doesn’t get any better.

Carter stated, “Some of you may not get published. Is this another type of failure?”

If the point of writing is to get published, you will fail.

What gets in the way of strong, honest writing, is focusing on getting published. You’ll suck the soul out of your story if this is your goal. Carter suggested adjusting your motivation slightly – write for yourself.

If writing is a process, then so is failure. Look at what went wrong, how you can learn from it, and correct it.

Understand how and why you are failing so you can make the best choices for your career.

Follow Carter on Twitter here.

Follow Carter on Instagram here.

 

We ended the day with a nice Q & A panel…

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…and then a festive dinner at a local restaurant.

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Again, I’ve blatantly stolen a pic from THE Jerry Bennett. He won’t even notice. What a nice looking group, am I right?

Great conference, great company, great information. Loved every minute of it! See you all next year!

 

 

 

 

Going the Distance with SCBWI OK Spring Conference 2016 – The Recap Part I

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This year’s Oklahoma SCBWI Spring conference “Go The Distance” was held in Oklahoma City where there were enthusiastic authors and illustrators ready to learn, an art room decked out with colorful portfolios ready to be viewed,  dynamic speakers ready to teach about pacing, humor, creativity, failure, and even what it was like to attend a school like Hogwarts.

What more could you ask for?

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Our first speaker of the day was no stranger to this blog as she gave an interview introducing herself prior to our conference. For her talk, she discussed pacing and how writers can improve it in their writing.

 

JodellSadlerJodell Sadler – Literary Agent with Sadler Children’s Literary

Jodell wrote her critical thesis on pacing picture books and earned her MFA in Writing for Children & YA from Hamline University, 2009 and started agenting a few years later, and most recently launched Kidlit College.  She hosts workshops and presents on pacing with Writer’s Digest. At Kidlit College, she brings in editors and agents to present and offers participants direct critiques. The webinars span from picture books (fiction and nonfiction) to MG/YA.

Jodell gave a talk entitled, “Pacing Picture Books & Beyond: Move Yourself to Action to Move Your Reader”. She discussed the 10 P’s of Pacing and gave examples of how carefully considering each one could improve a manuscript.

1.  Plot

2. Place

3. Play

4. Prosody

5. Poetry

6. Performance

7. Punctuate

8. Pause

9. Page Turn

10. Personality

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Jodell Sadler using LAST STOP ON MARKET STREET by Matt de la Peña as an example of unique picture book voice.

She encouraged writers to release their inner spirit onto the page and to use all creative techniques at their disposal.

(This is a topic that she teaches through her Kidlit College for those not able to attend the conference.)

Follow Jodell on Twitter here.

 

Our next speaker was also no stranger to this blog or to our OK SCBWI group as she was our March Twitter chat guest. You can read about her chat here. For her talk, she encouraged all of us to view our manuscripts from the same perspective as agents, editors, and readers.

 

Victoria SelvaggioVictoria Selvaggio – Associate Agent with The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency.

Victoria has a strong background in business ownership, and she worked for over seven years as a volunteer and Regional Advisor for SCBWI: Northern Ohio. Drawn to the publishing scene first as an author writing all genres, with her most recent publication in the 2015 Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market, Vicki’s passion for honing the craft carried over into reading manuscripts for the agency in 2013.

Victoria’s talk entitled, “Does Your Manuscript Go the Distance?” encouraged writers to become knowledgeable in all aspects of writing and the publishing process. She provided several resources in an excellent, detailed handout.

The first section had a checklist of things to look for to ensure your manuscript was indeed ready to submit.

Things like:

Does it have clarity on intended genre, age group, and word count? And is it appropriate for each?

Does it have a strong opening sentence/paragraph?

Distinct voice of main character and sub-characters? Great dialogue and interactions?

Great pacing, tension, suspense?

Fluent sentence structure? Writing that is rhythmic-almost musical/graceful?

These were just a few of many. We took a closer look at how focusing on these questions could improve our manuscripts.

Victoria made an interesting analogy, comparing writing to road construction. We are the driver of our manuscripts. We want the ride to be smooth for our readers.

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A manuscript still a work-in-progress, in need of more revision.
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A manuscript fully polished, and ready to submit.

 

 

Pacing – “Balance is key.” You never want to take your reader out of the story because the pacing is too slow or to have them stop reading because the pacing is too intense.

Dialogue – All dialogue should advance the story. Make sure the characters are moving/gesturing naturally when they speak, not standing still like robots.

Voice – This is the unique way an author writes. Voice and tone are different. Voice captivates your reader and allows them to connect emotionally. If you struggle with voice, she suggests writing the way you talk.

Plot – Something has to change or happen. She likes to think of the plot as MAGIC = the Main character Always Grows In Conclusion.

Final thought – Mastering the skill to be constructive in your assessment of your own work is important. Have to think like an agent (would I represent this?) and an editor (would I acquire this?) and a reader (would I read this?) when evaluating whether or not your manuscript is ready.

Follow Victoria on Twitter here.

 

Our final speaker of the morning dazzled us with a peek into the world of art and design in picture books.

 

Jason HenryJason Henry – Senior Designer with Dial Books For Young Readers

Jason is also an illustrator. He designs a wide range of formats including picture books, non-fiction, YA novel jackets and interiors, and has also contributed illustrations to award-winning published titles.

He began at Dutton Design as a design assistant and was subsequently promoted to the position of Senior Designer.

Jason spoke on the topic, “The Marathon and Teamwork of Creating Picture Nice Work Franklin coverBooks”. For those who were new to the process of how a few, well-crafted words of a picture book manuscript turn into a finished, physical book, this was very enlightening. It is truly a labor of love.

For the rest of us, it was a pleasure to look at some amazing artwork, and watch how another great book came to life.

As one of his examples, Jason used NICE WORK, FRANKLIN!  written by Suzanne Tripp Jurmain, illustrated by Larry Day.

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Jason Henry details the steps of the design process for NICE WORK, FRANKLIN! to an enraptured audience. (Picture blatantly stolen from my buddy THE Jerry Bennett because mine was a little fuzzy and he loves me and will forgive me.)

I always learn so much from listening to the art directors and designers, don’t you?

Follow Jason on Tumblr to view his artwork here.

 

After Jason’s wonderful presentation, we took a break for lunch, so this is a great place to break for part I.

Stay tuned for part II, coming soon! It’s better than dessert.🙂

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Dessert at lunch. Oh yeah, I ate them both. Soooo good!

 

Jodell Sadler – Agent Interview

 

JodellSadlerI’m excited to welcome another one of our conference speakers to the blog. Jodell Sadler with Sadler Children’s Literary and Kidtlit College will be part of our faculty for 2016 SCBWI OK Spring Conference on April 16th in Oklahoma City.

Jodell will be discussing the topic of pacing in picture books. The title of her talk is Pacing Picture Books (& Beyond) to WOW. “Attendees will walk away with oodles of editing options and a renewed excitement for just how fun crafting a story can be.”

About Jodell

Jodell wrote her critical thesis on pacing picture books and earned her MFA in Writing for Children & YA from Hamline University, 2009 and started agenting a few years later, and most recently launched Kidlit College.  She hosts workshops and presents on pacing with Writer’s Digest. At Kidlit College, she brings in editors and agents to present and offers participants direct critiques. The webinars span from picture books (fiction and nonfiction) to MG/YA.

She is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI) and is passionate about helping writers pace their stories well because it allows writers the opportunity to enhance emotional resonance, tension, and find exciting ways to improve story arc with jumps and twists and pauses and stops that garnish editorial attention and help them get published.

 

The Interview

Valerie Lawson: Jodell, thank you for doing this interview. It’s a pleasure to speak with you, today.

Your agency is considered a boutique literary agency. Can you tell us more about what that means and why an author or illustrator would benefit from choosing it?

Jodell Sadler: My focus has been on craft, and, particularly, Pacing Picture Books (& Beyond) to WOW. I’ve taught and shared this material in libraries with young learners, in middle school classes, and from secondary education to graduate classes in picture books and publishing.  I come from a marketing/design background where deadlines were tight and I juggled multiple projects a week. I’ve worked with thousands of writers and students and have been sharing my pacing study since 2008.

As I started the agency, I wasn’t in a position to move, and really wanted to stay where I lived, so I also taught full time as an AP/Dual Credit English teacher as well.  Like writers, agents are not much different in that we do whatever it takes to achieve our goals. I started KidLit College for this same reason. I wanted to give back, celebrate editors and agents, and help them share their expertise, while also providing a great option for writers and illustrators looking for an agent or who would benefit from an editor’s webinar and critique.

VL: You come with a lot of teaching experience. That is excellent. We should all keep learning our craft.

What makes you stop reading a query?

JS:  Writers really do need to know that if they submit out a solid query and simply follows submission guidelines, that’s half the battle. So often I receive submissions for projects I do not take on, and they are addressed in a generic fashion: Dear Sir, Dear Agent, etc, and I no longer read these.

The ideal submission is one that focuses on the manuscript. It’s short and direct and gives me a glimpse at the author’s personality. Like most agents, I look for a short query that shares that connection and answered the question: why me? A pitch for that top-quality manuscript that’s been through a number of editors and has received favorable feedback from a critique group. And the ideal bio is simple and focused and screams you are serious about your writing and actively participating in conferences.

VL: Short, direct, and with a glimpse of personality. Got it. 

What hooks you when reading a manuscript? What doesn’t?

JS: Voice, direction, great pacing, and freshness: This gets the attention of most agents.

Some manuscripts I read, I love but cannot take on because I rep something similar, and there are manuscripts I love but I just feel I cannot sell well. I also steer clear of holiday books and much prefer the true story and narrative nonfiction book: PB or older.

VL: What manuscripts are on your wishlist?

JS: Nonfiction, narrative nonfiction picture books as well as author-illustrators top my wishlist right now. I am closed to submissions except through conferences and events like this one.

VL: Yes, conference attendees will be permitted to submit to our speakers, SO EVERYONE SHOULD COME TO THE CONFERENCE!!!

Besides being an agent, you also teach webinars about writing. Tell us more about this.

JS:  I teach. I teach. And I teach. I’ve been teaching since I completed my MFA in 2008, and I actually taught full time in order to jump into agenting, to even be able to afford that time to grow the agency. KidLit College is really a dream community I thought about creating back in 2010 when I started my doctoral studies.

I really wanted to make a difference, make connections, and create that way to share craft learning fun with other writers and industry professionals. We all have so much to share. I invite everyone to join us on our closed Facebook page  and visit our KidLit College website and just see what we have going on, including a writing retreat and cruise!

VL: Sounds like a wonderful resource. 

Speaking of teaching, I was fascinated by a discussion you had about the difference between using rhyme versus poetry in picture books, could you address this? 

JS: A quality rhyming picture book is one is 100% committed to quality rhymes. It often focuses on end rhymes and shares poetic forms in creative ways, but for me, poetry is a huge gift to picture book writing, and it’s one of the 20 tools I talk about in my Pacing Picture Books to WOW class.

Poetry lifts our writing through the power of enjambment, prosody, page turns, poetic devices, and it shifts the language to this contagious level. There’s nothing like that quality picture book that provides that beautiful poetic or comedic pause that suspends the emotion and lifts a piece to this loftier universal level. Nothing like it. When we write, we must write to mind, heart, and ear, and poetry is a big part of that. I will be discussing this more in my presentation and here’s a little overview of what I will share.

VL: Write to heart, mind, and ear. I love that. I think we could all learn to be better writers by studying more poetry.

Tell us what happens after an author or illustrator signs with you. What’s the next step?

JS: It differs and depends on a number of factors, but the first thing we do is meet online to really determine focus, discuss manuscripts, and plan next steps.  The clients I work best with are those driven to move their work out into the world, who are actively participating at conferences, and constantly providing me with updates and new work. That’s just such a gift.

Recent sales include Brunhilda’s Backwards Day by Shawna J.C. Tenney (Sky Pony Press, 2017)  Mr. McGinty’s Monarchs (Sleeping Bear Press, 2016) by Linda Vander Heyden, Snow Beast Want Play and Untitled (Roaring Brook Press, 2017) as well as the Friday Barnes MG illustration series project (Roaring Brook Press, 2016) by Phil Gosier, a picture book/board book (Farrar, Straus and Giroux/Macmillan) by Ann Whitford Paul, as well as 5 NF MG projects, including my own (Rowman & Littlefield) and Medical Mavens (Chicago Review Press) by Susan Latta.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us, today, Jodell. I look forward to hearing your talk at our conference! 

Learn more about Jodell and her agency here.

Learn more about Kidlit College here or on Facebook.

Follow Jodell on Twitter here.

**Jodell does not accept unsolicited manuscripts, however conference attendees will be permitted to submit to her for a limited time.

This is an excellent reason to come see her and our other fantastic faculty members speak at our conference in Oklahoma City on April 16th!

 

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To register for our 2016 SCBWI OK Spring Conference CLICK HERE.

I hope to see you there!

 

 

Sara Sargent – Editor Interview

Sara Sargent headshot

I’m delighted that Sara Sargent, Executive Editor from HarperCollins Children’s Books, will be speaking at our 2016 SCBWI OK Spring Conference this April.

Sara will be discussing the topic of humor in writing. “Humor draws in and hooks readers, and it keeps them engaged!” In her talk, she will discuss different types of humor and how you can apply them to your own manuscripts.

About Sara

In her work as Executive Editor at HarperCollins Children’s Books, Sara focuses on fiction and nonfiction in the picture book, middle grade, and young adult categories.

Previously she was an Editor at Simon Pulse, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. Sara has worked with New York Times bestselling author Abbi Glines, National Book Award finalist Deb Caletti, Jennifer Echols, Julie Cross, Aaron Karo, and Martina Boone, among others. She also received her Master of Science in journalism from Northwestern University. You can sometimes find Sara eating takeout and reading on the couch. You can always find her online at www.sarasargent.wordpress.com and on Twitter and Instagram @Sara_Sargent. Sara lives in Brooklyn.

 

The Interview

Valerie Lawson: Sara, thank you so much for doing this interview. It’s a pleasure to speak with you, today.

What makes a story an evergreen? What gives it staying power?

Sara Sargent: I’ve always wanted to edit books for the same reason I want to read them: for escapism. I love getting lost in a story, getting wrapped up in characters and their struggles. So, to me, a story with emotional heft and amazing characters will be perennial. It’s important to allow the reader to see the human experience reflected back at them from the pages of your book, to let them get entangled in the emotions and the drama.

We’ve all had that experience where a  book “doesn’t hold up,” where we re-read a novel we loved as kids and are no longer sure what we loved about it. Sometimes we grow up or move on or mature, and a story doesn’t have the staying power it used to. But, to me, all that matters is whether we connected with it emotionally at one point in time. For a book to be successful, it needs to find its mark and connect. Regardless of whether that happens when we’re 5 or 50, and whether it remains true always.

VL: Emotional connection with amazing characters – yes, that describes all my favorite stories. I must say, the idea of connections changing as we age is very intriguing. Our life experiences change, why shouldn’t our experience of a story change?

What hooks you when you’re reading a manuscript? What doesn’t?

SS:  I like to tell writers that, no matter what genre they’re writing, they are all mystery writers. Because you have to think like a mystery writer to plot an interesting book. For me, that advice comes from a personal place of loving twists and turns and surprises. What hooks me—and keeps me reading—is not knowing what’s coming next, whether that’s in the actual plot or for character development or with a romance.

VL: Fascinating idea! I love a good mystery.

You’ve mentioned that lack of character development is one major reason you might reject a project. What are some others?

SS: Weak world-building, especially in fantasy, is a tough sell for me. I am happy to edit fantasy projects and work with authors to improve their world-building and to help them transfer the wonderful images in their heads to the page. But, if the logic of the world doesn’t hang together, and there are strange twists or turns that feel aimless—I am likely to pass.

Also, when it comes to realistic contemporary novels, I love evergreen tropes that resonate time and time again. But I do not like stories that feel too similar to others I’ve read or edited. With the realistic genre, I need fresh and new and different for me to want to buy it.

VL: With your focus on social media and digital platforms, what can you tell authors and illustrators about the importance of online time?

SS: Pick one platform—Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Vine, Tumblr, blogging—and really commit to it. There is no point in spreading yourself thin and trying to be active on every social network known to humankind. Develop an authentic and genuine presence for one profile, and then  focus your energy there. Getting people to connect strongly with you in one space is amazing, even if it feels limited. That’s how you start building your brand.

VL: NOT spreading yourself thin? I’m so on board. It’s so easy to overdo it and leave no time for real writing.

We often hear the advice to research before you submit your work, what’s the most important thing writers and illustrators need to know before they submit to you?

SS: It’s important to know what an editor likes, and it’s important to know what she’s acquired. But what’s even better is to recognize what she likes and what she’s acquired, and get to the next level of thinking. Which is to say: send me something with the essence of what I love and have already edited, but with a new twist or take—that’s the best way to go.

Sending me a manuscript and saying “I’m sending this to you because you acquired a book just like it, so I know you will love it!” is not the way to go. Show me that you recognize why your book is a fit for me, because you know I love the genre but also because I’ve never acquired anything like it before.

VL: Excellent advice. Well said.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us, today, Sara. They have been very enlightening. I look forward to hearing your talk at our conference!

 

Learn more about Sara and read her Acquisitions Wish List here.

Follow Sara on Twitter here. Follow Sara on Instagram here.

**Sara does not accept unsolicited manuscripts, however conference attendees will be permitted to submit to her for a limited time.

This is an excellent reason to come see her speak at our conference in Oklahoma City on April 16th!

 

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For more details on our 2016 SCBWI OK Spring Conference or to register online, CLICK HERE.

I hope to see you there!