The Highly Anticipated OK SCBWI Spring Conference Recap – PART 2

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Welcome to Part 2 of our fantastic Oklahoma SCBWI Spring Conference recap!

Beginning from where we left off in Part 1, we broke for lunch where each table enjoyed the company of a conference speaker or a published author, allowing all of our attendees to have an opportunity to ask their industry questions in a more relaxed setting.

After lunch, we heard from our second literary agent of the day.

rachel-orrRachel Orr, Literary Agent with the Prospect Agency, gave a two-part talk beginning with, “Main Conflict: The Spark That Fires Up a Manuscript” and ending with, “A Conversation with an Agent & Author” where local author Jennifer Latham joined her to discuss their working relationship and her journey to publishing.

Many problems Rachel sees in novels revolve around conflict:

  • Some writers are afraid to give their characters flaws. They want to keep them as nice as possible; to avoid any conflict. This equates with boring.
  • Some writers have scenes that can fall into any order – when this happens, it makes her wonder about the strength of the story. It’s much better to have things build upon each other.
  • Another problem is when writers use a character as a vehicle to talk about a topic of interest or when they place conflict on a character unnaturally.

“Everything starts with character.” If you know your character well, conflict will follow.

Other problems Rachel notes involve the structure of the manuscript itself.

Conflicts may be introduced, but then they are resolved too quickly. “Instead of plot slopes, you have moguls.” This is a flat-lining approach. In picture books, this can be the day-in-the-life stories with no conflict.

Literary novels tend to be character-driven. Manuscripts like these with problems, nothing happens in the story. Even though your novel may be character-based, it still needs movement; conflict.

Conversely, plot-driven novels with very clear end goals still need some kind of change to take place in the character.

“Make your characters uncomfortable.”

For the second part of her talk, she invited Jennifer to join her and they discussed their professional relationship.OK SCBWI Spring 5

 

Rachel began by saying her approach to revision/editing is to point out the issues in a manuscript and let the author solve them. “This is what I think needs to be changed, you figure out how to change it.” This type of direction is important for her as an agent and Jennifer is very good at doing this.

Jennifer’s first project received many rejections. She said, “Four rejections is a starting point.” She also learned from her rejections. “Every editor who gave me feedback told me something useful.” It was like her own MFA program. But after so many rejections, She and Rachel decided it was time to shelve that first manuscript.

Jennifer stated, “I deserve to be represented by someone who believes in my writing, not just one project.”

Rachel did believe in her and helped Jennifer navigate her way through a few missteps until SCARLETT UNDERCOVER, her debut novel, was born. Jennifer’s book is scheduled to be released May 19, 2015.

 

Our next speaker talked to us about picture books.

JulieBliven

 

Julie Bliven, Editor with Charlesbridge Publishing gave a fascinating and informative talk entitled, “Elements of a Successful Picture Book”.

 

The top two elements are:

  1. Beginning
  2. Narrative Voice

BEGINNINGS

Why Beginnings Matter: “A successful picture book beginning knows its ending.”

Problems she sees with beginnings are too much description and too much back story.

3 TYPES OF PICTURE BOOK BEGINNINGS:

  1. The introduction is about character experience – has personal and immediate conflict. Examples include I WANT MY HAT BACK, ZEN SHORTS, and LITTLE PIG JOINS THE BAND
  2. The introduction recounts person, place or event. Examples include GRANDPA GREEN, ELLINGTON, and BALLET FOR MARTHA
  3. The introduction has an instrumental setting – something really important.  Examples include THE CURIOUS GARDEN, IMOGENE’S LAST STAND, and EXTRA YARN.

NARRATIVE VOICE

What contributes to voice?

  • Distinctive language
  • Author’s attitude
  • Clear structure
  • Illuminating metaphors
  • Definitions in context
  • Use of quotations
  • Awareness of audience
  • Sense of story
  • Character
  • Remarkable facts
  • Connections/juxtapositions
  • Humor
  • ResearchBalloons over Broadway

In BALLOONS OVER BROADWAY by Melissa Sweet, the author’s voice shows through distinctive language by her use alliteration and simile.

Think about word choice. Circle all adjectives and verbs and consider if they can be replaced with something more descriptive or active.The Wall

Peter Sis shows an example of voice through clear structure in THE WALL when he shows two world views in juxtaposition; his own personal view versus the global world view.Day Glo Brothers

We find a good example of voice through definitions in context within the pages of THE DAY-GLO BROTHERS by Chris Barton and Tony Persiani.

Awareness of audience is shown in FEATHERS by Melissa Stewart and Sarah S. Brannen by understanding how different aged readers experience picture books. The main storyline used similes for beginning readers like this: “Feathers can dig holes like a backhoe”. Then the second layer of text for slightly older readers included more detailed facts.Feathers page spread

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our final speaker of the day gave us tips on tightening those first pages.

alysonHeller1

 

Alyson Heller, Editor with Aladdin Books (an imprint of Simon & Schuster) enlightened us with some great ideas for improving our beginnings with her talk entitled “Put a Spark in Your First Pages/Chapters”.

Opening Line

This is your book’s handshake, the opening to your reader. It should be assertive and strong.

  • Asks a questions (not always in a literal sense)
  • Sets the mood/directs the reader to what you want them to experience.
  • Sets up voice of a character.
  • Can throw out a surprise.

Books with great opening lines: DIVERGENT by Veronica Roth, CHARLOTTE’S WEB by E.B. White, MATILDA by Roald Dahl, and WINGER by Andrew Smith.

AVOID GENERIC!

“It was a day that changed my life.”

How?

Did you get a new dog? Meet a best friend? Fall in love? Witness the Zombie Apocalypse?

Define it better than in that generic, non-specific way.

First Chapter

  • Should involve the main protagonist. The reader needs to care. This means your character has to be sympathetic, doesn’t mean likable.
  • Have a sense of drama/conflict  – do you have internal as well as external conflicts? Make sure to introduce the opponent. Is your protagonist proactive? They should not just be reacting to events.
  • Tone – set through dialogue, pacing, and voice.

Book Recommendations: THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN by Paula Hawkins, SEEING CINDERELLA by Jenny Lundquist, BUCK’s TOOTH by Diane Kredensor, EXTRAORDINARY WARREN SAVES THE DAY by Sarah Dillard.

Make your first chapter like the perfect skirt; “long enough to cover the essentials, but short enough to keep it interesting.”

 

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Our speakers (from left to right) Rachel Orr, Alyson Heller, Laura Biagi, Julie Bliven, Kristine Brogno, and Erica Finkel

Our conference closed with a Q & A Panel with our speakers that was fantastic. What an amazing group of ladies!

 

I did manage to buy a few books from some of our published members. We’ve had quite a growth in this area. At this rate, we may need to add another table to the book store soon.

Some of our published members holding their books.
Some of our published members holding their books, looking very professional.
…and one for fun!

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of our rising stars, Hannah Harrison, signing my book.
One of our rising stars, Hannah Harrison, signing my copy of REMY AND LULU.

 

And I almost forgot to mention the part of the day where I nearly lost my mind. During announcements, when our new Regional Advisor, Helen Newton, announced that for our Fall Retreat in October, LINDA URBAN WILL BE SPEAKING!!!

If you haven’t read A CROOKED KIND OF PERFECT or THE CENTER OF EVERYTHING, you must get yourself to a bookstore immediately. And once you’ve read her work, you will be compelled to come to our Fall Retreat. So I’ll see you there.

 

 

The Highly Anticipated OK SCBWI Spring Conference Recap – PART 1

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This year our Oklahoma SCBWI Spring Conference was outstanding. The theme “Ignite the Spark” set the stage for all of the discussions, as each speaker delivered a truly motivating talk. I’m surprised we didn’t set the place on fire with the collective creativity bouncing around in that ballroom.

Ignite the Spark Conference-Ad

The first speaker of the day was a familiar face to readers of this blog as she had just given a wonderful interview right before the conference.

our_team_biagiLaura Biagi, Literary Agent with the Jean V. Nagger Literary Agency gave a talk entitled, “The Spark an Agent Brings to the Table”. She discussed how an agent works and what an agent can add to the manuscript process. She also shared some of her  red flags that would send a manuscript straight to the reject pile.

One observation she made about when she finds herself searching for quality manuscripts, deep in the slush pile, is that the discovery process can feel “a bit like archaeology”.

And not in the glamorous, Indiana Jones way.

Unlike the adventurous whip-yielding Jones who finds priceless treasure in every place he falls, most great archaeological finds have already been discovered, and it takes a great amount of pain-staking digging before you carefully unearth something truly unique.

She may sift through over 400 queries in a month before finding a manuscript that piques her interest. But the story has to do more than that; she has to absolutely love it. She needs a story she can’t help telling everyone about.

RED FLAGS – Query/Manuscript Level

  • If the characters or plot sound stereotypical
  • If adjectives or adverbs get in the way of a clear message
  • If the story is all about plot – maybe your characters aren’t significant enough
  • If there isn’t a strong plot – your story has to go somewhere
  • Moral message

Once a manuscript has risen above the rest and shown promise that it can be polished into a treasure, then she may make THE PHONE CALL! This is a very important step in the process. An agent can gauge personality compatibilities, discuss the revision process and discover how open the author is to making changes and to taking advice. Creating a book is a very collaborative process. You have to be open to suggestions, and be willing to make changes.

Once both agent and author decide the phone call went well and they want to work together, the next step is taking that rare find and cleaning it up with some editing. Laura makes line edits and brainstorms with her authors. She may even bring other agents from her agency in to help – more eyes on the project to get more ideas.

One of the most important things to remember about making a book, “It’s so much more a collaborative process” and it’s important to respect the expertise of everyone involved, from the art director to the editor, to the copy editor, to the marketing department, etc.

 

Our second speaker of the day kept the momentum going with her discussion about picture books.

kristine-brognoKristine Brogno, Design Director for Chronicle Books, delighted us with her talk, “Words+Pictures or Pictures+Words: The Difference That Creates Spark!”

Kristine began by stating that in a picture book, there’s not a lot of real estate to tell a story.

Every word must count.

“Picture books are the perfect marriage between text and art; one couldn’t exist without the other.” They are more than the sum of their parts.

Words+Pictures versus Pictures+Words – what’s the difference? Here are the different types of picture books to help us get a better idea:

TYPES OF PICTURE BOOKS:

1) BORING – the illustrations say exactly what the text says. This is the biggest mistake you can make when creating a picture book.  (Although many examples of this types existed, she kindly chose not to share any titles.)

2) TIGHTLY WOVEN NARRATIVE TEXT – Longer, character-driven picture books that can hold an entire world on a single page.

Examples:

A RIVER OF WORDS: THE STORY OF WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS by Jen Bryant, Illustrated by Melissa Sweet

A River of Words

THE BIG WISH by Carolyn Conahan

The Big Wish

SAN FRANCISCO BABY! by Ward Jenkins

San Fransisco Baby

3) WORDS THAT SET THE STAGE – These books say just enough to set the action in motion. The text on the page has a very thoughtful and intentional place to be.

 

In Maurice Sendak’s WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE, for example, the illustrations begin to take up more and more of the space until the words disappear altogether.

WTWTA

But then Sendak reverses this at the end when he has only text on the final page:

“and it was still hot.”

Why was there no image?

Because Sendak was bringing us back to a warm, safe place. No image was needed. If there had been an image of Max, it would have been all about him. Again, the choice was very deliberate.

More examples:

A SICK DAY FOR AMOS MCGEE by Philip C Stead, illustrated by Erin E Stead

Sick Day

THE GREAT PAPER CAPER by Oliver Jeffers

Great Paper Caper

THE BERENSTAIN BEARS OLD HAT NEW HAT by Stan and Jan Berenstain

 Old Hat New HAt

4) WORDS AS A COUNTERPOINT – Here, what you see doesn’t match what you read. There are many ways to use this form. For example, you can let the text play the straight man while the picture is the comic relief.

Children love this; they like to be in on the joke.

THIS IS NOT MY HAT by Jon Klassen is a great example of a very unreliable narrator. The illustrations are very simple, yet incredibly expressive.

 

This Is Not My Hat 2

notmyhat1

More examples:

ROSIE’S WALK by Pat Hutchins

Rosies Walk

NO! by Marta Altes

No 2

Kristine closed with these words of wisdom. No matter which style you choose, remember to “leave just enough space between the words and pictures for magic to happen”.

 

Our third speaker educated us on the different categories in the marketplace and cautioned us about common errors that may send our manuscript to the rejection pile.

erica-finkel-photo1Erica Finkel, Associate Editor with Amulet/Abrams Books gave a talk entitled “Put a Spark in Your Submission by Knowing the Market”.

She began by comparing manuscript submissions to dating. “You’ll have lots of experiences, and not many will work out.” Each side also comes in with a set of expectations.

Some common errors may sour that experience from the onset – and they have nothing to do with writing skills. Here are a few of them:

COMMON ERRORS:

  • House Mis-match – Don’t send your NF biography to a house that doesn’t sell non-fiction or biographies. It’s a waste of your time and theirs.
  • Format – If your chapter book is written at the wrong reading level, your target audience won’t be able to understand it.
  • Comp Titles – This is only helpful if the titles used are current (published within the past five years). It also needs to be helpful and realistic. If you claim your story is the next HUNGER GAMES meets TWILIGHT meets HARRY POTTER, that is not only confusing, it’s not very helpful.

Know your marketplace, from board books to YA! Do this by reading! You have to know what’s out there.

BOARD BOOKS: yummyuckyBarnyard-Bath-copy

Age Range: 0 to 5 years-old

Length: 10 to 32 pages

Novelty, concept, repurposed bestsellers (Goodnight Moon, Babar, etc), and some few original narratives. All have short sentences.

Examples: Sandra Boynton, Leslie Patricelli

PICTURE BOOKS:

Fancy NancyPigeon BathA Ball for DaisySky Color

 

 

 

 

Age Range: 2-8 years-old

Length: Anywhere from 24 to 48 pages with 32 pages being the standard.

Language Level: Adult reading to child

Examples: Chris Raschka, Peter H. Reynolds, Big series like Don’t Let the Pigeon… series, and Fancy Nancy.

I CAN READS (Early Readers):

Age Range: 5-8 years-old

Length: 32-64 pages, limited trim 6×6, often paperback with more illustrations.

Language Level: Meant to instruct, clear and simple.

CHAPTER BOOKS: 

Captain Underpants 2013Judy Moody BookMy Weird School Junie B Jones

 

 

 

 

Age Range: 6-9 years-old

Length: 80-176 pages.

More text than illustrations. Series dominate. Most put out two books per year and take up a lot of shelf space in bookstores. It is very hard to do a one-off title or publish an unknown author in this category.

*Language: Simple for new independent readers. *This is tough for authors to nail.

Examples: Series like Captain Underpants, Judy Moody, My Weird School, Junie B. Jones

MIDDLE GRADE: 

Diary Wimpy KidOrigami YodaPercy JacksonLiar and SpyOkay for Now

 

 

 

 

Age Range: 8-13 years-old

Length: 200-400 pages.

Usually released in hardcover first, then as a paperback a year later. Some have illustrations, but most do not. Protagonist is often the same age as the reader. They are attracted to characters going through same issues they are.

Language: Fully independent; level is simple and age-appropriate.

Examples:

Stand Alones – LIAR & SPY, WONDER, OKAY FOR NOW

Series –  Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Origami Yoda, Percy Jackson

YOUNG ADULT: 

DivergentMaze RunnerScorpio-paperback-websiteEleanorPark_cover2-300x450TFiOS

 

 

Age Range: 13+, 14+

Length: 300-500 pages.

Hardcover release, then paperback one year later. Most are unillustrated, except for graphic novels. Protagonist is often the same age as the reader.

Language: Comparable to adult

Examples:

Stand Alones – ELEANOR & PARK, THE FAULT IN OUR STARS, THE SCORPIO RACES

Series – Divergent, The Maze Runner, The Hunger Games

NEW ADULT:Glines bookUgly LoveWalking Disaster

 

 

 

Age Range: 18-25 years-old

This is a new category. The protagonist is out of high school and dealing with “new adult” issues – college, first jobs, emerging sexuality. Many authors began as self-published.

Examples: Colleen Hoover, Abbi Glines, Jamie McGuire

Whatever you choose to create, be innovative and show publishers something they haven’t seen before, but in an educated way. You’ll be able to do that if you know the marketplace.

Stay tuned for PART 2, coming soon!

Laura Biagi – Agent Interview

our_team_biagiI’m so excited that Laura Biagi, literary agent with the Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency, will be speaking this weekend at our 2015 SCBWI OK Spring Conference. This year’s them is “Ignite the Spark”. In Laura’s talk, entitled “The Spark an Agent Brings to the Table”, she will be discussing “insights from the front line about what literary agents do and what they offer clients”. She’ll also discuss what red flags may make an agent pass on a manuscript, among other issues.

Laura graciously consented to giving an interview here on the blog to entice us with a little preview.

The Interview

Valerie Lawson: What advice would you give to querying writers?

Laura Biagi: One of the more obvious pieces of advice is to do your research on agents so you’re not querying agents who wouldn’t be likely to represent the type of book you’ve written.  But there are many other pieces of advice that writers too often take for granted: Be persistent–not only in submitting to many agents or reworking your query letter to make it the strongest possible, but also in writing new material.

Your writing will keep growing and become stronger the more you write, and sometimes it’s the next book right around the corner that will be your breakthrough.  Prior to querying, make sure your manuscript is as polished as you can possibly make it.  Show your work to your writer friends or anyone else you trust and get their feedback, then incorporate it organically.  Don’t skimp on the time you devote to revisions.  Revisions are usually THE most important part of a successful writer’s process!  Be sure to read very widely in your genre, not only so you know whether your book is unique enough to stand out in the crowded marketplace, but also–and more importantly–so you can learn better how to write with authority and grace and build tension.

VL: Do your research, don’t skimp on revising, and read a wide variety of books. Great advice!

What makes you stop reading a query?

LB: This varies widely depending on the book.  I make sure to consider each query on its own terms.  However, some examples of things that might convince me to pass include stereotypical characters or plots, too many adjectives and adverbs that get in the way of conveying a clear image, too few details about the characters and their relationships with one another (this makes me worry the characters aren’t developed enough in the manuscript), too few details about the plot (this makes me worry the pacing isn’t strong enough and the stakes and conflict aren’t developed enough).

I’ll be discussing more red flags in my talk at the conference–so for more info, please come!

VL: Yes! You definitely don’t want to miss out on this conference!

What’s one major aspect of a manuscript that hooks you? What doesn’t?

LB: What hooks me right away is an immediate voice that cleverly and organically reveals details (even better if they’re unexpected details!) about the characters, setting, situation, etc.

What doesn’t hook me is a tepid opening that feels too familiar or unintriguing or takes too long to reveal its purpose.

VL: What type of manuscript would you love to find in your inbox?

LB: I’d love to find more magical realism YA novels with literary bents.  I’m very interested in books set in the South or Kentucky, as that’s where I’m originally from.  I’d also love to find a literary YA with Romani characters.  I’m searching for more middle grade, too, but the voice, characters, and plot must be stand out; quiet middle grade novels can be very challenging.  I’m also always glad to find more humorous picture books in the vein of Jon Klassen or with heartwarming, big-voiced characters, and early chapter books.

VL: Oh, those are are intriguing ideas – a Romani character in Kentucky. Hmm. Thoughts are churning here…

Tell us what happens after an author signs with you; what’s the next step?

LB: It’s always so exciting after an author signs with me!

If I think the manuscript needs some revision before I submit it out to editors, I’ll send detailed feedback and discuss it all with the author and we’ll work on revising the manuscript until it’s ready.   Then I’ll create a list of the best editors to go to for submissions and get them excited about the book.  There are many more steps afterwards, including negotiating the deal and contract, selling subrights, working with editors on getting my authors the best publicity and marketing possible for their books, and more.

To learn more behind-the-scenes details about what an agent does for her clients, please come to my talk at the conference!

VL: I for one, cannot wait to learn more.

Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us, Laura.

Learn more about Laura from her agency bio here.

Follow Laura on Twitter here.

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ONLY A FEW SPOTS LEFT BEFORE CONFERENCE IS SOLD OUT!

For more details on the conference or to register online, click here. I hope to see you there!

TweetAnd for those who’d like more enticements, another one of our speakers for the conference this up-coming weekend, Editor Erica Finkel of Abrams Books for Young Readers will be our special guest this evening on our 2nd official OK SCBWI Twitter chat! Join us from 7-8pm CST and use the hashtag #okscbwichat. Follow Erica on Twitter here.

***If you missed the chat, CLICK HERE to view the recap on Storify. Enjoy!

Tips for Attending a Writing Conference

 

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Our SCBWI OK Spring Conference is a little over a month away, and it will be here before you know it. I look forward to this fun-filled weekend every year.

Are you attending a conference this spring? If so, are you ready?

Do you know what to expect?

Whether this is your first conference or your 30th (give or take a few) you can always use some good ideas to make the most out of your jam-packed day.

Here are some tips I’ve scrounged around among my dozens of conference folders, notebooks filled with years of furious scribbles of knowledge, and just words of advice passed along from my elders. I hope you find them helpful as you prepare for this spring’s conference season.

  • Do your research – You’ll get more out of the conference if you’ve read up on the speakers and know something about their work beforehand. If they are on social media, follow them. (You can see a list of all of our speakers and where to follow them in my previous post here.)
  • Know how to talk about your own writing – Practice your elevator pitch until you know it well enough to ad-lib. Be able to talk about it conversationally. DO NOT try to memorize it. One false stumble can lead to panic. I’ve seen perfectly composed writers turn into blubbering messes because they lost their exact wording. DO NOT LET THIS BE YOU!
  • Say hello to a stranger and start a conversation – Here’s a great opener that’s sure to work in a room full of authors: “What do you write?” or “Tell me about the project you’re working on.” Because that’s what writers do when they get together, they talk about their writing.(Another good reason to know your pitch.)
  • Take business cards if you have them – Networking is an important part of conferences. After you receive a card yourself – during a free moment later – jot down something about that person on the back to help you remember them better. It could be something about their manuscript, what they look like, or anything memorable you discussed. (Here are a couple of sites where you can design your own cards: Moo.com charges a small fee and Canva.com has many designs at no cost.)
  • Dress in layers – Cardigans, jackets, and scarves can be your best friends at conferences. In the morning, the room may start out freezing cold, but as the day goes on and all of those bodies heat up the conference space, you may find that you start getting a little too warm. Layers, my friend. Trust me.
  • Bring some spending money – Of course you’ll need money for food and possibly lodging. But more importantly, there are almost always fantastic books available for purchase and the authors who wrote them are usually available to sign them for you! (I don’t need to tell you what fantastic gifts personalized books make, either. Right?)
  • Be courteous and professional – Everyone wants a chance to interact with the speakers. Believe it or not, the speakers also want to talk with you. They just don’t want to receive an unsolicited copy of your manuscript from underneath the bathroom stall. At our conference, everyone has lunch at a table with either a speaker or a published author. It’s a fantastic opportunity to ask industry questions in a smaller group setting. Make sure you keep your conversation appropriate and allow others at the table to have a turn asking questions. That’s right, share the speakers. They are there for everyone.
  • Participate! Ask questions during Q&A sessions, attend pre- and post- conference events, make a writing date for after the conference with a new friend. Get to know your local tribe of writers and the speakers. Our writing community is smaller than you think and you never know what connection will lead to something amazing. Also, writing can be a lonely endeavor; we can all use every bit of support we can get.
  • Recognize your opportunities – If you get a critique or opportunity to pitch, take some time (I mean several days at least) to let the comments sit with you before deciding your life is over and you’ll never write again. Ever. Many of us have this dream that we will be that rarest of rare finds and be offered representation or a book deal right out of the gate. Most of the time, what agents and editors offer when they critique our work is an opportunity to improve our work. This is no small thing. You never know when these insightful suggestions can turn a not-so-fantastic manuscript into a dazzling one. One that can lead to a big fat ‘yes’ a little farther down the road.

Have you any tips you’ve acquired that work for you? What’s your favorite part of going to a conference?

 

 

When Authors Come to Town – How to Get the Most out of the Experience

Unsplash by Erik Heddema

Photo Credit via Unsplash by Erik Heddema

Meeting a favorite author can be amazing. You get to hear about the story behind their novels, their road to publication, their writing process, how they keep themselves motivated, and all kinds of insider information about the world of publishing from someone who’s made it.  And you don’t have to wait for a conference to hear an author speak. You can catch them at book signings, during book tours, or other events.

I’m often puzzled when I hear people say that they only want to come to conferences if editors & agents will be there. Not published writers. You can learn so much from someone who’s already gone ahead of you, so it only makes sense that aspiring writers should want to hear from published writers. Then again, these may be the same writers who think they don’t have time to read books.

It’s like expecting to walk away from your first conference with a book deal; it’s not very realistic. You may come away with fantastic ideas on how to improve your manuscript, and you may make some wonderful industry connections – which are both valuable, even crucial to success. And who knows? You may even come away with a green light to submit your improved manuscript to a closed house or agency. All great reasons to go to a conference.

But so is the opportunity to hear from seasoned writers.

Some of the most motivational, inspiring talks I’ve ever heard have been from writers. I’ve learned more about craft and why I want to be a writer and how I can never stop being a writer and why I should pursue the stories of my heart from hearing other writers speak than from any how-to book I’ve ever read. I love going to author events whenever I can. I always come away rejuvenated and ready to work.

So now that you know how wonderful author events can be, how can you get the most out of these opportunities? And where can you find them?

HOW:

Familiarize yourself with the author’s work ahead of time. That doesn’t mean you have to read everything they’ve ever written, but at least read something so you have a feel for their voice. It’s like coming to class prepared. You get more out of the lecture if you’ve done the reading. You can also ask better questions during Q&A (or have something intelligent to talk about while getting your book signed).

Invite a friend or two. You’d be surprised how many of these events aren’t necessarily well-publicized. Especially library events. I went to one author event with only about twenty people in attendance. This author had just been interviewed on NPR the week before. Unbelievable. His talk was outstanding. I wish I’d thought to bring a friend. Now I know to spread the news and take a friend with me.

(You might even think about taking your child.It can be an invaluable experience – and talk about creating a love of reading! I’ve had the pleasure of taking my daughter to meet some of her favorite authors, and I know that’s made a huge impact on her. She could barely speak when she met her first author – Ally Carter, I think. But by the time she met Kate di Camillo, she was an old pro. She got to hear Kate talk about how she created the main character in THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX and when they brought out the microphone for the kids to ask questions, my daughter stepped right up and asked her how she came up with the idea of chiaroscuro. Kate smiled at her, complimented her creative attire, and answered her question in great detail. That kind of experience is unforgettable.)

Take notes! As I said, you can always learn something. If your memory is anything like mine, you will be glad you wrote it all down, instead of relying on your faulty brain.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Many times, the author leaves space in their talk for a Q&A session. This is why you do your research beforehand, so you can ask an intelligent question. So be brave and throw that hand up! I’ve seen many Q&A times go unused when I knew people really wanted to ask questions. When they were able to ask questions later in a smaller setting, they couldn’t stop asking questions. So, just in case you don’t get that second opportunity, engage with the author during the Q&A and ask away. That’s part of the reason they are there.

WHERE:

Check with your local libraries and universities. Many bring in authors throughout the year to speak. Some of these events may even be free to the public or have a nominal fee.

Check out local online magazine event calendars. For the Tulsa area, there’s The Tulsa VoiceOklahoma MagazineTulsaPeople and Tulsa Lifestyle.

Follow local event planning organizations. Tulsa has a great organization called Booksmart Tulsa that “offers top notch literary events” at a wide variety of venues. They’ve held events for Audrey Niffenegger, Chuck Palahniuk, and Ransom Riggs. And soon they’ll be holding the book release for our very own Jennifer Latham.

Follow your favorite authors on social media or subscribe to their newsletters. That way you’ll know when they’ll be appearing near you.

 

As many of you in the OKC area may know we just had author Jay Asher come through. I had to miss him, unfortunately, but many of my fellow SCBWI friends were able to be there and had a great time including Regina Garvie, who wrote a fantastic post about meeting him, here.

One author visit I WON’T be missing is Neil Gaiman’s. He’ll be in Tulsa on March 10th at the Tulsa PAC. For more information about this event or to purchase tickets, click here.

So how about you?

Have you met any of your favorite authors? What was your experience like? How do you prepare for an author event? And how do you find out about author events in your area?

 

SCBWI OK Spring Conference 2015 – Get That Spark Ignited

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I love the title of this year’s Oklahoma SCBWI Spring conference, “Ignite the Spark”. Following our fantastically fabulous fall retreat, I’m ready for some serious spark ignition, how about you?

Three editors, two agents, and one design director should fill the day with more information than most craniums can hold.

Meet our dynamic speakers:

our_team_biagiLaura Biagi – Literary Agent with Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency.

Laura joined JVNLA in 2009 and is actively building her list. She is looking for young readers. Learn more about Laura from her agency bio here. Follow Laura on Twitter here.

 

rachel-orrRachel Orr – Literary Agent with Prospect Agency

Rachel joined Prospect in 2007 to become an agent after she’d spent eight years editing children’s books for HarperCollins. She is looking for middle grade and YA novels, as well as the next big picture book illustrator. Learn more about Rachel from her agency bio here. Follow Agency Twitter account here. Follow Rachel’s personal Twitter account here.

 

JulieBlivenJulie (Ham) Bliven – Editor with Charlesbridge Publishing

Julie is an Associate Editor with Charlesbridge who mainly works with middle grade and picture books, both fiction and non-fiction. Follow Julie Bliven on Twitter here.

Founded in 1989, “Charlesbridge publishes high-quality books for young readers from birth to age 14, with a goal of creating lifelong readers. We continually strive to seek new voices and new visions in children’s literature.” Learn more about this house from their Facebook page here. Follow them on Twitter here.

 

erica-finkel-photo1Erica Finkel – Editor with Abrams Books for Young Readers

Erica is an Assistant Editor with Abrams who is interested in picture books, middle grade, and YA. Follow Erica on Twitter here.

Launched in 1999, ABFYR is one of the imprints of Abrams Books, founded in 1949. This imprint runs the gambit from picture books to YA, from poetry to nonfiction. Visit the imprint website here.

 

alysonHeller1Alyson Heller – Editor with Aladdin ( a Simon & Schuster imprint)

Alyson has been an Associate Editor with Aladdin since 2008 (and with S & S since 2006). She works on everything from picture books to middle grade. Learn more about Alyson from her publishing house bio here. Follow Alyson on Twitter here.

Aladdin is a Simon & Schuster imprint that features titles for readers of all ages up to tween. They publish paperbacks and hardcovers, single-titles and series.

 

kristine-brognoKristine Brogno – Design Director with Chronicle Books

For all of you illustrators out there, you won’t want to miss the opportunity to hear Kristine speak. And if that weren’t enough, Kristine will be giving twelve art portfolio critiques during the conference to the lucky few who register early.

Chronicle Books is based in San Francisco and publishes books for both adults and children. Follow Chronicle Books on Twitter here.

 

There are a limited number of manuscript and portfolio critiques available, as well as the ever popular pitch sessions, so sign up while they’re available!

This year, Tulsa is the host city for the conference. Mark your calendars for March 28th! It’s going to be another spectacular day of learning awesomeness.

UPDATE 3/2/15:

ONLY 45 SPOTS LEFT BEFORE CONFERENCE IS SOLD OUT!

For more details on the conference or to register online, click here. I hope to see you there!

Insights from our SCBWI OK Fall Retreat

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Wrapping up the month-long celebration of our local SCBWI Oklahoma group, I’m going to share some of my insights from our Fall Retreat. It was a relaxed, 3-day event packed full of inspiring, helpful information.

The first day was all about craft. Which is something all writers are never too advanced to brush up on, if you ask me. There were so many great workshops, it was a harrowing decision just narrowing down the choices, let alone finalizing a selection.

 

AnnaMyersphotoCI sat in on a workshop by Anna Myers about point of view entitled “The Real Difference Between First and Third Person” where I learned that this difference is more than a matter of pronouns. To begin with, she told us that first person is the easiest and the hardest POV to write. It’s all about voice. Character drives the story in first person, in every word, in every sentence. “If you don’t have a strong voice, you shouldn’t write in first person.” Voice is still important in third person, but the story’s success is not as dependent on it. The great thing about third person is that not every word has to come from the viewpoint character. Anna walked us through a great exercise with a movie camera, demonstrating how the different aspects of third person – from third person intimate to third person distant – could move you in close or take you out wide of a scene, depending on how close you wanted the view to be – on how much you wanted the reader to experience.

 

sonia-gensler-225In another craft workshop, this one led by Sonia Gensler entitled “Kidlit Romance and Friendship: Keeping it Real”, we learned how important it was to develop the main characters separately. You have to make the readers fall in love with the characters individually before asking readers to fall in love with them as a couple. “They must have an identity separate from the relationship.” Character is key. To attain this, Sonia suggests you start with an in-depth understanding of your characters before you start writing. It is especially helpful to know the answer to the fundamental question of what your character wants versus what your character needs. She gave the example from THE HUNGER GAMES using the main character Katniss. What she wants more than anything is to keep her sister safe. That is her motivation for volunteering as tribute in her sister’s place. But what she needs to survive in the games is to learn to let people in, to trust.

 

Pati Hailey taught us in her workshop entitled “Building Memorable Worlds” that every story has a need for world-building elements, even those populated by ordinary humans. What makes a world memorable is when the elements of the world are put into perspective and introduced throughout the story. Elements need to be specific, authentic, and distinct. A great way to add some of these elements is through the use of similes and metaphors that are not cliché, but specific to your world. Use them as an opportunity to tell something about the character or the world. When describing a room, be specific. Don’t give a laundry list of items; give things meaning and connect them to a character. Also be more original with body movements – wide eyes and shoulder shrugs are over done. Pay attention to what people really do.

After a complete brain workout with  the amazing crafts, our day wasn’t even finished, we got a little introduction to our wonderful featured speakers. I tell you, our SCBWI OK group knows how to spoil us.

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Our first featured guest speaker was Minju Chang, literary agent with Book Stop Literary.

Minju comes from a small agency based in San Francisco that doesn’t do much advertising. They do work very collaboratively and they love SCBWI. She represents MG and YA of all genres and some PB as well. Minju was just brilliant and so enthusiastic about the business of books.

Minju said, “Rejection is inevitable.” She said she and her colleagues understand the frustration. They deal with rejections all the time as well.

She then decoded some editorial rejections for us:

“Not right for my list”     This is an umbrella form rejection

“I love the idea, but I didn’t make a connection”     View this as a bell curve. This means your manuscript is hitting the middle.

“I love this, but I couldn’t get my team on board”     May have already tried to sell similar book and it wasn’t successful.

“I like the concept/character, but there’s not enough story”    Quiet. This is a dangerous word. This means it’s difficult to sell.

Minju then said when she has a client receive this last type of rejection, she may suggest setting that manuscript aside to try again later. Maybe after they’ve made a bigger name for themselves and a quiet book won’t be so scary to publishers.

 

Tracy DanielsTracey Daniels from Media Masters Publicity was our next featured speaker.

She was there to teach us everything we didn’t know about publicity. That, my friends, was a lot. After talking with us for awhile about everything that goes into promoting a book and showing us all of the different social media options out there, she said the important thing was not to get overwhelmed.  (Oh, I was overwhelmed. I didn’t recognize half of the social media logos. And there were at least thirty of them!)

You have to be realistic with your books and with your goals. Know yourself. Be honest about what you want to do to promote your book. Do what is right for you and your book. Not every book needs a big tour splash. The publicity budget your publisher allots for your book may not be as big as you’d like. You may have to invest some of your advance or your own money to do some publicity yourself. Whatever you decide to do on your own, make sure to communicate clearly with your publisher’s publicity department. You may be surprised how much they can help you.

The most important publicity tip she gave us was to create an on-going contact database. This should be a detailed excel spreadsheet with every industry contact you’ve ever made – past and present. This will be an invaluable tool as you move to the publicity/promotion part of your career. Be meticulous! Keep city, state, and zip codes in separate columns. This allows you to search your database by location.

She had so many fantastic ideas for making connections and generating ideas, it was astounding. I wish I could share them all with you.

Our second day was all about the featured speakers. We were finally introduced to our third speaker, Brett Duquette, editor with Sterling Publishing. His appearance was delayed due to the fire at the O’Hare airport, or rather the fire set at the traffic control center near Chicago that grounded hundreds of flights. Yes, that fire. Brett had a less than stellar travel experience and yet he was still in great spirits when he arrived. He was just delightful. (Even though he announced being a proud Cornhuskers fan while deep in Sooner country, I think we’ll still claim him as an honorary member of the SCBWI OK tribe.)

Brett spoke to us on the elusive subject of voice.

Best surprise of the retreat was when Brett Duquette met Tammi Sauer while praising her book.
Best surprise of the retreat was when Brett Duquette met Tammi Sauer while praising her book.

Voice, Brett said, is the cornerstone of the creation of the narrative. “Everything comes from the voice. It’s where we begin to build something out of nothing.”

Brett went on to explain that in his mind, all parts of the story are the voice, really. Narrative isn’t just the beige carpet, it has a voice, too. The language used is in harmony with the character, narrative, setting, etc. Each piece has a voice which adds up to the capital “V” Voice.

Most people forget about the narrative and when they are told they need to work on voice, they only focus on dialogue. Voice is so much more than that.

Consistency is key to voice and good writing. Without it, the story feels unreal or boring.

It’s much more apparent in illustration when voice doesn’t work. You see it immediately. To avoid this, you shouldn’t over explain the action in your text. Make sure to leave room for the illustrators. Brett brought out CHICKEN DANCE by Tammi Sauer. “This is perfect picture book writing because it allows the illustrator room to do their job.” Brett discussed a series of pages spreads where the chickens were trying to pick a talent for the talent contest.

Bowling was out. So was juggling. And tightrope walking.

With concise language choices, Tammi set up the joke and let the illustrator deliver it.

Much to his surprise, Tammi was in the audience, just a few feet away. Brett then said it was a good thing he only had nice things to say about her book. It was a fantastic moment to witness. Then it was back to business.

He said the way you learn to do what Tammi did, to leave those spaces for the illustrator to be creative and tell part of the story, is you have faith that the editors will be able to envision a great book and the illustrator can do their job and create great illustrations.

Brett had so many great writing exercises for us to work through to help us really understand what he was telling us. It was an awesome session on voice with a capital “A”.

Anna and her Quilt of Many Book Covers
Anna and her Quilt of Many Book Covers

 

The final day was for wrapping up, a speaker panel, and for saying goodbye. Some goodbyes were more tearful than others.

Our dynamic leader of 14 years, Anna Myers, passed the torch on to Helen Newton with many tears spilled, but not before she received some love back in return. We all pitched in a gave her a quilt made with all 20 of her book covers on it, including her latest release, her first picture book. Anna will still be a part of our SCBWI OK family as an Regional Advisor Emeritus.

Although I don’t see how this retreat could ever be topped, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if the next one was even better.

If you somehow missed this awe-inspiring event, make sure to mark your calendars now for the spring conference on March 28, 2015. You will not want to miss it.

Thank you to all of our guest speakers who traveled so far to be with us and to all of our fantastic local talent that made the craft day such a wonderful success. I learned tons of new information that will stick with me and I know I’m not alone there. This great event wouldn’t have been possible without all of you.