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!

 

April #okscbwichat – Special Guest Karl Jones

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I co-hosted this month’s Special Edition of #okscbwichat on Tuesday evening with our guest, Associate Editor Karl Jones.

Karl Jones

KarlJonesKarl Jones is an 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.

He also develops, acquires and writes unique original activity books like Day of the Dead Activity Book and Build A Boyfriend, as well as hiring work-for-hire authors for several licensed book programs for entertainment and gaming properties including Star Trek, Powerpuff Girls, Uncle Grandpa, Regular Show and Shovel Knight.

He is particularly interested in realistic middle grade and YA fiction and format-bending storytelling projects. In his free time, he enjoys comedy and storytelling events, outdoor adventures, and live music. He is a native Oklahoman.

Follow Karl on Twitter here.

 

Karl will be one of our fantastic speakers presenting at our OK SCBWI Spring Conference on April 16th. To learn more about our conference and to register for this event, CLICK HERE.

During our Twitter chat, Karl discussed the secret to creating a character that defies category, how he reads manuscripts (and what stops him from reading on),  and a surprising trend he hopes to see in YA. He defined what a licensed writer was and what it takes to be a successful licensed book writer. He also talked about what he missed about living in Oklahoma.

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

**We return to our regular #okscbwichat schedule next month as we welcome one of our own to the chat. Oklahoma Illustrator Timothy Lange will discuss his artistic process with us in May. See you for the next chat on Tuesday May 24th!

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

Be sure to check out the newly added FACEBOOK CHAT EVENT with an author and her agent we’ve added for June! It’s our first Facebook Chat event ever and you won’t want to miss it!

March #okscbwichat – Special Guest Victoria Selvaggio

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I co-hosted this month’s Special Edition of #okscbwichat on Tuesday evening with our guest, Literary Agent Victoria Selvaggio.

Victoria Selvaggio

Victoria SelvaggioVictoria Selvaggio is an Associate Agent with The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency. She 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.

Currently, she is excited to read compelling manuscripts that will resonate with her long after she’s done.

Her current wishlist:

“I am currently looking for all genres (lyrical picture books, middle grade and young adult fiction, new adult, mysteries, suspense, thrillers, paranormal, fantasy, narrative nonfiction, adult fiction), but find I’m particularly drawn to middle grade and young adult. I especially love thrillers and all elements of weird, creepy stuff. If it’s out of the box, and it will make me think and think, long after I’m done reading, send it to me. On the flip side, I yearn for books that make me laugh, cry and wonder about the world.” (From agent’s website.)

Learn more about Victoria Selvaggio here.

Follow Victoria on Twitter here.

Victoria will be one of our fantastic speakers presenting at our OK SCBWI Spring Conference in April. To learn more about our conference and to register for this event, CLICK HERE.

During our Twitter chat, Victoria discussed what’s most important to her in a manuscript submission – what she wants to see and what she doesn’t. Since Victoria is also an author herself, she discussed how this duality gives her some advantages, and some insights in the publishing business that make her a better agent. She talked about one of her favorite authors, Stephen King, and his influence on her. She gave some important advice for beginning writers, and more experienced writers as well. She also discussed her agenting style, and much more.

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

 

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**We will be having another Special Edition of #okscbwichat next week  when our guest will be another  one of our OK SCBWI Spring conference speakers, Associate Editor Karl Jones with Grosset & Dunlap/ Penguin Young Readers. See you next Tuesday on April 5th!

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

Be sure to check out the newly added FACEBOOK CHAT EVENT added for June! It’s our first Facebook Chat event ever and you won’t want to miss it!

#TBT Post – Tackling the Elevator Pitch

I wrote this #ThrowBackThursday post for The Great Noveling Adventure blog and it was originally published on May 18, 2014. 


 

Big City

READY TO PITCH IN THE BIG CITY? photo by Wojtek Witkowski via Unsplash

 

Back in March when I attended the SCBWI OK spring conference, some of you may remember that I won a couple of face-to-face critiques with speakers at the conference. During one of my sessions, I took the opportunity to ask Melissa Manlove, editor at Chronicle Books, what she thought of my 40-word pitch for my manuscript, which was included as part of the program. I’m fairly new at writing pitches and I knew that I could use some guidance. I’m very glad I asked. She was so generous with her time and her insights. What she said next really clarified the whole concept for me. I’ve been meaning to share that bit of wisdom for awhile, so here it is.

First of all she said my pitch was something to the equivalent of “Meh”.

Here is the pitch I submitted:

A childhood prank gone wrong leaves Will Harris crippled by fears and homebound. During an outing for his recovery, he witnesses a crime. No one believes him. He must find the courage to solve the mystery and prove his sanity.

I think by ‘meh’ she was being kind.

Next, she said, rethink the whole idea of trying to get the point of your story across in the length of an elevator ride. For a middle grade story, she said to try this:

Pitch your story like you’re telling it to a bored eleven-year old on an elevator.

Bored by Raul Lieberwirth via flickr cc

And then lightning struck my brain.

I got it. She expanded this thought to say you should tell your pitch to this eleven year-old with the idea of convincing him this is a book he’ll be so excited to read, he’ll want to grab it right out of your hand. Get to the good stuff; the action. Kids don’t care about the backstory or character motivation when you’re trying to convince them to read a book, they want the main events.

Hey, I know this story that you are going to love. It’s all about this kid who gets locked up in a museum at night and then he finds these thieves stealing some of the paintings. He sets off the alarms, but when the police arrive, there’s no sign of the crime and no one believes him. He decides to solve the crime himself and that’s just the beginning of even more trouble.

That pitch is a little less “Meh” if I do say so myself. Sure, it’s a little longer than it’s supposed to be, but now let’s put it into a more refined form and see if it still works when we distill it back down to a 40-word count. (Just FYI, pitch lengths can vary. I kept mine to this length because that was the guideline for this particular conference submission. It’s not a bad idea to have a few different pitches on hand of varying lengths – some even Twitter length as many pitch contests arise and you never know, that agent or editor you’re dying to pitch to may one day participate in one.)

Will Harris gets locked up in a museum the same night thieves break in. Will triggers the alarm and police arrive. They find no sign of crime. The trouble gets started once Will decides to solve the crime himself.

Much better than the first one. And who knows, we might get that bored eleven year-old to snatch that book out of our hands, yet.

See if keeping your audience in mind helps when you write your next pitch.


This is a timely topic as I just served on a pitch panel for this month’s meeting for our local Tulsa SCBWI group as our members prepare for our spring conference. I spoke about this same experience with Melissa Manlove before we got into the pitches. I still use this idea – that and knowing the stakes. If you can convey something about your character and what’s at stake for them, you’ve pretty much got your pitch nailed.

What do you think? Are pitches easy for you? Do you have a successful method that helps you write them?

Book Review – SUNSETS AND HAIKU by Una Belle Townsend

I received a copy of SUNSETS AND HAIKU from Una Belle herself, one of our most resilient and thoughtful SCBWI Oklahoma members, when she read about the reading challenges I am attempting this year. She saw that I could use a collection of poems to complete the Reading Bingo Challenge and sent me one of hers – so sweet!

Una Belle has published several picture books with Pelican Publishing Company, including GRADY’S IN THE SILO, for which she won the Oklahoma Book Award. This is her first book of poetry and her first book with Doodle and Peck Publishing, a new local publishing company right here in Oklahoma.

Sunsets and Haiku coverSUNSETS AND HAIKU by Una Belle Townsend

Published by: Doodle and Peck

Release Date: October 15, 2015

Genres: Poetry, Photography

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Plot Summary:

Ever-changing. Exotic. Thought-provoking.
In this exquisite photography collection, Una Belle Townsend, author and photographer, captures nature at its most elusive–when the sun, earth, clouds and atmosphere collide to create stunning tableaus from firecracker red prairies to picture-perfect pastel skies.  Famous worldwide, Oklahoma sunsets explode in a kaleidoscope of colors as the sun disappears beyond the horizon. Paired with her stunning photos is a Japanese poetry form, haiku, which traditionally calls to mind nature and its seasons. (Plot summary from publisher’s website.)

The gorgeous photographs, taken by Una Belle herself, are paired well with inspiring, and sometimes playful, poetry. I loved the variety of sunsets and the vivid colors and how familiar all the landscapes felt to me. What a challenge to select one subject of nature to pay homage to, and yet Una Belle takes it on with such deftness of skill.

Here is one of my favorite poems from the collection:

 

Vivid papaya

Luscious orange and melon clouds

Fruit for hungry eyes

 

This book is a lovely treat for the soul.

It left me feeling relaxed and content, and maybe wishing for a little more.

 

Learn more about Una Belle Townsend here.

Follow Una Belle on Facebook here.

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!