SCBWI OK Spring Conference Recap – Part One

Last weekend there was a convergence of the sublime in Oklahoma City as the SCBWI Oklahoma chapter held its annual Spring conference. Great company, great speakers, great weather. Ah! I had so much fun and my brain was crammed with so many good ideas, it took me all week to process everything. And as two of my manuscripts were chosen for top speaker picks at the very beginning of the day, I did have to struggle at times to stay focused on being present, to listen and take notes, instead of sprinting down the revision tunnel express.

First speaker of the day was the lovely Tricia Lawrence, an associate agent with the Erin Murphy Literary Agency.

Tricia LawrenceI do apologize for missing out on most of Tricia’s talk as my face-to-face critiques were scheduled during this time. I did get to speak with Tricia during the weekend and I gleaned information about her talk from those who were able to hear her talk. First of all, I loved Tricia right from the start as we both share Pacific Northwest roots. I spent some of my formative years in her neck of the woods and I still hold a special place in my heart for that part of the country. (A friend of mine swears this is why I don’t sound like I’m from around here, even though I’ve lived in Oklahoma almost without interruption since I was about four.) Tricia talked at length about how her career path was guided by the need to stay on the West Coast. She spent years working as a freelance editor among other things before breaking into the agenting side of the business. Lucky for us, her stars aligned at the right moment when she came to the Erin Murphy Literary Agency.

During her talk, Tricia discussed how important it was to really get to know your characters before you start writing, to sit down and have therapy sessions with them. Put them on the couch and get them to spill their guts. She said they may not want to open up at first, they may much rather run outside and ride bikes or go play video games, so you have to keep digging. Ask them about their biggest fears, their most hidden secrets, what they want more than anything. Keep asking until they crack; until you know your characters inside and out. Hey, therapy isn’t easy, folks.

It was a very stimulating talk that got several writers thinking of ideas all weekend. At least, I’ve never heard so many people eager to go into therapy. As a big proponent of self-exploration, I love this idea. I plan on putting my main character through some serious couch time starting this week.

Tricia, like all of the speakers, mentioned some books that showed great examples of the ideas she wished to convey. All of the speakers mentioned how important reading was to the craft of being a writer. I know I say it all the time, but it never hurts to remind you guys that the professionals say it as well. You gotta READ!!!

Tricia’s book recommendations: THE FAULT IN OUR STARS by John Green, GRAVE MERCY by Robin LaFevers

Follow Tricia on Twitter.

Next to present was the spunky and adorable Colleen AF Venable, Art and Design Editor at MacMillan’s First Second Books and author in her own right with her fabulous GUINEA PIG, PET SHOP Colleen AF VenablePRIVATE EYE graphic novel series. When she made the conscious decision to have her main character – a female guinea pig named Sasspants – NOT be drawn with over exaggerated eyelashes or a big bow to show her gender, “Because guinea pigs don’t have giant eye lashes or wear bows in nature”, I wanted to bow down at her feet or jump up and scream, “YES!” (I’m a huge believer in realistic role models for girls, obviously.)

Colleen took us all to school on graphic novels and taught us about what they were and were not. Simply put, graphic novels are defined thusly:

Visual story-telling using sequential images.

Well, gee, that could be anything, you might say. I mean, I’ve seen some picture books that might even qualify by that definition. And you would be correct. Still, they are NOT all about tightly-clad radiated people with superpowers. (Not that there is anything wrong with those kinds of graphic novels.) Here are some examples of graphics novels that may surprise you:

 

Monster EndPigeon

flotsam

The Arrival

 

 

 

 

 


Friends with Boys

RapunzelLaikaTo DanceLone Wolf

 

 

 

 

 

 

bk_floraLewis and clarkSmileGiants BewareHereville

 

 

 

 

 

It was such an enlightening talk and I must say, it made converts out of many of the participants. What struck me most was how many non-artists have written graphic novels: Shannon Hale, Neil Gaiman, Kate DiCamillo, Jane Yolen, Cecil Castellucci, Holly Black, and don’t forget Stan Lee, (totally not an artist!). Rainbow Rowell, author of ELEANOR & PARK, has a graphic novel series in the works with First Second Books right now. How exciting is that?

Colleen discussed how you can add an extra layers of depth to your story with the visuals in graphic novels. Even by just manipulating the layout of the panels and how you use the spacing between the panels – the gutters – you can create completely different pacing styles to the story, similar to how traditional writers use sentence and paragraph structure. Fascinating. She suggested that if you were interested getting started in graphics novels, as a writer, you should read lots of plays and comics to help you get the flow of graphic novels. Script writing especially can aid in learning to think more visually about how you tell your story.

Colleen gave us a comprehensive reading list hand out (another perk of coming to such a fabulous conference), broken down by age groups, so I won’t list all of her recommendations here. Some of them are pictured above. I will list others she mentioned by name.

Colleen’s book recommendations: AMERICAN BORN CHINESE by Gene Luen Yang, BENNY AND PENNY by Geoffrey Hayes, SMILE by Raina Telgemeier, SCOTT PILGRIM VS THE WORLD by Bryan Lee O’Malley, THE PLAIN JANES by Cecil Castellucci, OWLY by Andy Runton, BABY MOUSE by Jennifer Holm and Matthew Holm, ROBOT DREAMS by Sara Varon, ZITA THE SPACEGIRL by Ben Hatke

Learn more about Colleen here.

Follow Colleen on Twitter.

Andrew HarwellAndrew Harwell, Editor with HarperCollins came back to Oklahoma for a second time after doing such an amazing job for us at our Novel Revision Retreat back in 2012, and was christened an honorary Oklahoman. (That’s just how it goes, if you come back, we claim you as one of our own. Our list of these lucky conference alumni is steadily growing – Laurent Linn, Krista Moreno, Alexandra Penfold, all honorary Oklahomans.)

Andrew wanted to talk about something new this go around, so he delved into how the family dynamics in Middle Grade and Young Adult writing help to create richer characters. Strong central families are common in all the stories he is drawn to. He said that when he gives an elevator pitch for a book, he realized that he always begins by discussing the relationships first. No matter what kind of story you’re writing, whether it’s a fantasy, mystery, paranormal or whatever, you have to get the reader to care about the characters first, right? In order to do that that we have to get to know the character, and what better way to do that than by using the family. After all, Andrew asked us to think about this:

You are most yourself around your family.

Who else sees us at our most vulnerable? When we are exhausted, pushed to the limits, cramped in a minivan for hours on a road trip to Aunt Bonnies’s with nothing to do but listen to each other breathe and your brothers won’t stop farting or touching your side of the seat? Oh yeah. You really get to know a person in those circumstances.

There are all kinds of families. You have to ask yourself what your character’s family history is before you begin your story. This is your character’s beginning, after all. No matter how much of this history you decide to show, YOU as the writer need to know it. Knowing whether or not your MC is friends with everyone in his family (or not) or whether your MC is supported or misunderstood at home will determine how s/he interacts with the world at large. It will also add more emotional depth to your story.

Andrew showed examples from many different books to highlight the different ways that family dynamics can create amazing stories. Whether you use these dynamics to create empathy, as in THE HUNGER GAMES (whose heart didn’t break when Katniss volunteered to go into the death match in her sister’s place?) or to create conflict as in FANGIRL (what does it mean when your twin sister doesn’t want to be your roommate?) or to create a villain in the family as in THE GOLDEN COMPASS (Does Lyra’s mother love her or is she evil through and through?) bringing family dynamics into play can be the best thing for your character and your story.

Andrew’s book recommendations: PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ by A.S. King, THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins, PANIC by Lauren Oliver, IF I STAY by Gayle Foreman, CASE FILE 13 by J. Scott Savage, WONDER by R.J. Palacio, SEA OF SHADOWS by Kelley Armstrong, ARISTOTLE AND DANTE DISCOVER THE SECRETS OF THE UNIVERSE by Benjamin Alire Saenz, FANGIRL by Rainbow Rowell, THE JUPITER PIRATES HUNT FOR THE HYDRA by Jason Fry, REALITY BOY by A.S. King, THE GOLDEN COMPASS by Philip Pullman, ASYLUM by Madeleine Roux, ALMOST SUPER by Marion Jensen, UNDER THE NEVER SKY by Veronica Rossi, THE HARRY POTTER SERIES by J.K. Rowling, MOCKINGBIRD by Kathryne Erskine, THE FAULT IN OUR STARS by John Green, I CAPTURE THE CASTLE by Dodie Smith, TENDER MORSELS by Margo Lanagan, ELEANOR & PARK by Rainbow Rowell, PENNY DREADFUL by Laurel Snyder, ONE CRAZY SUMMER by Rita Williams-Garcia

Follow Andrew on Twitter.

Can you believe how much sage wisdom was imparted in this morning session alone?

It knocked my socks off.

After an entertaining lunch where I hosted a table with Tricia Lawrence, who was ever so gracious with her precious time and insights. I met some new writers, one was attending her very first SCBWI conference and was so enthusiastic about everything, it was delightful to see. There were so many writers there with teaching backgrounds at my table; I may have been the only one without a teaching degree. After lunch, and a brief (and humorous) commercial for our Fall Retreat, we returned for our remaining three speakers.

Stay tuned for PART TWO to hear what they had to bestow on our eager minds…

March #writemotivation Bring on the Spring!

writemotivation_header1

Why did mention that I was feeling about 65% back to normal  – ALMOST FREAKING HEALTHY!!! – on my last #writemotivation check in? It must’ve sounded too much like a brag or something because the gods of health decided to slap me with one more wave of the sickness. Of the dreaded sinus infection variety.

Blech!

Oh yeah, but they couldn’t let me be completely done with that lingering cough that kept me from ever getting a good night’s sleep. You know, the one that started at the beginning of February? So the was fun. Brain exploding with sinus pain while still coughing until I wanted to take a power drill to my head and open up some breathing holes. I am so done with coughing, sneezing, aching, etc. I think I’ve eaten my own body weight in cough drops this year already. I loathe the taste of tea and honey after the oceans I’ve consumed. I’ve blown through so many boxes of tissues I should replant a small forest on the next Earth Day to decrease my carbon footprint.

Godfather Gif

This week, I’m throwing caution to the wind and stating that I’m over the worst of everything. I may have sacrificed a pomegranate in the light of a full moon while singing a medley of Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus tunes. I think that appeased the gods of health. Either that, or they were afraid I’d sing again. Either way, my voice has finally returned to normal and I haven’t had to take any cold medication for several days. No more Emma Stone voice, but I’m grateful that things can start returning to normal.

This month always brings so much more promise. March, don’t tell February, but I like you more. Our SCBWI OK spring conference is at the end of the month and it’s always fantastic. This year it’s in Oklahoma City so I get to run away from home for the weekend and spend it with my favorite writing friends. It’ll be a smorgasbord of literary goodness and I can’t wait to gorge myself.

In the midst of all this healing and fruit sacrificing, I have finally been able to get back to the work of writing and related things. Let’s take a look at this month’s goals to see the damage progress made thus far.

Here are my #writemotivation goals:

  1. Make progress on new YA project (Pretty Vacant) including plotting out new story arc and starting on first draft with word count goal of 30K. The smallest of starts, but progress has begun. I am so excited about this project, I can’t even tell you. The only hint I’ll give this early is that it will deal with gender politics and the riot grrrl movement.
  2. Submit first YA manuscript to at least 15 agents. Two is better than zero but far from my goal. Need to ramp this up next week with more submissions sent out.
  3. Read at least 6 books this month. (I’m a little behind on my yearly reading goal already!) Three books finished already and another one halfway done. Looks like IMG_20140315_221040there’s one goal I will actually make. What’s really surprising is I just finished reading my first YA book of the year, and it was phenomenal. WINTERGIRLS by Laurie Halse Anderson. It was a little more special because it was my copy I had autographed in LA this past summer. I love Laurie Halse Anderson and not just because she write so damn well.
  4. Get back into exercise routine slowly – at least three times week. This was the most painful goal to accomplish. After not exercising for over a month, I did manage  to go for a walk three times. My pace was horribly slow, and I felt like death after the first two times, but goal accomplished. yay. (hack, pant, moan.) I have no idea when I’ll even attempt to get back on the elliptical.

How are your goals coming along this month?

Do you have any exciting spring break/writing conference plans in your immediate future?

February #writemotivation week 3, Post 1 (I think that says it all)

writemotivation_header1If you read my last post you’ll know I’ve been slowly recovering from the flu. I have literally been sick this entire month. I am sick to death of being sick. I’ve coughed so much that I’ve damaged my vocal chords and I have no voice to speak of. I’m sure it’s temporary, but it makes it very inconvenient when I’m trying to rant in traffic at the chaotic drivers only to have my ire come out like a squeaky toy mouse. Kind of takes the punch out of my road rage. Probably for the best.

As you all may know, life doesn’t slow down for illnesses, and some very interesting things have happened to me during my quarantine. I was offered a job out of the blue and I received a full manuscript request from an agent.

The job is mostly part-time for the Autism Center of Tulsa, which is a fantastic organization run by two great women I’ve known for a long time. The work will be helping out with their website and later on maybe branching out with some other social media work. So far, it’s been really fun, but time consuming, especially trying to cram work time in while running a fever and hacking my brains out. Thankfully, they are really flexible and very understanding.

The manuscript request is going to effect my initial goals this month, as this will now be my first priority. Since I am no longer hopped up on cough medicine, I can focus on the agent’s suggested edits. I want to get a thoroughly polished draft out to her as soon as possible.

Here were my #writemotivation goals for February before life intervened:

  1. Plot out new story arc for Amazing New YA project (PV), flesh out characters, and then start writing out first draft. Stretch Goal: Make past the halfway mark or 40,000K words, whichever comes first. This will have to wait until after I make revisions to my YA manuscript for the agent. I may get to this before the end of the month, but it may have to wait for March.
  2. Prepare conference critique submissions and send off. Done! Luckily I did eek this out before the deadline last week. Most of the work was done before I fell ill, which really helped.
  3. Submit completed manuscript(s) to five agents a week. I have not sent anything out this month due to my altered mental state and poor physical health. I hope to work on this goal this week.
  4. Read 4 books. Stretch goal: read 7. Sad, sad progress. One book so far this month. Pitiful! I have picked up a new book since I started feeling better. Maybe I’ll get through two books this week.

Can you believe it’s already time to sign up for March? GAH!!!

I hope you’ve made more progress on your goals this month than I have. And as a public service message, don’t be like me; please get your flu shot. Today. Trust me, you don’t want this year’s bug; it is just awful. Take care, my fellow writers, and keep writing!

What I Learned from Agents’ Day – Part Two

For Part Two covering a summary of the fantastic SCBWI Oklahoma Fall conference held earlier this month all about agents, we move on to the Agent Panel and the Query Letter Panel with our agents in attendance:

Natalie Lakosil from the Bradford Literary Agency

natalimlakosil

Emily Mitchell from the Wernick & Pratt Agency

EmilyMitchell

Danielle Smith from the Foreward Literary Agency

daniellefeatured

For the Agent Panel, the agents were asked a series of questions by our moderator, Helen Newton, our new Assistant Regional Advisor. Here are a few of them and the agents’ overall responses. You may find some of their answers surprising.

Question 1: Do you visit an author’s web presence?

Natalie and Danielle both said that they did and that having a web presence was important. Emily labeled herself the Luddite of the group and said it was less important to her, but that an author should feel comfortable with it.

A word of caution was mentioned about what you post online, especially regarding negative experiences of submissions and attitudes towards agents. One of the panel members received a submission from a writer who had blasted her online. Needless to say that was a pass. It was also recommended that you NOT discuss details of your submission process online. Similar to Fight Club, the first rule of Sub Club is you don’t talk about it outside of your group of writer friends…and then only in private.

Question 2: Does an agent ever have something to do with promotion?

No. They don’t.

What?

That’s right. They don’t help you set up book signings or plan out your book promotion.

Are you kidding? We really need to learn how to do that stuff on our own?

Not completely. The in-house publicist should help you with that. As budgets for marketing and publicity have notoriously been on the decline, it would benefit you to learn some basics. However, you won’t be entirely alone. Your agent can work as a go-between with the publicist or help you navigate the crazy world of promotions, but that doesn’t actually fall under their job description. The level to which they provide this help may depend on their own comfort level with PR. Just as some agents are more editorial than others, some agents enjoy or have more experience with the PR side of things than others. That is definitely something to consider when selecting an agent for representation.

Am I the only one totally surprised by this?

Now I understand why you may want to hire a publicist as well. So interesting.

Question 3: What if you don’t like a work by a client, what do you recommend?

Emily stated that she didn’t have to love everything a client produced, but she did have to think each was sellable. If not, then maybe the author should fix it or shelve it. Either way, it would be time for a discussion. Her advisory role kicks in during those situations.

Danielle had a similar response and added that she would ask the writer what else they had to offer.

Natalie stated that it’s a mistake to think everything you write is publishable or you’re a failure.

That is something we should all keep in mind.

Let’s move on to the Query Letter Panel.

Here are some great suggestions made by the agents after our moderator, Helen, read aloud from the anonymous letters submitted for scrutiny:

  • Too much detail. This was the main complaint. So many query letters were filled with extraneous details of either the story or of the writer’s background.

Emily suggested that you pitch yourself smartly.

Danielle boiled this down to a formula that her fellow Foreword Literary agent, Pam van Hylckama Vlieg, came up with: “the hook, the book, and the cook”. Get the reader’s interest with the hook, tell them a little bit more in the next paragraph with the book, but leave them wanting to read more, and finish with a brief paragraph about you with relevant facts about your writing experience and publishing credits.

  • Lot of plot, not a lot of action. Writers spent too much time explaining plot instead of giving the overall view of the action of the story. The agents suggested studying the flap copy of many books to get the feel for how to write a better query.
  • Don’t include market research for FICTION. I think that’s self-explanatory.
  • Don’t include word count near the beginning. If your word count is on the large side, seeing this right away might stop an agent from reading on further. Your goal is always to get them to want to read more. If they are enticed by the hook and book description, they may overlook a word-heavy manuscript and still request more.
  • Include personal connection. If you’ve met the agent, make sure to mention this in the introduction. And don’t lie and say that you’ve met the agent when you haven’t; it’s very unprofessional.

So many great ideas came out of that panel!

It was fantastic. I hope everyone learned something new. I know I did.

What I Learned from Agents’ Day – Part One

Our local SCBWI chapter really outdid itself with this year’s fall conference, otherwise known as AGENTS’ DAY.  We heard from three dynamic agents who are actively acquiring and who, during the query letter panel, offered their collective knowledge and helpful suggestions that gave all in attendance unique insight into the publishing industry. That alone was more than worth the price of admission, and yet there was more. Two fine local literary stars shared their personal publishing journeys. Both were inspiring, reminding us all to keep pursuing our dreams.

Keynote speaker Hannah Harrison

575963_623543237661255_1340727984_n

What I learned from Hannah’s talk:

Hannah started out the day with the story of her incredible journey to publication. She’s so amazingly talented you wouldn’t think the road would’ve been arduous at all, but she revealed many surprises in her talk entitled The Least Efficient Way to Get Published. One recurring theme that resonated with me was how often she got in her own way. Not following up on leads – when houses asked her to keep her work on file, she only updated every few years instead of every few months. Not having a strong web presence – she digressed from her talk to emphasize that all artists should have a website. Not submitting, not submitting, not submitting! (She only submitted her manuscript two times in five years.) She turned down an offer of representation because she didn’t think she needed an agent. Her reasoning? Illustrator Kevin Hawkes said her work spoke for itself. Hannah had apprenticed under Hawkes and had helped with some illustration work for the book Handel, Who Knew What He Liked. In the end, she realized she did need an agent. We’ll go more in-depth into Hannah’s story when she stops by for an interview in a few weeks.

Takeaways:

  • “If it doesn’t mean anything to you, it’s not going to mean something to anyone else.”
  • You have to be your work’s strongest advocate and submit it when it’s ready. And keep submitting. As good as it may be, it won’t get published on its own.
Special Guest Speaker Gwendolyn Hooks

G.Hooks Pic.comp

What I learned from Gwen’s talk:

Gwen was inspired to become a writer after she saw a play that a relative had written. Then Gwen set off to do what she does best; educate herself. She joined several writing groups and attended conferences to learn how to be a writer. One early critique comment said her story “didn’t have any spark.” Gwen set off on a new quest – to find spark. She studied and wrote and improved, still she had moments of self-doubt. A friend called her one night with a fantastic idea and told her she had to write the story. Gwen told her she’d think about it. After doing her own research, she agreed the story needed to be told, but she thought, “I can’t write it; I’m not good enough.” Her friend was relentless in her insistence that Gwen had to be the one to write it. Gwen gave it a try, but still didn’t think it was right. She kept writing and rewriting until the spark appeared. The result of all this effort is the inspirational story of Vivien Thomas, the Man Who Saved the Blue Babies which will be published by Lee and Low in 2015.

Takeaways:

  • “If something is near and dear to your heart, it doesn’t belong in the drawer. Keep working on it.”
  • When a critique points out weaknesses in your writing, use these moments as learning opportunities and educate yourself to make your writing better.

The three agents :

Natalie Lakosil from the Bradford Literary Agency

natalimlakosil

What I learned from Natalie’s talk:

Unlike most agents who arrive at their careers through alternate routes, Natalie knew she wanted to be an agent when she was thirteen years-old. She’s an editorial agent with a wide range of interests and a wide range of clients. She represents picture books to young adult to adult fiction, with an emphasis in children’s literature as her client list is 75% children’s publishing. She’s interested in historical, multicultural, sci-fi, fantasy, gritty, darker contemporary, horror, Victorian literature, magical realism, middle grade with heart, short quirky picture books (around 600 words), and adult romance.

What she’s looking for:

  • Voice. She described voice as being almost autobiographical. She said it has place, a taste of where you came from, what’s shaped you, the author in life. The best voices reveal a piece of the writer and are immediately connectable.
  • A desire to keep reading.

Takeaways:

  • Query hook: What is your book about? The hook should answer this question in a way that intrigues the reader in EXACTLY THREE SECONDS! That’s it.
  • Natalie’s Top Three Reasons to Say No: Poor pacing, unoriginal plot, and not connecting to voice.

To learn more about Natalie Lakosil, visit her agency website above.

Follow her blog Adventures in Agentland.

Follow Natalie on Twitter @Natalie_Lakosil.

Emily Mitchell from the Wernick & Pratt Agency

EmilyMitchell

What I learned from Emily’s talk:

Agents no longer need to live in New York City to be in the heart of the publishing world. Emily works from home, like all the agents at her agency. They Skype frequently and physically meet at the office several times a year. This way, she gets to live in Massachusetts, send her kids off to school, and then attend to her agenting work. This mostly entails sitting in front of one type of computer screen or another and reading; reading and thinking. She began her agenting career at the Sheldon Fogelman Agency where Mo Willems was one of the agency’s first clients. They tried for over two years to sell Don’t Let the Pigeon Ride the Bus. It was something new and didn’t have much of a story arc; no one knew what to do with it, yet they never gave up on it. That’s persistence.

Emily firmly believes in the rules of grammar and feels writers should, too. She wants to trust you know what you’re doing. “Don’t give me a reason as a reader not to trust you.” This is where grammar and usage come into play.

What she’s looking for:

  • Voice
  • Authority
  • Pragmatism
  • Flexibility

Somebody who loves the work, who gets the process, who loves creating.

She read from a few books she doesn’t represent, but wished she did including Prisoner 88 by Leah Pileggi, Counting by Sevens by Holly Goldberg Sloan, and Clementine by Sara Pennypacker.

Takeaways:

  • Not everyone can be a best-selling writer. Be okay with being a mid-list writer.
  • Nobody is too good for an editor.

To learn more about Emily Mitchell, visit her agency’s website above.

Follow her blog emilyreads.

Follow Emily on Twitter @emilyreads

Danielle Smith from the Foreward Literary Agency

daniellefeatured

What I learned from Danielle’s talk:

Danielle is also part of an agency where everyone works from home. Foreword Literary is a new agency that just opened in March of 2013 servicing children’s through adult books. It’s a hybrid agency that marries traditional publishing with digital publishing possibilities. Danielle started her agent journey as a popular children’s book review blogger at There’s a Book. Her award-winning site is still held in high regard, and continues on even as she pursues her agenting career. Danielle represents picture books, early readers and chapter books, middle grade, and the rare young adult. She has a soft spot for middle grade. She has her two kids who help her review books on her blog read manuscripts with her when they come in.

What she’s looking for:

Takeaways:

  • Make sure you’re always reading. It can help you in your craft.
  • Have kids read your work as a litmus test.

To learn more about Danielle Smith, visit her agency’s website above.

Follow her blog There’s a Book.

Follow Danielle on Twitter @thefirstdaughter.

Thanks so much to all of our speakers for being so generous with their time and knowledge. It was a delightful
weekend.

In Part Two, I’ll be sharing some of the nuggets of wisdom the agents shared during the afternoon panels.

Stay tuned!

DISCLAIMER: If you are interested in submitting to any of these fine agents, please be sure to visit their respective agency websites and follow their submission guidelines. They mean business, and if you’re serious about writing, you should, too.

July #writemotivation Week 2

photograph by Hugh Lee and licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0. httpwww.flickr.comphotossahlgoodeWhat a week! I thought last week was a whirlwind, this one almost got away from me.  I have returned to civilization and (almost) miss those psychotic chickens. I don’t miss the bugs. I finally stopped itching, yesterday, even with the toothpaste. I must admit that I have dipped into the sacred pint of New York Super Fudge Chunk. After the week in the country, though. I don’t even feel guilty about it.

Here’s a look at this month’s #writemotivation goals:

1. Submit Institutionalized (YA contemporary) to five more literary agents. I’ve done more eliminating of possibilities this past week than submitting, but that is part of the process. Some on my short list, when I looked closer didn’t really fit as well as I had hoped. This was pretty time-consuming. The good news is, my list is shorter. I also haven’t received any rejections, so I still have five submissions out.2013-Participant-Campfire-Circle-Badge

2. While participating in Camp NanoWriMo, write at least 50K towards first draft of Pretty Vacant (YA contemporary). (Yay, camp!) I spent more time on my other camp this past week than this one since it ends first, but I still made a little progress. Yay, for camps with NO BUGS!

howtosave-150x2273. Read at least five more books – review one on the blog. I’m currently reading Sara Zarr’s How to Save a Life and digging it. Slowly chipping away at that gargantuan TBR pile. I may even snag Lauren Oliver’s Delirium series away from my daughter soon.

4. Finish critique of friend’s manuscript. (Hopefully by her birthday midway through the month!) Extreme sad face. Not. Even. Started. Utter Failure.

5. Exercise 4 times each week. More than four times, baby! Got the cramps and muscle strains to prove it!

6. Participate in all Crit Camp activities, which include critiquing 10K samples from manuscripts from the other participants and preparing crit letters. I’ve had so much fun doing the work for Natalie C Parker’s Crit Camp! I’ve received my initial crit letters back and Natalie’s feedback on my critiquing was so great. I’m ready to write up my final crit letters with much more depth and clarity. I hope my own critique partners notice the difference in my critiquing when we meet up next week. I can’t wait to try out my new skills.

On last minute announcement…Xmas in July post headerdrum roll please!!!

I entered my Middle Grade manuscript, Night of the Museum Crashers, into the Christmas in July Pitch Contest and out of 206 entries, mine was one of 30 chosen!

Yeah, baby! I’m so excited!

So what happens next? On July 18th and 19th, all the winning entries (Yes, that includes mine!) will be posted on the two hosting blogs. The lovely Michelle Krys and her equally lovely companion across the pond, Ruth Lauren Stevens have assembled these fantastic group of agents to view and make comments on the entries or possibly even make requests for submissions:

Adriann Ranta of Wolf Literary Services

Tracey and Josh Adams of Adams Literary

Becky Vinter of Fine Print Literary Management

Diana Fox of Fox Literary

Molly Jaffa of Folio Literary Management

Lucy Carson of Friedrich Literary Agency

Lara Perkins of Andrea Brown Literary Agency, Inc. 

Logan Garrison of The Gernert Company

Sarah LaPolla of Bradford Literary Agency

Tamar Rydzinski of Laura Dail Literary Agency

Monika Verma of Levine Greenberg Literary Agency, Inc.

Brianne Johnson of Writers House

Carly Watters of P.S. Literary Agency

Stefanie Lieberman of Janklow & Nesbit

Jessica Sinsheimer of Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency

Katie Shea of Donald Maass Literary Agency 

Amazing, right? Check out Ruth or Michelle’s site for more details. And make sure to stop by to check out all of the amazingly talented entries on the 18th (including mine!OMG! So excited!) You can also follow the action on Twitter at #XmasinJuly and I’m on #TeamRuth. (Never been on a team before…very cool!)

Agents’ Day is Coming!

First, I just wanted say, WOW! I’ve gained 50 new followers since the beginning of the year and that’s pretty damn good for me.

“HELLO, NEW FOLLOWERS! YOU ARE AWESOME!”

For those of you who’ve been following for awhile, you’re just flat out amazing, but you already know that.

Enough with the flagrant flattery, I have some pretty great news to share…

As some of you may recall, I mentioned back in May that our local SCBWI chapter has a fantastic event coming up this fall. We are hosting an Agents’ Day on October 5th that will knock your socks off. Registration is now open to non-members as of July 1st – that means now!

Not only will you hear from three wonderful agents who are actively acquiring at this event and have one of the three critique the first 250 words of your manuscript, but you’ll also hear from some of the finest literary ladies with amazing talents who work right here in Oklahoma.

Here’s the Unbelievable lineup:

Keynote speaker Hannah Harrison

575963_623543237661255_1340727984_n

Hannah will share her journey that brought her a two-book deal to write and illustrate picture books for a major publisher.

Special Guest Speaker Gwendolyn Hooks

G.Hooks Pic.comp

Gwen is the author of  seventeen easy readers. She will discuss her latest picture book sale success about the inspirational story of Vivien Thomas, the Man Who Saved the Blue Babies.

The three agents joining us for the day are:

Natalie Fischer Lakosil from the Bradford Agency

natalimlakosil

Natatlie is interested in representing picture books through YA.

Danielle Smith from the Foreward Agency

daniellefeatured

Danielle is interested in representing picture books, chapter books, and early/middle readers.

Ann Behar from the Scovil Galen Gosh Agency had a last minute scheduling conflict and has been replaced by:

Emily Mitchell from the Wernick & Pratt Agency

EmilyMitchell

Emily is interested in representing picture books through YA.

If that weren’t enough, the agents will also critique submitted query letters by attendees in a panel discussion. This is another spectacular presentation put on by our SCBWI Oklahoma chapter and you don’t want t miss it. Registration is limited to 90 people and over 50 spots have already been filled, so act soon! Visit the SCBWI OK website for details and online registration.

#writemotivation month check in…and Things Beginning Writers Don’t Know

Header image and thumbnail photograph by Hugh Lee and licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0. http://www.flickr.com/photos/sahlgoode/

Hooray! I’m so excited it’s another #writemotivation month! Not just because I’ve got some serious goals to get through and I’m going to need a LOT of cheering and cookies to get through them, but because last month was wrought with pitfalls and illnesses and too much time away from these wonderful people who help me stay focused and laugh while keeping my outlook positive.

On to the goals!

1. Finish revision suggestions for interested agent and send off my FULL manuscript as soon as humanly possible. This is for my YA manuscript that I’ve been working on and submitting for the past few months. I had an amazing face to face critique in LA – just such a wonderful conversation with this agent –  I want to get it right and send her my absolute best.
2 .Finish up novel revisions on my Middle Grade manuscript for November workshop and mail off copies to my group. DONE.
3. Read through manuscripts received from my group for the novel revision workshop. Received the last one this week. Will take my time with these.
4. Continue first draft of new YA WIP. I want to keep working on something else once I’ve sent off my full manuscript so this will most likely be a goal I start near the end of the month.
5. Exercise at least four times a week – yeah, it’s time to step it up another day.

How are you all doing with your goals?

I’m also supposed to work on marketing ideas for my YA novel. The agent gave me some pitch idea homework I need to figure out. I’m constantly thinking about that, mulling ideas over in my head.  And a new title for my book. Apparently Institutionalized may not grab the attention of the average teen browsing the shelves. One should never get too attached to one’s working title. I’ve got some ideas I’m kicking around, but none that really wow me, yet.

This reminds me of some other things that I learned at the SCBWI LA Summer Conference that I wanted to share. A little segment I want to call…

Things Beginning Writers Don’t Know:

The first thing that beginning writers don’t know about how the acquisitions process works.

We all may know that it is hard to get published, but what beginning writers may not know is that even when an editor loves a manuscript and wants to buy it, they don’t always get to say “yes” right away. There’s this process called acquisitions that most manuscripts have to go through. Although each house is different, most publishing houses hold acquisitions meetings about twice a month. The editor must send out a proposal for the manuscript they want to buy, along with the manuscript, in advance of the meeting, as well as something called a profit and loss statement. This is “advanced algebra in a horrible excel spreadsheet” as Ari Lewin, editor at GP Putnam, described it and it spits a figure, projecting how much the house can expect to make on the book.

At the acquisitions meeting, everyone involved in saying “yes” gathers to review all the potential manuscripts. At some houses, this could be as many as twenty people including heads of imprints, editors, associate editors, the art director, the publisher, someone from marketing, sales, and publicity, etc. It takes a short time to say “no”. The books right on the edge are the hardest to decide on and may require more discussion and more meetings.

To learn more about acquisitions, I’d suggest reading Harold Underdown’s excellent article entitled “The Acquisitions Process” originally published in The Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market back in 2010. He even shows what a sample acquisitions proposal looks like.

The second thing beginning writers don’t know is that they should be prepared to deliver EVERY YEAR after their first book is published.

Josh Adams, agent at Adams Literary, said this in the Agent Panel and went on to explain that there is a higher demand on writers; an increase on demand in social media, with school visits. You will also be expected to be active in marketing.

Jill Corcoran, agent at the Herman Agency, echoed this sentiment and added, “Books are coming out faster.”

Linda Pratt, agent with Wernick & Pratt Agency, expanded the discussion to talk about how second book choices for new writers are even more important than their first. Second book choices need to be weighed carefully. “You can’t always write the more obscure book or whatever you want – what you’re passionate about. You have to be a little more pragmatic. You have to consider your sales track.” Publishing houses are less likely to take a risk on an author whose first book sold poorly unless their second book shows more sales potential.

So think about how long it has taken you to perfect this current work that you are submitting to agents. Two years? Five? Do you have other projects you are working on while you are submitting? Are you thinking ahead about your next writing project? You should be.

The third thing beginning writers don’t know is how small the publishing world is, and that being unprofessional can close doors.

Josh Adams said during the Agent Panel that, “We see a lot of unprofessionalism out there and people burn bridges. The worst thing a client can do is close doors.”

Jill Corcoran seconded this: “You cannot bad mouth editors (or others in the industry) online. Be careful.” She suggested that you untag yourself from unprofessional pictures on Facebook or other social media and delete any negative content.

It DOES hurt to be rejected, but it happens to all of us. Remember that this is a business and conduct yourself accordingly. The publishing world IS very small; negative and unprofessional behavior does get noticed and word is easily spread.

The fourth and final tidbit of wisdom I am imparting to new writers is…you won’t earn a lot of money.

Shocker. But you’re not in this for the money, right? You write because you have to, because it’s your passion. If not…there’s your cue to exit.

As Josh Adams said, “You shouldn’t expect that you can quit your day job.” He also said that you should look at your career long term. School visits and multiple rights that a good agent should help you maximize can add to your income.

Jill Corcoran also said something really important: “The advance is not the end-all. You want to get to the royalties.”

So what does she mean? Don’t we all dream of that big, fat advance?

The advance is just a promise.

A bet.

A bet against how many copies you will sell.

You don’t start really making money until you sell more than that original promise. And what about your next book? You have to think about your career long-term, remember? If you DON’T sell enough copies of your first book to meet that promise, that advance, you’re going to have a much harder time getting the second book sold. The goal is to sell enough copies to get to the royalties. That’s where things really start to pay off. That shows the publishing world that you are worth betting on; you are worth the risk.

To recap; publishing is slow, painful, it asks you to work your ass off without always loving you back, (It really IS like raising a child) and it doesn’t always bring you riches. You have to do it because you love it, because you’re passionate about it, and because you’re in it for the long haul.

Is it hot enough for you? #writemotivation check-up/check-in/check-out

I can totally visualize myself here.

It’s been a pretty consistent triple digit July here in Oklahoma. The lowest high for this week looks like Friday at 106° right now. I’m totally useless in the afternoons as my brain turns to goo, so I have adopted the beautiful Spanish tradition of the siesta.  It’s especially effective in combination with a quick dip in the pool with the kids, then they are usually quiet in the afternoons for my second round of writing time. The siesta’s  just the thing for revitalizing me and making the worst heat of the day pass by almost unnoticed. Almost.

I’m not sure how I did it, but I missed my #writemotivation goal check-in last week. I think I was so excited about my interview post with Anna Myers that I totally spaced it. It was an interesting week with some contest results, agent action, etc., so I should at least give you the highlights before moving on. I received my 30 page critique that I won from the Fresh as a Daisy contest from Daisy Carter. She had it to me in record time and it was a very thorough, thoughtful critique. Daisy played devil’s advocate with some of my rougher spots and helped me see a way to fix one spot in particular that was just fantastic. I’d really been struggling with how to introduce a certain element into my story that hadn’t been working; through her comments, she gave me just the right push to grasp the idea I needed. I wrote through several days in a blur of creative outburst, trying to capture all of the inspiration before it evaporated into the ether.

This is why feedback is so important! Thank you, again to Daisy Carter. It was an exceptional critique.

I also received a full manuscript request from the Entangled Mega Pitch contest, which was very exciting! My first editor request! Woohoo! The more I practice with my queries and my pitches, the better the results.

And in the middle of all of this positivity, a little dark cloud must occasionally float in unnoticed and pee all over your happy mood. I received four rejections out of the fifteen I currently have out. The real kicker was when I received three 36 hours. That was tough. I did break out the New York Super Fudge Chunk on that day, I tell you. I started twitching every time my e-mail notification chimed. It did put me off sending out more submissions that week. This week, it’s time to get back on the horse.

Header image and thumbnail photograph by Hugh Lee and licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0. http://www.flickr.com/photos/sahlgoode/

So, for an official overview of my goals, here they are:

1.Write full rough draft of new WIP. Oh, boy. Not doing well with this one at all. May need to rethink what I’ll be submitting for the novel workshop in September or really hit it hard next month. I’ve been working more on revisions of my current project after receiving that critique and some other feedback. Priorities! I need to focus!
2. Continue to submit current YA project out to agents. No new submissions last week. Will make up for that this week and keep on fighting the good fight. (Husband should love the Triumph nod.)
3. Keep up with my blog posts, commenting on blogs, etc., but also keep a limit on this time so that my writing comes first. Still room for improvement but doing better. Thumbs high!
4. Exercise three times a week. Shockingly still the best achievement made out of all the goals, even while visiting the folks this weekend. I managed to squeeze in some cardio both days, walking in the unforgiving Ozark hills. Today my legs are on fire.

I missed my #writemotivation friends over the long weekend, so let me here from you! How are you doing with your goals here at the home stretch? Are you also melting in the heat? How are you staying cool?

Goals Goals Goals #writemotivation Monday Check In

Header image and thumbnail photograph by Hugh Lee and licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0. http://www.flickr.com/photos/sahlgoode/

Welcome to another edition of  “How are we doing with our goals?”  It’s the beginning of week two. Are we crying in our beer, yet? Scarfing down the New York Super Fudge Chunk by the pints? Hopefully not. We at the #writemotivation gang are well-known for our supportive nature, and I am more than willing to share some of my ice cream. (Thankfully, I am not at the beer-swilling stage.) And so far, it’s been just a one pint week. (Of ice cream.) I made it into the first stage of yet another frantic contest. I know, I know, right after I just finished with one. The last one had positives and negatives; I didn’t get a request from the agent, but I did win a critique of my first 30 pages. Not a bad secondary prize. After receiving some great feedback, I reworked my query for the bazillionth time. I think that was the lucky number. In this latest contest, my freshly scrubbed query (plus the first 500 words of my manuscript) will be up against 300+ other entries and only 30 will be accepted to continue to the ultimate agent fighting round. We won’t find out our fates until Friday. I may be up to two pints by then. (Maybe not just of ice cream.)

Wheee! So exciting this writer’s life. Actually there’s been a lot of anxiety-driven humor quipped about in the Twitter feed today. Glad to know it wasn’t just me. #xmasinjuly was even trending for awhile today the movement was so intense. Feel free to check out the action any time this week. Friday should be especially exciting.

For those of you who missed this opportunity, remember, there is another contest coming up next week with

better stock up, it’s gonna be a long month.

Entangle Publishing. See this earlier post here for details. Also, our very own#writemotivation leader, K. T. Hanna, just celebrated her one year blogiversary and is offering an opportunity to win a query critique with her agent Judith Engracia of the Liz Dawson Literary Agency. You have through Tuesday to enter. See K.T.’s blog post here for details.

On to the GOALS!!!!

1.Write full rough draft of new WIP. Barely started, but at least I did get started so let’s say “Eh, not bad. Not great, but not bad.” on this one.
2. Continue to submit current YA project out to agents. YES! YES! YES! Sent out five brand new, fully researched submissions. “Rock star!”
3. Keep up with my blog posts, commenting on blogs, etc., but also keep a limit on this time so that my writing comes first. Dead modem helped me limit my time better than I would have on my own. I was shaking like street hustling junkie by end of the third day. This will continue to be a challenge. We’ll say. “You squeaked by with a pass this week, Lawson.”
4. Exercise three times a week. Done and done! A hearty “You can do it!”here. I may be freakin’ sore all over, but I have plenty written in my exercise journal for the past week and this week is already looking good. Just someone tell me when the aching muscles subsides and I can have more ice cream. Please?

Hope you all are having a fantastic time wrestling with your goals. Hang in there!