Sara Sargent – Editor Interview

Sara Sargent headshot

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

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

About Sara

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

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

 

The Interview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

VL: Fascinating idea! I love a good mystery.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

VL: Excellent advice. Well said.

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

SCBWI OK Banner

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

I hope to see you there!

 

 

The Highly Anticipated OK SCBWI Spring Conference Recap – PART 1

SCBWI OK Banner

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 theme 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.

SCBWI OK Banner

 

 

 

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!

SCBWI OK Spring Conference 2015 – Get That Spark Ignited

SCBWI OK Banner

 

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!