Tag Archives: editor

A Little Taste of SCBWI Love

So, I finally made it to the other end of the world.  Seriously, from the West Corner of Minnesota to the East side of Iowa is a freakin’ haul.  But, I’m glad I made the journey.

Bubbly, humorous and oh-so-kind (she helped me fill my water glass) Editor Molly O’Neill presented two mini workshops for us today.  One was a writer’s boot camp to help us get to know our characters better.  The second was an in-depth look at 25 book beginnings that caught her eye.  It was fabulous to  hear her express why each of these first words made her editor’s heart go pitter patter.

In the end, it was all about connection.  Yes, there are more kinds of connection than simple character connection.  Many more kinds.  To name a few: setting, familiarity and tone.  And once she connects, there is one sure-fire way to get her more deeply engaged in a story.

In her words: “It delights me when a character does something unexpected, but in character.” 

The moral: Writer, know thy character.  Henceforth the boot camp.

On Rejection: It doesn’t mean the story isn’t any good or that a writer can’t writer.  It just means “I personally didn’t react to this in a way that makes me the best advocate.”

So there.  No does not mean we have failed.  I just means our story failed to create a stong enough connection with one particular agent/editor.

And on a whole new level: I met Agent Awesome–sat by him at the opening, as a matter of fact.  I also met another one of his clients.  Imagine that, two clients within six hours of each other.  That’s a pretty big deal when you consider writers the sheer miles it took to get here!  And she’s super sweet.

Well, really, all writers who attend SCBWI conferences are sweet.  I’ve been to five over the years and never once have I found any highschool drama.  There are no prom queens among us.  We are all working toward our dream of putting our writing into the hands of children.  And that is enough to humble the published and support the newbies.

SCBWI rocks…and not just because their directions were impeccable.

Okay, time to decompress with a good book and a little sleep.  More to come tomorrow.  Also, you can follow me in real-time @catewoods on twitter breaks.

hugs and good night

I’ll take one agent with a side of fries…

Shopping for agents and editors is a bit like going out to eat.

There’s the fast food method where purchases are made at the drive-thru based on a picture menu and a price.  I would equate this to a random search on the internet or a bound writer’s market of some kind. 

These are impulse buys at a time when we are rushed and excited and don’t really consider the fine points of an agency or publishing house.  We see something appealing (instant gratification) and subsequently spend our money on heart, not nutrition. 

Sadly, there are too many unreputable individuals in the publishing industry for us to make informed choices at the window.  Often, we choose poorly and end up paying for it in loss of rights, poor representation, or worse yet, being swindled out of our hard-earned money on services that reputable agents and editors do not charge for.

Next we have the smorgasboard buffet purchase where we can physically see and smell the goods rather than relying on a facsimile at the window.  Is the lettuce as crisp as it looks?  Is the pizza topped with one pepperoni in real life or the twenty-seven it shows on the menu?  Does it smell appetizing or greasy? 

Another advantage of walking through the buffet is the ability to see who else is eating there.  If everyone in the room weighs 700 pounds and is dressed in thread-bare clothes, we may consider that the food isn’t healthy or cheap.

If, on the other hand, the customers range from the beautifully dressed and svelt to the Average Joe in a pair of working blue jeans, it may indicate a balance between health and the price tag.

The problem with buffet submissions is that we often waste oddles of time.  Ours and agents.  Not everyone on the buffet will be into our type of story.  However, the temptation to sample everyone is strong and we end up querying our picture books to hard-core sci-fi agencies.  This benefits no one and frustrates everyone. 

Buffet queries often get returned as form rejections.  Submitting in this fashion is a matter of quantity and the return is iffy.  Some writers mass mail up to fifty agents or editors at a time.  If it’s a number’s game, they figure, eventually it will pay off. 

I don’t roll that way.  Instead, I prefer quality over quantity.  This would be the equivalent of finding the right restaraunt to take your beloved to on your first wedding anniversary.  Classy, good reviews, excellent food, specialized. 

This is the kind of agent I want. 

I want to know who I’m submitting to and why.  I want a track record, stellar word-of-mouth, good connections and experience in my genre.  If an offer for representation comes in, I want to say yes without scrambling to see if there is a “better” agent available. 

 So how do we find the five star agents?  The same way we find the five star food joints.  We research.  We speak with others who have worked with them.  We check out books they have repped or published to determine how our manuscript fits their tastes or needs.  We become selective in our search and submission process.

Resources to aid your seach:

  1. A market guide such as Writer’s Market.  There are choices besides the Writer’s Digest based books and can be found in print and online.  These are great starting points in my search. 
  2. Preditors and Editors: a low down on who’s got the goods and who doesn’t in the publishing arena.  If your initial targets score poorly here, it may be time to cross them off your list.  Another resource is Writer Beware. 
  3. Websites geared toward helping authors and agents connect.  Agent Query is incredible.  Query Tracker is spoken highly of in my writing communities in regards to helping writers pinpoint potential markets for their manuscripts. 
  4. Writing organizations that provide a sense of community.  On or offline organizations can be found.  I belong to the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.  They provide timely and accurate information as well as many opportunities for writers of juvenile literature.
  5. Other blogs or websites that cater to the emerging writer and provide well-rounded advice and recommendations.  They can be found everywhere.  Howevever, pay attention to the author of such blogs and sites.  What do they have to gain by providing their POV?  Writer Beware has a section on blogs.
  6. Agent or Publishing House websites.  Be specific in your research.  What do they want and how do they want it?  Their home site should always trump printed info.
  7. Conferences: track down your top choices and see if they’re speaking.  Meeting agents or editors personally can go a long way in understanding their visions and whether you’ll click with them or not.  Editors and agents also give far more specific insight into their tastes and wants than you can find elsewhere.

Consider all the time you spent writing and revising your manuscript.  Do you really want to order a side of fries and a milk shake?  Or do you want to wow your beloved with a prime-rib dinner in a quaint atmosphere?   My advice: 

Seek quality agents and editors to handle your baby.  Don’t just pass it off to the assistant at the drive-thru window.

What’s your advice on finding an agent or editor?  Have you shopped in the wrong place before?  If so, what tips can you provide to help others from making your mistakes?

Universal Appeal

By now some of you have met my DH.  You know he manages an ag dealership and hunts small, helpless animals.  Ostensibly to feed the family, though I’m not sure how Mr. Hare fits into that.  DH’s also a fitness buff.

Two years ago, he insisted on having his own work out room in the basement.  I’m pretty agreeable so I helped design the room and carry the stair master, the treadmill and the rowing machine down the stairs.  I stopped at the Universal Gym. Mostly because it was heavy, but also because I dislike them. 

Which leads me to the question: why do they call it universal?

It has no bicycle saddle, I can’t climb stairs on it and the last time I tried to sprint on it, I fell off and broke my nose.  Okay, that didn’t really happen, but you get the picture.  It is not universal.  Nor does it have universal appeal.  For every ounce of love DH has for it, I equal it in hate.

Literature is no different.  Not one novel in the history of writing has universal appeal.  For every advocate, there is a dissenter.  And yet aspiring writers continue to judge themselves by the books they do not like. 

As much as I like to pretend otherwise, I have fallen into this trap.  Tucked inside my desk drawer is a hideous picture book that I do not like.  I keep it because it inspires me. 

“If ABC got published then surely my XYZ will,” I say as I stuff the book into the far recesses of my desk.

Does this make me a snob?  Maybe.  Most definitely.

But I’ve been trying to change.  Over the years I have learned that the publishing industry is highly complex.  It is not a solo jog on the treadmill.  Rather, it’s a lot like those pulleys and weights on DH’s universal machine.  Everything is interconnected in ways I don’t always see or can’t begin to understand.  Yet my lack of comprehension does not change the fact that these systems must all work together to create the end result.

In writing, I must have talent, ability and perseverence just to get my story onto paper.  This is closely followed by motivation and honesty.  Yep, honesty.  I have to assess my writing with a discerning eye. 

Instead of dragging my old nemesis, The Picture Book, out from the drawer and comparing it to my work, I have to look at my writing indpendently.  They are two completely different pieces of literature.  Someone already believed in that book.  Mine has yet to wow the Publishing Gods.  And, inevitably, my writing will have faults too.  Who knows, it may be tucked away in another aspiring writer’s desk drawer for inspiration.

I hate the reality of that, but it doesn’t stop me from trying.  Sometimes years go by before a manuscript is ready for a serious work out–the one it will get by agents and editors and marketing departments and design staff.  At any stage in the process, someone can decide that my proposed, next best-seller hits them like The Picture Book hits me.   

No writing has universal appeal.  I loved the Bartimaeus Trilogy, my brother didn’t read past the first five pages.  Yet it made the rounds and can be found in a book store near you.

For a manuscript to journey from rough draft to end caps, it must undergo a rigorous work out on the universal machine.  We must provide the best work possible.  Our agents must love, love, love our book enough to gamble next year’s mortgage on it.  Editors, marketing managers and designers must believe in the project enough to put their sweat and ink into it.

If writing is a quick stint on the Stair Master, publishing is a work out on the Universal Gym.  I can tone my manuscript solo, but without the pulleys and weights, my writing will remain in my desk drawer next to The Picture Book.

It’s not to say everyone will love my books after purchasing them with their hard earned money.  I’m smart enough to know that.  However, somewhere along the way, I must have a team willing to pull for me. 

I’m sure that has Universal Appeal!

Do you find yourself comparing your work to published pieces?  If so, what do you take away from the experience?  Does it help you move forward or simply fuel your frustration?

Have you ever found a book with Universal Appeal?  If so, I’d like to know about it.

The Seven Degrees of Beta Readers

Manuscript critique is an integral part in a writer’s journey from rough draft to polished manuscript.  When we critique our own work, it’s called editing.  Each manuscript usually goes through any number of self-critiques by the author.  However, somewhere along the line, we need an extra set of eyes and a fresh perspective to help us really see the nuances of our writing: what works?  What doesn’t? 

I am a firm believer that Beta Readers of all ilk are desirable.  Even the least likely person to articulate their thoughts can make a tremendous impact on a manuscript’s direction–as long as we’re willing to listen.

And so I bring you The Seven Degrees of Beta Readers.

  1. White Belt: Those Who Love You.  Moms and grandmas make great White Belt readers because they boost your ego and encourage you to write more.  White Belts give great back pats and say things like, “Wonderful.  I loved it.”  What they really mean is “I’m proud of you for actually stringing all those words together.”  This is valuable feedback–not on the manuscript, but about you as a writer.  It is encouragement to reach for the stars.
  2. Orange Belt: Friends.  Find the ones who love you enough to read your work, but not enough to lie to you.  Orange Belts can be the first real feedback on your story as a whole.  However, be specific about what you want these Orange Belts to do.  In the past, I’ve handed mine a clean copy and said, “Jot down questions as you go, let me know where you’re confused and certainly please note the typos if they jump out at you.”  This is a great process for finding those niggling plot problems like “How long does it take for maggots to infest a dead fish?” 
  3. Yellow Belt: Expert in the Field.  If you’re writing a religious piece, hit up your clergy for a take on realism.  For a psychological thriller, find a willing psychologist to pinpoint what works and what doesn’t regarding mental health.  Kids make great Yellow Belt readers.  Have middle graders and teens stop reading when they get bored and mark the spot.  Watch the eyes and actions of younger kids when you read aloud.  When attention is lost, your manuscript needs work. 
  4. Blue Belt: Critique Partner.  These can be difficult to find, but they earn their belts by slogging through manuscrips of writing buddies and receiving critiques in return for their efforts.  The internet has made it possible to find like-minded writers anywhere in the world.  Face to face groups are a little more difficult to organize, but can be found by hitting the library and writing conferences.  Keep in mind that this arrangement is the only Beta Reader that is a partnership.  Balance is key.  Critique and be critiqued.  Respect and be respected.
  5. Green Belt: Mentor.  Writers come in varying degrees of experience.  Finding a mentor with experience, time and committment can be magical.  Having a Green Belt on your side makes your learning curve in the writing industry much shorter.  These relationships are more one sided, with the mentor doing the critiquing, guiding and cultivating.  Mentorships can be awarded at writer’s conferences.  That’s how Kate DiCamillo got her start.  They can also be found via social networking.  When something clicks, go with it.
  6. Purple Belt: Writing Instructor/Coach.  Colleges often offer creative writing classes, while some seminars or writing institutes offer correspondence courses.  Freelance coaches can also be found online or at conferences.  With Purple Belts come fees.  The coach is paid to read, critique and shape you as a writer.  Before signing up, make sure you know what you’re getting out of the course and who the instructor is.  You don’t want a bitter failed-writer-turned-teacher to coach you. 
  7. Brown Belt: Freelance Editor.  These Beta Readers should be skilled in the English language and the art of story telling.  Check them out before committing and forking over your hard earned cash.  In return for your money, you should receive professional advice on your manuscript.  Just remember, they don’t love you like a White Belt and they will not lie.  Make sure you are ready for the hard truth before sending out your baby.  If you’re unprepared, dreams can die in the hands of a Brown Belt.  The flip-side is that dreams can also be realized if you’re willing to gut out the process and take yourself seriously.  This degree of reader is not for the faint of heart.

And finally, when your manuscript has gone through various types for readers, each nitpicking their own thing, you are ready for the Master Ninja.  The Black Belts of the writing world.  The highest Beta Reader of them all. 

Your agent or editor. 

These Black Belts love your writing enough to take a gamble on your book.  They offer time, expertise and committment–as long as you are willing to work hard with them on rewrites, marketing and self-promotion.  It is a partnership, a mentorship and, if you’re lucky, a friendship. 

Like all things in writing, The Seven Degrees is not set in stone.  Beta Readers can be fluid.  They can put on different belts depending on the project and earn higher belts as they mature and grow.

The most important thing to remember about Beta Readers is this: every time someone reads your writing, they are doing you a favor–whether you like the outcome or not.  Getting back a less than stellar critique doesn’t negate the time and attention put into it. 

Be specific about what you want and realistic about what you’ll get.  Advice is yours to take or ditch.  Consider the critique carefully and learn what you can from the input, even if you don’t agree with it. 

And always, thank your Beta Reader with a smile, no matter which belt they wear. 

~cat