Tag Archives: scbwi

Dessert from SCBWI Iowa

Aaand I’m home.

 I’m also motivated, energized and a whole lot smarter about what’s going in the children’s lit biz.  But that comes later.  What I wanted to share today is the agent/writer connection.

Conferences can be expensive and time consuming.  For me, living in the very, prairie corner of Minnesota where Iowa meets South Dakota, writer’s conferences are few and far between.  Not to mention I typically have to drive, drive and drive some more.  While I have been all shades of green over the Iowa chapter of SCBWI, I’ve never been able to justify the time (three days away from my fam), the travel (fourteen hours round-trip) and the money ($175 for the conference, three tanks of gas and hotel) to actually register and attend.

Yet this year, I noted my agent was going to be a speaker and HAD to go. 

Some writers are lucky enough to meet with their agents before signing or on a fairly regular basis after their working relationship begins.  But, being from the interior of the earth, this is not a likely scenario for me or many Midwestern writers, for that matter.  So when the opportunity arose, I nabbed it.

It was the single most amazing moment in my career to date.

Even better than receiving an offer for representation was actually holding a conversation with my partner in crime, my biggest cheerleader and my strongest advocate in the business—face to face.

Before querying agents, I researched heavily.  I didn’t just check out Preditors & Editors.  Nor did I simply read a blurb or two online—an agent data base and agency websites.  My research took months.  It started with the Agent Query data base then moved to a print copy of Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market.  If there’s a writer’s site with agent info, I hit it.  Blog commentary?  Read it.  Articles?  I checked them all.

By the time I started querying I had narrowed down my search to those who fit my “musts” and my “wants”.  They also had to want what I had to offer.  Needless to say, my A list was very small.  My B list slightly smaller and my C list added just enough to include a total of about 20 agents.  What can I say?  I’m picky.

I guess I figured that if I was going to partner with somebody, I wanted to be compatible.  And yet, paper doesn’t tell all.  Even a phone conversation can be misleading.  Think about it in terms of friendships.  Some friends are casual, others close.  Some friends are for the moment and others are life-long.  They all have their place in our lives and they are all important, yet we don’t always get a sense of this the first time we meet them.

What I had done during my search was to distill the qualities that mattered to me as a writer and applied them to my agent search.  No point in finding a casual friendship if what I really needed was life-long connections.

And I got lucky.  My offer came from a TOP agent on my A list.  Okay, I only subbed to my A’s with a B or two thrown in to satisfy conventional wisdom.  But my thought was this: “I know I have a solid query.  It’s unique and breaks every rule in the book, but it works—for my manuscript.  So why target agents who had only some of my musts and wants when I could target agents who had everything I wanted?”

But it wasn’t until I actually met Agent Awesome this weekend that I realized just how lucky I got.  We share the same quirky sense of humor—trust me, this is important.  It’s why I married my DH.  He’s a gentleman through and through—a consummate professional.  Our visions for my career align so nicely and the enthusiasm he shows for my writing is astounding.  In its totality, this does not come across on paper, during the research period or even during the offer stage. 

Like I told my licensing social worker for my preschool, “I could be the worst person in the world to work with kids, but if I know how to play the game, I can come across looking like Mary Poppins.” 

The same goes for your agent search.  Dig deep.  Deeper than you believe is possible to find all the dirt, not just the raves.  Nobody wants to be fooled into an artistic partnership with someone who is Jeffery Dahmer in disguise. 

Don’t settle for an agent who only reps picture books when the bulk of your work is YA.  It will be difficult to build career relationships this way.  Don’t accept an offer from an editorial agent when all you want is a therapist to support your journey, not help change your destiny.  But above all, don’t even query if you feel the fit won’t be right. 

While some writers believe that snagging an agent is a numbers game—the more I send out, the bigger the odds—I come at if from an entirely different angle.  If you do your research and write the best query and best manuscript you are capable of, the stars will align and provide you with your dream agent.  Because in reality, you won’t sub to any who aren’t.

And above all else, if you have the chance to meet your agent in person, do.  No matter the cost or time.  It is the single best thing you can do to ensure your partnership is exactly what you want and need it to be.

How do you research your potential agents?  How do you define your wants versus your needs?  What is important to you in an agent?

A Second Helping of SCBWI Love

Wow!  Fourteen hours of speakers and sessions, good food and friend-making is…just wow!

Big Picture Book Industry Tip: Your story must be started by page 10.  If you are still writing details and your MC isn’t on his/her journey, then consider a rewrite.  More from Candace Fleming at a later date.

Editor Allie Brydon speaks on sloshing out of the slush pile.  Her big tip on writing for kids?  “Write simpler, not simplistic.” 

Editor Molly O’Neill presented the business side of the industry.  Her mantra, “Write your own story, not someone else’s.”  And no, she doesn’t mean churn out memoirs.  She simply means that writers need to be original in their own works.  We need to find our own stories and storytelling from within us.

Diane Muldrow, Editorial Director of Golden Books/Random House and author, recapped the amazing history of children’s literature in America.  If you don’t know it, study it.  You’ll have a much deeper understanding and appreciation of what it means to write for kids. 

I can’t say enough about Lin Oliver.  I sat by her at lunch and she’s sweet and charming and concerned and caring and supportive and amazing and…well, you get the picture.  Did I mention she’s also the co-founder of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators?  Yeah, that was totally cool!

I’ve learned oodles today and can’t wait to digest it all. 

It’s also ten thirty and I have another five hours of conference tomorrow followed by a seven hour drive home. 

Time for bed!

PS.  I’d love to totally dish on my agent cuz he rocks my socks off.  We had several delightful, insightful and just plain fun conversations today.  Can’t wait to listen to him present tomorrow. 

PPS.  Can I just say wow?!?!?!

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

Conference Questions and a Shout Out!

A trip through the frozen corn fields of Minnesota and Iowa are in my future.  On April Fool’s Day, I will journey to the Quad Cities to attend a writer’s conference of epic proportion.

Not only does the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators have a great line-up, but one of the speakers is my very own agent.

Be still my heart!

In any case, I will keep my juvenile lit fans posted about trends and news that I gather from this illustrious event.  I will also pass along any and all info on the publishing business as a whole.  One of the speakers is presenting on marketing and self-promotion.  You can bet I’ll be scribbling notes for that one.

So, I ask, my dear readers, are there any burning questions you would like me to keep my ears open for?  I will happily compile a list of questions or concerns and see if I can ferret out the answers over three amazing days with agents, editors, authors and illustrators.

Likewise, any tips on meeting one’s agent face to face would be appreciated.  I already have things like eat no lettuce, wipe sweaty palms off before shaking hands and don’t vomit on Agent Awesome, but would be open to any other words of wisdom you’d like to pass along.

Oh yeah, and speaking of agents, I’d love to share the good news.  Another one of my rockin’ AQ writer friends has landed an agent to rep her incredible young adult novel.  Mindy is amazingly sweet, absolutely hilarious and has more talent than I have dust bunnies.  If you’d like to get in on the ground floor of her writing journey, please pop on over to her very new blog: Writer, Writer, Pants on Fire.

Know any other great writers, good news or industry info?  Inquiring minds want to know!

Price Check on Aisle 3: rating social groups

Price is one of the things I look for when buying something from the store.  Quality, durability and functionality also play a big role in what I buy and why.

As a member of several online writing communities, I notice that I am more active in some than in others.  If I were to buy them at Walmart, I’d have a value assessed to them so I knew which ones were worth my hard-earned cash.

One of my faves–and I won’t lie to make other networks feel good–is Agent Query.  AQ has a vast array of writers.  Some have very recently taken pen in hand, while others are seasoned veterans.  My only disappointment in the AQ arena is that their juvenile lit groups are not as active as I would like them to be.  I know, selfish, but there you have it.

Another great resource and community is the SCBWI.  The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators obviously provides me with the one thing AQ does not–child centric conversation and commiseration.

Likewise for Verla Kay and the BlueBoards.

Then there’s twitter and Facebook.  Both of which I fail at miserably.  While I love, love, love the tight writing of twitter, I don’t get on there as much as I should or provide great insight like I could.  Again, I’ve been limited in my contact over there and it is 100% my fault.

Facebook.  Hmmm.

I used to participate in a very active group of NaNoBuddies on Live Journal, but then they changed some things and, unless I upgraded to a paid membership, I had to sit through annoying video ads EVERYTIME I switched pages.  This saddens me to no end.

NaNoWriMo is my staple during the months of October, November and early December.  I live there.  I love there and I never want to leave.  I’m sure my family is relieved when NaNoSeason is over.  Obviously the downfall to this community is that it is filled with crazy wannabe writers who jump into the writing world feet first and fizzle out as the month progresses.  Definitely not a long-term support.  More like therapy for the insane! 

And blogging.  The love of my writing life.  I could blog all day if it didn’t feel like such a time sucker.  I am heartbroken when I don’t get to visit my fellow bloggers like I want to. 

Writer’s Digest Community–the name speaks for itself.  As an avid reader of the magazine for half my life, I can’t say enough about the integrity of its backer.  However, as a whole, I have found that interaction is a bit slower and somewhat one-sided than some of the other sites I frequent.  Though I must say my time on there has been well worth it in finding fellow writer and blogger, Elisa!

I won’t rate my social network groups, as I love them all for various reasons.  However, the fact that I will be starting back to work (outside my house) full-time means that I will have to prioritize.

Price check on aisle three.  How do you decide which communities to engage in?  Why do you spend more time in some than in others?  If you had to pick just one, could you do it, or would you find yourself cheating as time went on?