Category Archives: SCBWI

The beauty of ideas

I attended another lovely workshop at the Hudson Library (@HudsonLibr) this week in their “Writing to Publish” series. This one was veteran children’s author Tricia Springstubb (@Springstubb), who had great stories to tell, and plenty of advice to dish out.

I’ll write up a full report on what I learned soon, but I wanted to share one gem of a quote that Ms. Springstubb gave early on in her presentation. The poetry of these words struck me, and now I will think of pebbles every time I have a new idea:

Ideas are pebbles to polish, kernels to pop, sparks to fan.
— Tricia Springstubb

She said that, of course, some pebbles aren’t worth polishing, but when you find one that is, it’s a beautiful transformation. So here’s to a handful of pebbles, with at least a few worth polishing!

Happy writing!

P.S. Thanks to Tricia Springstubb and the Hudson Library for this wonderful, inspiring event.

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Photo of hands with stones by Creative Vix on Stocksnap.io

Every part of the journey is yours. Even the parts you did not want.

After attending my first writers’ conference, I came away inspired, and with a bucketload of great ideas! Of course, I won’t post the content of anyone’s actual presentation, as that’s not mine to share. However, I hope you benefit from these thoughts on what I learned, and some ideas on how I plan to apply them in my own journey. This is the tenth in a series of posts on lessons learned from the SCBWI Northern Ohio 2017 Conference.

Lesson 10: “It’s not about what happens to you. It’s about what you do with what happens to you.”

The closing session was a lovely talk by Jill Santopolo (@jillsantopolo) that she’d titled, “Off the Beaten Path.” She told the story of expectation and heartbreak, discovery and hope that got her to where she is today. She told us that it wasn’t what she planned, but  revealed that she’s had some amazing opportunities because of the journey she has taken.

By now, you may have noticed a theme appearing throughout these posts: the whole conference was about the individual writer’s journey. This session reinforced the same messages I’d been hearing throughout the day. “Don’t worry about anyone else’s career. Don’t worry about artificial timelines. Follow your heart.”

No matter where your road takes you, it’s not a detour. It’s all part of the journey.

But my favorite part of the presentation was Jill Santopolo’s final piece of advice, given in three parts:

  • Be kind to yourself.
  • Write every day if you can.
  • Write the story that only you can write.

It’s so easy to get down on yourself on the days when your story doesn’t feel good enough. Or the days when the time you spend moving words from your head to the page feels wasted. These last three sentences struck a chord with me because I’m not always kind to myself, and that sometimes gets in the way of me writing.

Result: Jill Santopolo helped me give myself permission to write my story without thinking about whether it’s ‘good enough.’ Just the act of writing is worth doing, if only to feed my inner creative spirit.

I’ll keep you posted as I make progress. In the meantime, please share ways you’ve found to be kind to yourself and what keeps you going.

Happy writing!

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Photo of train journey by Jayakumar Ananthan on Unsplash

Persistence is half the journey

After attending my first writers’ conference, I came away inspired, and with a bucketload of great ideas! Of course, I won’t post the content of anyone’s actual presentation, as that’s not mine to share. However, I hope you benefit from these thoughts on what I learned, and some ideas on how I plan to apply them in my own journey. This is the ninth in a series of posts on lessons learned from the SCBWI Northern Ohio 2017 Conference.

Lesson 9: “It’s a process. It’s a journey. Celebrate every step of the way as you work to make your story the best it can be.”

The penultimate session of the day was a panel discussion featuring Jennifer Wills (@WillsWork4Books), Linda Sue Park (@lindasuepark), Jill Santopolo (@jillsantopolo), and Brett Duquette (@brettduquette). They had tons of great advice, so I’m just going to share a bunch of random points, in no particular order:

  • Don’t sell your soul. If someone says “I’d be willing to publish if you change your main character’s name… and also all of the key plot points,” then you’re not really telling your story any more, are you?
  • When you get a rejection, look for the gems – what did they like? What can you improve?
  • The story is more important than your feelings. Making the story the best it can be is what matters, and if you let your feelings get hurt during the process you’re missing the point.
  • Don’t look sideways, or worry about what anyone else is doing (i.e. if they’re ‘ahead’ of you in the writing or publishing process). It’s your story. It’s your journey.
  • Art is not a competition, and we all want more stories, not fewer. Everyone you approach throughout the process wants stories to be successful, so instead of killing your story, find ways to improve it.
But.. that journey has sooo many steps. How am I going to make it that far?

Long story short:

Don’t give up. Sometimes, it feels like no one likes your stuff. Or like your story will never improve. Or like everyone else is getting to the end faster than you. Or like it’s too hard of a journey and you just want to get off the train. But if you improve, even by increments, then the journey was worth it.

Result: I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating – when the “I’m never going to be published” blues hit, I just need to pull up my big girl pants and take the steps I can to move forward.

I’ll keep you posted as I make progress. In the meantime, I’d love to be inspired by a story about a time when you thought your journey was over only to realize you had it in you to keep going.

Happy writing, editing, querying, publishing, and journeying!

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Photo of footprints in the snow by Bartosz Gorlewicz on Unsplash

To reel in your audience, you need to start with good bait

After attending my first writers’ conference, I came away inspired, and with a bucketload of great ideas! Of course, I won’t post the content of anyone’s actual presentation, as that’s not mine to share. However, I hope you benefit from these thoughts on what I learned, and some ideas on how I plan to apply them in my own journey. This is the eighth in a series of posts on lessons learned from the SCBWI Northern Ohio 2017 Conference.

Lesson 8: “You have to ask yourself what makes your story unique.”

The eighth session I attend was with Linda Camacho (@LindaRandom), the self-same intrepid agent with Prospect Agency who had kindly critiqued my work earlier in the day. The session was about how to stand out in the YA market, and I’ll give you the high level right here up front: there’s not one single right answer.

She gave us a variety of examples that taught various lessons, all of which add up to a standout story. One of her points that stuck with me especially was when she asked us to think of what makes our writing unique. “If the answer is ‘nothing,’” she said, “how can you tell the story in a different way?”

I think what especially struck me was that I hadn’t really thought about changing my writing for the market. I’d thought about telling the story I had to tell. But, from a pragmatic point of view, she’s totally right. A story that sounds just like all the other stories is hardly going to catch the attention of a publisher or reader.

The thing that makes your story different is the thing that’s going to draw your audience in.

Long story short:

Bait the hook. Unique characters, interesting points of view, a question that pulls you into the story – all are important pieces of the puzzle when you’re coming up with a concept that will catch the eye of your audience. You still need to write what you’re passionate about, but maybe be aware of your value proposition – why would someone trade their time and money for your story?

Result: I still plan to tell my story my way, but maybe ‘my way’ has some elasticity that I could take advantage of. I’ve got to consider what makes me unique, and push the boundaries.

I’ll keep you posted as I make progress. In the meantime, I’d love to hear about what makes you, and your story, unique.

Happy writing!

Photo of fish by Brenna Hogan on Unsplash
Photo of pumpkins by Kyaw Tun on Unsplash

And how does that make you feel?

After attending my first writers’ conference, I came away inspired, and with a bucketload of great ideas! Of course, I won’t post the content of anyone’s actual presentation, as that’s not mine to share. However, I hope you benefit from these thoughts on what I learned, and some ideas on how I plan to apply them in my own journey. This is the seventh in a series of posts on lessons learned from the SCBWI Northern Ohio 2017 Conference.

Lesson 7: “Most manuscripts are rejected because there’s no emotional connection with the main character.”

In my seventh session, Vicki Selvaggio (@vselvaggio1), Associate Agent for The Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency, discussed how to make our stories into cohesive journeys. She walked us through the parts of the story and the key considerations we need to make for each, and I came away with some ideas about how to add depth to my story and characters.

The biggest point that caught my attention, though, was her quote above about why manuscripts are rejected. I realized that, no matter how amazing my prose, no matter how fun my world, if an agent or publisher doesn’t connect emotionally with my main character, I’m sunk.

Does your main character make you want to hold on tight and go on an adventure? Or do they leave you feeling… meh?

Long story short:

Nobody’s perfect. If your main character seems that way, they’ll probably come off as flat. Make them more of a real person and it will be easier to connect, and probably easier to get published.

Result: I’m going to take a good, hard look at my character, and talk to my beta readers about why they did or didn’t connect with her emotionally. Then I’m going to take Vicki’s advice and add further depth.

I’ll keep you posted as I make progress. In the meantime, please tell me what type of character you connect with the most and why, or share an example of a character you couldn’t connect with.

Happy writing!

Crying man photo by Tom Pumford on Unsplash
Hands photo by freestocks.org on Unsplash

All’s fair in love and publishing

After attending my first writers’ conference, I came away inspired, and with a bucketload of great ideas! Of course, I won’t post the content of anyone’s actual presentation, as that’s not mine to share. However, I hope you benefit from these thoughts on what I learned, and some ideas on how I plan to apply them in my own journey. This is the sixth in a series of posts on lessons learned from the SCBWI Northern Ohio 2017 Conference.

Lesson 6: “I have to love something if I’m going to advocate for it.”

My sixth session of the conference was a plenary by Brett Duquette (@brettduquette), Senior Editor at Sterling Publishing, on the publishing process from acquisition to publication. He talked about his team structure, and how each piece fits into the puzzle of determining what books they’ll choose to publish, and how the process works. The biggest lesson wasn’t exactly a surprise, but was definitely something I hadn’t thought much about.

One of his points was that the publishing process takes time. The books he’s trying to acquire now won’t be published until 2018 or even 2019. Therefore, if an editor wants to take your book on, they will have to spend a lot of time and energy convincing others that your vision is worth pursuing. They’ll become your advocate from that end of the process.

Long story short:

You need a strong vision for your story, and you need the confidence to convince others of it. And you need the patience to walk people through it. And you need the thick skin to understand that not everyone is going to get it. And you need the conviction that if an editor doesn’t get it right away, they might not be the right fit.

Result: Each little piece of the process has helped me realize I need to build my own confidence in my story. If I don’t believe in me, I can’t expect other people to believe. Again, nothing I didn’t know, but it helps to hear it from the pros.

I’ll keep you posted as I make progress. In the meantime, please share something surprising, but not surprising, about your own writing/editing/publishing journey.

Happy writing!

The time might not be now

After attending my first writers’ conference, I came away inspired, and with a bucketload of great ideas! Of course, I won’t post the content of anyone’s actual presentation, as that’s not mine to share. However, I hope you benefit from these thoughts on what I learned, and some ideas on how I plan to apply them in my own journey. This is the fifth in a series of posts on lessons learned from the SCBWI Northern Ohio 2017 Conference.

Lesson 5: “But do we need to know it now?”

For my fifth lesson, I opted to do a one-on-one critique with Linda Camacho (@LindaRandom) an agent with Prospect Agency.

We had a lovely 15-minute chat that went all over the board, and much of it was personal to my story. However, I’d like to share a tip she suggested (in regards to showing rather than telling, which seems to be a problem of mine) that really stuck with me and felt universally helpful.

When you’re looking at the amount you’re telling in terms of backstory, ask yourself these two questions:
1) Is this something we actually need to know to further the story? If no, delete. If yes…
2) Do we need to know it now?If no, delete. If yes, find a way to work into dialogue if possible, or pare it down to bare bones.

Of course you want to tell all of the nuances of your character that you spent hours and days and weeks building. But if the readers don’t need to know something, it’s okay to just hint at it, or leave it out altogether. If they do need to know it, are you giving it in an information dump? Does it even really make sense to be in that particular part of the story?

Long story short:

Don’t dump. Yes, you want to get your key points across, but resist the urge to drop backstory on your readers like a load of bricks. Parcel it out, in conversation as much as possible, and only give the most important tidbits. Save the reason your character will only wear white socks for a time when that fact actually helps forward the story.

Result: I’ve got some editing to do. Not news, but now I have one more tool to help me do it.

I’ll keep you posted as I make progress. In the meantime, let me know a favorite nuance you created for a character that you can’t find a way to work naturally into your story.

Happy editing!

Photo by Alex Holyoake at Stocksnap.io

He who smelt it… had a more interesting story.

After attending my first writers’ conference, I came away inspired, and with a bucketload of great ideas! Of course, I won’t post the content of anyone’s actual presentation, as that’s not mine to share. However, I hope you benefit from these thoughts on what I learned, and some ideas on how I plan to apply them in my own journey. This is the fourth in a series of posts on lessons learned from the SCBWI Northern Ohio 2017 Conference.

Lesson 4: “Show, don’t tell.”

My fourth session of the conference was a self-editing seminar run by Gloria Adams and Jean Daigneau of Two-4-One Kid Critiques. They offer services to help aspiring authors edit their manuscripts ahead of submission or self-publication.

This is not the first, nor will it be the last, session I’ve attended on self editing. Each time I get additional nuggets that make me a better editor. Though they gave out a plethora of great tips, most of them lead back to the same point: show, don’t tell.

One key example of this was action verbs. They began the session talking about using the strongest possible word. Did your character cry? Or did she weep? Or were her shoulders shaking with sobs? They recommended searching your work for passive verbs (by searching for words like “was” and “is”) and replacing with better active verbs.

Another was adding sensory-specific imagery. Did your character bite her lip? If so, did she bite hard enough to draw blood? What did the blood taste like? What could she smell? What did her teeth feel like, pricking into the soft skin of her lip? They recommended highlighting sensory descriptors throughout your work with different colors so you can see how often you use each of the senses.

Don’t just stop at “pretty.” What do the flowers smell like? How do they feel in her hands? What do they remind her of?

Long story short:

Editing is a process with many steps, but it’s do-able if you look for more ways to show and not tell. They gave plenty more examples of ways to self edit, and you can even hire professionals, such as the two amazing ladies who gave the talk, to help you through the process.

Result: I’m certainly going to start rooting out passive verbs and looking for ways to insert more sensory language in my own manuscript.

I’ll keep you posted as I make progress. In the meantime, please feel free to post your own self editing tips, or share an egregious example of weak verbs or boring language you were able to move past once you edited.

Happy editing!

Notebook Photo by Mona Eendra on Unsplash
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Agents are people, too.

After attending my first writers’ conference, I came away inspired, and with a bucketload of great ideas! Of course, I won’t post the content of anyone’s actual presentation, as that’s not mine to share. However, I hope you benefit from these thoughts on what I learned, and some ideas on how I plan to apply them in my own journey. This is the third in a series of posts on lessons learned from the SCBWI Northern Ohio 2017 Conference.

Lesson 3: “Insulting the agent you’re querying, before or after the no, is a bad idea.”

I attended a session on writing a good query letter with agent Jennifer Wills (@WillsWork4Books). While I’ve attended other query letter talks and walked into the session thinking I already knew most of what she was going to say, I was hoping to gain a few good nuggets. I was blown away by the great amount of information she shared, and new angles on some of the things I’d heard before. My notes pages are packed with tips and takeaways, and I got more than one good laugh from her session.

Though there were plenty of takeaways, here are two key points that stood out for me:

1) Subject lines

I hadn’t heard, nor even thought about, the subject line of a query email. Combing through hundreds of emails, some of which are queries and some not, Jennifer suggested that making it short, sweet, and clear was the best way to go. Her ideal email subject line would be “Query: Title/Author/Genre” and the name of the conference where you met, if applicable. That’s it.

2) There’s a long list of “don’ts”

Jennifer had us giggling at the list of things NOT to do, from sending a query that asks if it’s okay to query, to telling the agent that your book still needs work but you’re sending anyway. (Hint: if you think your book still needs enough work to be worth mentioning, it’s not ready to send.) But the one that completely astounded me is how rude some people can be towards agents.

She shared a few stories, and we sat in shocked silence hearing how some people start rude (you’ve never seen anything this good, and you’d be stupid not to take it) and others get rude upon rejection (you must be stupid since you passed up this opportunity, and you’ll never get it again).

Her advice was to assume that the agent is also a person. That they are doing their best to do their job. That their rejection isn’t personal, but there are more queries than there is time to do anything about them, and you’re essentially asking a stranger to do something for you.

In the end, it’s like a relationship – just like a person you want to date, the agent you want to work with doesn’t owe you anything. If they reject you and you think it was undeserved, then they’re probably not the right match for you. And badmouthing them, to their face, to your friends, or on social media, isn’t going to make it better. At best, it makes you look bad. At worst, others will stay away because you seem like someone who won’t treat them well.

Yep, rejection hurts. But that’s no reason to burn bridges.

Long story short:

It turns out agents are actually just people. They put their pants on one leg at a time, just like the rest of us. They have full email inboxes, just like the rest of us. And they don’t like to be yelled at or insulted, particularly by someone who’s asking for something.

Result: I was never going to be intentionally insulting, but now I’m going to make it a point to be especially nice. Plus, I know what my email subject line is going to be.

I’ll keep you posted as I make progress. If you have any great stories about querying you’d like to share, I’d love to hear ‘em.

Happy querying!

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The details that make the story

After attending my first writers’ conference, I came away inspired, and with a bucketload of great ideas! Of course, I won’t post the content of anyone’s actual presentation, as that’s not mine to share. However, I hope you benefit from these thoughts on what I learned, and some ideas on how I plan to apply them in my own journey. This is the second in a series of posts on lessons learned from the SCBWI Northern Ohio 2017 Conference.

Lesson 2: “I did not need to think of a new story. I only needed to create the details.”

My second lesson came from opening remarks given by Newberry Medal Award-winning author Linda Sue Park (@lindasuepark). The first thing you should know about her is that she’s really funny and a great storyteller. Second, while she has given a voice to Koreans and Korean-Americans in many of her stories, she also loves baseball, cooking, knitting, and many other things that make her unique.

She shared a quote about two basic plot structures (attributed either to John Gardner or Joseph Campbell depending on the reference you use):

  1. A stranger comes to town
  2. A hero goes on a journey
Is she a hero going on a journey or a stranger coming to town? You decide.

What she loved about this was the freedom that comes with it: if there are indeed only two kinds of plots, all she had to do was fill in her own details. She encouraged passion for the details, and pointed us to the Fuse8 blog by Librarian Betsy Bird (@fuse8) as an example of details (in this case knitting needles) that were wrong.

Her point, and well taken, is that the people who are passionate about a particular field will definitely notice when you get it wrong. If you’re going to write about something that isn’t your field, you should do so much research that you become a part of that community. And you almost certainly already have passions you could write about that you would be frustrated with if someone else got wrong. The devil, so we’ve heard, is in the details.

Long story short:

You’re unique, and so am I. Though I had heard it before, I was reinforced in the knowledge that each of us has our own story to tell, and we are the only ones who can tell it our way. We should write something that ignites our passion, that we spend the time to know well.

Result: I’m going to continue to write my passion, and know that telling a story my way is the only way I can, or should, try to tell it. And I’m going to be sure to get the details right.

I’ll keep you posted as I make progress. In the meantime, please share something you’re passionate about that has come through in your writing. Or tell me your story about the girl in the photo above…

Happy writing!