Writing Questions?

Every once in a while, I cast around for writing questions that my readers have so I can know what’s on your minds. With my trip to Japan and Hong Kong coming up, I want to pre-load the blog with some Q&A. So what’s going on? What are you dying to know?

Do we want to talk queries? Craft? Publishing? Getting an agent? Anything. Just ask away in the comments.

Writing Book Giveaway: WRITING AND SELLING THE YA NOVEL by K.L. Going

I had so many responses on my post about giving away a copy of the 2012 CHILDREN’S WRITER’S AND ILLUSTRATOR’S MARKET edited by Chuck Sambuchino (I know only one of you won it…the rest should go out and buy it immediately, read it, love it, then leave glowing Amazon and Goodreads reviews), that I wanted to give away another craft book on the blog that I’ve recently read and really enjoyed. Clearly, you guys are craving some craft books!

This one is WRITING AND SELLING THE YA NOVEL by novelist K.L. Going, out from Writer’s Digest Books, but it’s also great for writers of middle grade. One of my favorite small things in this book is a list of fantastic considerations when writing historical — it’s a checklist of all those small things you don’t necessarily think about immediately when world-building. She also does a great job of putting you in the head of teen readers and including feedback from real teens on the books they like, the characters they bond with, etc. It’s a great resource by a very talented fiction writer.

It’s the usual drill for book giveaways. Leave a comment on this entry to win. No international shipping, so if you live outside the US, enlist a buddy who can receive the book on your behalf. Don’t worry about an email address, just enter it in the comment field that asks for it and know that it will be for my eyes only…it won’t be published on the site. Deadline for entries is October 5th at midnight, Eastern time. I’ll announce a winner on October 6th!

Critique Connection and Webinar

Howdy, readers! Summer has been a bit slow on the blog. Do not fear. After Labor Day, starting next Wednesday, September 7th, the posts will once again be full steam ahead. In the meantime, I’ve been meaning to open the blog up to another critique connection post since early summer, and here it is.

Before I do, let me tell you about the latest Writer’s Digest webinar I’m doing. In July, I offered a picture book craft intensive, focusing very specifically on writing for the youngest readers. It was my first “specialized” webinar and it was an overwhelming success. (Thank you so much to everyone who listened to that one! I’m digging into critiques for it right now!) On September 15th at 1 p.m. Eastern, I am offering a Middle Grade and Young Adult Craft Intensive webinar.

This 90-minute webinar will focus exclusively into the craft of writing fiction for the middle grade and young adult audience. I’ll talk about the marketplace, strategies to really make your novel stand out in the slush, character, plotting, tension, description, setting, voice, submissions, queries, and much more. It’s the first time I’ll be focusing exclusively on MG and YA, so even if you’ve taken one of my webinars before, you will be getting brand new content. You can sign up by clicking here.

The bonus of my webinars, as many of you already know, is that they include a critique from me for every registered student. For this one, I will read and critique the first 500 words of your MG or YA novel (one project per student, please). Instructions for submitting will come when you register for the webinar.

If you’re having scheduling issues with the time or date, don’t worry. By signing up, you will receive a recording of the webinar (emailed about one week after the original webinar date), you will have the same chance to ask questions as the other students, and you will still get your critique. So sign up even if the time or date doesn’t work for you!

This brings us to Critique Connection. I’ve done these posts in the past and leave the comments open so that you can connect with potential critique partners. Here’s what you need to post:

  1. Your genre (ie: fantasy, paranormal, realistic, historical, etc.)
  2. Your audience (ie: picture book, MG, YA, etc.)
  3. A little about your manuscript (practice your one-line “elevator pitch”)
  4. What you want out of the experience (a critique of your XX,000-word mss., someone to read your first 3 chapters, help with your query letter, etc.)
  5. Your email address for potential partners to contact you (I’d type it in the following format: mary at kidlit dot com so that you avoid spam bots.)

Only post a comment for this entry if you are looking for a critique partner. I will leave it up until after Labor Day to get the most exposure for it. And while you’re thinking of getting critique, do sign up for my webinar!

Blogs, Get Your Blogs!

I’m sure some of you could see this coming. Long story short: I’m going to be branching out with not one but two new blogs. One now, one next month. I don’t expect a lot of my Kidlit audience to transfer over, because of the new blogs’ (in one case) slightly related and (in another case) not-at-all-related subject matters, but I’m writing about them here so that you know what I’ve been up to lately and so you can see some new directions in my career. I’m also telling you about my other online dalliances so you’ll come visit me and tell your friends.

The first blog, which I’m launching right this second is an extension of the Kidlit site but for digital children’s books and story apps, called…drumroll please

KidlitApps.com!

An obvious choice, right? You’ll see and immediately recognize the playful matching header by my client Josh Ferrin. Here, I’ll be posting app reviews, tech news, developer thoughts, industry insights, and the things I learn from diving headfirst into the digital book side of publishing, both as an agent as as a former dot-commer from the Silicon Valley. My goal for this blog is to ask a lot of digital book questions from the publishing/client advocate perspective. I’m breaking it out into a separate site because I think some of you guys would quickly tire of all the tech blah blah blah in favor of my usual writing/publishing/agenting tips.

The second blog is one I won’t talk about yet. It will keep the “…lit.com” branding of the other two blogs, but it will be about a totally different area of publishing and, gasp, one that lies outside the children’s book realm. (No, don’t worry, I will never, ever leave children’s books!) This will be about a special niche that is a sweetheart love of mine, and that I am going to start working on in the near future. This change isn’t inspired by anything major, really, or anything bad. My career in kidlit is going really well. I’m super happy. I love my kidlit contacts. So why this change? I’m sick of ignoring my life’s other great passion. More on that soon. Cue the mysterious music…

Out of wild curiosity, I’d love to know what my readers think this area of publishing might be. It’s something I have mentioned on this blog before. And, no, it’s not Green Day publishing. (Though I did go see American Idiot with Billie Joe Armstrong last night… I still hate the “story” of this one, but seeing Billie Joe on a stage again gave me crazy teen flashbacks.) Or Stephen Sondheim publishing. (I wish!) There’s not a large enough market sector of books about Green Day or Sondheim to keep a literary agent productive, unless you’re Green Day’s or Sondheim’s agent, though Sondheim’s Knopf books (FINISHING THE HAT is the first) are gorgeous. Please leave your guesses in the comments! 🙂

How does that change things here at Kidlit? You’ll hardly notice. But it will change my schedule, effective immediately. Before this, I blogged at Kidlit on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. In order to make these new blog ventures work, I’ll have to take one Kidlit day away. My new blogging schedule will be:

Monday: Kidlit

Tuesday: KidlitApps

Wednesday: Kidlit

Thursday: KidlitApps

Friday: Secret Project of Mystery and Wonder / The occasional article round-up, conference post, or random thing over at Kidlit

Plus, I have about two years of older posts here on Kidlit that are evergreen. I’m going to do a better job of highlighting those for my new guests while still adding content for my loyal, longtime readers. This way, I also won’t run out of things to talk about! More soon. In short, I’m ambitious and maniacally excited, as usual, and can’t wait to see what other mischief I can cause on “teh interwebs.” We’ll see how it goes, and you’ll hear more soon. In the meantime, check out my latest over at KidlitApps.com!

What Are Your Writing Resolutions?

I’m a huge believer in setting goals and declaring intentions, especially during the holidays, when the whiff of impending change is in the air. This has been a fantastic year for me, and I’m happily looking back at all my travel, at all the great new books that I’ve gotten under contract this year, all the fantastic new clients, and all of the wonderful editor contacts I’ve made.

What’s on the plate for 2011? A lot more sales! New clients, new friends, new contacts, new business opportunities. New travel, too. As of today, I’ve been to 27 of 50 states (plus Puerto Rico and Washington DC). In 2011, I’ll be speaking in new states (Indiana, anyone?) and new countries (the SCBWI has invited me Japan and Hong Kong!!!!!!!!). See my events page for what I’ve booked so far.

In 2011, I’ll also have a new marketing intern, I hope. Don’t forget…I’m still actively looking at applications! If you want to apply or know anyone who’s perfect for the job, read all about this opportunity here.

I’ve spent some time these last few weeks thinking and journaling about my goals. I even want to start writing again next year, after about six months off. What about your goals? What do you all want to learn, do, and achieve in 2011? Pour them out! What questions are still nagging you? Ask them! With 2010 wrapping up, what would you like to share? I’m so blessed and grateful to have this great community of readers on the blog. Get to know each other. And if anyone is still looking for a critique partner for the holidays, don’t be shy!

Check back here on Friday for my Holiday Gift Guide…books I recommend for the writers, readers, and kidlit enthusiasts in your life. (It’s totally cool to get these books for yourself, of course!)

Questions?

I periodically interrupt my scheduled programming to probe my readers for questions that they want answered. It seems like I have a lot of new readers these days — a lot of my comments are from first timers who have never commented before — and so I want to stay on top of what you want to know.

Leave your burning questions about children’s books, the agent search, writing, querying, publishing, etc. in the comments and I will use them to spark future posts.

Also, my Writer’s Digest webinar is tomorrow! Registration is still open and I am offering a quick writing sample critique to everyone who signs up. You can register for it by clicking here. Even if you can’t make the time or date, all registered students have access to a recording and notes from the webinar for one full year. (For all of those readers asking about critique submission instructions, those are emailed to you after you register.)

Upcoming Workshops and Events

Hey all! I booked some workshops and events this week and would love to tell you about them.

The first is an exciting new opportunity from Writers Digest! On September 23rd (time TBA), I’ll be doing a live webinar program on Writing and Publishing Children’s Books. It will work much like this webinar (click here for a link to a sample workshop…but do not buy this workshop unless you want to take it…this is not my workshop, the listing for mine is not up yet…this is just an example), and will feature information from me, structured question and answer, and the opportunity to receive critiques on your writing and queries. We’re still working the details out, but this webinar will happen online on September 23rd. Anyone with an Internet connection, anywhere in the world, can participate!

Second, for all the writers in the New York/Manhattan area, I’m doing another course with the Learning Annex! The listing isn’t up on the website yet but it will be Thursday, September 30th, in the evening. I’ll post a link as soon as the information goes up on the website. Everyone who attends the class will receive a 5-page quick consultation for a MG or YA manuscript or a quick consultation of an entire picture book manuscript, depending on what they’re writing. I’ll let you know when signups are available for the class, but you can at least put it on your calendars now for September 30th.

These two things are still in progress and you can’t register yet, but do look forward to them. I’ll keep everyone posted. The webinar is a great opportunity for those people who have always wanted to hear me speak but who don’t live in a place that I’ll be visiting in the near future.

Speaking of visits in the near future, I’ve just added some conferences to my schedule! (My Events page will reflect these changes in a few days.)

In November, I will now be at the SCBWI South Dakota event, Friday the 5th through Sunday the 7th.

In December, I will be at the Big Sur Workshop held by the Andrea Brown Agency, from Friday the 3rd through Sunday the 5th.

In January, I will be at the Writers Digest Conference from Friday the 21st to Sunday the 23rd, and I’ll also be at the SCBWI New York National Conference from Friday the 28th to Sunday the 30th.

Whew! That’s quite an upcoming schedule, but I’m really excited!

If anyone has burning writing or publishing questions, this might also be a good time to ask, as I’m always looking to stock my “post ideas” box.

July Critique Connection

People were such fans of my Critique Connection post in April that I wanted to give new readers a shot at it and existing readers who didn’t find their love connection more space to find possibilities. I’m thinking of turning this into a semi-regular thing.

Remember, finding the right critique partner is like dating. Don’t try one or two and decide that critique isn’t for you or that you don’t benefit from feedback. I just went to Utah and saw the kind of passionate, supportive writing community they have there. I’m more convinced than ever before that a critique group is the secret of writers whose work is above and beyond the rest.

So keep trying. Try to find good critique partners here, try other online resources, try writing classes at your local university or bookstore, get creative. People still post on my April Critique Connection, so I’m sure there’s still interest.

If you want a critique partner: write down your name, the age range you write for (picture book, chapter book, MG, YA, etc.), your genre and anything else you want to say about your story, the word count, your email address so that prospective partners can contact you (I suggest typing it like this: mary at kidlit dot com, instead of mary@kidlit.com, so you don’t make yourself a spam target.) You can also tell people a little about how you like to work. Do you like to exchange chapters? Read full manuscripts? Do you give notes? Do you want to Skype? It’s up to you to work out communication style, critique frequency, and other rules with your new partner.

People who’ve posted on the April Critique Connection thread recently: You may want to repost your listing here to keep it most current.

Let me know in the comments if you’ve made any critique connections from April, and any other thoughts you might have. Then cruise the comments and see if your next critique partner isn’t listing themselves, ready to read your work!

You Probably Think This Post Is About You

There’s a funny side effect of being an agent who blogs. On more occasions than I care to mention, I’ve gotten emails from my clients after a post, asking if the post was about them, specifically. (And, clients, if you have done this, then yes, for probably the first and only time, this post actually is about you! Now stop reading my blog and go write/revise/be brilliant!)

While I don’t make it a habit to write thinly-veiled posts about clients or writers and I don’t think I’ve said anything that would greatly offend clients or writers on this blog, this little quirk does drive home a big point: writing is extremely personal.

A writer is putting their craft, their imagination, their hopes and their dreams on the line when they sit down at the keyboard. This is a deeply sacred and important thing. No matter how far along a writer is on his writing journey, no matter if she’s writing her first book or her tenth book, the act of writing and creating is absolutely essential. And every day that I sit down to read a submission from a writer, I honor the sacred bond and trust that writers expect from me when they reach out to share their creative work. Their creative passion — even if the writing isn’t agent- or editor-ready just yet — is what makes them tick. I would never do anything to break their trust and risk hurting their creativity.

At a conference one time (and yes, this is a specific example…I hope this writer would allow me to talk about this in the hopes of illustrating a very important point that could spare the next writer some heartache), a writer told me that a creative writing teacher of hers had once taken her story, held it up as an example in front of the entire class, and completely ripped it apart. It took this writer twelve years to bounce back and type another word after that day.

Sure, this writer could’ve been overly sensitive to her teacher’s comments or excessively shy or whatever, that’s true, but it only goes to show how much power a person-perceived-to-be-in-authority has over a person’s writerly self-esteem. This isn’t something anyone, whether a critique partner or a teacher or an editor or agent, should take lightly.

People have all different levels of sensitivity about all different sorts of things. But because writing is so personal, because it deals with hopes and dreams and deep, creative desires, it is all the more fragile. People tend to be all the more protective of their writing. And I am always sensitive to that fact.

I’ve said this in my disclosures on the About Me page, but I think it bears repeating here: I will never use a specific or identifiable example on the blog unless I have permission from the writer to do so (like with questions emailed to me, the workshops or contests, for example). Stuff asked and shared at conferences is fair game because conferences are a public setting and a lot of good stories come out of live events. If I want to illustrate a craft point, I will make something up (usually exaggerated) to suit my purposes. I will never cull directly from slush or from client manuscripts.

So where do I get my post ideas? From questions people ask at conferences, from questions people ask via email, from issues that come up in the comments. Between the publishing business end of things, the craft side and the agenting side, I don’t think I’ll end up running out of things to talk about anytime soon.

And if I do discuss a particular craft issue, it is never unique to any one writer. First of all, that would make the post a lot less universal! Second of all, there really is a list of common craft traps and pitfalls that most writers fall into, if they’re going to fall. Believe it or not, but I find myself giving many of the same notes over and over. I end up seeing many of the same writing issues in 10-page sample after 10-page sample. When you read as much unpublished writing as I do, a writer’s unique strengths and challenges often match up pretty well with other strengths and challenges that you’ve seen before. So if there’s something wonky with craft, it’s usually pretty universal.

The only things that really stick out, usually — and the ones that I will obviously not blog about because of that trust I mention — are zany story ideas. The plots and premises that NOBODY has ever come up with before (usually not a good thing because they’re too out there to be widely commercial). But these types of slush gems aren’t for Twitter or the blog or Facebook. They’re just between me and Sushi.