I’m teaching a class on “Writing Irresistible Kidlit” at the Loft in Minneapolis. If you happen to be in town, check it out. It’s on April 12th at 1:30 p.m. to 4:30, and you can learn more about it here. Hope to see you!
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Every year, I advocate for the Big Sur Writing Workshop, one of the best in the United States. I’m biased because I used to work with the fabulous agents of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency and was on faculty for several years. However, I truly believe in this intensive, hands-on, close-knit, workshop model for a conference, and every writers needs to experience it at least once. This spring’s offering is March 7th to 9th in Seaside, California. Learn more about it and register here.
If you’re based in the Midwest, you will likely have heard of the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. Their depth and breadth of writing programming is quite impressive, and the events are put on by a diverse and interesting group of writing and publishing professionals, called “Teaching Artists” at the Loft. This spring, they’re doing their annual Children’s and Young Adult Literature Conference on April 26th and 27th in downtown Minneapolis. Details have yet to be posted but I’ll be speaking about pitches and queries that weekend, which I’m really excited about. Keep an eye on this page for more information.
I’ve done several posts on writer’s conferences (some are here), and I know that the big NY SCBWI is coming up. What I want to hammer home to writers about to go to their first or their hundredth writer’s conference is that it’s all about what you make out of it, much like writing-related programs and work experience. Many people go to conferences in the wrong mindset, and it can impact their experience in a bad way.
For example, they put a lot of emphasis on their pitch session, thinking that whether or not they get a request will mean the conference either was or wasn’t worth the money, respectively. Or they enter a conference-sponsored contest and hang all of their hopes on winning. Or they expect to corner a visiting agent or editor and sell them on the book. It’s very rare that these American Idol moments happen at conferences, and expecting them is setting yourself up to have a bad time should the stars not align.
But before you think I’m trying to talk you into shooting low, remember that it’s very rare indeed for the stars to align. And even if you make a connection with an editor or agent, it’ll most likely be long after the conference when they’ve finally had a chance to read the manuscript they requested from you at the event. Because that’s how it has always worked for me: I request and read later, not at the table, while the writer is nervously staring at me.
Your primary job at a conference, therefore, isn’t to walk out of there with a book deal (though I can’t swear this has never happened), it’s to be cool, personable, and open to the experience. Most importantly, it’s to be without agenda. I know this sounds lame. You are paying a lot of money to be there, you’ve likely taken time off work or away from your family. You have a manuscript burning a hole in your hard drive. You don’t yet understand that publishing moves slower than molasses unless you’re one of the very few debuts that’s destined to set the world on fire. While it’s important to have a dream and a strong motivation, it’s more important not to only be there in obvious service of it.
This means chatting with your tablemates at lunch about things other than you project (though you can definitely discuss it). Maybe you’ll find a critique partner or learn about another genre. This means introducing yourself to visiting authors, agents, and editors without immediately launching into your pitch. (Most of my most successful conference matches have come from writers who chatted me up about something random, had a good sense of humor, and were very casual-yet-professional about getting a card and following up with business later.) This means using your pitch session as a fun practice exercise in distilling your ideas instead of The End All And Be All Once-in-a-Lifetime Opportunity you might think it is.
Expectations are hard in that they’re always present and always tied to emotion. Writing expectations, especially, because they have to do with something so personal and creative. But everyone has a different path to publication and a different path once published. Any of my clients will tell you that having a book out in the world is great but (and there’s always this but) nothing like they expected or imagined. The house is late in processing your payment. Your book does unexpectedly well or poorly. You get questions from readers that blow your mind. Your book gets banned because of one word from a school library. Your next book isn’t picked up or you end up scrambling to write a sequel because of demand. Your editor leaves. You switch houses. Your house announces a huge merger with another house. And on and on and on. Everyone is in a long learning curve together in this publishing business, and every time I think I’ve seen or heard it all, a new story emerges that changes my perspective on it.
The best way to go to a writer’s conference is to temper your expectations, be casual and professional, make a good impression by being friendly and curious, and take as many notes as you can on sessions that interest you. I recommend conferences 100% but I have been to hundreds of them and can tell you now that one isn’t going to change your life. That’s not to say that you won’t get an idea, have an “aha!” moment, or meet someone who is going to be part of your journey. Go into the experience with your head in the right place and be open to anything.
Happy Halloween, everyone! I’m not wearing a costume this year. Even though my boyfriend and I bought amazing Life Aquatic Steve Zissou Adidas shoes off of Etsy a while ago, we have yet to flesh out the full costume with the pale blue jumpsuits and red beanies. Maybe next year we’ll join Team Zissou. Or maybe we’ll just wear our matching kicks around the neighborhood. Because why not. The other reason I’m not dressing up is to teach myself a lesson. Every year, I vow to buy an awesome Halloween costume for the following year in early November, when they’re on sale. Every year I forget until about…early October, when everything’s expensive and everywhere is a zoo. Let’s see if a little guilt/shame will help me start planning next year’s costume early!
Anyhow. I’m writing with more important news than the contents of my shoe closet. If you’re working on a manuscript, have completed a manuscript, or are curious to learn more about children’s books, it’s time to sign up for December’s Big Sur Children’s Writing Workshop. This amazing weekend is the brainchild of my mentor and former boss, Andrea Brown of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency.
I taught at my first Big Sur in December 2009 and, after that, you couldn’t pull me away. The workshop consists of small groups of writers–two groups of five to six writers each that meet twice over the course of the weekend–led by a faculty member, either and agent, editor, or writer. Attendees get their work critiqued by both other attendees and faculty, and the low student-faculty ratio means you have a chance to meet and mingle with the agents and editors throughout the weekend.
Big conferences are great: you hear presentations, you practice your pitch, you network. But there is nothing like personalized and specific attention on your manuscript in a small group workshop setting. Even though my days of teaching at Big Sur are over–only Andrea Brown Literary Agency agents are invited, for obvious reasons–I still recommend this retreat in beautiful Big Sur, CA more than any other conference for transforming your personal writing craft and getting one step closer to your publication dreams.
This year’s faculty includes: Jordan Brown from HarperCollins, Kate Sullivan from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, and Melissa Manlove from Chronicle Books. Authors on faculty include Ellen Hopkins and Lewis Buzbee. Please click here to learn more and register!
A few housekeeping mentions and a huge congratulations to m client Karsten Knight on the blog. Let’s lead with the congratulations. Karsten Knight’s second book in the WILDEFIRE trilogy, EMBERS AND ECHOES hits shelves tomorrow! Here is the gorgeous cover:
Go out and get your copy today, er, tomorrow. If you haven’t read the series yet, you’re in luck! The paperback of WILDEFIRE, the first book, is also out.
This is a multicultural romp that features a group of powerful teen gods and goddesses. If you’ve been looking for a good definition of voice, you should definitely be reading Karsten’s work. Good thing you can start tomorrow.
Other than that, I am teaching my very popular Picture Book Craft Intensive webinar on Thursday, September 6th at 1 p.m. Eastern. As with all of my other webinars, you don’t have to be available on the time and date. You will get a recording of the lecture after the fact. The webinar comes with a critique for every student, and this is a great opportunity if you’ve been craving some professional eyes on your picture book manuscript. Register here.
I’ve got a few conferences coming up. The weekend of September 15th I’m in San Antonio for the SCBWI conference, and the weekend of the 28th, I’m visiting with the Idaho Writer’s League. If I’m meeting you at either of those, I’m looking forward to it! If not and you’re nearby, please register.
ETA: Just realized the link to the webinar was broken. I’ve found it for you. Sorry about that! (Even as I posted, I had this nagging feeling that I was missing…something…)
We all know the feeling–we’re about to do something really nerve-wracking, and all we want to know is whether or not it went okay. This applies to every nervousmaking thing in life: proposing marriage, going in for a job interview, giving an important sales presentation, pitching your book at a conference. While a marriage proposal usually gets a response right away, most of these other scenarios are of the sort where you put your best foot forward and then you wait for results.
Now put yourself on the receiving end. A candidate comes in for a job interview and they do well. They present themselves professionally and answer your questions. You put them in your “maybe” pile, or maybe slot them for a second interview. Then you let them know that you’ll be calling them with your decision in a few days. Pretty standard stuff. Very much the same thing happens to me when I sit to hear pitches at a writer’s conference. I listen to the pitch (and try to put the writer at ease if they are feeling nervous), then I say something along the lines of “I can’t really tell a lot about the writing from a verbal pitch, so I’d love to see a sample.” Most pitches are very short and, remember, a pitch or query letter and written prose are two very different things. I can’t extrapolate the latter from the former, even if I tried. Once I explain this to the writer and ask to see a snippet of the writing itself, I follow this with instructions for sending one. Again, pretty standard stuff.
But imagine you’re a job interviewer at the end of an interview, and the candidate just sits there, looking at you expectantly. Or maybe they go so far as to ask, “Well, am I gonna get it?” Or, “How did I do?” Or you’re sitting and hearing pitches–having seen none of the writing, which is what you’re “hiring” as an editor or agent–and the writer leans forward and asks, “So, is it gonna get published?” Or, “Did I do okay?”
We’re not a guaranteed 30-second decision credit card application hotline, guys. These are questions that have no right answers and, more often than not, they put the asker at a disadvantage.
Whenever you go from professionally presenting yourself in a good light and saying what you have to say, to letting your ego and insecurities drive the situation, you cross a line. The first question puts me in the very awkward position of reminding you that I haven’t seen the writing yet and, besides, I am just one person and certainly not the final word in what does and doesn’t get published. How am I supposed to know whether your work will sell, sight-unseen? Even if the premise sounds good, I don’t want to get your hopes up or seem like I’m making any promises, so the only thing you’ll get from this question is, likely, a tactful dodge. The second question asks me to outright lie to you about your pitch performance because nobody who asks “Did I do okay?” usually wants to hear anything resembling the truth. (And it’s the people who feel like they have to ask who usually didn’t do that well…)
The fact is, the percentage of people who get their work picked up at conferences is equal to or just slightly higher than the percentage who get plucked out of the slush. (1% to 5%, depending on who you ask. And the reason conferences might be slightly higher is that they usually attract people who are further along in their writing or making a firmer commitment to getting published. Paying for a conference does not guarantee you’ll get published, of course, but most do attract a more serious writer.) I always applaud writers for showing up to conference, but I’m afraid that they have to play by the same rules as everyone else submitting, unless they’re in the rare situation that they make a deeply personal connection with a faculty member, in which case the game might change. Whether you pitch in person or in a written query, the etiquette is the same, the agent or editor still wants to see the writing, and an instant decision should not be expected.
No matter how tempting it is to ask about your odds or performance, especially since you have a real, live agent or editor sitting right there, I would advise against it. I’d hope it’s awkward for you, and that you have that kind of self-awareness. Because it sure as heck is awkward for us on the other side of the desk.
Here’s a great opportunity from two of my best friends in the real and publishing worlds. Martha and Melissa are Bay Area children’s writing honchos and they stage events in the San Francisco region. If you don’t happen to live in that wonderful part of the country, though, you may have another chance to interact with them and come to their (first) annual writing retreat. It has a mind-blowing line-up of editors and children’s authors already in place. I’ll let Martha and Melissa tell you more…
What is Speakeasy Literary?
We’re a club of kidlit fiends.
We have a website: http://www.speakeasyliterary.com/
Membership is via application: http://www.speakeasyliterary.com/become-a-member/
Email us with a funny story and some information about yourself.
We invite our members to local events – like the Hunger Games showing [Mary's note: They rented out an entire movie theatre--I only missed it because I was in Europe...so I guess I can't complain!], editor dinners, kidlit drinks and our annual retreat.
The upcoming retreat is April 19-21 2013 in Lake Tahoe, CA. [Mary's note: If you haven't been to Lake Tahoe, you should go immediately. Actually, wait for April 19-21st, 2013. But seriously. Go. Make a vacation of it. YOU'VE BEEN WORKING SO HARD AND YOU DESERVE IT!]
Registration starts at $700 for two nights in a beautiful setting with all meals included and three one-on-one appointments with editors.
The faculty is ridonc [Mary's note: I'd ordinarily want them to clean up their copy and make it a bit more professional but, in this case, the only word really is "ridonc"] http://www.speakeasyliterary.com/the-retreat/the-faculty/
We also offer one scholarship:
Each year, the Society offers one member who would not otherwise have been able to attend the retreat the opportunity to attend at no cost. That member will have a private room in a shared cabin.
Applications for the 2013 Retreat scholarship will be accepted through December 31st, 2012. Members are invited to apply for the scholarship by sending the Society an email titled Scholarship Application with your full name and the following two attachments:
(a) A 200-word statement on what you hope to accomplish at the retreat
(b) the first 250 words of your manuscript and its genre
The recipient of the scholarship will be announced by January 15, 2013. Travel expenses are still the responsibility of the recipient. In the event the recipient finds they are unable to accept, an alternate winner will be selected. Please note that if you apply for and do not receive the scholarship, registration may be filled by the time you are informed. Therefore, if you would like to attend the Retreat and do not need the scholarship, we recommend registering.
Tell yourself, tell your friends, tell random people on the street. While no agents will be in attendance here (I’d put on a cheap disguise and try to sneak in but Martha and Melissa know all my tricks), this is a can’t-miss creative opportunity!
Sadly, I am not going to be at this one, but the spectacular writing guru and market expert Chuck Sambuchino is among the teachers at the Homeric Writers’ Retreat and Workshop on Ithaca, Greece this August 2nd through 8th.
Here’s more about this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: writers will take sessions, get personal critiques for their work, and find time to write on an amazing island. The event is coordinated by editor & author Chuck Sambuchino of Writer’s Digest and author Jessica Bell, award-winning fiction writer and poet.
Attendees of the retreat receive the following:
- A dozen different instructional sessions on how to write better and get published. These sessions include advice and instruction on how to find an agent, crafting voice in fiction, getting fiction and poetry published, how to build a writer platform, how to deal with editors, how to develop a great first chapter, how to write a novel/memoir synopsis, and more.
- Multiple personalized critiques. Each attendee gets their first 50 pages critiqued, along with critiques on their synopsis, query and/or nonfiction book proposals.
- Free writing-related books and materials.
- Excursions on the Greek isle of Ithaca.
If you haven’t made vacation plans this summer and just happen to be up for a writing adventure, please check out the retreat by clicking here. If you sign up, make sure to let them know I sent you!
Two weekends ago I met Dr. Mira Reisberg at the Northern California Central SCBWI Illustrators’ Day conference, where I gave a presentation geared toward illustrators marketing themselves. Mira is a former university professor who taught courses on children’s literature and art and is also an award-winning children’s book illustrator and author. Mira is now teaching online courses including the Hero’s Art Journey, an interactive class starting June 4th (and lasting 6 weeks). The course is designed for very beginning to professional artists, and children’s picture book writers and illustrators. Students will explore their own hero’s journey while learning about a wide range of art techniques and materials, art history, mythology, and picture books in a fun supportive community. Guest video and written contributions throughout the course will come from Ashley Wolff, Marissa Moss, Elisa Kleven, Yuyi Morales, and Maya Gonzalez, in what Mira promises will be a transformative experience. She is also offering my readers a half off discount for $99.00 with this link http://bit.ly/InCDa0 You can find out more and contact Mira at www.herosartjourney.com.
On May 19th, I’m speaking to the wonderful group at the SCBWI Central California. This day of fun and learning is for picture book illustrators and authors, and it’s the first of its kind for this region. My talk will address both illustrators and writers and, even though it’s called Illustrators’ Day, I know that almost every picture book writer I’ve ever read could learn a lot by thinking like an illustrator, so come one, come all!
Here’s the official information from the SCBWI:
SCBWI California North/Central’s 1st Illustrators’ Day (for picture book authors, too!)
DATE: May 19, 2012
LOCATION/TIME: 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, Rancho Cordova City Hall, 2729 Prospect Park Drive, Sacramento 95670
Join us for an exciting day with inspiring presentations, a first look panel discussion, a promo card contest, and an optional oral portfolio critique (extra charge). Our featured speakers include:
Rotem Moscovich, the brilliant editor/art director with Disney/Hyperion
Ashley Wolff, the talented author/illustrator of Miss Bindergarten and Stella and Roy fame
Mary Kole, the wonderful Andrea Brown Literary Agent based in New York
The day includes:
Promo Postcard Contest (entries due May 1st)
First Look Panel Discussion (entries due May 1st)
Portfolio Display (bring your portfolio on conference day)
Nurturing Portfolio Critiques (an additional $35)
The talks at the conference will be the following:
Gestalt, or 1+1= More: Words and Pictures in Picturebooks
Rotem Moscovich, Disney/Hyperion
We’ll take apart the elements of a picture book, including pacing, page turns, and structure. Looking at examples together, we’ll discuss how the two main components—illustrations and text—work together to create more than a whole.
Creating in Words and Pictures: How to Craft Successful Picture Books
Mary Kole, Andrea Brown Literary Agency
A talk for picture book writers and illustrators that focuses on hook, story, character, voice, thinking like an illustrator for writers, thinking like a writer for illustrators, and how to write picture books that prevail in this challenging market.
Author, editor, illustrator, art director–A Book Has Many Parents
Ashley Wolff, author/illustrator
The only names on the jacket are the author and illustrator, but It takes a (small) village to make a book. I’ll look back at memorable collaborations over a 30 year career.
REGISTRATION IS NOW OPEN, so click here to sign up.
If you’re a picture book writer and anywhere near Sacramento on May 19th, I hope to see you there!