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Getting the Most Out of Writing Conferences

I’ve done several posts on writing conferences (some are here). If you’re wondering what to bring to a writers conference, the answers may surprise you. 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.

writing conferences, what to bring to a writers conference, writing conference, writer's conference
Wondering what to bring to a writers conference? A great attitude. But your laptop probably wouldn’t hurt…

Writing Conferences Are an Emotional Rollercoaster

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. In their search for what to bring to a writers conference, they print off ten copies of their 300-page novel. 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 at writing conferences, 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.

What to Bring to a Writers Conference? Realistic Expectations

Your primary job at writing conferences, 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 writing conferences have yielded 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. What to bring to a writers conference? A sense of humor and a casual vibe.

Writing Conferences Are Just a Piece of Your Success Puzzle

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 writing conferences 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.

Next Steps and Considerations Towards Getting Published

Katie Van Amburg, a recent college graduate, wrote in a few weeks ago and wanted to know what she should be doing next to move towards getting published. Should she get an MFA? Should she work at a publishing house? These are some of the “next step” questions that a lot of writers have when they’re looking around and wondering if the writing that they do in their rooms is going to be enough to speed them toward their writing career goals.

getting published, writing career goals
Getting published: How do shepherd your manuscript from being a thing on your hard drive to being a book in people’s hands?

Is taking the next step and working at a publishing house or getting an advanced degree for you? Well, as a lady who has done both…

The Best Way to Approach Getting Published Is…

This is a tough answer to hear but it’s necessary: There is no magic bullet when it comes to getting published. I worked as an intern at Chronicle Books in San Francisco, and it was wonderful. I learned a lot. I also got an MFA degree and wrote a thesis, which was a completed fiction manuscript. Again, I learned a lot. But working at Chronicle didn’t get me automatically to some new level as a writer, and neither did the MFA. Neither ended directly in a publishing deal. I published a book this year but it took into consideration all of my publishing experience. And everything I wrote for Chronicle or for the MFA certainly must’ve played a role, but at the end of the day, the sum of all my experiences came out on the page.

Writing isn’t a linear progression. There’s no “go get your medical degree, then do a residency, then…” path outlined for it anywhere. That can be liberating, but it can also be scary because there are so many variables and fewer tangible results when you’re working towards your writing career goals.

If you do any of these things, you are doing them for YOU and to grow as a writer, not to get brownie points on your resume. Remember that. If you expect to wake up the morning after your MFA thesis is accepted and somehow be changed, it’s not going to happen. (Sorry to say, but it’s sort of like publishing a book. When I got the deal, I called Andrea. The first thing she said to me was, “That’s great, but just don’t think it will change your life.” At first, I thought she was being a bummer. Now I know she’s right. That one thing will not change your life…unless it becomes a megaselling hit and makes you lots of money. Most books are all about what you got out of writing it and then all about what you do with them. Waking up on publication day is like waking up on any other day.)

The Ball is in Your Court

However, if you think a structured, workshop-based program will help you with getting published, apply to an MFA and get everything you can from it. If you want to see how a publisher works from the inside out, go intern at one or work for a literary magazine or read for a literary agent. But don’t expect either of them to be more than what you make of them.

Sure, good programs and good publishers will furnish you with mentors and experiences you’ve never had before. And there’s a lot of value in that. But there’s usually no benchmark with something like this. The lessons and realizations (and then the energy and courage to use those insights when you’re back at the page) mean the ball is in your court. All of these things are just individual steps, it’s up to you to put them together into a ladder and climb it towards your writing career goals.

You need an outstanding manuscript to catch an agent’s eye. Hire me as your freelance book editor and I’ll help you polish your work.

Having More Than One Literary Agent for Different Books

At conferences, I used to get frequent questions about having more than one literary agent. This version of that question comes from Wendy:

I am looking for an agent for my YA fantasy novel. While researching, I cross the names off my list of those agents who state that they are not looking for picture books. I do this because I also write smaller stories that would make great picture books. My question is: If and when I find an agent and he/she does not want to take on my other stories or does not believe in them as strongly as I do, do I find another agent for these works? Do authors usually have multiple agents?

having more than one literary agent, multiple literary agents
While it probably won’t come to fisticuffs, having multiple literary agents in children’s publishing could get real hairy, real fast.

It Depends on the Agency

A lot of agencies who represent you for the children’s market will want to represent ALL of your work in those categories. (Eternal point of clarification: “middle grade” is not a “genre,” it is an “audience” or “category,” same with “picture book” and “young adult.” “Fantasy” or “contemporary” are genres. This is a vital distinction to make.) When I worked at Andrea Brown, this was definitely our MO. Since we all specialized in ALL children’s categories, from picture book to young adult, we took on clients writing for multiple audiences with the full confidence that we would be able to pitch their picture books as well as their gritty YA (as long as all were done very well, of course, per this previous post about writing in different genres). When I worked at Movable Type, I also expected to be a writer’s only children’s agent because I was the only person at the agency doing children’s books.

It Boils Down to Ownership

Suppose you have multiple literary agents for a picture book, a chapter book, and a middle grade book. (This is a pie in the sky scenario that assumes you write well in all three categories, used only as an example, and extremely unlikely.) What if you are working on a picture book property with an agent and they’ve invested a lot of revision and time. You go out on submission. All the editors say, “Wow, this is great, but it should really be longer and a chapter book.” Or you’ve written a middle grade and worked on it with your MG agent, and all the editors say, “Gee, this rocks, but your voice is a bit young. Can you age it down and make it a chapter book? We’d love to see it again!” This is when having more than one literary agent can get hairy.

Who Gets Compensated?

Your picture book or middle grade agent did a lot of work on the project and therefore they have a lot invested in selling the property and earning commission on it. But if you also have a chapter book agent, they would be the agreed-upon choice for selling the chapter book side of your portfolio. Again, this is a silly example, but you can see how easily you’d slip into a gray area and pit your multiple literary agents against one another if you had separate representatives for each category.

If you write for multiple audiences, rather than having more than one literary agent, you need to seek a representative who is confident in their abilities to submit to editors in all your desired categories, and, most importantly, who LOVES YOUR WORK in each category. If they are crazy about the YA and not the PBs, but you have your heart set on writing both, it might be very difficult to walk away but it might save you some heartbreak down the line (them saying, “I just took you on for this YA and, really, I don’t know if these PBs will go anywhere.”) They might be totally correct in their assessment, but you had your heart set on being a PB author as well as a YA author, so that might leave you in a tight spot.

Having More Than One Literary Agent is Okay When…

For example, you also write adult (and you can have an adult book agent either at the same agency or a different one) or screenplays (another agent or manager there). Those divisions are much clearer than the divisions between kidlit categories. As long as all agents know about one another and each agency contract is written in such a way that permits having more than one literary agent, I don’t see that being a problem. But within children’s books–a very tiny world where all the editors usually acquire for multiple audiences and everyone knows one another–it could get really hairy, fast.

Are you ready to submit your work to agents? Hire me as your query letter editor and I’ll help you develop a strong pitch.

The Writing Craft and Writing a Good Sentence

The sentence is the smallest unit of thought in a novel, and I’ve been finding myself giving more and more sentence-related notes on writing craft lately. Writing a good sentence is clearly flummoxing a lot of writers. I’ll do a lot more talking about this in the near future, but I did want to prime you all to start thinking hard about your sentences by sharing an article I read a while ago. (The author is Christopher R. Beha, and the essay is here.)

writing craft, fiction craft, novel craft, sentence craft, writing a good sentence
Put all the fancy stuff aside. The key to writing a good sentence is writing simply.

Writing Craft vs. Overwriting

This essay may be old news to some, and it’s a bit long, but it’s still an excellent and thought-provoking read. I urge all of you to go through this and give it a lot of thought.

One of my favorite sentences from it:

You don’t develop a style by writing sentences that have no purpose other than to be stylish, sentences that seek to be self-contained works of art.

A-MEN! This ties into my ideas about overwriting, and writing good sentences by writing simply. One of my favorite notes to give to editorial clients is, “You’re saying something simple in a complicated way.

Meditate on that truism of the writing craft for a moment. Is style more important to you as a writer, or is substance? It’s always easy to tell which writers prioritize flash and making a good impression, over the ones who tend to put a premium on clarity.

Remember, writing a good sentence is, above all, about communication. Your first consideration should always be, am I getting across? The fancy stuff, more often than not, just gets in the way.

I work wither writers all the time as a book editor to hone their writing voice and develop their writing craft. If you’re ready to take the next step in your journey toward writing a good sentence (which is all there is to it, really), let’s talk.

Email Etiquette for Writers

Kirstin asked about email etiquette for writers. Here’s the answer…and a reminder that there are no dumb or simple questions!

I was wondering about setting up email accounts. I have a personal one (family, friends). Should I make a “writing” email separate? (i.e have that ONE email devoted to exchanges with CP’s, new writing friends, bloggers, asking for advice, submitting, commenting on others blogs with that email, etc)…and should that email account be in my full name or something else like “writingstories@gmail” etc. And do you recommend Gmail accounts as best?

email etiquette for writers, query letters to publishers
Even this cat is questioning your choice to use “suzieluuuuvscats76@gmail” for your business correspondence.

Email Etiquette for Writers: the Basics

1. A Separate Writing Email Account is a Good Idea

If you can deal with a little technical complication in your life (multiple inboxes), I think a separate writing email account is a good idea. If you really want to know, I have about a dozen different emails that I use on a pretty regular basis (one for online shopping logins, so that when the retailers start spamming me with catalogs, as they invariably will, it doesn’t go to my regular email…my personal email…my work email…my query inbox (that my work email automatically forwards queries to)…my kidlit email…etc.). A lot of these email accounts get imported into one or two main Gmail inboxes that I have, but, still, that’s an awful lot of windows!

2. Everything Makes an Impression

You all are very savvy. That’s why you’re bothering to read an industry blog and educate yourselves. So I’m guessing you have a certain measure of common sense in terms of email etiquette for writers. Hence, remember: everything you do when you interact with the publishing world (your potential employers, if you consider writing your job, which might be a good mindset to get into) makes an impression. And you want to make a good one, especially during critical first steps like sending query letters to publishers. So if your personal email is “suzieluuuuvscats76@gmail” or whatever, I think that’s a little personal and a little cutesy for business correspondence. A wacko email address is unlikely to be a dealbreaker, but it may make me look twice. (I mean, swearing, porn, or the admission that you’re a serial killer or KKK member in your email may be a huge red flag…just sayin’…) Since, again, all of my beloved readers are of above-average intelligence (and really good looking!), I trust that you’re not making this kind of no-brainer mistake.

3. Avoid Cutesy, Precious, or Too Specific

So you decide to set up a separate writer email — great! Keep email etiquette for writers in mind as you select the address, and be mindful of the impression it makes. I’ve seen the cutesy thing with writing emails, too, and I must admit that it gets an eyeroll from me every once in a while (“musingsfromthemuse@gmail” or “thebestwriterever@gmail” are a little…ahem…precious).

I’d also avoid naming your email address after the current project that’s the topic of your query letters to publishers (“endlessduskthenovel@gmail.com” or whatever). That novel may not go on to get agented or sell, and then you’ll have to either keep the same address for a different project or make another email for each new project, which is awkward. Alternately, your title might change in the revision or publication process, as many do, which would date the address.

So if you want a nice and classy writer email, go with “marykolewriting@gmail” or “suziekatznovels@gmail” or something that can apply to more than one project and that isn’t over the top in any way. That’s probably your best option.

4. Follow General Email Best Practices

Other than that, email etiquette for writers entails following general email best practices in all of your correspondence with publishing people. If you include a signature in the email, make sure it’s not too obnoxious with images or crazy fonts/colors. Maybe cut back on inspirational quotes (and definitely don’t, as one writer did in my slush, quote yourself or your novel as a signature). Don’t call yourself an “author” unless you are actually published (“writer” is just fine, and there is a distinction, even if it seems nit-picky). And no need to include copyright information with your query or sample. Check out my post that delves into the question “How do I copyright my writing?” for insight on why doing so might be a red flag for agents.

5. You Can’t Go Wrong with Gmail

As you can tell from my run-down of my own email addresses and all of my fake example emails, I am a fanatical proponent of Gmail. It is simple and easy to use but extremely powerful, in case you want to start doing fancy stuff like labels or account importing or forwarding or auto-responses, etc. I’ve definitely grown as a Gmail user in the past few years and am wild about it. It’s free and popular, and it has almost never done me wrong. Plus, it has a lot of space, is hosted online, and, because it’s Google, has great search functionality. So if you have tens of thousands of emails, as I do, you don’t have to delete them to free up space and you can find that random thing you’re looking for from four years ago quickly and easily. (I am not being paid for this endorsement, I just love Gmail, LOL!)

6. Don’t Make Agents Jump Through Hoops to Respond

Finally, some people have spam filters set up (Earthlink or something similar has a very aggressive one…can’t remember the exact program right now, sorry) where, if I try to respond to you, it makes me go to a separate page and prove that I’m not spam. Making your potential employers do extra work for something that should be simple is definitely a “don’t” in terms of email etiquette for writers.

Keep in mind that I’m responding to hundreds of queries and, I’m not going to lie, it’s annoying when I have to prove my message isn’t spam. For those of you who have such powerful spam filters that require an additional step for people trying to send you email, you may not get a response from me, depending on workload, because I don’t want to jump through the extra hoops. Maybe when you’re sending query letters to publishers, disable the spam response filter or add all the agents you’re querying to your “safe” list. We really appreciate it.

* All of the email addresses here are made-up. If I have insulted your actual email address, or you have one that’s pretty close to one of my “don’ts,” I’m very sorry. I was just thinking of some quick examples.

Did you find this practical advice useful? I am happy to be your manuscript editor and consultant for writing and publishing advice that’s specific to your work.

Writing a Literary Adaptation

A quick question with a quick answer about writing a literary adaptation, whether you’re doing a PB or a YA novel inspired by a classic tale (folklore, Shakespeare, etc.). This comes from Randi:

Do you think the re-writing of a classic picture book with a different protagonist and different word choice, but with the same setting could be marketable or are the classics hands-off?

literary adaptation, writing an adaptation
If you’re writing an adaptation of a classic story, you need to add your own twist to it.

Add Value to Your Literary Adaptation

Every time you do a literary adaptation, you have to add value to it. Changing a few details around (this includes wording, names, location, time period) but keeping the story premise intact is just you letting the original do most of the work, so I don’t see the benefit. Anybody could do that, and publishers are looking to publish a creator and a voice that are unique. The best adaptations are INSPIRED by a classic but then go off in their own completely fresh directions.

A Twist on Cinderella

My favorite curve-ball example to give when people are talking about adapting classics is CINDER by Marissa Meyer. The original tale is, obviously, Cinderella, but this is a futuristic book where Cinderella is a cyborg working in a scrap heap in New Beijing and there’s an entire civilization of Lunar people. At least that’s what it was back when I read it as a manuscript. That is certainly much more impressive and imaginative than changing a few names and locations.

Let’s put it this way: If Marissa Meyer had not brought the core concept of CINDER to the Cinderella story, there would be no book. She didn’t just tinker with the original, she took the entire thing apart, repainted it, and put it back together her own way. A literary adaptation in today’s market takes nothing less.

Are you thinking of writing an adaptation? I’d love to be your developmental editor and help you workshop ideas for putting your own twist on a classic tale.

The Plot Turning Point and Plot Development

Here’s something to always keep in mind, no matter if you’re writing picture books or full-blown novels: each major plot turning point in your novel should change the course of events and plot development in a permanent way. These types of events are going to be crucial to both character and story. If your plot points can be rearranged in any order without consequence, you’re doing plot development wrong.

plot turning point, plot development
Just like this sugar cube, a plot turning point should have a clear “before” and “after,” with no going back to the way things were.

The Irreversible Plot Turning Point

If you have a plot turning point where the effect isn’t crystal clear, no decision is made, no characters change, and the trajectory of your story seems to bob along rather than follow a very direct line, your plot points are not absolute enough. In plots like this, your characters could likely revert to exactly who they were at the beginning of the book if they wanted to. That’s a problematic novel, to me.

Anchor the forward momentum of your story along plot turning points that divide your tale into a clear “before” and “after” with no going back. This will also help you work on the all-important elements of stakes and tension. These will act on character. Even if the plot turning point is not a HUGE moment on the page, let it have a HUGE effect. For example, a short conversation with friends in which something is revealed that changes a relationship forever. (You can, and should, of course focus on big plot points and character life changes also.)

The moment itself isn’t big. A few words are said. But the effect is felt and leads to further plot development. Basically, you want everything in your novel to have an effect. Otherwise, why is it there? This is especially important for your plot turning point moments, the ones that resonate throughout the story.

Struggling with plot? Work with me as your book editor and we can engineer a strong and compelling story together.

Finally, announcing WRITING IRRESISTIBLE KIDLIT!

Legendary children’s editor Ursula Nordstrom (responsible for shepherding classics like Goodnight Moon and Where the Wild Things Are) once said:

If I can resist a book, I resist it.

This is the note on which I end almost all of my talks, and the challenge I issue to writers. Sure, the idea of someone resisting your book isn’t a pleasant one, but the trick, especially in this market, is to make resistance impossible. You should never aim any lower than that with your creative work. Am I right? And you do that by learning the marketplace and honing your storytelling craft to razor-sharp edge. How? I’m glad you asked!

It’s in this spirit that I bring you WRITING IRRESISTIBLE KIDLIT: The Ultimate Guide to Crafting Fiction for Young Adult and Middle Grade Readers. It’s my writing book. It is inspired by this blog, by my readers, by my clients, by my colleagues at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency and Movable Type Management, by the agents, editors, designers, and publishers shaping the industry, by the amazing writers who are working in the children’s book space today, by the SCBWI and the other conferences that have given me a platform, and by my own thinking about story over the years. It would not have been possible without the support of the fantastic team of people at F+W Media and Writer’s Digest, who have been my partners in literary crime for a few years now. (Trust me, some of the jokes I get away with during the webinars could easily be considered literary crime…)

For the book, I culled excerpts from thirty-four of my favorite published middle grade and young adult titles, and analyzed them to give my readers the most relevant examples for craft topics like theme, character, plot, imagery, dialogue, and more. There are tons of my original thoughts on all of these issues, as well as input from published authors and fabulous children’s editors. I also include insights into the children’s publishing marketplace from an agent’s point of view–where the market has come from and where it’s going.

Writing this book has been the thrill of a lifetime. I can’t wait for you all to read it and have a comprehensive picture of just what the heck I’ve been trying to say on the blog and at conferences these past few years. On a special note, I did not repeat any blog content for this book. Since I’ve written so much for this blog on the topics that I’m covering in WRITING IRRESISTIBLE KIDLIT, it could’ve been very easy to copy and paste some chapters entirely. But I wanted to challenge myself to create completely new content (and maybe I’m a bit of a masochist…probably a mix of both). Plus, I hate “blog books” that end up being repeats and disappointments, and wanted to absolutely avoid letting my faithful readers down. The only familiar sections you’ll notice are from some talks and webinars that I typically give, but not everyone has heard me speak. To balance that out, I’ll be phasing some of the old speeches out of my repertoire after this book is published.

Other than that, all you need to know is that it comes out in late October, 2012 from Writer’s Digest Books! Don’t worry, I’ll be talking more about it as the pub date approaches and doing some giveaways. Thank you so much for your support and early excitement about this project. I can’t wait to share it with all of you!

Writing Conference and Manuscript Critique Expectations

I’ve spoken about how to get published and provided manuscript critique at many a writing conference. Teaching writing is a passion for me (hence the blog). Most of the writers who get manuscript critique (at conferences, in critique groups, through the webinars, as a result of contests, etc.) approach it with the right attitude. Conferences and critiques are a learning opportunity. You submit your work, you hear feedback on it, and, eventually, you either incorporate the feedback or cast it aside. Sometimes a critique will completely click and validate your own instincts. Sometimes you won’t like it at all.

writing conference, manuscript critique, literary agent, how to get published
Sitting down for manuscript critique at a writing conference can be daunting, but try to approach it with the right attitude.

Context for Manuscript Critique

Let’s start by saying that, yes, some critique is just bad. It’s either totally off the mark (“Did they even read my story?”) or it feels mean-spirited (there’s a personal attack or they say something along the lines of “you will never ever ever ever publish”). Keep in mind, though, that telling you that your writing still needs work is not personally mean. It’s most likely honest. All writers, even published ones, strive to improve their writing, so “needs work” is not a bad thing.

Just because someone doesn’t heap praise on you or call you “the next J.K. Rowling” in critique doesn’t mean it’s a bad manuscript critique. No professional critique would say such a thing, so if that’s what you’re expecting, you’re in for disappointment. Most critique may be hard to take but, if it’s honest and comes from an expert source, it will have at least one or two nuggets of truth or action items that you can implement in your writing. If you leave your emotions out of it, you’ll most likely find this to be the case.

Don’t Expect Writing Conference Miracles

Manuscript critique is a tool. It is given to you and you must use it how you see fit. Maybe not right away. Maybe you’ll put it aside for a bit and then use it to look at your manuscript afresh. But it is extremely valuable–it is another set of eyes on your work, which is a very rare thing for writers to receive. Let’s now go into what critique isn’t. Something goes on in critiques and at a writing conference that I call American Idol Syndrome. There seems to be a mentality in the creative arts right now (not helped by all the competition shows that have sprung up over the last decade) that all you need is your one shot at greatness and then you’re a star. Instead of doing the hard labor for years and years, instead of working your butt off, all you need is to be in the right place at the right time in front of the right gatekeeper.

Believe me, I love this dream. I remember being 12 or 13 and reading in Seventeen magazine that some model got discovered when a scout saw her at the mall, offered her a contract on the spot, whisked her away to a life of luxury in NYC, and then it rained unicorns and puppies on her forever and ever, etc. I won’t lie to you–I was much more self-conscious going to the mall after that. I always chose my outfit carefully and maybe even put on a little make-up, which, for me, is a huge effort.

This fantasy is very appealing to humans. Work is hard. That’s why they call it “work,” instead of, you know “beach party.” We would rather have success tap us on the shoulder while we’re browsing Hot Topic and offer us the key to our dreams. But this happens much more rarely than you’d think in real life (that’s why we know the exceptions…they’re news). Especially in publishing, which isn’t as TV-ready-glamorous as fashion design, being a TV chef, modeling, singing, etc.

Put In the Work and Reap the Rewards

I know that when writers sign up for a writing conference or manuscript critique, there’s this little part of them that thinks, “Maybe I will meet my dream agent and we’ll ride off into the sunset together!” Heck, I met one of my now-colleagues at a writer’s conference. Writers connect with agents, editors, and other writers at conferences all the time. But those meetings are a lot less about luck than they are about hard work.

The writers that do find their agents and editors at these things are the ones who have done years of work on their craft, who are coming to the conference savvy and informed, who have bought a critique that brings them to the right person’s attention, and who have done as much as possible so that they’re ready to be fallen in love with.

Louis Pasteur said: “Fortune favors the prepared mind.” The people who win Idol have, most likely, years and years of voice lessons and musical theatre and practice behind them. They look like they’re just randomly being “discovered” on TV, but their entire creative life has brought them to that moment. It’s the sweaty, repetitive part that the cameras don’t show you. This goes for any creative endeavor.

Keeping Writing Conference Emotions in Check

Now. There is a small set of writers who do not react well to constructive feedback. They are the ones bitterly disappointed that they were not “discovered” as a result of a writing conference meeting or manuscript critique. All they wanted to hear was, “This is a diamond in the rough and I will publish it right this minute!” Anything else, no matter how sound the feedback, is crushing. If you are pinning all your hopes and expectations on one conference or critique, and you feel like “this is it, or else…,” I would save yourself the trouble and stay away for now. It is very likely that your unrealistic expectations will be dashed. (If you’re wondering whether you should attend a writers conference in the first place, this post is for you.)

Publishing is a tough business, and writing is, by its very nature, emotional. Writers, especially those striving to publish, need thick skins and heaps of resilience. I’d encourage everyone to adjust their expectations of mega-stardom and insta-fame now rather than be disappointed in the future. That’s not to say I’m thinking small. I would love for all of my clients to be #1 bestsellers! But you can’t go in expecting that to happen, or the journey will be very angsty for you.

Hope for great things (every writing conference or manuscript critique is an opportunity to grow), but don’t require them. Screw your determination to its sticking place, and get into this game to learn and grow as a writer. That’s the good stuff right there. If you happen to take off, it will be that much more satisfying, and you will have a very strong craft foundation to bolster your success.

Until that happens, if you still want to play the one-in-a-million odds at instant stardom, line up to audition for the next season of Idol. I guarantee that you won’t be alone in pursuing this favorite of human fantasies.

To put rocket boosters on your progress and get one-on-one manuscript critique without waiting for a conference, hire me as your book editor!

Bologna Wrap-Up

So, Bologna is over. VinItaly, the world’s biggest wine trade show, which I happened to be in Verona for completely by accident but which, of course, I also attended, is over. I don’t have to walk around another ginormous expo center until I see my nemesis–the Javits–for BEA in June. Although, if we’re being totally honest, it would behoove me to walk around and around and around the Javits for weeks to shed the evidence of a three-week-long European food and wine binge from my hips. Hello, jeggings!

But this isn’t a post about me expanding my booty food an wine horizons. For that you can check out Chowlit. This is a post about me expanding my children’s foreign market horizons. I have to say, right off the top, that none of this insight would be possible without ABLA’s incomparable foreign co-agent Taryn Fagerness. My colleague Jenn Laughran and I watched her pitch at meeting after meeting with something approaching awe. Girlfriend was meeting foreign publishers, scouts, and movie people from dawn to dusk, then somehow marshaling the energy for Bologna’s extracurricular parties and dinners (and…gelato excursions…oh, the gelato excursions).

Some of you eagle-eyes may have noticed that I’ve updated my Wish List (look in the sidebar to your right –>). This has to do with Bologna, sure, but, frankly, an overhaul was overdue. Some things have stayed (like heartbreaking MG voice, edgy YA, issue book), but others are new or edited.

Here’s the news that was heard up and down the halls in Bologna: the market has shifted away from paranormal and (most) dystopian, and we’re in a bit of a trend valley at the moment. I’ve been saying this for a few months at conferences, and it’s nice to have that opinion resoundingly confirmed. Contemporary realistic is on the rise, though I still have my doubts about it. I’ve been hearing editors request contemporary realistic for a year or two now, though not everyone can convince a more trend-minded house to actually buy it. Sure, we’re all sick of paranormal and dystopian, but not all publishers have been able to put their offers where their mouths are with contemporary. When I get more evidence of this, I’ll fully buy the contemporary “trend” we’re all talking about.

Another mini-trend: thriller. So you’ll see it added to my list, though with a caveat. Thrillers need to…thrill. A lot of the manuscripts that cross my desk with the “thriller” pitch are predictable, with low stakes, not enough action, and characters that aren’t sympathetic or worth my care. This is a problem. I’m sure we’ll see more excellent examples of YA thriller as they’re published, but to see something dark and psychological and irresistible, check out I HUNT KILLERS by Barry Lyga, pubbing next month from Little, Brown. I hope thrillers take off–I love suspense and surprise in my slush.

Light sci-fi has been a buzzword for about the last year, but I’m not seeing a lot of sci-fi publishing and doing well, so I don’t know if houses are jumping all over it like they said they were going to. There’s always demand for fantasy and action/adventure, especially in middle grade. Speaking of which, I saw domestic and foreign editors and scouts alike begging for more meaty middle grade. Movie people, too. Good MG is very difficult to write, I think, because it’s such an in-between time in a person’s life and therefore true character and voice for this age group is very difficult to nail. It’s also a lot less “sexy” than YA, especially market-wise, so maybe a lot of aspiring writers think that MG is “slumming it.” I wish they wouldn’t. Sure, the MG world is missing a lot of YA’s glamor, but the opportunity to publish in it is very much there.

Finally, while there are a lot of original and licensed properties being published overseas that originated there, the US and the UK really lead the charge for creating new content. A lot of the books that come out in smaller territories had their starts in the English-speaking publishing world. Exceptions with a lot of native material are probably Italy, France, and Germany, though they do buy a significant number of US/UK properties. In the English-speaking world, we are the big publishing deal, folks. So let’s make it count and put out some awesome books that will thrill not only local readers, but the world at large!

Overall, an invigorating fair with lots of interesting people and ideas swirling around. And gelato. Did I mention the gelato? Thanks to my colleague Jenn, as well as Jo Volpe and Kathleen Ortiz from Nancy Coffey, who were my constant companions. Now I’m going to eat a bunch of kale and pretend that most of those meals didn’t happen…

Copyright © Mary Kole at Kidlit.com