Posts Tagged ‘Austin SCBWI conference’

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Writers’ motto: Never give up

February 10, 2010

If there was a theme in what the many published writers said at the Austin SCBWI conference a couple weeks ago, it was that perseverance is an important part of their success.

Three of this year’s ALA winners were there — Jacqueline Kelly (The Evolution of Capurnia Tate), Marla Frazee and Liz Garton Scanlon (All the World illustrator and author) and Chris Barton (The Day-Glo Brothers) — and they all told tales of facing many rejections before publication and of pursuing their dreams of being published for years before making them a reality.

Kirby Larson, author of the 2007 Newbery Honor book Hattie Big Sky, said she received piles of rejection letters before her publishing career began. Finally, after many years of trying and taking a 10-day course that happened over her daughter’s birthday — what a sacrifice — she sold her first picture books. A few more followed, but then she didn’t sell anything for seven years. That’s when she tried a different type of writing and Hattie Big Sky was born.

Former editor and now full-time author Lisa Graff explained that for her last book, Umbrella Summer, she wrote 18 complete drafts.

Yesterday, this theme was reinforced in an article in the Los Angeles Times about non-fiction author Rebecca Skloot, whose The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks appeared on Amazon’s bestseller list immediately after the book debuted on Feb. 2. This was all after Skloot spent 10 years working on the book and went through three publishing houses, four editors and two agents.

All these writers shared something in common: They didn’t give up.

So, the motto for today: Never give up.

Write On!

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More advice from published writers

February 9, 2010

Today is my last post from the Austin SCBWI conference. It’s my seventh post about the conference and I’ve just given you a sampler from the presentations, so it shows how great these conferences can be.

Before I get into the post for today, here’s a quick recap of the other posts from the conference in case you missed any: agent Mark McVeigh on publishing, agent Andrea Cascardi on getting and working with an agent, editor Cheryl Klein on writing a great book, agent Nathan Bransford on finding the right agent for you, author/former editor Lisa Graff on writing and revising and advice from ALA winners.

The conference had plenty of other published writers, and here’s advice from them:

Kirby Larson (2007 Newbery Honor Book Hattie Big Sky): The secret of success is keeping your bum in your chair and working. No matter how bad you think it is, you have to get the first draft done and keep going.

Liz Garton Scanlon (2010 Caldecott Honor Book All the World): Find a community to help you, whether a critique group or writing partner, because it helps you live in the solitary environment of writing.

Shana Berg (A Thousand Never Evers): You should have an emotional reaction to your story when you read it.

Jennifer Ziegler (How Not to be Popular): Outlining can be an invaluable tool, but use it as a map.

Jessica Lee Anderson (Border Crossing): In dealing with rejection, rethink, revise and resend, inspire yourself with stories, nurture your creativity.

P.J. Hoover (The Emerald Tablet): Think outside of the box. Don’t settle for cliches and stereotypes. Write unique characters in unique situations coming up with unique ways of solving them.

Patrice Barton (illustrator): Shake off a creative slump by looking for the emotion and deconstructing other books.

Got any tips of your own you’d like to share? Put them in the comments.

Write On!

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Advice from ALA winners

February 8, 2010

Sorry if you came here on Saturday looking for this post. I had a busy weekend and didn’t get to my computer much.

But here is day six of my reports from the Austin SCBWI conference. First, a quick recap of my other reports: agent Mark McVeigh on publishing, agent Andrea Cascardi on getting and working with an agent, editor Cheryl Klein on writing a great book, agent Nathan Bransford on finding the right agent for you and author/former editor Lisa Graff on writing and revising.

Today I’m featuring three of this year’s ALA award winners, all of whom show that success comes from perserverance.

Jacqueline Kelly, author of the 2010 Newbery Honor book The Evolution of Capurnia Tate, said the inspiration for her book came after she fell in love with a really old house that’s falling down. As she sat on its porch one day, she could hear the main character come alive in her head and recite the book’s first paragraph to her.

She first wrote about the characters in a short story, and it was her critique group members that encouraged her to expand it into a novel.

Capurnia Tate was rejected by 12 publishers before it was picked up.

If it wasn’t for Jacqueline’s critique group and her perserverance, we would not have Capurnia Tate to enjoy today.

Acclaimed illustrator Marla Frazee, whose picture book All the World is a 2010 Caldecott Honor book, has had similar perserverance during her career. She said it took 12 years to get her first book, then another five years before her second.

She said picture books are a collaboration between words and pictures, with the two working together to tell the story. Sometimes the pictures will illustrate the words completely, and other times the pictures will add new meaning to the words. For example, she showed a picture from her book A Couple of Boys Have The Best Week Ever, in which the words say the character is sad to leave his parents but the picture shows him excited and happy.

Marla said that when she gets stuck on a picture she “goes back to basics” and figures out the emotion of the story, what’s at stake at this particular moment. Great advice for writers too.

Finally, Chris Barton, author of the Sibart Honor book The Day-Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer’s Bright Ideas and Brand-New Colors, is also an example of perserverance paying off. Chris said it took eight years to get his book published.

He also said he does a lot of research for his non-fiction books. “For me, there’s no such thing as too much research,” he said.

So, the lesson these winners can give us is not to give up.

Check back tomorrow for my final report from the Austin SCBWI conference: advice from other writers.

Write On!

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Lisa Graff on writing and revising

February 5, 2010

Day five in my reports from the Austin SCBWI conference, and there’s still more to come after this one! Also, although I’m giving lots of great information from these speakers in these posts, I’m only giving a condensed version of their presentations. Reading about conferences is great, but going to them, even single-day conferences like this one, is so valuable for inspiration, networking and learning. I highly recommend going to as many as you can afford in time and money if the lineup of speakers are half as good as this one.

Quick recap of my other reports from the conference: agent Mark McVeigh on publishing, agent Andrea Cascardi on getting and working with an agent, editor Cheryl Klein on writing a great book and agent Nathan Bransford on finding the right agent for you.

Lisa Graff, author

Lisa Graff

And now onto Lisa Graff. Lisa has an interesting background. She sold her first two books around the same time as she got her job as an editor, so, as she said, she has spent the last five years learning how to be a professional writer and editor at the same time. As of the Thursday before the conference, Lisa stopped working as an editor for Farrar, Strauss and Giroux Books for Young Readers to focus on her writing full time. Her last book, Umbrella Summer, came out last June.

As someone who has been on both sides of a book, Lisa said both are equally important. She said an editor is in charge of finding the true story a writer is trying to tell, because writers are so in their head, it’s often hard for them to see the story for the words. But, she pointed out, editors can’t do their best work until writers have done theirs.

And, writers don’t do their best work until they’ve revised and revised until their best work is out. For Umbrella Summer, Lisa said she wrote 14 complete drafts, including eight different endings. It took four years from the first draft to publication. WOW!

She said she starts out with a brief outline of her story, but the book almost never ends up the same.

Here’s her writing strategy:

  1. Write the first full draft.
  2. Read draft on paper and write notes.
  3. Open a new document and write a completely new draft from scratch or pasting in what she wants to save from the original draft.
  4. Repeat 2 and 3 as many times as it takes to get her best work.

A writer, she said, is

  • creative,
  • inspired,
  • uninhibited,
  • free to experiment.

An editor is

  • aware of rules of storytelling,
  • aware that the first draft is never the best,
  • mean when necessary.

To be an author, a writer must be all of these but at different times.

For the first draft, Lisa said it’s ok to write garbage. Writers can’t get to their genius until they’ve written the garbage, she said. The editor part of the writer takes out the garbage after the  genius has come through.

Here’s her other advice:

  • Read what your audience is reading, especially for picture books because markets change. And read like an editor, questioning everything, every decision that went into that book.
  • Know the rules (such as POV) as an editor, but be willing to experiment with them as a writer. It’s ok to break the rules when it’s essential for storytelling.
  • Write for yourself not for trends, because you won’t be happy.
  • Enjoy your own writing as a writer, but be prepared to kill your darlings as an editor. Do what’s right for the book.
  • Make sure that everything in your book is there for a reason.
  • As a writer, believe in yourself, but as an editor, push yourself to do better.
  • Don’t be a writer and editor at the same time, because it will make you overly critical, stop your creativity and lead you to writer’s block.
  • And, never try to appease an agent or editor. Be willing to stand up for yourself.

Finally, Lisa gave an idea of page counts for varies types of books. Although publishing houses vary, she said these are the general guidelines based on what the reader age groups will read and cost.

  • Picture book: 32 pages, including title pages, copyright, etc.
  • Chapter books: 90 manuscript pages, double-spaced
  • Middle-grade: 150-200 pages, double-spaced
  • Young adult: 200-240 pages, double spaced

Awesome!

Check back tomorrow for advice from the many other great writers at the conference.

Write On!

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Andrea Cascardi on getting an agent

February 2, 2010
Andrea Cascardi

Andrea Cascardi

Day two of my reports from the Austin SCBWI conference, and here’s what literary agent Andrea Cascardi from the Transatlantic Literary Agency had to say about getting and working with an agent.

Like fellow speaker Mark McVeigh, Andrea was an editor before she became an agent. She worked in editorial at Houghton Mifflin, Scholastic, Crown/Random House, Hyperion and Knopf. Some of the authors she is now the agent for are Shana Burg and Christine Ford,

As an agent, Andrea said that each author/agent relationship is unique. Agents and authors each have different personalities, tastes, etc., and because of that, authors and agents need to find the person who will be a good match, so they can work together productively for the long term.

Before authors submit to an agent, they should decide what kind of agency they want to be with. Andrea said writers should consider whether they want to be with a big agency or a small boutique, whether they want an agent who likes to communicate by phone or texting, the agent’s experience, whether the agent likes to edit, and what kind of sales the agent has had.

Once writers have decided what kind of agent they want, they can research the agents online, look at blogs and/or Twitter feeds, interviews and deals on Publishers Marketplace.

Andrea also warned that both the agent and author should be passionate about what they’re doing, because in the publishing industry, lows can be extremely low and highs stratospheric. The agent helps the author through both.

She explained that agents are the advocate of their client always, whereas an editor must straddle the needs of the author and the publishing house.

Because of that, authors should trust their agents, because agents have the big picture knowledge of the industry.

With their agent, Andrea said, writers should:

  • Form a plan for submission of the manuscript.
  • Be well informed about contracts.
  • Give agents a heads up before sending in a finished manuscript so the agents can plan.

Honesty is the best policy when working with agents, Andrea said, and if a writer isn’t happy with his or her agent, he or she should talk to the agent about the problems.

Stay positive but realistic, she said.

Great advice.

I talked to Andrea at the conference, and she graciously said she would do an interview or guest post for Day By Day Writer. So, stay tuned for that.

Come back tomorrow to see what Arthur Levine Books editor Cheryl Klein had to say at the conference.

Write On!

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Mark McVeigh on publishing

February 1, 2010

I spent my Saturday at the fabulous Austin SCBWI conference, which offered a great lineup of speakers. Over the next week, or as long as it takes to cover them all, I’ll post what I heard.

Literary agent Mark McVeigh

Mark McVeigh

First up is literary agent Mark McVeigh, who has his own agency, The McVeigh Agency. Mark knows something about children and the children’s literary industry. He taught sixth grade for four years and was in editorial at Golden Books, Scholastic, Random House, HarperCollins, Dutton and as the editorial director at Simon & Shuster’s Aladdin imprint. There’s a great interview with Mark at Cynthia Leitich Smith’s Cynsations blog.

Mark gave a candid but encouraging talk about the current state of the publishing industry. “There is good news,” he said, explaining that the industry is in a time of transition.

Middle-grade, early chapter books and young-adult are on the verge of breaking out in digital books, he said, adding that he thinks people will ultimately make more money and sell more books in digital. He buys e-books himself, and said that if he likes it, he also buys the hardcover to have on his shelf.

He encourages people, if they can afford it, to buy books, whether digital or print editions, to keep the industry going.

That said, he’s still busy. Mark was late to his presentation because, he admitted, he was working on his speech in another room. He explained that he has been getting up at 7 am and working til 3 am.

He advised that, especially now, writers need to defend their muse. “Rejection is not necessarily a reflection of your work,” he said, pointing out that good books are getting turned down right now because publishers feel that they can’t afford to take any chances.

To defend your muse, he said, be true to your writing. “I want clients who are warriors,” he said. Be brave. And, he said, write every day.

He also said to have tough love in critique sessions and choose writing friends carefully with an eye toward learning to get better.

He suggested writers keep up with what’s going on in the industry, for example, by reading Publishers Weekly, and network at conferences and online, through blogs and community forums. He even said writers can make a name for themselves by creating and posting videos on YouTube, whatever it takes to make yourself known.

Other advice Mark offered:

  • Sign with an agent because publishing houses are becoming less and less inclined to buy from writers who are not agented.
  • After they’ve got a deal, writers shouldn’t turn down paperback original. Despite the fact that some reviewers still refuse to review paperback books, people are buying paperbacks more than any other format right now. “Genius will show through no matter what the format,” he said.
  • Have a good lawyer read your contract.
  • And most of all: “Keep working on your craft.”

Great advice.

Tomorrow, Andrea Cascardi with Transatlantic Literary Agency.

Write On!

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