Sunday, November 16, 2014

Prairie Writer's & Illustrator's Day 2014: The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly

         Reflecting on Prairie Writer's Day 2014 on the Sunday morning after, I can categorize my main impressions into three groups: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. Yesterday's marathon day (8:30am-6:30pm, yes that's why I'm writing this from my bed) included a talented and helpful panel: 

Caroline Abbey: Senior Editor at Random House
Jordan Brown: Senior Editor at Walden Pond Press & Balzer + Bray
Brett Duquette: Editor at Sterling Children's Books
Karen Grencik: Agent at Red Fox Literary
Esther Hershenhorn: Author & Writing Coach (and personal mentor!)
Loraine Joyner: Senior Art Director at Peachtree Publishers
Rachel Orr: Agent at Prospect Agency
Eliza Wheeler: Author/Illustrator & keynote speaker
Noa Wheeler: Editor at Henry Holt Books for Young Readers. 

Phew! That's a mouthful. Or, a keyboard full? Either way, these wonderful people were very generous with their time and wisdom and offered all kinds of tidbits for this conference room full of eager authors. 

1. I learned from Jordan Brown the "6 Signs That Your Manuscript Isn't Ready to Submit" and was very happy to note that I could check almost all of them off the list, including "If You Haven't Shared Your Manuscript With a Writing Group, It Isn't Ready to Submit" (check!) and "If Your Main Character Hasn't Done Something to Surprise You, Your Manuscript Isn't Ready to Submit" (check!). That last one sounds weird, I know, to non-writers or newbie writers. Just a short time ago, I myself was dubious when I'd hear authors exclaim "I couldn't believe she just did that!" I mean, you're the one who wrote it, right? But now that it's happened to me, I get it. Your characters take on a life of their'll be sitting there, happily composing a draft of a chapter, and all of a sudden you realize what your character is about to say or do, and although you know it came out of your own brain, it's almost as if it didn't. It is a COOL feeling. 
2. One of the other "6 Ways..." that I need to still do is to read my manuscript out loud. It's obvious to do this when it's a picture book, but for some reason I have yet to do this with my middle grade novel....DUH! The major irony here is that I tell my 4th grade students to do this with their writing at least twice a week. It's a great way to hear flow, catch mistakes, and listen for voice. 
3. Eliza Wheeler, whose keynote speech was all about inspiration, suggested making a soundtrack for the piece you are working on and listening to it BEFORE sitting down to write. I've heard of soundtracks for pieces before, but never thought of actually listening before writing as inspiration. In particular, she suggested movie soundtracks as they already have a narrative quality in the background music. Can't wait to try this!
4. One of the main benefits of attending PWD is that you are allowed to submit work to anyone & everyone on the panel in the months following the conference--even publishing houses that don't normally accept unsolicited submissions. So, that's a bonus I am prepared to take advantage of this year. 
5. I achieved my main goal for this year (see previous post Tips for Attending Writing Conferences) and ignored my inner introvert in order to introduce myself to as many people as possible. I ended up passing out about 10 business cards--aren't they cool?--and stayed for the Mix n Mingle to speak to some of the industry panel members I hadn't already spoken to! Go me!

6. This one is both good & bad. Whenever I attend conferences like this, I talk to others & look around the room and am comforted by the fact that there are so many people in the same boat. So many others who are also "pre-published" as I have now come to call myself. But, that thought can be pretty depressing at the same time. Look at all the writers--and only a few can and will be published one day. As one of the panel members noted, "There are millions of great writers in the world. But only a small percentage are actually published." Awesome. 

1. I didn't win the agent contest (2 winners receive a 30-minute sit-down with an agent about their submission). Let's add this to the Rejection Tally. However, at said Mix n Mingle I approached Rachel Orr and found out that she had read my contest submission. She was able to recite a very good chunk of my synopsis back to me, so I asked if she had any specific feedback for me. She said that although the premise was cool enough that she mentioned it to her husband (!!!!), and although there was voice (!!!!), scenes she loved (!!!!) and a plot twist that sounded cool (!!!!), there were 2 main reasons she didn't pick me for the contest: there is no place in the market right now for alternate society/dystopian. Sad face. Heart sinks. I had a creeping feeling this was the case, what with the inundation of Hunger Games and Divergent, etc., but it's not my fault I hadn't finished my book yet when those came out! No fair! She told me to keep working on it, get it perfect, and then maybe just hang on to it for a while. The other reason she didn't pick my book was more of a personal preference for her: too many futuristic details. 
            So, I was very disheartened coming home last night, realizing that my current novel is going to a be hard sell right now. I know, I know, it hasn't been a waste of time, look at all I've learned, maybe there'll be a market for it in a few years, I KNOW! But my heart doesn't care about all those logical things. 

1. It took 1 hour and 20 minutes to drive home (what should normally be 35 minutes). Through a snowstorm. 

Although I'm leaving you on "The Ugly" note, my overall feeling is a positive one. I have patience, I have tenacity, and I have lots of other ideas for books and an endless supply of chai lattes to get me through it all. As I told my husband last night, "I've dug myself in deep enough on this one that I can't just back out. The only way out is to keep digging." 

Hand me that shovel, will you?

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Tips for Attending Writing Conferences

          Two weeks from today I'll be eagerly attending the 2014 Prairie Writer's Day, the Illinois SCBWI Chapter's annual writing extravaganza. Although this will be my 4th year attending, it is only just now that I finally feel like I "get it." My first year, I signed up and took copious notes and had a mini-heart attack at the thought of how much work was ahead of me. Years 2 and 3, I attended my breakout sessions and listened to the panels, thinking, "Hmm, I already know most of this. Maybe this isn't the best use of my time & money." 

             But now that I finally understand the importance of networking in the publishing industry, now I get it. It's so much more than just sitting & taking notes and absorbing what wisdom I can; it's being there. Meeting people, and being met. Every other person at a writing conference is someone valuable to know. Maybe you're sitting next to an agent or an editor. Maybe you're sitting next to the next best-selling author. Maybe you're sitting next to your future critique partner. No matter who's next to you, it pays to make friends. 

         So this year, I intend to throw my introverted-bad-at-small-talk-with-strangers self out the window for a day and do my best at networking. I even have my talented graphic designer hubby working on my business cards to pass out. The "Mix n' Mingle" portion of the day--which I normally skip because it's the last hour of the day and I'm exhausted and have to drive an hour home--is what I look forward to the most (well, and dread a bit too if I'm being honest, due to that "bad at small talk" thing.) 

        In preparing for this year's conference, I've found 
Esther Hershenhorn's "Confessions and Tips from a Veteran SCBWI Conference-Goer" an extremely helpful resource. It's meant for conference newbies, but I think even veteran conference-goers can benefit from some of these reminders. My favorite tips:

- Do your homework ahead of time & know who the presenters are. It will make the day that much more meaningful. 

-Consider your immediate needs when choosing workshop sessions. Sure, we all need to know about dealing with agents or publishers at some point, but if you haven't even finished your manuscript yet then you should focus on that. 

-Divide & Conquer: partner up with a friend (or stranger) and share notes on workshop sessions you didn't attend. Twice the knowledge=always advantageous. 

Click on the above link for Esther's full tips. Again--thanks Esther! 

Finally, HAPPY BELATED HALLOWEEN from my Ewok dog: