MY LA ADVENTURE – PART 7 – SOME OF MY YA HEROES

Laurie Halse Anderson

On Sunday, Laurie Halse Anderson, one of my all time favourite YA authors gave an inspiring keynote speech to close the official part of the conference. She talked about Daring the Universe and I came away believing that pretty much anything was possible.

At the end of the day it was time to hit the Pink Taco again to eat more great food and spend time with new illustrator and author friends.

The conference finished on Sunday but heaps of authors and illustrators stayed on to enjoy a host of 3 hour intensive workshops on the Monday.

At 9.00am we started our Roundtable critics where we were placed on a round table with 7 other authors and an editor. Ours was Julie Strauss-Gabel.

By happy coincidence one of the other authors on my table was my online writing buddy, Lia Keyes. At the roundtable, we had the first 500 words of our manuscript critiqued.

This was an interesting process to learn about how other critiqued but I must admit I didn’t get much feedback on my piece. Each piece only had 12 minutes allocated to it so by the time all the authors had their say there wasn’t much time left for the editor. I think to be honest, that most authors attend sessions like this looking for crit from editors – not from other authors. They can do this with their crit buddies or writer’s groups without going to a conference.

Online writing buddy, Lia Keyes

Nevertheless, it was really interesting to me to see how Editor, Julie Strauss-Gabel could sum things up so quickly from just a couple of pages and provide constructive feedback on each piece on diverse things from plot to character, to genre etc.

Before the intensives started, there was a panel of Allyn Johnston, Vice President and Publisher of Beach Lane Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Alessandra Blazer, Vice President, Co-Publisher of Balzer + Bray, an imprint of Harper Collins and Jennifer Hunt, Vice President of Acquisition and Development, and Editor-at-Large for Dial Books for Young Readers.

They had a discussion about the things to look for when critiquing someone’s work:

  • Voice
  • Characterisation
  • Setting
  • Dialogue
  • Pacing
  • Can you imagine the character sitting next to you?

Ellen Hopkins

In the afternoon was the intensive I’d been looking forward to all conference on writing verse novels with Ellen Hopkins. I’m a huge admirer of Ellen’s work and she inspired me to write a verse novel after she attended SCBWI Sydney in 2008.

Since having my verse novel rejected I have been trying to rewrite it as a prose novel but haven’t ever been happy with the outcome. I was hoping that Ellen’s workshop would give me some clarity and it did.

Ellen talked about the unique features of the verse novel.

White space allows the reader to stop, take a breath and think about what they have just read.

She talked about the fact that in “Verse as Narrative”, verse and story are interdependent, verse novels are not about breaking prose into short lines and neither is the verse novel a collection of poems with a common theme.

She talked about imagery, theme, voice and form and about making careful word choices. She had some great practical exercises to help us look at character motivations and the purpose of scenes.

I came away feeling so inspired and with a much better understanding of the differences in verse novels and why they work for some things and not others.

After a full day of intensives, all the RAs and presenters headed off to Lin Oliver’s party and most other authors and illustrators headed home.

Blanche

Blanche Baxter (my Twitter buddy) and I decided to go in search of a vegetarian restaurant in downtown Beverly Hills. After so much time spent inside we opted for the 45 minute walk to the restaurant we had picked out.

I loved this grass. My bunnies would have too:)

It was my first chance to absorb the sites and sounds of LA and the quirky differences between US and Australia. Blanche laughed when I told her that in Australia, a sign saying Curb your dog would not indicate you needed to pick up its poo, it would be a sign to tie it to the curb.

We also had a discussion about the hipsters in USA (cool people) and the fact that a hipster in Australia is a piece of underwear.

We dined vegetarian at a Thai restaurant where the Pad Thai was comparable to something you’d buy in Australia but way cheaper.

They don't have these signs Downunder

Another late night. On Tuesday morning I wished my roomie happy birthday then said goodbye as she was heading off on an early flight. Then I went back to bed where I had an hour’s glorious sleep.

I’m sitting at the airport as I write this. Can’t wait to get home to my hubby, Mike and the boys and see all my writerly friends and share all the news.

Footnote:            Another thing I learned in LA. The bar fridges have a sensor so every time you move something it gets charged to your room. Buying salad and fruit from the local grocer for lunch and turfing the alcohol out of the fridge led to $120 being added to my bill. Fortunately the hotel deducted it. From that day we hired an empty fridge for $5 a day.

MY LA ADVENTURE – PART FIVE – AGENT PANEL AND GARY PAULSEN

Agent panel

SUNDAY

SCBWI LA 2011 was a great mix of learning and inspiration.

Fortunately I steered clear of the X-bar celebrations that carried on after the Pyjama Ball. So I was up bright and early Sunday morning to listen to agents, Tracey Adams, Barry Goldblatt, Marcia Wernick and Tina Wexler talk about the Current State of Children’s Books

HOW IS DIGITAL PUBLISHING AFFECTING AGENCIES?

Tracey Adams – always look for best ways to work with companies doing the best work. Working with new publishers.

Barry Goldblatt – nothing new, just the way things are done is new.

Marcia Wernick  – digital book is more supportive of print book. Doesn’t think it replaces way stories are out there. For agents, most of our job is to be your advocate or business advisor.

Tina Wexler – agent helps you plan career, manage business.

IS THERE A GENRE THAT’S DRYING UP?

Picture book authors and illustrators will be pleased to know that none of the agents thought picture books were at risk, despite the current e-publishing concerns.

Tina Wexler and Marcia Werner

All the agents were very generous with their information sharing but if there was one criticism I had of this panel it was that the conversation seemed to stray from the topic at times and never quite get back onto it.

I was interested to know how much editorial input the agents give, but Tracey Adams was the only one who really got a chance to respond to this topic. Her comment was:

I help the author get the manuscript ready in its best form to submit. I respect role of editor. Ready to submit doesn’t mean ready for publication.

SOME OTHER QUOTES FROM THE SESSION

Barry – I don’t go out with a manuscript unless I love it. Nothing is more exciting to me than letting an author know you have just sold their first book.

Marcia – in illustration portfolios I look for character and emotion.

Marcia – Voice helps you envision a character, get a sense of who they are.

IF YOU COULD FIX ONE THING IN THE PUBLISHING BUSINESS, WHAT WOULD IT BE?

Agents had different views on this topic, but some of the answers were:

  • Higher royalty for e-books
  • Book stores come back.
  • Royalty cheques more regularly.

I would have liked this panel to go a bit longer so we could have got more of a sense of each agent’s differences, but seeing the topic was The Current State of Children’s Books, there wasn’t really room for that sort of discussion.

The next session was Gary Paulsen’s keynote speech. I have been a big fan of his books for some time so I knew this would be special…and it was.

GARY PAULSEN

Gary Paulsen’s life as a child was incredibly hard. He was one of the ‘unprotected’ children that Donna Jo Napoli talked about on the first day of the conference.

He was the son of alcoholic parents and was totally independent by the time he was 7 1/2 years old.

He said that school didn’t work for him. He hardly attended school and it was thanks to caring librarian that he developed a passion for reading.

He has an overwhelming belief in young people that drives him to write.

His intense desire to tap deeply into the human spirit and to encourage readers to observe and care about the world around them has made him popular with young readers and earned him many awards.

Nova Ren Suma, Julie Strauss-Gabel and Michael Bourret

Gary Paulsen moved me with his stories, but he also inspired me to reach deep inside myself and be the best writer I can be.

The next session I attended was an editorial conversation between agent, Michael Bourret, Editor, Julie Strauss-Gabel and author, Nova Ren Suma. I came away without session notes but with the feeling that writing can be a rewarding and fantastic experience when an author, editor and agent work together as well as these three appear to.

Next on the agenda

My series of LA Adventure blog posts will continue next Tuesday when I talk about my session with Krista Marino, Perfecting Your YA Voice. I learned a lot from that one.

See you back here then.

Happy Writing:)

Dee

BACK FROM LA

Lin Oliver in conversation with the amazing Judy BlumeI’m back from 2011 SCBWI LA 40th Anniversary conference and it was FANTASTIC!

So many wonderful authors and illustrators. So much great information. Two of my favourite writers, Gary Paulsen and Judy Blume had some inspiring words for all of us.

The inspiring Gary Paulsen

Stay watching! This week I’ll be blogging every day about my amazing LA  adventures and sharing some of the things I learned.

Happy writing:)

Dee

MY LA ADVENTURE – PART ONE

Landing in LA

DAY ONE

Travelling to LA for the 2011 SCBWI conference was my first experience in time travel. I left Melbourne at 10.45am on Thursday morning and arrived in LA at 8.00am Thursday morning, nearly three hours earlier.

After a seriously long time in customs where I was fingerprinted and thankfully passed the test, unlike a lady in her late sixties who was taken away for further investigation because her fingerprints were too faint.

As soon as I hopped on the shuttle bus from the airport, it became clear that two of the occupants were travelling to the conference and one of them seemed familiar to me. She turned out to be the lovely Blanche Baxter, a twitter buddy who had tweeted me just the day before saying, “Can’t wait to meet you at the conference.” It seemed that fate couldn’t wait either. Freaky that Blanche was the first person I should meet in a contingent of over 1300 people.

First day of the conference was slightly overwhelming. I knew Blanche and 3 other people out of 1300. The lobby was filled with hugging, squeeing writers and illustrators catching up with people they’d met at previous conferences or somewhere along the road on their creative journey.

A favourite place to hang out

I met a bunch of great writers from all over USA and dined with them at the Pink Taco where I learned that English can be a problem for Australians in America.

When I ordered my meal I was asked whether I would like it WET. I looked at the waiter blankly and asked, “Does that mean you spray it with water”

No, it means served with a spicy chocolate sauce that sounded weird but tasted really good.

I was served up the largest burrito I’d ever seen and seeing as I hadn’t eaten since hopping off the plane, I consumed more than I expected.

Over 30 hours after I left Australia, I made it to bed at 10.30 pm

DAY 2

Up at 6.30am and time to enjoy LA from my hotel balcony before focussing for a big day of sessions.

BRUCE COVILLE

Bruce Coville opened the day with an inspiring talk about why what we do matters.

His big tips were:

  1. Take acting and storytelling lessons
  2. Take voice and singing lessons
  3. Take your art seriously – treat it as a business
  4. Read contracts – With Warranty Clause – make sure it doesn’t have ‘alleged’ in it.
  5. Learn to read your royalty statements
  6. Learn to negotiate
  7. Provide for your retirement
  8. Insure yourself
  9. Never throw anything away
  10. Take holidays from writing
  11. Scare yourself – take on assignments that frighten you
  12. Take risks
  13. Make your own rules
  14. Take your art seriously but take yourself lightly
  15. Accept compliments
  16. Don’t be afraid to show your art
  17. Embrace the unfinished chord – story with unfinished strand – don’t have to spell out all the answers for the reader. Give the reader something they can’t stop thinking about
  18. Don’t start with a message. Start with your own good heart
  19. Not knowing can be more powerful than knowing

Conference venue and where I stayed

His session was amazing but by now after nearly 20 hours without sleep thanks to the time zone differences, I was starting to hit the brick wall. So I skipped the next keynote and took some quiet time in my room where I met my wonderful roomie for the first time, Joyce Ragland, RA for Missouri and thoroughly nice person.

Prior to the conference we had only corresponded on Facebook and by email so it was great to be so at ease with each other right from the start.

I’m going to be blogging about the conference all this week. So feel free to come back here tomorrow and find out about podcasting from Katie Davis and about Donna Jo Napoli‘s amazing keynote on censorship and  How Writing About Terrible Things Makes Your Reader A Better Person.

I’d also love to hear your comments on the conference, LA, or the writing life in general.

Have to say I have come back feeling so inspired…but more about that later.

Happy writing:)

Dee

HOW TO BEHAVE AROUND AGENTS & PUBLISHERS

Conference Etiquette For Authors

I am so excited I could “squee”, (not something I normally do) In two days time I’m hopping on a plane to LA for the SCBWI Summer Conference.

But underneath that excitement is a certain trepidation.

You see like most authors who can chat quite happily from the safety of their computer keyboard, I’m actually shy at heart, and it’s a scary thought to be about to be thrown into a large group of people I don’t know – especially “very important publishing people”.

As I was walking my dog, Puff (that’s her on the left) the other day, I realised what the problem was. I am not scared of snakes or spiders (although moths alarm me a little) but I suffer from Agpubliphobia.

Agpubliphobia – an unreasonable fear of agents and publishers.”

It’s a name I invented because well something like this just seemed to need a name – and from talking to other authors I realise I’m not the only one who suffers from it. So I thought I’d share possible causes and cures.

Now I know from experience that agents and publishers are just people, and all the ones I’ve met have been very nice people. So I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not them I’m scared of, it’s actually me – and how I might behave under stress.

When it comes to knowing how to put words on paper, I’m quietly confident that I can do a good job. Even doing author talks to schools, and workhops in classrooms, I’m very comfortable.

But when it comes to talking to ‘important people’, when there’s a lot at stake – like a possible contract or judgement on something I’ve created that is close to my heart, I seem to take on some quirky traits that aren’t a normal part of my personality.

And I’m worried these tendencies may be amplified with the 2011 SCBWI LA conference because of the fact that this conference is probably five times bigger than any I’ve been to before and I’m one of only eleven delegates from Australia and New Zealand.

A large part of my motivation for going to the conference is centred around ‘actually’ meeting writer friends from all over the world that I’ve ‘virtually’ met online. I’m also enthused about what I’m going to learn from sessions like my verse novel intensive with the amazing Ellen Hopkins and from people like Gary Paulsen who is one of my favourite children’s authors.

But what if? What if someone – a publisher or agent asks me, “What are you working on now?”

If I had to think on the spot, I would probably respond with “Umm, Umm, Umm…” They would walk away thinking I was writing some weird sci fi novel about an octopus like creature with lots of arms and not much else.

Okay, so that was my first fear to overcome. The only way to do that I figured was to prepare my pitch in advance – so I wouldn’t have to get my fear-addled brain to think up something pithy on the spot.

(Thanks to Rachelle Gardner who has recently had some really helpful pitch posts on her blog.)

Memory Lapse

I’ve memorised my pitch, but what if I forget it? Then I’m back to where I started – paralysed by Agpubliphobia

To overcome that, I’ve made special prompt cards (cleverly disguised as a bookmarks) in case I forget.

My 'giveaway' bookmark

Lost For Words

What if everyone around me (including agents and publishers) is making intelligent small talk and I have nothing to contribute to the conversation? What if I can’t think what to say? If I can’t even remember my name or where I live (oh I’ll have a name tag so at least the first part will be covered)

The ‘Lost For Words’ syndrome is the reason I’ve printed another set to hand out to people – and down the bottom is a photo of where I live in Australia – so that’s kind of a visual prompt to help me relax and remind me that I do have something to talk about.

How Not to Scare Away Agents & Publishers

Now I realise that not everyone is like me. (although I know a lot of children’s writers who are). Lots of people are extroverts and things can go badly wrong for them too, so I thought it only fair that I cover this side of things as well.

Last time I posted on this topic I talked about how not to scare away agents and publishers by being overzealous and enthusiastic.

If you don’t suffer from Agpubliphobia, but agents and publishers seem to run a mile whenever they see you, here are some tips thanks to my wonderful writerly colleagues at Kids’ Writers Downunder:

Some of the following tips have been taken from a previous blog post. These are the things you DON’T DO AROUND AGENTS AND PUBLISHERS:

  • Get drunk and whisper sentimentally to a publisher or agent that they remind you of your mother.
  • Follow publishers/agents everywhere and offer to buy them drinks.
  • Follow them to the bathroom and talk to them through the cubicle wall (or under the gap in the door).
  • Follow them full stop.
  • Pitch to them in a social environment – if a publisher has just consumed a large and sumptuous main, there’s nothing that will cause them reflux more than an author pitching their 200,000 word sci fi, thriller, mystery romance over dessert.
  • March up to a well-known author’s agent or publisher and ‘drop their name’; making out you are their ‘bestie’, and that by association, this makes your writing irresistible.
  • Ambush elevators full of agents/publishers to do your ‘elevator pitch’ (This is a late addition thanks to my good friend and crit buddy, Alison Reynolds).

(In case you haven’t read it already, here’s the complete post on How Not to Scare Away Agents and Publishers.)

Deciding what to pack:)

I guess in conclusion I’d say that no matter what sort of personality you have, try to be your nicest and most relaxed self around agents and publishers. And have fun! That’s what I plan to do. I know the SCBWI LA conference is going to be an amazing experience and I’m going to make the most of it.

Do you suffer from Agpubliphobia or are you the suave, calm type that isn’t phased by this sort of occasion? If so, we could really use your help. Please feel free to leave your tips and comments.

Well I’ve got to go and pack. Next time I blog I will probably be in LA. I’ll definitely be back here to let you know how my strategies worked.

Dee:)

P.S. Here’s another great resource I just got from the SCBWI website.

P.P.S – Thanks to our wonderful SCBWI RAs here in Australia, Susanne Gervay and Chris Cheng and to Sara Rutenberg (Chief Operating Officer SCBWI LA) who have done so much to help me prepare for the conference and make me feel at home already.

IMPORTANCE OF WRITERS’ NETWORKS

Last week I went to the exhibition opening of amazingly talented artist and children’s author and illustrator, Jacqui Grantford.

It was called A Show of Hands and Jacqui had painted the hands of some famous and not so famous people – but every one of her pictures told an important story of that person. There were surgeons, footballers, babies, teens, artists – each picture created in amazing detail.

The exhibition was inspirational, the paintings brilliant, but one of the most wonderful parts to the evening was catching up with the contingent of Australian children’s authors and illustrators who had braved a chilly winter’s night to support Jacqui (that’s the lovely and talented artist in the pink and black dress) and her amazing exhibition.

It was one of the things that reminded me of just how important networks are. There are the networks of agents, publishers, reviewers etc who will help you get your books to publication and out there into people’s homes.

Then there are the other authors and illustrators – usually the ones who help you get from the seed of an idea to the completed first draft – the people who give you the courage to go on when your filing cabinet has a folder crammed full of rejection letters.

How do you develop networks?

Here are places where I have met likeminded individuals – where I have connected with authors and illustrators who have become lifelong friends:

  • writers’ groups
  • writers’ centres
  • writing courses – I have made many of my writing contacts directly and indirectly through a Professional Writing & Editing Diploma I did through Vic Uni.
  • writers’ organisations like Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators, Australian Society of Authors and Fellowship of Australian Writers
  • writers’ festivals and conferences (if you join a writers’ centre they will usually provide information about these).

 ONLINE

  • Search Yahoo Groups for writers and for specific categories you write in
  • Facebook (search for writers groups and pages here
  • LinkedIn
  • Jacketflap
  • Google+ I haven’t yet had the time to venture here yet but I believe you can build circles by categories so you can build circle of writers, publishers, librarians etc
  • Twitter – twitter has discussion forums about writing and these are great places to meet likeminded people #pblitchat, #yalitchat, #kidlitchat, #askagent
  • Networks like Blue Dingo
AUSTRALIAN WRITERS’ NETWORKS

There are writers’ centres in many states of Australia and some regional areas and their contact details can be found by Googling or by buying a copy of the Australian Writer’s Marketplace which is compiled and edited by Queensland Writer’s Centre http://www.qwc.asn.au

FACEBOOK GROUPS
Authors, Agents & Aspiring Writers

http://www.facebook.com/?ref=home#!/groups/204725947524

Childrens Authors & Illustrators on Facebook

http://www.facebook.com/home.php?sk=2361831622#!/groups/childrensauthorsandillustrators

The Children’s Book Council of Australia

http://www.facebook.com/home.php?sk=2361831622#!/groups/91641366798

The Writer’s Message Board

http://www.facebook.com/?ref=home#!/groups/143283442358144

 Writer Unboxed

http://www.facebook.com/home.php?sk=2361831622#!/groups/writerunboxed

Fans of SCBWI

http://www.facebook.com/SCBWI?ref=ts

These are the contacts and contact points I use but this list is by no means complete. If you have some other network or networking suggestions, please feel free to share them with readers of this blog by leaving the information in the comments section of this page.

Happy writing and networking:)

Dee

P.S. On the 4th August I’m off to the SCBWI Conference in LA. Very exciting for an Australian author like me who has never been to the US and I can’t wait to meet my online friends who will be there. So next week I’m going to be doing a post about conference etiquette. If you have any tips I’d love to hear them.

How Critiquing Can Help You Write Better – Tuesday Writing Tip

I’m lucky to have a wonderful writer’s network full of supportive crit buddies/beta readers.

They are all fantastic so I hate to single anyone out, but there is one person in particular, Alison Reynolds (Co-author of the popular Ranger In Danger series and writer of many other great books) who doesn’t let me get away with anything. I don’t consider any manuscript to be ‘submission ready’ until Alison has cast her critical eye over it.

The critiquing is a mutual thing and we often laugh about the fact that we make the same mistakes and that we pick them up in each other’s work but find it very hard to identify them in our own writing. I wonder if it’s a subconscious thing – that we know the mistakes we make so we see them in others.

I guess that’s one of the reasons why critiquing other people’s work can help you become a better writer. It can help you identify the things you could improve about your own writing.

These are the things I look for when I’m critiquing someone else’s work. They’re also steps I use in my own self-editing process. They are the questions I ask myself.

Setting

  • Does the setting information allow the reader to step into the world of the main character?
  • Is the setting detail relevant, appropriate, adequate?
  • Is the setting detail overdone?
  • If setting is important to the story, is it like another character – does it have a life and presence in the story?

Dialogue

  • Is the dialogue relevant and appropriate?
  • Does dialogue reveal character?
  • Does dialogue move the story along?
  • Does dialogue flow?

Constructive criticism can't hurt you *

Characters

  • Is there enough variation between the characters? For example, for balance, you need mean characters and nice characters. You can’t have all nice or all nasty.
  • Do the characters have their own strong, unique voice?
  • Do I care what happens to the main character?
  • Is it clear who the main character is in the story?
  • Are the characters developed enough?
  • Do all the characters need to be in the story?
  • Do character behave in a consistent way throughout the story? Is their behaviour credible?
  • Is there enough differentiation between characters in the story?

Plot

  • Does the plot hook the reader in straight away?
  • Does the plot have a series of events leading up to a climax or high point in the story?
  • If the plot doesn’t follow the straight narrative ark, does the format work?
  • Does the plot keep the reader hooked right to the end?
  • Are there any plot inconsistencies?
  • Is the plot credible within the setting and context of the story?
  • Are there page turners leading to the next chapter?
  • Is the sequence of events logical? Could they be restructured to strengthen the story?
  • If the book is going to have a sequel, has this been adequately set up?

Language

  • Is the language appropriate for the readership?
  • Does the piece have any repetitive words or phrases?
  • Look for inconsistencies in names of people and places (this is where a style sheet is handy)
  • Could the language be stronger?
  • Is the sentence length and structure varied enough?
  • Could the author have used language like similes and metaphors to make the piece more visual for the reader?
  • Could the language be tightened? Has the author used too many words – eliminating words ending in ‘ing’ and ‘there was’ type phrases can tighten a story. Also check for qualifiers like ‘really’ and ‘so’. These slow pacing down too.

Choose your own path when it comes to accepting other's critiques

If you can recognise all these elements in someone else’s story, you’ll have a better chance of recognising them in your own.

By the same token, critiquing is a subjective thing. You don’t have to take everything someone else says and they are not obliged to take your comments on board either.

That’s one of the great things about being a writer – you’re the one who controls the words on the page. Be open-minded, but don’t feel you have to change something that matters to you – perhaps you just need to clarify its place in the story.

I’d love to hear how your crit buddies or beta readers have helped you to write better. Also, feel free to share any critiquing tips or methods you have.

Happy writing and critiquing:)

Dee

P.S. I’m on school camp this week with no internet access so if your comments and my responses don’t appear straight away, don’t worry. I’ll be back on Friday and all will be sorted then:)

*  Couldn’t resist using more pics from our ‘Around Australia Trip’. The crocodile is one we ‘met’ in Queensland. The road pic is from the Oodnadatta Track.