Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Westside Writers Schmooze Talks About Getting Publishing!

A Career in Children's Literature means
you have to find the balance between
inspiration, craft, and business.

In a final whirlwind of information and goodwill before our summer hiatus, 38 of us gathered on the second Wednesday of June to talk about the business of getting published.

We discussed ways to break through, including Slush piles, Contests, and Networking.

We talked Query Letters. Cover Letters. Writing that darn synopsis.

We looked at RESEARCHING editors and agents (and how not to get overwhelmed by it)

We hit on Conferences (like the upcoming SCBWI International Conference here in Los Angeles, SCBWILA10) Business Cards, doing your homework, websites, blogs, creating an online presence for yourself, and having that "elevator pitch" ready to go (it always comes up!)

Much of the information from this night was drawn from the following resources, which we recommend as excellent starting places for feeling your way around the Web and learning how Children’s book publishing works.

A Few Resources (not endorsed by SCBWI)

Getting Started

--This is the first link under “Resource Library” on SCBWI’s main Web site. Viewable by the public, including non-members. Includes FAQs, articles on how to format your manuscript, etc.

--If your SCBWI membership is current, you can also log in at the Web site to check out the directories and resources SCBWI provides in their “Resource Library.” (Agent Directories, Book Festivals, etc.)

Useful Blogs on Query Letters and How Publishing Works

Mary Kole, Andrea Brown Literary Agency:
Filled with wide-ranging, helpful answers debunking common quandaries we wrestle with as children’s book writers. Children’s book specific!

Jill Corcoran, Herman Agency, Inc.:
Click on the Labels listed on the left to sort posts by topic. Categories include Query Letters, Research (which includes more helpful resources on the Web!), Writing Tips, and much more.
Also lists other helpful blogs and resources along the right (as most blogs do!) Children’s book specific!

Nathan Bransford – Literary Agent, Curtis Brown, Ltd.:
Has lots of contests and insight into the submission process.
Check out the list on the left of general articles on publishing he’s written. Nathan Bransford is extremely articulate on nearly every aspect of publishing!

Miss Snark, the literary agent:
A now defunct blog that remains online for posterity. Filled with terrific, merciless insights on writing Query Letters and more. Not for the faint of heart. (Use the categories listed on the right—such as “query letters,” “QnA,” “Crapometer-Cover Letters,” “Crapometer-First Pages,” etc.--to avoid getting sucked into reading the whole, highly entertaining blog.)

As you read these, you’ll find other names of additional helpful sites and blogs popping up repeatedly. Check those out once in a while, and before you know it, you’ll have a pretty good sense of who’s out there and where to find them.

Researching Agents

Literary Rambles:
Casey McCormick has assembled an amazing wealth of information on literary agents in Children’s book publishing. The majority of this information comes from online—the same as you could find yourself—but it’s all compiled here for you. The site is still growing, with more agents being added every week. You can even request which agent you’d like to see added next!

IF you are ready to start reading updates on which agents are selling what kind of projects to whom, you can subscribe to Publisher’s Marketplace. It's about $20.- a month, and offers a searchable database, yielding a wealth of information.

Or sign up for Publishers Lunch here which gives you just a taste of the info of what's selling... It's an excellent resource, and it's FREE!

Researching Editors

SCBWI provides a lovely document called “Edited By,” available as a downloadable PDF to members, which lists Editors by publishing houses, along with some of the titles they’ve edited. (If you are an SCBWI member, check it out here!)

We also recommend Googling editors to see which titles they cite in their own bios, online interviews, and blogs, and then going out and reading those books! Many editors are also thanked by their authors in the acknowledgments section of books, and it's worthwhile to make note of who edited your recent favorites.

Popular reference books listing Publishers and Agents

Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market
--Often referred to as CWIM. Comes out annually. Also includes excellent articles and interviews.

Jeff Herman's Guide To Book Publishers, Editors, & Literary Agents: Who They Are! What They Want! How To Win Them Over!
--Includes some personal info on hobbies, interests, etc., to give you insight into the people you are querying. Comes out annually. (Not specific to Children’s publishing, so sift through entries for that. )

Great Blog Resources to Know About

Betsy Bird's Fuse #8
If you want to keep up on what recently published Children’s books people are talking about this year, you would be hard pressed to do better than checking out the titles Betsy has reviewed for School Library Journal.

Alice Pope’s SCBWI Children’s Market blog:
Alice is the former editor of CWIM, and has a new blog that covers the industry for SCBWI... Among other things, every Wednesday she highlights that week’s best Children’s literature-related Tweets from Twitter! This is an excellent point of entry for those of us who know about twitter, but aren't quite ready to jump in ourselves!

If you are on Twitter, you can also check out the children’s book-related Twitter chats, such as Tuesday at 6pm Pacific #kidlitchat (transcripts of past chats are at Greg Pincus’s Happy Accident blog)

There's a full listing of twitter chats and events compiled by Debbie Ohi here! Don’t just check them out. Join in!

In addition to discussing all the above, we talked a bit about how not to get overwhelmed by all the information out there.

Remember: You don’t need to track everything going on, or read every blog entry! You only need a good sense of where all the information exists so you can find it when you’re ready for it. Ultimately, everyone’s path to publication will be their own.

Feel free to add YOUR favorite resources to share in comments!

Oh, and one more thing: We challenged everyone attending to set a GOAL for themselves this summer. A Goal for each of the three areas of this career - A Goal for Inspiration, A Goal for Craft, and a Goal for Business.

So play along at home, and set yourself some Goals for this Summer... (And remember, it's only fair to set goals that you control. Goals like "I'm going to finish that revision," "I'm going to submit to three agents," "I'm going to treat myself to a weekend at a SCBWI conference..." are the kind of goals you control meeting, and they are the kind of achievable goals we're suggesting.

The Westside Writers Schmooze will be taking the summer months of July and August off. We next meet on Wednesday, September 15th, at 7 pm, so mark your calendars! (It's a week later than usual due to the Jewish Holiday.) Exact topic to be announced.

So come join us in September, and we'll compare notes on how we all did with our Goals and our summers of business, craft and inspiration!

Enjoy your summers, everyone!

Rita and Lee

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Westside Writers Schmooze Talks Villains, Antagonists, Quiet Books, and what moves YOUR story forward

Lee sported a Dick Dastardly moustache,
but this is the closest to a photo of it we could find!

38 of us gathered Wednesday night May 12 to schmooze and talk craft. We reveled in home-baked cookies, muffins, and flowers (THANK YOU, EVERYONE!!), and settled down in a big circle to get to the dastardly content of our characters.

We started out by noting that most stories contain both internal and external conflict (as in the picture book "A Visitor for Bear"). Then we discussed different, classic models for external conflict, and shared picture book, MG and YA examples of each. Here's a taste:

Character versus Another Character (conflict with villains, antagonists, and rivals)

The Harry Potter series (MG fantasy)
A Series of Unfortunate Events (MG fantasy)
Roald Dahl books such as Fantastic Mr. Fox (MG)
and even picture books like "Don't Let The Pigeon Drive The Bus"

and "The Monster At the End of This Book," which cleverly pit the main character against the reader

Character versus Themselves

Grumpy Bird (picture book)

or versus their addiction... as in "Wintergirls" (YA, dealing with eating disorders)

Character versus Society

"Skin Hunger" (YA fantasy)

"Horton Hears A Who" (picture book)

"The Little Engine That Could" (picture book)

Character versus Nature

"Hatchet" (MG adventure)

Character versus Technology

Life As We Knew It, by Susan Beth Pfeffer (YA)

And other classic themes for conflicts:

Youth versus Age

Physical Obstacles (like mishearing someone, as in the picture book "Falling For Rapunzel"

We also discussed quiet books with seemingly no conflict, like "Every Friday"

and concept books for the very young about exploring the world.

This led to a discussion of the range of villainy we find in children's books, from the cartoony to the epic to the idea that, once you get to know them, most bad guys aren't so bad after all. This led to a lovely discussion of genre, age range, and setting up the rules, expectations, and worldview of your book.

As a group, we looked at this simple example:

a girl goes to an ice cream story to get an ice cream, she gets it and it's delicious

and noted that while that may make for a lovely afternoon, it's not much of a story.

We put the story through our "complication machine" (a box drawn on a piece of paper) and brainstormed all the obstacles that could keep our main character from achieving her goal too easily.

What if she has to clean her room first? ("Youth vs. Age")
She loses her money on the way to the store?
The store is closed?
The electricity goes out and the ice cream starts to melt? (everyone liked the ticking clock element of this one!)
The old person in line in front of her can't make up her mind.

Rita brought up a point from Nancy Lamb's chapter "The Mid-Story Crisis" in The Writer's Guide to Crafting Stories for Children, that there often comes a moment when--for any number of reasons--your main character can no longer get what he or she wants. Each time this happens, it gives rise to a new, even more powerful motivation. (And this can happen many times!)

And as an example of how this might work in our going to the ice cream store example, Greg Pincus suggested that maybe the ice cream brainwashes everyone who eats it and so instead of the girl wanting an ice cream, now she wants to find out who's behind this dastardly plot- so she can make ice cream safe to eat once again!

There was much talk of the Emperor behind Darth Vader in Star Wars, and the heirarchy of rival, enemy, and ultimate villain of the Malfoy son, father, and Voldemort in Harry Potter.

One attendee recommended the book The Power of the Dark Side: Creating Great Villains, Dangerous Situations, & Dramatic Conflict, by Pamela Jaye Sm

Lee brought up some of the three-dimensionalizing exercises for antagonists from Creating Characters Kids Will Love, by Elaine Marie Alphin

Rita brought up the suggestion from The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories, by Christopher Booker, that all villainy ultimately comes down to one, universal trait: selfishness. Villains (to the extent that they ARE villains) want something that benefits only themselves. Our hero, on the other hand, is always striving for something that goes beyond his or her self interest.

In this context the group brought up books featuring less than selfless main characters, for us to debate:

Diary of A Wimpy Kid
I Am A Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want to be Your Class President

We discussed how every character thinks they're the star of the story (like the Apothecary in the movie Shakespeare in Love,) and how the villain doesn't necessarily know they're the villain - to them they may be the hero.

This led to our final exercise for the evening, which was to challenge everyone to put their own characters through the "complication machine." (Remember, draw that box on a piece of paper!)

We had people do this for their antagonist - defining what that character wants (writing that in the box) and then brainstorming obstacles to them getting that.

And now, at home, even if you were there, you can do it for your main character as well.

Overall, it was a lively, engaging evening, and we all learned a lot - and gained some inspiration - from an evening talking about the bad stuff that makes your story GOOD.

Thanks to all the bakers and attendees and to all of you reading this blog post as well - it's a wonderful community we've got here!

Join us next month on Wed June 9th, when we meet to discuss... (drumroll...)

"Getting Published: Query Letters, Networking, and What You Need To Know"

Query Letters. Cover Letters. Writing that darn synopsis. Business Cards. Blogs. Web sites. Conferences. How do you find out which editors and agents are looking for what? And how do you gain access to them? Which reference sources have the information you need? How do you not get overwhelmed by all the information? Come talk about the business side of being a writer. For Picture Books through YA, non-fiction and fiction, writing your manuscript is only the first part...

Please RSVP to if you plan to attend. This is the topic everyone wishes we did *every* month. We hope to see you there!

Rita and Lee