Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Hollywood Schmooze Explores Query Basics

     Query letters are a necessary part of a writer's toolbox. Each writer hopes that theirs is the one that will catch an editor's attention, and even, perhaps, touch their heart. There are guidelines that help writers shape their query letter drafts into pieces of writing that meet the publishing industry's standards. Knowing the Query Basics is required for emerging writers, and was the topic of the May Hollywood Schmooze.

     Attendees presented articles about querying from various sources.

     The following is an excerpt from: The Blabbermouth Blog by literary agent Linda Epstein of the Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency (May 6, 2014).

     Epstein wrote: "You are not a snowflake. You are not special or unique or even much of an individual. Well, perhaps you are, but not when it comes to following submission guidelines. Here's the thing: submission guidelines aren't really guidelines in the sense of a recommendation, suggestion, or a bit of advice, they're rules! You may say to yourself...'they need to know the true me...' But if you don't follow an agent's submission guidelines (rules), you're probably not going to get them to even look at your work."
     Epstein then noted the following suggestions in her May 6th blogpost.

    " Research the agent and read their submission guidelines.
     No attachments: put your writing sample in the body of the email.
     Pay attention to how many pages an agent states they will read and limit your sample to that number.
     Of course we all know some rules can be broken, so be sure to read the agents guidelines for exceptions to the above."

     From agent Mary Cole (, via a handout from the Children's Book Writers of Los Angeles (CBW-LA), come comments on Punching Up Your Plot Paragraph. A reading of Cole's questions on how to build a plot paragraph, shows that by answering these questions, a writer could have the dramatic elements (succinctly told, of course) that might make a query tug at those heart strings.Editors, and their assistant readers, are in touch with their emotions or they wouldn't be into literature (I think...).
     Cole's handout directed users to "Creatively present answers to the following questions."

     Who is your character?
     What strange thing is going on in their life that throws them off their equilibrium and launches the story?
     What (or who) do they want most in the world?
     Who (or what) is their ally?
     Who (or what) is in the way of them getting what they want most in the world (their obstacle)?
     What is at stake if they don't get what they want?

Incidentally, the Children's Book Writers of Los Angeles (CBW-LA) is headed by SCBWI's very own Nutschell Anne Windsor!

     Schmooze writers took time to read their own query letters, mentally comparing them  to what we'd learned, or been reminded of during the Schmooze. Then we took time to socialize, catching up on what's happening in our writing--and other--lives!

--Jean Perry



Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Westside Writers Schmooze Knows What Boys Like…Not Really, But We Tried To Find Out

Waaaaaay back in February, the Schmoozers gathered to discuss the age-old question (again, not really): What the heck is a “boy book” anyway and should you write one?
Actual boys, actually reading. Photo
courtesy of local author, Frances Sackett

“Boy Books.” No doubt, if you write for children, you’ve heard that label before. Charlie and Karol planned this topic not at all certain that gender specificity is a good thing. But the simple fact is – girls tend to read more than boys do. Girls will read books on a wide range of subjects, featuring both male and female main characters. Girls are just better and smarter than boys. Schmoozes, for instance, would be so much more pleasant if run entirely by girls—


Oh. Sorry, Charlie.  On the reading front, when it comes to boys reading a lot of books about a variety of subjects featuring protagonists of either sex…yeah, typically, not so much. The question is, why?

DISCLAIMER: Yes, every kid’s different. Some boys love princess stories and some girls would rather play video games than get caught dead reading some frilly, pink “girl book.” By definition this topic demands we speak in wide generalities. Deal with it.

So where were we? Right – Boys. Why don’t they read? The Guys Read website created by author Jon Scieszka explores the phenomenon of reading difficulties many boys tend to have and why that is. He sites lots of statistics about boys’ tendency toward sub par reading skills compared to girls of the same age – lower reading test scores, higher numbers of boys in Special Ed, more likelihood of being held back a grade and overall lower college enrolment. He also has some of is own theories on why boys tend to struggle more with reading, the most pertinent one for the Schmoozers probably being that many of the books boys are asked to read don’t appeal to them.

Boys don’t have enough positive male role models for literacy. Because the majority of adults involved in kids’ reading are women, boys might not see reading as a masculine activity.

Scieszka spearheaded an anthology of short stories by great male writers, Guys Write for Guys Read: Boys' Favorite Authors Write About Being Boys. Contributors include Chris Crutcher, Stephen King, Matt Groening, Daniel Pinkwater, Neil Gaiman, and many more.

And just what DO boys read, anyway? What are some favorites? Well, several series came to Schmoozers’ minds: Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, the Hardy Boys. 

Is writing a “boy book” as simple as having a male protagonist? The general consensus was NO. One Schmoozer commented that, “girls have a lot more internal dialogue” and tend to “questions their on choices.” Boys, on the other hand, “blast through a story, eating up the plot without chewing and so, never taste all the nuance of the work.” Okay, that might be a little harsh and simplistic, but in researching this subject, Charlie and Karol found that there are some generally agreed upon differences in books that appeal to boys.

Charlie also found lots of interesting info on the physiological and psychological differences between girls and boys. (He pointed out to Greg Pincus that, “there’s more to boys than just a penis,” to which Greg quickly agreed that, yes, there are also boogers.) At the risk of overwhelming you with minute and potentially inappropriate details of Charlie’s research dear Schmoozers, here are a few links to some of Charlie’s choicest findings:


Very funny Pen & Ink blog –insanely outdated stereotypes


DOES YOUR BOOK COVER LIMIT SALES TO JUST ONE GENDER, or alert that gender to a book they’ll find great?:!




SLAPSTICK: TESTOSTERONE, SPATIAL AWARENESS, & SYMPATHY (aka Why Women Don’t Think The 3 Stooges are Funny)

Charlie wanted to continue waxing poetic about all the ways boys and girls are fundamentally different…but Karol stomped her foot and starting going on (and on) about how long this blog post was getting, and since she’s basically the Boss of All Things, Charlie eventually acquiesced and went off to a corner to mope.

The Schmooze wrapped up with a writing exercise.  Feel free to play along at home!

  • You’re a boy between the ages of 8 and 17. Your parents just told you that you’re moving out of the country. Write a scene where you break the news to your friends. 
  • Now write the same scene as a girl (of the same age). 
Please feel free to post any insights that came out of the exercise in the comments below.

Alas, the evening came to an end WAY before the Schmoozers were able to come to any definitive conclusions about what boys really and truly like…and that’s probably a good thing. Because each “boy” is different and you should write YOUR story, not a “boy story” or a “girl story.” 

 Still, the Schmooze offered lots of great food for thought on the “boy books” topic – PLUS a mini-biology lesson from Charlie. Really, what more could any Schmoozer want? (Just please don’t ask the woman who stormed out half way through… perhaps she was expecting and evening of good taste and decorum. Clearly, she came to the wrong place for that!)

And before we let you go, for your listening pleasure:

Whether you write boy books, girl books or everything in between – keep writing.

…and keep passing the open windows,

Charlie & Karol