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The SCBWI Winter Conference gave me serious insight into the job of an agent and editor. During the writer’s roundtable, 8 writers sat at a table with an editor or an agent.
Each writer had 12 minutes to circulate their 1.5 pages of writing, have everyone read it and give feedback.
Sounds cool, right? Except I’ve never processed 1.5 pages of writing in one quick read and articulated feedback instantly. My usual critique groups allow several days to read, mull, and give feedback.
The editors and agents had no problem instantly identifying issues and raising questions about each manuscript. They articulated in a way I never could under such time constraints.
That’s an incredible skill to have.
I had the opportunity to hear feedback from an incredible editor and from an insightful agent during the two rounds of critiquing. I also got 16 opinions from my fellow writers.
That’s pretty cool feedback. I met the amazing Kat Bender who is going to swap some pages with me since we both have a passion for YA, Victorian times and fantasy. Her writing reminded me of The Amaranth Enchantment by Julie Berry. Which you might remember as one of my favorite reads last year.
We spent two hours in our first roundtable, broke for a quick lunch and then did our second round of critiques. Again, I heard some great writing and some curiosity sparkling writing. After insta-critiquing another 8 people’s work, I was brain fritzed.
Couldn’t form sentences the rest of the night. My poor cousin thought I was drunk or heading toward a breakdown. My mind simply couldn’t do anymore.
I had to watch Friends and go to bed.
So agents and editors, I salute you. You do something that turned my brain to oatmeal. And you do it extremely well. Everyday. Thanks so much for helping this writer along on her path to publication.
I’m a follower of her fantastic blog (which you should definitely check out). I thought you’d appreciate her perspective on the panel too.
And now, I turn the blog over to Emmie…
E-Pub vs. Legacy Pub: Barry Eisler’s Bottom Line
If you’re like me — a self-professed lover of traditional publishing — you might not have heard of Barry Eisler before now. If you’re an e-pub guru, you’ve probably at least heard his name.
Mr. Eisler was a keynote speaker at the Writer’s Digest conference. At first glance, he reminded me a little of Bradley Cooper. Take a moment to swoon if you must.
Barry Eisler is an author who has recently transitioned from a successful traditional publishing career to the world of self-publishing. Here’s the reason behind his notoriety: he turned down a $500,000 book deal with St. Martin’s Press in favor of self-publishing his newest book as an e-book. His e-book has been wild and successful, and I think it’s safe to say he has capitalized on his risk.
Before everyone flies into a tizzy of self-publishing, allow me to use Mr. Eisler’s words to deflate you. I apologize in advance for the poof of air rushing out of the sails, but this very successful author had a point to make. First of all, he explained that making a living in the writing business is — to an extent — like a lottery. Sometimes fantastic books hit the shelves only to run their faces into a brick wall — current events, economic downturn, the arrival of a similar book by a better-known author. Any number of great books has struggled to compete with the many distractions of our frenetic little planet. A lot of success is timing, and a lot of it is luck.
Barry (I can call you Barry, right?) has a mantra that I chanted to myself daily even before I saw him speak: Work hard, work hard, work hard, work hard until luck finds you. Writers and dreamers, take heed. It might take a flash of luck, of your query catching the exact right agent the moment she desperately wants your book or of an influential e-book buyer wanting a dystopian romance right as your book pops up in her marketplace. The only way those things will happen is if you keep working, keep sending queries, and keep doing your thing. Work hard until luck finds you.
Now. That little inspiration was fun, but let’s dive into the nitty-gritty, shall we?
Barry loves e-books. Barry loves e-books because they never go out of print. Tangible books are subject to their sales and how profitable it is to keep them on shelves. When I was in high school, I sold a bunch of my Night World books by L.J. Smith at a yardsale. I regretted it even as the money changed hands. A couple years later, I tried to buy them back, only to find that they were A: out of print and B: really expensive used. I still bought them, but I’m a weirdo. Most people won’t go hunting down books that are out-of-print — they look for things that take less work to find.
Traditional publishers lure writers because they have the golden goose in their warehouses. You didn’t hear the honking? Yeah. She’s there. Her name is Distribution. Don’t ask me. I didn’t name her. Sure, you can waltz into a Barnes and Noble with your self-published books and ask politely for them to give you shelf space, but I can almost guarantee you can’t make it to all of their stores — and even if you did, you would be paying a lot of money to do stock them. Traditional publishers have the networks, the salespeople, and — oh yeah — the product. They can print thousands of books and get them onto shelves. Until recently, this was the only way to do it.
What the e-book has changed is that writers who choose to publish that way do not need that golden goose.
Oh, see? Now we hurt her feelings. She’s crying big honking alligator tears.
But seriously — if you choose to e-publish, you have the distribution. You have the assurance that your book will never go out of print. So says Barry, and it’s true. Of course, there is a downside to that. While in traditional publishing, about 93% of books fail (sell less than 1000 copies and go out of print), that number doesn’t really change in e-publishing. You go from being one of a few hundred thousand titles in trad publishing to one of millions of titles in self-publishing. Six of one, half dozen of the other.
Publishing will be built on direct-to-consumer marketing in the future, says Barry. This makes writers powerful players and provides a nice segue into another one of his points: if you write for a living, you are your own CEO.
Say that with me. If you write for a living, you are your own CEO.
Barry meant it purely in the sense of the business of it, but I see another juicy layer there. What does that mean? It means you (you, not Barry, not Random House, and not Kindle or Nook) are responsible for your success.
Hold it, Emmie. You and Barry said that making a living writing is like a lottery.
It is. When you own your success, when you take that responsibility for your own progress and sales and brand, it’s like buying a brontosaurus’s share of tickets in that lottery. If you work a piddling amount and hem and haw and splutter about, you’re only buying a ticket a day. Sure, you might hit jackpot and win big, but you know what’s true about people that happens to? They’re broke again next year.
When you own your success, you stockpile enough tickets to win not just next month or next year, but the months and years afterward. And that, my friends, is what it means to be a career writer.
How do you own your success? How do you take that responsibility? Barry has an answer for you, via me.
First of all, understand that readers love to read — and they still buy books. If you keep that in mind, you will keep writing. The readers are waiting. Don’t keep them waiting forever.
Here are three things that you need to do to take responsibility for your career as a writer, no matter which avenue of publishing you trundle down:
1. Editing. Oh, dear gawd and kittens, I cannot stress this one enough. I downloaded a sample chapter of an e-book I saw advertised a couple weeks ago. Within a page, I’d banged my head on my keyboard twice and cringed enough to make a kicked puppy feel brave. Edit your work. If you don’t know what a comma splice is, find out. If you don’t know what a dangling modifier is, find out. If you suck at editing, hire someone. This is your duty to your readers: don’t suck. Please, for the love of the grammar gods, don’t suck.
2. Proof-reading. This goes hand-in-hand with editing. Beyond grammar, your writing should pop, zing, and other comic book words. I’m guilty of this one too. If you haven’t figured this out yet, I tend toward verbosity. Don’t worry; I belong to a support group.
3. Packaging. You don’t want your self-published book to look like your five-year-old drew the cover with crayons and then snotted on it. Professional is key, and for newbie writers it’s not easy. This is an arena where the legacy publishers still have a leg up on the indies — they have the artists, the graphic designers, and the polish to make books look awesome. Have you been in a Barnes and Noble lately? I went to one a month ago and about peed my pants at how much covers have evolved in the past couple years.
The bottom line? From Barry to you: write great fiction. Make it pop, make it shine, and people will want it, no matter how you publish it. And because of e-books, you now have choices.
Emmie studied history and languages in college — at least on the surface. Woven into stories of World War II Poland and trying to wrap her tongue around tongue-mutilating consonants, she discovered a world within our own. A world of magic where trees can come alive and humans aren’t at the top of the food chain.
Armed with pen and paper, she set out to coax that world from the ether and commit it to ink. It’s there she found her home in a land of urban fantasy. Reality filtered through a supernatural lens — that is the magic.
Emmie lives outside D.C. and wishes she had a cat to laugh at and a dog to chase the cat. She lives with her husband and some intrepid raccoons who weren’t quite invited.
Emmie is currently working on the third novel of an adult urban fantasy trilogy and seeking representation.
Emmie’s Blog: http://emmiemears.com/
Emmie’s Twitter: @emmiemears
Today I’m attending the writer’s roundtable intensive all day workshop at the kickoff of the International SCBWI Winter Conference in New York. This is my first SCBWI conference so I’m excited to see how it rolls out.
My all day workshop has 8-9 writers sitting at a table with an agent or editor. Our first 500 words will be critiqued. I’m looking forward to the feedback and the opportunity to get my revised work in front of an agent or editor.
At a minimum, I’ll come away with useful feedback. And if I dream big, an editor or agent will like it enough to request pages.
The conference has some amazing panels in its schedule. When I signed up for the conference, the registration included language about not blogging about copyrighted material presented in the workshops and about not transmitting any part of the conference.
This means next week’s conference blogs will be less detailed than my usual ones. I’ll try to include useful tidbits and insights while respecting and adhering to SCBWI’s rules.
If you have any questions about the SCBWI Winter Conference, please fire away. I’ll answer them below or if they require a longer response, I’ll incorporate them into next week’s blog posts.
Jeff Gerke’s panel on The First Fifty Pages was an intimate look into the mind of an editor. I was so impressed I bought his book,The First Fifty Pages, at the Writer’s Digest Conference and had him sign it.
He has a unique perspective being that he is a multi-published author and is now an editor at his own publishing house.
He explained that the first fifty pages have to:
*Engage the reader
*Introduce the hero
*Introduce the main character
*Establish context for story (establish the normal before violating the normal) Note: this is something others may disagree over.
*Reveal story world
*Set tone for book
*Present the stakes
*Start the time bomb (build reader anticipation about the terrible thing that will happen)
*Start the hero’s inner journey
*Inciting incident must happen
*Set up Act 2
*Set up circularity (something you will refer back to at end to give rear feeling of completeness.)
Wow. That’s an impressive to-do list for the first fifty pages.
He then moved on to discussing what goes on inside the editor’s mind. There are a couple chapters in his book on this too.
The key points I took away were:
1) The agent culls the best manuscripts to submit to acquisitions editor.
2) Editors are given the work of acquisitions but no time to do it. They read your submission over lunch or at home.
3) Editors have to consider marketability because sales mean the editors publishing house does well and editor keeps his job.
4) A contracted and published book may only have 1 person in publishing house who read the entire manuscript.
He talked about the four ways to begin a novel:
1) Prologues(e.g., Mulan movie)
2) Hero action (e.g., Indiana Jones)
3) In Media Res (e.g., One Day) this is where you start in the middle and flash back to past, telling story up to the point you started at and usually further forward.
4) Frame device (e.g., The Notebook)
Method 1&2 are the most popular ways to open a novel.
The key thing about a prologue is that it must be used properly to open the book.and it’s important to remember agents have a strong dislike of prologues.
The reason prologues have such a bad wrap is because many new writers use them incorrectly. He said prologues are bad if they are full of backstory and can be consider an info dump.
He also offered a 4 hour bootcamp session, which I unfortunately hadn’t signed up for. I figured my mind would be mush by then. It kinda was.
Though the powerful and captivating speaker, Chris Baty, gave a rousing closing remarks that energized me for my Central Park walk with Emmie.
The Writer’s Digest Conference had many mind stretching, craft expanding panels. I wish I could blog about each one, but I’d rather select three to share. And the awesome Emmie Mears has graciously agreed to Guest post about a panel as well.
That should satiate your conference interests without inundating you with info.
I loved Donald Maass’s panel on Writing The 21st Century Novel.
Brimming with brilliant insight.
He talked about how commercial fiction dominated the New York Times Bestsellers list in the 1970s and 1980s, but in the 1990s things began to change. Fantasy and literary fiction began to take a place on that venerable list.
He believes now in the 21st century there is another shift occurring.
Curious, he started to research these changes. He found there was a decrease in straight genre fiction and an increase in cross genre fiction.
In fact, cross genre books were selling better than straight genre fiction. These hybrids were fiction that read like literary fiction but were genre fiction.
He came to this conclusion: In the 21st century, the genre concept will slowly die and go away. It will be replaced with high impact fiction, which marries great story telling with beautiful writing.
This means that commercial and literary writers each have something to learn from each other. The story must meld the two types so that it effects the reader and reaches people in a powerful way.
Mr. Maass then led us through an exercise to help make our stories more high impact. He has a book coming out to help writers do this at home too. I’ll definitely be purchasing it.
His main point with these exercises was to engage the reader emotionally. I have to admit it worked. I made three revisions to my finished manuscript this weekend because of his workshop. And they all improved the readers emotional experience.
One prompt he posed to the audience was: Write down the hardest thing your protagonist has to do in the course of the story. Now work out why the character has sworn never to do or do it again.
He wants writers to construct powerful protagonists, 3-D secondary characters, and make the book plot driven but beautifully written.
He has several workshops this year that are worth attending.
Thanks WDC for a killer first day workshop panel!
The Writer’s Digest Pitch Slam is a can’t be missed opportunity to get your work to agents.
On Saturday morning, I had moths chewing through the wool of my stomach. Serious nerves. Anticipation nerves.
So I lined up early. 50 minutes early. I was third in line for the central Park East room.
Three hours to the pitch slam, but the agents were alphabetically split up into 4 separate rooms.
This presents a problem because all my agents are ranked according to fit for my book, but agent choice 1,2,3 are in 3 separate rooms, which forces me to break order and hit whoever was on my list in that room for expediency.
I lined up to go into Central Park East. Met two lovely writers ahead of me. Luckily, we were each targeting a different agent, so no blood shed over our first pitch.
As soon as Chuck Sambuchino gave us the okay we raced to our first choice.
I’ll be honest, I was nervous but I was excited to finally pitch this book.
I had written my pitch a month ago so I went through it pretty well. The agent didn’t like the paranormal element and said to query her.
Instead of debating or arguing, I accepted her response with a polite okay and thanks.
I moved on to my next agent. People were still pouring into the room. I was number 9 in line. Ugh. 24 minutes until I got to pitch.
The other writers were awesome. We chatted and joked our way up to the front.
This agent said strong pitch but not for me.
For some bizarre reason this isn’t ruffling my feathers. I anticipated this book would be a hard sell because it’s a mixed genre book.
I check out another agent in that room but her line is 10 long and I don’t want to miss out on other agents.
So I head into the next room, Central Park West.
I get in line for an agent I think is a great fit. Six people in front of me which means 18 minutes waiting. I strike up a conversation with Kim, the lady in the line next to me. We make the best of the wait, cheering each other on.
This agent and I click. We are laughing at my pitch together. She seems to really enjoy the story. She requests the partial. I start to get up and she invites me to stay and chat since my 3 minutes aren’t up yet. I manage to make her laugh a bit more.
The other agent I wanted to hit in that room has a long line so I decide to circle back. I race out of the room, road runner down the stairs and gallop to the other set of rooms.
I have several targets in Empire West. The top pick has a long line but I figure I have time. The line flies by with the help of a Jessica from CT. We exchange cards.
This agent also likes my pitch and requests the partial.
I jet across the room to an agent who tells me telepaths aren’t for her. Mind you I flubbed my pitch and got tongue tied but i did manage to recover. But valid point. With a polite Thanks, I head for my next target.
This Agent has a long line. Like 9 people. Ugh. But I’m good on time. So I get in it.
When I pitch her she makes eye contact the whole time. I don’t drop my gaze to my notes. Thank God I memorized it!
She says it’s not for her, but then gives me two referrals to agents who would like it. That was so unbelievably kind and above the call of duty.
Only bad call I made all day was sucking on sour candies to keep my mouth from drying out. I stuck the candy in my cheek like a chipmuck to talk and it dissolved between my gum and cheek. This kinda burned that area of my mouth. I alternated sides so both ache. Next conference I’ll stick to mints.
I hit my next agent. Her line is only 4 people. Still good on time, so I wait.
She requests a partial too.
Now it’s a race down the hall back to Central Park rooms to try and snag my next agent. There is a huge line 10 people for the agent in CPE I wanted. That will eat up most of my time left. Shoot. So I check the agent I want in CPW.
Her line is shorter so I go in for her. She is absolutely lovely and asks a few questions even after she requests the partial.
I’m grinning from ear to ear. But when i return to CPE, the agent line i wanted now has a last pitch sign given out. This means the person with that sign is the last pitch. Darn.
Like a New Yorker at rush hour, I speed walk and dodge people trying to get back to the Empire rooms. In Empire East, the agents I want all have writers holding last pitch signs. So I skedaddle into Empire West. I find two agents that don’t have big lines. So I jump in line and pitch one. Get my sixth request!
I have ten minutes left. One agent has no line, but I already have a cold query partial out to her agency. Darn. I scan the room. Everyone has last pitch cards. I race next door. Same situation. I fly down the hall. Same situation. The ones without lines don’t take my genre or already rejected me via cold query. Ugh.
So I stop at 9 pitches with 9 minutes left to go.
I’m helium balloon bouncing on the ceiling. Adrenaline is pumping. Mind is firing on all levels.
I go upstairs, get my stuff and head back to A’s apartment.
Out of 9 pitches, I got 6 requests and one referral. That’s more than I dreamed possible.
Thank you to Writer’s Digest for making this possible.
Also a huge shout out to Emmie Mears who is a delight to hang out with in NY and an awesome fellow blogger. So glad we got to meet and actually have a couple meals together.
Sometimes, TV shows teach us something. Not often, but it happens. Over the holidays, The Bold and Beautiful had their matriarch Stephanie Forrester spend two days interviewing real people who had aged out of the foster care system and were trying to better themselves and build a life.
The show worked this into the plot seamlessly by having an intern at Forrester Creations accused of stealing designs. Stephanie realized she’d made an unfair accusation and tried to set it right by going to the girl’s home.
This is how she learned about United Friends of the Children, a non-profit organization in LA that help foster kids transition into the world with housing, clothing, paid internships, and assisting them in applying to college and for financial aid.
It was absolutely heartbreaking to hear real stories of how foster care failed many of these people. How when they turn 18, they are given $500 and sent out alone in the world. Granted some had a wonderful foster care parent who shaped their life. But that’s not the majority.
It touched me deeply and I decided to make a small donation because this is a charity that really resonated with me. I tried to imagine my life without parents and without family. I would not be where I am right now without my mom’s emotional and financial support. I wouldn’t be the writer I am without my dad red-penning my high school essays.
I can’t imagine how hard it is to be all alone and wanting to be the best you, but not having opportunities and chances.
That’s why I really appreciate this charity because it gives these kids opportunities. And they take it and run with it.
If you’d like to learn more about United Friends of the Children click here.
If you’d like to watch (18 minutes each) The Bold and The Beautiful Episodes here they are:
I’m at the Writer’s Digest Conference in NYC today! I’ll be tweeting about it this weekend @Kourhei and blogging about my favorite panels next week.
I’m super excited to be here again. Last year, I learned so much, met some cool people, garnered several requests for my YA manuscript and learned how to breathe while pitching.
Hoping this year’s event further improves my craft and that I get requests on my adult manuscript.
Here’s what the conference schedule looks like.
If you have any questions about the conference, please comment below and I’m happy to share anything I learned. Even stuff like what to wear, how to strike up a conversation with a stranger, when to approach a writer you love for an autograph or who the best speakers were.
I’ve been working on the first 500 words of my YA novel in preparation for the writer’s roundtable critique day at the Winter SCBWI conference Jan 27-29. These two pages have taken up over a week of my writing life.
I wasn’t unhappy with my beginning. It was the umpteenth version of it. And it garnered requests for the full. But no offers of representation.
No harm in trying something new since I’d have a day’s worth of captive audience at the conference.
But I really liked that beginning. It was the best beginning I’d written to date.
So I thought, let’s make it more YA-ey. Let’s talk about the clicks in high school.
I warmed to the idea and reworked the first two pages. I got deeper into my protagonist’s head. Her voice came through so much more. I didn’t say she’s an outsider, but I showed it.
I was super excited after 2 days of laboring over my words.
And then I read it to my dad.
Then he says, “I’m not connecting with it. Too kiddish.”
Okay that was what I was going for. But it gives me pause.
I read it to mom.
She says, “I hate it.”
Double pause. Maybe I did something wrong.
Wasted two days going down the wrong path.
So the next day, I thought about it. Didn’t touch the keyboard. Read a paper version.
Since the book isn’t really about high school, it was not a good idea to open with high school clicks.
But that left me with zero ideas of how to revise it.
I ruminated over it for a day. Then I decided to focus on the mystery. Play it up more. And I changed the opening again. But this time when I got stuck, I pulled stuff out of the bad revision. Because even though the concept didn’t work, the execution rocked.
There were some beautiful lines there. Cool ideas I could tweak. So I leveraged the first rewrite to get to the second.
Then I read the new one to my mom.
She says, “I love it.”
My beta reader read both and said he loved the new one best, although the first one was well written. And he could see how the first version gave birth to the second.
I kinda knew I was going down the wrong road with the clicks, but I didn’t have another idea. However, movement always feels better than inertia. Even when you’re going the wrong way. Rather than sit in my car thinking about where to go, I followed it to the end.
And it led me to a better idea. The idea I would run with and keep.
Every time you toss out an idea and lose several pages of work and lambaste yourself for wasting time, keep in mind that tossed out idea might have been the only way to get to the next idea. The one that was for keeps.
Harlan Coben is the Dalai Lama of Suspense. Seriously, every suspense lover should read Caught. It’s a gateway to phenomenal writing and enlightened reading.
He hooked me with his first line, “I knew opening that red door would destroy my life.”
I have to know why and how and everything else that goes along with the destruction of Dan Mercer’s life.
I decided to read the first few chapters and 100 pages flew by. He is a skillful writer who doesn’t let go of his reader for one heart-pounding millisecond.
His descriptions are crisp and fresh like “Small curls of orange shag, like thin cheetos, littered the floor.”
The characters are well crafted, sucking you right into their suburban lives and the underbelly of their existence.
The premise promises a thrilling, suspenseful mystery with hairpin turns and twists that toss the reader off treacherous cliffs.
I had no idea how things would end until I reached the very last sentence of the last page.
Here’s how Mr. Coben’s website describes the book:
From the #1 New York Times bestselling master of suspense comes a fast-paced, emotion-packed novel about guilt, grief, and our capacity to forgive.
17 year-old Haley McWaid is a good girl, the pride of her suburban New Jersey family, captain of the lacrosse team, headed off to college next year with all the hopes and dreams her doting parents can pin on her. Which is why, when her mother wakes one morning to find that Haley never came home the night before, and three months quickly pass without word from the girl, the community assumes the worst.
Wendy Tynes is a reporter on a mission, to identify and bring down sexual predators via elaborate—and nationally televised—sting operations. Working with local police on her news program Caught in the Act, Wendy and her team have publicly shamed dozens of men by the time she encounters her latest target. Dan Mercer is a social worker known as a friend to troubled teens, but his story soon becomes more complicated than Wendy could have imagined.
In a novel that challenges as much as it thrills, filled with the astonishing tension and unseen suburban machinations that have become Coben’s trademark, Caught tells the story of a missing girl, the community stunned by her loss, the predator who may have taken her, and the reporter who suddenly realizes she can’t trust her own instincts about this case—or the motives of the people around her.
While I was reading this book, everything became something that had to get done so that I could get back to the book.
After reading this book, I would buy and read any book with Harlan Coben’s name on it. He is one of the top writers of our generation.