If you are an SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) member, I hope you take the time to read Insight when it arrives in your e-mail. This means that you need to click through and read entire articles, all the way to the bottom. Because if you do, you’ll see things like this exclusive opportunity for SCBWI members.
Throughout October, all of the agents of the Bent Agency will take submissions throughout the month of October from SCBWI members. Yes, that even means the agents who are closed to submissions.
Susan Hawk, the agent that I’m interested in is NOT closed to submissions but I’m a little concerned that if they get too many submissions that could change. So in spite of the fact that I’m drafting an entire book in about a week (15000 words), I need to get that query letter finished and send in my submission now while she’s still open.
I hope that some of you take the time to find a piece of work that is suitable for one of these agents. And, if you have something, good luck with your submission!
Have you ever had one of those pieces that just can’t settle down and be? When you first write it, you draft a picture book. Later on, it becomes a short story. Then it makes an appearence as an essay. That’s was definitely the case with “Jingle Bell Joy,” but at long last it gets to make its debut . . . as an essay in Mom for the Holidays, an eb00k available on Amazon.
Read this piece of nonfiction and you’ll realize how long this story has been taking shape. Jared is a preschooler!
A word of advice — if you have a story that you are having troubles finding a home, don’t give up. Try a different market, try rewriting it in a different form, but try. It will be worth the effort.
Beware the characters you create.
At the Missouri SCBWI conference on 9/26, editor Kate Sullivan warned us to avoid creating disabled characters who are trope. A trope is a word, character or phrase used for literary effect. Sullivan warned us about one trope in particular but her warning roused my curiousity so I did a bit of research. These are the disabled character trope seen most often – avoid them at all costs!
- Poor, sad, disabled person. Do not create the pitiful disabled character. Yes, someone who loses an ability due to an accident is likely to be depressed, but do not create a character to be pitied. Do. Not. But that’s not the only pitfal to be avoided. Do not create a poor character who is deserving of help because he is disabled. Do. Not.
- The Super Crip. This is the character type that Sullivan cautioned against. In the Super Crip, the person is seen as a hero because of their disability. Any time another character finds your disabled character to be “inspiring” simply because of the disability, you have created a super crip character. Do. Not. Another Super Crip is the character who loses one ability (sight) and develops his other abilities to an insane level as a way to compensate. Super Hero hearing, for example. Do. Not.
- Disability as a Burden. This person’s life is somehow worth less or seen as a burden on their family or friends. If you have a character who is “so good because he helps” someone else, you’ve created a Burden. Do. Not.
- Disability as a Metaphor. Do not use disability within your book’s society as a metaphor for something else. People who couldn’t hear what others were saying and suddenly lose their hearing? Do. Not.
As we work to create diverse characters for our books and stories, we need to avoid creating disabled characters who fit any of these stereotypes or trope. After all, stereotypes don’t sell. Well rounded characters do.
Writing a story about a heroic cup of coffee? Inanimate objects can work as characters. Photo by Karolina Grabowska.STAFFAGE.
At the Mo. SCBWI conference on 9/26, someone asked Brianne Johnson (Writer’s House) about creating picture books with inanimate objects as characters. Her short answer? Don’t do it.
Then she went on to explain the difficulties of this type of story using The Day the Crayons Quit as an example. In this story, the crayons are not inanimate. They run around. They have adventures. They want things. They do things. They may look like crayons but they are stand-ins for children.
This means that whether your character is a cookie or a toaster, animate it. Make it three-dimensional. Make what it wants matter so that the reader will care about your character. A truly inanimate object, be it a balloon, a baloney sandwich or a back scratcher is going to be really, really dull as would any other flat, lifeless character.
It doesn’t matter what picture book rule you are trying to break – no inanimate objects as characters, no animal characters, no rhyme — if you do it well, editors won’t mention it. If, on the other hand, you fail at your attempt, expend the editor or agent readng your work to tell you not to break this rule. Not that it is carved in stone but because you tried and failed in your attempt. Your story just doesn’t work.
If you want to write a story featuring inanimate objects as characters, study recently published books that do it well. Your list should include The Day the Crayons Quit, The Day the Crayons Came Home, and The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. The last one is a chapter book but this character is as layered and nuanced as any child character. And that is what you need to do, create an animated inanimate object that truly walks and talks and lives.
So what did I accomplish last week on my great agent search? Did I send out my letters?
But I had a good reason. Last Saturday I was one of the staff at the Missouri SCBWI conference. It meant that I got to meet 2 agents (Brianne Johnson/Writer’s House and Kirsten Hall/Catbird Productions). Before I sent things out, I wanted to find out if either one of them was write for my list.
I’m going to be doing more research on Brianne Johnson.
While I liked Kirsten Hall — she is so full of energy and loves books so much! — she is realy only interested in picture books. Sure, she’ll take on longer works but her real interest lies in picture books. And that doesn’t just mean 32 page picture books. She loves picture books that break the rules — 100 pages? As long as it works, she’s game.
But Brianne Johnson handles everything from picture book through young adult. What made me think that she might not be a good match for me was that her market listing didn’t mention juvenile nonfiction although it did include adult nonfiction. Fortunately, one of my friends spent some time with her this weekend and managed to catch me on Saturday. “She wants children’s nonfiction! She’s perfect for us!”
This means that I’ll be doing a bit of research and her and what she likes this week. I did manage to take to her at dinner and, like me, she’s a crafter. Granted she quilts and throws pottery but still. She did edit an adult book on knitting.
A bit more research and then . . . I promise! . . . those letters are going in the mail!
At the conference on Saturday, Delacorte editor Kate Sullivan gave a really good talk on genre novels for young readers. I know it was helpful for me to hear what sells in middle grade vs young adult. But one of the most informative bits came about in response to a question.
One of the listeners has had critiquers tell him that if you take too long to go from real world to fantasy/mystery that you break the contract with the reader. By the time you get to the magic or the murder, they’ve come to expect straight up fiction and now you’ve annoyed them. He wanted to know if she found this to be true.
Her response? In a nut shell, nope.
As she explained, this is more of a problem for critiquers or submissions. When someone reads your manuscript, they are judging it by your words and your words alone.
The person reading your book, on the other hand, has much more to go on. They have the cover blurb. They have a title that has been okayed by both the editor and marketing. They have the cover art. All of these things taken together, but especially the cover blurb, should tell the reader what the book is. Yeah, they may still wonder why you’re taking so long but they do have some clue where you are going.
This is definitely something that I’m going to have to think over the next time that I’m reading a manuscript and want to say “you’ve violated your contract with the reader.” But it also shows how important that cover and title are to get your message across. It makes the thought of self-publishing even more intimidating!
What story would you write for a couple of curly girls? Photo: Copyright London Scout
At Saturday’s conference, Brianne Johnson, senior agent at Writer’s House, gave an absolutely amazing session on character driven picture books. Yeah, yeah. We all know what it mean — the character’s personality drives the plot. On one level, I’m sure you get it. I know that I did before this session.
The character’s personality somehow puts the plot into action. This same personality effects every decision that the character makes and every action that she takes. And it all comes down to some character trait. Fancy Nancy snazzes things up. David is a whirlwind force of destruction and things fly apart in his wake. The pigeon? He wheedles and argues like a three-year-old.
We know this and we use this knowledge when we write. Every now and again we’re pretty sure that we’ve been successful.
Want to test it out? Take your amazing character out of the story and substitute Adorable Precocious Child #1. Adorable Precocious Child is any generic cut, smart, nosey kid. Put this character in place of your character.
Now look at how your story changes.
What do you mean it doesn’t change? If your story is character driven, it has to change. After all, the original story was drven by a character who is no longer in it. If it is character driven, it has to change when you swap out your character for another. If it doesn’t, either your story wasn’t character driven or your character was too typical. It’s time to go back to the drawing board and either jazz up your character or rework your plot.
Me? I’ve got some work to do, but I’d rather figure that out myself than have Bri tell me when I send her my manuscript.
At Saturday’s conference, Roaring Brook’s Connie Hsu (pronounced Shoe) discussed quiet picture books — what they aren’t, what they are, and what it means. This wasn’t a session topic but we have just seen a preview of The Night Gardener by Terry and Eric Fan. It will be published this spring by Simon and Schuster. This book grabs you by the heart but it is not a rolicking good time. When a conference participant called it quiet, Connie objected.
She explained that neither The Night Gardener or Polar Express are quiet although they certainly are not rowdy. Instead, the words that she used to describe both books included evocative, classic and cinematic.
She explained that to fully understand what a “quiet” manuscript is you have to put aside your traditional definition of quiet. After all, both book are quiet in the way that outsiders use the word. When an editor calls a book quiet, Hsu explained, what she means is that she won’t be able to get the sales department “loud.” It is a book for which they would have no enthusiasm. It won’t excite them. That might mean that they’ve seen it before. It might mean that it simply fails to engage them.
Just a little something to think about. What books seem quiet, in the traditional usage of the word, yet people connect with the book and recommend it to others? Owl Moon. Goodnight, Moon. Dream Snow. All three of these books are “quiet” in the way that we traditionally use the word but they are clearly loud in publishing terms. People love them to this day.
What is it that these books have? Depth and emotion.
The next time an editor tells you that your manuscript is too quiet, take another look. Don’t look for rowdiness but do see if you can spot depth and emotion.
Saturday, I had a great chance to recharge my battery. I went to the Missouri Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) fall conference. Yes, it is work related. No, I don’t get to honor my introvert self by avoiding people, but I get to do something even better than that — I get to spend all day with people who love children’s literature as much as I do.
If you’ve never been to a children’s writing event, I’d like to encourage you to find one near you. Check out the list of (SCBWI) events here. You’re going to see different types of events listed. Not every even is right for every writer so choose carefully. Here are a few of the most common:
A conference is often a larger event. Some are single day. Some are multiday. There is usually more than one speaker. The SCBWI winter conference in New York focuses on marketing. The SCBWI LA conference each summer focuses on craft. Some conference are simply for information gathering. You go, you sit, you take notes. Other conferences feature workshops . . .
A workshop is very different from a conference in that this isn’t simply a session where you sit and take notes. This is a session where you do. A workshop on dialogue when involve writing new dialogue or improving on existing dialogue. Some sessions might involve writing exercises. Others might involve improving a manuscript you’ve already written.
A retreat is generally an overnight event. Some writing retreats feature speakers who lead sessions on craft. Some simply offer time to write or to interact with your fellow writers. The venue can be elegant — I’ve stayed in some very stately B&Bs — or rustic.
Read the details of any event you are considering carefully. A single day event can be easiest to work into your schedule. When it comes to multiday events, I have to admit that I prefer retreats to conferences, but only you can know what is the right event for you and when is the best time for you to recharge.
Check back throughout the week for more of what I learned at the conference. For more on recharging, see yesterday’s post at the Muffin.
Guess what just came? My other new book — The Bombing of Pearl Harbor from Abdo. That’s right. Two books in a week. Believe me. This is not my typical week. This is too much like Christmas. My typical week more closely resembles controlled chaos.
Speaking of chaos, I’m currently working on 3 different deadlines. I have one more science experiment to figure out and then rewrite and four activities to photograph for one job. I’m almost done with the first draft of chapter 1 on another. I just have two more sidebars to go but I also have to outline the remaining 8 chapters. And I have 45 contest entries to judge.
As busy as I am, I’d much rather have this type of chaos than the chaos depicted on the cover of the book! That said, I’m still happy to have my latest book baby here with me.