What I Learned at the Retreat about Pitching My Work

In addition to the sessions with Randi Rivers, author Kristin Nitz led us through several exercises designed to help us pitch our work including both an elevator pitch and a three sentence pitch.

An elevator pitch is the single sentence pitch that you have  ready for when you meet an editor or agent in the elevator at a conference.  For examples, look at the short summaries in the PW children’s book issues.

When we tried to write these in five or so minutes, we discovered that most of us had written excellent, though somewhat short, three sentence pitches.  Just a few more specific details and they’d be perfect.  That said, our elevator pitches were in their somewhere.  Usually it was fairly easy for someone else to look at what we’d done and reach in to pull it out.  What they pulled out for us was often the internal story arc.

We then tried to expand on these elevator pitches (or at least our too long versions) to create three sentence pitches.  I couldn’t really expand on mine simply because I have to rewrite the manuscript which makes pulling details from the present manuscript somewhat useless.  So I worked on the pitch for a different manuscript.

Not ready to pitch your work to an editor or an agent?  Write your elevator pitch and three sentence pitch anyway.  Come up with your pitches before you rewrite.  It will help you keep your story arcs in sight as you shape your work into its final form.


What I Learned on Retreat with Randi Rivers

First of all — if you ever have the opportunity to attend a retreat led by Randi Rivers of Charlesbridge, do it!   It will be time and money well spent.

This was actually my second retreat with Randi.  The first time, she discussed characterization in the picture book and how to write narrative nonfiction.  This time, she discussed the all important revision letter and how to revise.

When she asks for revision, one of the things that she most often asks writers to alter is their organization, especially in nonfiction.  So it is probably no great surprise that when I met with her, she asked me to reconsider the organization and format of my manuscript.  I had never tried to write anything like this before and I prepared this piece for the retreat just so that I could see what I would need to change to sell this kind of manuscript.  The answer?  Quite a bit.  I need to re-research the piece and pretty well start from scratch.

Randi also suggested that we not take her comments and just run with them.  She wanted us to look behind them and see what larger issues she was trying to address.  Don’t use her fix, but come up with our own fix that would work within the manuscript we wanted to create.

In addition to organizational issues, I didn’t have quite enough material.   Randi suggested two different ways to reorganize and I played around with the one that felt most natural given what had inspired me to write the manuscript.  Then I dummied it and realized there still wasn’t enough material.  What if I added another section?  I went back to Randi with my new plan.  We noodled and chatted and realized that with my addition, a different section now felt out of place.  If I removed that section, things would again be too short but I’d have room to expand other areas into a more high concept approach.


What initially inspired me may not even make it into the final manuscript but I can’t say that I mind.  I love the new idea and can keep the other material for another project.  After all, how can you complain about a new organization that is much stronger?

–SueBE (who is off to work on the research)

Gifting Yourself a Writing Life

“It takes as much energy to wish as it does to plan.”
-Eleanor Roosevelt

“Success in life is a matter not so much of talent or opportunity as of concentration and perseverance.”  C.W. Wendte

If you want to write, if you do write, what writing related gift have you granted yourself?  I am cleaning out my office.  I actually enjoy being in here now that I don’t have to worry about bumping something and dying in the ensuing avalanche.

I went to the Missouri SCBWI Agent’s Day.  I found an agent I’d love to work with as soon as I finish reworking my manuscript.

I just got back from a retreat with Randi Rivers.  From Randi, I got some very good tips on how to rework my manuscript.

Giving myself the gift of good writing space and the knowledge and help I need to use it well.  That’s my writing gift to me this year.

What gift have you given yourself?


Old Magazines

If you’re a history buff like I am, just picking through old magazines is a blast and Old Magazine Articles gives you the chance to do just that.

Browse Recently Added Articles or by topics that include Aviation/Women Pilots, Dance, Early Television and more.  You can also do a topic search.

A great source of primary material, this isn’t a university or historical society archives.   It simply represents the passion of a history buff and magazine lover who asks that if you use one of the articles that you credit the site.

Special thanks to Matt Jacobsen, Editor of Old Magazine Articles and Research Buzz which is where I found the information on this site.


April Goals: Just one week remains

Remember how I fussed last week that I just didn’t know how I would fit all my work into a 3 day work week?  I didn’t have to find out.  My son came home sick from school at noon Monday and spent all week right here.

Yep.  I whined and the Universal Ironic kicked in.  I had a 4 day work week with a sick kid.

Not that that’s an excuse for not writing.  I still managed 6398 words:

  • I completed a set of activities for Gryphon House.
  • I started the pieces that Education.com requested.
  • I rewrote my review for the Post.
  • I brainstormed some new picture book ideas.
  • And I played with a few other things that didn’t go anywhere impressive.

I have plenty to get done this week too.

  • More work on the Education.com pieces.
  • Prewriting work on some more Children’s Writer material.
  • More brainstorming.
  • Do some more research for the picture book I worked on at the retreat with Randi Rivers.
  • Dummy the picture book that I took through small group critique at the retreat.
  • Start rewriting and formatting the family history I’ve been contracted to write.

Something tells me that I’ll be pretty busy but one way or another I’ll work it in.  How are you doing with your goals?


And They’re Off . . . Is a Retreat Right for You?

This is going to be a short post because I’m leaving for my retreat at Missouri’s Trout Lodge.  Friday Evening to Sunday afternoon spent with Charlesbridge editor Randi Rivers and just over 10 other writers.  Hurray for me!

What is the difference between a retreat and a workshop or conference?  Is it just the overnight stay?

To me, a workshop means writing exercises and hands on.  A conference features more speakers and less actual writing but there may be some.  Often there is a choice of sessions.   or retreat can include writing exercises, presentations and writing time.

But it depends on how your organizer uses the terms so read the details carefully. With the Missouri SCBWI, a retreat is a small overnight event.  That means almost 48 hours with an editor and no more than 15 other writers.  It is an intense learning experience with serious one-on-one time with the speaker.  You learn in the one-on-one session and the group sessions and then you go off and apply what you’ve just learned to your own work.  A lot of us rewrite what we worked over with the editor.  Sometimes we apply the lessons to something else as well.  Either way, we spend some serious time writing.  All in all, it is a real growth experience.  In part, it is because we figure in writing time.  Also, it small.  Finally, it is limited to SCBWI PAL members.

Is this the event for everyone?  Nope.  A new writer would probably be overwhelmed by the information and the intensity, but, having chatted with several other writers, all PAL members, who regularly attend, it is just this intensity that we crave to take our writing to the next level.

Whether you are an experienced writer or a new writer, there are writing events to meet most every need.  Before you sign up for an event, read the brochure.  It is just like studying a market to find the one that is right for you and your work.  Do your research, come prepared and, if you’ve chosen the right event, your hard work will pay off.


Dummying a Picture Book

Some spreads are hardly changed.

After I have a solid draft, it is time to dummy my work.

A dummy is an actual mock up of a picture book.  You staple together 16 pieces of paper (32 pages front and back).  Mark off your title page, etc and then start cutting your manuscript apart spread by spread.  Tape the spreads into this dummy.

If you don’t have enough spreads, your story may not be long enough or elaborate enough for a picture book.  If you have too many spreads, there may be too much going on.  Shift your text around a bit to see if it will work.

To me, this was always an infuriating process, flipping back and forth shifting text.  Blah!   That is why I started storyboarding.  Unless I cut a scene while writing, I know I have enough and not too many.  Why then do I still dummy?  Because a storyboard and a dummy do slightly different things.  The storyboard assures that I have a workable number of scenes and that things take place at a workable pace.

Others are completely rewritten.

You can check your number of scenes and your pacing in a dummy but that was the part I always found frustrating.  I need to see those aspects of my story in the “big picture” view that I get from a storyboard.  When I mock up a dummy book, I am looking at the details.

Does my text take advantage of page turns?  Page turns are great for hiding surprises.

I am also looking at the scenes one-by-one.

  • If I have a two-page spread, is the text serene?  If not, does it need the more panoramic scope of a two page spread.
  • If I have a one-page spread, I know to make sure there isn’t too much going on in this smaller space.  If there is, or if a scene just doesn’t fit well on this smaller screen, I may need to tighten somewhere else.
  • Each spread needs to differ in some way from the surrounding spreads.  It can be a change in setting, characters present, emotion or action.
  • Each spread needs a specific action for the illustrator to depict.
  • Do I avoid dialog and no action?  Talking heads make for boring illustrations?

A dummy also forces me to look at the actual text one spread at a time.

  • Is my text as tight as it can be?
  • Are some spreads text heavy?  This is another reason to cut.
  • Do I use a lot of visual description?  Some of it can probably go.
  • Do I use good picture book language?  This is a good time to check for lyrical language, repeats, onomatopoeia, etc.

Sure, I could do this without a dummy, but a dummy helps me envision my work as the picture book it will one day become.  It also helps me slow and work small portions of the text, giving every word the attention it deserves.

Why not try using this technique with your own work?



At the workshop on 4/17, somehow we got on the topic of pacing in picture books and using storyboards and dummies to test out your manuscript.  I promised to get more info to several participants but won’t get to it until after the retreat.  Hopefully the post today on storyboards and the one tomorrow on dummies will tide them over.

A storyboard is a way of viewing your entire picture book manuscript at a glance.  It was originally used by comic book artists and animators to plan out their work. Now picture book writers are using it too.   It is easier to show you a storyboard than it is to describe one, so here is my board.  As you can see it is a large piece of cardboard with the appropriate number of spreads pasted onto it.

When I am noodling over a new picture book,  I take a packet of post-it notes and write out one scene per note.   “Runs down road.”  “Leaps off cliff.”   “Cuddles crocodile.” Whatever is pertinent for this particular story.  Then I lay them out on the board.  Do I have enough scenes to fill the book?  Do I have too many?

With a few strokes of a highlighter, I can mark off how many spreads I use to introduce my character and story problem and the number of spreads devoted to each attempt to solve the problem.  There are three attempts, aren’t there?  And a denouement?

Is it really worth the time to play with all of this before I write a single word?

You bet!   When I storyboard a piece first, I can often rough it out in an hour or less.  It won’t be brilliant but I have something solid to work with until I can make it brilliant.  That’s where my dummy comes in.


Bidding Your Way to a Top Notch Trailer — An Interview with Marlene Perez

As you know, book trailers fascinate me.   I’m always amazed by the creative ways that authors get the point of their book across visually.  How do they do it?

When I heard that Marlene Perez had won a bid to have a trailer made for Dead Is Just a Rumor, I clicked over to Youtube to check it out.

As I watched, I wondered how much input Marlene had had.  What did she think of the finished product?  And, me being me, I contacted her to find out. She agreed to do an interview so that you could all share in our conversation.

SueBE:  You have a trailer available for your upcoming novel, the 4th book in your Dead Is series.   Had you been planning to do a trailer?  How did this one come about?

Marlene Perez:  A book trailer had been on my mind for a long while, but I’d been focusing on writing. I had a big productive period of writing and published five books in 2008 and 2009, with two more to follow in 2010 and 2011, so I had tight deadlines. I had a tiny bit of a breather between the 4th and 5th DEAD Is book and so was goofing around on Facebook.  I just happened to see an announcement from Kimberly Pauley about a fundraiser auction on her review site YA Books Central and one of the auction items was a book trailer from Nowicki Productions. I zipped in and placed a bid right before the auction closed.
SueBE:  What about it best captures the essence of your novel?
Marlene Perez:  Everything! Nowicki Productions nailed it! I think the spooky fun tone and the jukebox was essential. And I loved that Marianne included Balthazar the pig in the montage of suspects. That made me giggle. She also found just the right music. Anyone who reads the DEAD Is series will realize that I’m addicted to music, although I can’t sing a note or play a tune. The right music for the trailer was crucial.
SueBE:  What advice do you have for authors who would like to do a trailer?
Marlene Perez:  Watch as many trailers as you can, think about what you want the book trailer to do for you/your book, and if aren’t a techie, think about having it professionally done. Nowicki Productions had the answers to questions I didn’t even know I needed to ask.
A special thanks to Marlene for taking time out of her busy schedule to do this!  For those of you who aren’t familiar with her books — get busy reading!   Marlene is the author of Love in the Corner Pocket (Scholastic/Point, Summer 2008),  Dead is the New Black (Harcourt, Sept 08), Dead is a State of Mind (HM Harcourt, Jan 09), Dead is So Last Year (HM Harcourt, May 09) and The Comeback  (Scholastic/Point, August 09).

April Goals: Two Weeks In

Wow. What a week!   My 6000/week goal yielded 9778 words.  It isn’t hard to do when you:

  • Write a presentation.
  • Draft 19 preschool activities.  Twice.
  • Take an article to final which means another very serious rewrite.

Unfortunately, I don’t think I’ll be able to accomplish nearly as much this week.  On Tuesday, I’m accompanying 90 5th graders to our state capital.  While I’m happy my son actually begged me to go and that I found another Mom to carpool with . . . 90 5th graders.  90.  Wow.  I’m sure to come through it with an idea or 12 and I have a mini-notebook in my purse but it is a 12 hour trip.  Obviously, not much will be accomplished that day.

I also have a writer’s retreat this weekend and I’m leaving early Friday.

All in all, that means that I have a three day workweek.  Three days.  What are the chances that I’m going to write 2000/day?  Not impossible but not something I manage very often either.

This week I am going to:

  • Make one more pass through those 19 activities and turn them in.
  • Update and resubmit a roundup review.
  • Brain storm some more pb ideas.  Cause I simply DO NOT have enough writing projects.  ::snicker::
  • Write a query for critique at the retreat (I already have the ms to accompany the query done).
  • Come up with another ms, maybe new, maybe not, for the retreat.
  • Write a quick newsletter article.

Hmm.  That looks like a lot for three days but the reality is that it all (and a bit more) needs to get done.  Guess I better fly!