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Kim Tomsic

Friday, July 24, 2015

Conferences are Kingmakers!

Illustration courtesy of Ruth E. Harper
Conferences are kingmakers. It’s true! Talk to published authors and illustrators, and more often than not, an attendee’s career moved into hyper-drive after a conference. It shouldn’t be surprising, since this is where craft improves, ideas bubble to mind, and important connections are made. Many publishing hopefuls met their agent or editor attending breakout sessions, getting critiques, or selecting the right seat at an open-table luncheon. 

Illustration courtesy of Brooke-Boynton Huges
Colorado illustrator Brooke Boynton Hughes attended SCBWI's International conference in California in 2012 where she entered her portfolio in the illustrator showcase. She didn't win the showcase, but she did get signed with agent Marietta Zacker and also landed a book deal. Furthermore, Brooke signed up for the one-on-one portfolio review. She received feedback throughout the conference weekend and learned a lot about her craft. When she returned to the event in 2013, she walked away as the Portfolio Honor Award winner and also as the Mentorship Award winner! In 2014, she received the Portfolio Honor Award at SCBWI's winter conference in New York. But it's important to know, Brooke's success didn't come from one conference. She says, "I think the most important part about attending conferences is the chance to have one-on-one portfolio critiques and the opportunity to learn about your craft.  I attended six or seven international conferences and three or four regional conferences before I was published and before my portfolio was recognized in the showcase."  Now her illustrations are published in books with Beach Lane, Disney Hyperion, and Random House.
Colorado author Ana Crespo met her editor, Kelly Barrales-Saylor of Albert Whitman and Co., at the regional Rocky Mountain SCBWI conference. Ana signed up for a manuscript critique and landed a feedback timeslot with Kelly. After listening to Kelly’s edit suggestions, and taking ample notes during the conference workshops and intensive, Ana was armed with ideas to improve her writing. Ana went home, reworked and edited her story, then queried Kelly who bought and published The Sock Thief. Ana now has four more books coming out with Albert Whitman in a series called JP BOOKS, MY EMOTIONS AND ME (p.s. two books release this September--check them out here )!
I met my agent (Jen Rofé of ABLA ) and editor (Melissa Manlove, Chronicle Books) at an SCBWI conference, and let’s just say it involved an unofficial scavenger hunt, an Aperol Smash, and a failed pitch—but that failed pitch was part of a connection, and in the end I received a business card and an email address. A year-and-a-half later I worked on the craft points I’d learned at the conference, then sent a query on a whole new project—here’s where I cue the drum roll and build to a frenzy—I got a YES! My debut book THE ELEPHANTS CAME will release with Chronicle Books in spring, 2017. 
If the above three stories haven't convinced you that conferences are kingmakers, read the summer 2015 Bulletin and the article titled SCBWI Success Story:  Martha Brockenbrough. Martha met her editor, Arthur Levine of Arthur A. Levin at Scholastic, at a conference. She says, “Truly. Every picture book I’ve ever sold has come directly from my time at an SCBWI conference”. Martha has sold four (!!!) picture books, including an adorable title called The Dinosaur Tooth Fairy.
This year’s SCBWI Rocky Mountain Regional Conference features some of the brightest minds in the industry. Learn—connect—and you, too, can become a king!  
Register to reserve you spot!!!  And please note important deadlines to sign up for manuscript consultation or portfolio review. 
WHEN:  September 19-20, 2015
WHERE: Marriott Denver West, 1717 West Denver Blvd., Golden, CO
How to Register:  Follow this link to Register or type in: https://rmc.scbwi.org
Who:  See the list below!
Dan Yaccarino, Author/Illustrator

Andrew Karre, Executive Editor, Dutton Books for Young Readers
Emma Ledbetter, Associate Editor, Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Kristin Nelson, Agent, Nelson Literary Agency
Megged Semadar, Art Director, Philomel
Deborah Warren, Agent, East/West Literary
Stacy Whitman, Founder and Publisher, Tu Books, imprint of Lee & Low Books

Leslie Ann Clark, Designer/Licensor
Melanie Crowder, Author
Julie Danneberg, Author
Erin Dealy, Author
Jenny Goebel, Author
Nancy Oswald, Author

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

What Agents and Editors Really Think When Reading Your First Page

DREAM TEAM:  Nick Healy, Caryn Wiseman, Andrea Brown, Jennifer Mattson, Melissa Manlove

Writers want to know the secret sauce that makes editors, agents and readers turn a first page in a book. Some say authors must get the inciting incident on page one. 

Screenwriting books advise the inciting incident should land on page ten (or for books, the first 10% of a novel). Wendy Loggia of Delacorte Press/Random House once told me it’s hard to care about an inciting incident until we care about the character. She went on to say that many writers want to get to the good stuff first, but it all has to be good.

To further understand the art of the first page, I asked Andrea Brown, president of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency (ABLA), to host a panel session during the Big Sur in the Rockies writing workshop held in Boulder, Colorado. On a rainy Saturday afternoon, participants submitted the first page of their work-in-progress and gathered to hear feedback from a dream-team of publishing professionals—Melissa Manlove from Chronicle  Books, Nick Healy from Capstone Publishing and three ABLA agents Andrea Brown, Caryn Wiseman and Jennifer Mattson.  The panel provided insight on what works and what doesn’t on the first page of manuscripts, everything from picture books to YA novels. 

Here’s what I heard:
Don’t rob readers of experiencing the emotional state of the character. This is another reason agents and editors (and readers) want you to SHOW DON’T TELL. For example, writers should not write George was upset about his report card—that TELLS the emotional state. Write something along the lines of George wadded up his report card and shoved it to the bottom of his backpack

Picture Book Writers—WATCH OUT for clause filled sentence structure. Instead, choose an appropriate sentence structure for your audience. Also let sentences end so readers land on an idea. Simplify your language and let the art carry a good portion of the weight of the story. (And on a side note, it’s a good idea to keep emotional conflict out of bedtime stories).

All Manuscripts—
·        Avoid over choreography.
·        Read your pages out loud and listen for repeating words or repeating a character’s name—fix if you’re over using.
·        Choose active verbs. Instead of using “to be” verbs, choose verbs powerful enough to eliminate adjective and adverbs.
·        Remember that books set in the 1980’s are now considered historical fiction.
·        Don’t lead with generic circumstances that stay generic, stay away from common story line and add something fresh and original.
·        Don’t write a book with didactic intentions and please don’t write with a didactic tone; kids will see right through this. “We don’t go to stories for lessons.” Melissa Manlove  (though please see Melissa’s additional feedback listed at the end of this article).
·        Be careful so that you’re not long and heavy on details. Readers don’t want to wade through the mundane to get to the good.
·        “Many editors dislike prologues and we want you to be as rejection-proof as possible so don’t use them unless you really must.” Andrea Brown
·        Some panel members are not fans of mixing anthropomorphized animals with talking humans. That’s not a rule, just a note of preferences when querying this panel.
·        The Picture Book industry is currently hot on having character-driven picture books, but characters still needs to have a motivation.   
·        Another personal preference from this panel—they don’t enjoy reading first pages with names that are difficult to pronounce (i.e. T’sfard-ma-zia might be a prime example).

Using illustration notes in picture books. Please know this varies between editors (for example, never (never ever) send an illustration note to Beach Lane Books). Per the members on this panel, illustration notes are fine, but only if it is necessary for the editor or agent to get an inside joke or a something that is not relayed in the words. Do not use illustration notes to describe your character or provide unnecessary art direction.

Writing in Rhyme. If you are writing in rhyme, please take a look at any book that’s won a Geisel Award (p.s. fun fact—Andrea Brown worked with Theodore Geisel long ago!).
I’ve attended many conferences and though many agents and editors say they don’t like rhyme, many also say it’s because they don’t like bad and forced rhyme. Furthermore, if a story rhymes in English, that doesn’t mean it’s going to rhyme in French or Spanish, so rhyming books are difficult to sell beyond the U.S.  

Author/Illustrators—if work as both an author and illustrator, you should submit a sketch dummy for your full picture book along with only a couple of pieces of finished art.

**Post workshop Melissa and I chatted, and she states there’s another side to this list of advice. To learn more, I suggest you read her interview titled “Noir and Horror for your Kindergartner” by Maggie Tokuda-Hall posted on the Boing Boing blog 

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