I spent this past weekend at a wonderful SCBWI conference in San Diego. The best part: instead of being sequestered away for a day of pitches and workshops, I got to sit in on the main action to hear all the panels and talks.
Admittedly, I was a bit of a disaster at this event: I was late, I broke my chair, spilled my FULL coffee – twice – and started talking about flower porn (I’ve been assured that I was “adorable." Doh).
But when I wasn’t being destructo-agent, I was furiously note-taking, which means: time for a conference blog post!
In attendance with me:
The lovely Sarah Dotts Barley, editor at Harper Collins. Along with some inspiring E.B. White quotes (did you know Charlotte’s Web went through 8 drafts in 3 years?), I loved her advice on revising: don’t fall in love with your characters so much that you can’t hurt them. Because as much as we want to find someone who can write…we get SO EXCITED by someone who can REVISE (all agree!).
Jill Corcoran, agent at the Herman Agency, expanded that revision is, literally, a REIMAGINING of your book. It’s not a checklist to go through – and, I’ll also add, NOT a test on speed. Take the time to sit down and THINK about your characters, motivations, and re-(in)vision your execution.
After all, we agents are looking for the four Ps in a client, added Chris Richman of Upstart Crow: Patience, Professionalism, Perseverance, and Perspective (love that, by the way).
The fabulous Kira Lynn of Kane/Miller added insight into the thought process behind submission requirements: we need to know you know how to listen to what we say, and if you can’t listen to how to submit, that doesn’t bode well. In regards to pre-queries and cliff hangers in log lines (hooks) and synopses: you can’t tease us – we’ll just not want to play (wise, wise words my friends!).
Kim Griswell, editor at Boyds Mills Press, added THE highlight for me with her talk on voice. She NAILED it – and let me tell you, voice is the hardest. Thing. Ever. To talk about. In sum: voice is the quality that allows the reader to forget about the author. It has place – a taste of where you came from, what’s shaped YOU, the author, in life, and sensory details. The best voices reveal a piece of the writer – what YOU notice because of who you are -- which, I’ll add, makes sense; as humans we’re going to connect the most to real human voices, because it allows a character to seem real, which allows us to forget that they were written.
*Awesome revision tip for voice: go through your manuscript with five different colored highlighters, one for each sense. It’ll show you what you’re really doing as you write – and what you may need to expand on *
David Diaz, award-winning illustrator, offered the final insight into the world of picture book illustrations. Bottom line: they don’t tell you how to write – so don’t tell them how to illustrate. As an author, you don’t think as visually as they do; give them the space to bring the text to that level. They’ll bring out qualities in your work you could never have imagined when you do. So if you MUST have illustration notes, say them “as a direction” rather than a must. (Mary Kole has a great post on why publishers prefer to use their own illustrators, just fyi: mainly, because they want to match up a debut author with an established illustrator to sell the book!)
I realize that was quite a mash-up of information – the beauty of a conference! Take it in, think about it, and digest it; then apply it.
Thank you ladies of the San Diego SCBWI for putting on such an AMAZING conference!