When Martina asked me to write a guest post on the Michigan SCBWI Spring Conference I attended on May 1, I have to admit I was a little nervous. It was going to be my first blog post ever. But here goes.
The presenters included Jay Asher, who wrote Thirteen Reasons Why, Beth Fleisher, an agent with Barry Goldblatt Literary, Ruta Rima, assistant editor at HarperCollins Children’s Books, and Lisa Yoskowitz, assistant editor at Dutton Children’s Books. Much of the day was spent in breakout sessions with the presenters, so I didn’t get to hear everyone. I’ll share a bit of what I learned at the conference.
Jay Asher is a very entertaining, inspiring speaker.
His journey to publication took twelve years which included many “good” rejection letters for many of his picture book submissions and winning the Work-In-Progress SCBWI grant to write his breakout novel.
He was going to quit, but his wife convinced him to write this one last book. It not only got published, but has been on the New York Times bestseller list.
He advised us to follow our dreams and sit tight. Seeing Jay stick with it and finally reach his dream inspired me to continue on.
Beth Fleisher gave practical tips on querying and I had a critique with her.
She’s looking for books for boys, adventure, thrillers, mysteries, science fiction and fantasy for middle grade and YA, and nonfiction in science, history, and natural science. She doesn’t want any YA paranormal romances. She likes fantasies, but doesn’t want ones using names that are unusual or hard to pronounce.
TIP: Publishers and agents are really looking for middle grade right now.
She just wants a cover letter with a two sentence description of your story, the first five pages, and a synopsis pasted into the body of the e-mail. She thinks that too much emphasis and time is placed on the query. She got a round of applause for that piece of advice.
No, I didn’t land an agent through my critique. Sigh. But Beth gave me some helpful things to consider to improve my manuscript as well as told me what she thought were its strengths. My expectations for critiques have changed over the years from hoping to sell my book to hoping to obtain advice to make my story better. I found I had a little thicker skin this time around, which is essential for querying.
Ruta Rima presented a workshop on what makes characters great.
She had us do a series of exercises to develop inner conflict and character growth. Here’s a few of them:
To add dimension, list your character’s main characteristic and then write a short piece as if the character had the opposite trait.
- Define what your character wants most and write a piece as if the character wants the exact opposite.
- Consider what your character would never do, think, or say? Write a short piece having your character do this.
The importance of social networking.
Our Fall conference is a weekend one. I can’t wait. What great things have you learned from the conferences you’ve attended?
Natalie Aguirre is an aspiring middle grade fantasy writer who is almost finished with her manuscript, The Third Tower, after seven years. She works full time and writes whenever she can squeeze it in. She’s been a member of SCBWI for six years.