Think Like a Packager
During her tenure at Alloy Entertainment, the media giant responsible for such pop culture phenomena as GOSSIP GIRL, THE CLIQUE, and THE SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING PANTS, Claudia learned how to spearhead a creative development team. With the skills she brings to her new job, in addition to editing single titles at Katherine Tegen Books, Claudia will be responsible for developing intellectual properties based at HarperCollins. Writers seeking for-hire assignments are invited to contact her through their agents.
So what do packagers look for in an idea? First and foremost is a good CONCEPT. To elaborate, Gabel said Alloy wanted every book they produced to be "aspirational," meaning that upon reading, readers would aspire to be either the characters themselves or their friends. Good concepts are things that everyone can relate to on some level.
Second comes the WOW! factor, which amounts to a great hook.
Third is the PITCH. Knowing a story's pitch (a one-line description) is an effective way to keep the main concept in mind when writing and revising. To develop your one-sentence pitch, here's a formula:
Title + Genre + Hero + Life Change = Pitch
For example, FREAKY FRIDAY is the comedic, middle grade story of a willful, disorganized girl whose life is changed when she wakes up in the body of her mother.
Fourth in the development process is POSITIONING. This is finding competing titles, since their audience will be the same people who will want to read your story. Although admittedly a bit premature, also try visualizing your book's packaging (cover, title page, end pages, etc.). This will give you an idea of how to better sell your book.
Fifth comes establishing the story's SETTING. Setting is basically the first thing the reader will come into contact with. In many stories, it amounts to a character (think New York in SEX AND THE CITY). This stage is even more crucial if you're writing fantasy, where you'll be doing a lot of world building, since the rules of the world you create can play a huge role in the book.
Sixth, think about CHARACTERS. Build a resume for each major character in your story. Strive for concreteness. Character behavior should be consistent but reveal some new aspect of the character's personality as the story progresses. Be sure to establish motivation, since characters must have logical reasons for their actions and the appropriate ability to act. Also, remember to make sure characters change over the course of the story, since as they confront problems, they'll learn to adapt.
Seventh, decide on POINT OF VIEW. Which character will be telling the story? You can use one narrator or alternate between different characters. Choose whether you'll use first or third person. Past or present tense. Just remember--the character with the most to lose in a scene should be the viewpoint character when alternating.
Lastly, think about PLOT, establishing the dramatic action of the book. Consider character desire, steps taken to achieve happiness, and obstacles preventing happiness. One common way to map out plot is by using a three-act structure:
Act I (35-40 pages)--Meet the characters and the story's world. Ends with inciting incident.
Act II (125-150 pages)--Tons of obstacles thrown at the protagonist until time runs out. Ends with climax.
Act III (40 pages)--Story resolution. Never cheat the reader by tying things up too conveniently (Deus Ex Machina). Make the protagonist solve his or her issue by him/herself.
In conclusion, Claudia said voice and dialog are where she most often looks for authenticity when evaluating samples from potential writers. For more information, please see her blog at http://claudiagabel.blogspot.com/.