It is perfectly okay to write garbage – as long as you edit brilliantly.
March 2010 Archives
It is perfectly okay to write garbage – as long as you edit brilliantly.
Don't know where to start? What about that book you read? You thought it was similar to what you write, so check the acknowledgements page. Some authors thank their agent in the book. If an agent liked their work, they might like yours. Next step, further research on the agent.
Of course, you will to go to the agency's website, right? Check out client lists, if available. Take note of submission policies. And read the agent's and/or agency's blog. But don't submit yet. You'll be continuing your research into this agent.
Agent Query is a searchable database of literary agents. But it is also much more. It has info on large and small publishing houses, literary magazines, plus articles such as "When Agents Offer Representation..." or "How to Write a Query." In addition, it has links to many other sites, including some mentioned below.
When checking out an agent, definitely go to Publisher's Marketplace. One cool feature is the site lists who has recently updated their page. Click on browse members, where you can look up a specific name or merely see who is listed. But once you're on an agent's page, you can often see what projects they've recently sold and/or best known projects.
Don't miss Chuck Sambuchino's blog* - he's the editor for the Guide to Literary Agents. I love how he's posted a variety of agents' pet peeves about Chapter 1. He also has entries on "How I Got My Agent" plus has good links to other blogs and websites.
Now that you've done some research, you may know who an agent's clients are, so read some books that agent represented. It'll help you learn whether the agent could be interested in what you write.
Know an author agented by this agency? Ask her questions. You may want to find out whether the author has had other agents previously. He may not want to say who he left, but he probably is willing to discuss problems.
Here are two good articles on Harold Underdown's site regarding agents:
• Children's Book Agents and Artist's Representatives: a Guide
(do I need an agent, what do agents do) has good content, but remember it is a dated article as one of the examples is of The Firebrand which has closed.
• Finding and Choosing Literary Agents
A lot of working checking into an agent? Yes, but your submissions will be much better targeted than many an agent receives.
*I know there are many other people blogging about agents. If you'd like to list any, feel free to comment here.
Along with some other writers I got to read the ARC of Joni Sensel's The Timekeeper's Moon which came out this month from Bloomsbury. It continues the story of Ariel the first Farwalker in countless generations. Is she going crazy or is the moon really talking to her? Should she follow the itch in the soles of her feet? Or is death coming for all no matter what she does?
This novel is the sequel to The Farwalker's Quest (see my blog entry here)
Check out Joni's FAQ on her website where she says she gets her ideas "from her sock drawer!"
The right story at the right moment is like an arrow to the heart.
You may be wondering how a critique group works. There are many methods and styles of critiquing. Some are face-to-face, some online. Some face-to-face groups read the manuscript out loud and then discuss. Some send manuscripts ahead of time, so that the time together is only spent discussing. Online groups might send attached documents so the "commenting" option in MS Word can be used. Others exchange manuscripts and comments directly in email.
Whatever method used, there should always be a sandwich approach to comments. Simply stated: say something good first, talk about problems, end with something positive. It's good to keep in mind the purpose of critique, which is to help improve writing--not be a mutual admiration time or an opportunity to tear down another person or their writing.
Let me demonstrate using A SANDWICH as an analogy.
BREAD represents positive comments that hold the sandwich together.
- Sometimes you have...
- thin slices, or a single slice - not much to say
- a big fat roll - lots to say
- whole wheat or white - more detailed or general comments
- This might include marketing suggestions
CONDIMENTS are a thin spread of the "nitpicky" variety of comments or questions.
- These can be added anytime during the sandwich making process
- a specific word that doesn't work for the listener
- such things as: "could you name character's with more dissimilar names?--I'm getting confused"
- remove "that" from your 2nd sentence
VEGETABLES are those healthy comments to improve the story or article.
- Warnings of off-putting patterns
- weasel words (those words that just slip in, such as "very" or "seems")*
- passive verbs
- excessive adverbs or adjectives
- unvaried sentence structure
- Requests for more
- "What is the character thinking or feeling?"
- "I'm having difficulty picturing this scene. Can you put in more details of setting and action?"
MEAT/CHEESE are questions and comments that reach to the heart of problems in a piece.
- These may be in depth, but mainly deal with "big" issues
- story is not plausible
- article doesn't make sense
- character doesn't feel real
- telling versus showing
- references don't support point
- confusion on who or what the story is about
- Since these are tough for the writer to hear, it is important to say what IS working
* I love agent Rachelle Gardner's list of words to cut. Do you have more that slip into your manuscripts? Feel free to share them here.
Writing is, first and foremost, about story...everything else serves that end.
The best thing I ever did for my writing was to get involved with a critique group. It happened because I attended my first ever writer's conference, one put on by the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators in Seattle. There, when the opportunity was offered, I signed up to be in a critique group. Not long afterwards, I got a call telling me where and when to go, and even an offer to carpool.
To this day, I remember how scared I was to read my piece out loud. I just knew those other writers--some published, some not--were going to tell me to give up and go home. But they didn't. Yes, my picture book, or was it a short story?--I didn't even know the difference then--needed work. The group members were kind to me and pointed out what I was doing right as well as what I was doing wrong. And, they invited me back. That was in the spring of 1990.
In 1992 my first short story came out in Jack and Jill magazine. No, it wasn't that first piece I took to the critique group--it has never sold--but it definitely was one they critiqued. Since then I've sold over 130 magazine pieces and two books. The middle grade novel was inspired by my critique group. So many of the others were writing novels for children, I became interested in the process. I learned from what they did right. I learned from their critiques of my manuscript.
Groups change. People quit or move to a different group or to another town or state. My needs as a writer change. However, I think I'll always need the feedback of a critique group.
Local Writing Groups
Of course, SCBWI is a good source for children's writers. That organization has grown internationally since my first association with them. Go to www.scbwi.org and see what events might be near you by clicking on your state and following the links. If you join the organization, you can do manuscript exchanges with other members through the mail or online.
Look at other writer organizations in your area. They may not have many members focused on children's writing per se, but you can still learn a lot from "adult" writers.
Sign up for a writing class at a community college or university. Even if they don't offer in-class critiques, you may connect with several other students to form your own group, or the teacher may have recommendations.
Online Writing Groups
There are online writer's groups that offer critique exchanges as well. Some are two-way list serves - designed as a place to chat, but you can ask for feedback on a manuscript. I belong to one of this type that is a Yahoo! Group. I'm sure there are others. Here's a sampling of groups* that focus on critiquing:
Writing4Kids - Weekly Online Group: http://www.angelfire.com/ultra/writing4kids/weekly.html
Articles on the Net
Join a Critique Group to Get Your Writing Moving
Debbie Ridpath Ohi's blog entry on: Online critique groups and MiG Writers
And, of course, if you read that last title strictly as a question, my answer is "yes." You won't regret it when you find the right group. (more on that later)
*Know other online critique groups? Share about them in the comments.
If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are gone, either write things worth reading or do things worth writing.
Shiver (Scholastic, 2009) by Maggie Stiefvater
Grace was attacked by the wolves when she was small, but "her" wolf saved her from the others.
When it gets cold Sam is a wolf. He's been staying a wolf longer and longer and this may be the last time he's a human.
The story is told from both Grace's and Sam's viewpoints.
You don't want to miss this story of love, betrayal, and reconciliation. Neither do you want to miss the book trailer on Maggie's site.
And wait! A sequel, Linger, is coming this summer! A third book, Forever, is also planned.
The Heart is Not a Size (2010) by Beth Kephart
Georgia talks her friend Riley into going on a humanitarian trip to Juarez, Mexico to the squatter village of Anapra where they work on building a home. How is Georgia going to deal with her anxiety attacks in another country and culture?
This book was so good - really had the feel of what it is like visiting a 3rd world country.
The Life of Glass (2010) by Jillian Cantor deals with grief, growing up changes, and changes and adjustments within a family.
Melissa's father has died, her best friend Ryan is falling for the new girl, she's jealous of her older sister's beauty and boyfriend, and now Mom is beginning to date. Will looking at her father's journal be enough to keep him "there" for her?
Writing is such a solitary event that it can feel as if you're all alone. But you don't have to be. There are writer groups for a variety of genres. Organizations may have instructional events, guest speakers, workshops, retreats, conferences. They're a good place to learn AND to network with others who "get" what you're doing. For me the best thing I did for my writing was being involved with some groups, and along the way I've made great friends, too.
Here is a sampling of groups and organizations, with some focus on Kansas, since that's where I currently live. I strongly believe every children's writer should check out the first one!
Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators - an international organization that offers conferences world-wide, publications, discussion boards, grants.
Institute of Children's Literature - a school that offers correspondence courses with published authors as instructors, plus they have chats, web articles, a great enewsletter, and a podcast.
Christian Children's Writers List - an online group where you can meet others writing for the Christian children's market.
Heartland Writers for Kids and Teens - a local Kansas City group with a renowned Wednesday critique group.
Heart of America Christian Writers Network - a local Christian group who offers monthly meetings and an annual conference.
Kansas Author's Club - welcomes creative, technical, academic and journalistic writers.
The Kansas City Writers Group - a local group that meets in Shawnee, Kansas and offers workshops and critique groups.
Missouri Writer's Guild - a statewide group that offers annual conferences.
The Writer's Place - a local Kansas City group who offers workshops, speakers, and does art displays.
Association of Authors' Representatives - has information on questions to ask an agent, a member's list, and more.
The Author's Guild - a national organization open to published authors writing for adults and children.
The Children's Book Council - a trade association for children's publishers. They create a lot of useful publications. Also, includes meet the author/illustrator pieces.
Good fiction writing is a matter of losing one's identity and finding a kinship with the person, place, or situation we are writing about. Otherwise, if we are aware of ourselves and don't identify with the person or situation, we risk being self-conscious writers, and there is no worse kind.