SCBWI Florida conference round-up (Part 2)

Again, I’m just hitting a few main points so this post isn’t obscenely long.

The Saturday session kicked off with the amazing, inspiring, highly entertaining Bruce Hale (he sang to us—it pretty much rocked). Bruce had a number of tips to keep you going. Here are a few of my favorites:
  1. Plan tomorrow’s work the night before and write down three things you want to accomplish. Do those three things before your do ANYTHING else (including checking email!)
  2. Ask questions like a three-year-old. Anyone who knows a three-year-old knows this means asking Why? Why? Why? WHY?? This very simple question gets you to the root of your story.
  3. Beat resistance with persistence. Most people give up right when they’re about to break into success. Keep going, push a little harder, and you will get there.
And then he sang “You Gotta Be” by Des’ree. You guys. I totally love Bruce Hale.
Next up was Rubin Pfeffer, agent extraordinaire with East/West Literary Agency. Rubin spoke about alternate publishing options—digital-only options which lie somewhere between big house/traditional publishing and true self-publishing. Rubin predicts that e-books will account for 1/3 of all book sales by the end of this year, that agents will start pushing clients toward digital media, and that e-book prices are going to start falling. Fascinating.
Rubin’s talk was followed by a very frank agent panel. Here are a few things that popped out at me:
  1. Titles are more important than you think. A great title is going to jump out and maybe even encourage an agent to take another look at your query or pages.
  2. If you’re a writer who blogs, do not—DO NOT—spread your query status all over your blog. An agent said it had happened in the past where she’d been thinking about offering representation, visited the writer’s blog … and discovered the writer had been querying the same project for a very long time and been rejected by 40 or so agents previously. No agent wants to feel like a fourth string quarterback (this is me paraphrasing now). Jennifer Laughran, agent at Andrea Brown, actually posted about this yesterday, so if you haven’t checked it out, you should.

Break-away sessions were on Sunday. I had a really hard time deciding which two to attend (so many to choose from!) but went with editor Ari Lewin’s session on revision and author Robin Wasserman’s session on edgy YA.

Ari is an executive editor at Putnam (a division of Penguin). And wow. I mean, wow. Her session was AMAZING. (Andplusalso? She gave me a box of girl scout cookies. Thin Mints! How great is that?) For Ari, the number 1, most important aspect of a novel is its voice. If voice is missing (or if she finds the protagonist’s voice annoying or unrelatable), she passes. But if the novel has a strong voice and a great concept, but a weak plot, she’s willing to work with the writer.
A writer needs to master the art of self-revision. Ari recommended the book Self-Editing for Fiction Writers (a recommendation I will whole-heartedly second—I’m reading it now and it’s the most helpful editing book I’ve ever read). She also offered a number of “how to”-type tips.
  1. A great way to show instead of tell is to use dialogue and physical gestures. However, dialogue can’t be used as a way to deliver information the characters already know and would never really talk about. This is the classic: “Hey, Joe! How’s it going?” “Well, as you know, my parents are getting a divorce, my great aunt Cecile has cancer, my dog died, and I’m failing geometry.” No one talks like this, and it is cheating. 🙂
  2. Write about the way your characters see the world.
  3. Every extra second you spend on something makes it more important, so always ask “Does this advance the plot?” If the answer is no, cut it or cut it down.
  4. Dialogue should show what people are thinking without describing their emotions. Circle any adverbs you find in dialogue tags, as well as any tags that aren’t “said” and rewrite that bit of dialogue to make it stronger.
  5. Read dialogue out loud.
Ari also provided a brief insight into what happens after the book is acquired by a publishing house. The book normally goes through three passes (all of which can be a total rewrite). Ari’s editorial letters take anywhere from 16 to 24 hours to write and average 7 pages in length.
Last up was Robin Wasserman’s presentation on edgy YA. This post is already pretty long, so let me sum up: Basically, NOTHING is too edgy for YA. It all depends on how you handle it.
Phew! Done! Thanks for sticking with me, and I hope you learned something new too!
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2 Responses

  1. Susan says:

    Thanks again for sharing all this! All important stuff to know, and I'm glad you could glean so much in just a few days!

    And THIN MINTS!?!?!? WOAH. Officially makes her The Awesomest.

  2. Karen Strong says:

    Meredith, thanks so much for the workshop highlights. 🙂

    I feel like I got to attend a bonus workshop by reading the great tips you shared from Ari Lewin. Totally agree with Susan. An editor giving out Thin Mints is something special.

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