Category Archives: writer’s conferences

Write On Con 2013 underway!

Write On Con is back!

If you’ve wanted to go to a conference and connect with writers, editors, and agents, but you don’t have the money or the time to travel to distant locations, Write On Con is for you! It’s FREE! You’ve nothing to lose!

It takes place today and tomorrow, August 13-14, 2013. There are forums where you can get peer reviews of queries, synopses, and manuscript openers. And there are contests and NINJA AGENTS, too! So check it out!

SCBWI Summer Conference, Part 5: Karen Cushman and Strong Girl Characters

In addition to her keynote speech, Karen Cushman did a breakout session entitled, “Not Pale or Frail: The Case for Strong Girl Characters in Historical Fiction.” Actually, her talk was less an argument for having strong girl characters in historical fiction and more about challenging stereotypes. If asked for an example of a strong fictional female character, many might think of Wonder Woman or Katniss Everdeen, but Cushman argued that Charlotte from Charlotte’s Web is also one. She might be a spider that lacks physical strength, but Charlotte is the one who makes things happen and drives that story forward.

Cushman spoke at length about depicting females in a proper historical  context, and she warned against “putting boobs on a boy.” In other words, creating a girl character whose strength draws from masculine behavior and action. To be honest, I don’t think that that is something limited to historical works. I think that “strong” females who are essentially girls with boy attributes can be found across genres. So it was refreshing to hear Cushman talk about creating characters that exhibit strength even as they fulfill traditional female gender roles and work within boundaries such as limited employment opportunities and arranged marriages. That the strength one girl demonstrates in tending a sick parent is just as valid as that in another wielding deadly weapons.

She closed by having attendees call out elements that would be found in a strong female character. Some traits named were determination, compassion, sense of self, and the drive to survive. One attribute that Cushman stressed, though, was the ability, willingness, and courage to make choices. Because when decision-time arises, it is the strong character that does not hesitate–something that I think is true of either gender.

SCBWI Summer Conference, Part 4: Literary Agent Linda Pratt and Opening Lines

Linda Pratt of Wernick and Pratt Agency did a breakout session entitled, “To Market, To Market: Readying Your Manuscript for Submission,” which covered things to consider A) while creating a manuscript and B) once it’s ready for querying. In regard to the creative process, she focused on the basics, including the importance of a strong opening.

Much of her advice about openers echoed what I’ve picked up from other workshops and websites. That an opening should stir a sense of curiosity. That action can draw a reader in, but action alone doesn’t make an opener compelling. That whatever kind of opener we choose, it’s most effective when it’s evocative. And in the midst of that familiar advice, I had an “Aha!” moment.

To illustrate her point about evocative openings versus plain action, she used excerpts from a story about normal people dealing with witches (I didn’t get the title of it – sorry!). She first read the opening and then an excerpt from page 3. The opening did not contain much action but had a strong hook that hinted at the main character’s fear of witches. The other passage depicted kids running through a bustling marketplace. Pratt then went on to explain that the story would’ve been weaker if it started with the marketplace action because it would’ve come off as a generic market scene. In contrast, the first sentence took the most unique thing about the story (normal people and witches) and pushed it to the front.

That was where the “Aha!” came. I’ve heard time and again about needing a strong hook and starting the story in the right place. However, the part about picking the most unique thing about a story and pushing it to the front was new. Or at least this was the first time I really heard it. But it makes quite a bit of sense. If your story is about a guy trying to win back his girlfriend with his snake wrestling skills, you should introduce those elements upfront instead of starting with random horseplay with his best friend.

Of course, like many things, this is easier said than done. (I am currently on Version 5.2 of my WIP’s opener). But now that I’m better aware of what I should be aiming for, I at least have a better chance of hitting the target.

SCBWI Summer Conference, Part 3: What Editors Want and Historical Fiction

Elise Howard, editor at Algonquin Books, had a breakout session in which she talked about her list and spoke about the differences between a small press like hers and the large publishing houses. Of course, this being a writer’s conference with lots of writers dying to make their debut, the Q&A inevitably turned toward “What are you looking for now?” and one of the things she shared was a list of what she rejects and why.

1. A manuscript that’s good but not great. Often it’s because she doesn’t like the character enough, and when she reads manuscripts, she asks herself if she wants to spend time with this character.

2. A 100,000 word story that should be 50,000 words.

3. Manuscripts that don’t grab her by the first 10 pages. She can usually tell within 10 pages if she likes it or not.

4. A pile of idiosyncrasies defining a character that just doesn’t work.

5. Historical is really difficult to sell now.

Point number five she pretty much worded that way. It’s not like she has a vendetta against historical fiction, but businesswise it doesn’t make sense in the current market. Being the daughter of an accountant and having worked in a corporate setting for a decade, I totally get that.

Still… ouch.

That sentiment only got driven deeper during Deborah Halverson’s keynote about SCBWI’s latest market survey. Teen fiction is still a growing market, but historical fiction isn’t a big seller though there is a budding market for YA historicals with a paranormal or mystery element.

Unfortunately, my WIP has neither of those.

So what does that mean for me?

It means I take my pen and keep trying to make my historical WIP the best it can be.

When I chose to write about Cynisca of Sparta, it wasn’t because I said to myself, “I want to write a historical novel.” It was because I happened across her while researching another project and became so fascinated by her that I set that other project aside to write about her. To me, hers was a story worth telling, and even if the market isn’t trending her way right now, I still feel that way.

The next day, I went to Cushman’s breakout session about girl characters in historical fiction (which I’ll write more about in another post), and someone brought up the fact that other speakers had said historical fiction was a bad sell. Cushman responded by saying that was what people told her when she wrote her first book, and since then, she’s sold several books in that genre.

So Cushman’s words give me hope, and even if historical YA isn’t the hottest thing when I start to query, I hope people will be as fascinated by Cynisca’s unique story as I was.

Write On Con, a free online writer’s conference!

I feel like I’m caught in the rush of back to back writer’s conferences because, well, I am. In the madness of getting ready for LA SCBWI, I completely forgot about Write On Con until I saw the posts announcing it at the AQC forum.

So if you’ve wanted to go to a conference and connect with kidlit writers, editors, and agents, but you don’t have the money or the time to travel to distant locations, Write On Con is for you! It takes place Tuesday–Wednesday, August 14–15, 2012, and the forums are already buzzing with peer reviews of queries, synopses, and manuscript openers. And there are contests and NINJA AGENTS, too! So check it out!

SCBWI Summer Conference, Part 2: Karen Cushman and “Court Surprise”

There were some excellent speakers at the conference, but my favorite was Karen Cushman, author of several historical novels for children including The Midwife’s Apprentice and Catherine, Called Birdy. I’ve enjoyed her work, and I liked her even more after she shared this anecdote in her keynote speech:

She was speaking to a reader (presumably an adult), about The Midwife’s Apprentice . At some point, this person began to rave about the numerous birth motifs in the story – the main character coming out of the dung heap, the cat coming out the bag, etc., etc., etc.

To which Cushman responded, “What birth motif?”

I loved that.

Joking aside, her keynote speech, entitled “Court Surprise” was wonderful. In it, she mentioned that when she reads rough drafts, she’ll do one of three things:

  1. Simply read
  2. Edit
  3. Look for surprises

That gave me food for thought. When I read, I either do #1 or #2. Actually, when I start out doing #1, I often end up doing #2. That’s just my tendency, I guess. But I’ve never tried #3 (at least intentionally). According to Cushman, looking for the surprises is not so much about work or entertainment but about being playful with your drafts. To look for the connections and implications you’ve left yourself and move them to the surface. To not just write creatively but to read creatively.

When it comes to creative writing, I am an outliner, not a pantster. I like to know exactly what’s going to happen to my characters from beginning to end before I go about hammering out the text. It’s probably that control-freak part of me, the part that doesn’t want my characters getting stuck and screaming to me about what’s next. But Cushman’s suggestion intrigued me, that there’s the possibility of discovering something precious I’ve unwittingly left in my own writing just by changing the way I read.

I think I’ll give it a try.

SCBWI Summer Conference, Part 1

This weekend, while female runners competed in the 2012 Olympic marathon, I, along with 1200 other attendees, underwent my own endurance event at the Century City Hyatt: The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators’ (SCBWI) Annual Summer Conference.

Others had warned that, though awesome, the event is overwhelming, and I found that absolutely true. Actually, the conference’s Monday intensives are still going on, and I’m glad I didn’t sign up. Not that they didn’t look amazing, but my mind feels overstuffed as it is, not to mention I’m physically exhausted. (Yes, sitting in chairs and taking notes is quite draining).

So in the following days, I’ll be decompressing. And as I process what I learned and experienced, I’ll share some of the insights I got. But for now I’ll leave you with a little commentary on the helpfulness of the advice I received prior to the conference.

Dress in layers

Not so helpful. To me, “dress in layers” implies temperature swings from high to low. Except for the newbie orientation, I never came close to being comfortably warm, even with a polar fleece jacket. So unless your optimum temperature runs around 60°F, wear pants and long sleeves, and if you get cold easily like me, bring a jacket because the Hyatt apparently likes to crank up the air-conditioning.

Bring a notebook

Good advice. You learn and hear so much in such a compressed period of time there’s no way you can remember it all. The hotel did have some notepads and pens on hand for those who forgot to bring one along though.

You can also take notes on a laptop, but though the conference area does have some electrical outlets, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll find an open one when your charge runs low.

Bring business cards

Also good advice. Even if you don’t have a book, blog, or whatever, business cards save you the trouble of having to write your name and contact info over and over to all the new people you meet.

It’s also a good idea to immediately jot a few words on cards from others, like when/where you met or what you talked about. I traded cards with more people than I expected and spent part of this morning sorting and organizing my stack. If not for the notes I wrote, I’d have no idea which person was which because names and faces start to blur over the course of the weekend.

Don’t worry if you don’t know anyone at the conference because SCBWI people are approachable and friendly

Definitely true. I don’t know what it’s like at other writer conferences, but just about everyone I met was willing to let me join in on their conversation or sit at their table at lunch. A couple of YA writers from Nevada even offered to share their breakout session notes within three minutes of us introducing ourselves.

Not to say there isn’t the occasional awkward personality. One of my friends was weirded out when this one lady kept talking at her and wouldn’t leave her alone. But that is definitely the exception. For the most part, the conference is a grand opportunity for writers of juvenile literature to connect with other people who share that passion.

Anyway, that’s it for now. I’ll be sharing more about things I learned at the keynotes and breakout sessions in later posts.