Pointers from the Pros: Art Director Kristen Nobles Talks Picture Books

Pointers from the Pros” gives tips from authors and publishing industry professionals on everything from craft to querying to their experiences on the road to publication.*

I attended the 2011 SCBWI MD/DE/WV’s Spring into Action conference in Buckeystown, Md., with some of my favorite-evers. As usual, I took a ton of notes at all the faboo sessions I was lucky enough to attend—and I’m sharing some of those tips with my lovely blog readers. (Thanks for being so fabulous, BTW!)

Here are some of Candlewick Press art director Kristen Nobles‘s tips from her session, “Thinking Visually: The Illustrator as Illuminator”:

WHAT’S SHE LOOKING FOR IN A SUBMISSION?

Professionalism*

  • Be clean & neat
  • Respect your work
  • Be organized & timely
  • Be collaborative
  • Be communicative
  • Be confident
  • If you’re unpubbed, don’t send her proposals every week—quarterly or seasonally is a good rule of thumb—you have to edit yourself

Technical Proficiency*

  • Master your medium
  • Don’t send work in a technique you’ve just learned
  • Be comfortable in your style
  • Remember: the quality of your craft is important
  • Learn composition!  Think about it in terms of pages—how it will look on a page
  • take classes—and if you don’t have an art degree, give yourself assignments & deadlines

Appropriateness*

  • Your work should speak to children
  • Should transport children to another world

*they expect you to bring these things to the table—the rest, they’ll work with you on

OTHER MUST HAVES

  • Characters should have unique personalities
  • You must make a character recognizable throughout the entire book—multiple renderings must look the same
  • You must be able to draw the same character from many different POVs—must look the same
    • A lot of times, the characters will always be wearing the same clothes/hairstyles throughout series (for consistency’s sake)
  • Pages should end in cliffhangers—not just the words, but also the pictures

QUESTIONS TO HELP YOU DEVELOP YOUR STYLE

  • What is your passion? Your interest? (If you examine these things, it can be an outlet for how your story, your characters will stand out)
  • What’s NOT out there? What HASN”T been done?
  • What new style, medium, or perspective can you contribute?

For a complete recap of the conference, see author Laura Bowers’s post here.

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Pointers from the Pros: Editor Marilyn Brigham Offers Insight into the Editor’s Eye

Pointers from the Pros” gives tips from authors and publishing industry professionals on everything from craft to querying to their experiences on the road to publication.*

I attended the 2011 SCBWI MD/DE/WV’s Spring into Action conference in Buckeystown, Md., with some of my favorite-evers. As usual, I took a ton of notes at all the faboo sessions I was lucky enough to attend—and I’m sharing some of those tips with my lovely blog readers. (Thanks for being so fabulous, BTW!)

Here are some of Marshall Cavendish editor Marilyn Brigham’s tips from her session, “The Editor’s Eye: Powerful Word Choice & Sentence Structure”:

WHAT TO LOOK FOR WHEN REVISING

  • Repetition
    • Of words or phrases (betas & crit partners can be of great help with this)
    • Single word repeated on the same page or in the same paragraph (this is what she finds to be the most common)
    • Search for these words in particular, which she says tend to be repeated a lot:
      • just
      • then
      • so
      • anyway
      • even
      • but
      • really
      • very
    • “Echoed” words can be a repetitive too:
      • unfair, unfairness
      • though, although
      • like, dislike
    • Other tired phrases:
      • of course
      • I was like
      • I couldn’t help but wonder
    • You can repeat ideas as well—remember: don’t hit your readers over the head with it
  • Adult language
    • It depends what is appropriate for the book, age group, story, etc.
    • Be on the lookout for out-of-date language/stuff that makes it sound like an adult writing for kids (i.e., HUNK vs. HOTTIE or “Being with Mike is WONDERFUL” = meh—find a more kid-friendly way to say it)
    • Sometimes you should bring it down & sometimes you should elevate it
  • Clichés
    • Just don’t!
  • Clutter
    • Adverbs!  (most are unnecessary—if you choose a stronger verb, you render the adverbs redundant)
    • Here’s why:

“The radio blared loudly.”

Blared is strong enough a verb on its own.  It’s redundant with the adverb loudly.

  • Too many adjectives!
    • This is what we call “purple prose”
    • It speaks down to the reader
  • Unnecessary prepositions:

“Slowed down traffic”

When you’re slowing something, the “down” is implied.

WHAT CAN YOU ADD TO MAKE YOUR WRITING STRONGER?

  • Take cues from the genre
    • In a book about soccer, use a metaphor that relates to soccer—it adds flavor:

“I danced around like I won the World Cup.”

  • Take cues from the narrator
    • What would the narrator notice?
    • How would he or she say it?
  • Use parallel structure in some sentences—it can add extra punch:

I came. I saw. I conquered.

  • Use active voice:

Passive: The letter way mailed by dad.

Active: Dad mailed the letter.

WHAT IS MARKETABLE RIGHT NOW?

  • In YA: dystopian
  • In picture books: “Going to sleep” books”
  • In all of juvenile lit: perennial subjects

For a complete recap of the conference, see author Laura Bowers’s post here.

 

Pointers from the Pros: Author David Rocklin Talks Visibility & Etiquette

Pointers from the Pros” gives tips from authors and publishing industry professionals on everything from craft to querying to their experiences on the road to publication.  This post is by guest columnist and Write-Brainiac J.M. Lacey.

The August 2010 Scribblers’ Retreat Writers’ Conference in St. Simons Island, Ga., featured a stellar set of professional speakers.

The August 2010 Scribblers’ Retreat Writers’ Conference on St. Simons Island, Ga., featured a stellar set of professional speakers. Author David Rocklin spoke on Friday of the retreat.

His first novel, The Luminist, already in print in Italy (Neri Pozza) and Israel (Kinneret), will make its U.S. debut in the fall of 2011 (Hawthorne).

Rocklin grew up in Chicago and graduated from Indiana University with a BA in Literature. After attending law school, he pursued a career as an in-house attorney and continues to serve as a mediator. He currently lives in California with his wife and children.

Here are some key points from his program on “Visibility at All Cost”:

  • It is difficult to see our own writing [for what it is] until someone else sees it. When two, three or four people start pointing out the same thing in your writing, you have to seriously look at what they are telling you.
  • With the many avenues open to publish our work and build platform—such as Twitter, blogs, print-on-demand—as the number of writers rise, so does cynicism.
  • The abundance of publishing outlets give rise to self-destructive traits.  “We have the tendency to say the first draft is good,” he says. “[But] writing is rewriting. The first draft is nothing.” He cautions against putting our work “out there” when it’s not ready to be seen and it is not at the level it needs to be. If the work is not ready, the writer ruins it for the next debut author. The goal should not be speed and quantity. The goal should be about quality; finding that emotional capture.
  • When querying agents, target specific representatives for your work. Let the agent know why you chose him/her. The agents want to know you’ve done your homework. Check the Web site Preditors and Editors.
  • You need a sense of humor. When you put your writing into the world, it’s no longer your work. Pick your battles. Working with publishers, editors and agents is a fantastic learning process.
  • Read your work out loud. That is how you catch mistakes.
  • Read all the time. If you don’t read, you’re not writing.
  • Don’t make writing for a living the chase. Your voice will get lost. Live your life and protect the thing you need to do: write.
  • Our first action is we write because we have to. The choice is to write to make others see our work.
  • Never trash yourself as a writer. Others will, so don’t do it to yourself.

J.M. Lacey is a freelance writer and marketing and pr consultant. She is working on a novel to be visible to the world. Visit her Web site and blog.


Pointers from the Pros: Chuck Sambuchino Talks Pitching Agents in Person

Pointers from the Pros” gives tips from authors and publishing industry professionals on everything from craft to querying to their experiences on the road to publication.*

I attended the 38th annual Society of Southwestern Authors’ Wrangling with Writing conference in Tuscon, Ariz., in September.  Although I couldn’t go to all the faboo sessions being offered, I took a ton of notes at those I was lucky enough to attend—and I’m sharing some of those tips with my lovely blog readers. (Thanks for being so fabulous, BTW!)

Here is what Guide to Literary Agents editor and Class-1 Gnome-Slayer Chuck Sambuchino had to say in “Pitching Agents in Person”:


WHAT IT IS & HOW IT WORKS

  • Essentially, you’re reading your query letter out loud—except you’re not actually reading it. Have it memorized.
  • You should be done in 60 sec. Generally, this gives them time to ask questions, etc.
  • You pitch can be anywhere from 3-10 sentences.
  • A pitch is NOT a synopsis.  He points to the backs of DVD boxes, Netflix descriptions, and book jacket flap covers as examples of short pitches yours should emulate.

DO

  • Introduce yourself and state any connections you might have to the agent right away.
  • It’s not like a query letter pitch, where they can read things again if it’s confusing, so be as clear as possible.
  • Give the logline first (a one-sentence description of your manuscript so they understand what it is right away) Then, you can go into the details.
  • State the genre, word count—especially if it’s appropriate to your genre—the title, and that it’s complete.
  • Start with your main character. He says sometimes there is a tendency for writers (especially in sci-fi/fantasy—really, anything with a lot of worldbuilding in it) to begin with setting, but he urges you to start with the main character (MC) and get to the inciting incident.  This propels your book forward—gives the conflict. What goes wrong? Every story is about something going wrong, he says.
  • Show the arc of the character in the pitch—we need to see the character changing.
  • Introduce the antagonist as well.  Show how the MC and antag clash.
  • If you are unsure of your genre, just take a stab at it. Sometimes agents will see your book in a different genre than you anyway.
  • Make sure the agent you’re pitching reps the kind of project you are pitching.
  • After the pitch, then get to the bio stuff—organizations you are part of, previous publications, awards, etc.  If you’ve ever been paid to write, say it—if you don’t have any previous publications, just don’t say anything about that.  They should be interested enough in your book without that stuff (the bio stuff), so don’t stress if you don’t have it.  The important thing is to mention whatever you have done quickly and humbly.
  • Memorize your pitch, but make it more conversational.  Agents are people.  It’s awkward if you just read something or rattle off something you’ve memorized.
  • Pitch them one project.

DON’T

  • Don’t give away the ending.  A pitch is designed to pique interest.  The agent *could* ask for the ending, after your pitch, but don’t offer it unless they’ve asked.
  • Don’t say it’s a series unless they ask.
  • Don’t be general (“highs and lows”—“twists and turns”—“circumstances out of their control”—“sequence of events”).  Give them something specific and concrete. (In his book, Save the Cat, the late screenwriter Blake Snyder talks about the “promise of the premise”when you say what the story is about, scenes pop into the audience’s head—you guess what will happen.  Chuck says, make your pitch delivers on these things.)
  • Don’t talk about your themes.  These should shine through. (Show vs. tell)
  • Don’t hand the agent anything.
  • Don’t spend time on names & quirks of secondary characters.  You don’t want to bog them down with details.
  • Don’t sing it!
  • Don’t mention movie adaptations—that it’s going to be a mega hit, NYT bestseller, etc.

NONFICTION PITCHES

  • These tend to be dry—they’re not designed to be entertaining.  So, talk about what makes the book unique or memorable.
  • You HAVE to have platform here. Who are you? What have you done? Why are you the person to write this book? Are you an expert in the field? A speaker? Do you have leadership roles with something connected to the subject matter? Previous publications?
  • When pitching memoir, try not to focus on the sad details too much.  Show how it can transcend to more than just people with that experience only.  Show it’s a story about X,  but it’s more than that. It can reach more of an audience.

QUESTIONS FROM THE CLASS

Q: Should you say it’s similar to a bestseller?

A: It’s tricky. If you do, avoid all the clichés—(Harry Potter, Twilight, The DaVinci Code, Eat Pray Love).  It’s probably better to say it’s X meets Y.  However, this can come off as kind of egotistical as well, depending on what you’re comparing it to.

Q: Should you pitch a short story collection?

A: Generally, no.  If you have those, you’re better off networking with them at conference—getting your face in their memory for when you query them with it later.  While we’re at it, don’t pitch articles or poetry collections in-person either.

Q: What tense should the query be in?

A: Third-person, present tense for the pitch sentences.

Visit Chuck at the GLA blog or follow him on Twitter.

*Click here for more “Pointers from the Pros.”

Pointers from the Pros: Author Jonathan Rabb on “Place as Character”

Pointers from the Pros” gives tips from authors and publishing industry professionals on everything from craft to querying to their experiences on the road to publication.  This post is by guest columnist and Write-Brainiac J.M. Lacey.

The August 2010 Scribblers’ Retreat Writers’ Conference in St. Simons Island, Ga., featured a stellar set of professional speakers.

Author Jonathan Rabb spoke on the Friday of the retreat.

Rabb is the author of the critically acclaimed historical novels Rosa and Shadow and Light, the first two books in a trilogy set in Europe between the wars. The final installment, The Second Son, will be published by Farrar Straus & Giroux early in 2011.

Prior to the trilogy, the Yale and Columbia graduate wrote The Overseer and The Book of Q and contributed essays and reviews to Opera News and the collection I Wish I’d Been There (Doubleday). He won the international Dashiell Hammett prize at the Spanish Semana Negra Festival in 2006 for Rosa, and he teaches creative writing at both NYU and SCAD.

Rabb

Here are some key points from Jonathan’s program on “Place as Character in Historical Fiction”:

On Research—

  • In historical fiction, you have to feel you “own” what you are writing. The author must have strict authority over that world. You only have about 20 pages to capture the reader’s certainty and confidence in your knowledge. Creating this kind of authority requires a lot of research.
  • Don’t trust the Internet for your research. Reach out to academics. Read their books and ask for their help.
  • Read novels written during the time period your novel is set in (if possible). Find material written in the voice of that time.
  • Once you’ve done the research, you must let it go. You are telling a story, and the story has to have its own life.
  • In historical fiction, everyone knows the end. The writers and readers share an intimacy by knowing more than the characters.

Place as Character—

  • Make Place a character. The only way characters can be compelling is if the space surrounding them is a character. Space defines the relationship with a character.
  • Inject something of the characters in the place. Have tension and conflict exist between the person and the space.
  • While we’re careful not to write a character doing something out of character, the same rule works for place. Don’t write something out of character for the place. Don’t invent a left turn for a real street if, in reality, you can’t make that left turn.

 

J.M. Lacey is a freelance writer and marketing and PR consultant. She is working on a place-as-character-driven novel. Visit her Web site and blog.

Pointers from the Pros: Agent Michelle Brower Offers Query Tips

Pointers from the Pros” gives tips from authors and publishing industry professionals on everything from craft to querying to their experiences on the road to publication.

I attended the James River Writers conference in Richmond, Va., in October.  Although I couldn’t go to all the faboo sessions being offered, I took a ton of notes at those I was lucky enough to attend—and I’m sharing some of those tips with my lovely blog readers. (<—Thanks for being so fabulous, BTW!)

This was the first year JRW offered workshops (they usually have panels only).  Here is what Folio Literary Management agent of awesome Michelle Brower had to say about queries during her (fabulous) two-hour workshop.

ON THE HOOK

  • She reads queries for about 20 seconds, so speak with authority, panache and charm to hook her immediately.
  • It’s all very subjective, so do your research.
    • She tries to be all over the Internet, letting people know what she wants to see.
    • She likes when writers say they’ve targeted her—they have read her client’s work or interviews, etc.
  • The purpose of a query is to make anyone want to read it—like the back of the book cover.
  • She notices too many queries are too vague.
  • She likes to see market comparison (“It’s like Ahab’s Wife meets The Time Traveler’s Wife“) because she has to do this comparison when she pitches it to editors. What would it be next to on someone’s shelf?
    • However, avoid comparing your work to Twilight, Harry Potter, The DaVinci Code, the classics—or two things  that just don’t fit together.

ON STRUCTURE

  • Set-up
    • Where does the book start?
    • It should be interesting and different in some way.
  • Conflict
    • She doesn’t see many queries with this, and it’s important.
    • It should not just be EMOTIONAL—that’s a pet peeve of most agents.
  • Bio
    • Why are you the right author for this book?
    • Awards, conferences, publications, life stuff that makes you an authority on the subject matter, etc.

Example:

Moby Dick

Set-up—Ishmael, a man who has never been to sea, signs up to go on the Pequod.*

*We can see there is conflict even in the set-up.

Conflict—Ahab is crazy and wants to get the white whale; Ishmael is caught up in this madness.

  • For nonfiction proposals, it’s about:
    • The idea
    • The writing
    • The platform—your bio applies 100-fold here.
      • Do you have TV or radio connections? A mailing list? Media access? Social media, etc.

ON NONFICTION AND MEMOIR

  • The stronger your platform, the less of a NF book you have to write for the proposal—you still submit the proposal and tell people how you will sell it.
  • Memoir is “a weird mix”—like a new genre, she says.
    • You write the whole thing before you send the proposal/query.
    • You need a GREAT platform or a literary presence (like with fiction), and your book should be good
    • It’s the art of fiction but the business side of NF.

OTHER WORDS OF WISDOM

  • Querying is tough, but remember that not every agent is for you—you want your agent to be energetic.
  • It’s to your detriment if she took on the book and didn’t love it.
  • Keep the faith—one of her clients was rejected 80 times!
    • Now he’s sold two books and one is being optioned as a film with Coté de Pablo!

Click here for more “Pointers from the Pros.”

Where Else Am I? My GLA Guest Post: Wrangling with Writing Panel

I’m over at the Guide to Literary Agents blog today with “Agents Talk Trends, Platform, eBooks and More at Wrangling with Writing.”

Click here to see my guest post—Q&A during the first panel at the 38th annual Society of Southwestern Authors’ Wrangling with Writing conference in Tuscon, Ariz., featuring:

  • Maxwell Alexander Drake (Sci-fi/fantasy author)
  • Paul Burt (of Pen & Publish, Inc.)
  • Rita Rosencranz (of Rita Rosenkranz Literary)
  • Pam Strickler (of Pam Strickler Author Management)
  • Mingsu Chang (of BookStop Literary)
  • Claire Gerus (of Claire Gerus Literary)
  • Natalie Fischer (of Sandra Dijkstra Literary)
  • Martin Biro (of Kensington Publishing)
  • Jill Marr (of Sandra Dijkstra Literary)