Thursday, July 30, 2009

Nobody Writes Alone

"You're the same person you were ten years ago but for the books you've read and the people you've met."

Writers meet all the best people at writers' conferences. I'm jazzed about folks I met at this past weekend's Central Valley Writers' Symposium.

Agents Elizabeth Wales, owner of Whales Literary and Kelly Sonnack from the Andrea Brown Literary Agency and Associate Editor of Tor Books Stacy Hague-Hill lived with us through our San Joaquin Valley triple-digit heat and our bumbling one-one-one pitch sessions. They each shared what they are looking for in a manuscript and the things that turn them off. They ate with us, trying to swallow their food between our ubiquitous questions.

Okay I admit shouting questions over the bathroom stall wasn't my best moment, but here are some random treasures gleaned:

The story needs to come from the words--lively prose.

What are your goals as a writer? Positive earn out? Changing lives? Writing more books? Don't tell a prospective agent your goal is to be on Oprah, hit the N.T. best seller list and have instant worldwide recognition. May be true, but it's best not to overwhelm them up front.

Allow the child reader figure out the problem before the hero. We all love to feel smart!

Harry Potter changed children's publishing. Adults aren't ashamed to be seen reading YA. YA crossover has new energy. Big name authors are coming over--and isn't that just what we all needed.

Picture Book sales are down with the economic downturn. Pardon me while I blot my sniffles.

Agent/Editor Turn-offs:

mouthes dropping
faces draining of color
eyes widening in surprise, same with eyebrows
"as you know, Bob" dialog
chatty narrators
First sentence weather reports
children's manuscripts about pets, ABCs, holidays, rhyming anything
and paranormal creatures unless they are new and fresh
recaps of action as opposed to things happening on the page
too much emotion before reader knows and sympathizes with characters
too much description

Agent/Editors look for:

compelling stories & characters who make them "care"
real emotional responses described in fresh new ways
universal themes

I'm convinced now--at least at Whales Literary Agency, Tor Books and Andrea Brown Literary Agency--our queries are viewed by "friendly faces" who read submissions with anticipation because they love to discover talent. Kelly Sonnak says, "If you do what you love, part of your salary is loving your work."

These new acquaintances gave me insider tips, a new appreciation of our business and the jazz to keep on writing.

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