Querying 101

mailboxIn recent months I’ve received a lot of emails from many of you! I love mail, and thank you for contacting me to say hello. There’s been a great influx of new traffic lately and I’m really excited to chat, share, and discuss writing with you all!

However, I must admit, I’ve been confused by the growing number of novel query letters I receive. I say this because I’m not an agent, editor, or book publisher.

I’m an author.

Yes, I also do manuscript critiques to help writers hone their craft and prepare for querying. But, I’m not an editor at a publishing house. So, I’m always a little stumped when I receive a query letter, because I’m not in any position to actually publish my blog-reader’s books.

The more I thought about this, the more I’ve come to realize the problem lies in a lack of information on who you should actually send your query to. And since this blog is all about sharing information, I can help in this regard!

Who Should You Query?

The objective of a query letter is to get an agent or editor to request your book and consider you for representation and/or publication. However, that doesn’t mean you do a Google search for agents and editors, and blanket the market with your query. You need to target your letter to the proper individuals. Otherwise, you’re going to get an inbox full of rejection letters that have nothing to do with the quality of your book.

So how do you find the perfect agents and editors to query?

1) Decide if You Want an Agent

Do you want an agent? Or do you want to submit, negotiate, and work directly with a publisher yourself? I personally went the agent route, because frankly, I want to write and not worry about the business side. But there are plenty of authors who do it on their own without representation.

If you’re undecided, check out these great articles:

** If you decide you don’t want an agent, insert the word editor into the below steps.

2) Find Agents That Represent What You Write

Lit Agents bookThe number one reason your query letter is getting rejected, is because you’re sending it to someone who doesn’t represent what you write. You shouldn’t send a query for your gritty adult Noir to an agent who primarily represents picture book authors. Before you query, research and create a list of agents that represent books like yours!

How to Create Your Agent List:

  • Go to Literary Agency Websites and read the agent bio pages. These list agent book preferences, authors they currently represent, and genres they’re interested in.
  • Query Tracker.net – This is a fantastic resource. Start by searching their giant list of agents by genre. Then learn about query turnaround times, preferences, and more.
  • Writers Digest: Guide to Literary Agents – Pick up the current edition of this book (or check out their blog), to see what agents are currently looking for.
  • Book Acknowledgements – Look in the acknowledgement section of books similar to yours. See if the author has thanked his or her agent. This is a great way to find agents that represent work in your genre and age level.
  • Publisher’s Marketplace – Get a paid subscription to Publisher’s Marketplace and you can search agents to see who they represent and current deals they’ve made.

3) Research Agent Book Preferences

indexSo much of this business is about taste. An editor or agent can pass on your book based on taste alone. Give your book the best chance by researching what kind of books your list of agents like to read. Narrow your list by finding the agents interested in your specific genre and story-type. For example, you’ll find a lot of agents who represent young adult books, but do they like contemporary romantic YA or gritty sci-fi YA? You may have written the best young adult war epic of all time, but if you query an agent who isn’t interested in historical fiction… you’re going to get a rejection letter.

How to Narrow Down Your Agent List:

  • Read interviews, articles, and blog posts – Agents do a ton of interviews online. Others have their own blogs outlining their query wish lists. Using the list you made from step 2, start to read articles and blogs about these agents to get a better sense of their book tastes.
  • Literary RamblesIf you’re looking for a children’s book agent, Literary Rambles has an outstanding resource for you. Casey McCormick and Natalie Aguirre have rounded up hundreds of interviews, articles, and blog posts, and organized them by agent. Click through their agent list to read highlights from articles all over the internet.
  • Go to Conferences – Agents and editors love to speak at writing conferences. This is a great way for you to see their personalities, hear them talk about books they love, and to get a feel for if they’d be a good fit for you.

4) Craft Your Query Letter

Now that you have a list of 5 to 20 agents, create a query letter targeted toward them. I’ve written many posts on how to craft a query letter. So be sure to check out the links below.

How to Write a Query Letter:

emb5) Send Out Your Query Letter

Now that you have a small, targeted list for querying, start sending out your queries. I suggest keeping a spread sheet on which agents you’ve submitted to and the date of submission. Some agents have No Response Means No policies.  Using a spreadsheet will help you to keep track of those responses.

Every time you get a rejection, send out three more query letters! Querying can be a numbers game. Remember that so much of this is about taste. You don’t need everyone to love you. You just need that one agent or editor to love you!

Querying can be a difficult and grueling process. Keep researching, adding more agents to your list, and sending out queries. Keep the faith!

There’s a ton of great information on the internet on how to find an agent and create a successful query letter. This can be a rabbit hole and a big time-suck, but you put in the time to write your book, be sure to put in the time to research agents as well!

Hungry for more? Try these great links:

Highlights from the 2014 SCBWI Summer Conference

Guest post by Lianna McSwain

Hi All! SCBWI-LA was a massive event. There were over 1,200 attendees and close to 100 professionals from the field. The conference took place over three days and included so much information I filled a notebook almost completely with notes, which I am happy to share with you. These notes cover only those events I was able to go to. It’s like a cupful of information that I collected from the fire hose.

I wish I could have been everywhere!

2014-Summer-banner-2

Friday

Meg Rosoff:

Meg Rosoff

After Lin Oliver and Stephen Mooser kicked off the conference by charming everyone with their wit and loveliness, we sat back and had our minds blown by Meg Rosoff.

Her talk dissected several academic complaints that fairy tales are harmful because they give children unrealistic perceptions of the world. The academics charged that stories such as Goldilocks and the Three Bears are dangerous because they fail to teach that bears live in dens not cottages, that they eat ant pupae not porridge and that they are more inclined to disembowel and eat small children than they are to be suitable playmates for them.

Meg Rosoff responded that fairy tales are dangerous, but not in the ways the academics say. She reminded us that fairy tales are subversive. They upend cultural norms and allow us access to our most repressed thoughts and fears.

Fairy Tales take the dark matter of our unconscious minds and put them into our hands.

She assigned us the task of going out into the world and writing those stories we’ve been told we can’t or shouldn’t write. She asked us to write subversive.


Editor’s Panel:

Lin Oliver

There were seven editors on the Friday morning editor’s panel: Alessandra Balzer (Balzer+Bray), Mary Lee Donovan (Candlewick), Allyn Johnston (Beach Lane Books), Wendy Loggia (Delacorte), Lucia Monfried (Dial), Dinah Stevenson (Clarion), and Julie Strauss-Gabel (Dutton).

Lin Oliver moderated the panel and asked the editors to begin by naming things they’d like to see more of.

Nearly everyone called for more work with voice.

The editors also called for work that was authentic, original and that surprised them.

Julie Strauss-Gabel asked that the writers take the time to get to know the editors, so that when submitting a work, the writer would know whether the work would be a good fit for that editor. Julie stated that she only publishes 9 or 10 works per year, and she needs to fall in love with them.

The other editors agreed that they too were hoping for works that the writers or agents saw as being a good fit for them. Wendy Loggia said that when an agent says to her, “you’re the best editor for this book” she feels a need to put that manuscript on the top of the pile.

Lin Oliver jumped in and recommended that writers consult the fabulous SCBWI resource called “Edited By.” This is a list of current editors and the ten books that they believe best represent the kind of work they like to publish. This list is included as a chapter in the Market Section of The Book. If you are not familiar with The Book, it is a pdf compilation of the most current information about the state of children’s book publishing available to all members of SCBWI for free, download here.

The editors agreed that while they understand that multiple submissions are the norm these days, they really all frown on submitting a manuscript to multiple editors within the same house.

Finally, Mary Lee Donovan looked for writing competence. Dinah Stevenson wanted a story with a definite beginning, middle and end and nothing over 100K words. Wendy Loggia requested that manuscripts have page numbers. Julie Straus Gable wanted stories that weren’t boring. Allyn Johnston requested stories that were readable out loud.

The editors also agreed that respectful communication goes a long way.

Judy Schachner:

Skippy

Judy let us into her mental art studio, and confirmed what I suspected all along—Ms. Schachner is a wellspring of genius! She showed us photos of her collage books. When she is creating a character and a story, she spends weeks and weeks pulling photos and compiling them into a workbook in a non-logical jumbled up way. She collages photos on top of drawings, loosely, with her editor’s eye turned off. When she has finished the book, she goes through and looks for juxtapositions that catch her eye. From this rich source material, she makes her story. I was very impressed by the amount of work she put into the generative stage, the stage before she began writing the story. Also, Judy is amazing at accents. She can slip into from a Tennessee drawl, to an Irish brogue, and then to Antonio Banderas. I’m in awe!

Saturday

Aaron Becker:

Aaron led us in a two part sing a long of “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey. Imagine half the auditorium singing the bass line, and the other half singing the tenor line while Aaron Becker sang the melody on stage. He said we sang better than the editors and agents did at his last presentation. We all sat down feeling very smug. They don’t call us writers ‘the talent’ for nothing. ;)

I didn’t realize how much I liked Aaron’s wordless picture book Journey, until I saw it projected onto a large screen, and I could immerse myself into his gorgeous artwork. Journey was the only book I bought at this conference. Aaron’s story was very inspiring, as his first book was published later in life. His story exemplifies a quote I heard earlier from Erin Murphy:

“The path to success is filled with many waiting periods that feel like failure.”

Aaron Becker


Maggie Stiefvater:

Maggie

Maggie Steifvater stomped on stage looking like a punk rock cheerleader—all tight pants, boots, and leather bracelets covering up a shock wave of energy and enthusiasm.

Maggie talked about being a thief. She steals people’s souls. She freely admits to meeting people and finding their essence. Then she puts that essence into her characters. It’s easy, she said, “just find that one thing that makes them uniquely who they are.” If someone is wearing a plaid shirt, Maggie says, that detail is useless until you know why they are wearing a plaid shirt. When you know why, you can change the details, you can know how they will act in the future. Steal their soul, she said.

Sunday

Deborah Halverson:

Deborah Halverson

Deborah started the Market Report by reminding us that the watchword for 2013 had been ‘dip’. She meant that 2012 had been higher than normal because of the Hunger Games, Divergent and the new Wimpy Kid book, so the sales of 2013 were a return to sales slightly higher than 2011, but not as high as the blockbuster 2012.

She stated that for 2014, the dip is gone. All trade publications are up. Sales of print and ebooks are up 31%.

Picture books in the last two years have been the best ever, specifically those aimed at the youngest markets. Because older kids are moving to chapter books sooner, there is a demand for heavily illustrated chapter books. There is not a lot of demand for digital picture books.

Non-fiction picture books are on the rise, though Deborah stated that they should be considered an extra opportunity rather than a driving force behind higher sales numbers. Writers should be aware that there seems to be a backlash against the common core, so non-fiction picture books need to have entertainment value apart from their ability to fill the common core niche. (A text’s compliance with Common Core requirements should be that extra hook that pleases the editor who would have bought the book anyway.) Non-fiction books that have a strong character driven narrative still sell well, and longer texts are still acceptable.

Chapter Book sales continue to grow because of titles such as The Magic Tree House, Geronimo Stilton, and Dragonbreath. These highly illustrated hybrid books help readers find their footing. Single title Chapter Books struggle for shelf space in the midst of many series which dominate the market niche.

Middle Grade is finally on the upswing. There seems to be a lot of excitement surrounding recent middle grade titles, both series and stand alone titles. Editors are eager to find the right the combination of voice and humor, which have to be spot on. There is a call for more adventure fantasy, and light humor. There is also a place for historical fiction as long as it sounds contemporary.

Young Adult sales are starting to slow down a little, except for within the field of realistic contemporary fiction. Editors are excited about stories that focus on normal kids within normal school settings. Editors are also eager to see YA thrillers and mystery stories including some speculative fiction with a thriller twist. Historical YA is still a hard sell, and paranormal titles are tricky.

Overall, the field is looking up and editors are optimistic that the market will continue to be strong.

linda sue parkLinda Sue Park:

Linda is gracious and calm but she writes like a ninja. Here is her advice for writing lean, clean prose. She says:

Take each block of text and treat it as if it were a prose poem.

Give each clause its own line so you can see which words are working and which ones are cluttering up the flow. Eliminate all clutter.

bruce_covilleBruce Coville:

Bruce advised creating a Bible for each series with detailed character studies, historical background, and the rules of the world. The more detailed the Bible, the more potential a story has for becoming a series.

At this point we were all exhausted, staggering around under the weight of our books, looking bleary-eyed for the exit.

It was a great conference.
Lianna McSwainLianna McSwain lives in Northern California with her husband and her two extraordinarily charming children. After a career in economic development and fundraising, she finally returned to her true love, writing. Lianna is completing an MFA in writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts, specializing in YA and Middle Grade. When she is not writing, she is reading and eating chocolate. Or playing music and taking improv classes. Or hiking with friends.  She rarely does housework willingly. Sometimes she just sits there, thinking.

How to UP Your Word Count and Write Like a Boss! (Part 2)

Keep calm and write onGuest Post by Sheryl Scarborough

We shouldn’t be surprised or amazed when our writing suddenly starts to click. After all, this is what we’ve been practicing, perfecting, mastering and perhaps even MFA’ing, right? So it makes sense that as we grow as writers we will become more proficient. We will find our centers and words will flow.

But as all writers also know, the magic word faucet can suddenly and inexplicably develop a clog. So for those times – and regular times, too – I asked some of my successful writer friends to share their methods.

My friends publish a LOT of books and I’m predicting this blog will be relevant for some years to come, so I’m not listing their recent sales next to their names. Instead, I’m including a link to their websites where you will find the most up-to-date info on their publishing successes. Please do yourself a favor and check them out.

Kelly Barson, and Melanie Fishbane, don’t worry about word count per se but both of them try to get through a complete scene in one sitting. Then if they feel like they can go further, they do. I call this PACING YOURSELF.

The prolific Kekla Magoon, admits to not being very scheduled or orderly, but she writes up against DEADLINES so she sets daily goals for herself depending on chapters, pages and scenes. She also swears by Scrivener, saying it has enhanced her productivity. Kekla’s method seems to be GUN-TO-THE-HEAD + PROPER TOOLS = WORDS ON THE PAGE.

Carrie Jones, sets ridiculously low word count goals for drafting, then celebrates when she goes beyond that goal. She also points out that failure to meet her goals would result in starvation, so there is that. I’m calling Carrie’s method SURVIVAL as MOTIVATION.

Kristen Kittscher is another author/friend who advocates SCRIVENER. “Scrivener helped me speed up immensely because I feel freer to jump around and write where the energy is,” she says. I call this creativity freed through proper tools.  FORGET WILLIE… FREE YOUR CREATIVITY!

nanowrimo_logov101Heather Demetriios-Fehst just offered up two words – “Use SCRIVENER.”  I’ll forgive her the brevity since she has already released TWO books this year. This is the third vote for Scrivener… It’s starting to have an impact on me.

Tammy Subia did something she never thought she would do. She wrote a complete first draft of a novel in four months and she was anxious to share her secrets.

Tammy has identified three things that really worked for her and they might work for you, too.

  • One: she set weekly word goals instead of daily ones, but she kept a daily chart of what she accomplished. She said just seeing the progress each day spurred her on the next day.
  • Two: She read her first chapter to a non-writer friend who really loved it and kept asking to hear more. Consequently, she wrote more to satisfy her friend.
  • Three: this might be her most important technique of all. Tammy described feeling like this book needed to be written. She wanted the story to be told so badly she couldn’t stop writing it! I’m going to call this DRIVE (and for the record I’m picturing Nick Cage behind the wheel of a muscle car when I say this.)

PICK YOUR TECHNIQUE:

Everyone seems to employ a different technique. Below is the full list. Feel free to be creative. Try on different ones. Pick and choose. Combine two or three. Experiment and see if you can’t UP your output. And if you do… write to us and let us know.

GET A RUNNING START Hold something back for the next day
DEVELOP A ROUTINE Write everyday.
KNOWLEDGE + TIME + ENTHUSIASM Know what you’re going to write, put in the time and be excited about your story.
PACE YOURSELF One word after the other until you get to the end.
RESPECT DEADLINES You can’t blow ‘em, so you get it done.
WRITE FOR FOOD You can’t eat promises and I should’ves.
DRIVE Find a story that demands to be written.
KEEP A WORD COUNT Set word count goals, daily or weekly. It piles up.
USE SCRIVENER Yay for sophisticated writer tools.

As for Scrivener – I’m going to buy it and use Scrivener for my revision process. I will report back in my next blog.

Here are some Scrivener tutorials that came up in a search on Youtube.com. I haven’t looked at any of them yet… but I plan to.

Sheryl_Quote

Be sure to read the first half of this amazing two-part series: How to UP Your Word Count and Write Like a Boss! (Part 1)

More guest posts by Sheryl:

Sheryl Scarborough - Photo by Russell Gearhart PhotographyOver the years, Sheryl Scarborough has written: TV series, cartoons, comic books, graphic novels, magazine articles, Business Plans, Direct Music Marketing letters (as Mariah Carey, MC Hammer and others), Corporate Newsletters and Restaurant and Theater Reviews (for free food and great seats!) Now she writes what she really loves which are YA mysteries and thrillers.

Follow Sheryl on Twitter: @scarbo_author

Read more by Sheryl on her blog: Sheryl Scarborough Blog

 

How to UP Your Word Count and Write Like a Boss! (Part 1)

Guest post by Sheryl Scarborough

Sheryl_KingandRice

I just finished the first draft of a new novel… my third.

I wrote it fast, with a vengeance.

280 pages, 63k words, 10 weeks. BAM!

That’s Wham, bam, thank you ma’am speed. Finishing this novel so quickly has restored my writer power. I’m excited and enthused, ready to roll up my sleeves and settle in for the revision stage. But looking back I’m a little amazed at my accomplishment. So, before my process becomes a hazy memory I want to document it and understand it, so I can do again. (And again… and… well, you get the idea.)

But before I get into my process, let’s take a look at how the Big Dog (and even some little dog) authors muscle through their drafts. You’ll find this interesting.

Sheryl_HemingwayErnest Hemingway… averaged 500 words per day.

… would begin his writing day in the early morning and stop around noon. But here was his trick: he would be sure to stop at a place where he knew what would happen next. He did this so he would have a place to start writing the next morning. I call this a RUNNING START.

Jennifer Weiner…

Sheryl_Jennifer W“When you have an editor with deadlines if you wait for a muse to get you there, you’re going to be out of a job.”

Jennifer Weiner starts her day with breakfast, getting kids off to school and hot yoga. She strives for 3,000 words per day.  She has a ROUTINE.

Jodi Pincolt…

Doesn’t believe in writer’s block. “Writer’s block is having too much time on your hands. You might not write well every day but you can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.”  JUST WRITE… edit later.  

So, the research started sounding like same thing, different day or, what we’ve always heard about writing. Butt in chair… just write… nothing really new and different. And then I discovered…

Rachel Aron…

Sheryl_Rachel Aron bookAron, a sci fi author, figured out how to go from 2,000 words per day to 10,000. That’s right. I said it. 10,000 words per day.

Aron had a new baby and a book on deadline. She arranged for childcare four days per week. And during those four days she needed to produce 4,000 words per day to meet her deadline. When it turned out she was only putting out 2,000 words per day, she got busy and figured out how to pump it up.

The minute I read Aron’s explanation I realized two things: 1.) she really has something here. And 2.) I had stumbled onto the very same method.

Read the basics of Aron’s method here. Or, an expanded e-book version. Aron’s thinking is amazingly smart and sound – and it’s a definite improvement from the evergreen butt in chair, blah blah blah. She gives some real, solid advice.

Even if you’re not a really fast writer, I believe you could use Aron’s method to increase your output. Here is the nutshell version:

TIME + KNOWLEDGE + ENTHUSIASM =

BOSS LEVEL WORD COUNT

Time – There’s no substitute for that, you still have to put it in.

Knowledge – Knowing what you’re going to write each day before you sit down to write is essential. Otherwise, you’re wasting valuable writing time figuring things out. When you come prepared to your writing time the words fly.

Enthusiasm – LOVE what you’re working on and the words will flow faster. Then when you get to what Aron calls “a candy bar” scene your word count for that day will go through the roof.

This is exactly how I wrote a 280 page first draft in 10 weeks.

My story is told in alternating chapters between a boy and a girl. Each morning when I woke up I would contemplate the scenes I would write next. I would figure out which character should instigate a scene and which should react to it… which might start something… which might finish it off. By the time I figured it out I couldn’t wait to get to the computer and get started.

So, for me it was exactly as Aron predicted. Knowing what I was going to write and being excited about it, plus putting in the time resulted in a very quick and energetic first draft.

As Jodi Pincolt says, “You can’t edit a blank page.”

Check in later this week for part two of my theory on How to Up Your Word Count, where I query my successful author friends to see what tricks they employ to get their fabulous words onto the page. I’ll be sharing what they have to say.

In the meantime here are a few links and tips to maybe inspire and power your word count progress:

ONLINE RESOURCES TO BOOST DAILY WORD COUNT:

  • A variety of word count meters can be found here.
  • The Secret to Writing 4000 Words Per day (A variation on Aron’s process, but he calls it daydreaming instead of knowledge. And I like that.)
  • The Pomodoro Technique, an interesting focus booster, read about it here.
  • The Daily Routines of Successful Writers – my source for the facts in the above post. Reading about the authors I didn’t include in my blog is interesting, too, as long as it doesn’t interfere with your daily word count. Read it here.
  • Inky Girl has a word count challenge complete with stickers and banners here.
  • And finally, Chuck Wendig weighs in on Word Count Uppage. He’s foul and funny. Don’t miss him.

Stay tuned for more great tips from Sheryl on how to up your word count. The second half of this article comes out later this week!

In the meantime, read another post by Sheryl:

Sheryl Scarborough - Photo by Russell Gearhart PhotographyOver the years, Sheryl Scarborough has written: TV series, cartoons, comic books, graphic novels, magazine articles, Business Plans, Direct Music Marketing letters (as Mariah Carey, MC Hammer and others), Corporate Newsletters and Restaurant and Theater Reviews (for free food and great seats!) Now she writes what she really loves which are YA mysteries and thrillers.

Follow Sheryl on Twitter: @scarbo_author

Read more by Sheryl on her blog: Sheryl Scarborough Blog

 

Upcoming Writing Conferences and Workshops

WorkshopHere’s a little round-up of some upcoming writing conference and workshop opportunities. Keep developing your craft!

Advanced Writer Workshops at The Writing Barn: Writing Outside the Box 

  • Multiple Viewpoints, Unreliable Narrators, Unusual Structures—Oh, My! with top-selling agent/author Ammi-Joan Paquette of Erin Murphy Literary, and author K. A. Holt
  • WHEN: October 9 to October 12.
  • Event Details: In this interactive, hands-on workshop we’ll take a close-up look at a wide variety of structurally exciting books, dissecting and discussing and teasing out tips and tricks that will help you, no matter how you choose to tell your story. Come ready to brainstorm your work or just to get your thoughts flowing in a new direction—you’re sure to leave this workshop with an entirely new outlook.
  • Cost: Workshop with Onsite Lodging: $850, Workshop Only: $650
  • To Apply: http://www.thewritingbarn.com/barn-presents-registration/

Group or Solo Writing Retreats at The Writing Barn

  • On our 7.5 wooded acres located in Austin, TX, we can host from 1 to 17 writers.
  • Contact: info@thewritingbarn.com
  • Website: www.thewritingbarn.com

The Art of the Sale: with best-selling authors Jenny Han and Siobohan Vivian

  • WHEN: December 4 to December
  • Event Details: Siobhan Vivian and Jenny Han have collectively published sixteen books, from picture books through young adult, and have over ten years of experience in the book business, from book buyer to librarian to educator to editor. Together, they will get you and your manuscript ready for the real world and give you the very best shot at getting published. For those who are already published, they will guide you in building your career.
  • This intensive will be a mix of formats. For those in the querying trenches,  there will be SIMPLY IRRESISTIBLE: How to Craft a Perfect Cover Letter, Formulate an Engaging One-sentence Sales Pitch, and Land the Agent of Your Dreams. And for those with agents, there will be NOW WHAT? How to Build your Writing Career, Book by Book, Goal by Goal. These small groups will involve discussion and input from either Jenny or Siobhan.
  • Cost: Workshop with Onsite Lodging: $850, Workshop Only: $650
  • To Apply: http://www.thewritingbarn.com/barn-presents-registration/

Teaching Opportunities at The Writing Barn 

  • Opportunities: We hold half day workshops, full day, extended weekend events (Thursday eve through Sunday afternoon), and week long events. We are always adding programming and are NOW looking to build our 2015 schedule. Whether we fly you in or you teach with us while you are on a book tour coming through Texas (We work with Big Austin Indie Book People as well as Round Rock Indie The Book Spot–The Book Spot is good for school visits) we would love to hear from you with your ideas on classes, events, etc.
  • Contact: Bethany Hegedus, Author & Founder, The Writing Barn at bahegedus@gmail.com
  • Dates: Ongoing

YA Novel Writing Intensive in NEW YORK CITY with Nova Ren Suma

  • This is an intensive workshop for writers working on YA novels of any style or genre. During weekly critique sessions, we will focus on constructive feedback with the goal of helping the writer execute his or her intended vision. Participants will critique one another’s work in group discussions, and each writer will have a private conference, with feedback from the instructor on additional pages from their novels. Writers are expected to have a basic knowledge and appreciation of current YA novels, and are welcome to come to this class at any stage in the writing of their own novel: just beginning a first draft, with a novel-in-progress, or with a completed draft in need of focused revision.
  • This workshop is designed for experienced writers. Previous publication is not necessary, but writers should be serious about working on a YA novel, open to critiques and advice, and ready to help their peers succeed.
  • When: 6 Wednesdays, 6:30-9pm, September 24th, 2014-October 29th, 2014. Private conferences will be held in November
  • Where: The Writers Room, 740 Broadway, 12th Floor, New York, NY 10003
  • Price: EARLY BIRD PRICING: $600 by September 1st, 2014;  $650 after September 1st
  • Contact for any questions: Nova Ren Suma at nova@novaren.com
  • APPLY HERE: http://ideasmyth.com/ya-novel-writing-intensive-with-nova-ren-suma/
  • NOTE: As of AUGUST 11, the workshop is full. Any accepted writers will be added to the waitlist—spaces may still open!

Sanibel Writers Conference with Emily Franklin, Richard Russo, Steve Almond, others

  • Ninth Annual Sanibel Island Writers Conference
  • When: November 6-9, 2014
  • Where: BIG ARTS & the Sanibel Island Public Library, Sanibel Island, Fla.

Emily Franklin—Pitch Perfect: Finding Your Voice in Young Adult Fiction

  • Can any story be written for a young adult audience? What makes a YA voice believable?  We will explore dialogue, setting, structure and the key elements of trust in young adult fiction.  Is your story for middle grade readers, teens, or adults (or all of the above)?  Is your novel set in this world or an imagined one? Present day, past, or future?  Does it matter?  With a few writing prompts we examine the best way to tell your story, openings that appeal to teen and adult readers alike, and rules (are there rules?) for keeping your adolescent audience captivated. Emily is also doing individual conferences/meetings for query letters and works-in-progress. 
  • Registration and info: http://www.fgcu.edu/siwc/

Five Things I Learned From Doing NaNoWriMo

It’s been nine months since I participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and wrote 50,000 words of a novel in under a month. It’s one thing to bask in the manic euphoria of pounding out 50,000 words like an intense sprint around a track. But it’s completely different thing to step back and look at what you’ve written and see if it’s worth anything. Yes, I braved reading my NaNoWriMo draft, and I’ve even begun to draft revisions. But what I’ve discovered in the post-NaNo-creation glow is pretty surprising…

First draft button

1) My First Draft Isn’t Shitty

First off, I’m not a fan of the term shitty first drafts. Yes, it was created to help us deal with our need for perfection in the first draft, but I also think it creates a cycle of negativity. The idea of telling ourselves our drafts are shitty, only reinforces the negative feelings we already fear about our work. Sure, a first draft may not be publishable, but honestly, I never think they’re shitty. However, if there was any instance where my theories on shitty first drafts would be overturned it would be NaNoWriMo … after all, I pumped out this draft in 2 ½ weeks. Only…

My NaNoWriMo Draft isn’t shitty!

Sure, it’s not polished gold, but there are so many important discoveries in it, explorations that led to new plot points, beautiful lines, sassy sections of dialogue, and even entire scenes that are good. Not scenes that are okay… but good!

My point is: we should trust our first drafts more. Trust the joy and the positive energy that can come from freeing yourself up and writing quickly. Trust the fact that you do know what you’re doing and your writing is better than you think it is!

female-empowerment2) Revisions are Empowering

Okay, so my first draft isn’t complete crap, but there’s still plenty of work to do. The second great discovery about writing a quick first draft is that when you approach revisions you immediately know what to do to make the book better. Revisions don’t become nail-biting, hair-pulling, exercises in frustration. Instead, revision become empowering!

For me, it can be the despair, the sense that I don’t know what to do, that makes writing so hard. But revising this novel has been invigorating and fun. There’s power and purpose in sitting down with raw material and knowing exactly what to do to shape it. It helps me to see how much I already know about crafting good stories, and that I’m able to do it with intention.  

old chronometer3) It Doesn’t Take as Long as I Think to Write a Novel

Looking back at my NaNoWriMo time sheets, I’ve discovered that I spent an average of 1½ hours writing per day. Yes, there were a few days where I put in 3 to 4 hours in a sitting. But mostly it was 1 ½ hours a day. As I’ve moved on to revision, I’ve also put in an average of 1 1/2 hours per day. By keeping a time sheet I’ve started to see how much I can accomplish in a short amount of time. In fact, I haven’t even put in a full month’s worth of work into this novel yet!

One of our big struggles with writing is finding the time to get it done. But I’ve been floored to discover how much I can accomplish with only 1 ½ hours a day! I bet most of you could find 1 or 2 hours in your day to write.

no_plan_road_sign4) Scenes That Went Nowhere…

Not every section of my NaNoWriMo draft works. But, I discoverd a pattern to the pages that fell flat or went nowhere. These scenes were searching for direction, and without it they floundered.

In my pre-planning stages I outlined and created scene-cards for the scenes I knew existed. I did, however, leave a few blank. I made the excuse that I’d figure it out later, while writing. It turns out that every scene I promised to figure out later on, didn’t go anywhere. Sometimes I’d know the general action of a scene, but the things that really killed my momentum were not knowing what my character wanted in the scene, or what his or her emotional change would be. All the scenes with a clear character goal and emotional change came alive on the page. Perhaps this is the through line I needed to guide me while writing really fast.

blinders5) Everything You Think You Know is Wrong! Or… Don’t Put On Writing Blinders.

I was certain that NaNoWriMo was going to be a huge failure. I had some snobby ideas about how a novel should be written. I was certain those participating in NaNoWriMo were wasting their time. But boy was I wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong!

I don’t think I will write every novel in my future this way. But I do think it will be a great way to write some of them. But man, if I’d stayed in my stuffy singular way of looking at things, I would have never discovered this amazing tool and these important lessons.

So get out there and try new things with your writing. Try things you’re certain will not work. Allow yourself to fail. We never know what will work until we put it into practice and give it a whirl.

What Did You Learn from NaNoWriMo?

Did anyone else participate in NaNoWriMo this year? Have you re-read your work? Started revisions? What discoveries have you made?