You may have noticed I haven’t posted in a few weeks.

I apologize.

I’ve been trudging through the messy (and glorious) bog of revision.

Yes, I’m revising this book for the 800th time!

Asleep on laptop

Yes, I’ve added 20,000 new words to the manuscript.


Yes, I’ve changed the entire format of the novel from vignettes to traditional prose.

Paper head Typing

Yes, I’ve mastered the ability to turn caffeine into pages!

Writing with Coffee

And yes, sometimes the story takes over…

typing fast

… forcing one to neglect her blog.


You’re writers. You get it.

All of this is to say, thanks for hanging in there. I will be posting more articles soon.

In the meantime, happy revising!

5 Tools to Survive as a Writer

“Don’t tell me what I want to hear. Tell me what is intolerable to bear alone that we must hide it in a story.” – Libba Bray

In all her guts, glory, humor, and wisdom the fabulous and charismatic Libba Bray spoke at the 2011 LA SCBWI Conference. During her keynote speech she shared the devastating story of writing a 560 page novel and having to throw it out and start over. If she wasn’t your hero before, she might be now. The following are her tips on how to write it all wrong and survive.

A little Backstory:

  • Libba wrote a 560 page novel all wrong…
  • It’s okay! Embrace the suck!
  • When she discovered the 560 page novel she wrote was all wrong she began to freak out and feared it wasn’t good enough.
  • She got a 12 page single spaced letter from her editor confirming that everything about it was wrong.
  • She did a 900 page revision of the book and only 100 pages of the original 560 were kept in that revision.
  • Find the real imbued with honesty, emotion, and truth. Her novel needed to be true to itself and it wasn’t.

 Libba Bray’s Five Tools to Survive as a Writer:

1) Gather Your Tools for Survival

  • “The voice is in there, we just had to find the right tools to find it.”
  • Your book is in there!
  • Use playlists to help you find it.
  • Go to your local café to find a comfort zone.
  • Do you have a reward system? Find yours.

2) Avoid the Quicksand

  • Beware of your irrational fear telling you “no one wants to read this book.” Or “what if my ex-boyfriend read this and realizes he’s the base for the asshole in my story?”
  • Breathe deeply!
  • That thing you are writing is AWESOME! (That message was on a postcard that Holly Black sent out to her writing friends).
  • Be your own thing and not a trend.
  • You are safe in the writing cave. No voices are allowed in the cave (the negative voices telling you you’re not good enough).
  • Readers are not trends, they want a well written story told from your soul.

3) Perfect Wants to Vote You Off the Island

  • Perfect wants to vote you off the island, but better wants to make an alliance.
  • Lower your standards!
  • Realize that you can’t make a book that is perfect. Perfect = Failure.
  • You just have to make it better.
  • Do it in small steps. Make that little bit of dialog better, or change that metaphor.

4) Explore the Whole Island

  • Sometimes you need a change of format.
  • Change the POV, format, tense, etc.
  • Form is function – this is what the architects tell us.

5) In Case of Emergency – Break Glass!

  • Writing is freakin’ scary!
  • Writing is vulnerable. It’s intimacy with a reader, and the possibility of failure and rejection.
  • We often write it wrong, because we think that’s what others want and we are afraid to show who we really are.
  • All writing holds our DNA, our bones and blood – a part of ourselves.
  • We are evasive and inarticulate when talking about projects that are emotionally autobiographical.
  • “Don’t tell me what I want to hear. Tell me what is intolerable to bear alone that we must hide it in a story.”
  • Find the part that hurts. The story you needed to tell.
  • Like us, stories have an adolescence that is awkward and gawky and pimply. It needs time to grow.

Other Great Advice from Libba Bray:

Libba Bray is the author books for Young Adults, including Going Bovine and the Gemma Doyle Series: A Great and Terrible Beauty, Rebel Angels, and The Sweet Far Thing. In 2010 she was awarded the Michael L. Printz award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature.

Putting Together the Puzzle: Judy Blume and the Writing Process

The amazing JUDY BLUME was a surprise guest at the 40th anniversary SCBWI Conference this summer! What a treat! She sat down with SCBWI President Lin Oliver to talk shop, and all us attendees got a little insight into the brilliant Blume and her writing process.

Judy Blume’s Thoughts on Her Writing Process:

Typewriter vs. Computer:

  • Before computers she used to write through a first draft (start to finish). She’d get the draft done. But with a computer she doesn’t do that anymore. Now she can go back and keep revising. That’s bad in her opinion. It was better before when she’d go through a whole draft first.
  • When she wrote on a typewriter she would do five drafts and then send it to her editor.

On  Writing First Drafts:

  • “I’m a terrible first draft writer! I’m a reviser!”
  • The first draft is about finding the pieces to the puzzle. The second draft is putting it together. And you go on from there.

On Revision:

  • She likes to print out and scribble all over her drafts with a pen.
  • It took her 23 drafts to write the book “Summer Sisters”. She didn’t feel like she knew what she was writing. It took her three years to write and it was so painful she said “I’m never doing this again.”
  • She says she’s never really understood the creative process, but she has enough faith (after 40 years) that it will come to her again.

On Plotting:

  • “I’m so sucky at plot! It’s not how the story comes to me.”
  • Her son says she’s the least analytical person he knows.

How to Start a Book:

  • When she gets an idea she lets it percolate for a long long time before writing.
  • She says she knows she will start a book on the day something different happens. Sometimes she has to write pages and pages and pages before that moment and the real book starts.

When You Know It’s Working:

  • “I love it when I laugh out loud. I cry a lot. If I’m writing a sexy scene and I’m not turned on it’s not working!”
  • The stuff that’s gonna work is what’s coming from deep deep inside.

Judy Blume is one of the most widely read authors of juvenile and teen fiction. Her many books include: Tiger Eyes, Are You There God It’s Me Margaret, Blubber, Forever, The Fudge Series, and Just as Long as We’re Together. Her novels have exceeded sales of 80 million and have been translated into 31 languages.

Quote of the Week: Annie Dillard

“On plenty of days the writer can write three or four pages, and on plenty of other days he concludes he must throw them away.” ~ Annie Dillard

Annie Dillard is a Pulitzer Prize-winning American author. She is best known for her narrative prose in both fiction and non-fiction. She has published two novels, poetry, essays, prose, literary criticism, and a memoir.

What I Learned from Assistant Editor Sara Sargent

A few days ago I spoke about what I learned from editor Jessica Garrison (Dial Books), at the SCBWI 2010 NY Writer’s Intensive. Today I’ll share what I learned from my second critique with assistant editor Sara Sargent. In case you didn’t read the previous post, at the event authors were given the opportunity to sit down at a round table with an Editor (and 10 other authors) to get feedback on the first 500 words of his/her manuscript. The neat thing about this type of set-up is not only do you get personal feedback, but you also learn from what the editor says to others.

What I Learned from Sara Sargent:

  • Decide who your main character is.
  • Good books have scenes with a mix of action, dialog, and what’s in the character’s head.
  • Pacing is important.
  • Middle grade and teen books need to include the following three things: Family, Friends, and School.
  • When contacting an agent/editor only pitch one book.
  • Any character introduced in the first one or two pages should end up having a sizable presence throughout the rest of your book.

Tips For Writers From Sara’s Point of View:

  • Don’t waste your time sending queries to editors. Always look to get an agent first! This is because of: 1)Liability on the editor’s part. 2) Your work will be in the slush pile and that’s the last concern for an editor. 3) Editors rely on agent submissions. 4) Agents are looking for talent, actively!
  • Even if an editor has expressed interest in your book (say at an SCBWI critique etc.) that actually doesn’t hold that much weight for an agent.
  • An editors attention is harder to get than an agents.
  • Sara couldn’t think of a single author on their list at Balzer + Bray that was found through the slush pile. It just doesn’t happen from her point of view.
  • Always read submission guidelines carefully!
  • The reason the picture book market is down is because publishers don’t know what a successful picture book will be. Should they play safe? Should the book be quirky? The market is so fickle they really have no idea what will work and sell.
  • Editors are sick of paranormal and vampire books! This is mostly because the books that they see are lacking in “World Building.” A successful book has a lot to do with really fleshing out your world. The world must be vivid with clear rules. Most books submitted are lacking in this department and that’s why they are sick of them. Create your own world! Make it rich.
  • Author platform can be very important. This is something like your website, your blog, your twitter account, etc. If you have some impressive stats please do share this in your query letter. Mention things like how many people visit your blog per day, etc. However anything under 300 visits per day is not very impressive in her book.
  • Blazer and Bray does all types of Kids books from PB to YA. However, Harper Teen may be better for Teen submissions. But Blazer and Bray does look for more literary books and less commercial books, while Harper Teen is more commercial.
  • Be careful sticking with an idea too long if it is not working. Sometimes you need to walk away.

Sara Sargent joined Balzer + Bray, an imprint of Harper Collins Children’s Books, in 2009. She previously held positions at the Waxman Literary Agency and Miramax Books. Sara is looking to acquire YA and middle-grade novels with romantic, dystopian, and coming-of-age themes; she is admittedly partial to nerdy protagonists and stories about summer camp.

What I Learned from Editor Jessica Garrison

I participated in the 2010 NY SCBWI Writer’s Intensive. This is a great opportunity where  authors get to sit down at a round table with an Editor and get feedback on the first 500 words of his/her manuscript. The neat thing about this type of set-up is not only do you get personal feedback, but you also learn from what the editor says to others. I had the pleasure of sharing my work with and learning from two Children’s Book editors. Today I’ll share what I learned from my first critique with editor Jessica Dandino Garrison from Dial Books for Young Readers.

What I Learned from Editor Jessica Garrison:

  • Restraint is important in prose. Be careful of putting in too much.
  • These days if your character is age 14 the book becomes YA automatically.
  • A sense of place is important.
  • It’s really hard to do anthropomorphic stories in the 8-12 age range. It works for movies, but it doesn’t really work for books. Under the age of 8 it’s okay.
  • Picture books have fewer words these days than in the past. Jess wants a picture book to be under 1000 words. A 400 word picture book is a bonus! Less is more!!
  • Build the story through mystery rather than setting everything out. Introductory paragraphs that tell too much can be a problem because it’s important to care about the character first.
  • For Jess, picture books need to have a narrative.
  • According to Jess you may use art notes if they’re really necessary for the story. Be minimal with them. MINIMAL! The best way to present them is to put them directly in the manuscript (not the query) and put them in brackets at a 10pt font, and blue.
  • It can be smart to not send your picture book dummy to an editor but mention in your query letter that you are an illustrator and send samples. This gives the editor options should they like your story but possibly not your art. Of course if you’re married to the idea of illustrating your book then send the dummy.
  • If you want your book to back-list you should avoid current references. That will help it to become more timeless.
  • What does metaphor say about your main character?

Career Tips and Advice from Jessica:

  • For tips on writing a good query go and read jacket flaps, it will teach you how to sum up your story in a short way.
  • To educate yourself look at the difference between independent stores and big chain stores. Become more educated about where your book fits on the book shelf. Know who your audience is. Barnes and Noble are the books that kids buy (aimed toward the kids) while independent stores can often be geared more toward the parents. Barnes and Noble are often about concept books.

A Little Bit About Jessica and What She’s Looking For:

  • Jessica doesn’t spend much time on queries, she really prefers pages. She’s all about the manuscript. But do put some important info in the query – info about you as a writer, plot synopsis, etc.
  • Jess is looking for visceral books, but likes everything (PB up through YA). She does like historical fiction but it needs a contemporary twist or edge.
  • Jess likes concept books, but often wants them to go further.

Coming Soon:

Feedback and insight from my second critique with Assistant Editor Sara Sargent of Balzer & Bray.

Jessica Dandino Garrison is an editor for Dial Books for Young Readers. She is looking for picture books, chapter books, tween and teen fiction with commercial appeal and literary heft – in other words, rich, emotionally true, character–driven stories with great hooks. Jessica has edited The Reinvention of Moxie Roosevelt, Panda & Polar Bear, Acorns Everywhere, Spin the bottle, and Doggone Dogs, among others.

Just Listen: Getting a Professional Critique

A lot of conferences offer special opportunities to have your work read by an agent or editor. This exciting opportunity can be invaluable, but it can also be nerve wracking and in some cases down-right confusing. How much weight do you give one person’s opinion? What if you get conflicting feedback? What if they don’t like it?

To settle the nerves of fearful authors about to be critiqued at the2010 SCBWI Writer’s Intensive in New York, three gracious editors dispelled some fears on how to take advice from a professional. So if you have a critique coming up soon (from a professional or a friend) put these ideas into the back of your mind before you decide to throw in the towel:

What are editor’s Courtney Bongiolatti (Simon and Schuester), Nancy Conescu (Little Brown), and Michelle Nagler (Bloomsbury) looking for in the opening of a critique submission?

  • That first attention grabbing sentence.
  • Are they interested in the character.
  • Not only does the book seem good, but does it have market potential and would it sell.

How Should An Author Respond During A Critique?

  • Just Listen – The editors and agents are expert readers (this is what they do for a living) so take in what they say and listen, there will be something worth wild there.
  • Editors are looking at your submission (and the submissions they receive from you in their office) as the first draft. Therefore they think of this as a work in progress. So don’t be surprised to get feedback of a constructive nature.
  • Think about feedback as the good friend who’s willing to tell you that you have spinach in your teeth. You may have a beautiful smile, but no one will notice the smile if there’s spinach in your teeth. The point here is to improve the work so that everyone sees what is best in the work and what will make it shine.

What Should You Do After Your Critique?

  • After you get your feedback you should check out a great SCBWI article by Linda Sue Park called “The Give and Take Critique” which is located in the resource library of (Under publication guide). Or read this article here: Linda Sue Park’s Website
  • Sleep on it and think about it later. Don’t go revising everything the next day. Wait and see what resonates with you.

About the Editors:

Courtney Bongiolatti is the Associate Editor at Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers. She has edited Private and Privilege by Kate Brian, the Seven Habits books, and the Wee Little series with Lauren Thompson. She is looking to acquire mostly boy middle-grade and literary and commercial teen fiction right now.

Nancy Conescu, an Editor at Little Brown, is looking for literary and commercial middle grade fiction, edgy YA fiction, inventive and non-traditional picture books, and projects testing creative boundaries. She is intrigued by dark humor, satire, and character-driven narratives. She has worked with Stephenie Meyer, Holly Hobbie, Julie Anne Peters, Todd Parr, Mary Ann Hoberman, and Trenton Lee Stewart. Her recent acquisitions are School of Fear by Gitty Daneshvari and The Prophecy of the Sisters trilogy by Michelle Zink. Upcoming titles include Ghostgirl by Tonya Hurley and Ignatius MacFarland: Frequenaut! by Paul Feig. Her recently published titles are the Vampirates books by Justin Somper, This is What I Did: by Ann Dee Ellis, Chloe Doe by Suzanne Phillips, and New Socks by Bob Shea.

Michelle H. Nagler is the editorial director at Bloomsbury USA Children’s Books. She oversees a diverse list ranging from picture books through teen. As an acquisitions editor, she has a special fondness for commercial YA and middle grade fiction, and is a passionate advocate for books that truly make children want to read. Recent projects include:  Need, Captivate, Boys are Dogs, Our Children Can Soar, Girls Acting Catty, and Too Purpley! Previously, Michelle helped establish the teen list at Simon Pulse.