What Other Great Writers Said About Writing

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Authors Debbie Ridpath Ohi (also an illustrator!), Bitsy Kemper, Ellen Hopkins, Marcie Colleen taking a conference break

Why reinvent the wheel, right? There are so many great writers with so many great thoughts on writing, that I thought I’d share some of the highlights from what they told me or what I overheard heard [read: eavesdropping] at the SCBWI conference last month in L.A.

I admit the haunted hotel creeped me out to the point I didn’t sleep for five days so some of my notes may be totally made up, I’m not 100% sure. But they’re mostly accurate.

 

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Drew Daywalt, @DrewDaywalt, author of the wonderful and incredibly creative picture book  The Day the Crayons Quit, and follow on book The Day the Crayons Came Home, said he worked in Hollywood, where it was cruel and knocked him down, and when he started working in the children’s book industry it was like “a million little hands picked him up.” [We’re like that, right? Such a wonderful tribe!] He shared how writing is so personal, that when you write something and hand it to someone to read, it’s like you’re standing there buck naked saying, “You like it?” But he challenged us to write anyway and not hold back.

The crazier they tell you you are, the more you know you are on the right track.”

-Drew Daywalt, author

and

To find your voice, find out who you are, and were.”

-Drew Daywalt, author

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Pam Munoz Ryan, author of picture books, chapter books, middle grade and YA novels but mostly known for her award-winning Esperanza Rising, talked about the importance of persistence, but not necessarily writing every day, if that doesn’t work for you. She herself needs breathing room and doesn’t like to force creativity. She published her first picture book at age 43! With over 40 books to her name now, including NYT best sellers and many award winners like a 2016 Newberry, she can take all the breathing room she needs. She just wishes writers would ask her about failures as often as they ask her how to get an agent. She points out success comes with all kinds of lessons learned.

Momentum is far more important than inspiration.”

-Pam Munoz Ryan, author

 

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Then I had some great notes from Jon Klassen but I can’t read my writing, so here’s a slide from his presentation. I think it’s his presentation.

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Author Marie Lu said “it took her 12 years to become an overnight sensation.” She encourages writers to write, even if it’s not perfect, just write. Be brave.

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You can’t perfect something that doesn’t exist.”

-Marie Lu, author

Author Bruce Coville talked about plot and tension and getting readers invested in the story.

Figure out what your main character does not want. And give it to him.

-Bruce Coville, author

Author and illustrator Sophie Blackall told us to not hold back.

Don’t be in it to make money. The making is the best part. Give it all now, something more will arise.

-Sophie Blackall, author and illustrator

Richard Peck was his wonderful self. Here’s just a sample of his charm:

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[Kids are sending] 250 texts a day. 250 texts and not a semicolon among them.”

“Readers aren’t looking for the author/writer in the book, they are looking for themselves.”

“If our readers don’t like our first line they’ll never read the second.”

“I found my first line on the second paragraph on page 157.”

-Richard Peck, author

EDITORS AND AGENTS

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Justin Chanda, VP and Publisher of four children’s imprints at Simon & Schuster (S&S Books for Young Readers, McElderberry Books, Atheneum, and new Salaam Reads-referred to by insiders as “BAMS”) said more books are selling, but it’s bigger numbers of fewer titles. Blockbusters are driving sales. Good for the industry, maybe not good for beginner authors. He talked about how trends are the mortal enemy of the author, and how we just need to write what we need to write without thinking or caring about trends.

Erase ‘trend’ from your thinking. #endthetrend”

 -Justin Chanda, VP & Publisher at Simon & Schuster

Brooks Sherman, @byobrooks, agent from The Bent Agency, talked about how manuscripts need to grab his attention and not let go until he’s fulling invested in the story. His advice was common to other agents and editors and worth repeating: don’t start your story with a dream, on the first day of school, or moving day. (In fact, consider starting your story in chapter two, he said. Most manuscripts should.) Be serious in your query, not cutesy. Agents are looking to build a long term relationship are aren’t looking just at this one manuscript.

Openings need world building, plot development, and character development all woven together. Not alternating.”

-Brooks Sherman, literary agent

 

About breaking the rules:

You can’t do things badly, but if you do them well, you can do whatever you want.”

-Melissa Manlove, Editor at Chronicle Books

General writing advice:

Rejection isn’t personal. You might like something but you don’t always get to buy it.”

-Matt Ringler, Senior Editor at Scholastic

I can’t be passionate about it [your manuscript] if you aren’t.”

-Reka Simonsen, Exec Editor at Atheneum

Don’t get stuck on one project for many years. Set it aside for a while. It takes courage to put something away.”

-Kathleen Rushall, agent at Andrea Brown Literary Agency

An author is a writer for a career.”

-Kathleen Rushall, agent at Andrea Brown Literary Agency

Those things that you’re weird about, that’s where your stories are going to come from.”

-Allyn Johnston, VP & Publisher, Beach Lane Books

Now, my friends, if you can’t find inspiration here, you won’t find it!

Nothing beats the in-person interaction of a conference. The energy, the face to facing…it’s worth the drive and the prep and the hassle. And maybe even a haunted hotel.

Hope this blog has been helpful. It took me much longer than planned to get it all down. Let me know your favorite conference takeaways. I’m always up for learning more.

Conference Tips for Writers

 

Headed to a big conference? Wondering how to make the most of it? You’ve already figured out it’s worth going, otherwise you’d be at home in your pajamas saving all that money you’re about to drop. Plan ahead to maximize your precious time.

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Conference tips:

  1. Have an overall goal in mind. This might change for every conference. It could be to find an agent or simply break out of your comfort zone. But make it a little more specific. What exactly are you looking for in an agent? Figure that out before you go so you know what to look for, and what to avoid. If you want to break out of your comfort zone, list out three things-like initiate a conversation with two strangers, attend that awards banquet by yourself, refuse to sit in your room doing email every night. Center all your time/schedule decisions around that goal.
  2. Get ready to smile and say hey. I hate the slimy connotations of the word networking, but conferences are really about the people. Otherwise you’d stay at home. Don’t just focus on what the workshop topics are, look at who’s teaching them. Read their bios. When else will you have the chance to meet these people, and see what they’re really like? You can take just about any class online these days, but meeting someone in person? That’s why you’re there.
  3. Have your “elevator pitch” ready! You’ll be using it throughout the conference, that is, if you’re taking the conference seriously and are out there meeting people. (Here’s a good primer to get yours shiny.)
  4. Pack with a theme in mind. Not as in 1800s or hippy, but something that is consistent. It not only helps make packing easier, but makes it much easier for people to find and remember you every day, as well as afterwards. “I’m the one in polka dots” or “I was the one with pink striped hair.” You won’t be in the same thing everyday but people will start to figure out who you are by how you dress.
  5. Get your class act together. Speaking of clothes…at writer’s conferences you don’t have to dress to impress, but c’mon, this isn’t your mom’s basement. Make an effort. Dress like you’re going out to eat, not like you just woke up. But skip the heels, ladies, that’s one fashion item that’s just silly at a conference.
  6. A simple trick: stick business cards (people still use them!) in your badge holder, so they’re handy. Make sure your website and whatever social media handles/hashtags you use are included–if not, write them in with pen.
  7. You never know who you’ll be sitting next to so be nice to everyone you meet. Author and illustrator Debbie Ridpath Ohi has some great conference tips including “make the first move” – suck it up and introduce yourself around! Remember the part abut people being the reason you’re there? [See more of Debbie’s advice, including charming comics about being an introvert at a conference, at her website here.] Since most of us will be attending the conference alone (even if we traveled with a friend), it can get nerve racking. Wracking even.  Take some “survive attending a conference alone” tips from themuse.com here.
  8. Be open to learning. If you’ve attended a hundred conferences before and find yourself saying “I already know this” at every session/workshop, then you’re preventing yourself from learning anything new. I mean, if you already know everything, why are you there?
  9. Prepare ahead of time. Review the schedule. Know the keynotes. Plan your day. Choose your workshops so it’s not a last-minute choice made in haste. If you’re a true beginner and are looking for basic tips on writing your first children’s book so you don’t feel out of place at your first conference with all those other writers, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point you towards a video I made for the beginning picture book writer.  It’s fun. Really. https://bitsykemper.wordpress.com/2014/03/19/179/

Now lotion up those hands (you don’t want to be remembered as the hand shaker with the rough skin) and get ready to smile. You’re going to have a great time!

Author Platform: Maximizing Social Media

Social Media

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Last post we defined Author Platforms. So tell me, what is an Author Platform, do you remember? It’s how you show your unique qualities that “brand” you as a writer or artist…with the ultimate goal of leading to book sales. It’s a long term goal, not a RIGHT NOW CLICK HERE goal. No one likes the CLICK HERE RIGHT NOW guy, amiright?

Social media is one of the main ways you create your brand. Since most of your readers will never meet you in person, it’s how most of your readers get to know you. This post is gonna look at ways to maximize social media so you can give yourself the best platform. We’ll talk through some real examples, screenshotted below.

If you need to take a step back and get a basic primer on Twitter, check out https://bitsykemper.wordpress.com/2014/07/15/twitter-101-the-basics-for-writers/

General social media tips to support your Author Platform:

  1. Be you, all the time.
  2. Have fun! Every tweet/post doesn’t have to have something to do with writing or illustrating, but each one should still reflect who you are and what you stand for. Remember the part about the real you needing to shine through?
  3. Sorry to say this, but people are people. And by that, I mean selfish. I’m not judging. It’s fact. We are always asking ourselves WIIFM? As in, What’s In It For Me? No one has time, and we make decisions in a snap. You need to do whatever you can to convince me, quickly, that what you have to say will benefit me. And then come through. So don’t just tell me your book trailer is finished and give me a link. Tell me what the trailer is about, what I’ll see, why it’s worth watching. I need to know WIIFM or I’m not going to click. Even if I like you. I just don’t have time.
  4. Other people are selfish–but you need to be giving. Stop talking about how great your product is. Let us figure that out on our own. Your book really should be able to speak for itself…or at least let others do the talking. A tweet like”Another great review, my work is profiled yet again! Click to see the latest url.2937y5/iji…” gives me no incentive to click. It’s blatant bragging. But what about “What an honor to be included in this roundup, check out the other Best 2016 Reads by Buzzfeed at url.8724r34r/…” or “Thanks for the kind review, Donna, it was nice being your guest blogger this month. I bet no one can guess how many puppies were harmed in the making of that video! [link to Donna’s website].” Do you see the difference? One is “Look at me!!” Another–the preferred method–is “There’s something in this for you, have a look.” You want to be of service. Your book or link or review just happens to be one way to help. [See #6, below.] Continue reading

Creating an Author Platform

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Quick quiz: You’re told you need to work on your “Author Platform.” You:

  1. Smile politely, then go back to searching online for cute cat outfits
  2. Nod, smile, then furiously Google “Writers’ d” hoping you’re not the last to know what the heck that is
  3. Think “Oh, yeah it really is time I update my Facebook, Twitter, blog and website,” then dig right in
  4. B or C but definitely not A (unless it was a really good sale)

Correct answer: D.

What is an Author Platform? And why do you need to care?

Let’s break it down. Author. Platform. It’s like a compound word. (Author Platforms or Writer Platforms, no matter what you call it, are the same thing, don’t get hung up on author vs writer. For the sake of ease, we’ll use the terms synonymously here. I’m also capitalizing the words here for effect, which is unnecessary elsewhere.) A writer or an author is someone who has written something. A platform is a raised surface, something you’d stand on for better visibility. Like a stage. Put the words together and you’ve got an image of a writer standing on a, well, platform, a little taller than everyone around them. They stand out; you can spot them in a crowd.

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That’s the writer you want to be.

You want to be the writer/author that people can find easily or can recognize…the one that stands out. And you’ll need a platform on order to do it.

“Author Platform: your visibility as an author, utilizing your personal ability to sell books through who you are, the connections you have, and the media outlets you use.” –Writer’s Digest

I think of the term as a less-commercial way of saying “author branding.” It means how you present yourself to the public, and how you are seen/viewed by readers, agents, editors, fellow writers/artists and anyone else paying attention. It’s a way of showing your unique qualities that “brand” you as a person, as a writer, or artist…with the ultimate goal of leading to book sales.

Don’t confuse it with image. Image implies something perceived. You’ll be putting the real, flawed you out there, just like you do for your main characters. An Author Platform should be based on truth. You’re not an actor hiring a publicity agent to get media attention. You’re you, showing who you are, with the ultimate goal that the likeable you is worthy of following or noting or reading or acknowledging, and it will at some point lead to book sales. Isn’t that why school visits, book signings, special promotions, launch parties and all that exist, to sell books? Well you’re the in-person version of that, the walking billboard, the neon sign, open 24/7. Except when you’re asleep. Or whatever. You know what I mean.

You are NOT shaking hands and asking people to buy your book all th
e time, oh no, you’re missing the point. No one is going to follow or buy the book from a guy that’s sending pestering Tweets or spamming Facebook posts or always standing up in groups asking people to buy their books after the meeting. Boy is that annoying or what? I hate that guy. What I’m saying is you are your brand. You represent you. So be respectable. Make me like you. Make me WANT to buy your book. If you do it right, you will probably never have to say the words “Buy my book.” I’ll decide I want to on my own.

 

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Note this is a Writer Platform, not a book platform. This is about you, not your book. Why?
Because you’re more than one book. If you brand yourself too closely with one title, on the next book you’ll have to do it all over again. That confuses people. They can handle lots of books, but they only want one you. Brand yourself correctly and all your books will easily fall under that one umbrella…you!

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Everything you post online becomes a part of your brand. Your Tweets, your FB posts, your blog updates. Your forwards, your shares, your likes. It all shapes the person people see. Those who have never met you can only form an opinion based on what they see. And that’s based on what you do. How you reply to comments. What you post or repost. It’s not always what you say, but how you say it. Continue reading

2016 NY Writers Conference: Who’s With Me?

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I’m headed to one of the largest children’s book writing conferences in the world: the SCBWI Winter Conference (why our annual winter conference is in NY [where it’s supposed to be 8° this weekend] and the summer conference is in LA, I’ll never understand, but that’s another topic.) And OVER A THOUSAND fellow writers and illustrators will be there too. The event boasts many top (dare I say famous) editors, agents, art directors, authors & illustrators in the children’s publishing world. It’s going to be a fantastic few days of learning, inspiration, and friend making.

The large mix of attendees is weighted a little heavily towards the beginner, with many in the intermediate and many many in what I’d call the “seasoned professional” category. The NY conference is a little different from other SCBWI conferences in that, given the proximity to so many publishing houses, it practically rains editors and agents. You’ll see them at conference keynotes, intensives, panels, awards ceremonies, heck, even elevators. Some of them just show for the Art Show or Gala Dinner. Many of them are either new or overworked and don’t travel much, so you won’t see them elsewhere.

If you’ve never been, and have wondered if it’s worth it, I have to give it a hearty YES YES, two cramped writing thumbs up. And not just because I love my NY roots and will find any excuse to go back. But because it’s a writing experience like no other. It’s not a pore-over-your-workshop-notes-and-guarantee-yourself-an-aha-moment. It’s a wow-I’m-really-a-writer-surrounded-by-other-writers-and-this-is-where-I-want-to-be-moment. If you don’t have one of those while you’re there, well, you might not be a writer after all. And that’s OK, too. Isn’t that an important learning moment as well? No matter what you walk away with, I promise you won’t regret your decision to attend. There’s a reason a thousand people from around the world will be at this thing.

Now if you happen to be one of these thousands of fellow conference attendees this week or sometime in the future, and are fearing for your life because you’d rather be in your jammies creating in the privacy of your home and not in the middle of a grand ballroom surrounded by all these cat ladies, here are some conference tips to maximize your trip.

Conference tips:

  1. You’re not going to get a contract (seriously, toss that thought right now), but you WILL make contacts. These connections might lead to a contract some day. But don’t pressure yourself, or others. Listen. Learn. Be present. Follow some new people on Twitter and Facebook (follow this blog!). It’s kind of like college-you aren’t really there to memorize the Periodic Table; you’re Continue reading