Thursday, November 28, 2019

Conference Notes and Nudges. 10 Tips for Children's Authors

I'm horrible at keeping my social media updated with where I'm going and what I'm doing in regards to my writing pursuits, particularly in regards to conferences. Over the past year and a half or so, I've enjoyed quite a few, from the big SCBWI conference in LA to smaller ones, like the writing retreat with author Carol Lynch Williams, to online gatherings like Picture Book Summit in 2019 and 2018.  For me, attending these conferences provides fuel for kindling new ideas and sprucing up old ones.  They keep me moving forward on this writing journey, connect me with friends, and build bridges for making new opportunities.  For any writer, conferences can be invaluable.

Today I'm sharing some of the things I've learned.

1. Make connections and build relationships, particularly on social media. For a while, it seemed that "social media" was a four-letter word. It was deemed to be a drain for creatives, whose time would be better spent writing or illustrating. And for a while, I bought into this mindset, and stayed away from it for a handful of years. But while writing is one of those endeavors that requires separation from the rest of the world if any meaningful storytelling is going to be put on paper, I've learned that social media helps keep me connected to a wider world and allows me to share in the ups and downs of this publishing business that so many of us are trying to break into.

Some of my favorite social media gathering spots are on Twitter and Facebook.  Twitter has a whole network of picture book writers and editors that connect through hashtag conversations, such as #PBChat which was started by @JustinRColon earlier this year, as well as #PBCritiqueFest as started by @BrianGehrlein and #kidlit. On Facebook I'm a member of a handful of groups such as Julie Hedlund's 12x12 PB challenge and NF for Children's Writers. 

2. Write what you know.  This bit of advice has changed over the years.  Lately, I've heard: write what you interests you--even if you don't know it! Go out and learn about it. Personally, I follow the idea of: write what you love. Fall in love with your characters, your idea, your piece of nonfiction, and bring it to the best life it can live through the words that you feed it.

3. Ask questions. What does your character want? What is your emotional connection to this book? What are things you've fought for? What are things your character is fighting for? Do you have a sense of place on every page?

4. Keep writing through the submission process. Don't get hung up on one idea.

5. Comparative titles and Mentor titles are not the same thing. Comp titles are a sales tool to use in a pitch. They are a previous published book that you refer to that helps explain the nature of your manuscript to an agent or editor. Examples of how comp titles can be used are: I) My ms could be described as X meets Y; II) X but with the addition of Y; III) Readers of X will like Y.

6. Surprise them. Editors and agents like to be surprised in what they are reading. Share something with them that they didn't know about. Write something that only you know how to write. If you are moved by your own writing, it's likely that other readers will be moved as well. Write in a compelling, entertaining way about something that matters.... These sentiments were common themes that I heard from agents and editors at SCBWI-LA in August.

7. Advice from MT Anderson that I loved: Take the familiar and make it unfamiliar.  Take something unfamiliar and make something surprisingly familiar about it. Show us the invisible that lies all around us, but only you can see.

8. Advice from Tiffany Liao: If I can change the age of your MC and it doesn't affect what's presented, then the story is too watered down. Character drives everything.

9. Advice from Mem Fox: When writing, think about the child you're writing for, and nothing else.  And:  "I don't want children to understand everything I write. I teach them how to love reading with the right number of syllables and beats in the right place."

10. Advice from Brandy Colbert and Elana Arnold: Add a ticking clock. Give your MC a limited amount of time to achieve their goal or else face consequences.

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