3 S.R. Johannes: The Notes of A Dark Angel

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Notes of A Dark Angel

I've never considered myself an angel. However this weekend I was asked to be angelic to an editor at a my SCBWI conference.

Being an angel - although probably more of a Dark Fallen Angel in my Angelees eyes - was a fantastic experience. My Angelee was Martha Mihalick (Associate Editor Greenwillow Books) and was extremely gracious and fun - so fun that in another place and time - she probably could be my friend. Now whether she thinks so or not - is another story.

I admit as I was walking her around - I kinda had flashbacks of my horrid UGA sorority week when I had to show "pledges" around the house, be on my best behavior, be sure my "wicked" humor did not offend too many people. I pray I said all the right things. The only difference with Martha was I did not break out into a song or routine. Which actually may have been much more exciting for her :)

In being an Angel- I learned a few key things about myself. Some of which I knew, some of which I usually try to hide, and some of which reminded me how awkward I was in high school when I spent hours wishing I could be the naturally cool kid that everyone wanted to hang out with.

Top things I learned
1) I am not cool - no matter how hard I try.
2) I can be pretty organized until someone is counting on me. Then I fall apart.
3) Drama always finds me no matter where I hide
3) When in an awkward situation - i resort to dumb jokes to fill awkward silence.
4) I hate small talk and actually suck at it
5) Editors are people too
6) I am an introvert at heart
7) I am not cool
8) A good martini always breaks the ice
9) I will hike 7 flights of stairs against my better judgment
10) I love my critique group
11) My computer is my security blanket
12) I am getting old - most of the agents/editors were much younger than me :(
13) I wish I took a different path earlier in life - that I would have chosen publishing/editing children's books instead of marketing communications. (oh well - Water under the bridge)
14) Oh yeah - did I mention - I am not cool?

We all here horrific stories of editors and agents - the Simon Cowell's of the publishing. However, Martha was the "Paula Abdul" with a dash of wit and a pinch of cute. It was fun to learn about the people behind the curtain - The Oz's of Writing. And boy do they know their stuff. There is a reason why these people do what they do.

The conference - once again - was great. I love talking about writing and these are the rare times you can talk about writing for 24/7 and people don't think you are crazy or weird. So once again, I am back, energized and ready to send out my manuscript.

Key notes/points from Conference:

Paul Fleishman -
"creating art is solving a problem"
"serendipity is 1 of 4 food groups for writers."

Building a Story
1) Collecting - gather anything you may need for the future (articles, clippings, vacation stuff)
2) Personalizing - Add a bit of you - traits, obsessions, beliefs, your personal stamp
3) Forming- shape the idea for your book, create space
an intellectual is a person that can sit happily by themselves without reading a book"
4) Connecting - most important word is at the end of a sentence, the most important sentence is at the end of the paragraph, the most important paragraph is at the end of a chapter. Write a book where a person can't skip any pieces - make every word count.
5) Altering - what can be changed to make it better. Don't be afraid to cut. Pull out the leftovers
6) Judging always criticise what you wrote, is it doing what you want it to? don't be seduced by your book to the point of delusion

Lindsay Davis- Writers House

  • be sure the voice of the book is represented in your letter.
  • take comments or edits and make them your own
  • always address to specific person
  • its ok to have some humor in your letter
  • keep it short
  • For characters - do a character web - know all the back story and characters ins and outs.

Molli Nickell - Successful Queries

query workbook online and free at http://www.getpublishednow.biz/

Query letter do and don'ts

  • put most important stuff in the first paragraph - whatever you want them to read in 20 seconds
  • most will not scroll in an email query
  • sell not tell
  • be sure your voice comes through
  • be sure to focus on the benefits to the other person - avoid I, me, myself - focus on "you".
  • 1st paragraph - plot hook - 3 sentences
  • 2nd paragraph - 1st one expanded - lot summary - more about story. can be a little longer - 4-6 sentences
  • 3rd paragraph - your experience/mention SCBWI
  • never put web site on the letter - save for the 2nd one
  • always use Times New Roman 13 pt with 16pt spacing (exactly)
  • synopsis is expanded version of 2nd paragraph in query letter, the story about the protagonist
Andrea Welch - Beach Lane Books
if you follow up after submission - use a postcard - do not call or email.

  • always check web sites for changes in the house submissions
  • beach lane is a closed house
  • the shorter the query letter, the better. If it is too long - I will feel like I have to put "time" aside for it instead of just reading it right there.
  • spell name and company correctly
  • do not harass
  • never be mean to an editorial asst or secretary - they have the power, will one day be an editor, they will remember your name, are starting to build their own list
  • submit 1 story at a time
  • SASE with enough postage
  • Include a Postcard to confirm receipt - we will mail back so you know we got it.
  • looking for classic picture books - have 5 in 2009. will do about 12-15 books - mostly PBs but maybe 5 MG/YA


Hardygirl said...

Whoa! Thanks so much for the rundown. Sounds like the conference was great.


Shelli (srjohannes) said...

Missed yah!

Kimbra Kasch said...

Helpful post with lots of good info. Thanks for sharing.

Shelli (srjohannes) said...

Thanks for coming Kim. HOpe to see you every Monday!

Anonymous said...

Whoa, I'm going to have to come back to this post. However, I related to your 'Angel' discussion. i hate the "angel" word. I kept telling my person that I was really more of their bulldog--I'd go and fetch what they needed and bark people away when she needed space. But all of those, "I'm not cool...How come these editors look so young.." stuff? Could totally relate.

Anonymous said...

Have come back to this post 'cuz some posts just need to be read more than once! I LOVE #4 under Paul Fleishman: The most imp word is at the end of a sentence, the most imp sentence is at the end of the paragraph, the most imp paragraph is at the end of the chapter." So well put.

Anonymous said...

These points remind me of the sticky note I have over my computer [even tho I no longer "see" it anymore]. It's a quote from Edward Gaines:

Write with Fire,
Edit with Ice.

Isn't that great?

Anonymous said...

One last thought about this conference that I missed. Why did I miss it? Because I was participating in the Gwinnet County Reading Festival. Great gig, right? Except hardly anyone came and then--to my amazement--I discovered that Gwinnet County Libraries (the hosts of the Festival), did NOT have my book in their library system (even though they invited me!). They made all sorts of promises cuz they were red-faced but you know...really. It was embarassing.
I would have much preferred to be hobnobbing with these awesome people.

Carrie Harris said...

Now that's interesting. Most people won't scroll in an email query? My email provider shows about ten lines before you open the mail... I wonder how much their provider shows?

Anonymous said...

Flieschman's comment, "Don't be seduced by your own work to the point of delusion," is hysterical. That's why a critique group is so important. There were times I thought I nailed a chapter only to learn that I had been, in fact, totally delusional.

Unknown said...

Thanks so much for this. How nice.... Can't believe I am just finding this now.

You know I never got the scoop on the weekend outside of the conference. Where did you all sleep? Was it fun? What did you do? I don't know if I will make it back to this post (or be able to find it) so don't respond to this. If you remember to, tell me when we talk next.