I hope your weekend was as good as mine. SCBWI Writer’s Days rocked. One highlight: a case-study panel discussion with debut author Sara Wilson Etienne, (HARBINGER), agent Michael Bourret of Dystel & Goderich, and editor Stacey Barney of Putnam/Penguin.
For the first time, the event took place over two days. I signed up for a workshop on revision with Stacey Barney, in which she shared her editing process. Priceless. The newspaper reporter in me never dies, so I took notes. I’ll pass along some tips and quotes, because they’re too good to keep to myself.
The panel: Sara started writing HARBINGER a decade ago. “I didn’t know how to write dialogue, so I decided to just skip it,” she said, getting the first of many laughs from the crowd. She put it away for a bit, then added characters and got her page count up to about ninety pages. Then she discovered SCBWI and attended events, leaning more.
Finally, she was ready to pitch and had a session with Michael Bourret, but she’d misjudged what to bring. “It was an elevator pitch, and we were meeting for half an hour. I was babbling.” But finally she relaxed and started talking about what she loved. “If you start to pitch, and it falls apart, don’t stress out. Agents are people, too.”
Another tip she offered was not to rush into pitching and querying. “It’s about patience and making sure you’re ready.” So, the next time she met Michael at a conference she told him she was revising and not ready to submit although he expressed interest.
Michael told us how he reacted, “Okay, this person is really taking her craft seriously, so when it showed up, I read it overnight, which doesn’t happen very often.” The manuscript went through a couple rounds of revisions between them, which took about a year.
When he considered editors, Stacey Barney came to mind. Even though he knew she might not go for the genre he thought she’d love the writing.
“I trust him. I took it with me on vacation, sat by the pool, reading this book,” Stacey said. “The writing sold me. It was fresh. It felt special and imaginative.” She started making notes as she read. “If I care enough to have a pen in my hand on submission, I’m already editing, so I’ve bought it.” Normally, she reads through a new manuscript three times before fleshing out the editorial letter of places that need work.
“It was overwhelming,” Sara said when the letter arrived. “She’s great at giving you the good stuff first…I had a beer in hand. I recommend this to everyone.”
Later, Sara talked about promotion and how her film and artist friends help her make a kick-ass book trailer and hold an art show of related works in an L.A. gallery. She also created a fake website for the story’s fictional school where she put up the artists’ work.
If you wonder how to impress Stacey Barney think about these things she said in the workshop: “By the end of the first page, I want to feel invested in the character. I want a lot of heart and emotion to come across on the very first page.” “What’s the emotion you want them to walk away with? It’s not about the story it’s about how you’re telling me.”
Here is her checklist for revision: Voice: compelling, prominent, tense? Characterization: personalities clear and compelling? Relationships: believable, important? Pace: slow, fast, how relate to plot points? Dialogue: does it develop character? Scene: 360-degree view? Setting: vibrant? Setting is a character. Writing: spare, lush, lyrical? What is the personality?
So, yeah, that’s a long checklist when you’re talking 300-plus pages of novel. But think how much tighter and dynamic the story would get.
There were many other good speakers, but I have to shout out Lee Wardlaw, who had us all rolling with laughter as she talked about what her cats taught her about being a children’s book author.
Here’s a snippet from her award-winning WON TON, A Cat Tale Told in Haiku, about the adoption of a shelter cat:
No rush. I’ve got plans.
Gnaw this paw. Nip that flea. And
wish: Please, Boy, pick me.
(P.S. this is my first post with the new Blogger make-over, so I hope it doesn't publish wonky *fingers crossed*)