Thursday Night - I was so tired I didn’t know what to write. I tried and I failed. Sometimes failure is a good thing . . it leads you to something better.
It did! I realized I had something to write about, the SCBWI conference I’m attending this weekend.
I haven’t been to Northern Ohio for three years, since I started going to Midsouth . That’s where I found my critique partners. I attended regional conferences with them for the last two years. But this year, I needed to go home to my writing roots.
This song started playing in my head as I began to type. I remember it from high school, and it gave me a title for this post. I found the video/theme song from the TV show, WELCOME BACK, KOTTER. It’s how I feel about coming back to Cleveland. Enjoy! Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mmm3KTa601s
Here’s the 2019 All Star Faculty with four authors, three author/illustrators, two assistant editors, one art director, and two agents. They are out-of-this-world good!
If you want to grow as a writer or an illustrator, this is the place to be! For two whole days you’re with people who love books, who love finding the right words, the right way to tell a story. It’s like finding your tribe. You fit. You belong.
I signed up for one three hour class, two critiques, and four short classes. Best of all three of my favorite authors will divulge their secrets to writing magic.
Friday- An intensive, two stories, and a surprise
This is Tami Sauer. I took an intensive with her. She was my teacher for 3 hours. That’s a long time to sit in a class, but I’d sit all day with her! She is so full of energy and great ideas that it’s easy to stay tuned in!
Her session had 2 parts. The 1st was on finding inspiration. I left with a few new ideas I’d like to map out. I also have some ideas for stories I’m working on now. It’s fun to imagine and reenergize yourself. I can’t wait to get home and get started!
The second half was even better! Tami gave us her ‘Love Notes.’ These are a list of strategies to run your words through. Your first 50 words have to capture an editor or agent’s attention. I think her love notes will help me do that! I have one manuscript that I’ve worked on, polished for 3 years. It’s close, and I’m hoping Tami’s notes will help me close the deal!
This is Rosemary Wells, one of my favorite authors. I started buying her books early in my career. I loved them, and my kids did too. I sat in the front row and listened to her stories about making writing magic. Here are my two favorites.
The first – she told about being a creative kid, the bane of a teacher’s existence. In 4th grade Rosemary had to draw a map of Brazil showing its products. She thought it was boring. Instead she drew fun products that she’d like to buy. Brazil had 1 river. Rosemary drew 10. Not boring! Can you imagine what her teacher said? I can! Something like go back and do the real map!
Rosemary went on to tell about her life as an author/illustrator. She talked about how she listened and followed her editor’s directions. I had to ask – how did you go from rebel to rule follower? Rosemary said, it was her editor. She stayed with the same one for 22 years. Today she still hears that editor in her head. Only 1 adjective, not 2! Write the story your young readers want. You have to have a character that they can understand. Someone their age. It makes sense – if a story doesn’t appeal to kids, it won’t sell, and it won’t be published.
Here’s the surprise! I couldn’t believe it! I was shopping for books in the SCBWI bookstore, and look who I found – me and Neil! I hope I didn’t squeal!
My friend Aileen took this picture. I’m so happy she captured the joy of that moment. I’worked for 12 years to publish my 1st book. I thought I was selling it myself, and that was good, but seeing it in the bookstore – It’s been a dream – to have a book for sale here ever since the first conference I attended. And now, it’s true!
Saturday- Opening, Midday, and Closing Addresses for the Conference
I AM NOT – a morning person, but Pat Cummings’ Opening Address woke my brain and held its attention. The title - Going from “Who Will Let Me?” to “Who Will Stop Me?” I’m a retired teacher, and I love being in control. Ask my family!
It wasn’t boring, AT ALL! Pat taught with stories. My favorite was how as a 5 year old, living in a military neighborhood in Germany, she hopped on a bus with some older girls and went off on an adventure. She landed at a dance school where she whirled and twirled till it was time to hop on the bus again. Attached to her sweater- a note that read ‘Don’t send her back again.” Pat’s take-away – don’t ask. Do! I’m not as brave as Pat, but I’d like to be.
My other favorite story was how she landed her first book. Her editor asked if Pat had any questions. She said no and then found a published friend to ask. Her take-away, you don’t always have to admit what you don’t know. Use your resources, and try your best! Good things will happen, and you’ll learn from your mistakes!
My take-away, everyone has fear, but people like Pat face them and brave their way through. That’s what I did when I self-published Neil. It worked!
The Midday address was by Tricia Lin, an assistant editor at Simon & Schuster. Her topic – First Chapters, Voice and Good Fit: Things an Acquiring Editor Looks For. I was eating so my attention went in and out, but her talk made me feel good about things I’m working on in my writing.
With a chapter book, that first chapter is key. You need to set the scene and get the plot moving on the first paragraph, that first page. If you don’t, editors and agents like Tricia must stop reading. They have piles of new material, and they’re mining it for texts of gold. They look for voice, the part of your writing that is unique to you. You use that voice to keep them reading. You’ve succeeded if they ask for more chapters.
However Tricia also pointed out that writing is a very subjective industry. You have to do your research to find the right editor, the right agent. For example, if someone’s a cat lover, don’t send them a dog story. If they like fantasy, don’t send them nonfiction. It’s great advice, and it makes me feel like I’m on the right track. Eventualy I’ll find my just-right match.
The closing address was by Tami Sauer, the queen of picture books. Her work is golden! It’s full of heart, and it’s funny! She is my writing hero! Her topic – Tami’s Top PB Secrets – REVEALED! They’re her keys to the writing kingdom. I can’t share them. They’re copyrighted to Tami, but if you read her books, you’ll find them.
They’re the same elements Tricia talked about in chapter books, but you only get 400 – 500 words to tell that story. Your first 50 must shine if you want agents/editors to keep reading. Try Tami’s first words! Then finish the book. Her stories are golden! That’s my writing take-away, to work on those first 50 words in 3 manuscripts. Then – keep going!
Tami is also a great speaker. She’s a former preschool teacher, and her speeches are filled with that kind of energy. She even gets audience participation! How? By giving out prizes and tickets for prizes. You participate because you want to win. My take-away, give your audience content, make it fun, then let them win. It works like magic!
Saturday - My Four Class Choices
After Pat Cummings got my brain moving, I went to my first class, Solving the Mysteries of Research to Strengthen Your Fiction and Nonfiction. The title sounds snore-inducing, but Julie is good. I’ve known her since a Mazza class at the University of Findlay in 2011. Mazza is the most fantastic illustration museum, and it’s in Ohio. PLUS Julie made it fun – she added in Nancy Drew! How? Huh?
Julie wrote a book about the author of the first 26 Nancy Drew books – Millie Benson from Toledo, Ohio! Can you believe Nancy was birthed in Ohio? I don’t remember the whole 50 minutes, but I can’t share it anyway. Remember, copyright?
What I do remember is the detailed research that Julie did. She was able to speak to the family, go to Millie’s college. I peeked inside Julie’s book to see how she handled research, and I wished I’d looked before I started working on Neil. There’s so much I didn’t know then, or now. But if wishes were horses, I might win the Kentucky Derby. Probably not, I’d fall off first!
My take-aways – I bought the book so I can look at her research whenever I’m searching for real details. For those of you who know my ant story that I’ve worked on forever, the first time I had it critiqued in 2011, at Northern Ohio’s fall conference, Bruce Hale told me to fine-tune and publish. He also asked if ants had hearts. I said I don’t know. He said, you’ll find out if you want this published. I did! They do, sort of!
The second take-away – I already do! Yay, me! I looked for mentor books for Neil to see how I wanted to write it. At one point I was debating between a picture book, a chapter book, or a graphic novel. I looked at all three and picked the chapter book format. Julie also gave me some new resources to find facts and mentor books. Yay, Julie!
After Julie’s class I headed to my next session, Promoting from Your Heart with Maria Carluccio. Would you believe I wound up buying her book? It’s SO clever. I decided to make it this week’s pick for My Reads.
The best part about meeting Maria, other than buying a book for my grandgirl-to-be, is that she made me feel good about what I’m doing on social media. Maria puts out one Instagram post per day. I do too, when my internet cooperates. Sometimes I get an error message that it isn’t working, and then I forget to post it later.
I also post to Facebook, my personal and business page, plus Twitter and Instagram. It lets you know when I put something new on my web site. I just checked in with its creator, Lisa, another Northern Ohio friend. She said the site was doing well, and she gave me a few ideas to tweak it. YAY! If you want to be a writer or an illustrator, you have to have a thick skin. I don’t, but I love learning what I can do to grow as a writer.
Maria also gave me a few promotional ideas that I can use for future school visits. They involved products that I think teachers and kids will love, but I can’t reveal what they are! If you want to know, invite me in for a school visit. My price, a substitute teacher’s daily salary, in either dollars or book sales. It’s a good deal for everyone, especially young writers!
After lunch, Megan talked about Nonfiction for Young Readers. She shared some great picture books that were all well researched and written, but they had a hook, something that made you want to open the book and learn something new.
For older readers Megan recommended reading Steve Sheinkin’s books. She shared a few passages from BORN TO FLY, his next book. Steve researched and wrote about women like Amelia Earhart who flew across America in the 1929 Air Derby. He showed how each one learned to fly. The detail was incredible! If Steve couldn’t prove it happened or was said, he had to leave it out. That’s the difference between nonfiction and historical fiction, research determines what’s in the story. I bought this book so I can learn from Steve.
My last class was with Michael Armstrong, Putting Together a Marketing Plan for your New Book. Mike understands marketing; I don’t. He started by talking about WHAT a marketing plan is in the book world. I’m happy to see I’ve done some of those things already.
Mike shared a sample plan to market his debut book in 2020. Everyone got a paper copy. When I look at it, I see things I can do now to promote Neil. I see steps to take as I work on the next book that’s coming out in May of 2020. I’m glad I have Mike’s plan to help me move forward as a writer and as a publisher.
Two critiques and an autograph session
The main reason I attend SCBWI conferences is for the critiques, for the chance to have talented writers look at my work and help me improve it. There are a couple of writers in Northwest Ohio, but no editors, or agents.
I registered for two critiques back in July. One face-to-face, the other written-only. By early August I decided to send one manuscript to Angie, and a different one to Tami. I got my two critiques at the end of the conference. I was exhausted so I took a quick look and headed home. I can’t tell you specifics, but here are the areas Angie and Tami commented on:
Positive aspects Elements require attention and improvement
Character development Plot and Structure
Language and diction Voice
Marketability Next steps
Additional comments Line comments within the manuscript itself
Both manuscripts have been through multiple critiques. I worked on the one for Tami for three years. I spent two years on the one for Angie. I brought them to Cleveland to get fresh professional eyes on them. The advice from Angie and Tami was priceless.
My next step - to go through their comments and work them into the story. Then I’ll polish it and begin the critique process again with my critique groups.
And the finale . . . I was part of the autograph session! Me, autographing books at the SCBWI conference with authors like Rosemary Wells and Tami Sauer! It’s great to enjoy this moment after 12 years of work.
Now, back to life, back to reality! Time to go home to Wapak to edit and prep another book to self-publish. My goal is to have it ready by May of 2020.
It’s also time to edit, polish, and submit the manuscript that Tami critiqued to a traditional publisher. I have two other manuscripts that I’m polishing for traditional publishing too. Finally, it’s time to look for the next book to self-publish a year from now, in September of 2020.
I’m glad Aileen took this picture. Cheers!
When I write, I can only have one voice in my head, mine. A little noise is fine. But too much, or worse yet, WORDS, and I must change rooms or pull out headphones. Then I can write on!