Getting Ready for a Conference (One Year Later)

Exactly a year ago (to the minute – yes, I timed the publishing of this post), I posted about getting ready for the 2013 NESCBWI Conference. I listed the following goals:

Necessary I have fun and learn more about how to become a better writer.
Realistic I network well with other authors and find some with whom I can work with in a critique group of some sort.
Hopeful I network well with editors or agents and have something non-form to say when querying them at a later date.
Dreamlike An editor or agent likes my work enough to offer me some sort of deal or says they’d like to see more and take it back to their publishing house/agency.
Impossible An editor loves my work and wants to sign me to a multi-book contract for millions of dollars.

What were the results? I very successfully achieved the Necessary and the Realistic.

And while it didn’t happen that weekend, starting at that conference and over the last 365 days I’ve landed somewhere between the Dreamlike and the Impossible.* (And to be honest with you, my two loyal readers, it really feels that way)

Dreamlike and Impossible

So what are my goals this year? I think I’m going to limit myself to only the Necessary and the Realistic. The same goals I was able to achieve last year. Because that led me here.

Plus, I have a LOT to learn in order to become a better writer (and I’m also looking forward to some fun).

 

See you in Springfield!

 

* Note: I have multiple editors that like my work enough to offer me one-book contracts, none of which are for millions of dollars.

Networking Is Half the Battle | via Writers Rumpus

This post originally appeared on Writers Rumpus on March 25th, 2014:

It’s hard to get up the nerve to network. But networking is so incredibly helpful on the road to publication. Don’t get me wrong, you still need to have talent, work hard, and get a little lucky. A publisher probably won’t buy your book simply because you’re good at networking. But a publisher will never buy your book without seeing it.

A lot has happened to me since I last guest-posted here at Writers Rumpus. In the past 5 months, I became represented by a wonderful literary agent and have received offers on 2 picture book manuscripts (I also dropped the pseudonym Papa J Funk). And I’m not going to say my success is because I guest-posted here. Well, actually, I am … a little bit.

Beginning at the 2013 New England SCBWI Conference, I started rubbing elbows with everyone I could. I volunteered. I read a working manuscript at the open mic. I walked up to strangers to introduce myself. I’ll be honest, it was scary at times. But I returned home with a huge collection of business cards (and shared dozens of my own).

Papa J Funk Old Business CardOne strange fellow I met was Rumpus Writer Paul Czajak. Long story short: here I am, guest-blogging … for the 2nd time.

Paul Czajak, Author of Monster & Me Series

That collection of business cards led to an increased digital network on Facebook and Twitter. Those e-friends shared publisher open submission windows, and one even gave a glowing personal recommendation to that splendid literary agent.

Volunteering and hobnobbing helped me find and found new critique groups. Those additional critiques led to improved manuscripts. And that manuscript I read at the open mic? LADY PANCAKE AND SIR FRENCH TOAST is currently scheduled for a September 2015 release from Sterling Children’s.

I can’t tell you how to network. You’ll have to find what works for you. But here are some tips and options:

  • Personal: Get out there.
    • Go to conferences. Go to writing retreats. Go to workshops.
    • Introduce yourself to everyone. Pick a lunch table with people you don’t know. Force yourself to meet new people. Push yourself to get out of your comfort zone a little. Most people (at least in the kidlit world) are usually pretty friendly.
    • Make sure to bring business cards so you can stay in contact.
    • Have an elevator pitch ready.
    • Chuck Sambuchino of Writers’ Digest suggests these five in-person networking tips for writers
  • Virtual: There are virtually (hee hee) an unlimited number of ways to connect with people online. Some say “do them all!” But I find it can be overwhelming with all the choices. I’d personally recommend starting with Twitter and Facebook. Regarding all the others, I’m of the mind that you should only do what you feel comfortable doing.
    • Twitter (at least nowadays) is the forum of choice for many literary agents, publishers, and librarians. I’ve heard countless stories of writers and agents finding each other through twitter.
    • Facebook is a great way to stay in contact with others after those conferences and retreats are over. Via Facebook friends I heard about agents and publishers accepting submissions, awesome workshops to attend, and could even post questions when needing advice.
    • If I had to pick a third, I’d say GoodReads, as it is book related.
    • Other Social Networking: It doesn’t hurt to try Pintrest, Tumblr, LinkedIn, Google+, Mammoth, WordPress, or any of the other ones you find out there. But only do what you like. I’ve been told it’s better to very involved in one than not very involved in many.
    • Social Networking specifically for Writers: I don’t participate in any writer-specific social networking other than SCBWI. But there are lots out there. I’ll leave it up to you to google them.

Writers are shy. That’s why we write, rather than act, dance, or ride bulls in rodeos. But talent, hard work, and luck account for only half of the road to publication. The other half, at least in my opinion, is networking.

So, You Wrote a Book?

In the past two days, I’ve been referred to twice as a gateway of sorts to the publishing world. Two friends each contacted me regarding friends of theirs who have written a book (or books) for children. These friends of mine asked if I would meet/advise/consult/critique/etc their friends’ work.

I have yet to speak to either of the two writers, just our mutual friends. But I’m relatively confident this is the first time either writer has stepped outside their circle of family and friends regarding their writing.

So what should I tell them? I’ve written posts before about where to begin, but I really don’t want to overwhelm anyone. I want to educate, give a dose of reality, but ultimately inspire them?

What if I could find 5 articles or websites they could go to as that starting place?

$200 is about what you'll get in an advance as a first time author
$200 is about what you’ll get in an advance as a first time author

Here are my five:

  1. Start with Jennifer Laughran’s Word Count Post. It’s not impossible to get a 3,000 word picture book published in today’s market … no, actually it is. Get the disappointment over with first. You’re 15,000 word Young Adult novel just isn’t long enough. Let’s rip off the band-aid and move on.
  2. If you’re still with me and haven’t cried yourself to oblivion (or your word count is actually in line with the genre for which you’re writing), then GREAT! Let’s make sure your craft is as good as possible. There is no single link that will help make this happen, but if you join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, you’ll be able to find workshops, critique groups, conferences, retreats, and more -> and that will help you hone your craft. So the second link is to Join SCBWI.
  3. If you’re confident your manuscript is the best it can possibly be, it’s time to find somewhere to send it! Whether you are sending directly to publishers or looking for an agent, try to find a copy of the most recent Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market and SCBWI The Book. These will help you find out about which publishers are looking for what, as well as the agents looking for whom.
  4. But don’t send yet. You still need to write your query. What’s a query, you ask? A query is the professional business letter you send to the agent or editor ‘asking’ if they would like to read your manuscript (oh, I get it? asking=querying). How do you write one? I suggest starting at AgentyQuery.com. There are links from there to other sites, which will link to others, which link to an unending list of others – all filled with help writing queries. Querying is hard. But you will survive.
  5. Now that you have some sense of what you’re in for, read Delilah S. Dawson’s 25 Steps to Being a Traditionally Published Author. First, it’s hilarious. Second, it gives an exciting account of a success story. Third, it truly goes through every step of the trail to publication – highs, lows, and in-betweens.

I think that’s enough to fill anyone’s brain for a little while. If you had just 5 links to give someone starting out in the writing business, what would they be?

Some Things I’ve Learned

So, I decided I would share some of things I’ve learned over the last few years since admitting myself to the asylum for people who want to write books for children.

Why listen to anything I have to say, you ask? Unfortunately, that is a question for which I have no good answer. So I’ll simply ignore it.

There are blogs up the wazoo containing tips on writing for children. How to come up with ideas, how to format manuscripts, how to submit to agents and editors, and on and on. It’s easy to get lost and overwhelmed in all that advice. And I’m here to tell you … that there’s no easy way around it.

I’m not going to list every piece of advice out there. That’s for you to research. There are some great starting places like Harold Underdown’s Site and SCBWI. Unfortunately, there’s no one-stop-shop for all the do’s and don’t’s of getting published.

You probably will notice, however, that there are some tidbits that continue to pop up  everywhere – and you can take some of these as universal truths. A few I’ve come across include:

Keep Writing

rejected

You’re never going to get published don’t write. That statement may seem obvious, but you have to remember this every time you get a rejection letter (or don’t get rejection letters).

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone say, “and after ten years of writing, my first book was finally published.” And when they say ‘first’ book, it’s usually not the first book the author wrote. It’s usually the 6th or 7th. It’s very rare to hit it big (or even publish) the first you write.

The first book I wrote is in a state of disrepair, and I expect it will stay that way. Frankly, I’ve learned so much since writing that first book, that I’m not sure going back to it would do much good.

That leads me to my second point, which is …

Learn

Take classes. Go to conferences. Do research. Read books about how to write for children. Read blogs (especially my blog). Read interviews of authors you really like. Read books in the genre which you’re writing. Read books in other genres. See authors speak. Absorb as much as possible.

Calvin in Class

You don’t have to do all of those things. Personally, I don’t like reading (just kidding. Or am I?). But all the other stuff has been invaluable. Writing books for children is both an art and a business – two things for which I have no professional qualifications whatsoever. Everything I know about the writing world was learned in the last two and a half years.

That’s why, I also recommend that if you want to get published, you have to …

Dive in

Dive InHead first. Give it your all. If you’re gonna write, then write your heart out. Get your manuscript(s) critiqued by other writers. Do the learning necessary. And submit! Submit to agents. Submit to editors (that accept unsolicited submissions, of course).

You can’t just dip your feet in the water. If you never finish your story, it will surely not get published. If you don’t get it critiqued and revise, odds are likely that it’s not quite ready for prime time. And it never gets sent to agents and editors, it’s not gonna magically publish itself (although that would be pretty cool).

Don’t overdo it, though. Always …

Leave Your Readers Wanting More

For that reason, I’m going to end this post by telling you to check back later on in the week when I post ‘Some Other Things I’ve Learned.’

Tree of Thanks

I’ve had a lot of good luck lately. But I’ve also had a lot of help. I’d like to take this blogortunity to thank those who have had a direct effect in helping me get to wherever I am today.

This Is Not My Family
This is not actually my family

In chronological order, I begin by thanking my many many children, without whom I would probably never have had any interest in writing books for children. Once I began, however, the spouse formerly known as Mama Funk (my wife) encouraged me to write. She discovered a community education class taught locally by a children’s author and strongly encouraged me to join (perhaps she needed a night off from me every two weeks). I signed up for the class …

Jane Sutton’s newest book

Jane Sutton, along with a healthy following students (some of whom were taking her class for the fourth consecutive session) taught me the basics (and the advanced) of writing for children. The critiques from my classmates were both encouraging and enlightening. I learned that I might have potential. I also learned that I still had a lot to learn. One particular student, Ellen Cohen (who does not have a link here because she does not have a blog – START A BLOG, ELLEN), encouraged me to join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and attend our region’s annual conference. I signed up for the conference …

NESCBWI 2012 Logo

At the 2012 New England SCBWI Conference I met dozens of friendly people. I gained knowledge from the sessions and speakers (Kate Messner’s recap of her TED talk was unforgettable). But nothing was more influential than a short conversation at Friday evening’s wine and cheese gathering with LorettaJo Kapinos and Sera Rivers. In short, they told me that volunteering at the conference was great fun and a terrific way to meet people. If I remember correctly, their volunteer duties included acting as bodyguard for a guy who wrote picture books about bats. And that’s how they got their fancy yellow badges (whereas mine was boring white). They had me at yellow badges. In 2013, I signed up to volunteer …

Bats at the Library by Brian Lies
You could be Brian Lies’ bodyguard, too!

Prior to the 2013 NESCBWI Conference, I was asked to select volunteering duties. Among other duties (door watcher, sign-in checker), I chose Open Mic (I was probably going to perform, anyway).  Alicia Gregoire, the host of the event introduced me to a whole bunch of writers who had recently started a writing community called The Writers’ Loft (I recently learned that these writers were not expecting a nerdy white dude when they heard Papa J Funk would be stopping by, but that’s neither here nor there). After the conference, I began frequenting The Writers’ Loft …

NESCBWI 2013 Logo

The Writers’ Loft is a magical place where writers’ dreams come true. The Loft plays host to critique groups, craft chats, author panels, book launches, write-ins, think tanks – basically a year-long SCBWI conference at whatever pace you (the writer) want. For me, The Writers’ Loft is the people (“it’s the people, people!”) – many of whom have helped me edit manuscripts, brainstorm ideas, and teach me the ins and outs of writing for kids (and writing in general). Although I might have gotten here (wherever here is) eventually, I want to thank three particular Lofters (Heather KellyAnna Staniszewski, and Kris Asselin) who have guided me and made my life far easier than it would have been without their help and support.

The Writers' Loft

And of course I must thank all my critique partners and groups (Cousin Rachel, Deb O’Brien, Jane’s Class, my online group, and The Writers’ Loft PBCG). Without all of you, I wouldn’t be the unpublished (but represented!) writer I am today.

Thank You

And if I didn’t thank you (yes, you – the one reading this blog post), then I thank you, too.

Getting Ready for a Conference

I’m heading to a conference next weekend and I’m very excited about it. Here are my goals from most outlandish to realistic:

  • (Impossible) An editor loves my work and wants to sign me to a multi-book contract for millions of dollars.
  • (Dreamlike) An editor or agent likes my work enough to offer me some sort of deal or says they’d like to see more and take it back to their publishing house/agency.
  • (Hopeful) I network well with editors or agents and have something non-form to say when querying them at a later date.
  • (Realistic) I network well with other authors and find some with whom I can work with in a critique group of some sort.
  • (Necessary) I have fun and learn more about how to become a better writer.

I say necessary because if I can’t do that, that the conference was a waste of my time. I sincerely doubt it will be.