February's Inspirational Quote
~ Laurie Wallmark.
You might not recall saying this and perhaps I won't remember the specifics but you are our inspiration for the rest of February and maybe even March.
You and I were on the phone and talking about how hard it is to write a novel and as usual I was whining and feeling sorry for my long-a$$ journey. And you told me about how you were working and how busy you were so you wrote your novel one hour at a time. Astounded I said, "You wrote your novel one hour at a time?" And you said, "Yup." And I thought, "Wow... ... ..."
Often times we think we need - or I think I need - huge chunks of time set aside so I can write. Do you do that too? What if we gave ourselves one hour of each day? If it turns into two, well then fine, but if not, at least you still had your One Hour at a Time. So that is the motto of the month, thanks to ours truly, Laurie Wallmark.
We love you, Laurie!
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
STATUS: 1=Active, waiting for response; 2=Rejected or its been so long that I assume it’s a rejection
MANUSCRIPT: One word abbreviation of the manuscript title
ALERT DATE: Date I expect a response based on publisher’s website and internet discussion forums (like the one at www.newjerseyscbwi.com)
SUBMISSION DATE: Date mailed/emailed
DAYS: Days since submitting. Excel will figure this out automatically for you if you enter the formula TODAY()-F2 (where you put the cell containing the submission date instead of F2)
RESPONSE DATE: Date publisher responded
RESPONSE: Accepted, rejected, personal rejection, revision request, etc.
WHAT: Full manuscript, query letter, 3 chapters, synopsis, etc.
VERSION: You do, of course, number your revisions and keep a copy of any revision which was submitted, don't you. (I use 1.0, 2.0, etc. for major changes and 1.1, 1.2, 1.3 for minor changes.)
ESTIMATED RESPONSE TIME: Based on publisher’s website and internet discussion forums (like the one at www.newjerseyscbwi.com)
NOTES: Sent via email, no response unless interested, met at NJ SCBWI conference, status query sent and date, etc. I also keep notes in this column about interim responses (request for revision, status query reply, etc.)
Because it’s so easy to sort data in Excel, I can easily see:
- where I’ve sent a specific manuscript
- if I don’t have a manuscript at a specific publisher, so I am free to submit one
- whether it’s time to send out a status query
- whether it’s time to give up on the manuscript/publisher and move on
Hope this helps you keep track of your submissions.
Monday, February 25, 2008
Peek-a-boo! I see you Leeza. Look how the sun shines on you like a beacon, the clouds part, the angels sing.... Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh...
Most of us gals from my small critique group... Lynette in red, to the left is Hallee, in the back Leeza, in pink Joelle, and in the front on the right is Marcie. Lisa was not present at the moment.
What a whirlwind of a day of learning, sharing, listening, talking...
And party we did! Ariane's book is a children's recipe book presented through an adventure story. I will not give any story elements away. You'll have to visit Ariane at her website to gain more information into her marvelous tale of adventure, bravery, biting nails, and definitely laughter! It was a fun story told with humor and tension and a "satisfying" ending. In order to celebrate, we each made one of the recipes from Ariane's book and had a feast that could "satiate" a queen. (Words in quotes are hints about the book...) Again, our congratulations to you Ariane! All your hard work paid off!
And that brings me to the question... To critique or not critique... Well, you might not have known this, but while critiquing one another is of course our ultimate goal, it should not be our ONLY goal. Sometimes we need to come together and decompress. Share about workshops, tools that help us, or about one another's lives. And that's what today was all about for us MG/YA novelists. Sure we are tough on one another and encourage each other to always put our best page forward, but we all need to honor and celebrate one another from time to time as well. And what better way to do this, then around food! Mange! Mange!
But also, it gave us an opportunity to share our take on the NJ SCBWI workshop some of us attended on Sunday. AND... it gave us an opportunity to share elevator pitches. Now some of you might wonder what an elevator pitch is. Well, imagine you are at lunch... and you just so happen to be eating at a table with a children's editor... from say.... Sterling. Yes. And just for arguments sake, let's say her name is Anne... OK so someone asks "Anne," so Anne, what kind of books are your currently shopping? And Anne replies, Oh well, I am currently shopping for books that are appealing to boys in a humorous way (or insert a quick description of a book you are currently working on, or have already completed) And the annoying person sitting to your left elbows you and says, Oh (insert your name) here, is working on just such a book. Right (insert your name)? And just like that, you need to quickly, in a sentence or two, talk about your story.
Think of an elevator pitch as a come hither. It is intended to make people want to know more. You don't want to tell EVERYTHING in one long sentence. You want to seduce them. You want to intrigue them. You want to hook them. YOU WANT THEM TO WANT MORE.... So, today in the MG/YA group, we took a fun spin on the elevator pitch that we all dread giving. Instead of delivering our own pitch, we wrote, or delivered off the cuff, a pitch describing someone ELSE's book, not our own. This was so exciting and insightful (at least I thought so!) It really showed us how the others have perceived your book. What are you writing that has come off clearly? What hasn't? Did they see something in your novel YOU didn't? It was a lot of fun.
I recommend you all give this a try in your groups too. And perhaps come with an elevator pitch for another member in your group, or for your favorite book, or favorite movie, and then see if the others in the group can guess whose it is.
Anyone want to take a stab at it here? You don't have to pitch your idea. And actually please don't. Let's pitch a book or movie we all might know, and see if we can guess it. Here's my attempt. I am going to rename the main character MC though, because the name will really give it away...
Orphaned MC must live with his horrible Aunt, Uncle, and piggish cousin, when he discovers, he is not ordinary as they have repeatedly told him. Instead he is quite extraordinary. MC has magical powers he cannot understand. And what's more, there is a whole magical world most of us don't even know exists. AND in this magical world... MC is famous!
So let's have at it. I think it is pretty obvious. Leave your comment. Tell me who you think it is and give it a stab. Remember though, even my example is teetering on the too long side. So keep it short - it is NOT a SYNOPSIS. It is a seduction. Let's see if we can guess your example...
Cheers and happy writing!!!
Sheri ks, ks
Sunday, February 24, 2008
This is just a very brief posting saying... I've been to the NJ SCBWI workshop today. I met some lovely ladies in my group. (Hello Joelle, Marcie, Lynette, Hallee, Lisa, and of course, Leeza!)
In case you've never been to such an event, here's what happens...
About a month before, you are assigned a small group. The ladies mentioned above were in my small group. Each small group is assigned an editor to receive a one-on-one critique with for 20 minutes. So in that month’s time, you have to mail your first 30 pages of your novel, or your entire PB MS to Kathy Temean, RA of the NJ chapter of SCBWI. AND... you have to email your pages to the members of your group.
Then over that month you read and critique all the stories as they come in (or wait until the last possible moment - whichever way works for you...) Then, on the day of the conference, armed with the critiques you have written for one another, you show up ready to share.
Everyone takes turns presenting their feedback while, one at a time, a member will quietly dismiss herself (sorry no token males were present in our group) and meet with the editor in a separate room.
Then, around, well... lunchtime, there is a lunch where we can all mingle and meet other writers or editors present at the event. Then we go back and finish our critiques.
At the very end is an open mic Q+A session with all the editors. We get to learn what they are individually shopping for, how long their personal turn around is with scripts, and their tips and tools of advice and suggestions. We, as writers, are eager to eat up every nugget of info they are willing to provide.
And at the end of the day you've made friends (or enemies – no, only kidding!) and you hopefully will walk away feeling energized, renewed, and ready to revise, revise, revise.
I, on the other hand, always walk away feeling exhausted! I need a few days to not think about it, while all the while my subconscious is percolating, and simmering, deep in thought. Then, in a day or two... or three... I read everyone’s comments. I print out a fresh clean copy and begin writing notes of what the others have said. If someone else says the same thing, I put a check next to the comment. If again, another person says it, I add another check and so on. If there are comments that don't ring true to me, that no one else brought up, then I let that comment go. I toss it, as Joelle said in her “Take it, or Toss it” philosophy. If there are comments that spark something within me, even if no one else said, I star it.
Then I open my computer, copy and paste the story onto a fresh document and save it as... whatever the title is, the draft number, and I give it a new version number. For example, my novel... is on its first draft, but 5th version - 1.5. (For me, a new version is when I make changes within a single draft. Once I get to the end, any other changes would begin my next draft. And then process begins all over again, 2.0, 2.1, etc.) So now, I save it as a new document as TITLE, 1.6. Next, I take the hard copy with all the converted notes and I place it in that story’s binder. All of my stories have their own binders. Then in the binder, I mark it, TITLE 1.5 NJ SCBWI Feb 2008 conference. The editor’s version goes in the binder too, of course, and I attach her business card and her critique, so it is altogether.
And that's my process!
Another benefit of the day is... a good number of the editors that come to these workshops do not accept unsolicited work. But once you've met the editor at an SCBWI event, you are no longer considered unsolicited for a window of time - usually a few months. So even if you met with editor A, you are still welcomed and invited to send you MS to editors B, C, and D, as well. And most promise that they WILL read your MS and WILL write a personal (rejection) letter (OK hopefully not a rejection letter of course! I was only being funny!!!! He He He...)
So if you haven't ever tried an SCBWI conference or workshop. I highly recommend it. Visit SCBWI to find your state's chapter. To have that 20 minute one-on-one wiht an editor is so worth it!
Friday, February 22, 2008
I've blogged about a discussion held on the future of picture books at the SCBWI conference a couple of weeks ago. And while I hear it's a tough, tough, tough sell, I refuse to give up my dream of becoming a successful PB illustrator/author.
The other rumor, not so widely spread, is the surge in boardbook sales at the moment — well, hulloooo? You know what that means, right? A couple of years from now, those BB readers will become PB readers. (Imagine this moment where the clouds part and trumpets flare!!!!) Ta-dahh!
I see this as positively wonderful, good news!
Seeing as it takes about 18 months to two years to take a book from acquisition to release, NOW is the time to be polishing my manuscripts, and finishing up my dummies. And I'm not talking just one — if I have it in me, my aim (by the end of 2008) is to finish up the six book projects I have sitting on my shelf. It's the year of the submission!
When I was a wee young thing, I was in the Brownies. A successful Brownie's motto was: "Always be Prepared."
I want to be right in there with the editors armed and ready. Should they reject one of my books, well, hey "I have five others … wanna take a look?"
My view is that I need to stay on top of the market. Knowing that there are picture books still being created, and that the lists are not as extensive, means publishers are being much more picky, that's all. Which brings me to the reason for this post. I cannot stress the importance of research. I hear it all the time: "Know your market, be aware of what's out there and what's already been done." As well as: "Find your fit, know how to write well, be original, be creative ... be the best you can be."
It's an overwhelming task to stay on top of it all. But I like to think I try and I pay attention. Every now and again I stumble across a blog or a Web site that I bookmark, because I feel the information or inspiration that it has to offer, can help bring me one step closer to my personal goals.
Here's two links that I recently bookmarked. One is through the School Library Journal (which we should ALL be aware of ALL of the time), New York Public Library's very own Betsy Bird blogs about all aspects of children's literarture including news, reviews, events and more and the other is Sara O'Leary's blog: 123Olearyshe offers a big emphasis on Picture Books, including reviews as well as tips on writing.
So go, be prepared, get those books in order ready for submission. The time is now my friends, the time is now!
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
The virtual meeting idea followed another discussion about our writing and attendance commitments as members. Aside from sickness and vacations, family, work, home AND being a writer/illustrator is a lot to fit into our schedules, and sure, there will always be issues that may prevent our presence at the monthly meeting, but we do owe it to ourselves to step back and assess where our responsibilities lie.
We agreed that we are all serious about being published in children's books, and that we should try not to procrastinate with our revisions; or shy away from the critiquing process; and to push ourselves to move forward — but time was definitely an obstacle we all need to overcome. Hence, the virtual meeting idea. Most of the group cannot attend the March meeting in person, so we are going to give the virtual meeting a try and see how it goes.
We have also agreed that — in the event of a person(s) missing a meeting — that person(s) must still honor the feedback/critique and send it to the author regardless of physical presence. We believe this is one responsibility of being a HCCWG member.
The virtual meeting is only a back-up and we stressed the importance of the physical get together, but it seems, there are times when you do what you gotta do!
Saturday, February 16, 2008
Recently, I was asked to offer some advice for illustrators and/or authors, for a column soon to appear in an online magazine called Once Upon a Time. The column: "Releasing the Artist Within" is written by illustrator Linda T. Snider Ward, a member of SCBWI, whom I met at the conference in LA back in 2006. We've had a few new members join HCCWG lately, so I thought it would be nice to share my 7 Tidbits here, too. I hope you find them useful.
1. Become a member of SCBWI. THEE organization that opens many doors of opportunities on a variety of levels. Having access to local, national and international events brings you one step closer to an otherwise unheard of editor or art director. Join local organizations, too, like HCCWG — if you can't find one in your neighborhood, start your own, right Sheri?
2. Research! You need to have some understanding of the basics, not just how to create a children's portfolio, or write a story that is polished and ready for submission, but to also know what's happening within the industry. Forget trends, as such, I'm talking about learning which publishers create what type of books. Know that the larger publishing houses comprise of many imprints— each specializing in its own genre(s); know that the smaller houses can sometimes be more accessible to newbies; know that you can't send a picture book dummy to any Tom, Dick and Harry, just to get it 'out there' — be selective, know your publisher. Which brings me to number …
3. How do I know which publisher to submit to? That's easy and a fun process. Head off to your local library and visit bookstores. Take an hour at a time by yourself and thumb through the shelves. Start to notice which books you are attracted to and why — does the work contained in the book resonate with the way you work (probably). Create a pile of about 20 books, then go back through them and really 'look' at them. Consider layout, composition, color, style, texture and content matter. Pick out your ten favorites based on these things and with those ten books, turn to each copyright page. Who published those books? (Aim to make research like this a regular activity, like, once a month)
4. Make a list of the publishers, and note any particular names, either of editors, art directors or designers. Keep that list and start working on some promotional pieces, with your Web site and body of work to show off to the world, you can start to reach out to the people on your list. And don't forget, flattery goes along way — if there is a book your particularly loved, mention it and tell them WHY you loved it!
5. Make sure you are professional and present your work in the same way. Show that you can draw, show that you have done your research, show that you know how to write, revise and polish your work to the best it can be before submission.
6. Always remain open, courteous, willing and enthusiastic.
7. Despite all the competitiveness, research and hard work, that may take years to build, always, always keep it fun. Learn to love what you do, do it with passion, love your style and believe. How can you expect others to believe in you if you don't believe in yourself first?
Friday, February 15, 2008
Recently I had to write a critique for a fellow workshop attendee whose character experienced 9/11 not far from the towers. I started reading the story with aplomb but slowly found myself tied up in knots and filled with anxiety. I began to relive my own experience of 9/11 which involved my husband who was two blocks away when the towers fell. This story made me ‘walk through’ the terror all over again. I had strong emotional reactions to some inconsistencies in the time line and wondered if I should bow out of the up coming critique session for this person. I feared breaking down and blubbering through it all. I worried that my emotions would get in the way of a good ‘analytical critique’.
At last I decided to ask some fellow facilitators for advice. Sheri & Leeza are going to the workshop as well. I was initially scheduled to be in their critique group but I transferred out to be among fresh readers for a manuscript they had already looked over. My initial idea was to just hand over my notes to this workshop writer and not give my thoughts verbally. Surprisingly both Leeza and Sheri told me to try to go ahead with it. Their position was that my experience and emotion might be just what this writer needs to hear. I was still on the fence. Who wants to cry in front of a group of people they’ve never met before? I decided to show the manuscript to my husband. He was a great help in clarifying the timeline information. We hadn’t talked about 9/11 in a long while, so we spent the evening comparing our memories. After this I realized I could also pass on to this writer some experiences my husband had with people on that fateful day. It could possibly be used as fodder for this writer’s story. I began to agree with Sheri and Leeza that maybe my view point would be important for this person to hear and it was o.k. if I cried.
Now I see that a good critique is not always analytical but emotional too. Rising up like a breaking wave it can leave behind that perfect shell for the one who is looking
The paradigm helped me to lay out my 3-act structure, allowing me to see my story from beginning to end prior to writing it. The book states that "you must have a thorough grasp of its (your story's) structure if you wish your book to succeed." What makes this book different from all the other "how-to" books out there? It claims to be the first book to thoroughly investigate this classic structure. It also breaks down tried and true picture book favorites to help you understand how the paradigm works.
Prior to explaining the paradigm, the book offers this minimalist exercise. Try it to jumpstart your next story idea.
Action (or problem):
Based on my high satisfaction with Volume I, I will go on to read Volumes II (Word, Sentence, Scene, Story) and III (Figures of Speech).
Monday, February 11, 2008
Today my middle grade/young adult critique group met to discuss several stories. Some were, possibly, final copies of final chapters, and other were mere beginnings of stories; very first attempts of drafts and outlines. This brought up a very good point.
How do you critique something that is just an outline, or a very, very first draft? Do you critique it differently from a later draft? First I want to thank all the writers for sharing today. It is not easy to share such early drafts and can, at times, make a writer feel quite vulnerable.
Some of us, just made very general notes, not wanting to stunt progress - and this is a good thought. Some others of us (ah-hem) critiqued more to the reader’s thoughts, feelings, and questions while reading this early draft. I think it is important during these early stages of a story to know where you have succeeded, where you nailed the MC's voice, and where you are falling flat.
Sometimes, though receiving feedback at these very early stages for a writer can be… well not such a good thing. I think it is important to know, as a writer, what you can handle. Can you handle, do you want, feedback in these very early stages? Some writers thrive on this to know if they are on the right track, while for others – this early feedback can seriously deflate creativity and therefore stunt forward progress.
So, be honest with yourself. Know when you are ready. AND… when you are not ready, do not subject yourself to premature feedback. There is nothing wrong with missing a deadline in your writer's group, as long as it is not a habit. In THAT case, you have to be honest with yourself for another reason; to reflect on why you are continuously missing deadlines. Most likely you are afraid – afraid of failure, or success. Both can be scary, believe it or not.
Remember, only you are the true judge of your work and your readiness to present your work, and more importantly, your readiness to listen to said feedback.
Second, the topic came up that sometimes it is OK, even preferable, for a writer's group to take a session or so, here and there, where no one submits work for feedback, but instead, engages in an exercise, shares a tool, celebrates a long-term goal that has finally been met, etc. Sometimes, you need to re-connect with one another as friends, as comrades, as fellow writers, and not just critics of one another’s work. Sometimes, you need to re-connect to your love of writing and being in this group.
Point in case – a writer in my group just finished her novel – or at least we have finally finished critiquing it piece meal. Our next meeting will be a celebration of us coming to that end with her. What a huge goal to reach! – the last period, to the last word, of that last sentence, on that last page, of that last chapter in her story! WOW! We will also share elevator pitches for our current stories, perhaps write elevator pitches for one another, and maybe even do an exercise on outlining (groan) to get all of us to that last page!
So, writer’s groups can be about all sorts of things, learning about yourself, learning about others, celebrating with one another, and above all practicing on a friendly and supportive ear.
Sunday, February 10, 2008
Pour yourself that cup of coffee, or tea, or wine... and be prepared to get glued to your computer screen as you read about tips, tools, and hot topics for today's children's market.
Friday, February 8, 2008
I want to thank Sheri and my fellow facilitators for their awesome feedback and support. Special thanks also go to my own picture book group.
Thursday, February 7, 2008
Wednesday, February 6, 2008
The authors of this blog are the facilitators of the Hunterdon County Children's Writer's Group. Each facilitator runs her own smaller group of about 4 - 7 people. Some groups are sub-genre specific, meaning it is made up all picture book writers, while other groups have a mix of PB writers as well as novelists.
Who am I, you might wonder? I am Sheri Perl-Oshins. I founded this group of talented writers almost a year ago this spring. I had just joined the NJ chapter of SCBWI and was looking for a small group to join, but none could be found. So I asked Kathy Temean, RA of NJ's SCBWI for advice. She said start your own. At first I thought, "Who me? No. I couldn't." But then the more I thought about it, the more I thought, "Why not!"
First I considered where we would meet... the local Starbucks? Too small. The local Borders? Too crowded. Then it hit me, THE LIBRARY. Yes, of course. So I contacted my local library, the Hunterdon County Library, and asked if they had any writer's groups - specifically for writers of children's literature, and if not, could I start one. They said, "Funny you should ask, we were just talking about how nice it would be if we had such a group. Would you be willing to write a proposal?"
Well, four drafts later, a meeting with many heads of departments in the library system, and an embarrassing photo of me on the front page of our local newspaper, the Hunterdon County Children's Writer's Group was formed.
So what will this blog be about? Well, that's simple - everything and anything related to our group, writing for children, illustrating for children, the business of being a writer, and anything in-between.
Who is it for? Anyone! It is namely for our members, but anyone is welcomed!
How should you use this blog? That's simple too. Just read it! Then when you are done, please click the comment link below the posting you’ve read and leave a comment. WE want to hear from YOU! So don’t be shy…
Do you need to be a blogger on blogspot in order to leave a message? No. You can type your name and write under ‘anonymous,’ but of course I recommend you all begin a profile and well… why not start a blog of your own?
I had mentioned that the authors of this blog are the facilitators of the Hunterdon County Children's Writer's Group. Let me introduce you to them. All of our facilitators and members are talented and unique in their own special way. First, we have Cathleen Daniels, or sometimes Cathy. She is an author/illustrator. Next, we have Jeanne Balsam. She is also an author/illustrator. Then we have Laurie Wallmark. She is a children's writer. Her stories run the gamut between PBs and chapter books, to MG novels. Leeza Hernandez is another one of our many talented author/illustrators. Pat Koelmel is another author/illustrators. (We do have a lot of those in HCCWG!). And then of course, there's me, Sheri Perl-Oshins. I dabble in PBs, but my heart is really in MG novels.
And there you have it. That's us, plus about 30 something other important and talented writers and illustrators – our members – and THAT'S the Hunterdon County Children's Writer's Group!
I hope you'll come back routinely to check out our informative postings on formatting, dialoging, making dummies, how to give and receive a critique, and so, so, so much more.
Happy Writing Everyone!