Monday, May 17, 2010

Northwest Author Series

Publishing Books for Children:
Plotting Your Success

Sunday was the final workshop in the 2009-2010 Northwest Author Series coordinated by Christina Katz and supported by Friends of the Wilsonville Library and the Wilsonville Arts & Culture Council.

Since I'm writing novels for young adults, I was particularly interested in attending Mr. Slater's session. He is a full time teacher who writes picture books, YA fiction, and adult novels. His titles include Cheese Louise!, The Bored Book, the Sacred Books series (The Book of Nonsense, The Book of Knowledge), and Selfless.

Mr. Slater began the session with a humorous slide show presentation about his entry into the writing profession. His visual aids included three large three-ring binders crammed with his rejections. But the point of it all was: be persistent!

In the beginning he dutifully followed the "no simultaneous submissions" admonishment posted by most publishing houses but he soon realized it would take decades to route his story to every potential publisher. So he tentatively broke "the rule" and when no gendarmes appeared at his door he proceeded to send out numerous queries. Many of which were rejected (as evidenced by his notebooks).

However, Mr. Slater advised us that a rejection doesn't mean you've written a lousy story or book. There are numerous reasons ("doesn't meet our needs") an editor may reject your query, and there are many steps in the publishing process where your story or book may fall by the wayside.

And there is an element of luck involved. Being in the right place at the right time. Submitting to one more editor who just happens to be the one looking for a story or book just like yours. You'll never know if you don't keep trying.

Top Ten Tips

* Targeted submissions are fine -- just shoot at lots of targets. Use every avenue available to you to learn the names of editors and the editor's direct e-mail address.
* Continually search the Web and other resources for new contacts.
* Strike while the iron is hot -- since promising news may be temporary. If an editor is considering your submittal, continue sending out queries with the note that your work is currently under consideration.
*Believe your time is as valuable as anyone else's. Don't waste it at your mailbox or by the phone awaiting a response.
*Never hold off submitting queries based on vague hints or promises of interest. Don't withdraw your queries, continue sending them out.
* Go on to the next project while you're submitting the last one.
* Accept that the publisher will provide little or no promotion of your book. You'll have to do it yourself.
* Don't scoff at any chance for publicity. Even the most dismal bookstore reading means your name and book title were posted for all to see for weeks ahead of time.
* Never burn your bridges because you never know. Be professional, courteous, prompt, and open-minded. A positive attitude could get you selected over a troublesome author of equal ability.
* Know that persistence is as important as talent when it comes to success.

Mr. Slater then moved on to plotting. Stories that last move the reader. They are about change. Use archetype, not stereotype. Stories that last are about universal human experiences wrapped inside a unique expression. Powerful scenes should (drum roll) show not tell. Allow the reader to say "I get it!" Learn the eternal story structure of rising action toward a climax. The inciting incident should be connected to the climax. The impossible should seem inevitable.

Mr. Slater then described two types of story premises: Simple versus Fertile. The Simple Premise is wide open with innumerable possibilities (I want to write a story about a piece of cheese). The Fertile Premise has limited possibilities (I want to write a story about a piece of Swiss cheese that is unhappy about her holes). These limitations provide freedom to create within a circle of obstacles. The problem becomes part of the solution (Cheese Louise uses her holes in order to save the day).

Like most of the series workshops, the ninety minutes alloted went by very quickly. I'm looking forward to the 2010-11 series. We're fortunate that our region is rich with creative talent to draw upon for these sessions. And writers are so giving and supportive.

I find my efforts to learn about writing fiction and getting published are similar to riding lessons. The information received by various trainers and clinicians is pretty much the same, but the different methods of presentation spark light bulbs. And like most skills -- you build on a solid foundation. You may have been provided instruction for the next level up, but it may take awhile before you're prepared to fully absorb it and apply it.

So -- even though I've already heard many of the things Mr. Slater presented, I had a couple more "aha!" moments. Not to mention, "I never thought of it that way before."

Now it's back to the keyboard!

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