After the Friday Intensives (critique sessions) portion of the SCBWI 2010 Winter Conference, Lin Oliver led a Q&A session with Wendy Loggia (Executive Editor, Delacorte Press), Ari Lewin (Senior Editor, Disney/Hyperion) and Allyn Johnston (V.P. and Publisher of Beach Lane Books).
Here’s a run down of what was asked, what was answered.
Q: What are some common problems you see in manuscripts?
- In picture books, authors try to rhyme, but rhyming is weak or forced
- The voice is too old for a picture book narrator
- In novels, authors start en media res, but then don’t go back and establish the who, what, where
- It’s better to begin in a scene in the “normal” world and unveil the story slowly
- Authors info dump, and use too much exposition
- Authors show a lack of awareness of the market in what they choose to write
- There are too many overdone themes
- Do market research
- Read IndieBound
- Don’t include art notes in picture books
- Read LibraryThing and Goodreads
- See what books are getting attention, winning awards
Q: What makes a good beginning? Where should a book start?
- Start where it feels right for your book
- You don’t have to start with a bang
- Good writing will grab the reader
- Picture books should start with a clear, direct statement (e.g., “Marcy was a chicken.”)
Q: Do revisions ever lead to the book falling apart?
- Even with well-published authors there are times when it seems the book will fall apart (Allyn)
- Sometimes it feels like it will fall apart in the outline stage (Wendy)
Advice: Be flexible and see things from a different perspective.
Q: What are some key phrases you use that writers should hear as warning signs that their work is not ready or not good enough?
- “Who is this for?”
- “Why would someone care about the place/character?”
- “Put this on the shelf.”
- “Is there anything else you’re working on?” (Though this shows the editor/agent sees some potential in you)
- Remember the quote, “In writing, nothing is ever wasted but the paper.” (Sid Fleischman)
- Commit to your writing career, not just one piece
- It’s a fine balance between hearing critique and continuing to believe in yourself as a writer
Q: What are the current trends in YA lit?
Q: Final piece of advice for writers?
- Wait a day after critiques before making changes to your MS (Ari)
- Write letters from your characters’ POV to other characters in the book (Ari)
- Watch American Idol and learn from it — publishing is like American Idol (Wendy)
- If you have a story worth being told, it will find the light (Wendy)
- Be yourself; don’t take yourself too seriously (Wendy)