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As promised, here is my third post about the incredible 2014 SCBWI FL Regional Conference in Miami. This one covers the editor panel and workshops led by editors Laura Whitaker and Aubrey Poole. Click here to check out my first post about the fantastic Novel Intensive led by agent Jen Rofé, editor Stacy Abrams, and author Chris Crutcher. And part two covers almost all of the general session, including an amazing agent panel filled with helpful info.

The Wonderful Editor Panel

Editor Panel
Stacy Abrams, Kat Brzozowski, Aubrey Poole, Laura Whitaker, Andrea Pinkney
Moderated by author Dorian Cirrone

This is what they said they’re looking for:

Stacy Abrams—contemporary (no paranormal or dystopian). Can have an issue in it but the book can’t be about the issue.

Kat Brzozowski—dystopian is hard. Would love a good YA mystery. Comes across as loving dark but does love girl meets boy and they kiss, light romantic contemporary stuff for girls.

*She also said that with social media, if you do one thing well but don't like another, don't force it.

Aubrey Poole—loves sci fi, YA, not looking at genre really—it’s the stories that stand out within a genre. More experimenting with format.

Laura Whitaker—she’s tired of dystopian and paranormal YA. She wants to be immersed in a story so much that she's physically removed from her own issues. She wants to read about real people. Contemporary, original voice.

*She also said that with MG and YA, networking is important. Do a lot of digital marketing initiatives. You can get a huge impact from doing a blog tour. "Help me help you."

Andrea Pinkney—more diversity, African American boys, adventure, mystery, fun. Contemporary stories. *You need to normalize and not make it about the problem, even with something like bi-polar. She’s interested in a novel with a character who has piercing or a lot of tattoos.

Sunday workshops
Aubrey Poole – Do You Know Your Character?
A Writing Intensive on Character Development.

Aubrey Poole

She gave us a personality quiz to help look at characters in a different way. She chose a character—Sherlock Holmes (she's obsessed with the new Sherlock show). We had to answer from our POV—how we see him.

When writing your character, remember that you act different with parents/sister/friend, etc.

You can use the Hero's Journey—Google it, and you'll find one that works for you.

Harry Potter perfectly follows the Hero's Journey.

You should use whatever point of view tells your story. If you give a description of a room, it should reflect your character.

She shared a character questionnaire found in Gotham Writers’ Workshop’s Writing Fiction. It’s filled with fantastic questions, broken up into two sections. The first are questions that address the basics about a character and include things like: Does she have a secret and where does your character go when she’s angry. The second section digs deeper by asking more unconventional questions like: What is one strong memory that has stuck with your character from childhood and why is it so powerful and lasting?

I wish I could share them all with you, but it really wouldn’t be fair for me to give more than this glimpse. If you want more—take Aubrey Poole’s character workshop or Writing Fiction!

Laura Whitaker: Dating 101: What makes YOU desirable to an editor?

Laura Whitaker

She’ll look at a query for 30 seconds to a minute. First thing should be the hook, then a two sentence synopsis (three if you have to), then info about yourself. 

Tell her something interesting about your writing journey. What drew you to telling this story? Let her know any cool things you can share about yourself—show what makes you vibrant and unique.  

Come up with an original title that represents your work. If the title is the same when you’re published and there’s a story behind how you arrived at the title, marketing will want it later for a blog/Tumblr piece.

If there’s a tie in with a recent news story/national concern—make sure she knows. Comp titles/TV shows/films are always good to include. For non-fiction, tie it into common core curriculum. Writing groups/conferences show that the writer is interested in the revision process. They want to know this!

She wants magical realism MG—a present day situation that has magical elements that come into it rather than the focus of the whole story. She wants a Chanukah picture book. She likes sparkly things.

You can include info about it being a trilogy in a pitch letter to an agent but not an editor.

Your website is your calling card--especially for picture books.

Do you tweet out interesting, dynamic tweets? It’s the best way to build connections with other authors, agents, and editors. Twitter is more important for MG and YA. Interact! Do you write about the process or what you're working on? Marketing and publicity want to see your social media platform. The more social media, the better—but it’s not a substitute for the craft.

We received a coupon from the conference to submit to her. If we don't have an agent, Laura can't acquire a manuscript (but if she loves it--she'll actively try to help us find an agent). Combine this with her incredible enthusiasm and knowledge, this amazing workshop that explained how to wow an editor and included a really helpful handout, plus the fact that she requested several manuscripts and you’ll see why Laura Whitaker is a fantastic asset to any conference or retreat faculty!  

All the FL SCBWI events have been incredible, but this one had some extra-special magic. Peggy Robbins Janousky had her first page read in the Picture Book Intensive and it received such enthusiastic responses from the agent and editors that she ended up signing with Deborah Warren on the second day of the conference! I can’t wait to share Peggy’s full FL SCBWI Success Story in an upcoming newsletter. We have another writer who signed with Deborah Warren soon after the conference. And so many of our members received full manuscript requests from agents and editors that weekend. There’s a lot of hope out there now, and I’m crossing my fingers and toes that there will be even more great news to shout out soon.

I’m counting the days until the Orlando Workshop at the Swan/Dolphin hotel on Disney property on June 6th and 7th. I’ll share the faculty list as soon as it’s confirmed, but I was excited to hear that agent Alexandra Penfold will be back again. She gave an amazing Picture Book Intensive a few years ago with author Lisa Wheeler. Here’s a link to the first post about that Picture Book Intensive and here’s the second one.
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I've been having so much fun using all the new info on my picture books!  Before the intensive, my mentor (Joyce Sweeney) said that almost all writers are strongest in one genre, and that I was primarily a middle grade writer.  After seeing several manuscripts I've revised since the intensive, Joyce said that I am definitely a middle grade AND picture book writer.  Wahoo!  Hard work, always looking for new techniques, reading and analyzing zillions of picture books, and belonging to several amazing critique groups really does pay off!
Here's part 2 of the Picture Book Intensive I took with Lisa Wheeler and Alexandra Penfold at the FL SCBWI Workshop in Orlando. 

Lisa Wheeler

Lisa gave us great questions to ask when revising. I can’t include all of them, but here are a couple important ones to think about:
• Does the main character solve his or her problem? (I think this is one of the most important things to keep in mind!)
• Does a secondary character hijack your story?

Naughty main characters
Even if they’re naughty, they still should have something likeable about them. Word choices can help…like The Recess Queen. Other great ones to check out are: The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, The Wolf’s Chicken Stew, Elinor and Violet, A Visitor for Bear.

There are so many stories with animals who stand in for humans, because they’re universal. Animals can represent every sex, race, and it’s often hard to tell if they’re rich or poor. It blurs those lines and allows the character to do more. It’s hard to tell what age most animals are, so they can often represent both a child and an adult. It also allows a character to be naughty. Kids aren’t very forgiving of other children, which could make them dislike a naughty main character…but they usually don’t have a problem with a fuzzy, adorable troublemaker like Peter Rabbit. Maybe that’s why he’s here a hundred years later!

Don’t use personification unless it’s really needed and you can do it well. It’s very hard to do! Some great examples are: The Very Small Pea and the Princess to Be, Giant Meatball, and When Moon Fell Down.

If you use an adult as the main character, there must be something very childlike about him or her. Some fantastic books that do this well are: The Old Woman Who Names Things, Saving Sweetness, Mrs. Toggles Zipper, Mrs. McBloom, Clean Up Your Classroom.

Watch for redundancy in your manuscripts…but remember that it isn’t all bad. Repetition for emphasis is okay. Learn to spot the difference!
Read it out loud and see how it flows. Page turns are scene separators. They’re almost like time travel devices!
See if you can work in the rule of threes…it can be in sentences, scenes, or maybe even the big picture. Also look for places to use alliteration and other kinds of word play.
Go back to the beginning to bookend the end of the manuscript. You can make it go full circle, or have a shocking surprise ending.

Alexandra Penfold

Alexandra Penfold likes humorous picture books with quirky bits parents appreciate. She often doesn’t love gross humor or manuscripts that are overly sentimental. She doesn’t seek rhyme—it needs to be exceptional.

She spoke about favorite first lines. Some favorites mentioned by the participants or authors and agents who let Alexandra know ahead of time were: The Big Red Barn, The Library Lion, The Whales, Bear Snores On, Harold & and Purple Crayon, Parts, Where the Wild Things Are, Eloise, Click Clack Moo, Madeline (Alexandra loves this one—it establishes the character, setting, and the problem.)

Both Lisa and Alexandra agreed that first lines are hard to get right…but there’s plenty of time to nail the first line after writing the story. Don’t let it bog you down!

Alexandra Penfold did an amazing exercise that I’ve never seen before in a conference or intensive (and I’ve attended a lot of events). She read us a dummy she enjoyed at a conference, then showed us how Lee Harper’s revisions changed the text and illustrations from page to page until it turned into his published book, Snow! Snow! Snow!

When she sees a manuscript, she has to consider if it’s resistible or irresistible...and how she’ll feel if she lets it go.
Here's a link to part 1 of The Picture Book Intensive.  I'm off to interview another picture book character.  I hope I'll strike gold five times in a row, and that all the information helps you as much as it helped me!  
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I've been a conference addict for years, and am in awe of how much this intensive has helped my writing. I'm sending a huge thank you to Linda Bernfeld and Marcea Ustler for bringing Alexandra Penfold and Lisa Wheeler to Orlando this summer.  If any RAs are reading this--see if you can book them for a future event.  They make a fantastic team! 

I have so many incredible things to share about the Picture Book Intensive, I'll have to split it into two posts.  I should have the second one up on Friday!

Alexandra Penfold

Alexandra Penfold talked about creating characters that live on past the page that parents and children will want to read over and over. Two that she loves are Dinosaur vs. Bedtime and There are Cats in this Book.

Another great example is Mr. Duck Means Business, by Tammi Sauer. Alexandra read the book to us, and it was easy to see why the fun language and characters make this a book that kids and parents love to read it again and again…like:

Mr. Duck sputtered. He muttered. He tail-a-fluttered.

Calling duck Mr. Duck while the other characters are simply called Pig, Cow, etc.

Alexandra gave us a handout with questions to interview our picture book characters that I absolutely LOVE! I’ve used it in four manuscripts so far, and am in awe of how much I’ve learned from it. So far, my critique groups have heard three of them and love the changes—wahoo! It really brought my writing up several levels, because the questions help me think about what my characters are like outside of the book, and really help give them more motivation and focus. I blogged about it soon after the conference, and wish I could share all of the questions with you…but don’t want to take away part of her presentation. I’ll share two with you though…what is your character’s deepest secret? What do they want everyone to know?

Lisa Wheeler

The best advice she can give is that there are no set rules.

The first line is a promise to the reader. It can:

1. Introduce the character
2. Flirt with the character (like Julius Baby of the World).
3. Set the mood or tone (like Boris and Bella). A story about the death of a loved one shouldn’t be in bouncy rhyme.
4. An air of mystery (like Martha Speaks)—an intriguing opening that makes readers want to know more.
5. Give location (like Mrs. Biddlebox).
6. Can be a fresh, original opening line (like Aunt Nancy and Cousin Lazybones).
7. Can be a mixed bag (that covers more than one of these). I think Arnie the Donut is the one she suggested for this.

Here are some picture books that have a great promise (sometimes, it’s in the opening paragraph instead of just the first line): Baron Von Baddie, Dear Tabby, Clink.

When writing a picture book, make sure you start in the right place!

The character’s name can say a lot about the character, but shouldn’t be the only memorable thing (an example of a great name is Mrs. Biddlebox). **Don’t give a fun character a generic name!

Description—leave a lot open for the illustrator, but when there is something important to the story or characterization, it can give readers a better feel.

I'll write more on Friday!
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Mindy Alyse Weiss
I write humorous middle-grade novels with heart and quirky picture books.

I'm an Administrator on the SCBWI Blueboard, the FL SCBWI Newsletter Editor and Critique Group Coordinator, and a proud member of From The Mixed Up Files...of Middle-Grade Authors

I've been married for twenty years and have two beautiful daughters, an adventurous Bullmasador adopted from The Humane Society, and an adorable Beagle/Pointer mix pup who was rescued from the Everglades.

I've been published in Highlights three times and placed in the 80th Writer's Digest Competition.


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