On Friday, I attended the Novel Intensive led by Stephanie Owens Lurie (Disney-Hyperion), Alvina Ling (Little, Brown), and author Kathleen Duey. The three of them worked so well together, I've seen people refer to them as The Dream Team.
I can't give away all their secrets, but here's some of the things we discussed:
*During query critiques, both editors liked hearing that someone is an active SCBWI member, but including a list of specific conferences could make it sound like you're still in training. I was a bit surprised that magazine credits didn't impress them—they're more interested to hear about a promotional vehicle, like a blog, that shows a person is willing and able to do self-promotion.
Stephanie Owens Lurie
• Your character needs an inner conflict, and at least one outer conflict (it can be several).
If you stray too far from the outer conflict, you'll have a tough time creating an elevator
pitch for your manuscript.
• The typical picture book structure could help with novel structure, too.
• When sending a query, make sure the author shows why the manuscript is right for the Disney-Hyperion list. She wouldn't mind knowing how something ends. She loves having a one sentence description of the manuscript that she can use during the acquisition process.
• She likes to know important background info, like working as a librarian, before seeing publishing credits in another genre. She also likes to see that readers of ____ will enjoy a manuscript (make it current, but not too popular, like Harry Potter). And she'd like to know what led you to write the book (that was the first thing she asked me during her critique of my middle-grade novel).
• Does not want vampire or werewolf stories.
• Needs middle-grade books and series.
• Character is: Voice, belief, background.
• Use the point of view that is the least noticeable, so the reader can really get into the book.
• Buttering up the editor isn't a bad thing—it shows you did research (of course, you don't want to take it too far).
• She likes a query/manuscript that is familiar yet fresh.
• She doesn't like to know the ending before reading a manuscript.
• Would like a sci-fi space opera (like Star Trek or Battlestar Galactica)—but remember that she prefers literary manuscripts.
• Observe kids the age that you write for (try to sit by them without being noticed).
• If you meet people with interesting professions, say you're a writer and might want to ask them questions about their job in the future—don't forget to ask for a business card.
• A good exercise is to have a secondary character think about the main character and write a paragraph or two about him/her.
• It's a violation of viewpoint if a character suddenly notices familiar things, but you can have a character notice the difference between the way things used to look and how they look now.
• Spend words on things the reader won't assume (the tiny details can be more interesting).
• Reading non-fiction history is a great way to help create a fantasy world.
• Don't go looking for a basic plot formula—it doesn't exist. Try different things to see what works with your story.
• When plotting, she searches for milestones that have to happen before she reaches the ending.
• Keep the spotlight on your main character in a query or synopsis.
• Make sure you have a polished one sentence log line, query, and synopsis before contacting editors or agents.
• If you get stuck revision and find yourself going in circles, take all you know and start over with a blank screen.
• Join Twitter, Facebook, etc. If you choose to live in the last century, you're going to be sorry.
• She has learned more critiquing the work of other people than any other way.
• She wishes she had an agent from the beginning of her career. You only get one debut!
**You can see more of Kathleen Duey's gems in my notes from the 2010 Miami Conference: http://mindyalyse.livejournal.com/55831.html
I LOVE this exercise the speakers shared (I believe they learned it from Julie Strauss-Gabel...but that's going from memory because the gems were flying so fast, my hand couldn't keep up).
1. Write a list of things you've done or think most people have done.
2. Write a list of things you believe most people have NOT done.
**A good character is a mix of both of these lists.
Whew, that was a mouthful. And it was just day one. I'll fill you in on the awesome Picture Book Track led by Tammi Sauer, Dan Santat, and Alexandra Cooper as soon as I can take another mini break from my revision.