Posted in Craft, Inspiration, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing, Tools

What Do You Do When You’re Stuck?

image courtesy of veggiegretz on morguefile.com
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Stuck on your current WIP? Here are some things I do, plus exercises I’ve learned from other people.
If I’m not feeling my character for the current scene, I go back some pages and reread what I’ve already written to get the feel of his or her life.
I’m not an outliner, but I know my main character’s problem well and have an idea of how the problem might be solved. The stories don’t always end how I think they will–I believe that is true for outliners, too. In one work in progress…the kid thinks he is responsible for his mother’s death. At the end, he will realize he was not in control of whether she lived or died. He also will resolve (in his heart) the issue of having disappointed her the day she died. I don’t know exactly how it is all going to happen, but I keep putting him in situations where he has to face what he’s done, face his grief, his regrets.
Talk to your character. In a workshop at Oregon’s SCBWI conference in 2013, Agent Trish Lawrence (EMLA) shared about “nailing your teen in the corner” and finding out what’s going on under the surface. Ask questions on paper and record her answers. Ask “why” questions. Go to the dark places. Try to discover core truths and inner values.
Do research about your setting or your character’s hobby or interests, or problem. In a talk at the 2014 New York SCBWI Conference, author Elizabeth Wein said that uncovering details often provides inspiration. Read her guest post on Authority and Authenticity. Author/illustrator Judy Schachner shared something similar at the 2014 LA conference when she showed us how she uses a journal/scrapbook to paste in pictures and quotes and ideas for her picture book character. As an illustrator as well as a writer, she also draws sketches of her character and tries things out with him.
Go some place different (anywhere, e.g. a doctor’s office, a park, a store, a restaurant) and soak in the environs, then put your main character there and just start writing about him or her being there. Ask yourself, “What would he be thinking?” etc. Don’t worry about your plot, etc. Just see what comes out. Several of us got things that may go into WIPs out of this exercise from a talk by author Elizabeth C. Bunce at a Kansas SCBWI workshop.
Work on another project and let this one simmer until it is bubbling to come out of you… Since I usually have a number of projects I want to work on, this works well for me.
Keep showing up to write. “Good ideas come when we show up,” author Kate Messner said.* Kate has more writing tips on her blog.
Check for action in your story, especially if a middle grade novel. Editor Nancy Siscoe (Knopf) said, “Action is always better than inaction.”* She added that nothing is worse than characters who never do anything.
Be courageous. Keep trying new things. While speaking on courage to write great picture books, Editor Jeannette Larson* reminded us to “do things that might scare you” and to be flexible.
At the fall 2013 SCBWI Oregon retreat, Deb Lund challenged us to “Mine Your Memories“–especially those yucky ones! What hurt you? What scared you? What secrets did you have?
Sometimes writing the next scene just doesn’t seem possible. Write a later scene in the story and worry about how to connect them later.
Maybe you’re worried too much about length. Don’t worry about how long or short it is; just work on what happens next.
Ask yourself questions about your main character’s problem. What’s stopping him from reaching his goal? Or arriving at a solution? How can you make it worse before it gets better? How can you raise the stakes? Will she get what she wants? Once at a writer’s event, I heard someone say “push the main character off the cliff and see what she does.” 😉
What do YOU do when you are stuck?
*at the 2014 New York SCBWI Conference

Posted in Market Prep, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing

One Size Does NOT Fit All

picture courtesy of Creative Commons License taken by Alisdair
almost fitsRecently, someone asked me, “How do I submit to agents?” As I told them, each agency has their own submission guidelines. Not only do the guidelines say how they want you to submit, but what they want you to submit. And, of course, some agencies or agents are closed to submissions.
The only ways to know for sure what a particular agent wants are to visit the agency website, visit Publisher’s Marketplace and search for a specific agent, or hear the agent speak at a conference or other writing event.
I personally am interested in contacting agents whom I’ve heard speak, met in some way, have read their tweets, have read their blogs or have read interviews with them. I like knowing a bit more about an agent, than what is said on the agency website or on Publisher’s Marketplace.
The basic three “how to”s of agency submissions:

  • Via a form on their website
  • Via email, either with attachments, or pasted into the body of the email
  • Via postal mail

What agents want is more complex, but these are common variations:

  • Query only
  • Query with a certain number of pages or chapters for a novel
  • Query with synopsis and a certain number of pages or chapters for a novel
  • Full manuscript for picture book
  • Full manuscript for middle grade or YA novel

Addendum

  • A full manuscript probably needs a cover letter
  • A few agents may want “exclusive submissions,” but most do not

Samples of how and what:
FORM
Currently, EMLA’s (Erin Murphy Literary Agency) website says: “EMLA is closed to unsolicited queries or submissions. We consider queries that come to us by referral from industry professionals we know, and individual agents are open to queries from attendees of conferences where they speak, except that Erin Murphy is entirely closed to queries and submissions in the first half of 2014. If you have met us at a conference or have a referral, please paste your query into the contact form on our contact page. Please note that we are no longer responding to queries or submissions from those who do not have a referral or have met us at a conference. Those sent in hard copy form via post or other means will receive no response, and those sent via email will receive a form rejection.” So, the how is use the form on their website, the what is query and the extra important information is “by referral from industry professionals” and if you heard a specific agent speak at a conference.
Nancy Gallt Literary Agent accepts submissions via a form, in a step-by-step process. Or by postal mail.
EMAIL
The Bent Agency ONLY accepts email queries. If you send your query by postal mail, it will be recycled and not returned to you.”
Some guidelines will tell you what to put in the Subject line of your email.
Email Query Resources
How to Format an Email Query – Nathan Bransford
How to Format an Email Query for Literary Agents – Seven Tips from LiteraryAgents.com
POSTAL MAIL
BookStop Literary accepts via postal mail and has specific instructions by genre. Here’s what they say for the younger readers:

TO SUBMIT A BOARD BOOK, PICTURE BOOK OR EASY READER
Mail submissions: Please send the entire manuscript (but no more than 15 pages), a cover letter and a self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE) to BookStop Literary Agency at the address on the left. In your cover letter, include your phone number, e-mail address, a short paragraph about your background, and a brief synopsis of your manuscript. Please do not submit more than two manuscripts at a time.
Please DO NOT send art, dummies, binders, or mock-ups unless you are a professional illustrator.

They also accept email submissions.
What Agents Are Looking For
What we haven’t covered so far is the interests of the agents. Some agents look at the whole gamut from picture books to new adults. Others are boutique agencies who may focus on a specific audience or age range. Some agents tell you what they specifically want.
Here’s a portion from Bree Ogden’s want list (D4EO Literary):

Seeking:
*NOTE: I am actively seeking children’s/YA nonfiction. NO memoir unless you have a gigantic platform (i.e., The Pregnancy Project). I would love something in the vein of The Letter Q, Dare to Dream!: 25 Extraordinary Lives, The Forbidden Schoolhouse, or a Starvation Heights type historical fiction.
~Highly artistic picture books (high brow art, think Varmints)
~Middle grade (generally horror)
~Young Adult
~New Adult (no erotica, please)
~Adult (very specific genres, see below)
~Graphic Novels (preferably artist/illustrator OGNs)
~Nonfiction (no heavy academic, rather pop culture and journalism or essays, think Kelley Williams Brown, David Sedaris, Chuck Klosterman. MUST have platform, no memoirs)
~Humor
~Pop Culture
~Art books
~Unapologetically bizarre books
~Macabre literature for children

Response Times
How long an agent takes to get back to you varies by agency and by agent. I remember one writer friend getting a response from an agent the same day. Other writers told me one agent takes 8-9 months to respond. You may be able to learn this information on the agency website or perhaps on Publisher’s Marketplace.
Example:
The Bent Agency: “It is our goal to respond to every query. If you don’t receive a response within a month, please resend your query and indicate that you’re sending it again.”
More and more agents are not responding unless they are interested in your submission.
Example:
Wernick and Pratt Agency: “We receive hundreds of submissions each month, and while we would like to respond to every submission received, we unfortunately cannot reply to each one. Submissions will only be responded to if we are interested in them. If you do not hear from us within six (6) weeks of your submission, it should be considered declined. If you would like to request confirmation of receipt, please use the request-receipt function when e-mailing your initial submission to receive an automatically generated response confirming receipt. We will not confirm receipt of submissions unless we have requested additional material.”
Can I Submit to More Than One Agent at an Agency?
Most agencies consider a submission to one agent at the agency as the only submission allowed. In other words, you can not submit to another agent at the same agency. This information will probably be in their submission guidelines. It never hurts to ask at a conference what the agency’s policy is on this.