Advice for Writers from an Agent

In May, I attended the SCBWI Western PA Agent Workshop. I learned a lot and got some excellent advice for writers on pitches, storytelling, and revision and I wanted to share it with you!

Pitching Advice for Writers

While they need to be short, they still need to include the main character, the obstacle and some sense of resolution.

This was my pitch and it was well-received.

Short and sweet!

Short and sweet!

Storytelling Advice for Writers

  • Mirror, Mirror. Please don’t use the tired device of describing your character’s physical appearance by having your your character look into a mirror.
  • Too Much Telling takes away from action.
  • Why Should I Care? This is the feeling that readers get when they confront too much backstory. Weave it in, don’t dump it.
  • Bubble Boy or Girl. Or Alien. Make sure your characters don’t exist in a bubble. Describe the setting and use all five senses!

Revision Advice for Writers

More advice for writers covered how to revise your manuscript. Envision your manuscript as a road that your readers will travel on a wondrous journey. The first draft is like that rocky, dirty, bumpy path carved out by construction equipment. Each stage of renovation makes it smoother, easier, more pleasant to travel.

As you read your manuscript, look for places where you’ve left out setting details, where you’ve used passive voice and -ly words, and if your main character is changing. If not, go back and call in that construction crew.

Advice for Writers of Picture Books

Did you know 60% of the story should be told through illustration? That means for non-illustrating writers like myself, I should only write 40% of the tale in the text. This is an interesting way for me to examine my texts, even though I never considered myself particularly mathematical. I like the idea of making sure the larger part of the tale comes through in the art, even if that does make writing harder.

SCBWI Western PA Fall Conference

SCBWI Promising Writers!

SCBWI Promising Writers!

In November 2015 I attended my third fall conference hosted by SCBWI Western PA. I felt very excited for this conference, mostly because I felt very prepared. It’s nice to be past the novice stage and to be heading to an event with clear goals and specific things I wanted to learn. For instance, Valentine’s Day and Halloween are big book selling times.

(If children’s writing isn’t your thing, here’s some advice about going to a science writer’s conference from my friend Beth Skwarecki. )

As always the conference organizers did an amazing job. We were at the Hyatt Airport and there was an intensive the night before the main day of sessions on Saturday. I decided to stay the night on Friday so I could skip any traffic snarls and get to my volunteer station early. The rooms at the hotel are expensive, and I had missed the discount rate period, but luckily I had enough points (thanks to stays at the Hyatt in NYC for the SCBWI Winter conference!!) and got the room for free.

I helped at registration and greeted many of my writing friends. My favorite presentation was by Ariel Richardson from Chronicle Books. She covered novelty picture books and wow was my imagination sparked. I also particularly enjoyed the presentation by Susan Hawk who went into great detail on the agent/client relationship. She answered some tough questions about what happens once an agent likes your work.

The food at the conference was excellent and the rooms were fine, but I wasn’t thrilled that we didn’t have wireless internet access. I feel like conference attendees should get the code.

SCBWI Promising Writer

One special moment at the conference was when Ariel told me she had selected my story, Mission Compostable!, as her favorite. This meant I was honored with eight other writers as a Promising Writer. We received a coupon for a discount off a future WPA SCBWI event. In addition to her kind words, Ariel also offered some very generous advice and guidance on revising and submitting my manuscript.

It was really thrilling to be chosen as a Promising Writer. As we stood in front of the conference attendees, I looked at the people to my left and right and realized I was in a very special group of talented people! I promised myself again to keep working on my craft.

The networking and education that I get at these conferences is really so valuable, but like many conferences there never seems to be enough time for critique or discussion. And there is always so much to learn!

This year, I’m hoping to get to an SCBWI Conference in Cleveland in late summer and possibly the LA SCBWI Conference in August. Stay tuned!

What conferences do you attend? What is some good advice you’ve gotten at a conference?

New Food at Pittsburgh’s Farm to Table

Open wide! New food

Open wide!

It’s almost time for the ninth annual Farm to Table Conference here in Pittsburgh! This is one of my favorite events in the city because I get to meet new people and try new food! I’m really thrilled to participate this year for several reasons. As usual, I’ll be hosting a table and selling copies of My Food Notebook, but I’m also going to unveil a new game for kids called “TASTE or TEST.” When kids visit my table they can choose to TASTE a Mystery Food or take a TEST and answer a really tough (wink, wink) question about Pennsylvania farms and agriculture. If kids are really brave, they can tackle both challenges! When a child does a TASTE or TEST, they will earn an entry into a raffle drawing for a basket of fun, healthy prizes.

I’m also going to bring this fun TASTE or TEST game into the first grades at my local elementary schools to coincide with the Farm to Table unit in the curriculum. As I work on different projects and books for children, I find that taking a look at the standards really helps. I use the PA Standards Aligned System site to see what teachers need to cover in the classroom. Then I try to make sure that the information in my games, activities and books matches the needs of the teacher.

Just because information is required doesn’t mean it can’t be fun! I know kids love learning about healthy foods because I worked with the folks from Farm to Table to create the Super Fun! Local Food Challenge assembly and have performed it in front of screaming crowds of school agers.

I think the TASTE or TEST game is going to be a hit for parents and kids, because trying a new food is a tough challenge for many people.

Trying New Foods

When’s the last time you ate a new food? And I don’t mean trying a new flavor of Triskets. I mean a new fruit or vegetable, maybe a new kind of cheese, or even a new kind of grain.

We get into habits (or ruts) where we eat the same things every day. I know personally it’s easier for me to cook familiar foods. I know how to cook them and (usually) don’t ruin or burn them. But it’s important for parents to model trying a new food if they want their kids to try a new food.

Here’s a challenge. Try to eat one new food every day. Could you do that two days in a row? Could you do it for a week? I’m thinking the next time I go to the grocery store, I could grab five new kinds of fruits and vegetables and give them a try once a day. Sounds intimidating but also a little exciting!

Parents want their kids to try new foods. I asked friends on Facebook what new foods they wished their kids would try and got a great variety of responses. Here are some of the foods:

  • Kiwi
  • Spinach
  • Peppers (red, yellow, orange, green)
  • Tomatoes (twice)
  • Rambutan (I don’t even know what this is!)
  • Mushrooms (twice)
  • Eggplants (twice)
  • Mangoes (I’m allergic)
  • Lima beans
  • Roasted brussel sprouts
  • Oranges
  • Bananas
  • Grapes

That’s a pretty good list of new foods to try! Some of those are delicious. But what the heck is a rambutan? Sounds like a new food I need to try.

Be honest now: Which of those foods have you eaten yourself? Which have your kids eaten? If you’re going to tackle this list of new foods with your family, let me know which ones they taste!

Do you think the TASTE or TEST game would be a hit at your child’s school?

 

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Tasty Buckets for Writers

My friend and fellow writer Beth Skwarecki attended the 2014 National Association of Science Writers Conference and returned with these notes as a souvenir. I’m sharing them unedited for your investigative pleasure.

TASTY BUCKETS
Define your “tasty buckets.” Not every project has to fill all the buckets, but on balance they should all get filled.
MONEY is one tasty bucket, but there can be many more.
We stopped to write down some tasty buckets. Some people shared theirs and they included:
working with people I like
learning/investigating new ideas
writing for big name publications
feeling appreciated, getting feedback
What about yucky buckets, for things like PITA factor? Turn those into a positive – “easy to work with,” “pays on time,” etc.

Simple 3-bucket approach: Money, Satisfaction, Career advancement. Any assignment has to fill at least 2 out of 3 (or if it’s enough money, that counts for all 3)

GOALS
“Goal-free careers plateau more often.”
“What will success look like for me?”
Good goals are Specific, Attainable, have a Timeframe, and are Measurable.
Decide on goals that fill your tasty buckets. Create a timeline for each goal, with action points or milestones to break it into smaller pieces with near-term deadlines and tasks.
Small pieces need to be very small and specific.
Example: I want to get better at writing narratives -> I should take a workshop -> I will spend 30 mins on Tuesday at 11am reading about available workshops