Monthly Archives: July 2016

Recommended Reads from MWW16

I spent last Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at the Midwest Writers Workshop, where I had a wonderful time networking with authors and industry professionals, catching up with writer friends, and connecting with writers who were new to MWW. It was an amazing weekend, which left me both excited to work on my next project and exhausted from all the activity. Introvert + 3 days of workshops, pitches, networking, and hanging out with friends I rarely see until after midnight = massive conference hangover.

So while I recover, I’m sharing my updated post-conference to-read list. Some of these are books by MWW faculty members, and others are books the faculty recommended.

Beware the Wild.Beware the Wild and Behold the Bones by Natalie C. Parker

Wow, the voice in the opening lines of Beware the Wild is incredible! We read the first two paragraphs in a workshop on voice and dialog in YA, and they were so good part of me wanted to grab the book and read the rest of it right there. I can’t wait to dive into these books. Also, shout-out to the other author who led the workshop, Julie Murphy. If you haven’t read her book Dumplin’ yet, you should.

The Black Hour by Lori Rader-Day

Lori had some interesting marketing techniques, including having a graphic designer friend make T-shirts with a fake crest for the college where this book takes place. She said the setting is based on Northwestern University, and since I’m an NU alum, I love books that take place in the Evanston area. I’ll be looking for those NU landmarks as  read!

Luck, Love & Lemon Pie.Luck, Love & Lemon Pie by Amy E. Reichert

Okay, I may be biased because I’m friends with Amy. But I’m not the only one excited about her books. People magazine reviewed it, and it’s gotten a lot of good buzz in romance/women’s fiction circles. If you haven’t read Amy’s first book, The Coincidence of Coconut Cake, yet, you may want to start there.

The Blood Keeper by Tessa Gratton and The Space Between by Brenna Yovanoff

These were both used as examples in a workshop on first lines, and their openings hooked me. Shout-out again to Natalie C. Parker and Julie Murphy, who are awesome authors and instructors!

I hope there’s something on this list that piques your interest. If you have read-alikes you’d recommend, please share in the comments!

Tips for talking with agents in the wild

Chipmunk coming out of a hole.

Photo by Flickr user Tamia rayé

Since I’m headed to Midwest Writers Workshop in a couple days, I thought I’d dedicate this week’s post to conference etiquette. I’ve written about the value of conferences in the past (I met nearly all of my critique partners either at MWW or through people I met at MWW), but today I’m going to focus on interacting with agents and editors in the wild.

For some of us, agents can feel like the celebrities of the literary world. If you want to publish traditionally, these are the people you need to champion your book. You’ve done all your homework: you’ve written and polished an awesome book, written and polished a perfect pitch, researched the agents attending the conference so you know whom to pitch. You’ve practiced that pitch in front of mirrors and friends and your cat/dog/ferret until Sparky could recite it back to you. You’ve got sample pages and a query and synopsis ready for anyone — fellow writers, agents, editors, your waiter at dinner — who asks. You are Ready.

Being Ready is good. Being Ready shows you’re a professional. But sometimes Ready can cross over into pushy or overbearing. When interacting with agents and editors I like to keep the following in mind.

1. If an agent or editor asks what your book is about, feel free to tell them. But don’t make every conversation about yourself or your book. Agents are working during the conference, and some of them may see the downtime of meals or breaks between sessions as just that — breaks. If you’re forcing them to listen to a pitch, you’re making them work during their break. And please, please, please, don’t try to pitch to someone in the bathroom, or slide a manuscript under their hotel door. (Yes, I’ve seen this happen. No, the agent was not impressed.)

2. Agents love books as much as writers do. If you find yourself in a mingling situation with no idea what to say (as I often do), ask them what they’re reading. What are their favorite books they’ve read this year? You may find yourself in a heated Ravenclaw vs. Slytherin debate with a new friend. Conversations like these will also give you an idea of what the agent’s tastes are, should you decide to query them after the conference.

3. If you’re getting your work critiqued, come ready to listen. Critiques sting, and I know it can be tempting to defend your work when an element of it doesn’t resonate with a reader. Resist the urge. Listen, and take notes. When the critique is over, thank the agent/editor/other writers for their feedback. You don’t have to agree with all — or even any — of their comments. (Though if you hear the same thing from several people, you should probably re-examine that part of the piece.) You also don’t have to go home and edit right away. Take the time you need to absorb, decompose, and detach. Remember, a critique of your work is not a critique of you as a person or your skill as a writer. It’s a critique of this piece, and only this piece.

4. If an agent listens to your pitch and says your book isn’t for them, ask them if they would mind giving you feedback on your pitch/query. (If there’s time. Depending on the conference, you may or may not have time for some feedback or conversation built into your pitch session.) Again, resist the urge to defend your work during the critique. Be polite, and thank the agent for their time.

5. Remember, agents are people, too! It may seem scary at first to approach an agent or editor, but that agent or editor may be just as intimidated by all the authors in the room. If anyone — writer, agent, editor, volunteer — looks lost/overwhelmed, introduce yourself and ask how their conference is going. It would be great to meet your agent at a conference, but it’s equally great to meet a new friend at one.

Have I missed anything you’d add to this? Will any of you be at Midwest Writers Workshop? If so, I’ll see you there!

Reflections on a (mostly) unplugged weekend

Plug.Last week was hard. I’m sure you’ve seen the news, and as much as I feel these things need to be talked about, right now I just can’t do it. I am sad, confused, hurt, scared, angry … and going online, reading articles and tweets and Facebook posts about everything that’s happened just makes it worse. By the end of the day Friday, I knew Saturday was going to be a day where I stayed in, read a book I knew would have a happy ending and wouldn’t require any deep thought, and just disengage.

When I finished my book, feeling slightly better, I reached for my phone out of habit. Waiting in my inbox was a newsletter from another author who shared her experience of a month away from social media. While I could never do that — my day job requires me to use the Internet, email, and social media multiple times a day — I was enticed by what the author felt she’d gained from being unplugged. Since I was already overwhelmed, I decided to give going unplugged a try.

I’m not cutting myself off from social media. But I am limiting my screen time, banning it entirely from my writing time. This weekend I designated blocks of writing time and set my phone out of reach, forcing myself not to pick it up until my writing time was up. I write my first drafts longhand, so there was no Internet browser a few clicks away to tempt me. There was just me, my notebook, and my pen. And it was glorious.

I’ve spent the last several weeks struggling with my writing, floundering in two different projects. Going unplugged didn’t magically fix everything. Writing is still hard. But giving myself that extra time and space has really helped. Now, when I get stuck, instead of quickly checking my email, then winding up on Twitter for ten minutes, I wait it out. I think through the scene, searching for the problem. I may get up and pace. I may not come up with the answers, but I give myself time to look for them.

I’m going to try making all my writing time unplugged, at least for the next few weeks, and see how it goes. And for my own well-being, I’m going to spend less time on social media outside of work. My silence and distance don’t mean I don’t care. But there are others saying exactly what I’d want to say far more eloquently than I could. I’d rather go to work and make what difference I can in my community than drown in everything that’s happening online.

Have you ever gone unplugged? What was your experience like?

Rediscovering Middle Grade

I read MG.I often joke that my life is YA lit — I read it, I write it, and I follow what’s happening with it in publishing. I don’t follow MG with the same devotion, but I do keep track of what’s new and popular in that category. I have a mental list of MG books I’d like to read, but sadly, those books often get pushed farther down my TBR list as new YA titles catch my attention.

But now that I’m preparing to do book talks at local middle schools this fall, I’m finally tackling that MG TBR list. And it is So. Much. Fun! Most of the YA I gravitate toward is dark and heavy, and while MG can certainly explore those tough topics, it does so in a way that’s accessible to younger audiences. MG books may have sad or scary moments, but they overwhelmingly end on a happy/hopeful note, a sense that even if everything isn’t perfect for the characters right now, things are going to work out.

And as I grapple with the uncertainties in my own life, that’s exactly the kind of story I need to read.

Recent favorites (which I plan to book talk) include Varian Johnson’s The Great Greene Heist, Dee Romito’s The BFF Bucket List, and Brooks Benjamin’s My Seventh-Grade Life in Tights. I think Holly Goldberg Sloan handles grief deftly in Counting by 7s, and The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley is a great historical MG. Up next on my MG TBR list are The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin, Rules for Stealing Stars by Corey Anne Haydu, and The Night Parade by Katherine Tanquary.

If you read MG, what books would you recommend? Please share your favorites — new titles or older books I may have missed — in the comments!