Monday, October 26, 2009

Writer Connections

There are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are. -W. Somerset Maugham

Writing is a lonely pursuit and you can spend years, staring at your computer, creating imaginary worlds in your mind, translating them onto paper. When you’re brave enough, you venture out and meet other writers, the only other souls who understand what it is exactly that you do (and why you aren’t on the NYT best seller list YET) One of the best organizations for connecting and networking with writers is the SCBWI -- the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Our local chapter is headed by the amazing duo of Margaret Speaker Yuan and Colette Weil. I met them at a writer’s retreat they put together four years ago and their support and advice over the years has been incalculable.

This past Saturday a group of 100 plus authors came together at the SCBWI Fall Conference hosted at Mills College in Oakland. The keynote speaker, Stephen Mooser, is President and co-founder of SCBWI. His talk, Getting Young Readers to Laugh, was a practical approach to writing for young readers and he outlined ways to inject humor into your work – which has helped him get the attention of boy readers and kept them reading.
Kelly Sonnack, a literary agent from Andrea Brown Literary Agency, spoke about Capturing a Child’s Voice. She brought great samples of how to get into a child’s head and write from their perspective – voice is one of the toughest things to nail down – it’s like riding a bike, difficult to figure it out, but once you do, it’s like you always knew how. Voice is what gives your writing it authentic fingerprint; it animates your characters with a unique personality that is an extension of your point of view. It grabs the reader’s attention hooks them into your story.
Sarah Shumway, Senior Editor at Harper Collins highlighted the importance of First Pages: Tips and Techniques. She discounted common convention that your book needs to jump right into action, or meat of the story; slower starts are okay as long as they hook the reader in and keep them reading. She read and critiqued a group of pages turned in by conference attendees. Grammatical mistakes are a sure fire way to get Sarah to stop reading – if you can’t use spell check she’s not going to waste time on your manuscript.
Luan Stauss, owner of Laurel Bookstore, provided awesome insight on how to work with local booksellers to promote your books. As writers, our job is to write great books, and in turn a booksellers job is to sell your books, which benefits both. According to Luan, Indies can support authors through hosting author events and handselling your book. Book an appointment with your local bookstore so that they know about you, their local author – it’s a win-win situation!
Barbara Fisch and Sarah Shealy have twenty years experience in the publishing industry and launched Blue Slip Media in March 2009. They gave great tips through their talks -- Niche Publicity and Marketing — How to Tap Unusual Markets and What to expect when you’re expecting . . . a Book: How to Partner with Your Publisher in Marketing Your "Baby". At a time when publishers are stretched thin and have limited resources to spend on marketing campaigns, it falls on authors to get creative – They spoke about effective press releases, targeted mailing lists, niche and local market outreach, and event planning. They stressed the importance of pursuing online media (Facebook, blogs, twitter, etc.) and tapping into personal networks. One of the best pieces of advice they gave was to act professional and Be Nice – it’s easier to catch flies with honey rather than vinegar!
So if you’re a writer, lurking at the back at your local cafĂ©, isolated, alone, I urge you to join a writers group, such as the your local chapter of SCBWI. You’ll meet great people and have the opportunity to attend interesting, informative events.