Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Tips from the Editors

Hey everyone! My role on our super-awesome new blog is to share the tips and information I gather by attending classes given by kidlit industry insiders such as agents and editors. A perk, aside from all the obvious perks, of living a train ride away from NYC – the publishing capital ­­­­– is the availability for live, in-person, writing education.  I hope you find the information useful!

Most people who write a manuscript dream of one day seeing it in print, but before that can happen an agent or editor needs to read it and agree to take the work on. As we all know the competition is fierce and the slush pile is plentiful. So how can we optimize our chances of getting past the first reader?

 Associate Editor, Katherine Jacobs from Roaring Book Press, and Grace Elizabeth Kendall, Editorial Assistant from Blue Sky Press presented at a local SCBWI class, late last year, and offered their personal editorial insights into what makes a manuscript stand out amongst the rest. (Remember that these are the opinions of these two editors in particular and do not represent editors as a whole).                                

In reference to 1st lines:
·         read first lines from well known books, and see how yours compares
·         is the voice daring, welcoming, etc.?
·         know your character’s voice

In reference to 1st chapter:
·         who are your characters?
·         introduce plot elements
·         everything in book is introduced here
·         what is at stake in the manuscript?

Don’t:
·         begin with dialogue
·         use sensory details like: “the alarm went off…” to begin a manuscript
·         use passive verbs
·         begin with the word “It”
·         overuse body language: “heart raced,” “hard left,” etc.
·         use flashback in first chapter
·         use contrive devices, such as journals, and writing assignments
·         be repetitious with words, emotions, or sentence structures

Do:
·         vary your language (in reference to repetition)
·         hook in first line
·         know your character

When writing a query or cover letter there are things the editors remind us of, as well.  Do your homework. Make sure to include titles that are similar to your manuscript, perhaps even something that the editor you are querying has worked on. Do not include Twilight or Harry Potter as books comparable to your own.

You can research editors using Literary Marketplace. Reading the acknowledgment page at the end of a book can be useful. Find out what the editor loves, thoughtfulness goes a long way.

Once you’ve picked an agent or editor to query be sure to address the letter to them specifically and have the correct spelling. Follow the submission guidelines as instructed on the editor's website.

·         what is your selling line?
·         talk about your manuscript succinctly
·         include target audience (PB, MG, YA, etc.)
·         don’t over-pitch your story

            Also include any relevant information about yourself, in relationship to your story. If you wrote a story about a beauty pageant contestant and you were Miss Teen USA include that, but don’t include it if your manuscript is about an archeology dig in Egypt.

            Did you earn an MFA, attend conferences or workshops? Are you a member of SCBWI? Include it. Do not let your query or cover letter exceed 1 page.
           
We’ve all seen some of these do’s and don’ts appear in some of your favorite (or not so favorite) books. So take what you will from this list and remember that good writing, and a good story trump most rules. (That’s my opinion, not there’s).

Don’t forget about Flash Fiction Friday starting this week. Our 1st topic: In 300 words or less, tell us a story beginning with, "That darn cat..." Post your entry on your blog on Friday, include a link in the comments section and everyone will take a look.

9 comments:

Marquita Hockaday said...

This is some really helpful stuff. I learned the hard way not to start with "contrite" devices. My historical YA started with a letter from the MC's brother...I cut that with the quickness. I like how you broke down what they said about the first lines and first chapters--I'm going to look back at my current WIP and see if they follow those guidelines. Thanks for the tips :D

Holly Dodson said...

Excellent post, Michelle! These are really helpful tips.

blueeyedadri said...

Thank Michelle, a helpful insight. I can't wait for more!

Michael L. Martin Jr. said...

Information like this is always useful for those just starting out, and for those further along in their careers, whom this may serve as a helpful reminder. Thanks for the tips, Michelle.

Nicole Zoltack said...

Great post, thanks for sharing!

Hannah said...

Super helpful post, Michelle!!! :)

Pam Harris said...

Great post! This was VERY helpful--I especially love the section about 1st chapters. I know what to look out for in my revisions now. :)

Alicia Gregoire said...

Great post with lots of advice. Thanks!

Steph said...

This was such a helpful post! Thanks for sharing!