This week in writing: classes and conferences edition

Most writers work to become better. They attend conferences, they take notes, they read, and they try to find usefulness in the criticisms (I say try because even for the best of us, that’s hard). Now, that’s MOST writers. Some have no interest in listening to good advice, they get defensive at critiques, and they are certain they have it all figured out, or they’re angry that no one “gets” them. I have met several of these writers over the years and unfortunately this week I had to deal with two more. Their behavior is baffling. So, this week’s post is for those of us who do want to improve ourselves.

Next week is the New York SCBWI conference. It’s a great conference for kid lit folks. Once again, I’m not going, but Harold Underdown will be there for the first time in years. Harold was very helpful to me on a very early version of my middle grade novel THE JUMBIES (out soon from Algonquin).

Coming soon, Jennifer De Chiara, the head of my agency is offering a 90-minute seminar on picture book writing. Even I want to take this!

In April, School of the Free Mind takes a heart-centered approach to writing children’s books. The 6 week course is offered entirely online.

Later in April, the NJSCBWI is offering a picture book brunch with editor Meredith Mundy. I may go to this as I continue to struggle with a picture book concept.

I will be speaking at the NJSCBWI conference in June. I will do two talks, on Rosen and non-fiction, and best practices in an author/agent relationship with my agent, Marie Lamba. The NJSCBWI site will have for conference info soon.

In July, Emma Dryden of Drydenbks is doing a children’s book writing residency. Those 5 days of workshops sound freaking fantastic. Also, it’s on Martha’s Vineyard! Nice.

Finally, I think I’m going to change the format of my Fairy Godauthor editing service. Between work and my own writing, I have had to turn down working on other people’s manuscripts. I’m not sure what I’ll do yet. Stay tuned.

Now for some free stuff…

This free app highlights your passive sentences, adverbs, and over-complicated vocabulary. Which is not to say you should replace them all. It’s just an app.

If you wonder if you’re holding yourself and your career back, check to see if you do these 10 limiting things.

Hung up over conflict and story problem? You don’t have to be. There is plot without conflict. And it’s pretty amazing, actually.

If you have other helpful things coming up this spring that folks should know about, feel free to add them in the comments below.

Have a great week everyone!

Querying: the two words you need to hear

Remember that book I wrote last weekend that just came to me from a dream? Well I’m sending it out today. I could have sent it out last week, but I was a little shocked that the book came to me so easily and was done in pretty much 48 hours. I was waiting for the catch. For the other shoe to drop. For realization of my own incompetence to hit me like a freight train. So I waited all week, and nothing happened.

So there’s really nothing left to do but send it out. Well, there’s fear. There’s always that to contend with. But what I’ve come to realize about writing and sending out work is this: who cares? If people don’t like it, it doesn’t really matter. It won’t kill me. My life, my marriage, my children, the relationships I have with my friends won’t fall apart because someone says “no.”

Then this morning, as I was looking for a blog topic, I came across the following quote by Fay Weldon.

“Show your work to no one, not to friend, nor spouse, nor anyone. The publisher or producer, eventually, will say yes or no, which are the only words you need to hear.”

And it’s precisely what I need to hear this morning to click “send.”

Stay tuned.


[Also, click over to because this week only, we’re doing FREE manuscript critiques!]


But is it good enough?

There are a lot of people writing out there. A lot. And it’s great. There are so many stories to tell. Now with technology catching up to ideas, there are also lots of ways to get your story into the hands of readers, quickly, and affordably. But there are two things I keep hearing from both sides of the equation: the readers, and the authors.

The readers: I can’t find anything good to read. Or more blatantly: Everything I download is crap.

The authors: You can’t even convince people to buy a book for 99 cents! And: How hard is it to download a free book?

So there are two things going on here. Readers want to find something of value, even at free or 99 cents, because they’re not just paying with their cash, they’re also paying with their time. I’m sure we’ve all spent time on a book that we wish we hadn’t, because it’s time we can’t get back. It’s one of the reasons I won’t do any more reviews for ebooks unless I know the author. I spent a good chunk of last year reading crap. I had cancer. That was bad enough. But bad writing on top of it? No.

The second thing that’s going on, is that the authors are frustrated because they’re doing everything they can to promote their work, and don’t understand how much more these readers need. Blood? Writing is suffering enough! But there is one thing that the authors aren’t taking into consideration. Is it really good enough?

Consider this W. Somerset Maugham quote: “I have never met an author who admitted that people did not buy his book because it was dull.”

It’s a painful concept, that maybe what you wrote just isn’t good enough, but it is a reality, and it’s one that we have to consider as artists. If we’re asking people to read our work, we have to be prepared to find out that what we’ve put out there just doesn’t measure up. Not everything that comes out of our fingertips is going to be best-seller quality. But there are ways to stave off totally bombing when the book hits the shelves.

1) Read everything you can in your genre, and everything you can outside of your genre. I don’t think I need to tell any of you how important it is to read, read, read. It teaches you.

2) Use your beta readers wisely. While not everything they say is going to really work for you, everything they feel is a gold mine waiting to be plumbed.

3) Hire an editor. A good one. For one thing, an editor will save your readers the headache of trying to get through that tangled grammar. But more importantly, a good editor can point out plot holes, places where the pacing sags, inconsistencies in your character, or their speech, and the myriad other little things that slip by you when you’re the writer. I may be an editor, but I don’t edit my own work. I don’t even try.

It’s impossible to know how your work is going to be received. And taste is everything. One person’s crap is another person’s favorite book. Sometimes it’s the luck of the draw who gets their hands on it, and what they think of it, and word of mouth, and the  momentum from that becomes everything. Still, it’s important to stay humble and think hard about your work. Even though it may be painful to admit, sometimes, it’s just not good enough.

2012 bucket list

Since the world is supposed to end an all…

1) Read 50 books

Last year’s goal was to read 100 books. I fell just a little short of that at about 30-something. Oops! Hopefully I’ll get to 50 despite all the running around and screaming about the apocaplypse.

2) Get 50 new clients for my writing and editing business, Fairy Godauthor

Hmm… 50 seems to be a theme this year. But if you need a writer or editor, I’m your woman.

3) Get 2 new book contracts

I don’t actually have much control over this one, but I’m going to try like hell.

4) Make $____ from freelance work

You don’t think I’m going to announce my income, do you? But I do have a very specific financial goal this year. I didn’t last year, and where’d that get me? Um, not to the bank, I can tell you that!

5) Play more

Maybe this seems counter-productive. It isn’t. I’m very hard on myself, and I don’t give myself a chance to just enjoy life. This year, I’m putting it as part of my goals to make sure that I do. And if at the end of the year (assuming those crazy Mayans were only kidding) this is the only goal I’ve accomplished, I’ll consider my year a total success.

What are your goals for 2012?