2009 Kidlitosphere Conference

If you’re reading this, then odds are you’re part of the kidlitosphere. If so, you owe it to yourself to consider attending the2009 Kidlitosphere Conference.

What is the Kidlitosphere Conference? It’s just what it sounds like — an opportunity for bloggers and authors and others to get together and discuss how the online world intersects with kidlit publishing and vice-versa…and what the two can do for each other.

The Kidlitosphere Conference was started a couple of years back by my friend Robin Brande. I went to that inaugural conference in Chicago and had an absolute blast. It’s a great, informal gathering for authors and bloggers to get to know one another and — best of all — learn how to help each other.

This year, Pam Coughlan (you may know her by her online handle, “MotherReader”) is running the event, which will take place in October in the Washington DC area. It’s a great opportunity to meet and chat with some terrific people in and about a field we all love. Plus, DC is beautiful in the fall, so you can go to the conference and then spend the rest of the weekend enjoying the sights.

Unfortunately, I won’t be able to attend this year, as prior commitments will keep me away. But if you’re interested at all in kidlit and the kidlitosphere, consider attending. You can find more details on the Kidlitosphere site.

And if you’re too lazy to click that link, here are some basics about this year’s event:

For authors, illustrators, editors, and publishers in the area of children’s and Young Adult literature, the October 17th Kidlitosphere Conference in Arlington, VA offers an incredible opportunity to learn more about online reviewers, blog book tours, blog writing, and social media. Participants will also talk to forty book reviewing bloggers one-on-one about their books in a Meet the Author session. The dinner gives everyone has a chance to socialize, talk, network, and collaborate. And all for a low $100 registration fee, which includes breakfast and dinner.

Featured sessions include:

* It’s Not All About Your Book: Writing Ideas for Author Blogs
* Social Networking for Fun (and Profit?).
* Building a Better Blog: Best Practices, Ideas, and Tips

And several more sessions in the 8:00-5:00 p.m day. Attending authors will have the opportunity to set up a table and show their books to bloggers. This is a great opportunity to connect with the blogging community and promote fall titles.

For more information and to register visithttp://kidlitosphere.org/KidLitosphere_Central/KidLitosphere_Conference/KidLitosphere_Conference.html or e-mail: MotherReader@gmail.com.

Writing Advice #19: The Path to Publication (Part 1)

Well, this is what you’ve all been waiting for, right?

Believe it or not, the Path to Publication is not nearly as complicated as you may think. I think that people who want to be published make it complicated for themselves. I know that I did.

Why do we do this to ourselves? Well, I think there are a number of reasons. Most critically, though, there’s rejection. Right? It’s just a part of life if you’re a writer. (Yes, even a published writer.) We don’t like to think that we could be rejected for a simple reason (such as “This piece just isn’t right for the market to which I submitted it” or, more likely, “This sucks”). We prefer to think that there must be a vast, complicated explanation. And if there’s a vast, complicated reason for our rejections, well, then there must be a vast, complicated machinery behind it, right? And if we can just figure out that vast, complicated machinery, why, then, we’re in the land of milk and honey!

That’s sort of a comforting thought. It turns publication into a puzzle. We figure where the pieces go, assemble them in the right order, and we’re good to go.

Well, look. I hate to break it to you, but this puzzle only has two pieces.

Two.

That’s right. At the end of the day, there are only two things that will dictate whether or not you get published. It’s not complicated calculus or trigonometry. It’s simple arithmetic. 1 + 1 = 2. That’s it.

Now, you’d think that if it’s just two things that it wouldn’t take all that long to explain. But there’s lots of caveats and while those two things are the alpha and omega of getting published, the fact of the matter is that there are things you can do that will help those two things along.

Fair warning: I’m going to talk a little bit about how I got published. For God’s sake, though, don’t think you have to do everything I did! Publishing is made up of human beings. And everyone has their own likes and dislikes, issues and delights, prejudices and biases. What worked for me may not work for you. So don’t look at my experience as a checklist. Look at it as an example. The end result is what you care about. In this instance, the old saying, “It’s the journey, not the destination” couldn’t be less true. You don’t care about the particulars of the journey — you want to be published.

OK.

So.

Those two things?

Here they are:

1) A damn good piece of writing
2) Luck

(I was tempted to end this entry right there and then listen carefully for the sounds of y’all screaming in rage, but I thought better of that.)

Look, #1 is pretty damn obvious, right?

You’d think. But it’s not. I can’t tell you how many times people approach agents and editors with work that they know isn’t perfect. And believe me, when you’re starting out, your work had better be goddamn perfect. Editors and agents already have to deal with pains in the ass like me. You think they want another pain in the ass? Hell, no. They want to look at a manuscript and go, “Wow. This is awesome! I love this! I must have it!” They don’t want to look at your manuscript and think, “Wow. This has lots of potential. If I spend a week on it and don’t see my kids or my husband this weekend, I can probably edit it into shape and hopefully the author will actually be able to effect the fixes I suggest.”

Point number one has been the whole point of this blog series up until now. You must polish and revise and rewrite and do whatever it takes to make that piece as close to perfect as humanly possible.

And, yes, I know — you think it’s there already.

You’re wrong.

Sit on it for six months. Come back to it. Then you’ll know.

You’ll know when you get that little tickle in your gut when you hit a line of clunky dialogue. You’ll know.

Let me tell you a story.

When I wrote The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl there were little bits here and there that I wasn’t sure about. Just a phrase here, maybe a complete sentence over there. Not a lot of ’em — three, maybe. Three places in the whole book where my brain balked upon re-reading.

And I thought to myself, “Well, I’m just too close to the book. I’m overreacting to every little thing.”

When my editor gave the book back to me with her suggestions, guess what she flagged?

That’s right: Each and every damn one of those three instances.

That’s not a coincidence, people! I knew the book was broken in those three places. I talked myself out of fixing them. But my editor saw the same problems I did, and she called me on them all.

So.

If you read your book and you think, “Hmm, this part doesn’t work” and then your next thought is, “But no one will notice” or “But I’ve worked so hard and so long — it must be perfect by now!” or anything like that, know this — you will get busted.

If you haven’t written your million bad words, then you still suck, right? We talked about that waaaaay back. There’s no prize for finishing first and sending off a piece of work early.

TAKE YOUR TIME.

GET IT RIGHT.

Look up above again. Two things determine whether or not you will be published. Two. And you completely control only one of them.

YOU CONTROL THE QUALITY OF YOUR WORK! NO ONE ELSE DOES!

I can’t emphasize this enough. So many writers look to external factors for their success. They want to know the best way to address a letter to an agent, or the best way to approach an editor at a conference, or the right weight of paper to use. But look, I’m telling you: You are totally in control of one of the two factors that get you published!

Writers sometimes see “writing” and “getting published” as two separate things. They are not! The quality of your writing directly impacts your chances of publication.

This may seem obvious. But we live in a world in which there are books, web sites, seminars, and more, all devoted to “How to Get Published.” And here’s the thing: Damn few of these ever begin with “Write a good story.”

Maybe that’s supposed to be assumed. But I’ve met and heard too many newbie writers who are obsessed with learning everything they can about “the business,” tracking down every name, ferreting out every clue…and they’ve written pure shit.

I met a woman at a writer’s conference a couple of years ago. I was giving a class for beginning writers. She approached me between sessions to ask some very detailed questions about agents and editors.

Partway through our conversation, I thought to ask her, “What is your book about?”

She waved me off. “Oh, I haven’t written it yet. But I have a lot of ideas.”

EXCUSE ME?

If you haven’t written the goddamn book yet, what the hell are you doing asking about cover letters and how to talk to an agent and what to look for in a publishing contract? I mean, really! It’s just insane. But you’ve got these people out there who are so obsessed with “Getting Published” that they forget that the story is what matters.

Don’t be like that woman. Or like the many, many other writers like her I’ve met over the years.

Maybe I’ve talked too much about this. Maybe you’re thinking, “We get it, Barry! We get the point. We need to be good writers. That’s what you’ve spent the last nineteen weeks telling us!”

Yeah. I have. And now you know why. Because this is the most important thing you can do and you have complete control over it.

Many writers feel overwhelmed and helpless when they plunge into publishing. They feel like their destinies are out of their hands. God knows I did. I felt like I bled on the page and then sent it out there into the ether and crossed my fingers, and no matter what I did or said or thought, I was at the mercy of the Fates.

But here’s the thing: Writing well is half the battle. YOU HAVE COMPLETE CONTROL OVER HALF THE PROCESS!

Isn’t that liberating?

Isn’t that EMPOWERING?

HALF!

Not an editor.

Not an agent.

Not a marketing guy. Or a sales guy. Or the guy who sorts mail at Random House.

YOU. YOU CONTROL HALF OF THE PROCESS!

The other half? The luck half?

Well, you can’t control it, obviously. By its very nature, luck can’t be controlled.

But luck can be anticipated.

Luck can be CAPITALIZED ON.

We’re going to talk about luck a lot next week. Until then, though, I want you to think of yourself as a surfer. Your board? That’s knowledge. And that big wave off on the horizon…?

That’s LUCK, my friends.

More next time.

(And hey — feel free to ask questions below. I’m sure you’ll have ’em. I can anticipate a bunch of them and you’ll see answers to them soon, but you might hit something I wasn’t planning on talking about. So don’t be shy.)

Goth Girl Minimate Pix!

Here are some more pictures of the Goth Girl minimate! If you want one, be sure to click here!

Click on each image for a larger picture!

First up, Kyra ready for a fight:

    

Ouch! Kicking Fanboy in the nads:

What are YOU looking at?
Oops… Dizzy!
Uh-oh! Slasher movie victim!

 

 

  Minimates logo   DST logo

Goth Girl Rising Trailer Contest Winner!

Here we go! The Goth Girl Rising Trailer contest is over and a winner has been chosen!

This was not easy, folks! There were some really fun trailers, and in the end, the three judges had a tough time. But here we go…

There were a total of 22 entries, most of which focused on The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy & Goth Girl.Remember: Every single entry wins a Goth Girl Minimate!

Of those 22 entries, the judges narrowed it down to eight semi-finalists, then three finalists, then the winner.

SEMI-FINALISTS — These folks will receive the Minimate and a special prize from my publisher, Houghton Mifflin:

FINALISTS — These folks will receive the Minimate, the prize from Houghton Mifflin, and a signed hardcover edition of Boy Toy:

 

THE WINNER receives all of the above prizes plus a signed ARC (advanced reader copy) of Goth Girl Rising!

Fanboy & Goth Girl Trailer #6

Watch the winning entry:

Writing Advice #18: Cinematic Prose

OK, here’s where a bunch of stuff comes together. Not a lot of words this week, but this is sort of the bow that wraps up a lot of the discussions of the past few months.

Cinematic prose. You’ve seen me refer to it in previous blogs. But what is it? And why don’t I like it?

Quite simply, when issues of POV“telling, not showing,”  overwriting, and blocking conflate, a tendency develops that I call “cinematic prose.” I am guilty of it as well. Many modern writers are, and it’s something to struggle with.

Cinematic prose is when you find yourself using words to emulate a movie.

It’s a natural thing to do because most of us have seen enough movies that we’ve internalized their vocabulary, pacing, framing, and style. We have been affected at a visceral level by movie images and we attempt to translate that to the page.

Here’s the problem: It doesn’t work.

You might think it’s a good idea. You might think that using words to evoke movies makes your audience more likely to keep reading. Or, better yet, makes it more likely that Hollywood will come calling and hand you the big bucks to make a movie out of your book.

No, no, and no.

Look, when people say, “Wow, that book was just like a movie!” they aren’t saying that it was written to evoke a movie. What they’re saying is that the language was so rich, so detailed, and so immaculate that they could “see” the story with their mind’s eye. That’s not cinematic prose. That’s just good writing.

But you’ve seen examples of cinematic prose over the previous weeks as I’ve discussed other issues. It’s when you try todescribe the action in such a way as to mimic a movie on the page…and in the process, more often than not, end up bleeding the scene of emotion and boring the living hell out of your reader.

Take a moment and think about this: In a movie, a director can communicate something with the slightest bit of motion. Clint Eastwood stares into the camera. Then, almost imperceptibly, his eyes narrow. We all get chills down our spines. We know what this means. We feel it and we think, “Wow! What economy! What tension!” And then we go to our keyboards and we think of a scene in our books that is similar and we type, “Bill stared at her. He narrowed his eyes.” And we think it works.

It doesn’t. For all the reasons discussed in the sections on POV, dialogue, and overwriting, cinematic prose just doesn’t work. And for a whole slew of new reasons, too! Movies… Movies are wonderful, but they have a whole range of possibilities and tools that we just don’t have in prose writing…or that we have, but don’t work properly, like driving a nail with your screwdriver. You can do it, but it’s a pain in the ass, it takes longer, you’ll probably hurt yourself, and you’ll most likely break the damn screwdriver.

Think about the tools movies bring to the table, the aspects that your book cannot, does not, and will not have: Sound. Motion. The almost magical connection between the actor and the viewer on a nearly subconscious level.

There will be no background music and sound effects in your book when Bill narrows his eyes, unlike the subtle piano tinkle backdropping Clint that helps clue in the viewer as to what he or she sees. More than that — YOU DON’T HAVE CLINT EASTWOOD! Clint is unique. (Every actor is unique, in a way, because no two people are identical, but you get my point.) He was cast to play that role up on the screen because of who he is, how he looks, and what he communicates with his camera presence.

Guess what? Your character looks like NOTHING. Your character is a vague notion in the reader’s head, a mish-mash of whatever details you’ve decided to toss the reader’s way and whatever imaginative predisposition your reader brings to the table.

No sound track. No selection of film stocks. No background noises. No familiar (or unfamiliar) faces. No special effects. No concrete image.

You have black text on white paper, man. And that’s IT.

Trying to write “cinematically,” in this scenario, is a losing proposition.

Again, it’s a natural tendency for modern writers, but it doesn’t make for good storytelling. In a way, it’s tough to identify cinematic prose because it seems counter-intuitive; it seems like we’re reverting to telling, not showing. After all, it seems logical that if you say “Bill gritted his teeth. He stared at Lisa.” that this is showing, while saying “Bill was mad.” is telling. But reread the previous blogs. You’ll see that it’s possible to show without showing everything. Details matter, but not everydetail matters. You will need to learn to cut little details and bits of business. Often, you will be cutting material that was fine from a technical standpoint, except for the fact that it was cinematic — watching it on a movie screen would be fine, but in text it just slowed everything down.

Movies and writing have this in common — they are both about telling stories, about communicating narrative. But one’s a hammer and one’s a screwdriver. Try to pound in a screw with a hammer, and you’re in for a lot of disappointment. Use the appropriate tool for the job at hand. Yes, they both fit in your palm just fine, but only one will do the job right.