Writer of YA fiction and screenplays. Devout swimmer, lover of books. In 2006, I placed as a quarterfinalist in the prestigious Nicholl Fellowship with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Let the conversation begin!
What advice would you give young writers?
Easy. Know your craft. If you’re writing YA, read YA. And I mean a lot of YA. You should be going through tons of YA every year, chalking up points on your Borders reward card or using your library card so often that the plastic is bending on the edges. And not only should you be reading your genre but broadening your horizons and delving into anything that interests you. I love reading YA Fantasy, will I ever in a zillion years write a YA Fantasy? Never, but that doesn’t stop me from reading dozens of YA Fantasy a year.
Also, I hear a bit too much the line, ‘I don’t have time to read’ or the ever popular, ‘It interferes with my writing’. If this is the case, you need to do some serious reevaluating of your time management. For a writer, reading as well as writing is crucial. Along the writing vein, going to workshops, classes, and/or having people who are familiar with your genre reading and giving helpful insights is also crucial. It might sting a bit, hearing some criticism, it might even hurt. But to quote the wonderful Ellen Hopkins, “If two or three people are saying the exact same thing about your book, listen carefully to what is being said.”
That doesn’t mean go home and delete your manuscript and fill in an online application to work at Target, but at least hit the pause button long enough to process it all before taking the next step. During this time of deep contemplation you might want to take a long walk, swim numerous laps, or roam the moors. Whatever works for you, do it before going back to your masterpiece with the needed newfound energy and determination to yield the best book you can possibly write. All I can say is, make a plan for success, follow through and you will succeed…
What is the most valuable advice that you received?
1. Please, at all times, conduct yourself in a professional manner. I realize this can mean a slew of things, but really it means just one thing, behave yourself. First of all the Children’s writing community is a small one. That means that basically everyone knows everyone. Your agent knows most editors and visa versa which means your behavior, the things you say, the things you do, most people can easily find out about. Case in point, at last summer’s SCBWI LA conference, a female writer, who had had one too many drinks, came up with the brilliant idea to accost a well-known and highly regarded editor in the ladies’ bathroom. I cannot begin to tell you what a horrible idea this is and a sure way never to get published in the world of children’s literature.
Luckily, I was at hand and swiftly interceded on behalf of the editor and redirected the poor inebriated woman to stop slurring and drooling out her incoherent pitch. Sadly, this is not the only case of inappropriate behavior I have been privy to. Another, one that would seem plainly obvious is be happy (to the point of forcing yourself) for your fellow critique and writing partners when they receive some success. There is absolutely nothing worse than a case of ‘sour grapes’ and seriously no one wants to hear ‘why did it happen for her? She’s only been writing for six months whereas I’ve been writing for four years.’ or going to everyone that you know infuriated since her agent won’t take you on as a client. It’s a turnoff to be miserable for someone’s happiness and once again, word travels fast in this community. One last thought along the same lines of being professional is: Do not lie, exaggerate, or embellish the truth to suit your own needs. This can be anything from saying you’re published when in fact you’re not (seriously, anyone with an iPhone can find out if you’re indeed published) and implying on query letters to agents or editors that so and so personally recommended you to them when in fact they didn’t. Once again, remember the phrase ‘small community’ and put it to memory. Trust me when I say that you don’t have to stoop to fabricating or coercing your way into children’s writing.
2. Join SCBWI.
The delightful Laurie Halse Anderson personally told me this during her book signing for Wintergirls. I had just started writing my very first YA novel and seriously didn’t have a clue what to do next. I just thought I would write this one book and that would be that, but Laurie had a different take on it. She signed my copy of Prom with the words: To Clare—Who has her own stories to tell!! Stories. In the plural. Not one book, but many books. A career. Obviously, I took her words to heart and went to my very first SCBWI summer conference in 2009 as a brand new, wet behind the ears, member ready to take on the challenge.
Joining SCBWI opened me to a whole world of endless possibilities. I got the information I needed to make the right choices. My iPhone had everything on it from QueryTracker to AgentObvious. I did my research. I followed numerous agents, writers, and editors on Twitter getting a feel for who they were and what type of material they specialized in. I got a Facebook account and started making friends from fellow writers and presenters I had met at conferences and workshops. I even took the time to scan through Predators & Editors in line at the grocery store to know who to avoid and who to possibly query. Before signing with an agent, I researched the agents interested in representing me, reading their books, blogs, websites, as well as looking them up on Publishers Weekly and even politely asking some of their clients on my Facebook account for their thoughts.
I hope that everyone reading this will benefit from my insights as they strive for excellence. Be patient and conduct yourselves with impeccable dignity. Success is literally around the corner.