After graduating from Film School, Clare placed in the prestigious Nicholl Screenwriting Fellowship beating 4600 other writers. This year, Clare won First Place HM with SCBWI’s Sue Alexander Grant for her dynamic altered YA historical, OUTCAST.
Let the conversation begin!
How does it feel winning 1st place HM for the Sue Alexander?
Amazing and very humbling. This was a record breaking year for submissions which the judges managed to narrow down to three winners.
Congratulations! Can you tell us something about your writing background?
I went to Film school with an emphasis in Screenwriting. In 2006 I placed with the Nicholl Fellowship in screenwriting, another huge honor. After the birth of my youngest child, I started reading and eventually writing YA.
What do you attribute to your success?
Reading extensively, writing daily, attending writer’s retreats and most importantly preserving regardless of my comfort level. All these factors go hand-in-hand.
What do you mean?
It seems that there’s this get-to-the-front-of-the-line-fast mentality when it comes to writing. Sometimes writers get this notion that they will attend one writer’s retreat after working on a book for a few weeks and the editor or agent monitoring the group will whip out a contract on the spot after hearing ten pages. I’m here to tell you that doesn’t happen.
What does happen?
After you read, the moderator, an agent or editor will offer feedback. Any problems will be brought to your attention. This is highly subjective, but also based on many years of working in the field of children’s publishing.You, as the writer can choose to heed this advice or ignore it. I advise you to take this seriously. Especially from the professional. You have spent a great deal of money for the opportunity to listen.
How about if the advise isn’t consistent?
This happens all the time, one editor will want you to submit while another agent at a previous retreat will dismiss it completely. Research the types of books the agent reps beforehand. Read a few of the books the editor has worked on to know which material might strike a cord.
What if you get what seems a go ahead to submit but winds up a form rejection?
Here’s a tip. Ask yourself what is it that the agent/editor identified with. Be honest with yourself. Did she really say ‘I love it’ or did she say ‘I like how when the dog dies, the main character’s grief got to me’. Two very different reactions.
How can you tell the difference between the two?
Part of the understanding in attending a retreat or an intensive at a national conference is that you can submit to faculty that might otherwise be closed to unsolicited submissions. Sometimes there is a time limitation, sometimes there isn’t. When you really know they want to pursue your work is when they talk to you privately, hand you their card and ask for yours. Which means follow up! But even this doesn’t mean an automatic sale. I’ve had friends at retreats planning who to dedicate their books solely based on some initial interest. There are many steps that have to take place before the ink is dry on the contract so be patient.
Are even agents closed to unsolicited submissions?
More and more these days agents have become closed due to an overload of submissions. One agent at a panel at this summers LA SCBWI Conference mentioned she received five hundred submissions in one week. So by attending a retreat you’ve already given yourself an upper hand in getting you material read.
What happens when you know what you wrote is good, but didn’t get any attention from faculty?
In striving to improve our craft we need to be original, have an intriguing hook and tell a compelling story that has’t been told before. Good just isn’t good enough. If it’s too ‘familiar’ it will not get attention. It will be dismissed as derivative. Remember agents and editors reject good work from professional writers every single day.
This sounds hard!
It is. And you can’t shortchange the process. As of today I have attended 6 writer’s retreats, two of which were out of state. 7 national conferences, 1 international and 4 Writer’s Days.
Everyone from newbies needing information to published writers.
What’s the cost?
Anywhere from $450 on up. Meals are included. Out of state means airfare, car rentals and hotel. It can easily wind up costing $800 for a three day retreat. Definitely check out local retreats first.
What can we expect?
Most weekend retreats start midday on Friday and end on Sunday.There are four to five sessions with trained faculty. Roughly each participant gets 15 minutes. This is your time, use it wisely. You can read up to seven pages and then receive feedback from the moderator and fellow critique members. When your time is up, it’s up. Don’t go on another five minutes with questions eating up someone else’s time. Be considerate and professional. Remember, if the moderator loves it, they will find you.
Can these sessions get intense?
Sure. Sometimes you find out that what you’re writing isn’t working. That always stings.
That’s a lot of money to find out you’re off track.
That’s why I recommend before you attend any retreats you do your homework. I don’t mean having family read it, but get a beta reader or a critique partner to go through it.
Bring at least three different WIP’s. I know, I know some of us don’t have that many but I speak from experience. If you only bring one manuscript you risk having your heart broken with a tough critique.
So, don’t have all your eggs in one basket?
Exactly, work the month before on 3 different WIP’s. Set a goal of having two polished chapters per work. The retreat will help you decide what to focus on and what to tuck away in a drawer. Well worth the cost.
Any other pearls of wisdom?
Make sure to thank the faculty for their feedback. Also, follow up with writers that you felt inspired from. Who knows there might be a treasured critique partner waiting to be discovered. Use social media to friend and follow other writers.