April 1, 2012
At the beginning of March, I attended the Golden Gate Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) at the Asilomar in Pacific Grove, California. I went knowing that I would not be pitching my work since I had recently acquired an agent for my novel, Between Shadow’s Eyes (www.jillhedgecock.com).
I have attended SCBWI events in the past with the goal of meeting an agent or editor, but this time I had no agenda. It was great to sit back and listen to the speakers and absorb knowledge without the distraction of a scheduled critique or pitching session. I was free to take notes or browse the grounds if I wasn’t interested in a topic, whatever my heart desired.
On the last day of the conference, the editors in attendance announced what kind of books they were seeking. To my surprise, one of the editors seemed like a good match for my novel. A quick email to my agent, and viola! a query letter was submitted. Another fun outcome of the conference included a sidebar conversation with agent Josh Adams on blogging. His advice- don’t blog if it takes you away from other writing projects.
September 13, 2011
My critique group organized a local writer’s retreat at Westminster Retreat Center last month. This was my second retreat experience. The first time I had joined a group where I knew no one. My productivity was fabulous, the setting was beautiful, but I did not experience a sense of comoraderie, so last fall I proposed the idea of a getaway for my critique group. The idea was well received and within a month we’d settled on a location.
A contract was signed, checks were written, and we issued a few invitations to expand our group to meet the required head count.
The lodge grounds were quiet and peaceful and the food was fabulous. We were fortunate to have mild weather and a swimming pool where we could cool off. At 5:00 p.m., we had a wine and snack gathering.
I suspect this will become the first annual WOTJ retreat. Participants had an overwhelming positive response by the morning of the second day. It was a privilege to spend time amidst talented, creative individuals. Not only did my novel improve in leaps and bounds, but I had a marvelous weekend.
March 30, 2010
Among the lessons gleaned from the Big Sur Writing Workshop, my biggest “aha” moment came on the topic of first pages. Prior to this weekend, I didn’t understand the “formula” for these critical beginnings. But in my very first critique session, I realized (oh, horrors) that my opening didn’t work. It was obvious when I read my novel’s first pages aloud. I could feel my face getting hot. I was going too slow, too long, lost in the minutia of creating my story world. Oops! My critique group nailed it, and I knew it too. I would have to rewrite the opening chapter. I share my lessons now in hopes of sparing you my embarrassment.
Point 1: You have to hook the reader on the first page! Just like with a short story that gets off the ground in the first couple of paragraphs, a novel also must have an initial hook. That hook doesn’t have to be action. It could be an engaging voice. But you have to have it there on the FIRST page.
Point 2: You have to get into the action within the first FIVE pages. For many agents and editors, those five pages are the first – and perhaps the only – glimpse they’ll get of your novel. This doesn’t mean simply starting the action. It means that something has to happen by the end of page five, something that will make them want to turn the page to see what happens next. This is especially true for middle grade and young adult fiction, and maybe even for adult fiction these days. You get five pages.
From now on, here’s what I’m going to do. Print out the first five pages of my manuscript. Not the entire chapter with its exciting cliffhanger ending, but just the first five pages. Then I will read them out loud, checking for the above.
March 26, 2010
A week ago, I attended the Big Sur Writing Workshop. This is a workshop, not a conference. In addition to sessions on writing craft, we actually worked on our manuscripts. Yes, we were expected to write. Andrea Brown set the tone from the start. She told us that the faculty had not come to tell us how great our work was, but where we could improve and what we needed to do to get published.
The weekend was divided into four two-hour critique sessions. Each critique group consisted of five or six writers and a pro (an agent, editor, or author). In these sessions, each participant read 5-6 pages of their manuscript and received feedback from the other group members. Throughout the weekend, we were encouraged to rewrite and present our revisions in later sessions.
As promised, my work received its fair share of “filleting.” But I learned A LOT and met many talented writers along the way. I returned from the weekend exhausted, but informed and excited about my novel. I now know what my manuscript needs and feel ready to tackle the revisions necessary.
September 27, 2009
For the past few months, I’ve been focused on one writing goal — to get my latest manuscript ready in time for the Jack London Writers Conference. I’ve polished my novel, written a synopsis, and practiced my pitch. My plan was to launch my manuscript at this conference.
The Jack London Writers Conference is hosted by the Peninsula branch of the California Writers Club (CWC) and held every other year. I had attended Jack London two years ago and it was fabulous — entertaining key-note speakers, great sessions on craft, and lots of agents. There were fewer literary agents participating this time. And yet I’d booked an appointment with an agent who would be a great match for my novel.
Yesterday, I learned that the Jack London Writers Conference has been cancelled – another casualty of the slumping economy and troubled publishing industry. No conference writing contest (which I had entered), no inspiring talks, no networking, and no appointment with that promising literary agent. Rats!
It is doubly sad that this cancellation should happen this year, during the CWC’s centennial celebration. “Sail On!” is the club’s motto. Yes, the CWC will sail onward, as will I. But yesterday’s sad news took some of the wind out of my sails.