Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Frankie and Sara Co-Review the SCBWI NJ Mentoring Conference

Oh this is the first time we ever decided to co-review a conference....and...we were pretty loopy when we wrote this and at times...slightly inappropriate. There were shenanigans. So...hope you enjoy! :-)

Frankie: So this is my first time co-reviewing a conference. I usually review books, so this should be interesting.

Sara: This is my first time co-reviewing anything, so here goes nothing! Maybe we should start by explaining why this conference was different than your average go-and-hear-people speak conference.

F: Ooooh good idea, Sara. Ok! So here’s the rundown for the mentoring conference. It’s teeny tiny, only 30 people come. And before the conference you send in 30 pages of your WIP (or if you’re a picture book writer, you send in the whole thing). Then you get matched with 6 other attendees to form a critique group. You critique everyone’s work in advance and meet the day of the conference. Throughout the day you meet with your critique group and in between you have lunch (highly important).

S: Oh yeah don’t forget lunch!

F: And you have a 20 minute critique with an editor (oooh la la) and a first page session, followed by a Q & A with the editors.

S: Excellent summary. This was my first time attending this type of conference—I’ve been to several other annual conferences from SCBWI, but this one was pretty cool. Plus there was a lot of talking going on all day so Frankie and I didn’t have to pass notes! My critique group at the conference was very helpful. I was paired with two YA authors, two middle grade authors and one early reader. They were mostly on top of the critiquing-ball and I got some solid feedback.

F: Yes, that’s the cool part about this conference, you get so much feedback about your work. However, no critique is perfect. One thing that can be tricky about these conferences is you’re not always paired up with other writers of similar workshop/critiquing experience. I have to say, that everyone in my critique group was really sweet (oh and they liked my pages—SQUEE) but, there were a few things I heard happening throughout the day that I thought I should mention...

S: Frankie may or may not have had a traumatic run-in with critiqer and clichés. Also, one thing I learned to watch out for at this type of conference is over-critiquers—people who want every book to be middle grade because they write middle grade, or just don’t believe in picture books. But let’s get down to the dirt. How did your one-on-one go?

F: Hahaha…yeah I did get a list of clichés from one critiquer, who also seemed to think it was appropriate to tell the one woman in our group who wrote in rhymes that she should not and that another picture book writer should only write middle grade instead. I just want to say, that when you critique a person's work, you're attempting to help that person achieve their vision--it is not your job to try and change that vision--that's actually really inappropriate. But….moving on. You asked about my one-one-one? Ah yes. Well….that was fantastic! :-)

S: Your one-on-ones always go well! Frankie’s being modest, she got ANOTHER request to see her full manuscript! That’s number three and counting!

F: Um…yeah well that answers that question….Here’s the best piece of advice I can give from my one-on-one. I write young adult fantasy and that’s currently a HEAVY market. So it’s hard to make your book stand out. My editor told me that when she read my synopsis, though it was well written (which of course it was! Donna checked it for me;) ) it was nothing special to her. She said she sort of glazed over what I wrote thinking “oh another fantasy” until she read my first page. When she started reading and realized I had a “fresh and unique voice” <--her words, not mine, she got excited and so her piece of advice which I’m passing onto you is to make sure you infuse your summaries, synopses, and queries with your voice, or whatever it is that makes your novel special, because though they’re a small part of the querying process—they count in a HUGE way!

S: Geez Frankie, way to hijack the blog post!

F: Sorry and…ooops. I did it again. Didn't mean to grab the computer from you. Here you go...

S: Maybe we should start co-review blog wars. I should dare you to do something based on the length of that paragraph.

F: Oh no! Like what? BTW you look really pretty today :-)

S: Aw, thank you! It must be the post-first-grade drama glow I have about me. ANYWAY, I also had a one-on-one critique with a v. talented editor (who was younger than me, eek!) She was super nice and compared my WIP to Graceling, which I thought was pretty cool. She also gave me…something…(Frankie, stop distracting me! I feel like I should take this moment to mention that Frankie’s computer has no “g” button.)

F: It’s true! My “g” key popped off over the summer. So yes, folks, I wrote my entire almost 500 page (in the original draft) novel without the letter “g.”

S: Plus, all romancers of Frankie’s computer will never be able to find its elusive “g” spot. Get it? “G” spot?

F: OMG I am dying! You know my computer is only like 1.5 years old!!!! It’s too young for that!

S: How frustrating! (Haha, get it? Frustrating!) Back to what I was saying…

F: Yeah, really! Can we get off the topic of my computer’s “g” key, it’s a sensitive subject!

S: Hahaha. So, anyway, I had my critique (I write YA Fantasy, btw) and she told me for world-building, one valuable exercise to do is to open a blank word document and write down everything you know about your world. This list should include things that your characters don’t know yet—or maybe will never know—but you know because it’s your world and you’re in control of it. Then you can look at your list and see where you have gaps in your knowledge. For example, I hadn’t figured out what a wedding looked like in my world, even though there’s a wedding in my opening scene. This was helpful in deciding the details.

F: Oooh, that’s good. I should do that too! That’s a really good rule of thumb though for anyone, not just fantasy writers. There are going to be certain rules unique to your world, even if it’s just what the cafeteria serves on Tuesdays, or what time the local bus shows up in town. Everyone has to world build, even Sarah Dessen.

S: Alright, let’s sum up what we learned in one sentence. You go first.

F: “They like me, they really like me!”

S: I guess you’re not being modest anymore. (<--Frankie wrote that.)

F: Yeah well, “They like me, they really like me?” <--Sara wrote that! Ok, it’s Frankie now, for real, typing as Frankie! So… onto the first page session. What I love about these mentoring workshops is EVERYONE gets a first page session and everyone gets to hear the critique. Here’s the rundown. You turn in 3 copies of your first page at the start of the day. Then a volunteer reader reads your page out loud to the whole conference, and the two editors read along and then comment and critique to the whole room. It’s really scary!

S: Listening to my first page was painful. I really like it how it sounds in my head, but…yeah. It was different out loud. I think what I realized most from listening to all the different pages being read is just how much really fits on a first page. It was nuts! They just kept reading and reading…hearing it out loud, it was a lot easier to hear what WIPs had proper pacing and which needed some work.

F: Yeah totally. It’s so scary to hear someone else read your work—especially when the reader is stumbling over words in your WIP—or not using the sassy tone your character has, because they’re just not that animated. But it does prove that reading your work out loud, or even better, having someone else read it back to you gives you very valuable insight into your WIP. But then comes the really scary part when they’re done reading… the editors critique. EEK!

S: There were four editors, so they split the first pages and went half and half in teams of two. The first two editors were really good about using the sandwich method—starting out with a positive, then giving a legit critique, then ending on a hopeful note. They were also really good about pointing out some practicalities of publishing—like making sure you’re writing a picture book that kids will read over and over, since the average picture books goes for almost twenty bucks now. The second two editors came after lunch, and also did a great job, though we worried they might be in a food coma.

F: Yeah…because we were in one! It’s a long day—an awesome one—but a long one, you need a lot of stamina and sleep the night before. Lots of sleep... Anyway, let’s move onto the editors' Q&A. Here’s my best advice to you. Think of questions to ask editors the night before! Because when you get to this point in the day, you too will be in a food coma and tired and ragged, and critiqued-out and not have any questions for them and you really need questions, because they will answer them for you and then you know more! Knowing things is good.

S: Honestly, by that point all I was interested in knowing was the inside of a Starbucks.

F: Yeah and the one we found off the Princeton University campus was soooo cute!

S: With big comfy chairs that weren’t being used, yay! So, shall we sum up?

F: I guess so. Also…they just turned off the overhead lights in Target (yeah…we’re totally writing this co-review inside the Starbucks section of a Target).

S: And I still need to go buy a self-cleaning cat litter box.

F: Yeah have fun with that one!

S: Cat poop is serious business in my house!

F: Sara…readers do not need to know that!

S: I can suffer in silence no longer.

F: Ok, fine! Cat poop sufferers unite and all that good stuff. All in all though, it was a good day. What would you say to someone who is thinking, “hmmmm I think I might go to a mentoring conference, but I’m not sure it’s worth it— if I’m ready—if I have the money—If it sounds too scary?”

S: I think a mentoring conference is definitely worth it if you’re past the point of wanting general craft & market advice, and you’re ready to get down and dirty with your manuscript.

And your “g” key.

F: Zing! LOL. The conferences are totally worth it. And then…you never know…the conference might lead to a book deal and book deals lead to money and you know what money leads to?

S: Cat litter boxes?

F: NO! Computers that also have a “g” key!

S: Nice one, Frankie. Very smooth. On an unrelated note, money also leads to tote bags! The FNC now has super-cool tote bags! Look for pictures soon!

F: Wow, that was suave! Ok, we need to wrap up! Look out for us in NYC in two weekends, we’ll all be at the NYC Winter SCBWI Conference, with our tote bags, and quite possibly without my “g” key. But expect lots more conference coverage, reviews, pictures, and maybe even…a vlog. I hope you enjoyed our first ever conference co-review. Final words, Sara?

S: Fin!

The Missing “G” key: Finally! I thought they’d never leave…


  1. Bahahaaa! If there hadn't been some shenanigans by the end of that post, I'd have been seriously disappointed, ladies. But I wasn't. Go good job. FNC FTW, and all that.

    Sound like an excellent opportunity. Though, in fairness, I'll probably never attend an SCBWI event. It's not, uh... I mean, I don't... um... I... ah... I don't do YA. But I gotta tell ya, tote bags are pretty enticing, so you never know.

    (G-spot. *snarf* *snort*)

  2. Great co-review on the conference. Sara- great tip on the world building list. I need to do that. My stomach still gets butterflies thinking about them reading the first page aloud...ahhh...I just kept looking at the floor. ahhh.

  3. Simon, haha when have I ever not delivered on Shenanigans! And yeah "Luke" we know...I don't think you could bring some of your stuff to the SCBWI, but you keep going with what you're doing bc it's good stuff!

    Kelly, Thanks---I love Sara's tip too. I want to do that. And I know...the first page session is scary, but you did so well!!!

  4. "I can suffer in silence no longer." - bahahhaha. Everyone needs a good LOL in the morning, and Sara, you gave me mine. Love the co-review! And I can't wait to see the tote bags!

  5. You guys are hilarious. The conference sounds amazing (I'm a conference junkie). And how awesome to have your manuscript requested...THREE times. I love that "page of your world" tip. Looking forward to more co-reviews.
    Winged Writer

  6. You guys are too cute. And I absolutely have to go to a critique conference. They sound so, so helpful. Thanks for the review!!!

  7. Donna, that part made me laugh too...on the spot and then when I reread it. The bags look fabulous!

    Catherine, thanks! And yeah its very exciting!

    LiLa, thanks! And you could go...but somehow I dont think you need it:-)

  8. I got the giggles reading your co-review. You two should start a comedy routine.

    Great job, ladies! Lots of solid advice there, too. Sara, thanks for sharing the world-building exercise. Frankie, good point about infusing your query, synopsis, or whatever with your voice.

    And how awesome that the editor asked for the full manuscript. Congrats, Frankie.

    My Brain on Books


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