Tuesday, May 30, 2017

SCBWI Meeting May 2017

The May SCBWI meeting in Columbus featured Juliana Lee.  Juliana is both a writer and a literary assistant at The Purcell Agency. She spoke with our group about her experience working with agent Tina P. Schwartz and offered advice on how to craft and submit a winning query letter.

Juliana decided that she wanted to focus on her publishing dreams when she retired from teaching.  She joined SCBWI and attended conferences, ultimately meeting Tina through a webinar.  They hit it off and Juliana became a reader for Tina, which led to her growing into the role of a literary assistant.  (And Tina eventually became her agent, too!) 

As a literary assistant, Juliana reads query letters and manuscript submissions, weeding out the bad submissions (i.e. those that don’t follow directions, are addressed to the wrong person, etc.), and passing along ones that she thinks have promise.  Juliana made it clear that Tina has the last say; she likened herself to a sounding board and trusted advisor. Juliana explained that agents have to make really tough choices, especially when many of the submissions they receive are GREAT. But Tina helped her think about “the best of the best” in a new way: pretend you're at the book store with $20.  What will you buy? Although there are many wonderful books, you can’t purchase everything.  You have to be picky and choose wisely, even if you really want to buy everything on the shelves.

So how can you make your submission stand out?  Juliana shared some great suggestions based on the fantastic submissions (and terrible ones) that have come across her desk:

1) Make sure you follow the agency’s submission guidelines, especially when it comes to attachments, accepted genres, and information they request to see in the query. Each agency has different policies, so be sure to do your research.

2) Make your query as short and to-the-point as possible.  Agents receive dozens—even hundreds—of queries a day. Remember that your manuscript will speak for itself, so keep your letter short and sweet so the reader can dive right into the good stuff!

3) If you met the agent at a conference or have some other personal connection, be sure to note that in the query.
4) If you’re querying multiple agents (which is the norm nowadays), DO remember to change the name in your letter! Agent Y does not want to receive a letter addressed to Agent X—and it happens more often than you think.  (Yikes!)

Lastly, Juliana reminded us all to keep submitting and never give up. The publishing industry is a subjective business, and just because one agent says, “No,” doesn’t mean that every agent will say “No.” (And remember that anytime you get personal feedback from an agent, it means they saw promise in your work and you’re on the right track!)  She sagely recommended listening to the Beatles’ song “Hey Jude” and thinking about the lyrics in terms of the submission and revision process:
Hey Jude, don't make it bad
Take a sad song and make it better
Remember to let her into your heart
Then you can start to make it better  
A big thank you to Juliana for sharing her experience and advice with the group!  You can find out more about Juliana on The Purcell Agency’s website at thepurcellagency.com and her personal author website at julianaleewriter.com.

If you want to learn more about COSCBWI, be sure to visit the group website at http://ohiocensouth.scbwi.org/.  I hope to see you at the next meeting!

Note: Juliana Lee's photo is from The Purcell Agency's website: thepurcellagency.com

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Everything from Spring

It's May, and I'm overdue for a "what I've been up to" blog post!  Spring is my busiest season of the year, but things have been extra-crazy behind the scenes the past few months.  So what have I been up to?

The Ohioana Book Festiva

Poster art by author/illustrator Lindsay Ward

Per usual, the biggest--and most exciting/hectic/crazy/fun/exhausting--thing about spring for me is my day job at the Ohioana Library.  From January to April every year, the place gets turned upside as we plan and prep for the annual Ohioana Book Festival.  It's a fantastic one-day event celebrating Ohio authors and illustrators with fun for the whole family.  I really enjoy that my day job has such a positive impact on Ohio's literary community.  Between my work with Ohioana and SCBWI, I've gotten to know a lot of fellow kids' writers and illustrators, and I love that I can help support them with this event.  It makes those late nights at the office (and frantic phone calls about tablecloth colors) well worth it!

My Spine

I'm going to take a moment to talk about my spine.  My spine is not my friend right now.  For a couple months, my doctor thought a pinched nerve was causing pain and numbness in my hand and back.  In February, we learned that I actually have a broken spinal disc.  Eww.  Eww.  EWWWWW.

How do you cure that?  Epidural shots.  Maybe surgery.  Massively cutting back on writing and illustrating.  (I'm not so great at that last one.) 

I'm now two injections into treatment and feeling "meh."  I have good days; I have bad days.  Sometimes I get really frustrated.  It's hard to predict what the next few months will bring, so I just remember my doctor's words that any improvement is good improvement. (And it could be worse.  WAY worse.  So I'm quite thankful for that.)      


Now let's go back to happier things.  My local SCBWI chapter was a partner of the Ohioana Book Festival, and our illustrators sponsored a coloring page activity for the kids' room.  I really didn't want to skip the project (spine injury be darned!), so I paced myself as much as possible and created this:

You may remember this jaguar from a calendar contest piece I created in 2012.  I always liked this concept, but the original has been weeded from my portfolio over the years.  So I took this opportunity to revisit my old drawing and give myself a refresher in vectoring with Adobe Illustrator.  I'm much happier this little guy now and thought it would be fun to show how my art has changed with a "Draw This Again" meme.  Who knows--maybe I'll revisit him again in a few years!

The Children's Book Academy:
Middle Grade Mastery Course

Let's face it--I'm bad at taking it easy.  I try.  I really do.  (I'm sorry, spine doctor!)  But when I found out the Children's Book Academy was offering an online spring course called "Middle Grade Mastery," I just couldn't resist signing up.  I loved the course I took in 2016, "The Craft and Business of Writing and Illustrating Picture Books," and I knew this opportunity was just what I needed for my Pirate Ferret manuscript.

So I signed up, and I'm oh-so glad I did.  The "Middle Grade Mastery" course was led by instructors Mira Reisberg and Hillary Homzie. We went over tons of middle grade goodness: revising, illustrating, pitches, mentor texts, character development, idea generating, and everything in between.  The instructors were both wonderful (it was great to work with Mira again!), and so nurturing.  It's clear they care about the success of their students and pour their hearts into teaching.  I met new wonderful writing buddies, too, which always makes me happy.  :)

The course inspired me to make Pirate Ferret a priority, which I frequently find difficult to do in the midst of life's chaos.  (Darn you again, spine!)  With encouragement from the instructors, I even pushed myself (and paced myself) to tackle some new sketches and black and white illustrations.

Sketches of Tentacles, my main character

Three dog characters: Sandy, Cookie, and Pickles

B&W Art Sample

B&W Art Sample

The course JUST ended, wrapping up with the exciting "Golden Ticket" contest where professionals have the opportunity to view our work.  When all is said and done, though, I'm just super happy that the course brought me back to my true love: writing and illustrating.

And I think that's everything!  Kind of a hectic season, huh?  I'm not sure what summer will bring, but hopefully I can keep focusing on my book projects, learning all sorts of literary goodness, and continue healing!  

Note: "Draw this Again" meme is by Bampire on deviantArt. link