Thursday, January 11, 2018

Sprints and Marathons by Kell Andrews

To have a sustained writing career, you need to run both short and long distances. 



I'm thrilled to finally announce here that my next picture book, The Book Dragon, illustrated by √Čva Chatelain, will be published in fall 2018 by Sterling Children's Books. I got the contract offer January 5. 

Are you thinking that this is moving awfully fast from contract offer to publication? Not really, since the contract offer was more than a year ago, January 5, 2017, and I wrote the story in the long-ago optimistic days of 2016. 

That's a long haul for a short book. 

Then again, publishing is always a long haul.

"It's a marathon, not a sprint." Or is it?

To the contrary, writing a picture book is a sprint. It takes a lot longer to write each word in a 500 page book, but it does not (with rare exceptions) take as long as a 50,000 one. Rewriting is another sprint, maybe the next heat, while writing the next story is another race entirely.

To have a career in picture books, you need to string those sprints together until they approach something like a marathon. Last year I drafted and polished six manuscripts, and I'm not even prolific. So far I'm sprinting again and again, with the results being an every-other-year publishing schedule. That's a lot of writing for each published manuscript.

Novels are marathons. Or are they?

Novels are marathon you can turn into sprints. Writing a novel is a daunting process. It takes months or even years. Staring down an empty page, putting your butt in that chair day after day -- it's intimidating.

It's a marathon that I personally need to break into sprints to make it manageable. Half-hour writing sprints, writing by act, even middle-distance events like NaNo can put manageable interim goals into place so you don't have to stare down that long, long distance from the blank page to "the end."

And when you're lucky enough to get a contract, you inevitably have a few more sprints ahead -- revisions often land back in the writer's inbox at the worst times, and with not enough time attached. 

It's always a long haul.

Yes, even for picture books, maybe even especially, since illustrated books tend to take longer from contract to publication. There's an excellent chance my Fall 2018 date will change into a Spring 2019 one.

That's OK. It gives me plenty of time fit in a half-dozen sprints, or even a full marathon.

Monday, January 8, 2018

A few thoughts on Beginnings by Paul Greci

Photos by Paul Greci

A birch tree, a spruce tree and a saguaro cactus ran into each other at a bar…

I’ve set the expectation here that I’m going to tell a joke. In other words, in the opening line, I have made a promise and the reader expects me to follow through.

Several years ago, when I took a multi-day writing workshop from Jeanette Ingold, one of the things she said was that in the first chapter of a novel you make a promise to your reader.

Part of that promise is created by the tone you set. Part that promise is created by questions you raise. Part of that promise is created by the voice. Is your story a thriller/adventure? Or, is it more introspective? Is it historical? Is it more character or plot driven?

According to my wife, who is an avid reader, and novel writer, the promise in the first chapter is often instrumental in her deciding if she is going to keep reading a book. If she’s interested in the promise the author is making, then she’ll keep reading.

In his book, The First Five Pages, Noah Lukeman says this about openings and extending them beyond a one-line hook to encompass the first chapter: “At its best, it can be not only a propellant but also a statement of what you might expect from the text to come.” He goes on to say, “….don’t write an opening for the sake of an opening, but for the sake of the story that follows.”

Now about that birch, spruce and saguaro…After heated exchanges about the merits of spines versus needles, and sap versus water, and who is better nesting habitat, more fire proof and drought resistant, they all threw up their hands in laughter realizing that even though each one has its strengths and distinctions, in the end, they are really more alike than different.

 Paul Greci is the author of Surviving Bear Island, a 2015 Junior Library Guild Selection and a 2016 Scholastic Reading Club Selection. Forthcoming in 2018 is the yet to be titled sequel to Surviving Bear Island published by Move Books. In 2019, Paul's first young adult novel, The Wild Lands will be published by Macmillan.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Happy New Year--and a Challenge by Michael Gettel-Gilmartin

Happy New Year, everyone. I can't believe that it's 2018 already, and that Project Mayhem has been in existence for 8 years. That's astounding, and I'd like to thank each and every reader of this blog, and all the writers who have contributed to it over the years. There's a wealth of information and inspiration in our archives, that's for sure.

The turning of the calendar makes most people a bit introspective, I suspect. At the end of each year, I mull over the things that transpired over the past twelve months, for better or for worse, and it gets me thinking about what I could do differently.

For me, 2017 was not a productive year on the writing front. I got sidetracked by all the public negativity, sucked into way too many tweetstorms. I found myself slinking away from the page all too often. I read less fiction too, which is alarming, because good stories are inoculations against all that is crass and cheerless in the world around us. (It's also alarming because I've got a TBR pile about to topple off my nightstand.)

In my ruminations, I did come across an article by David Cain, who writes the blog Getting better about being human. Cain writes about having a "Year of Deepening," a year in which "you don’t start anything new or acquire any new possessions you don’t need."

He goes on:
"No new hobbies, equipment, games, or books are allowed during this year. Instead, you have to find the value in what you already own or what you’ve already started.
You improve skills rather than learning new ones. You consume media you’ve already stockpiled instead of acquiring more.
You read your unread books, or even reread your favorites. You pick up the guitar again and get better at it, instead of taking up the harmonica. You finish the Gordon Ramsey Masterclass you started in April, despite your fascination with the new Annie Leibovitz one, even though it’s on sale."
A consumer society, Cain explains, always tempts us to the new thing. In much the same way, when a story becomes too difficult, it's easy to be tempted to try something new. (I am undeniably guilty of this.) That shiny new thing is so much more appealing than the old thing you've been slogging away at, which has long since lost its luster.

I needed this reminder, and so it's with renewed determination that I am making the goal of finishing my latest novel this year. Wish me luck!

The rest of David Cain's blog post, Go Deeper, Not Wider,  can be found HERE.

Do you have any goals for the year ahead? Does going deeper resonate with you? Let me know in the comments--and have a great 2018!

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Are you seldom disappointed or do you hold to wild hope? by Caroline Starr Rose

My writing space. Isn't it cozy?

A few years ago I recorded a podcast with author Tsh Oxenreider. As we talked about submissions and rejection, Tsh mentioned the idea of “it’s just business, it’s not personal” not being an entirely helpful or true way to look at the writing life, at least in her experience. “It’s business and it’s personal” is more accurate, she said. It’s personal because not only has she invested in what she’s created, a piece of writing grows out of who she is.

This is absolutely spot on in my experience, too. An author has hope for her work, wild hope that it will connect with an agent or an editor who believes in it as she does. That wild hope must also run through the writing itself. The creative act cannot hold back. It cannot be guarded or careful or tame. For me, both writing and the writing life must be all in.

Being all in has its risks. There is the possibility of rejection. (Not just the possibility. In this line of work the reality of rejection is always present.) There is the possibility that even books that sell won’t go the way you hoped or planned. Elizabeth Gilbert says “creativity asks you to enter into realms of uncertain outcome.”

Your job is to create. You don’t get to decide the rest.

Uncertain outcomes mean sometimes you’ll be hugely disappointed. It’s important to let yourself acknowledge this, to let yourself grieve the work that didn’t have the future you’d hoped. This is hard and painful and so disappointing. But I rather do this than not hope at all.

Recently a friend told me she’d read Tony Hillerman’s memoir, Seldom Disappointed. The quote comes from something his mother told him: Blessed are those who expect little; they are seldom disappointed. He carried this idea into his writing life, a place he had huge success.

It’s interesting that just days after this conversation I started re-reading Anne of Green Gables and in it found Mrs. Hillerman’s advice, almost word for word, this time in the voice of Mrs. Rachel Lynde.

It’s Anne’s response to Rachel’s words that I prefer:

“You set your heart too much on things, Anne,” said Marilla with a sigh. “I’m afraid there’ll be a great many disappointments in store for you through life.” 

“Oh, Marilla, looking forward to things is half the pleasure of them,” exclaimed Anne. “You mayn’t get the things themselves; but nothing can prevent you from having the fun of looking forward to them. Mrs. Lynde says, ‘Blessed are they who expect nothing for they shall not be disappointed.’ But I think it would be worse to expect nothing than to be disappointed.”

I'd rather be disappointed than lose hope. This mindset isn't an easy one, I know. I just turned in a new project that I'm trying to hold loosely, whatever the answer may be. But at the same time, I hold out hope that it's exactly what my editor wants from me. If I hold back hope, I hold back heart, the very thing my writing needs.

Monday, December 18, 2017


Last month, the Eastern Pennsylvania chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (EPA SCBWI) hosted Fall Philly Author Day and Pitchfest.  Attendees heard inspirational and informative speeches by six local authors, and also had the opportunity to purchase ten-minute pitch sessions with any of ten acquiring agents.  As an introvert, I was hesitant to sign up for any pitch sessions.  I believe I communicate best in writing, so I told myself that a written query would be preferable.  But I knew, in the back of my mind, that making a personal connection can be very helpful.  So I reluctantly signed up for one pitch session.  A couple weeks later, as I listened to a “networking for introverts” webinar conducted by my college’s alumni group, I realized that some of the tips for networking may also be applied to pitching, and that I had actually used a few of those techniques for the Pitchfest.  Those of you who are also introverts may find the following networking tips (tweaked to apply to pitches) helpful as well. 

1)  Set a realistic goal for yourself.  If making one meaningful connection is all you can handle in one day, then that should be your goal.  Don’t ask too much of yourself, as that can lead to disappointment.  I signed up for just one pitch session, and I felt successful at the end of my session because I had attained my goal.

2)  Research ahead of time so that you know your audience.  Before signing up for my pitch session, I looked up all of the agents’ websites, and selected the one that seemed most interested in my type of writing.  The EPA SCBWI posted interviews with the participating agents on its blog before the Pitchfest.  I read my selected agent’s interview, and saw what she looks for in a pitch.  This was extremely helpful because I was able to craft my pitch to include the information she wanted to hear.  It also decreased my nervousness, as I now had clear and realistic expectations for the pitch session.

3)  Develop your pitch and your personal brand.  Remember that you are looking for an agent who will work well with you and with whom you can work well.  I developed a pitch for my story and also for myself and my work in general.  I wanted the agent to learn about me and my writing style so that we could together make the right choice about whether or not to establish a working relationship.

4)  Listen and reflect what you hear.  Most introverts are good listeners, but when you’re nervous and thinking about what you need to say, you may forget to use that skill effectively.  Although I had done my research and I had a pretty good idea about what this agent was looking for in a pitch, she still surprised me with a few questions I was not expecting.  I made sure to pause, listen to what she had to say, and think carefully before providing my answers.

5)  Be present.  During my pitch session, I focused completely on that ten-minute block of time.  If I had scheduled more than one session, I might have spent the first session worrying about the next pitch, and that would definitely not be good.  Of course, not everyone is like me.  If you can handle more than one pitch session in a day, go for it, but remember to be present for each one.

6)  Follow up.  How you do this depends on the outcome of your pitch session.  In my case, the agent asked me to send her my story, so I emailed the manuscript to her as soon as I got home that day.  She later responded by asking to see more of my work, which I then sent to her (note: when you pitch a picture book, be prepared to share more than one manuscript).  I’m still waiting to hear back (fingers crossed!).

Bottom line:  know yourself, and accept and embrace your introverted personality.  Talking to people is a required part of being a writer, so come up with strategies to network and pitch effectively without making yourself miserable.  Believe me, if I can do it, so can you!