This is my final post from the 2015 Florida SCBWI young adult workshop with Erica Rand Silverman, an agent with Sterling Lord Literistic, and Jacquelyn Mitchard, author and editor-in-chief at Merit Press. Click here for Part I (Why Write Young Adult); Part II (Querying); Part III (Pitches); Part IV (Marketing Yourself and Your Work); Part V (Building a Lasting Career), and Part VI (Finding a YA Voice).
As promised, this post is a compendium of Jacquelyn's and Erica's answers to questions and other nuggets of writerly wisdom.
Who is your ideal client?
- Someone who is hopeful, competent, committed to their story, and wish to make it the best possible book. Someone who is flexible and takes suggestions in a spirit of generosity and is not defensive.
- Sometimes this can be tested by suggesting revisions. Will this potential client take my suggestions? This works both ways though--the client has to be happy with the suggestions also.
- Clients who are also educators and/or performers. We can package them that way, brand them.
- Looking for clients who are engaged in the industry. When we meet and talk, we’re feeding each other information. Clients teach us too. Be confident in what you want. If my client says yes to one hundred notes—that makes me concerned. Don’t just hand your work over.
What are some of your favorite moments?
- When a client and I both see the same aspect of a story in the revision process.
- Erika: "I love the diversity of my client list. My day is full of people with lots of different types of talents. Illustrators, nonfiction and fiction writers."
- Jacqueline: "As an editor, I love when I read a book that I want to be a part of Merit Press. As a writer, when I can see the end and am able to create a symphonic ending. Before I get the ten pages of notes of things I need to change."
- Write. Find mentors, conferences, critique groups.
- Read all the time. Jacqueline: "You should be swimming in words." Erica: "Be an active reader, really notice the writing."
Can you share your writing process?
- Jacqueline: "I plan and research before I write. I do more than I need. I have a large tupperware container full of folders of notes, research, and books I've consulted. I don’t just let my characters take me places. I would never build a cathedral and then realize I don’t have the cement."
What is your best advice to writers?
- Jacqueline: “Don’t give up! Even If you haven’t been able to get the ring on the first round. Slow and steady wins the race.”
- Erica: "Don’t give up and publish it yourself right away. Let someone else give you money for your work. Let someone else edit your work; that will give grace to it. The critical process doesn’t happen without a group effort.”
What is the your biggest "No-No?"
- Erika: "Don’t send a query to my home. Don’t take my suggestions and then sign with another agent or decide to self-publish."
- Jacqueline: "Don’t take my notes and suggestions and go to another publishing house and say, 'Can you give me more money?' Don’t have a specific advance in mind."
- Self-publishing is starting to wane. The cost/benefit ratio is not there. Erica: "Don't self-publish unless there’s a strategic reason for doing it." Jacqueline: "Don't make a fear-based decision."
- If you’re going to resist the editing process, you might as well self-publish.
- The young adult market is doing well in foreign markets because adolescent issues transcend cultures.
- Agents are looking for ways to adore writers. We want writers to succeed because that’s the dream we’ve showed up for.
- Magical realism is when magical things happen in everyday life. Example: When a character touches leaves, they turn blue. It has more realism than magic and is a different genre than fantasy. Bone Gap, a new young adult book by Laura Ruby, is an example.
- Re: boundaries in young adult literature. You set the cringe factor. Your market is also the teacher, librarian, parent who is purchasing the book. Your job is to startle people; to be bold, but not just for the sake of shock. Be creative and artful. Just because you can create a terrific image, doesn’t mean you should.