Webinar – Three interesting talks @ Agent Day

Last Saturday, on 27th of January, the SCBWI-WI team held a half-day webinar featuring advice from three agents, namely Lauren Spieller, Taylor Martindale Kean and Natalie Lakosil.

Unfortunately, I could not attend the webinar at the time it was streamed but the SCBWI WI crew provided a recording of the talks just 24h later and I watched it the following week. Here’s a quick overview of all three sessions.

Lauren Spieller – How to write a decent query letter.

Author herself and an agent with Triada US Literacy agency, Lauren talked about the art of writing a killer query and get agents and editors to request a full manuscript. To do so, she broke down the structure of a query letter and explained basic information that should be given.

The most important thing is: a query letter is a business letter, therefore you should treat it as such. I knew many of the key points Lauren spoke about but here are a few crucial points to keep in mind: the agent wants to be intrigued, don’t tell the ending, don’t include smash-hits as a comp titles even if you think what you wrote is, of course, the next Harry Potter; and double check the triple checked spelling of the agent’s name!

Taylor Martindale Kean – Voice in MG and YA Fiction

Taylor Martindale Kean is with Full Circle Literacy agency and she gave a talk about voice in middle grade and young adult fiction.

What’s voice anyway? It is, in short, what’s gripping about a novel – a certainly intangible concept – and therefore one of the most sought-after achievements in the craft. Yet, no foolproof method for developing said voice exists. As it seems, it’s a matter of practice and, as Taylor put it, a combination of tone, style, and personality that is unique to the author. But there’s hope. At least there are a few approaches one might try and Taylor went ahead and gave her audience an idea where to start looking for one’s very own voice.

My main takeaway from her talk is to strive for a more tangible prose that fits the character’s origin. And of course, reader bonding by keeping the author intrusion at a minimum.

Natalie Lakosil – Tips and Tricks for Quick Revision

In her talk about how to revise a manuscript, Natalie (of Bradford Lit Agency) first pointed out how she likes to broaden the word revision to re-envision. A valid approach, since we often are stuck with the ideas we conceived first. It’s not easy to pinpoint the shortcomings of a manuscript (MS) if you are still deep within its grasp. So, unsurprisingly the first thing to do is to ignore the whole thing a for a while so you can come back with fresh eyes. I read that so often and still think it’s going to be very hard to do it.

What to do during this time, then? Natalie recommends extensive reading in the genre and researching characteristics the MS should meet. Think word count, for example. But looking up comp titles is vital, too. These help to discern what published books have or don’t have and compare it to your own work.

After the resting period, it’s time to revise at last. I can’t possibly list all the advice Natalie gave. The idea that stuck with me most was the Plot Dot Test – I am definitely going to try that one. Other than that I got some good info on improving the tangibility of the prose and working in motifs and symbols.

Natalie’s best advice, however, was to keep in mind your own idea of your story when you judge feedback by peers, beta readers, and even agents. It’s your story after all and impossible to make it perfect for everybody – so you might as well keep a firm grasp on your own idea and focus.

So. This is it–another webinar done and blogged about. I hope it was a good read and held at least a few new insights. Thanks again the SCBWI Wisconsin chapter for all the work in setting up the webinar.

 

 

 

Scrivener Webinar and 5 features I’ll use

I’ve been using Scrivener since early 2016. Back then, I had been unsatisfied with the regular “word files plus project folder” – setup for my writing projects. It just took to long to organize research, pictures or backmatter. Even with the help of bookmarks and Pinterest, it was still a pain to find stuff again that I knew I had already looked up and saved somewhere. So, I gave Scrivener a try and have not looked back since.

But, just as it is often the case with any given application, I don’t use the tool the full extent of its capabilities. There are always some special tricks, features and hidden functionalities I never needed or just don’t know about.

When I stumbled over SCBWI_Dakotas chapter’s webinar on Scrivener, I signed up, positive I’d learn something new. I wasn’t disappointed. (check out their chapter website here – there’re more webinars to come.)

1) Split Document with ⌘K

When importing an already full or partially written manuscript (e.g. from MSword) to Scrivener, I’ve always assumed I had to specially format the original file with parseable identifiers and import using these to get one text documents per chapter in Scrivener.

Turns out, there’s an easier way: Import the whole text. In the text, click where you want your new chapter to start. Press ⌘K and voilá! Scrivener divides the document into two at this point.

2) Colour code documents and folders in the binder

I had used labels in Scrivener before but these only always showed up as a smallish ribbon on the folder card or notecard when the corkboard view was active. But when I’m actually writing and not outlining anymore,  I rarely use the corkboard view.

Turns out, there’s a way to show the label colour in the binder. In the menu go to the View tab. In the fifth section, you’ll find the submenu “Use label colour in….” Check binder here and say hello to a colourful binder!

3) Drag and drop matter from outside the application directly to Scrivener

It’s not that I’ve never used drag&drop across application before – I just wasn’t aware it would work with Scrivener, too and used the import function in the file menu.

Instead, it’s just as easy as you might imagine. Just plug any other document, URL or item directly to the place in the binder where you need it.

4) Compare snapshots of your documents

I already use snapshots. A lot! As in ten plus snapshots for certain scenes and I’m not even in the revision process. I just tend to rewrite often. It’s a stupid habit, I know, but well… *shrug*

Whenever I notice I’ve changed some phrase or sentence and want back the former version, I’d select the old snapshot and scroll until I’d find it.

Turns out, there’s a compare button. I’ve no idea why I ignored it so long without even trying it once. Now I know better.

5) Session and Manuscript targets

If only I had known this last November and keeping track of my progress during NaNoWriMo would have been a lot easier. There’s even a “allow negatives” checkbox.

Well, NaNoWriMo is done but I’ll make use of this feature anyway. Part of my goals for 2018 is to keep track of my progress in more detail – not only the time spent writing but the actual output, too. I believe I’ll get more done if I keep myself accountable. This is going to be easier now. Yay!

What else was new?

The webinar reminded me of the “composition mode.” I’ve used that before, too, but not as often as it would make sense. I’m planning on spending more time writing in this distraction-free mode.

Last but not least, I’ve learned there’s a new Scrivener version. I’ll have to check that out! Who knows what else I’m missing otherwise.

What about you? Do you (still) use MSWord or something else? Let me know!

Webinar with Kat Brzozowski

As often the case with me, there’s a funny story in “Katja attends her first-ever webinar.” I’ve had, of course, heard of webinars before. But when writer friends at the last SCBWI meet-up in Stuttgart enthusiastically told me about time well spent and valuable lessons learned, I was determined to sign up for an interesting webinar somewhere soon.

The cool thing with the SCBWI is, they have chapters all over the world and naturally there’s always something going on somewhere. Given that I’m in the Germany-Austria chapter does not mean I don’t come across events hosted by other chapters, too. At least, I know that now – because when I went looking for something that might be of interest to me and subsequently signed up for the webinar “First Page Blitz with Editor Kat Brzozowski” I did not realise, that it was hosted by the Houston chapter. Only later did it occur to me, that the time of the webinar – 7pm – was 7pm Houston time aka 2am over here in Germany. Ohh dear….

Now, I am a person who can, if determined, raise to a challenge. I’ve had some good times with the #5amwritersclub and getting up early was nothing out of the ordinary, so I decided to pull through. And I am very glad I did. (Yes, I do know I could have just watched the recording later, but where’s the fun in that?)

Kat had given us attendees the opportunity to send in our anonymised first pages and many had done so. Going through the pages one by one, she pointed out what her thoughts on each example were, how the author could improve the beginning to make it better and more appealing to agent or editor. Between the pages she took the time to address general or follow-up questions of the authors and gave generous advise. Following are the points I regard as the most important recommendations:

  1. The reader wants to read about difference. Don’t start with the same old daily routine. Show something is special or peculiar – either for your character, or in contrast to what your reader would see as normal.
  2. Voice is important. Not just your author’s voice but the voice of the character telling the story. The manner in which the POV character starts out, sets the tone for the whole book. Try to avoid a tone that might put off readers. Who wouldn’t rather follow a funny and slightly sarcastic lad in contrast to an angry nagger? If you have decided on a tone – stay with it! Don’t change from funny to solemn mid-page.
  3. Pace is important, too. Shorter paragraphs create momentum and lead the reader into the story much more easily than large blocks of descriptive text will do. The reading flows better when the sentence length differs.
  4. Momentum comes from action, too. Not necessarily action in the sense of the character in a tight spot but as in a scene is happening. A scene is usually “stage-able” – you could play it with actors. As soon as you drop out of the scene to have the character remember events that happened who-knows-when, you halt the scene and the momentum is lost.
  5. The reader is smart. That’s crucial in more than one way. For starters: don’t spell everything out. Give the reader some credit to figure it out by herself. Don’t explain it all – write less, revise to write even less in the 2nd draft. If the smart reader does not know all connections from the start, she’ll be intrigued. Bet way to do that is to pose questions. If you do answer a raised question anyway, make sure you pose a new one before or right along with the answer.
  6. To convey how the character feels is more important than knowing why he is displaying that emotion. Of course the reader want’s to know it at some point – but figuring out motivation is one thing mankind is good at – we do it all day. So don’t spoil the fun for the reader and explain – if he works it out on his own, he’ll be all the more pleased.

Unfortunately, Kat did not have the time to go through all the submitted pages and while we were able to read many, mine was not among those. However, with the tips and tricks she explained I’ll be able to revise my first page and make it better.

I am glad I got up at 2am and I would do it again. So at this point I want to say: “Thank you, Kat!”, for giving us the opportunity to ask questions and clarifications from an experienced editor. ❤