INSIGHTS FROM A PB CHAT MENTORby Lynne Marie
I wanted to share thoughts as I go through the large pile of candidates for the #PB CHAT Mentorship as I hope it will share some necessary insights that may be useful to any of the applicants in other submission opportunities.
IT'S NOT PERSONAL
I'll be honest - when I opened each application, I read the story first, and then read the application itself with varied levels of interest.
Here's the reason behind that -- if the story is not a one that I connect with or feel I can be helpful with, then it's likely not a good choice for me or for you. This doesn't even necessarily say anything about the writing, the viability of the idea, although those can and might be factors.
My first run through applications was merely to choose a story that I had interest in as I will likely be spending time with it. In fact, I made a list of names and topics to help narrow down my selection. Of course, all of these, I felt I could be of assistance to as a mentor. And I'll be further honest -- the topics of my shorter list, for the most part, had animal hooks (with the exception of a few intriguing stories about witches, ballerinas and scientists and a balloon).
What does this say about me (or an editor or agent)? That I prefer anthropomorphic or animal stories, that I don't mind stories about inanimate objects and that I like colorful, focused characters, like witches, ballerinas and/or scientists. There had to be something for me that made the story stand out. For example, amidst all the sloths, dinosaurs and sea animals (don't get me wrong, I have two sloth stories, several sea animal stories and several dinosaur stories as well), a story about a yak (I actually have one of those too), was quite refreshing and nice to see! It stood out!
ATTRACTING EDITORS AND AGENTS:
You will find that personal taste dictates to editors and agents, too, so it is a really good idea to get to know your editor/agent and what they like/what appeals to them. Of course, you won't have extensive bios like us mentors filled out. But there are ways to get this information, like the Spotlight Features I write about Editors / Agents for Children's Book Insider (www.writeforkids.com), searching Publisher's Marketplace if you have a subscription and doing online research or reading conference bios. I have to also admit that my shortlist wasn't much shorter than my original list. Most applicants did a good job of sending a story on a topic that would appeal to me!
But my main point here, is that not once did I consider or not consider anyone based upon personal details. And please know that editors, also, are not reacting against you, either! They are merely going with the story that speaks to them (for whatever reason personal to them). Don't give up -- make your story the best it can be and find someone who your story speaks to!
There were so many well-written manuscripts. But there weren't quite as many well-told stories. I hope this make sense, as I think it can prove entirely helpful. A phrase I often repeat is: "Good writing and a token can get you on the New York City subway." Because it takes more -- it takes good storytelling, and if you can start to appreciate the difference, your picture book manuscripts will improve greatly.
Put your manuscript away for a bit, and the next time you read it, shake yourself out and try to listen with some distance (not as the author). Read it aloud -- is the beginning hooking? Is the story engaging? Is the language lyrical? What bumps you out of the story or confuses or distracts you? Start to train your inner critic. Don't just write well, tell a compelling story.
THINGS THAT NEEDED WORK
Of course, these are things that I will address with my chosen Mentee in our Mentorship, but for those wonderful, promising authors that I regrettably will not be able to work with (since I can only select one), here are areas of concern.
Surprisingly, there were quite a few manuscripts that:
Didn't have an intriguing title.
Gave away the ending in the title.
Didn't present a hook in the beginning to keep the interest flowing.
Didn't really have a lot of conflict (if at all) or tension.
Felt quite common and didn't stand out quite well enough. Even as a reader, I was looking for fresh new slants that stand out above the rest.
Didn't have a compelling problem.
Had adult interference or distraction early on in the manuscript. I really wanted to read about the child and see what they wanted and what drove them and their story.
Had language that was kind of blah.
Didn't focus on emotional reactions of the characters.
Didn't have a main character that drove the story forward to a satisfying ending.
Didn't hit on that quality that a kid will be able to readily identify with and a flaw/problem that will inspire a child to root for it.
I do hope that you find these comments helpful. Please sign up to follow this blog for more helpful tips and offers.
I have spent the better part of the day since 8 AM on this have only completed a quick first run.
I will be reviewing again tomorrow, looking at a list of other items of consideration which I hope to have time to also share with you.
I hope all of you know that we Mentors are striving to make the best possible match with our personality and style and do not in any way get discouraged, but merely dust yourself off and stay in the game (tip: that's how to win). I am happy to offer a FREE PITCH CRITIQUE to anyone who follows this blog and who does not get selected for a Mentorship on 7/30. Believe it or not, once you have perfected your pitch, it is often enlightening and helps you write and make sense of your story.
Please note that this is a first-come, first served offer, and that there is no promised time-frame for return as I often get very busy with critiques. But I will do each one, and I will return them in the order received. They must be sent to THEPICTUREBOOKMECHANIC@GMAIL.COM. And you must comment here, that you have sent an e-mail with a pb title pitch and any other comment you wish to make. I will post here when the offer has expired. Until then, feel free to submit (1) pitch for critique.
JUST KEEP WRITING, JUST KEEP WRITING!
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(when you return from your trip!)