Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Picture book presentation SCBWI Carolinas

As promised to those who went to my presentation on picture books at the SCBWI Carolinas conference, I am including some of the info from my talk here. I was going to put my entire Power Point up, but I worry about people distributing it and it's really just meant for the people who attended to get anything they missed. I figured this would mostly be all the links at the end, since the rest of the slides didn't have tons of text. 

If you attended and missed anything else, please write me in the comments section.

Picture book set-up: http://inkygirl.com/storage/pdfs/picturebooks/ThumbnailsForSS-v9flat.pdf

Making a dummy:  http://www.ochiltreebooks.com/assets/pdf/fwapicturebookdummy.pdf 

My last slide (Questions and Closing):

If you want to query me please go to www.mcintoshandotis.com or my blog for submission guidelines. Email queries are preferred:  chquery@mcintoshandotis.com


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Beating Pre-Conference nerves

As I'm preparing myself for the SCBWI Carolinas writers conference this weekend (Sept. 19-21) I have been thinking about any tips I could give to writers who are attending this conference, who attend conferences in general, or who are looking to attend conferences but haven't made the plunge.

Many writers worry about how they'll battle their nerves and impress that agent or editor. It can be intimidating to approach someone you don't know and pitch your book or have a critique with them. I think agents and editors often get put on these pedestals. I guess we're seen as gatekeepers of sorts and getting through to us can lead you to the promised land of the published author. And you might worry you won't be able to impress us or get your pitch just right.  I'm not going to tell you to imagine the agent or editor you're approaching in their underwear (as that might make things a little weird and personally has never helped me with public speaking and nerves) but try to imagine them as a regular old human being (we are, we promise!). I personally get nervous before speeches, and most people do (even the best public speakers), and sometimes I get nervous meeting authors who I really admire. But, 9/10 times nerves are what happens before you actually start speaking, and once you start going they flit away.

If you tend to get nervous, practice can really help when it comes to pitching. Practice in front of a mirror; practice for friends or other writers. When you feel good about your pitch you likely won't be nearly as nervous about delivering it.  But, be careful not to practice it to the point where you repeat it word for word kind of robotically. Try to be natural. If you have a decent amount of time with that agent or editor start off with a friendly, "Hello. How are you? It's nice to meet you! I hope you're having a nice conference." Starting off friendly and open will break the ice a bit with the person you're talking to. Generally if someone is nice and warm to you, you return that sentiment. It's much easier to speak with someone who you warmed up a little. Make sense?

Remember: Getting nervous is part of being human, and my point is that we aren't scary and are generally friendly, understanding people. As an agent or editor we work with a lot of people and if we were unapproachable and cold, we probably wouldn't get too far in the field. As agents and editors we want nothing more than to find more great voices to work with and publish, and often times we find them at writers conferences. I appreciate the courage it takes to talk to us and I respect it immensely.

You've already made that first step and have finished a book! If you ask me that in itself is a huge accomplishment. Be proud of that and use that confidence to move to the next level. Getting published generally takes a lot of hard work and the more you work to get it, the more you read and practice your craft, the more you stay on top of what is working for your genre or age group, and the more you stay true to yourself as a writer the higher your chances of success. You have to be willing to work for it and it may be a tough journey and take time.

As an agent looking for new talent I really enjoy getting to help writers with their craft (and I think most editors and agents who attend conferences share this joy). We're not there to criticize or judge or turn you away--we attend conferences to help writers. So don't be afraid for that critique session. See it as an opportunity to learn and network and hopefully make it to that next level. Think of the possibility of meeting that perfect agent or editor for you. One often has to put themselves out there to get positive results, and remember we're there to help you!

I hope this was reassuring and helpful in some way!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

What I look for in a protagonist

I hope everyone is having a fabulous September so far! I thought it might be helpful to those querying or looking to query me to give you a better sense of some of the types of protagonists I am drawn to...and not drawn to as much.

Female protagonists:

I admit I am generally drawn more to female protagonists than male, which probably is in part to me being a female :) (but I'd love to find some more boy-centric books too! See below.) and there are certain characters I find myself more interested in reading about than others. But, bottom line: if the story has an engaging voice, I could find myself reading almost anything.

I love to read about strong, independent female characters. I tend to shy away from stories about girls who depend on their boyfriends or significant others to be happy and don't have a life of their own apart from them. While, I love a good romance, I like to see who a character is apart from that.

I have a harder time relating to main characters who are fashion obsessed, too into their looks and social status. I wouldn't mind reading about a popular girl or budding fashionista in the least, but I want it to go deeper than the surface stuff. And I enjoy some scandal and fashion (i.e. Gossip Girl), but I want to relate to the characters in some way. So perhaps your main character is rich and seemingly has it all, but she longs to go to a public school and be seen  for herself not her background or wealth. That I can definitely get behind. Or she realizes being popular and all these things isn't so important. I love the Serena/Dan story line in Gossip Girl. Serena is not always the most likable and she makes mistakes, but there's more to her and I am a sucker for the star-crossed lovers story line. Dan is not part of her social group, he's seen as an outsider, yet they fall in love.

I would love to see something with a dancer (ballet, contemporary, hip hop etc.) or a budding filmmaker.

Give me a band geek (I was one myself) a kid into any of the arts, a kid who doesn't fit in, or an underdog and you've got my interest. I would love to see a girl who loves fantasy and sci-fi movies/TV and isn't ashamed of it. To add to this I've been loving novels like Eleanor and Park and Guy in Real Life. Give me a love story about two outsiders finding each other. There are so many love stories where even if the girl is a bit of a outsider she falls for the chiseled, tan star athlete and they end up together. I certainly can get into these types of romances, but two underdogs/outsiders getting together speaks to me on a deeper level.  Or a popular girl who falls for a "geek."

While I generally don't want a straight up romance (meaning the entire story is driven by boy meets girl, boy meets boy or girl meets girl and it doesn't go beyond that), I love when it's a part of the story in some way, but perhaps the main plot is a bit bigger than that.  One of my fave YA contemporaries is Perfect Chemistry. You have your starcrossed lovers and the romance is definitely central to the story, but it goes beyond that.  Alex is stuck in a gang and having trouble getting out which is another big part of the story. Brittany on the other hand seems like her life is perfect, but actually has a tough home life. So as you can see it goes deeper than just a romance.  Ok, I went a bit off topic here...back to protagonists!

I'd also like to see: a main character from another country now living in the US, characters of color, characters who are gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgender, characters struggling with their identity in any way, characters who perhaps are seen as outsiders by some because of their religion or beliefs etc.  Let's better represent all the wonderful cultures and backgrounds of the world!

Male protagonists:

I have a soft spot for "bad boys;" the misunderstood type, not the downright messing up on purpose all the time bad boys. So if your protagonist has committed 5 crimes, went to juvie and doesn't feel remorse or change it's probably not for me. But, if he was on the wrong side of the law and wants to change and works towards that, send it on over! It could even be the popular guy who is a bit of a womanizer but has changed his ways. I like some kind of edge, some kind of tough past that is turned around in some way.

Give me a guy who is a young Bill Gates (meaning he's really smart and perhaps fixes things or creates apps in his spare time or works on computers, a budding inventor) and is really sweet! Or maybe a guy who gets great grades and spends his spare time playing World of Warcraft with a heart of gold. I feel that some times really smart, sweet guys can be overlooked in YA for the tough, broody, guy.

The artsy guy: This guy has a passion for the arts. He's a musician, a painter, a sculptor, a writer, but whatever art it is he is all-in. It drives him. Think Adam from If I Stay.

I'm pretty open as long as this main character isn't overly shallow, a bad guy or a bully.

In the end, any character should be made up of many different parts. There won't be just one thing that drives them, or one part of their personality or one thing they're overcoming. It's how you combine those pieces that make the character. And it's how that character changes and grows throughout your novel that's also important.

I hope this helps some! This article is meant as a way to give you an inside look into what I'm drawn to. It's definitely not a call for anyone to write something using all the things I like above. You have to write what comes naturally to you! Feel free to ask questions in the comments section and I'll answer what I can.