Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Writers helping writers

On 10/15/10, I conducted my first writing workshops of the 2010-11 academic year, with 3rd-5th graders in New Jersey.

That same day, I got great news: a friend got great news, and it was also related to writers-in-the-making. My friend sold her first book shortly after landing an agent. This was especially gratifying to hear because earlier this year, I'd helped her refine her query letter (though with her commercial idea and impressive credentials, she would have gotten to this point without my help).

I have tried to help many as-yet-unpublished writers, and this is the first I know of who got an offer. (Either I'm doing more harm than good or it's as tough as they say to get published.)

The next day, I participated in the 40th annual Rutgers (NJ) University Council on Children's Literature's One-on-One Plus Conference. The purpose of this event is to pair publishing professionals (writers, editors, agents) with green writers one-on-one so the experienced can try to help the aspirants produce something publishable.

In addition to the 45-minute individualized session, the conference groups five aspiring writers with five publishing professionals for 45 minutes of group counseling. This, perhaps not surprisingly, is called the Five-on-Five segment.

In my One-on-One, I was mentor to a woman who has already published a book for adults. Mentors were given a piece of writing by their mentees that morning and had some time to read it and prepare comments in advance. My mentee had written a nonfiction picture book manuscript about a president.

Both in terms of subject choice and execution, it seemed to need an overhaul. Yet to my pleasant surprise, when I later met with the writer, she already had that overhaul. Between the time she applied for the conference (at which time she submitted the manuscript I ultimately read) and the conference itself, she'd reworked her approach. She just didn't resubmit it.

The revised version was short enough to read right then and there. It was so significantly better that I had little specific feedback. (I did have a few general comments about the state of nonfiction picture books these days.) She had transformed her topic from a fairly standard biography with little to distinguish it to a sharply envisioned storyography on the same subject. She showed that a figure I took to be unremarkable was in fact much grander.

My mentee was gracious, intuitive, and appreciative. I think she'll get a children's book published, if not this one than something else. And she certainly deserves it. I found it quite a special experience to see this writer developing before my eyes, or at least between application and attending...

Before long I hope I will be able to blog in more detail about the book of both my friend and my mentee.

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