This weekend was the long-awaited (for me) Southwest Texas SCBWI Editors’ Day. Hurray! Two terrific editors, Sarah Shumway of Harper Collins and Julie Ham from Charlesbridge spoke to us and gave critiques.
Sarah had a funny and touching presentation on editorial revision letters titled Dear Jude, Begin to Make It Better, or: Letters from Your Editor and Knowing When to Let Her Into Your Heart. Sarah told us the key ingredients to successful revisions are communication, trust, mutual respect, and professional behavior. Since she started her talk with Hey Jude, she ended with another Beatles’ song, She Loves You, to remind us in spite of the revision letter that may have you seeing red, the editor who acquired your book loves it…and you!
Julie Ham spoke about what she considers the most critical elements of a manuscript, Character and Voice. To differentiate between the two, she said our character should grow and change throughout the story, but the voice should remain consistent. Voice isn’t necessarily what your characters sound like, because ideally, each character should sound different. Voice is what your book sounds like. An effective narrator not only has a voice and vision, but also a sensibility, preferences and implicit motives, one of which is to tell a good story to an appropriate audience.
After lunch, the two editors held a First Pages session. They pulled out the positive aspects of each first page, letting the (anonymous) authors know where they had gone right and how they could build on these good points. They also gently pointed out the aspects that were holding the manuscripts back and how the authors might improve these areas. This was my first experience with a First Pages session so I was a bit nervous waiting for them to read my submission. Mine was the last to be read and I was greatly relieved (and pleased) when it was over!
Award winning author Carmen Tafolla gave the keynote speech on her bumpy and scenic road to becoming a children’s book writer. She gave us three rules to remember:
1) Speak from your own voice; it is just as valid as any other voice out there.
2) Listen to others when they say, why don’t you try this? Go into the dressing room and try it on. If it doesn’t fit, take it off. But you’ll never know if you don’t try.
3) Don’t be afraid to write, rewrite, rewrite, rewrite…take a breather, rewrite again. Polish each word.