M Louise Kelly talks about the joys of having real-live industry professionals pore over your manuscript.
Listening to a talk on what makes a good manuscript, with details of what features of writing and plot and character make for a good children’s book: that’s useful.
Getting expert advice from someone currently working in publishing, one of the gatekeepers between you and getting your book into print: that’s even better.
Getting an expert, who not only knows what is good writing, but what works for your chosen readership, and is currently a gatekeeper, and getting their expert eyes to look at YOUR manuscript: well, that’s gold dust.
|SCBWI: the home of great critique|
And that’s exactly why the SCBWI 1-to-1 professional manuscript reviews and the SCBWI Annual Conference in Winchester are invaluable.
No wonder it’s one of the number one reason many people come to the conference. This year 89 successfully submitted their 4000 word manuscripts and synopses to be read by one of this year’s team of Editors - Miranda Baker, Ruth Bennett, Ellie Brough, Eleanor Farmer, Emma Lidbury, Joe Marriott and Polly Whybrow or Agents - Davinia Andrew-Lynch, Becky Bagnell, Anne Clark, Hellie Ogden, Yasmin Standen and Caroline Walsh. The organizing and matching was done by logistical whizz-kid Liz Miller who managed to get all but 6 their first choice of reviewer and then worked her socks off to match the others to the best fit for their second choice. She even slotted in 6 latecomers with a review too! It’s hard to believe you’d get such personal service from other manuscript review events. She’s a bit of an unsung hero!
In true SCBWI volunteer style Liz works tirelessly but recognizes the benefits too:
“I’m definitely more confident with agents and editors as a result,” she says. “Also every time I walked into that room on Saturday, it felt so buzzy (hopefully not too noisy!) and the absolute best thing is when someone walks out of the room with a big grin all over their face; it’s not my moment but it’s lovely to have played even a small part in someone else’s right time, right place, right story, right person moment.“
That atmosphere inside the critique room certainly was vibrant but these reviewers are used to it and all the attendees I talked to stressed how the industry professionals had put them at ease as soon as they’d arrived. To get the conversation started they often ask the ‘tell me what your books about’ question and those who had an elevator pitch ready felt most relieved! You really should never leave home without a pitch! In fact, my 15-minute session was bookended by elevator pitches: as I stood to leave, my reviewer wanted me to tell her about the other manuscript I’d mentioned during our chat. Really, never leave home without an elevator pitch for all Works in Progress. Luckily, I’m a 5-Finger Pitch fan so as long as I’ve got my fingers I can remember my pitch!
|Industry professional critique comments are jewels for your manuscript.|
The review itself involves a 15 minute face to face discussion about your manuscript and you might even get written feedback. The agents and editors are also keen to discuss the marketplace so if you’re brave enough you can ask them if they see anything like your manuscript selling right now, or what do they judge to be the major hooks you could use when your book is ready. It’s gold dust, I tell you!! As for discussing the writers’ craft in your manuscript, this is real critique – they’re business people so they’ll not soft-soap you – but they’re human too and they deliver it in a constructive and sensitive manner. Besides, every tiny scrap of critique they give you, that shows you what you’re not getting right yet, should be seen as a little jewel. Go hold it up to the light and see how it increases the value of your work.
If you need any excuse to justify coming to the conference next year, make this it. Get something polished so that it’s ready to submit around September next year!
|1-2-1s event listing in the #SCBWICON16 programme|
Creating a Comic Character with Lin Oliver
Comedy oozes out of Lin Oliver and she’s made a lifetime study of how to tickle the funny bone. M Louise Kelly shares some of the comedy gems she shared with us at her Sunday morning workshop.
|Lin Oliver, SCBWI founder and comic genius|
With over 350 TV writing credits to her name, including The Beverly Hillbillies, she also produces TV comedy and when not writing single authored books, she co-writes the hugely successful Hank Zipser middle grade, comic adventure stories with Henry ‘The Fonz’ Winkler.
Lin’s generous spirit also led her to co-found SCBWI in the USA many moons ago and today is the international organisation’s Executive Director and endless source of support to children’s writers everywhere. Lin had already played a full and enthusiastic role at the conference by the time she led her session on Creating a Comic Character so we already knew we were in for a treat.
|Getting inspired in the workshop L-R Elizabeth Fratarolli and Barbara Henderson|
She started by trying to get us to look at our own taste in humour and her tip for doing this was is to build your own Canon of Funny Stuff. Homework from the session was the best sort ever: go away and list all the funny writing you like, in books, TV, film, and work see if you can spot any common denominators. Yeah, that’s right, go and have a laugh…then try and figure out what’s doing the trick. We’re all different. One person’s side-splitting slapstick might set another person’s teeth grinding. Farce with its mayhem from multiple misunderstandings might have some hooting, while others twitch with incredulity that anyone could be so dumb. For some the laughs come from seeing the pompous guy get his comeuppance… oh, come on, EVERYBODY finds that funny, right? What ever it is that tickles you, use that. Her years in the writers room, team writing TV shows had made that clear: all you’ve really got to go on is whether or not it makes you laugh. Tune in to your own comic tastes.
|Event Programme Entry|
So, for Lin what makes good comedy? A comic situation is a handy place to start. Her ears are attuned to them and The Hook winner, Justin Davies’s pitch for his middle grade adventure Monsters: Missing in Action had certainly got her antennae twitching. Justin’s story of a girl who is sent to live with her uncle…who has an employment agency for monsters is the perfect comic premise. It just makes you say ‘Oh what could possibly go wrong?’, doesn’t it? Having this as a starting point means you’re not pushing uphill, says Lin, there are a thousand situations that can flow naturally from the starting point you’ve created and you can let your imagination fly.
|Comedy is a serious business. Lin Oliver giving us the golden rules.|
Across the two hours of the workshop, she gave us a dozen other golden tips about creating comedy and told us about taking risks, avoiding sentimentality and looking discomfort straight in the eye but the thing she kept coming back to was that all of this is only sustainable if there’s compassion at its centre. You can put your characters through hell but make sure your comedy has a heart and you’ll keep your audience onside and rolling round in the aisles.
|L-R M Louise Kelly, Lin Oliver, Natascha Biebow: Cartoon mode.|
She was also keen to get us listening well. Tuning in to how people say things, as well as what they say, is also key because comedy is all about rhythm and timing—
[Ed: you’re out of space…gotta cut it here, sorry
MLK: but, but… I haven’t got to the good bit yet.
Ed: no really, timing, dahling, You gotta work on your timing.]
Photo Credit: Max Blinkhorn