What I learned at WriteOnCon

WriteOnCon is a fantabulous kid lit writing conference hosted by Jamie Harrington, Elana Johnson, Casey McCormick, Shannon Messenger, Lisa and Laura Roecker, and Jennifer Stayrook. The 2010 version (and they say there will be a 2011 version as well) featured numerous writers, illustrators, literary agents and editors, with some terrific panels, videos and live chats. The things that were wicked cool for those of us lucky enough to participate included:

a) It didn't involve luck at all. Just register
b) It was free
c) You didn't have to travel anywhere. Actually, this might have been even better for the agents and editors who normally have to hall themselves across the country.
d) You didn't have to choose between events. All the videos, chats and articles are still there today.
e) Critiques!!!!! query critiques. 1st 250 word critiques! 1st five page critiques!!!
f) Contests. Seriously good ones, too.
g) Awesome content.
h) Networking opportunities with folks from around the world

Probably one of the most equal-opportunity critique opportunities was the Live Chat from literary agent Natalie Fischer, where ripped through a pile of queries and gave live feedback on each. When she ran out of time, she continued on Twitter. I must say that 140 words on Twitter was a perfect way to obtain concise feedback on my query, and it helped me an absolute ton.

So what did I learn? Let's see if I can remember. It is Sunday night after all, and I got about three hours sleep last night.

  1. Literary agents and editors have a pretty well defined list of genres they universally cringe at when reading queries: vampires, werewolves, angels, and dystopian governments are among them. By the way, I critiqued an interesting five page excerpt on WriteOnCon that involved a dystopian government run by vampires. My guess is that the related query will engender strong feelings one way or the other -- double cringe or "wow, that's unique."
  2. There is a saying. "RTFM" a.k.a. Read the F&!k*ng Manual. This applies to querying. Follow the submission guidelines and you will, surprisingly, position yourself well ahead of many queriers. Yes. You will have made it to the starting gate without shooting yourself in the ankles.
  3. Never give up.
  4. Voice is probably the most important part of your novel. 
  5. Plot can be fixed.
  6. Voice is equally important to your query. 
  7. If you've submitted your first draft, they will know.
  8. Write your own queries. 
  9. Gerbils should not write queries.
  10. Don't write queries from your character's point of view. 
  11. If the agent or editor does not understanding your query ... that's bad.
  12. Support the publishing industry. Buy books new. Borrow them from the library. (Libraries buy more of a book if the circulation for said tome is high.) 
  13. Book trailers should be short.
  14. As an author, having thousands of followers on twitter is great. But following thousands of people makes it obvious you aren't interacting personally with your audience.
  15. Everything you do on the internet - blogs, tweets, facebook, etc. - is public. Your potential audience includes literary agents, editors, librarians, and the book buying public. Don't be negative.
  16. Snarky for snarky sake misses the point. 
  17. Voice = Tone + Style + Audience
  18. Honesty is critical. Kids have an acute BS-o-meter. 
  19. Like it or not, kids curse and have sex. You don't like it? See #18.
  20. If your novel makes the agent or editor think, I can't put this down. I need to know what happens. -- You will likely find success.
And the Awesome Explanation Award goes to Jennifer Laughran from Andrea Brown Literary Agency, for defining the difference between urban and paranormal fantasy.

"Demented fairies roaming around in the subway shooting drugs and putting spells on people is urban fantasy. Some psychic chicks in a boarding school is paranormal."

*Gets down on knees and bows down in appreciation*

As I said, all the good stuff from WriteOnCon is still posted.  Check it out.


Dawn Embers said...

Interesting. I don't write for kids but those are some good points that are relevant to almost any novel. *hides angel/demon novel* lol

Great bits of advice. I considered joining the con but since I don't do kidlit, I just read what everyone else posted about it. I am signed up for the Muse online conference though.

Annie McMahon said...

That's a very good summary! I have to sort out my notes. There's about five blog posts in there.

Wasn't it the BEST conference ever? Loved every aspect of it.

~Jamie said...

Did she not NAIL that explanation?!?! It was the first time I've ever seen it put into words that it actually MADE sense to me!

Thanks for your awesome review of writeoncon!

(and there will SO be a 2011--but you might want to stay tuned for an event or two a little closer than that.) :)

Jay said...

I agree, Dawn. Loads of great advice, regardless of your target audience.

Definitely, Annie. I got more out of this conference than the Writers Digest and local SCBWI conferences. Seriously. The only thing it was missing was a "Pitch Slam". Theoretically, though it was kind of there if the contests and critiques.

Jamie! Thank you!!!!!!! Something sooner? For real? Count me in! (And she basically summarized Valiant vs. half the books in Borders)

Elana Johnson said...

Awesome! I know I'm late getting here, but I'm so glad you enjoyed the conference!

Jay said...

Elana - "I'm not worthy. I'm not worthy!"