What an honor to be a part of this workshop. There were a total of 15 of us, all women, all children's writers, all published.
November 9, Day One
Meet and greet began around 5 PM. At dinner we introduced ourselves and told a bit about our writing back ground. I discovered I was with a group of high-powered authors. Suddenly I felt out of my league, like I had jumped into the deep end of the pool after just learning how to tread water. But it was too late to do anything but go on. Besides I really didn't want to be anywhere else.
Dinner was a yummy chicken stew with salad, rolls and brownies for dessert.
After dinner Jane spoke to us about writing (what else?) Her motto is BIC, Butt in Chair. A writer must write every day or the writing muscle will wither and atrophy.
On the process of writing:
First there is uncovering, which is the inkling of a story idea, a thought tickling your brain. Second there is discovery, the process of developing the story, characters, plot, of doing research, etc. Some writers, she said, can get lost in this process. Third is recovery, which is the actual writing and revision of the story.
She then went on to explain about outer and inner landscape. A story's outer landscape can be as much of a character as the people in your story. Your story characters live, work, play, run, walk, cry etc, within a landscape that affects and effects them. The outer landscape is a component of the character's inner landscape, which is his/hers psychological motivations. Outer landscape tells something about the character of your story and provides mood. An example is, if the Hound of the Baskervilles had taken place in a meadow it would not have provided the same atmosphere of terror. How a character interacts with the landscape is part of the story and helps provide your character with his/her inner landscape.
Next Jane went on to talk to us about contracts. There are several things to look for.
1. Rising royalties. Starting at the usual 10%, if your books sell more than say, twenty thousand or go into reprints your royalties should rise to 12% and then 15%. A publisher should reward an author for being successful.
2. Ask for more than the usual 10 books they ofter. Ask for 20, 25, 30. All they can do is say no.
3. If you and the publisher think the book is going to be important i.e. an award winner negotiate for more money. The amount is contingent of the type of award.
Next she went on to talk about agents. Jane said in this day and age with the complications of rights, the legalese of contracts and the difficulty of getting a publisher to look at your work, that having an agent has become a necessity. She told us if we didn't have an agent to continue submitting our work, but to also submit to agents. She said a lone author cannot get the kind of contract from a publisher that an agent can.
If you get an agent be sure to have an escape clause in your contract. If you and the agent are not a proper fit you should be able to give the agent a six week to three month notice that you want to part company. Make sure you get all your material back and have a list of the places the agent submitted your work.
No legitimate agent will ask money from you. They don't get paid until the publisher pays them.
Lastly she talked about critiquing. Always start by saying something nice about a person's work. Without rewriting the piece, try to give specific suggestions. "This doesn't work for me because..." "Why does this take place is such a short amount of time, it seems rushed to me..." "The ending seems abrupt, I think if you added just one or two more sentences..."
By the time she finished and had answered our questions we were all pretty tired, especially Jane who had crossed a time zone. We said good-night and went to our respective beds to sleep.
Except I didn't sleep well. I was too excited, eager and nervous. Why? because the next day I was going to be sharing a story with the whole group and they were going to critique it. I brought several stories with me. But which one was I going to read? Periodically I woke during the night, would turn on the light, read my selection and try to decided. Finally around 4:30 AM I gave up trying to sleep. I got a cup of coffee, wrote in my journal and finally made up my mind.
Stay tuned for more.