February 2nd, 2007

Ten years ago today, two very important things happened.

One: my dog was born.

Two: I joined a teen writing website hosted by Scholastic called Write It.

You could say that one of these things alone was the best thing to ever happen to me, because they’ve both shaped me and saved me in so many ways. But the combination of the two, by far, makes February 2nd, 2007 a particularly notable day for me. And now here we are, in 2017, ten years later, and so much of what has dominated my life over the past decade can be traced back to that day.

Of course I didn’t know anything particularly important was happening on February 2nd, 2007. I just happened to join a new website; a few months later I’d meet my best friend at my thirteenth birthday party and she’d just so happen to have been born February 2nd as well.

I think everyone knows how much I love my dog. (And how much it sucks to have to be away from her—which is ironic, since the having-to-be-away thing was caused by joining Write It. More on that later.) But fewer people probably know about the thousands of hours I logged on Write It throughout my middle and high school years. And how much the friendships we forged and the stories we crafted and the dreams we ignited on there made me who I am today.

I’d always wanted to be a writer, but it was Write It that got me to sit down and actually write my first novel. It was Write It that taught me about NaNoWriMo (which I’ll be celebrating a different ten year anniversary with, this November). It was on Write It that I learned there was such a thing as being a Creative Writing major, and it was on Write It that I learned about revising and publishing, and it was on Write It that I got my first taste of critiquing novels and organizing events. It was on Write It that I first found people who felt like me.

It’s no wonder, taking this all into consideration, that it was wanting to meet my friends on Write It that gave me the idea for the Chapter One Young Writers Conference—and now look at us. (We were in Writer’s Digest last year! Our keynote speaker was a New York Times bestseller!) And because Write It gave me the confidence to pursue a Creative Writing major, I ended up at a dream university, studied abroad at Oxford, interned in New York, received highest honors on my creative writing honors thesis, completed the Columbia Publishing Course UK—and most importantly: I met some of the best friends I will ever be lucky enough to have.

My senior year of college, I was a regional judge for the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. We used to call them the “SAWAs” on Write It. (Fun fact: the Write It writing forums were founded with the purpose of preparing kids to enter the SAWAs.) I thought at the time that I had finally come full circle. From kid-entering-the-SAWAs to judge. I thought, This is what February 2nd was leading to.

One year later, though, and I see now what full circle really looks like. Because I now work at Scholastic. (I mean, I’m an editorial intern. But still.) And I found out about this job because a friend had a job at Scholastic, and she recommended me. And I know this friend because she’s a member of the Ch1Con team. And Ch1Con was founded, originally, by members of the Scholastic’s Write It community. And on and on and on—it all leads back to that day.

Looking back on the past ten years, I don’t know how they could have turned out any other way. Because clearly this was the right course of events. Clearly the dominoes lined up just right to lead me here. (When I was twelve, I wanted to be a veterinarian. I’m really, really happy that, thanks to joining Write It, I did not become a veterinarian.)

So, here we are: ten years ago today, I was a pretentious twelve-year-old idiot who had no idea who she was or who she wanted to be. But she knew she liked to write. She was dreaming of New York City and meeting authors—and, yes, the chance she might someday get a puppy.

Today, February 2nd, 2017, I am a sentimental twenty-two-year-old idiot who’s still figuring out who I am, but who knows exactly who I want to be. I still like to write. I’m living in New York City, now. I work with authors every day. And today is my puppy’s tenth birthday.

I might not have ended up where I meant to go, but I’m exactly where I’m meant to be. So here’s to February 2nd, 2007. Here’s to Twelve-Year-Old Julia. Here’s to the days that shape us (and save us).

And here’s to February 2nd, 2017. I can’t wait to see where we go from here.

~Julia

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Dear Twelve Year Old Me

Dear Twelve Year Old Me,

You don’t know it yet, but that writing website you discovered the other day is going to change everything.

You’ll learn so much about the publishing industry, there. Become a better writer. Fall into being a much better person.

And most importantly, you’ll meet some of your best friends.

I know. Crazy. Becoming friends with people on the internet. Didn’t Mom and Dad warn you not to do that? (But it’ll be okay, because that writing website has a wonderful moderator named Bronwen who will keep you from sharing the personal details that could get you kidnapped by a drug cartel/human traffickers.) (You know. Until Fourteen Year Old You and said online friends join NaNoWriMo’s Young Writers Program, at which you all realize you can now talk without anyone else watching, and you subsequently become completely invested in each other’s lives.)

You don’t know it yet, but a lot of your dreams aren’t going to come true. You won’t be like that girl in that Andrew Clements novel you read over and over again. You won’t be the one juggling schoolwork with book tours and TV appearances.

But that’s okay, that’s more than okay, because you are going to be the one with an AP English essay open in one window and endless novel revisions open in another. You’ll be the one “writing” in notebooks during breaks at theatre rehearsals (because come on, now: we all know that chicken scratch can’t be called writing). You’ll be the one who talks about being scared you’re in the Saggy Middle of your journey to publication as a senior in high school while pacing in a hotel room in New York City, a writing conference in full swing a few floors below.

You’ll be the one who cries a little when you step in the Javits Center for the first time as (Two Weeks Ago) Twenty Year Old You. Because while everybody else in the industry despises it, for someone still so on the outside, that building looks like dreams for the future and rings with those dreams coming true.

Don’t be scared. You’ll still wants it as badly as you do now, Twelve Year Old Me. But you’ll want it differently in seven and a half years. And it’s a long, hard, and beautiful journey to get here.

The other kids on that website you stumbled across are going to be your lifelines through all this. Don’t be mad when they’re better than you; be grateful when they compliment your writing; and always remember how lucky you are to have them in your life.

You don’t deserve them. You still don’t now. But you do have them, and they have you, and that’s what you’re doing here right now.

Because “here” is Arlington Heights, Illinois. And “right now” is 7:21 AM, June 14th, 2014. The morning of the 2014 Chapter One Young Writers Conference. A conference you put together (with a LOT of help from Mom, mind you) so you and your friends and other young writers like you can transcend the boundaries of the internet and distance, at least for a weekend. Because after seven and a half years, you guys deserve that kind of thing.

And now you–or I, I guess, am sitting here on a bath mat across from a hotel toilet, because I don’t want to wake Mom out in the room. And my left shoulder blade is pressed to the wall, legs bent with left flip flop pressed to right thigh, and it’s funny, because in seven and a half years years everything else has changed, but I still sit like I don’t know how to be a functioning human being. (Let’s be honest: I don’t.)

You’re just a snatch of memory held up with velvet rope and spotlights at the back of my mind, now, Twelve Year Old Me: a period in my life I remember probably far too often, because I am scared to forget.

And I love you. Because you won’t know you’re changing everything when you choose to use that website for all the wrong reasons and choose to obsess over it for all the right ones.

Eat your vegetables. Brush your teeth. And don’t watch too much TV; it rots your brain. (But no worries. The doctors fix that in the future by coming up with a drug called “Netflix.” Don’t tell the other kids, but it’s going to be awesome.)

One last word of advice: Thirteen Year Old You will encounter the urge to write a novel titled Pennamed. Much bad will come of this. DON’T GIVE IN. (But actually do, because finishing that first terrible novel is one of the things that sets you down the path to Now. And I love Now.)

I’m off to talk with some of those girls you met the other day. Thanks for introducing me to them. They’re pretty cool.

 

Love,

Twenty Year Old Me

Wordy Wednesday (“Writer’s Digest Conference NOTES, Part 3”)

More notes today! 🙂 These are going to be on pitching and agents.

FRIDAY:

Pitch Perfect by Chuck Sambuchino

 

  • When pitching to an agent at, say, a writing conference, your pitch should be memorized and you should aim for a 60 to 90 second pitch (preferably closer to 60).
  • DO NOT REVEAL THE ENDING IN YOUR PITCH/QUERY LETTER. If you reveal the ending, the agent won’t have a reason to read your story.
  • Do anything you can to cut down on confusion in your query.
  • Make sure you share the following:
  1. Genre
  2. Title
  3. Word count
  4. Complete or not
  • Logline: Your story in one sentence. Introduce main characters, introduce something interesting or wanted by your main characters, share your inciting incident – what propels your story into motion, what happens if there’s a mistake, complications in your story (what bad stuff happens), and leave off with an unclear wrap up (end where you’re comfortable and don’t give away the ending). Extra credit for including your MC’s character arc.
  • Avoid generalities, phrases like “highs and lows,” “ups and downs,” “life gets turned upside down,” etc. Be specific; there’s a difference between a secret and a generality.
  • Only use names that are absolutely necessary and skip subplots.
  • Bring an emotion to the pitch – make the agent feel something (but not like, “Gosh, somebody get this buffoon out of my face already!! *aaaanger*).
  • Don’t talk about yourself unless necessary (unless, you know, you’re querying a memoir)

 

 

SATURDAY:

Panel: Ask the Agents by Chuck Sambuchino (moderator), Mary Kole, Diana Fox, April Eberhardt, and John Willig

 

  • Publishing house editors don’t do a lot to edit your work anymore, sometimes, so you have to edit with your agent; the agent’s role is increasing in scope in the publishing industry.
  • You have to remember when querying an agent that although you’re only pitching one novel, if that agent signs you, you’ll ultimately be working with him/her on MANY novels.
  • An agent is like a Sherpa.
  • Make sure that your query letter is perfect. If the writing in the query letter isn’t good, the agent will assume that your book won’t be good either, and they’ll reject you based on that assumption.
  • Don’t get too excited over partial requests. If your writing is at all decent, you’re going to get a bunch of them, and you’re still very likely to get rejected off of those.
  • The biggest reason for a novel to get rejected after a partial is because the story doesn’t have a good hook or gets sloppy after a while.
  • If an agent suggests edits, you should take them – even if you haven’t signed a contract yet, the agent wants to see how well you can work with them.
  • Agents look for high-quality writing and good pacing, and pacing counts double in kid lit because kids aren’t going to keep reading something if it bores them. Make sure your voice rings true.
  • Platform is a built-in audience for your book, but it’s not entirely necessary in fiction.
  • Agents are looking for writers who can be partners in getting a quality book out in the market
  • Self-publishing is okay – you can still get an agent – but you need to really good sales on your self-published book, then. At least a thousand copies, hopefully more.
  • The odds are stacked against debut authors; it’s very difficult to break into the industry.
  • Marketing is especially important for author-illustrators.
  • Generally, narrative nonfiction and memoir are represented by fiction agents rather than nonfiction, because although they’re about real life, they read like fiction.
  • Sometimes it’s good to have an agent even when you’re self-publishing, because even then they can act as your guide.
  • There’s a lot of blending of roles these days between agent and editor.
  • If one agent passes from an agency, the entire agency is a pass.
  • When doing a partial request, always start with the beginning of your book and go from there – don’t be like, “Oh, you want to see fifty pages? Here, let’s go from page 73 to 123!” (Because then you’ll look really stupid.)
  • When establishing your platform with children’s books, make your target audience the parents, not the children, unless you write YA – teenagers are on the internet. Five year olds whose parents read them bedtime stories are not.
  • If you have a nagging feeling about editing something before you send it to an agent, do it. Even if it’s a lot of work.
  • When you are sick to death of your novel and don’t think you can revise it one more time, put it away for two months. Do something else, generate new ideas, and then go back to it – edit it ONE MORE TIME – and then it’ll be ready.
  • When you write multiple genres (like women’s fiction and thrillers, or something), you might need multiple agents to represent all of those, but make sure that all of your agents know about each other and are constantly updated on what’s going on between them. However, if you sign with an agent who represents all of those different genres, they’ll automatically expect to represent all of your projects in those genres.
  • While you can’t copyright an idea, you can trademark a logline, chapter header, hook, etc. Check out: www.legalzoom.com
  • Agents do general marketing, but if you’re blogging – market that. That’s your marketing.
  • In YA, there are different levels of edginess, and there are agents and editors for all of those different levels. The key is finding the agent and editor who like the level that you’re writing at.
  • Don’t follow the market. Be yourself. Don’t be edgy for the sake of being edgy.
  • The biggest reason for parting with an agent is a lack of enthusiasm for a project.
  • Remember that there’s a difference between an agent screwing your career and not being able to sell your book. Sometimes the market’s just not right for your project and, despite the agent’s best efforts, nobody’s buying.

Be on a look out for even more notes from the Writer’s Digest Conference 2012, coming this weekend!

Oh, and guess who just found out last night that she won stuff from the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards?? YEEEEY!! 😀 I got silver keys for my short story “Touch” and memoir “I Am,” and an honorable mention for my senior writing portfolio (which contained lots of different types of pieces).

~Julia