Last week Hillary Homzie and I did a super fun and informative webinar where we shared 5 Things Agents and Editors Want to See Before Signing You with examples from fabulous books. One of those things was Special X, which was kind of a hook, like a book hook that makes you want to keep reading. With us, Special X was a group of things around behaviors that agents and editors want to see. Well when we got to Special X, we were already over time and got flustered and didn't give it as much as time as we would have liked. So I wrote something up on the webinar recording page for the folks who had registered that summarized the main things from the webinar and included the Special X materials. I felt that this info might also be helpful to a wider range of creatives beyond the wonderful 470 people who registered. So here it is:
1. Professionalism - Your work is beautifully written with all the main criteria covered of: original subject matter or approach, great voice, awesome plotting or page turners whether it's fiction or nonfiction. It needs to be professionally edited with few typos or grammar errors. Editors and agents who edit are creative editors, not copy editors. And sadly, they are so very busy that they don't have time or interest to do this for you. So being professional means whether it's a query or a manuscript, it has to be professionally written and it has to shine. If this isn't your strength, either take our awesome Grammar course with Miranda Paul or hire a professional editor who also does copy editing.
2. Politeness and Charm - This means don't try and pitch an agent or editor in the bathroom, on an elevator, when they are surrounded by others, or when they are eating. In other words, don't hound them. Politeness is another form of professionalism. When I was an agent, I had someone charming pitch me via email, and while I really liked her and her work, she kept hounding me with emails and it was so overwhelming and gave off so many red flags of being high maintenance that I just said no. And while charm isn't critical, editors and agents are giving large amounts of their precious time to work with you so it really helps to work with someone who is either charming or nice. Actually niceness trumps charm every time, but charm can be fun!
3. Punctuality - Yep, being punctual is critical - doing what you say you are going to do when you say you are going to do it. If you say that you'll get the first 10 pages to them by next Monday then it needs to be there by next Monday. Agents and editors are constantly up against deadlines and they need to know that you can be relied upon to make yours. So punctuality is another form of professionalism.
4. Research - Show that you know what you are doing by researching whomever you are approaching so that they know that you want to work specifically with them. You could call this another form of politeness, niceness, and professionalism. Trust me, it really helps. Agents and editors want to know that you aren't approaching everyone out there and that they aren't wasting their time reading on.
5. Promotion - More and more agents and editors want to see that you have a network of friends and a platform to help spread the word about your books in order to help sell them. What this means basically is having a strong social media following in places like Facebook and/or Twitter and a website that engages people and shares about your work. In fact, in one contract that I negotiated as an agent, this was one of the non-negotiable criteria in the contract. In addition, an editor that I spoke with said that the first thing she does on receiving a manuscript or query that she is interested in, is check them out on the web. I know you might be groaning but this is just the reality of contemporary publishing. Luckily, it's not the case with all agents and editors, although they may strongly encourage you to make sure you have your social media and website in place after they sign you.
So that's it for the 5 Things Agents and Editors Want to See Before Signing You and Special X. I hope that you found it helpful. Unfortunately it's too late to register for this webinar recording but to get first dibs on other free webinars, special offers, and other goodies!
Dr. Mira Reisberg is the co-teacher of the upcoming ground-breaking Middle Grade Mastery course with Hillary Homzie, starting February 29th! She has helped MANY authors and illustrators get published. She has also worn just about every hat in the industry including art director, editor, award-winning illustrator and author, kid lit university professor, and literary agent. Mira holds a PhD in Education and Cultural Studies with a focus on children's literature. In just the past few years, former students have received over 50 contract offers while many others have become agented. This makes her extremely happy!!!
So as educators, we take professional development courses on student engagement. We try new strategies. We use classroom structures, hooks, gimmicks. We’ll do anything from using interactive technology to doing a song and dance if it means that 100% of our students will be “engaged” in the lesson we are presenting.
Because come on, let’s face it. Reviewing how a question will be asked on the end of year state test such as Which detail is least important to include in a summary of paragraphs 1-4 is just not that exciting. Let’s ignore that fact that our review is really about getting students to understand what the question is asking and then how to go about answering the question than it is getting kids to comprehend and summarize a story.
But even with cooperative structures, technology clickers, incentive charts, popcorn parties, gold stars, and sour gummy worms we just can’t seem to reach every child to be fully engaged in understanding the least important detail of paragraphs 1-4.
Why is this?
And why can you take the same group of students, who have varying reading levels, varying behavior, varying social and emotional need, varying home lives and sit them in a classroom with just one thing and EVERY SINGLE STUDENT is ENGAGED?
Just one thing. No technology. No incentives, no bribes, no sugar-induced comas.
Just one thing.
Read aloud by their teacher.
You may have heard people say this before. And no, you can’t just take any teacher. And you can’t just take any book. The teacher needs to have some decent read aloud skills and have a genuine love for reading. And the book has to have been carefully chosen by the teacher for the class that she knows so well. Reading aloud a poorly written book by a teacher with poor read aloud skills simply doesn’t work.
But unless you have witnessed this first hand, it’s hard to imagine the power this one book and this one teacher have.
The sad thing is in an age of “testing” reading aloud seems to get pushed to the back burner. Unless there is a “measureable objective” for every minute in the day, there doesn’t seem to be a place for it any more.
We are really missing the target lately. By sharpening our focus on testing to achieve those passing scores, we are blurring the edges of reality.
And the reality of it? By forcing elementary students to be focused on passing standardized tests, we have less time to actually teach them to read. Plus we are KILLING their love of reading (if they ever had one.)
So Mr. or Mrs. Head of Education, when these students graduate high school not being able to read, not ever having finished a book, and not having any desire to ever read anything please don’t act shocked. Please don’t call us a nation with an illiteracy problem and then decide to remedy this by pushing for more testing starting in Pre K. Please don’t increase the lexile expectations any higher. Please don’t expect our students to work more rigorously in any more complex texts. It isn’t possible for them to “close read” any more than they already are.
Start measuring students on how much they love to read.
Start hiring teachers that love to read.
Make one of your principal “look fors” to be that teachers and students are authentically reading and talking about books they’ve read.
Start making “teacher read aloud” a time in the day that doesn’t require a measurable objective.
So when you come in to measure “student engagement,” don’t worry, because I can guarantee 100% of my students will be fully engaged.
Teachers live this reality. We know what testing is doing to our students. Testing more doesn’t mean they are learning more. They are actually learning less of what they need to be learning. But until someone who has more power than an elementary teacher figures out how much damage testing is really doing to the future of students, we will continue down this road of illiteracy with a side of hating to read.
And as an educator, I will continue to still teach my students how to “pass the test” no matter how ridiculously rigorous it becomes and I’ll hang onto that pendulum until it starts to swing in the other direction. But no matter how much education changes one thing will remain constant in my classroom. The secret to creating a literate nation: the love of reading. I will always read aloud to my students. Because it’s the game changer. It’s the one thing that will keep students 100% engaged. It’s the one thing that can change their lives and their future.
An elementary teacher of reading
So what's the one thing you should know as a writer?
Teachers need those well written engaging books that have the power to change lives.
The class I was talking about above was a group of 5th graders. And the books they need their teachers to read aloud? Well written middle grade novels.
This would be the perfect time to register for the Children's Book Academy course Middle Grade Mastery taught by Mira and Hillary Homzie.
The course runs from February 29th- March 28th!
For all the details click the link below.
Hurry to register as the early bird special rates expire on Monday at midnight.
Every now and then, there's a writer whose work is so profound and so beautiful that for a moment you want to be them. That writer right now for me is multi-award-winning, New York Times best-selling author Andrea Davis Pinkney who also happens to be an exquisite human being. I'm lucky enough to know Andrea and when Hillary Homzie and I started the Chapter Book Alchemist course, we named the scholarships for it after her. Now that the Alchemist has become an Instant Access course, we wanted to keep honoring Andrea with a new scholarship for our Middle Grade Mastery course, where Andrea is also sharing her writing knowledge for students here.
When I said that I wanted to be Andrea, just for a moment, it is because when I thought a little deeper about the pain and heartache she must have gone through researching and writing the extraordinary prose poem middle grade novel The Red Pencil, I don't think I could hold that much sorrow and transform it so eloquently. It takes a special kind of courage and fortitude to take on such a daunting task of creating a 12 year old character who you love and then take them through the dark landscape of war and loss with beauty and humor and hope. Perhaps it's because of my own background as the daughter of war survivors but I don't know if I could do it.
I made one of my new sneak peek reviews of this book, this one is less than 4 minutes and due to the length there's so much that I couldn't include so I'm just going to give a brief overview of some of the many themes explored in the novel:
Coming of age
Family and community
Education for girls
Voice and voicelessness
Desert life and animal husbandry
Telling stories in innovative ways
Here's the wee video followed by some of Andrea's many books:
Find out more about Andrea at her website http://andreadavispinkney.com/
Apply for a 2016 Middle Grade Mastery course scholarship here
Find out about the Middle Grade Mastery course itself, right here
We are so excited to be mixing things up at CBA, beginning with some delicious additions to the Blogfish. Meet our awesome new bloggers!!
Here's our lineup:
1st Mondays begin with Clear Fork/Spork editor/art director, former agent and former kidlit professor Mira Reisberg PhD who is also the Director of the Children's Book Academy.
2nd Mondays will feature super smart Melissa Stoller whose career is taking off with several new books.
3rd Mondays will feature Bryan Patrick Avery, published writer, man of mystery, and professional magician among other things.
4th Mondays feature funny Aussie author Sharon Giltrow sharing awesome Aussie books.
And 5th Mondays will feature Libyan American author Koloud Tarapolsi sharing wonderful diverse books.