Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Interview with Beth Adams

This week Beth Adams visits the blog in advance of the NW Christian Writers' Renewal next month. Beth is a senior editor at Howard Books, focusing mostly on fiction. Previous she worked at Guideposts and Random House, and has degrees from Princeton and New York University. She works out of the main Simon and Schuster office in New York.

1. What’s been the most rewarding experience in your editing career?

Oh goodness. Every book is a special experience in some way. It’s so satisfying  to see a project go from a raw manuscript to a finished book. But beyond that, I can’t pick. This one is too hard!

2. What keeps you engaged with a story? What does “story” mean to you in the big picture?

I stay engaged in a story when there’s a compelling question that drives the story—when there’s something I need to know. I’ll keep reading to find out what happens. You can do this with any genre, even ones where there’s a pretty standard plot formula.

3. What are two of your all-time favorite books, fiction or non-fiction? Why?

This one is too hard too! I can never pick!

4. What are the primary reasons manuscripts fail to grab an editor’s interest?

Most of the books that cross my desk seem… good enough. Good enough is fine, but I’m looking for a book that stands out. I’m always looking for something that takes the book up a notch, makes it really stand out, that gives us an angle to sell it. Basically, I’m looking for a hook. A book that catches my attention will have that.

5. E-books, POD and e-readers have altered the publishing landscape. How do you envision the publishing realm continuing to change over the next 5-10 years?

 think e-books will continue to become a larger part of the market every year. This creates enormous opportunities for writers and publishers, and I think we will continue to find ways to capitalize on this more and more. I don’t think paper books will be going away anytime soon, but ultimately, readers are going to pick whatever format works best for them, and that’s progress. As long as they’re reading, I’m happy.

6. What one piece of advice would you offer an unpublished writer?

My best advice is to read a lot, and write a lot. I guess that’s technically two pieces of advice, but they’re closely related. Read so you know what else is out there, what you like, what you love, what works, what doesn’t. Read because it broadens your horizons and teaches you things you didn’t know. And it might just change the way you think about writing. And write. Do it a lot. Do it every day. Write things that you want to publish and things that you never think you can get published. The more your write, the better your craft will become, but it only happens through practice. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Interview with Jesse Florea

Today is the first in a series of interviews leading up to the Northwest Christian Writers' Renewal, May 17-18, at Overlake Christian Church in Redmond, WA. My first guest is Jesse Florea, editorial director for youth publications at Focus on the Family, for Clubhouse and Clubhouse Jr. magazines. He co-hosts the biweekly "Official Adventures in Odyssey" podcast.

You can learn more about the conference here.

1. How in the world did you ever decide to pursue a career in publishing? Why children’s stories?

Up until my sophomore year of high school, I pictured myself as a junior high teacher. But that year I took an introduction to journalism course and fell in love with writing. I started writing sports stories for my local weekly newspaper in Louisville, Colo., and continued to cover high school sports for 26 years (all through college and even during many of my years with Focus on the Family). As far as children’s stuff, I’ve always have a passion for children to know what and why they believe in Christ. Kids need to have a firm foundation of faith before their teen years when they’re bombarded by the media, friends and peer pressure. My position at Clubhouse and Club Jr. lines up perfectly with how God made me. I always say I haven’t worked a day in my life, because I’m having too much fun.

2. What do you see as the one thing lacking from submissions that cross your desk?

Engaging child characters. The best children’s writers respect children and challenge them in their writing. They don’t write “down” to the audience. They don’t have Mom or Dad or grandma swoop in and solve every problem. Many stories I see don’t give children that respect. Whereas books in the mainstream marketplace do. Strange, huh?
Also, I need humor!!! Kids love to laugh. Studies show that children laugh more than 300 times a day, compared to about 20 times a day for adults. Help kids fill their laugh quotient by writing humor.

3. What types of stories or articles are you seeking right now? How far in advance do you plan each issue’s material?

For Clubhouse, we need personality stories of ordinary kids doing extraordinary things for God. Takes research and interviewing, but totally worth it. Quizzes, especially humorous ones, would also be great. Clubhouse Jr. needs Bible stories and rebus stories. Or write a rebus Bible story—it’s a win-win. We work five months ahead but plan eight months ahead—even longer for Christmas and Easter where we get lots of stories.

4. What advice would you give a writer trying to break into a children’s magazine?

Study the publication. Know the voice, style and length of stories it publishes. Also, Sunday school take-home papers are a great way to start. I sold my first two children’s stories to Sunday school take-home papers. Try your writing out on kids. One of my writers pays his son to be his editor. Any story that he sells to Clubhouse, his son makes 15 percent.

5. If you could write any story in the world, what would that look like?

I’m a huge sports fan, so it’d probably be something related to Christianity and sports. Recently, I’ve been blessed to work on a few of these types of projects. I helped write a Jeremy Lin biography during the height of Lin-Sanity last year. And a book I wrote on New York Yankees pitcher Mariano Rivera just came out in April. Plus, I did a Playing With Purpose: Baseball book with a couple of friends that highlighted the good guys in that sport.
Maybe one day I’ll branch out and write fiction . . . but right now that scares me.

Monday, April 8, 2013

It's Conference Season!

That's right, if you're up for some learning and some schmoozing with other writers, agents and editors. 

I'm focusing on conferences happening in my neck of the woods, Washington. We're blessed to have some fabulous conferences throughout the year. Here is a sample of what to expect:

SCBWI Western Washington Regional Writers' Conference, April 19-21

This is one of the most fun and informative conferences around for those of us who write for kids. Year after year, the regional advisers exceed my expectations with the quality of the faculty and I always make at least one or two new writing friends. From First Pages sessions to illustrator-only sessions and beyond, this one is not to be missed---but naturally, I WILL be missing it this year.

Northwest Christian Writers Renewal, May 17-18

If you write for a Christian audience, then this conference is for you. One of the best bangs for your buck of any conference in the region. Two days are filled to the gills with teaching sessions, critique feedback, fellowship and fun. I've met some of my best friends at this conference and highly recommend it. You'll be hard pressed to find any size conference that offers such a whirlwind of activity in such a short time. 

Upcoming conferences:

I'll highlight these in a future post. You might want to get these on your radar now:

Pacific Northwest Writers Association Summer Writes Conference, July 25-28
Oregon Christian Writers Conference, August 12-15
Whidbey Island Writers Conference, October 25-27

The bottom line for attending a writers' conference? First, it's all about the people. Reach out to fellow writers and form new friendships. Don't just focus on the editors and agents. You never know, you may discover the perfect critique partner. Second, decide what you want to achieve far in advance of the conference itself. This way you don't head there without vision or return home feeling like a failure. 

Happy Conference Season!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Writing Parent

Finding time to write can be difficult enough. You have a full-time job. You have other responsibilities inside or outside your home. And that's BEFORE children come along!

How in the world do you find time to write as a parent? 

Whether you're at home with your kids, getting them each day for school or caring for a newborn; or if you leave each day for work, then come home to wall-to-wall kid time and family duties, you know the drill.

"I have to squeeze some time to write. Somewhere between changing diapers, helping with homework and making dinner. Oh, then there's the laundry."

Finding time to write is not as easy as it sounds. Sure, fifteen minutes sounds doable enough but once those kids are in bed, and you finally have some time to unwind, motivation may be a pipe dream.

How can you maintain motivation amidst your day-to-day parenting adventures? Here are a couple of suggestions:

* Utilize work breaks and lunches - Personally, this has been one of my most productive times to write. If you hold a full-time job outside the home, give it a try.

* Carry a mini-recorder so you don't lose any thoughts while driving or have forgotten a notepad.

* Shut off the Internet after the kids go to bed and hit it hard for at least 15 minutes. When there is finally quiet in the house, you never know how much you can accomplish.

* Schedule one night a week to write. I take one night and go spend anywhere from 3-5 hours writing at a coffee shop or the library. This is dedicated time where you can ensure no distractions, at least not from your kids.

What secrets have you found to finding time to write?