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MindyThis week I’m doing something special–bringing you a boatload of notes from Florida’s recent SCBWI conference in Miami, courtesy of author Mindy Alyse Weiss. Why a boatload? Well, it’s freezing here in NJ, so I imagined Mindy on a catamaran, sipping a piña colada with the captain as she wrote this. (We all have dreams, and my dream is to attend a WARM conference! Or maybe that should be a HOT conference?)

I was thrilled when Tara asked me to blog about the 2014 SCBWI FL Regional Conference in Miami. She always gives so much to the kidlit community through her yearly PiBoIdMo challenge and thoughtful blog posts, and I hope this will help all of you, too. Since workshops are often repeated, I can’t share all the secrets…but I definitely have some juicy info, plus insight into what some agents and editors are hoping to find…

I attended the Agent Panel with Jen Rofé of Andrea Brown Literary Agency, Deborah Warren of East*West Literary Agency and Ammi-Joan Paquette of Erin Murphy Literary Agency, where they shared wish lists and do’s/don’ts with aspiring authors.


Jen Rofé

  • When sending a query, make it clear you’re personalizing it to that agent.
  • When asked how many editors she sends a manuscript to at a time and when she considers giving up, she said she won’t stop until she’s exhausted every opportunity.
  • The fastest she sold a manuscript—three hours! The longest it took was four years.
  • Wish list: commercial character-based picture books. A country song book for YA. Books based on childhood, like a girl who is getting into stuff she isn’t supposed to do, but nobody would expect that.
  • If you write picture books, she would want at least four she could try to sell right away.
  • Write the thing that scares you. It usually comes from some raw, painful place and that’s where the good stuff comes out.
  • So many people say that it only takes one yes. But it’s not just one yes—you typically need lots of yeses, including the editor, publisher, marketing, etc.
  • Don’t EVER write to the market!
  • A personal note from an agent is a good sign! They don’t have time to send that to everyone. It might be the project/first page/query letter that isn’t quite right at the moment.

Deborah Warren

  • Specializes in picture books. She’s known for building brands and loves finding new talent!
  • She loves working with author/illustrators—it’s her sweet spot. She’s having trouble with chapter books (they’re usually franchises). Realistic fiction is really coming back and she’s excited about that.
  • The client/agent relationship is like a marriage. She’ll never give up on a client—once you’re on the team, you’re there!
  • Wish list: Author/illustrators, multicultural, books based on childhood, a book about singing, or kids overcoming their obstacles.

Ammi-Joan Paquette

  • She looks for a strong opening in the sample pages and is especially drawn to precise pitches in a query that are snappy and compelling.
  • She usually takes three to four weeks to respond to queries. For longer requested manuscripts it was two months, but she’s backlogged right now.
  • When working on promotion, authenticity and what feels natural to you is important. An awkward presence is actually worse than no presence. In the pre-published stage, the focus should be on craft.
  • Wish list: books that do something really different, a different narrative structure, different POV. She loves unusual projects, books based on childhood—travel, unusual vacations, anything to do with food or baking or French food.

Thanks for the agent tips, Mindy. See you back here on Wednesday with more from the SCBWI FL Conference!

Mindy Alyse Weiss writes humorous middle-grade novels with heart and quirky picture books. She’s constantly inspired by her two daughters, an adventurous Bullmasador adopted from The Humane Society, and an adorable Beagle/Pointer mix who was rescued from the Everglades. Visit Mindy’s Twitter, Facebook, or blog to read more about her writing life, conference experiences, and writing tips.

by Mindy Alyse Weiss

When I first discovered this challenge, I couldn’t imagine coming up with a book idea every day for a month. But something wonderful happened…my brain soon went into picture book mode and the ideas started flying.

I’ll admit, it was a little scary at first. Then an idea hit when I was showering. By the time I made it to my computer, it turned into one great idea and two possible companion books. Wahoo! Other ideas came to me while driving, walking my dog, and attempting to sleep. Some hit while reading stacks of picture books, checking out the list of 400+ Things That Kids Like and 79 Things Kids Don’t Like on Tara’s site, or watching children and animals. If I felt stuck, I’d force myself to type for five minutes without stopping. Then, I’d nix the thoughts too silly to use and play around with the others.

Sometimes, I could visualize the characters and potential plot arcs and jotted down the info in detail. Others were little more than a title and a short sentence or two. I’d love to say they were all incredible ideas…but I know some will never turn into manuscripts. I’m not even a tiny bit sad about those, because it feels wonderful to have so many ideas to choose from whenever I’m ready to dive into a new story!

After PiBoIdMo, I fleshed out the ideas. I was tempted to dig into my favorite ones, but decided to concentrate on existing picture book and novel manuscripts until May 1, when Paula Yoo’s National Picture Book Writing Week (NaPiBoWriWee) began. I was thrilled to complete eight shiny new drafts by the end of that challenge! They’re in various stages of revision now. PiBoIdMo definitely sparked ideas that are turning into gems.

I used to spend so much time revising manuscripts, I’d only write a couple new ones a year. This is fantastic motivation to keep the new ones coming. I hope you’ll all join in the PiBoIdMo fun!

Here are my top ten reasons why you should try PiBoIdMo:

  1. You’ll have at least 30 ideas to play around with by the end of November.
  2. This could lead to amazing new manuscripts and help you avoid Blank Page Syndrome the next time you want to start a new project.
  3. Challenges are a fun way to kick start your writing.
  4. It will help train your brain to look for ideas everywhere.
  5. Meet lots of friendly, supportive writers through Tara’s blog and the PiBoIdMo Facebook group.
  6. You’ll have cool PiBoIdMo participant and winner logos to display online.
  7. You can tell everyone you’re busy with a challenge and need help with laundry and chores (shh…they don’t need to know it won’t take up too much time every day).
  8. If you do receive some household help, use the extra time to come up with more ideas, flesh some out, or work on a manuscript.
  9. You could be a future PiBoIdMo Success Story! Keep your eyes open for a post full of great news about past participants. This challenge has sparked ideas that have led to agents, book contracts, and contest wins!
  10. If the above reasons aren’t enough to motivate you to join, you can win PRIZES…including critiques from authors and feedback from agents!

I’d like to hear what you love most about this fun challenge and any tips you have. For those of you taking the plunge for the first time, what are you looking forward to the most? You can also post any questions you have here or on the PiBoIdMo Facebook group.

If you think you’re too busy to tackle this challenge…I dare you to try it anyway. Last year, I wrote over 50,000 words of a novel for NaNoWriMo and completed PiBoIdMo with 38 ideas! Look back at all the writers who won the challenge in 2010. This year, you can be a winner, too. And Tara decided to give us two extra days, so you can start RIGHT NOW! Don’t forget to sign up here, so you’ll be able to win some amazing prizes. Then start a PiBoIdMo file or open a journal and go, go go! I know you can do it. 🙂

Mindy Alyse Weiss writes quirky picture books and humorous middle-grade novels.

She’s constantly inspired by her daughters, adventurous sock and stuffed animal munching puppy, and two stinky but adorable ferrets.

Two of her picture book manuscripts placed in the 2011 80th Annual Writer’s Digest Writing Competition.

Visit her blog, Facebook, or Twitter to read more about her writing life, conference experiences, and writing tips.

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