Spotlight on Local Author: Henry Herz

Intro

Henry Herz intimidates me.

He’s written and sold ten children’s books, along with numerous short stories, and he’s one of the few writers Jonathan Maberry trusts to run the Writers Coffeehouse when he can’t host it himself.

Did I mention he frequently runs panels for Comic-Con and WonderCon? And that he edited an anthology that includes stories from Peter S Beagle, Jane Yolen, and Jim Butcher?

Thankfully, he’s as friendly and approachable as he is super-organized (more on that later). He recently spent some time with me over Zoom to talk about his writing process, children’s book publishing, and his dive into the world of middle-grade novels.

Writing Process

What is your writing process like for a picture book? With something that short, does pantsing vs plotting come into play?

I’m a plotter by nature, and because of my background in industrial engineering, I don’t like wasting time. For me, being a plotter is more efficient than being a pantser because I don’t write myself into corners.

But it’s an artistic endeavor, and it may be that someone who loves to be a pantser can’t plot. They would actually be slower, so every writer must discover what works best for them.

For a picture book, there’s usually 13 to 14 two-page spreads, so I’ll just do an outline to show what I want to have on each of these spreads. Then I can look at everything and go, “Okay, do I have rising tension? Do I establish the problem in the first one or two spreads? Do I have a resolution about three-quarters of the way through?” And that’s easy to check. Then I can draft each of the pages and go from there.

With a picture book, you could easily get away with pantsing, because the word count is so low. And picture books typically go through a lot more revisions than a novel.

Really?

Well, how many passes are you going to make through a novel, realistically?

Three or four. Maybe.

Yeah, exactly. I have picture books that have gone through 25 revisions, but that just means me making a pass and making changes and tightening things up, or me soliciting feedback from critique group members and integrating the feedback that I think is constructive.

How does your writing process change for a short story or novel vs a picture book?

So I’m organized in both cases, but I’m a lot more organized for the novel or the short story, because it’s a bigger word count. I just feel like I’d be flailing if I pantsed a novel. I would be very likely to write myself into corners or spend too much time in one area.

I found a resource that I really like. It’s called Save the Cat! Writes a Novel, by Jess Brody. There was originally a book by Blake Snyder, Save the Cat!, which analyzed how movies are structured, and Jessica Brody took the same idea and applied it to novels.

So her book gives you a template, a starting point, which was invaluable to me, since I’ve only written one novel. I used her structure for that novel and about half-a-dozen short stories in the 3,000 to 6,000 word range.

It guarantees you have the arc that you want. The character development is still obviously up to you, but it helps with the pacing and the arcs.

There’s also a great resource for character development, the book that Jonathan Maberry always touts, which is the Writing the Breakout Novel Handbook, by Donald Maass. There’s a bunch of questions in there that help you understand your own characters.

In my idealized process for writing a novel, I start with a rough idea of the story just in my head through inspiration, but then I flesh out the characters using the Donald Maass workbook, and then I come up with an overview and story beats from Save the Cat! Writes a Novel.

And that helps chunk it down, because I’m a picture book writer used to writing 500-word books. The first novel, the first and only novel I’ve written, is a 30,000-word middle-grade novel. 30,000 words is intimidating to somebody who’s only written 500. If you’re an adult novelist, you’re like, “Pfft. I do 100,000 words all the time. It’s no big deal.” But for me, it was a lot.

So staring at a blank document that I know will have to contain 30,000 words is pretty intimidating. But if I use the Save the Cat template, then the writing is broken down into anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand word chunks, and that makes it much easier. “Okay, I know how to write that. I don’t know how to write the whole thing, but I know how to write this little piece.”

Like the parable about how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

What does your novel outline look like?

Jess Brody breaks the novel up into about 15 beats.

Beats like “The Opening Image”, “The Theme Stated”, “The Set Up”, and then there’s “The Catalyst”. Then you break into Act II.

So having a couple of sentences about each of these beats, it gets me far enough to start writing.

So you had all the beats mapped out first? Or did you map out a beat, write it up, then map out the next beat, etc?

I map out all the beats up front, before I start writing.

Only somebody as ridiculously organized as me would pay attention to this, but Save the Cat Writes a Novel suggests roughly what percentage of the word count should be in each beat. Obviously, you fiddle with it. But that really helps me.

For example, The Opening Image, I think, is 1%. It’s just an opening image, right? So if I have a 30,000-word novel, then I know, “Okay, I have about 300 words to play with.” Now, they’re not strict limits, but it tells me what I’m aiming at. There is a big difference between writing 300 and 3,000 words.

I find it helps with the pacing, to make sure that things are happening at the right times, and that there are head-fakes, that you’re moving in a direction and something shifts. You’re building tension, and then you ramp it up even more. It’s just helpful. I know Jonathan [Maberry] has done this so many times that it’s instinct for him, but since this is my first novel, it was really helpful to have a tool.

How do you go about building a scene in your head? Do you think cinematically, or…?

Let’s take Stephen King’s novel, Carrie.

So if I was writing Carrie, and I’m doing the opening scene, how do I want to set the stage? Would I want to have Carrie in her room levitating something, or would I want to have Carrie in the high school locker room getting picked on by the other girls?

But once I made that decision, then I would envision the scene in my head. “Okay, what’s going on? Who’s going to say what?” Make sure that the dialogue and the action is consistent with what the characters want.

In the end, these are stories about characters, so you always have to make sure that you’re being true to those characters.

I probably pants that more in that I have a general idea of what the character’s like, but I let the character’s voice emerge as I’m writing as opposed to having it all worked out ahead of time.

I can think, “Okay, this character is smart but a little self-centered, has a good sense of humor, mouths off in class when they shouldn’t.” And then having those rough guidelines, then I can let the character’s personality take shape, let it flesh out as I’m writing.

Do you use beta readers? Or maybe a critique group?

I’m a member of a group here locally that I like. It’s some experienced writers, and we do 3,500 words a week that we share and critique. I got through my novel in nine sessions, nine weeks, which feels slow to me as a picture book writer, but I know as a novelist that’s pretty fast to get detailed feedback from multiple people on your novel.

Do you all email out your selection to each other?

So this group uses Dropbox to pass out the pieces and then to give feedback. But then we were meeting face-to-face on a weekly basis until coronavirus, and now we’re doing it all through Dropbox. Just sharing marked up versions of the manuscripts.

No Zoom meetings where you read aloud something and critique it?

No, that would take too long also to read aloud. 3,500 words times five people, that’d be a long meeting.

Oh, it’s 3,500 each for each person, so each week you’re reading 15,000 words or more?

Yeah, but it’s a lot easier to read and critique somebody else’s stuff than to write 15,000 words.

Fair enough. To get back to the critiquing real quick, how hard is it for you to switch between the draft brain and the editing brain?

Oh, for my own stuff? Very easy, very easy, because I draft until I have a complete draft, so I’m not context-switching on a daily basis. I’m drafting, drafting, drafting, drafting until I have a draft completed, and then I switch to revision mode.

Some people edit as they draft. I’m guilty of that too. But I try to discourage myself because it is important to get that first draft out.

But with short stories, I allow myself to edit as I go. That also means that when I’m done, the first draft is tight.

The last three I short stories I wrote, I was ready to submit after version two. One revision pass, and I was ready to go, because I had been editing them as I typed them in. So they were close to finished in the first draft. Then it’s just a matter of polishing.

When you get feedback from your critique group, do you always make the changes they suggest?

It’s a good question, and the answer depends on context. Sometimes I just get, “Hey, this isn’t working,” and sometimes I get, “Hey, this isn’t working. Have you thought about this?”

And I will consider what they say, but I’m not feeling bound to do it. My choices are reject it completely, do nothing, accept it as is, or accept that there’s a problem, but fix it a different way. Any of those are possible. It just depends on the situation.

I don’t feel constrained by a critiquer’s proposed solution, but I’m happy to hear it. The suggestion might be really good, or it might prompt me to go, “That’s a good point, although that won’t work because of something the reader isn’t aware of,” but it gets my brain spinning. “Okay, yeah. I do need to address that, and I know how to do that. I’ve got to go back a couple of chapters and plant something so that I foreshadow that.”

Publishing

Have all your picture books earned out?

No. Some of them have, some of them haven’t.

Oh. Is that hard to do for a picture book? I guess it depends on the level of advance.

Yes, it depends on the level of advance, and it also depends on how much effort the publisher puts in.

Because there’s an 80/20 rule that applies to a lot of things, and I think it also applies to how publishers market their books. I think 80% of their marketing budget gets focused on 20% of their books that they have a really good feeling about. These are their top authors, proven authors with good track records, who get the lion’s share of the marketing budget.

I’ve sold 10 picture books, but I am nowhere near the top of the field, not even close. I get a modest amount of help marketing-wise. They solicit professional reviews, and they put it on their website, and they do the things they do for everybody, but it’s not like they’re paying for me to go on a tour around the country.

I’d say the most critical thing is can they get your book in Barnes & Noble, because that’s the biggest chain.

And they can’t always do that. Just because a traditional publisher produces a book, it doesn’t mean Barnes & Noble will take it. They have finite space, and they’re going to pick the books they think will sell the best. It’s perfectly logical from a business perspective, but it sucks if you’re not a well-known author.

Do you have an agent?

I don’t have an agent currently, and I think the novel is a good opportunity for me to approach agents, because there’s a lot more picture book manuscripts floating around than novel manuscripts floating around in children’s literature, I think.

And if an agent likes my middle grade novel, then I can say, “By the way, I also have a number of picture book manuscripts.”

Some agents specialize in picture books. A lot of them skip them, because unless you’re at the top of the field, the advances for picture books are small, and the agency gets 15%. The agent gets less than that if they’re not the owner of the agency.

So imagine seven-and-a-half percent of a $4,000 dollar advance. That’s not a lot of money for a picture book agent. $300 isn’t going to pay the rent.

I’m hoping that this will increase my appeal because now I’m a dual threat, I can write picture books and I can write novels.

Do you have a list of agents already in mind for the middle-grade?

I have a list of agents who I like for picture books, and what I’ll probably do is go through that, because I want somebody who works for a reputable agency and somebody who’s interested in the same genres.

You have to align with what the agent is interested in reading, and I tend to write a lot of science fiction and fantasy.

So I will start with my list of picture book agents and go through them again, and go, “Okay, does this agent also represent middle-grade,” and if they do, then “do they like fantasy and sci-fi?”

How do you feel your background in process improvement engineering helps you with your writing?

It doesn’t help me with writing, but it helps me with my career in terms of being organized and being efficient about all the non-writing things that I have to do: submitting, soliciting an agent, and tracking when markets are open that you can submit to. And what you sent and whether you’ve heard back or not.

If you’re being active, you could easily just drown in all the data. If you don’t use a spreadsheet or something to manage it, you’ll just completely lose track of what you’re doing. I’m a pretty prolific writer, so I have to do that.

How do you keep track of it all?

For my picture books I have a spreadsheet. The columns represent the different manuscripts, and the rows are for the different publishers.

For each cell, there’s really two dates, when I submitted it and when I heard back, either a rejection or an acceptance.

So that’s a helpful thing to have, because then you know who’ve you sent to. I can put notes in there too, like if they rejected but they gave me some feedback, then I can stuff that in there as well.

And then I do something similar for my short stories, which are submitted to online magazines, print magazines, and anthologies.

Has your system evolved over time?

I didn’t used to have that spreadsheet. I used to just have the Evernote list, organized by market.

For example, I scroll down past Amazing Stories, Apex, Beneath Ceaseless Skies to Clarkesworld. I can see that I submitted ABC to Clarkesworld on this date. It was declined or accepted on that date. So under each market, I list every one of the stories I’ve submitted. I may also list stories I’m planning to submit.

But many of these markets don’t accept multiple or simultaneous submissions. That makes it really hard to know at a glance “Can I submit there? Where else have I submitted that story?”

That’s when I built a short story spreadsheet, where each row is a story and each column is a market. That format makes it easy to see at a glance where I’ve submitted it, and where I might submit it. You can use color-coding to show which markets allow simultaneous submissions and which ones don’t.

I want to push my writing out into the world. There are some markets that will give you a fast response, within a few days. But most of them, it’s weeks or months. I think, “Okay, which one do I want to send to in what order, and if I send there, that means I can’t send it over to these other markets until I hear back.”

So it’s like a three-dimensional chess match. I’ve found that I needed the spreadsheet just to retain my sanity and get these stories out in as expeditious a manner as possible, get responses, and then if it’s a no, move on to the next market.

Field Trip to Earth

Why go for a middle-grade novel after having written and successfully published so many picture books?

I’ve been published more than once in the picture book market, but writing a middle-grade novel makes sense for a couple of reasons. First is career-wise, it’s better to be able to write in more than one market. But also, when you’re writing picture books, your vocabulary is tied behind your back. You’re writing for young readers, and are constrained by what words you can use and what concepts you can cover.

You also have to very carefully leave room for the illustrator, because picture books, at roughly 500 words, don’t give you word count to describe the scenes. You have to leave room for the illustrator to do a lot of the scene description.

Writing middle grade lets me use my full vocabulary and describe scenes and incorporate motivations that are too mature for a picture book. So writing for older markets supports both self-expression and career growth.

I chose middle-grade as opposed to young adult or adult, because I’m also being practical. I’ve written a number of picture books of anywhere from 500 to 1,000 words. I sold an early chapter book, which was 6,500 words, so that was a step up. But nothing longer than that.

I thought, “I don’t want to jump to a 100,000-word epic fantasy. That’s just a bridge too far. Middle-grade novels can be as short as 30,000 words.

I figured I would hone my novel writing chops by writing a shorter novel.

It’s also closer in tone to picture books than an adult novel would be.

So, what’s the novel about? What genre is it in?

The middle-grade novel is science fiction with a good dose of humor.

It’s called Field Trip to Earth, and it’s basically an alien middle school student finds herself in academic trouble, and she needs to take an unauthorized field trip to Earth to collect data for her school report.

Some of her friends go with her, and hijinks ensue.

That sounds great.

It’s been fun to write. Soon I expect to be done with my second full pass, and then at that point, I’m going to throw it out there and see if an agent wants it.

Have you gotten any feedback that made you completely rewrite part of it?

Partially. So in my sci-fi novel, the main character is a middle-school kid from Proxima Centauri.

And she realizes she needs to go to Earth. Now, she has attended driver’s ed, so she knows how to fly a spaceship, but she doesn’t own one.

In my original version, after school ends, she basically hijacks a school vehicle and flies it to Earth.

I got feedback from more than one person saying, “That’s a little too dark. It offers a behavior that’s not one parents would want to encourage in their kids.” I can’t pull off what Eoin Colfer did with Artemis Fowl.

So instead, she has a nemesis at school. Now, the nemesis is wealthy and has his own ship, so she enlists his cooperation into doing the trip.

Oh, that’s a neat solution

Another piece of feedback: In my early version, the two of them would have verbal sparring, and the nemesis was a different species and chubby.

I had my protagonist teasing him about his size and his eating habits. The feedback I got was, “Your protagonist is being kind of a bully there.”

Even though it was in reaction to the nemesis’ actions, my protagonist’s responses felt too mean and bullying. So I toned that down.

Those weren’t complete rewrites, but they definitely were significant changes to the character and for one plot element. But that’s the idea, right? I’m making it better.

Definitely. When making those changes, did you revise the outline first, and then the text?

No, because the structure is still solid. I don’t need to change the structure. The beats are the beats.

In the way that I am operating, following the Save the Cat! Writes a Novel structure, the beats come in a specific order, and the relative size of those beats is unchanged. I just go into the individual chapters and tweak what I need to tweak to make the desired changes.

I don’t have to rewrite the whole thing. I may have to insert pieces that I needed to set the stage in an earlier scene, but that’s it.

Writers Coffeehouse, January 2020

First Coffeehouse for the new year! And the last one in Mysterious Galaxy’s current space. They’re moving towards the end of this month, to a rental with (I hear) even more meeting room space.

My notes are below. Thanks again to Jonathan Maberry and Henry Herz for hosting!

Marketing Yourself

  • put your credentials — certified electrician, lawyer, martial arts expert — out there for people to find when doing research or organizing panels at cons; you’d be surprised at what other writers want to know about

Upcoming Events

  • comicfest in march, smaller comic con
  • wondercon in april

Getting Better at Writing Comics

  • read lots of comics, pay attention to the storytelling, read comic scripts (find online, including on maberry’s website
  • booths are comic-con are staffed almost entirely by editors and editorial assistants; talk to them, trade business cards, but don’t bring a script, they don’t want it

Pitching

  • when pitching, and wanting to tell the target audience, don’t say “adults from 35-45”, say “fans of stephen king’s salem’s lot”

State of the Weird West Genre

  • with short stories, you’ve got a shot. novels, you’re almost definitely going small press, and you’re probably going to struggle to earn out

Coming Soon: Writing Workshops

  • once mysterious galaxy moves, will be doing workshops at the new location: fight and action scenes, children’s books, comic books

Character Description Tips

  • old action movie trick: give a bad-ass character something to hold in their hands, like a cup of coffee, so they don’t look dangerous (until they punch someone in the face), the contrast works
  • can get more mileage out of describing what a character wears rather than their specific physical appearance (because the clothes show character, but the hair color, eye color, etc, does not)

Setting Writing Goals for the Year

  • likes 90 days, 6 months, the year, but also 5 and 10 year plans
  • Maberry sets daily writing goal based on a week’s worth of actual writing; finds the average and halves it, then uses that as the daily goal, everything past that is bonus; pays himself for every day he hits his goal, can only use that money for fun
  • allows himself business days off when knows in advance (ex: knee surgery, spending all day in business meetings in LA)
  • build your schedule for mental health and comfort, not pushing yourself to the limit all the time
  • good to have a few projects at once, because writer’s burnout is real; can feel like writer’s block but happens if you’ve been working on the same novel/project for too long (for example, when you don’t bang out a novel in 3-5 months, but years)
  • after daily goals, have project goals, and make them realistic too; maberry’s first novel took him 3.5 years to write and revise
  • first draft and the revision process should not be part of the same plan, because they’re different sides of being a writer; the first draft just needs to get the story out, and be mildly entertaining and coherent, it really only needs to done
  • stephen king’s carrie was a terrible first draft, that he almost threw out, but his wife saved it and made him revise it (6 times) until it was ready to go out
  • the person who revises the book needs to be unemotional about the book; because we can see so much that needs fixing that we come to hate the book or lose faith in the book
  • trick: when writing a book in a year, break up the project into 11 parts (not 12!) and set the goal of having that first draft done by december 1st (so you can spend december partying)
  • careful with the rolling draft (write some and then revise some), because the storytelling mind and the editing mind are not friends! they can barely talk to each other. going back and forth for the same project is hard
  • writing down the bones: good book on writing craft
  • revising requires more writing craft chops than writing; should do some research first, learn how to revise from others then go about revising
  • revision strategy: unique character identities, making sure each character sounds different, moves and acts differently
  • one pass character identity, one pass character voice, one pass character arcs, one pass making sure protagonist is interesting, one pass for story chronology, pass on figurative and descriptive language (reads poetry now before writing any prose, to help his linguistic imagination), one pass on the logic of the story (which can mean checking or redoing his research), optional pass on POV consistency, very last pass is how much he can cut out of it
  • short story goals: write four new stories, revise them, send them out by the end of the year (that’s one drafted and done every three months)
  • if revising a novel this year, decide in advance when you’re going to submit it; don’t plan on sending it from mid-november to early january, because no one is going to read it, they’re all on vacation or at office parties or with family
  • other goals: 3 years from now? want to be published! your novel (maybe not the one you’re working on now) sold to a publishing house
  • 10 year goal: put things on there that are beyond your ken and your skill, then start looking for and doing the things that could get you there

Social Media Tips

  • for social media, two guidelines: don’t be a negative jerk, and post consistently (even if it’s just once a day)
  • the three platforms to be on: facebook, instagram, twitter; set it up so you can cross-post from one to the other
  • will save up links and quotes and youtube videos in a list and post them when he has nothing to say for that day
  • interactive posts: what are you working on? what do you think of this new show? i need a playlist for this book, here are the elements of the plot, what would you suggest?

Writers Coffeehouse, May 2019

After missing last month’s, I finally made it back to the Coffeehouse yesterday.

Peter Clines stepped in for Jonathan Maberry to run it this time, with Henry Herz providing some useful counterpoints throughout.

We had more of a free-form discussion than usual, which ranged from “What’s going on with the WGA and their agents?” to “How do I write characters of other backgrounds and ethnicities without stepping into cultural appropriation?”

Many thanks to Clines and Herz for sharing their wisdom while keeping the discussion flowing, and to Mysterious Galaxy for hosting!

My notes:

  • henry: you can pants your story, but don’t pants your career
  • peter: know what you want to get out of it, be honest about what you want, and go for it
  • in tv, producers have more power than directors; directors can change every week, but producers stay and control the story arcs
  • upcoming events:
    • may 11th: san diego writers workshop
    • september: central coast writers conference
    • peter: phoenix comic fest has great writers track, con runs until midnight every night; it’s next weekend, but something to think about for next year
    • early august: scbwi annual conference in LA
    • june 20-22, historical novel society, in maryland, good program
    • mythcon is in san diego this year; run by mythopoetic society
    • new york pitch fest: 4 days in june, pitching to agents and editors in manhattan
  • black hare publishing: soliciting submissions for two anthologies; small press, but looks professional; drabble fiction (200 words)
  • contract reviews? join the author’s guild, they’ll review contracts for members
  • arbitration: wga takes all the people that did drafts of a movie or dialog polishes, etc and decides who gets credit for the movie
  • pierce brown wrote screenplay for red rising specifically to get paid screenwriting credits via wga arbitration; more important to him than the control over the screenplay
  • 95% of the time, when they option your book, they’ll ask if you want to write the screenplay; they’ll throw it in the trash, but they’ll ask anyway, just to stave off any future tantrums
  • watch the balance between plot and story; if the story finishes but the plot keeps going (moonlighting syndrome) it’s going to feel flat and boring
  • peter: when revising, will do a draft just for one character, following their thread all the way through; helps catch inconsistencies in appearance, name, and their story arc (did i do anything with this plot of her conflict with her boss?)
  • k.m. weyland: creating character arcs
  • aeon timeline: interacts with scrivener, can help visualize the timeline of your story
  • henry’s doing picture book writing pt 2 later this month; send first draft to him ahead of time, they’ll critique it in the class; compliment to the first class, but not necessary to have taken it
  • lookup robert smalls, escaped slave

Writers Coffeehouse: March 2019

Henry Herz was kind enough to take on hosting duties this month, giving us more insight into both the children’s book markets and indie (adult) publishing.

My notes from the meeting are below. Thanks again to Mysterious Galaxy for the space, and to Henry for hosting a lively and informative meeting!

Notes:

  • san diego writers and editors guild: around 40 yrs, offers manuscript review service, meets fourth monday each month, next meeting will be from sd zoo publishing house, also has a marketing support group
  • upcoming events:
    • charlotte huck children’s book festival (all the way up to ya): march 9-10, university of redlands
    • henry teaching class about writing picture books, san diego writers ink, march 10 and 17
    • wondercon in anaheim end of march
    • april 13th: san diego writers festival, downtown library
    • san diego writing workshop: may 11th
    • nebula conference in LA later this year
    • san diego comic fest is next weekend
  • tips for being more efficient in using your limited writing time?
    • david morel (writer of rambo) got up at 4:30 every morning and wrote for two hours before work
    • henry uses spreadsheet to track writing pieces and where he’s submitted them to (or queried, etc)
    • using google calendar to set deadlines and reminders
    • managed flitter: lets you schedule social media posts ahead of time
    • 4thewords.com: gamified rpg that you play by writing (250 words in 15 min to fight a monster, for example)
    • another trick: when stopping for the day, stop mid-paragraph so it’s easier to get back into it the next day
  • scbwi (society of childrens book writers and illustrators) has ad-hoc critique groups that form at their monthly meetings
  • indie author found personal appearances took a lot of time but yielded fewer sales than putting same time in to online marketing (10s of books vs 1,000s of books)
  • indie author uses service to do all the formatting for him, makes it easier but he spends $4,000-$5,000 per book to publish it
  • how do you find an editor?
    • san diego professional editors network
    • reedsy: website with professional editors that have struck out on their own
  • agents don’t usually expect exclusivity when querying, check their guidelines, but usually can send out queries to as many agents as you want at a time
  • if you don’t hear anything after three months, ping them, if still don’t hear back, assume it’s dead
  • another short story marketplace site: “entropy: where to submit”; will show contests, etc coming up for the month
  • childrens books: advice is to avoid inanimate objects as characters, because they’re harder for children to empathize with
  • authors guild: join, if you get a contract but no agent you can hire lawyers through them to review it for you
  • henry’s editing process: edits on own, then sends out to four different critique groups for feedback, multiple iterations with each one, polish off the rough edges

Writers Coffeehouse, July 2018

Made it back to the Writer’s Coffeehouse this month. It was a smaller crowd than usual, but that just meant we had more time to go in-depth on everyone’s questions 🙂

My notes are below. Many thanks to Mysterious Galaxy for the space, and to Henry Herz for hosting!

  • publishers and writers of san diego: meet once a month in carlsbad about the business of self-publishing
  • henry: doing a triple-launch in october at mysterious galaxy
  • orange county children’s book festival is in october
  • san diego union tribune book festival is in august
  • san diego state univ writers conference is in january 2019
  • la jolla writers conference is in november
  • snowflake pro: really good software for building a book pitch
  • question: seeing problems with story in current first draft; go back and fixit now? or keep writing as-is?
    • answer: write it as if it’s fixed, but keep going; leave notes to go back and fix the earlier bits in later drafts
  • new market: future-sf.com
  • bootstrapping social media?
    • henry: when he was getting started, interviewed successful authors and posted them on his blog
    • whatever you do, try to find something that relates to writing and do that
  • a way to kick-start the conversation on social media: ask people for recommendations (taco places, procedural movies, etc)

Writer’s Coffeehouse Notes, Sep 2017

Went to the Writer’s Coffeehouse at Mysterious Galaxy again yesterday. This time it was hosted by author Henry Herz, so we got to dig into the details of writing and submitting children’s books. I might try to polish up and submit that picture book draft I have, after all 😉

Many thanks to Mysterious Galaxy for hosting, and to Henry for running the show!

My notes:

Possible to have agent and still indy publish; Indy Quillen does it, because her agent sent book to publishers first, she indy pubbed only after publishers all passed on it

Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators: has local chapter, can join and get critiques

San Diego Writer’s Ink: has critique groups

Can take classes at local colleges to meet other writers and get feedback

Indy: recommends using real name (or pen name) for twitter handle, makes it easier to find you

Posting comments on blogs of authors you like in your genre can help drive traffic to your own website

Picture books: birth to 6-7, then easy readers, then chapter books, then middle grade

400-500 words, perfect for 6-7 yr old protagonist

Don’t do art notes! Leave that for the illustrator, they’ll come up with better art than you can

Leave out all your normal descriptive text

Run your manuscript through an online tool to check the vocab level, needs to be appropriate for your age group

Usually don’t send artwork with the book, publisher picks them

Educational tie-in great for selling picture books to editors, something for teachers to hook into

La Jolla Writer’s Conference: small, but pulls big names; November

Southern California Writer’s Conference: September in Irvine, good for people that haven’t been to a conference before, low key, Indy got her agent there

Tuesday, Sep 12th: look for #mswl on twitter (manuscript wish list)

Recommended reading: Donald Maas’ Writing the Breakout Novel; Invisible Ink