Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Wordcraft -- Enchanting an editor/finding a publisher

I got a reminder in my inbox for a free hit of inspiration from NaNoWriMo. Right, the people who run the Write a Novel in a Month event each November. No, NaNoWriMo isn’t chronologically-challenged. The organization provides revision help for those with a novel already in progress and preparation help for those with an eye to the next November. And for anyone who missed last week’s webinar, “Enchanting an Editor and the Path to Publication,” starring Barry Cunningham, the editor who picked JK Rowling out of the slush pile, and teen writing prodigy M Angelais, the good news is: it’s not too late!

I was going to pick a few choice tidbits from the webinar, learned that it’s available online and free of charge (thanks to the sponsorship of Scholastic Books), and then wondered, but what if somebody’s not already on the NaNoWriMo list? What if, maybe, someone didn’t even think about NaNoWriMo until she read these very words?

I could have posed the question to one of the many writing forums at the NaNo site. Instead, I went undercover, signing up under a different user name, different email address, and the title of a novel that doesn’t have a word written yet, and presto! Cunningham and Angelais appeared online. Sign up at http://nanowrimo.org/, click on the “inspiration” button, then on “now what?” to find the link.

Many of the questions Cunningham and Angelais fielded were from or about young writers. No wonder, given that Cunningham has worked with some of the greatest authors of books for children and young adults (Roald Dahl and Cornelia Funke, among others, in addition to Rowling) and that he is also the editor for Angelais, whose debut novel, Breaking Butterflies, was short listed for the Times/Chicken House Children’s Fiction Competition in 2012, when she was still in her teens.

Just what is the biggest challenge for young authors, asked moderator Sarah Mackie, Director of Community Engagement for NaNoWriMo.

“I kind of had a naïve idea that editing involves finishing sentences. Instead, it was a major overhaul. I was more like editing the concept than editing the words.”

Cunningham agreed. “Teenagers’ biggest challenge is the discipline of finishing,” he said. “They think their book is finished after a first draft, and we know that only the beginning. They’ve got to learn the craft after the inspiration.”

“But,” asked a viewer, “I’m 14. Is it possible to be published at such a young age?”

“We are working with a very young novelist right now,” Cunningham said. “I think we started when she was fifteen.” With such a young writer, he said, the publisher will work with the writer’s parents to be sure writing doesn’t take time from academic work. “We don’t try to rush young authors.”

So what’s the future of literature for young people? What’s hot, what’s not?

Among the big things Cunningham expects is a return to science fiction, influenced by the ongoing journeys by robots -- and eventually human beings -- to Mars. What he doesn’t expect to see a lot of in the future is “dystopias. And I think steam punk has been done to death. (But) everything comes back in children’s fiction.”

And what puts him off a book? "A lack of hope. As a publisher, even on more complex YA is, I like to think there’s some degree of hope.”

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