Tuesday, June 09, 2009

BYU WIFYR 2: Martha Mihalick

Monday Plenary: Martha Mihalick, Greenwillow (imprint of Harper Collins):
“Behind the Glasses: What Editors are Looking For”

Greenwillow: part of Harper Collins. PB to YA. 35 books/year. 9 person team, only 3 editors. Looking for new talent.

What I ask myself when I read a submission: Do I like this? If yes, I have to know why (to tell the department, acquisitions, potential buyers).

3 things grab me: voice, character, plot. Usu. one of these things is the big standout. In Ida B., it was the voice. In Soul Enchilada, it’s the plot.

What does “strong writing” mean?
Attention to language. No clichés, no over-use, attn. to adj.s and adv.s.
Attention to sentence structure. Does it vary? Rhythm, pace.

The way you tell your story.
Language, structure, imagery/themes.
Opinion or perspective.
If ms sounds like it could be told by anyone, I lose interest. I want story told by someone who has an opinion.
Does this voice fit the story that you’re telling? Does it make sense for it to be told that way?

Does this character seem real?
Flaws and virtues, depth. Do flaws and virtues drive the plot?
Rounded supporting characters, especially the antagonist.
Revealing details in a variety of ways: through actions, friends or enemies, objects or possessions, and opinions. (What do these things tell about that person?) (Who’s their favorite musician? What TV shows do they watch?) A character shouldn’t have just one quirk to define them or make them memorable. Use some surprising details that make him more than a stereotype.

Every book should have two. Internal (emotional) and external (physical).
Protagonist must have something at stake.
These first two things should intertwine, bounce off each other, but not parallel each other.
Not predictable.

Authenticity. Listen to your characters. Make sure they sound like intended age range for audience. Be honest. Read aloud and listen.

Other questions:
Who is the audience?
What are the hooks? What makes it stand out from others in bookstores? How to get it to readers?
Is there anything else like it out there? If not, why not? If so, how is it different, fresh?
Does it fit with the rest of our list?
Do I have a vision for it?

“What I’m really looking for is a writer who is smarter than me.”

Acquisitions of mine:
Do Not Build a Frankenstein by Neil Numberman.
[no title yet] by Leah Cypess. (She was more comfortable with an agent, so we gave her some suggestions and she got one.)

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