That was really insightful and interesting to see how my own observations meshed with Bethany’s. Wondering if she’s now open to submissions? Thanks.
Bethany Strout is an Associate Editor at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. You can follow her on Twitter at @BethanyStrout
Bethany will be attending the NJSCBWI Conference in June.
She is always looking for novels where the setting is its own character, romances that feel messy and real, fully realized fantasy worlds, and a middle grade puzzle novel in the vein of The Westing Game! She is drawn to picture books that tell true or imagined stories with emotional resonance. Prior to joining LBYR in 2010, Bethany worked her way through the book business with stops at her local library, The University of Chicago Press, and the literary agency Writers House.
What she likes: Historical Fiction, Middle Grade, Picture Books, and Young Adult Books, also Rhyme/Edgy/Mystery/Books in verse/Science Fiction and High-Fantasy.
Follow her on Twitter at @BethanyStrout
HERE ARE THE FOUR FIRST PAGES WHO WON in MAY and WHAT…
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Amid the bulbous kelp and sand, I spied a bottle half buried, as I jogged along the early morning beach last week. The San Diego sun hadn’t peeped through the marine layer yet, so objects came into focus in the pearl gray light. The clear bottle contained a yellow note rolled up–like it should be, a stick-on-moustache and a rubber band. Since this was spring break, I narrowed my eyes and looked around at the beach houses that lined the boardwalk, certain I’d see some college boys doubled over with laughter from their party perch. It was 8 a.m. though, so that answered those suspects. I inched out the note and, to my delight, it was written in a child’s handwriting. I recognize a true kid’s writing after the sweet letters I’ve received over the years from my readers. Seven-year-old Garrett was on spring break at Mission Beach March 13-21. The finder was supposed to call and he gave his number, which showed on my phone was from Oklahoma. Of course I called! I left a message to the effect: “Hi Garrett. I’m the lucky person who discovered your bottle–my first message in a bottle! I write children’s books (and was on my way to a book signing as I left the message) and just wanted to let you know you may have inspired my next idea for a picture book. Call me back if you’d like.” And then I left my number. Which, I’m sure, his mother must have said, “I’d prefer you don’t call that strange woman back.” Or maybe Garrett ran down to the beach that morning before breakfast and tossed it about fifteen feet into the waves. Then ran back to his rental, thinking all the while it would make it to China, instead of some weird lady who found it an hour later. And maybe Mom got my message and didn’t give it to him so he wouldn’t be disappointed. I’m a writer: we think like this all the time!
The good news is I’m still mulling over this bottle and how to turn it into one of my whodunits. What was the significance of the stick-on-mustache and rubber band? Should I write it as a picture book or chapter book? Should I have the main character Garrett? Only time in a bottle will tell. Sorry, I’m a writer…
San Diego State University (SDSU) Extensions Program had their 31st annual Writer’s Conference this January, featuring all writing genres. As a 198–(you guess) SDSU Journalism grad, I’ve wanted to attend this conference for several years. Now that my daughter attends SDSU and my sister agreed to fly down from the Bay Area and join me afterward, it seemed a no-brainer, right?
I looked forward to meeting children’s books agent, Caryn Wiseman, from Andrea Brown Literary Agency, Inc. and Simon & Shuster Children’s Picture Book Editor, Alyson Haler. Allotted ten minutes each, in a semi-pitch session that resembled speed-dating meets American Idol, I received great feedback from both and a request for re-submission after editing.
I’d like to share a few nuggets gathered at the conference that apply to most genres.
From Agent Betsy Amster of Betsy Amster Literary:
*Regarding queries–make sure the first paragraph is easy to understand. “This ______ (word count) _________(genre, like distopian or historical, etc.)__________________(category, like YA, etc) is about…..
In the second paragraph, plunge into the scene.
In the third paragraph of your query, it’s okay to say you’re excited about this book and why.
*Amster said, “Agents love blogs.” Nuff said.
Book Architecture, an author-help website (www.bookarchitecture.com) encourage blogging, too, using wordpress, (wordpress.com) the easiest site. (I’ll vouch for that) Blogging ideas offered: writing advice, excerpts from your manuscript, how hard the writing life is. Blogs, along with newsletters, increase traffic to your web site or social media page.
Picture book author, Susan Katz (“My Mama Earth,” “ABC, Baby Me,” and Scholastic’s upcoming “ABC, School’s For Me!”) said publishers are scrambling for non-fiction because of the recent adoption of new common core standards. You can download the ap for Common Core Standards to align with your manuscript. Social Studies and Science curriculums are not the same statewide but the other subjects are.
Katz said you can form a focus group of age appropriate kids and ask them what they want to know about the topic you’re writing about, whether non-fiction or fiction.
I enjoyed this three day conference, even managing to soak up a few minutes of San Diego poolside sun, between workshops, and meeting some lovely writers–one from my home state, Colorado. Great mid winter break!
Over the past frigid week I’ve edited four pages of my YA, cleaned the oven and the guest bedroom, laid shelf paper in the laundry room, sent out agent queries, gained three pounds and shoveled more snow than your typical Siberian suburbanite. Today we rose above zero, then we kept rising. Kiki and I looked at each other and said, (well, I said) “Let’s get outta here and go for a run.” If a dog could laugh, she did.
I decided to drive until my car thermometer hit 23, arriving at one of our favorite trailheads off of Baseline Rd in S. Boulder. The sun actually came out then. Every single person I passed on the trail, with or without dog, smiled as if to say, “Cabin fever, too, eh?” Sunlight etched the melted stream as it flowed between banks of emerald ice. In the distance another flurry cascaded over the flatirons and scattered across Boulder. But it never came our way.
My cabin fever broke as I ran through the tunnel beneath S. Boulder Rd. and out toward a snowy pasture, dotted with cattle. But a foreigner lurked among the cattle, erratic and sneaky. Wiley Coyote. Ain’t nothin’ worse than a varmint after a week of -17 nights and this guy looked like he wanted hamburgers for dinner. My chicken Mcnugget and I did a U-turn and ran as fast as we could. Which isn’t very fast in runner’s world. Thank God Wiley didn’t spot us because, at our pace, he probably could have overtaken us at a trot.
It’s amazing how, after days of arctic temps and snow–so unusual for Boulder– that the teens look good, actually bring a smile to your face. And when the temps rise even more, into the 20’s, things come into focus, like sun glitter on snow, and a balmier kinder breeze that maybe, just maybe, hints at spring.