Monday night at the SCBWI meeting

So, here I am trying to immerse myself in the life of a writer . . . got my web site up, got my new business cards, even got a finished manuscript. I’m thinking that I have a handle on this writer’s life when along comes something I’ve never heard of. And isn’t that always the case . . .

Wendy Lanier (of the Houston chapter) spoke at Monday night’s SCBWI meeting. Her topic was writing for hire or freelancing. And writing for Book Packagers. See, I’d never even heard the term, book packager, so it was very educational for me. Wendy explained the ins and outs of the process, where you’re not necessarily writing your own story but writing someone else’s instead . . . and they pay you for it! Okay, sure, the topic, length and reading level are all dictated for you. And once you’re done, you may be asked to carve things up and rearrange them. Or cut things out altogether. And because of this, Wendy suggested that it’s best not to develop a personal attachment to your work. This goes for both non-fiction and fiction. I found myself thinking how it might be easier to detach from non-fiction as opposed to fiction. But then, I remembered some of the essays I wrote in school, all fact based, and how they could get under my skin almost as much as some of my fiction.

Wendy shared some of the books she’s written (and tried to stay emotionally detached from). And she talked a little about the money end of things. Very seldom any royalties, just a flat rate for the number of words required. But, as Wendy pointed out, writing for hire is a way to accomplish a couple of things: a) you’ll make some money while you’re waiting for your novel to find a home and b) you’ll be motivated to keep writing! I couldn’t help but think of the writing classes I’ve taken over the years and how much of a nose-to-the-grindstone student I was. Those looming due-dates kept me face down, fingers on keyboard, and butt in chair!

Wendy brought up a couple other pros to writing for hire. The pieces that you write can become part of your resume. The fact that you’ve done this kind of work bodes well with potential publishers who can see that you are disciplined enough for a larger project. Wendy also suggested that the research you do for your fiction novel doesn’t have to end there! You can write a fact based book about it and find a home for that too.

She shared a little of her own process. She starts at the book store or library, looking for things that interest her and to see if she can find the name of the packager (some books have this on the inside with the publishing info). Then she looks them up in one of the publications about publishers: Book Markets for Children’s Writers is a good one.

Finally, she writes the perfect pitch letter. Unlike a query letter, designed to sell a project or an idea, a pitch letter sells YOU. It gives a little connection point: “Hi, I read your books and I liked them because . . .” Or something more connected—but only if it’s the truth! Then it explains why you want to work for them. It gives your bio, a couple brief examples of your writing, and your contact information (sometimes writers forget this part).

Wendy also gave us a hand out with some of the helpful links she uses. Since she writes for the children’s market, she has to pay attention to the appropriate reading level. Of course I’ve thought about that (a little) in my own writing. But Wendy’s dedication was impressive to say the least. She shared a couple of links where a writer can submit samples of their writing to assess its ATOS readability. And she shared tips on how to hone the reading level through sentence structure and placement and through your choice of words.

It was a very good meeting. I learned a bunch and loved Wendy’s style, humor and heart. Wendy is an excellent speaker and I came away with a lot of useful information that I can put to work in my own writing—even though I’m writing my own stories. And, so far, for free.

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