Saturday, October 27, 2012

Each One Teach One: Joan Holub on Writing Pitches & Pitching a Series

Welcome back to the second installment of the wonderful interview with guest children's/MG book author Joan Holub!

Joan has written 130 published books for children, from picture books, to middle grade series. 
She is currently co-authoring a middle grade series, The Goddess Girls, and a chapter book series Heroes in Training for Alladin/Simon and Schuster and she recently gave a great presentation on writing middle grade series', at the SCBWI Conference in Charlotte, NC.

Here is Joan to give us her tips on 1.) Pitching a Series and 2.) Dealing with Rejection.

Thanks Joan, for being with us today!  Let's jump right in with a question about how to prepare before trying to write and pitch a series for middle graders, tweens, or teens.

     You’re currently co-writing (with Suzanne Williams) two great series, and you’ve written others in the past. Are there any tips you’d like to give to writers who are interested in pitching a series idea to their agent or editor? What do writers need to think about first before trying to make a pitch?

Start with a great, unique hook. Find an idea that is an intersection of what excites you as a writer and the interests of kids. Define and hone it. You should be able to explain what your series is to someone in one or two well-constructed sentences, so that they can visualize what you’re talking about and get enthusiastic about it.

Thanks Joan! That advice is a great place for anyone interested in writing a series to get started.  Now for those who are trying to think of how to explain your series idea to someone in 1 or two sentences, as Joan suggests, here is an example of how Joan described to me the Goddess Girls Series:

"Each Goddess Girls book is based on an existing myth. We give these myths a twist by setting them in a middle school at Mount Olympus Academy, where Zeus is the principal, classes like Hero-ology can be hard, godboys can be annoying, beasts may attack at any moment, and Medusa is the meanest girl in 

Of course then, within the series, you also need to know what each book is about, and be able to summarize that book's story and theme also in 1-2 sentences.  Here are some examples of how to do that from Joan and Suzanne's first few books in the Goddess Girls Series. The 1st four books are -- Athena the Brain; Persephone the Phony; Aphrodite the Beauty; Artemis the Brave. Here are two examples from within the series. (These summaries were borrowed from the Simon and Schuster website. Thanks Simon and Schuster for such great examples!)

Description: Book One: Athena the Brain
The first book of the Goddess Girls series stars Athena, who discovers that her intelligence has immortal value. 
And the longer version?
Athena always knew she was smart and special, but she didn’t realize that she was a goddess! When she’s whisked away to Mount Olympus Academy, she worries about fitting in and dealing with her dad—who just happens to be Zeus. Luckily, she meets the Goddess Girls—and finds the best friends she’s ever had.

Description; Book Two: Persephone the Phony  
Modern drama merges with ancient myths when Goddess Girl Persephone crushes on a boy her friends don’t care for.     
And the longer, more specific version:                                                                                                                      Persephone usually goes along with whatever everyone else wants instead of doing what makes her happy So when she meets Mount Olympus Academy bad-boy Hades, she finally feels like she has found someone with whom she can be herself. But her mom (Ceres) and her friends don’t exactly approve. If Hades can make her feel so special, is he really that bad, or just misunderstood?

For those of us who have difficulty summarizing our books for pitches in query letters -- a huge challenge for many of us -- these 1-2 sentence examples above are great for that!  Here are two more summary book descriptions that might also be helpful from Joan's other current series, the Heroes in Training series of books for elementary school-aged boys:

Description: Book One: Zeus and the Thunderbolt of Doom

After pulling a magical thunderbolt from a stone, ten-year-old Zeus goes on the adventure of a lifetime!                                                                                                                        The terrible Titans—merciless giants who enjoy snacking on humans—have dominated the earth and put the world into chaos. But their rule is about to be put to the test as a group of young Olympians discover their powers and prepare to righteously rule the universe.... 

Ten-year-old Zeus is mystified (and super-annoyed) by the fact that he keeps getting hit by lightening. Every. Single. Year. He also longs for adventure. Zeus gets his wish—and a lot more than he bargained for—when he is kidnapped by dangerous, giant Titans! In self-defense, Zeus grabs the first thing he sees—an actual thunderbolt he pulls from a stone that is covered in mysterious markings. Zeus sets off on a quest to rescue his fellow Olympians from the evil Cronus. Armed with his trusty thunderbolt (named Bolt, of course), Zeus is on an adventure of a lifetime—and a journey to fulfill his destiny as King of the Gods.

Description: Poseidon and the Sea of Fury    

A young Poseidon must triumph over his fear of water to help his fellow heroes escape Cronus.                                                                                                                               The merciless Cronus and his Titan buddies are in hot pursuit of Zeus, Hera, and Poseidon, who plan to travel across the treacherous boiling sea in order to save a fellow Olympian. They have a boat, but they also have a problem: Poseidon can’t swim and is terrified of the water (well, really of the creatures that lurk in its depths). The group faces danger after danger as they battle singing sirens, a fishy and ferocious Titan named Oceanus, and people-eating monsters sent by Cronus himself. Can Poseidon overcome his fears and help his fellow heroes escape Cronus and his cronies?

These great short summaries really make us want to go and read ALL of these books! They're full of action, an interesting plot, and a character flaw in every main character that causes them to have to "rise above" themselves if they're to win over evil in the end.  That's certainly the kind of pitch that pulls in my attention!

So now off we all go to summarize our individual books. And if you're hoping to pitch a series, remember Joan's advice to be able to pitch the concept of the entire series in 1-2 well-worded sentences!  We hear this advice often at writer's conferences, but it always seems so difficult to summarize our novels in so few words! Hopefully the examples above will provide a good jumping off point.

Next week we'll talk about writing with a Co-Author and having a fabulous web presence!

But before we end this week, here's one last question for you Joan:

      You’ve written 130 published children’s books. But your website also says “I have a file drawer full of rejected manuscripts.”  What advice do you have for those of us who still feel heartbroken over every rejection letter we get from an agent or an editor?  How do you move past rejections to keep your career moving forward?

A rejection is heartbreaking, no matter how many books you’ve already published. As far as I know, there’s only one way to soften the cruel blow that rejection delivers. It’s this: Make absolutely sure you are regularly writing, completing, and submitting new work to publishers.

If you mail off a manuscript and then just wait on an answer, you’ll be crushed flat if it’s a “no.” You only had one egg in your basket and now it’s broken. However, if you had written and submitted three more manuscripts while waiting on a reply to the first one, you’d still have three unbroken eggs left in your basket. Sure, you’d be sad about that one broken egg. But you’d have hope that one of the other three would hatch into an offer of publication. 

Thanks Joan! That's such important advice! See you all next week!


Linda A. said...

Janelle and Joan,
These examples of pitches and summaries will come in handy as I work on some of my own. Thank you very much! Keep these great posts coming!

Janelle said...

Thanks Linda! It's great to see lots of people reading them. Thanks to those also who've sent such positive comments via email! :)