SCBWI & What Makes a MSS Stand Out

Day 3 of the SCBWI OK Spring Conference Re-cap:

Mary Kate Catellani, (pictured above far right, thanks Okie Book Woman!) assistant editor at Walker Books for Young Readers gave an insightful look into what makes a manuscript stand out. She illustrated most of her points with class works that generally fall in the midgrade novel genre, and she left all of us smiling as she wrapped up a short, but sweet, lecture. Here are her five main points.

1) Plot. It needs to appeal, be unique and intriguing. It should stand out from the others. It should have unique details. She also cited "high-concept plot" as popular now. She even defined the new term for us. It's simply a plot that can be described in one (fairly short) sentence.

2)Voice. Her definition of voice that stuck with me was "the inkling that makes me stop and think again of what I just read." She used an excerpt of Abigail Iris The One and Only to really bring her point home. The entire time she was reading, I felt transported back into my own head as a young child. It was surreal to have so many moments when I thought, "I remember feeling that way." Now, that's an accomplishment! Mary Kate
 also admitted that voice is the primary reason she turns manuscripts down.

3) Characterization. MK referred us to Shannon Hale's website for writing exercises to develop characters, and she again gave some poignant examples of well-developed characters such as Gianna Z in The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z (to be released this fall) and the book Chasing Boys.

5) Detail. This wasn't something I had read or heard before. But MK talked about how well-written details really sell the piece and give it character. Her example, "My friends say I look like Anne Frank."

Mary Kate also detailed what kind of books she's looking for right now: plots where cultural or spiritual identity is explored, funny characters starring in picture books, nonfiction with a new angle. She is not open to chapter books.

Not only was her lecture great, Mary Kate was very approachable (like all of the speakers this conference) and humored me by answering some personal questions as well. I really appreciated that. She confessed her relationship with the slush pile was a sparse once-a-month fling. But she also affirmed that if your work is well written, it was easily stand out in the pile. Guess I better get back to writing!

1 comment:

KateMessner said...

Hi, Joy! Although Mary Kate is my editor, I've never had the opportunity to hear her speak at a conference, so I truly appreciated your recap. Wish I could have been there to hear the talk, but reading about it was the next best thing. Sounds like a great conference - thanks for sharing your notes!