Big Sur March 2011 Recap

Embassy Suites in Monterey
Over the weekend I attended the Big Sur Writing Workshop in Monterey, hosted by the Andrea Brown Literary Agency.

This workshop was unlike any other writing conference I've been to. When they say this is boot camp for children's writers, they mean it - definitely not for the faint of heart. You need thick skin, a good attitude, and a lot of stamina to make it through all three days (I relied heavily on coffee for the last one). But if you can, you will gain a ton of great feedback, learn new things about your writing and the publishing industry, plus meet many wonderful people.

During the workshop you are put in two critique groups of 4-5 writers, both of which meet twice. My first critique group was with YA author Kristen Tracy, and my second was with agent Mary Kole. These critique groups were amazing and I learned so much from them, plus made a few friends at the same time. I went into the groups knowing something was wrong with two of the scenes I brought, and the group helped me realize exactly what the problems were and gave me ideas for fixing them.

I also had a 15 minute meeting with author Eric Elfman, who helped me with my query letter. I asked him about writing a synopsis, and he said it should be like a movie trailer: define the characters and the conflict and show the big moments, but leave out many of the details and the transitions.

In between the critique groups we had other presentations. At the first dinner Magnus from the Henry Miller Memorial Library talked about Big Sur and Henry Miller, and sang us a few songs. After that, Ellen Hopkins talked about her recent experiences with censorship. On the second night the three editors talked about how they handle acquisitions and what they are looking for, and at the end of the conference the agents had a very helpful Q&A session. Agent Kelly Sonnack also gave a presentation with tips for revision, which she hopes to present at the SCBWI Summer Conference (fingers crossed - it was a great talk, and I hope others get to see it).

The meals were a lot of fun too, because the speakers made an effort to sit at each table with the writers. How often do you have breakfast with two agents and then dinner with a NYT bestselling author? We were also given time to revise during lunch and in the evenings, which for me meant a midnight run down to the hotel's business center to print out pages.

The entire workshop was both amazing and exhausting, and I learned so much from it. The next workshop is not until December, but you should definitely consider going if you write YA, MG, or picture books. It is expensive, but remember that the price includes food and lodging as well as the workshop. Let me know if you have any questions!