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Monday, March 18, 2013

A Dose of Vitamin E (for Emma)

What a great weekend! The Route 19 Writers invited Emma Dryden of DrydenBks to come work with us and critique our work. And boy, did she! In this and future blogs, we’ll share some of what we learned from Emma. But first we want to share some pictures and give you an idea of how much info, fun and food 11 writers and one editor can cram into a weekend.

This is Emma. In every single picture taken of Emma, she’s talking with her hands. Cynthia does that, too. Wonder what that means  . . .


We gathered on Friday night at Judy’s house for a salmon dinner, conversation and the first critiques. Emma reviewed the synopsis and first 10 pages for two novels, both YA contemporaries. While we are a darn good writers group that provides supportive, constructive but kind criticism for each other, it was so helpful to have a seasoned pro arrive and nudge us to work harder and smarter.

Emma has edited nearly five-hundred books for children and young readers. She understands the challenges of writers who want to create great, compelling books for children and young adults. But before a writer can reach an audience, she/he has to get published. Emma helped us step back and ask ourselves some basic questions – who is your audience for this book? Do toddlers want to see a book with a little baby main character or do they prefer to see toddlers like themselves? Or if your characters are graduating from high school you'll be losing some of the YA high school audience and venturing into NA (new adult). Is that who you want to reach? 

Basic writer/craft topics were also addressed. Even though our group boasts published authors and fairly advanced writing, Emma informed us that we were missing the mark on synopsis writing. Oops!

E Tip #1: A synopsis is not a pitch, a tease or an outline – it’s meant to communicate your main character’s emotional journey – their want – and major plot points. Don’t just jam in a bunch of details about time and place. And you can’t forget to put the category (picture book, YA fantasy) and word count in the upper right hand corner.

On Saturday, Miss Kitty hosted all of us at her house. She read us a book to get us in the right mood. We had a fab lunch after a morning of reviews. We finished up crits in the late afternoon despite bombarding Emma with questions all day. One of our poets is considering getting into self-publishing so Emma pointed out pros and cons about that route vs. traditional publishing.

Coriander kept Emma’s seat toasty whenever Emma got out of her seat. That’s western Pennsylvania hospitality.


This is Miss Kitty capturing the ever present Stinkbugs that plague western Pennsylvania. They're an odd little bug – harmless, stinky if squashed. Maybe they're writing little stinkbug novels and wanted some tips from Emma, too. Emma assured us that New York has bugs, too. They have cockroaches. Which makes stinkbugs seem sort of okay.

We ended the day over glasses of wine and hanging out at the kitchen table. Having Emma there chatting about the market and social networking do’s and don’ts felt totally comfortable. It felt like all of us had made a great new friend.

E Tip #2: Quit stalling. Get a website. Get a Facebook. Follow Tweets from your favorite agents. It’s called social networking for a reason - be social and network!

Thanks for a great weekend, Emma.

If your writers group is ready to get nudged to the next level and would like to talk to Emma for a dose of Vitamin E, she can be reached through her website .

 by Jenny Ramaley



  1. What a wonderful, creative, inspiring weekend! I was honored to be with the Route 19 Writer's group and look forward to following each writer's career... and my parting words to you all (for the moment)? KEEP GOING!

  2. Yes. Yes. Yes. A fantastic weekend indeed. I learned so much, yet had so much fun during the process. Thank you, Emma!
    And I've already begun taking steps to increase my social network presence.

  3. I hate stinkbugs.
    I love Emma.
    Writers, I challenge you to do this if you're ready. Writer's groups can become soggy, weighted down with same old same old. We so needed this jumpstart. Hearing our words read aloud, listening to an editor cut the waste and highlight the good, well, it was just what the doctor ordered. Writing isn't easy. Getting off-track is real easy. I really believe this is going to help everyone reach deeper, write richer, and maybe, just maybe, producing that publishable manuscript.

    1. Quite right, Kitty! Sometimes, a new set of eyes and a new voice can shake things up just the right amount to produce some new ideas, give authors confidence to go deeper and stretch farther, or to allow an author to scrap one project for the sake of another. To wake things up.

  4. I do wish I could have been with all of you! I held a mini-retreat of my own last week--a rainy afternoon reading all of your submissions, and now I look forward to hearing what Emma had to say. (Judy, I do hope you took good notes!)

    p.s. We have stinkbugs in North Carolina, now, too.