Paige Gribb - Publishing Intern
We had quite a week here in early July with nine aspiring high school writers at the Young Writers Retreat. We spent five days fine tuning book ideas, meeting key people in the writing biz, and of course writing up a storm—all culminating with book pitches and discussions with a panel of agents, publishers, editors, booksellers, and authors. What could be better?
Day one, and we were already off to a running start! In the morning, we discussed our writing preferences, book ideas, and goals for the week. We got to run our thoughts by Melissa Coleman, a local published author; in return, she told us about her current writing. We then spoke about the art of the query letter and worked on writing great pitches for our own books. Some writers found it a useful way to reassess the book ideas they were already working on; others used the letter as an opportunity to figure out a brand new story idea.
Ideas flowing and pages filled, we took our notebooks out of The Telling Room and into Portland itself. We popped into Longfellow Books, where we got behind the scenes of the bookstore business with the help of the store’s owner, Chris Bowe. We finished our day with free writing at the Portland Public Library, and left pumped for the rest of the week!
On Tuesday, we met at The Telling Room and went straight to Mechanics Hall, a gorgeous private library with a rich history. With the help of our guides, we learned the story behind the old shelves and relics, portraits of members past, and the various rooms (including an upstairs ballroom!). We started thinking about the importance of settings and got to work on our own writing for the rest of the morning.
Upon getting back to The Telling Room, we met with author Lewis Robinson, who explained his writing process and his way of concocting story ideas. He led us through an idea-creating exercise, and we came up with lots of potential stories!
We spent all morning on Wednesday discussing pitches and crafting book excerpts, and then marched out to the Portland Public Library for one of their Brown Bag Lectures. We listened to Ron Currie Jr., another talented writer, talk about his writing and read from his newest book, Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles. He was so engaging that we forgot to eat our lunches!
After a quick break in Monument Square to gobble down the food we meant to eat at the lecture, we made our way to the offices of Maine Magazine. Editors Sophie Nelson and Katy Kelleher welcomed us in, provided us with stickers and copies of their newest issues, and gave us the lowdown on what it’s like to work for a magazine like theirs. They gave us a tour around the building, and we left with new insights on writing professionally.
Kerri Majors, author of This is Not a Writing Manual; Notes for the Young Writer in the Real World, and editor of YARN (Young Adult Review Network), stopped in first thing on Thursday. She conducted a workshop called “Think Like an Editor,” in which she asked us to play the role of an editorial board and look at writing from a different perspective.
When she left, we followed her right out and made for Might & Main, a design company that, among many other things, creates compelling book covers. Sean Wilkinson elaborated on design’s role in book marketing and showed us some of Might & Main’s recent projects. And what finished our visit? Writing, of course!
What a beautiful (or should I say well designed?) place to inspire us as we jotted down our next scenes.
Friday came quickly, and we were polishing book pitches and excerpts for our soon to arrive panel! Again at the Portland Public Library, we figured out how we wanted to present our books and ourselves, and we spent the morning practicing short pitches with each other.
Before we knew it, the clock struck 1:00, and we were back at The Telling Room watching Portland-area professionals file in: Edite Kroll, agent at the Edite Kroll Agency; Audrey Maynard, editor at Tilbury House Publishers; Patty Hagge, writer-in-residence at The Telling Room; Joshua Bodwell, executive director of Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance; Chris Bowe, owner of Longfellow Books; and Melissa Coleman, author of This Life Is in Your Hands. So much knowledge and talent sitting around one table, ready to hear about our writers’ books!
One by one, each young writer walked over to the panel. Sitting with them or standing before them, each author pitched their book. Each time, the panel listened attentively before offering constructive and encouraging feedback. Our authors received written comments and compliments from each panelist, and spent a short while mingling with them with post-panel snacks.
Once the panelists left, we had a little time to ourselves before the retreat had to end. Of course, it was just the moment for a little celebration, so we dashed to The Gelato Fiasco. Gelato was the perfect treat to beat the heat and end a productive and fun-filled week.
We miss our group of young writers already, and we can’t wait for next year!