I've been a part of book club with a group of friends for years. I’m sure many of you have too. You gather and chat about a book you have all read. It’s fun and social, and you end up reading some books you might not have picked up otherwise. But, we always read adult books. Recently, I joined a new type of book club, and I want to encourage my children’s writing friends to do the same.
The wonderful Julie Reich at The Writers’ Loft in Sherborn, MA started a KidLit Book Group. This group of writers gets together monthly and discusses a YA or MG novel. We look at the book not as readers, but rather as writers, looking for techniques of craft that we can apply to our own work.
There are many things that can be learned by examining a YA or MG novel with other YA and MG authors. First, you may be startled to find that we can be tough on the writing of successfully published, acclaimed writers. Hearing someone offer a negative critique of character development, or point out plot holes, or question different literary devices used in telling a story – of a published author – makes me think a bit more cautiously about how I interpret criticism of my own work. For every book clubber who liked a book, there seems to be an equal number who dislike the book. This will be true of your own manuscript. So take heart. Don’t rush to your manuscript and make immediate changes after every bit of advice. Instead, listen to the feedback, look for trends and consistency across critiques and then apply your own writing sensibility to the information before you make changes. Hearing folks offer feedback on a published novel in your KidLit book group will give you the courage to defend your own work.
While being in a KidLit book group can help you become less sensitive to critiques of your own manuscript, it can also allow you to really understand the feedback your manuscript is getting. When your KidLit book group is talking about character or dialogue, you will hear how the comments are framed. What do people say when they like a character or feel engaged in a story? You will have lightbulb flashing moments when you recognize that similar comments were made about your own manuscript. You will hear a book group member say why they liked or disliked a scene, and you will recall the same phrasing used to offer feedback on your own work. Being able to examine the feedback directed at someone else’s writing will give you a comfortable distance before you then consider the ramification for your own work. It’s a nice, easy stroll to the heart of a problem that your own writing may suffer from when you hear it discussed in someone else’s writing.
This is not to say that a KidLit book group is all about the negative. It's not! The most inspiring, I-can’t-wait-to-get-my-fingers-typing moments are when you feel emboldened to write because you have been uplifted by the talents of other writers. When the group gets excited about a book, and gleefully discusses the expert use of sentence structure to control pacing, or the introduction of a subplot to add tension, you start to feel your hands itch. I imagine this is how a painter feels when presented with jars of wet paint and fresh brushes. You will be inspired by the creativity in front of you. When you look at the tools another author has used, you will want to reach out and grab them and try those techniques for yourself.
Finally, so much of writing can be a solitary business, including reading in our genre (something universally recommended in the KidLit industry). A KidLit Book Group is a way to take a lonely component of your writing world and make it a social group activity. You will be gathering with other writers to look at books--folks with a similar passion, discussing from a unique perspective the books we love. It's a wonderful way to get to know each other, understand our reading and writing likes and dislikes, and even find new critique partners.
For the nuts and bolt of how it works, I can only share how my KidLit Book Club functions:
* We pick a host for every month. The host is responsible for selecting three options of MG or YA books for the group to read.
* The group then votes (you will like this type of voting – every option will be a good one!) and picks the book for the following month.
* We meet for two hours and the host provides the refreshments.
* As a way of starting our discussion, we go around the table and allow everyone to give their overall impression of the book and what they liked or disliked about the writing. This is really all you need to get going. The points folks will bring up in their share time will spur on other discussions and questions and before you know it a two hour book group will have passed and you will have spent it in a productive and completely enjoyable way.
Find a coffee shop, a café at your independent book seller, or a room at your local library and invite MG and YA published and pre-published authors in your area to join your KidLit Book Group. It could be the start of a wonderful new endeavor.