• Malia Maunakea

SCBWI Rocky Mountain Chapter Mentorship

Updated: Feb 7

The Rocky Mountain Chapter of SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) offers a six-month Michelle Begley Mentor Program. They describe it on their site as:

"The Mentor Program is designed for unpublished writers or illustrators who have put in time on their craft and feel their work is close-to-ready for submission to agents and editors. Maybe with the help of your critique group you’ve taken a project as far as you know how and would like some one-on-one attention. Maybe you’ve already received personalized rejections on submissions and aren’t sure how to get to the next level. Or perhaps you’ve received editorial feedback you’re struggling to interpret. If any of this sounds familiar the Mentor Program may be for you."

On October 26th, 2020 I applied to the program and crossed my fingers.

On November 11, I was celebrating my 15th Anniversary with my husband on a hike in the mountains. We were out of cell phone range, and when I got back to the car I was thrilled to have the most lovely voice message waiting for me.

photo credit: Malia Maunakea

Yes, voice to text messed up the name of the mentorship program (Bailey was supposed to be Begley), but I started crying right there in the car. I had received word the previous week that I wasn't accepted into PitchWars, so this was awesome.

If you're not familiar with award-winning author Andrea Wang, you should definitely check out her work. While she is most well known for her picture books (WATERCRESS is her newest release and is getting all sorts of accolades, including stellar reviews in the NY Times and WSJ), she also has a middle school book, THE MANY MEANINGS OF MEILAN coming out this year (2021). The fact that she brings diversity to her beautiful stories was what had me ask to work with her, so I was over the moon to score her as a mentor.

You saw that date right? November 11th was when I got the call. Well, Dec. 5 was when our document was due. I had received some feedback from PitchWars mentors, so I worked on incorporating that into my manuscript (tentatively titled LEI AND THE FIRE GODDESS) and excitedly sent it off, And then I waited. The mentorship program was slated to begin January 15th and I swore I'd be patient. I started my next middle-grade manuscript in November and worked on finishing that and starting revisions to keep me distracted.

In the middle of December, I ended up receiving a request for a partial from an agent through a different critique group for LEI. I nervously emailed Andrea, feeling like was making a huge breach of contract by contacting her before I was supposed to, but my excitement took over (I'd never received a request for more before). Andrea talked me calmly through options and helped me figure out how to let the agent know that I'd be making revisions in the next year and I'd love to send her the more polished MS at that time. WHEW! Back to waiting.

January 13th I received the email from Andrea that the mentorship was beginning and we should schedule our first call. On January 15th at 1pm I got to "meet" her for the first time on Zoom. She was lovely! We hit it off, and got to know each other. I was a little disappointed that she'd been so busy she hadn't read my MS yet, but she thought we could go through it section by section. I was Andrea's first middle-grade mentee (she'd mentored picture book authors previously) and she wasn't completely clear what the process for a middle-grade mentee was like. So while my friends (critique partners (CPs) I met in SCBWI who were also doing this mentorship program) received their full edit letters their mentors had written them, Andrea and I were discussing how to divide up my book into sections to get through it all. Such conflicting emotions (the high of finally getting started and the low of waiting more and not managing my own expectations).

Don't you worry though! Andrea spoke with the other mentors in the group. She heard what they were doing and put all her focus on my story, finished reading it quickly and got me an amazing edit letter. So by the end of January, we were on our way and I was thrilled!

And what a way it was. First up, Andrea suggested I read and analyze mentor texts.

photo credit: Malia Maunakea

I voice-to-text'ed the first chapters of ARU SHAH AND THE END OF TIME by Roshani Chokshiand PAOLA SANTIAGO AND THE RIVER OF TEARS by Tehlor Kay Mejia. I used different color highlighters to indicate backstory, present time narration, action and dialogue so I could see if my own story was similarly balanced. I studied where their inciting incidents and various beats hit. And then I rewrote the entire beginning of my book.

And then I rewrote it again.

Then we dove into the theme. We looked at how to have the dialogue stay true to my roots (using Pidgin and Hawaiian) while still being accessible to all readers. The secondary characters needed more of an arc. MC needs more emotion.

Andrea has been helping me with all this, on top of having an incredibly busy spring with one of her most successful, high profile releases yet.

We are now to the point where we are going through the work in 50 page segments, and she is making line edits and helping me polish.

I am hoping that we may have it ready by June for queries! (This is me putting my intentions out to the universe to hold myself more accountable.) I'll definitely do an update when I get there! Andrea has been so helpful in supporting the diverse voice of my characters and helping me dig deeper in figuring out the story I'm trying to tell.

If you are looking at applying to a program like this, here are some pointers:

  1. Go in with an open mind. These mentors are so generous with their time, it really is awesome. Understand they might not have done something like it before and it can take a little bit to figure out.

  2. Have a list of goals and dreams. During your first meeting establish preferred communication styles. Let the mentor know what you are really wanting to get out of the partnership. Be realistic given the timeframe and know how much time you have to dedicate to the work.

  3. Create pre-set meeting times. In comparing notes between my CP partners who are also in this program and myself, it does seem to be helpful if you set up regular meeting times with your mentor, that way you don't float along with no clear deadline or direction.

  4. Be flexible. Yes, I recommend creating a list of meeting times (whatever works for the both of you), but also realize that these mentors are busy people. Things come up and you may need to change your meeting times.

  5. Keep communicating with your regular CPs. If your mentor is busy, don't waste your precious time with them by having them review first drafts. Edit it yourself and run it by your CPs before turning in to the mentor so you don't feel like a dolt when they are redlining all your spelling errors or extraneous commas.

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