Zoom Chat with author George Jreije
George Jreije is an author of middle-grade fiction. He has been a mentor for PitchWars, Author Mentor Match and Write Mentor. He is so generous with his time, and gives out many critiques to other authors on his Twitter page. Tonight he offered to speak to our #MGwaves group to answer our writerly questions. Here's a summary of the knowledge he imparted:
Do you have any advice to give authors who are trying to stand out in mentorship competitions?
Most important is to have really good writing. Even if it isn't his cup of tea, good writing will catch his attention. Be able to market yourself. Beyond a mentorship program, you'll need to know how to catch an agent's eye. He suggested taking personalization to the next level. As an example, you could say to a mentor (or agent), "You've listed x & y as titles you really enjoy. This is why my book is similar: the friendship of x with the humor of y" or whatever it happens to be. Take it that next step to really connect. But it all starts with good story telling at the base.
If an author offers to help (whether it is critiquing a query, pages, or a pitch), how do you follow up without overstepping?
George says he was shameless and went after every offer of help that he saw, whether it be a critique or a book give away. Take the advice the author provides, ask a clarifying question or follow up once, but don't expect a response after that. You don't have anything to lose by asking that follow up question, but there is a line to toe. Don't be an obnoxious kid always asking for more screen time after the parents have said no. When you don't get a response, back off and wait for the next offer to come up on Twitter.
Are mentor wishlists in order of importance?
No. He just put in a bunch of options because he really wanted a wide variety of submissions to select from. He isn't picky, and he's never heard of a mentor putting the wishlist in order.
How do you weed out the "no" submissions?
He narrows down all the submissions to solid writers who have the craft down. Then he looks at who's submission has an element that he feels he can help with. If he sees how he can elevate your writing, he would want to be your mentor.
What does SUCCESS look like to you?
That's something everyone should determine for themselves early on. If you don't feel successful, that can drag down your writing, which can, in turn, pull down your success. For him, scraping by with a living as a writer would be enough. That's his definition of success. He doesn't need to be a best seller or on the New York Times top lists, but if he makes books that some people love and follow, he'll be happy.
How many drafts did you write before landing an agent?
Dozens! He scrapped his first and second attempts at a YA, His 3rd book (another YA) went through 3-4 drafts. His 4th book was a YA that got him into WriteMentor and a few full requests. His 5th book was his first MG book. It went through 4-5 drafts. He had great critique partners that he used, it got good traction in DVpit and numerous fulls were requested. After a bunch of back and forth with a few agents lead to "It's just not the right fit at this time." His 6th book (2nd MG book) went into PitchWars and lots of attention on DVpit. He wrote 2 drafts to get into PitchWars, 2 drafts while IN PitchWars, then another 2 drafts with his agent. He doesn't think he's done editing it yet, either! Treat it like a game. He likes looking at all the edits as puzzle pieces to move to achieve edit goals.
Do you tell your agent if you have another story idea?
He doesn't. In fact, he just finished a draft of a new YA and excitedly told his agent about it. She asked if he'd shown it to beta readers yet. He hadn't. She said do that first. George suggests always having two projects in your mind.
Does your writing include sensitive topics outside your lived experience?
George doesn't veer from his lane too much. He is a Lebanese-American with dual citizenship and writes about those experiences. He'll sometimes have Asian-American side characters, but feels those are from his lived experiences too. He doesn't include indigenous or religious characters. He recommends knowing who you are and writing what you understand. Your story will feel more authentic, and have real voices and people. If you're going to veer, make it a really minor character (the gym coach could be another ethnicity, as an example). Ask yourself, is this really the hill you want to die on if you rub someone the wrong way?
Do you like to work one-on-one giving and receiving feedback/critiques with critique partners, or do you like a community shared draft where everyone can comment?
He only does the one-to-one because of the way his critique partnerships have formed, but really likes the idea of doing a communicative one. Be sure you trust your betas and take their advice to heart. Going back to the editing puzzle idea, figure out how to make the pieces fit in a way that makes everyone happy and be ok with killing your darlings.
How do you deal with if a book should be MG or YA?
Publishers in different markets handle things differently. The UK is a different beast, and publishes things in YA that wouldn't be categorized the same way in the US. George noticed that while he was an underwriter for YA, he's an overwriter for MG which is good. There is a big change in writing styles between MG and YA. The main character in YA should be 15-17. If there is killing or sexual content, the book is likely more YA than MG. Don't simply dumb down writing to make it MG. Kids are smart and won't like it. Be really critical of writing too much. Figure out how to say more with less. Be less flowery. Maybe write the same story in both MG and YA styles and see which one clicks.
How many POV (Points of View) is too many?
For MG, keep it to one or two.
Hope this helps you on your writing journey! Thank you again, George!