Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Next Best Thing

by Julie Coulter Bellon

As a host at the LDStoryMakers Writing Conference last weekend, part of my duties were to be a timekeeper for Tim Travaglini’s manuscript review sessions. Mr. Travaglini is a Senior Editor at G.P. Putnam’s Sons and was the editor of such books as, "Take the Ex Out of Ex-Boyfriend" by Janette Rallison, "The Monster Blood Tattoo" trilogy by D.M. Cornish, and "Yellowbelly and Plum Go To School" by Nathan Hale, to name a few.

I didn’t think being the timekeeper was going to be a very interesting job. The job description was pretty basic: wear a watch, make sure each participant had exactly ten minutes with Mr. Travaglini, and give him a one minute warning so he could wrap it up. The door was open and I sat outside the room with my little watch, gamely making sure everyone got their ten minutes. It was a lot more interesting than I thought it would be, however.

The people who had made appointments with Mr. Travaglini were generally pretty nervous while they waited for their turn to talk to him, so I tried to ease their nerves by talking with them beforehand and asking about their manuscripts that he would be reviewing. It surprised me what a wide range of effort had been put into the individual manuscripts. Some people had only spent five hours on what they had submitted to Mr. Travaglini and others had spent up to two years working on the same piece of writing. Some were very confident that their book would be the next best thing on the market, while others seemed very timid and petrified of what Mr. Travaglini was going to say. I didn’t feel bad about sending them into the room to meet with Mr. Travaglini, though, because from the bits and snatches I could hear of his discussions through the open door, he seemed to be giving really good, in-depth feedback to the authors in a very kind manner. (And when I spoke to him in between sessions, he really did understand how most authors have sensitive egos when it came to hearing a critique of their work.)

I was glad to know he had that understanding of writers later on, when I could tell that an author had disagreed or argued with him over the vision of their work, or when there was near silence and I could only hear him talking and the author didn’t utter a peep. I wondered which authors had made an impression on him most—was it the more vocal ones who defended their work or was it the ones who accepted his critique with hardly a word? I would imagine an editor can see right away which sort of writer they would like to work with and which ones would best fit their personality. But throughout the entire day, I was impressed that Mr. Travaglini seemed friendly and courteous to everyone he spoke to no matter what their personality was.

Another interesting part of the job was seeing the authors after the session and their reactions when I asked them how it went. Most were thrilled with the feedback from such a prestigious editor, but some were disappointed he hadn’t asked for a full manuscript. There were a few who just walked away without saying anything at all, but overall I think everyone was grateful for the opportunity to at least gauge the possibility of their manuscripts making it past the enormous slush pile that can be found at most publishing houses these days.

The best part for me, however, was meeting all the different people who were aspiring to be authors---especially the ones who knew, deep down, that they would realize their dream someday and that this was just one more step in the journey. You can always tell those sorts of authors---the ones who are genuinely pleased to have feedback that, while it may not be what they expected, they know it will make their book better. It was exciting to see those authors talking about taking the advice that Mr. Travaglini had given them, making the adjustments he'd suggested and submitting their manuscripts to him again, now that they had made his acquaintance. Who knows? Maybe I met the next Janette Rallison sitting outside that room. I can’t wait to see if I did.


At 3/27/2008 1:41 PM, Blogger Stephanie Black said...

What a totally cool and fascinating thing to do, Julie! And I'll bet those authors really appreciated your helping them relax before they went in for manuscript review. I know I'd be very nervous in that kind of situation and grateful for a friendly timekeeper!

At 3/27/2008 5:28 PM, Blogger Annette Lyon said...

Julie was awesome at her job--she really did help the writers in the hall get ready for their big moment with Tim. I would have loved to be a fly on the wall and hear all the critiques like that. You'd learn so much that it would be almost better than a workshop.

At 3/27/2008 7:35 PM, Blogger Julie Coulter Bellon said...

Thanks Stephanie and Annette. It really was cool and I enjoyed it. I don't know how much I helped those people, but I hope I did a little. :)

At 3/27/2008 8:27 PM, Blogger Rebecca Talley said...

What a fun job.

I loved your workshop on research--you and Michele were both so helpful.

At 3/27/2008 10:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Aww, thanks Rebecca! I had a lot of fun doing that class. I appreciate your comments!


At 4/01/2008 7:59 PM, Blogger Karen Hoover said...

Being one of those you helped soothe while waiting, I can say you definitely did a great job! I can't say thank you enough for taking the time to visit with me while I my stomach tried to climb it's way up my throat. Loved visiting with you, appreciated the encouragement, and especially appreciate your frienship!


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