Writing Book Review: Second Sight

Second Sight: An Editor’s Talks on Writing, Revising and Publishing Books for Children and Young Adults
by Cheryl B. Klein

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Asterisk Books (March 9, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0615420826

When I received the request to support Scholastic (Arthur A. Levine Books) editor, Cheryl Klein, in her endeavor to publish this book, I knew I had to have it. I was already a huge fan of Klein’s wise and wonderful editor’s eye-view talks. I did worry, somewhat, that the content was already available on line in her rich and widely-read website. But even if that WAS the case, I looked forward to having that content, primarily from her talks, bound in an organized fashion for my library.

What I found was that, yes, quite a bit of the material was lifted directly from Klein’s site, and yes, it was well-organized in the book. But I also found that it was that organization – as well as a wealth of additional information – that took the web content to a whole new level.

(Prereading Tip: Read the novels Klein uses in her examples throughout. It elevates understanding immensely.)

So here’s my recap.

Who’s it for: Primarily for middle grade and young adult novelists who have completed a first draft. One special chapter is devoted to picture book writing.

Picture book writing advice that most resonated with me: All good picture books – like novels – must have an action plot AND an emotional plot.

Novel writing tip that most resonated with me: In one sentence answer the question “What is this book about?” – this is what you most want to communicate to your readers – then build the story around that.

Favorite quote:
Good plots “provide a structure and events through which your protagonist has painful experiences, learns from them, grows from them and triumphs in a way that conveys the BIG IDEA the author has in mind.”

Favorite example: While it’s tempting to site Klein’s chapter-long Harry Potter example here, for everything that’s done right in a novel, I learned even more from her editorial walk-through of So Totally Emily Ebers, which focused more on figuring out what’s not working in a novel and suggesting appropriate fixes. Both examples were available on her website but it was helpful to go through them again. By the way – Emily Ebers may be my favorite of Yee’s books.

Favorite exercise: Write the flap copy for your book – about 2-3 paragraphs for a total of about 250 words. Make it as interesting as possible leaving the reader with no choice but to buy the book. But here’s the catch. Don’t write what should, or might, or you wish would happen in your book. You need to stick with what DOES happen. Then ask yourself, “Would I buy this book?”

Favorite revision technique: Make a bookmap of your novel. I already do this on a spreadsheet where I can add chapter titles, summaries and character appearances. I can also color code plot lines if need be. The bookmap also serves as a time-saving table of contents while revising.

Something I will be wary of in my own writing: Whiny protagonists without charm or truth.

Star sighting: Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, my agency mate, whose editor-winning query for Eighth-Grade Superzero was lauded and examined in the book.

Best lesson learned: Write with emotional truth. Klein says, “The stronger the successful emotional reaction, the more likely the reader is to think that book good.”

Recommendation: Without a doubt, if you’re a children’s writer, add this book to your library. Klein’s view from the other side of the desk is a great one. And you can buy it right here.

7 Responses to “Writing Book Review: Second Sight”

  1. writerjodimoore

    Great review and post, Jean. I was privileged to hear Cheryl speak years ago at a conference and love the fact that her wisdom is now neatly wrapped up in a book for us. Can't wait to devour this!

  2. Carol B.

    This is a very thorough examination, and consequently very helpful. Second Sight has already been recommended to me, but your analysis makes me understand why. Thanks!

  3. Julie Hedlund

    So glad to see a review of this book. I've been toying with whether to get it, and you've given me the nudge I needed.

  4. Sharon K. Mayhew

    Thanks for the super review, Jean. I had the plwasure of meeting Cheryl a few years ago. She's a passionate young woman. I hope she has much success with her book.

  5. catherinemjohnson

    Great review Jean, I also reviewed this book on my blog after I won a copy over at Literary Rambles. It has to be the best craft book out there right now.