Conferences

Romance in Kidlit and Other 2014 MOSCBWI Takeaways

Last Saturday I attended the Missouri SCBWI Conference. 2014 was my fourth year attending, and it’s interesting how my attitude toward this conference has changed. My first year, I soaked up everything. I was new to the world of writing for middle grade and young adult. I was just discovering all of the resources available on the internet, and so the information available at this regional conference was golden. These days I go less to learn something new than to catch up with writer friends, meet new writers, and hear something interesting. So for those purposes, it met my expectations.

The first speaker had interviewed seventeen editors and agents to gauge where the market is now and where it’s headed. She didn’t share anything I hadn’t already seen from the editors and agents I follow online, but I could tell that the information was extremely valuable to others in the room, so it was definitely a relevant topic.

The most interesting–and hilarious!–speaker of the day was author Cecily White, author of PROPHECY GIRL, who gave a keynote on “The Space Between Us: Layered Romantic Tension in Young Adult and Middle Grade.” She approached the topic from a psychologist’s perspective, giving background on how experts like Freud and Erikson defined these age groups and how they view the opposite sex. It was quite fascinating and gave a unique insight into why romance is different at these reading levels. Not your typical MG vs. YA presentation! Oh–you want to know what the difference is? Well, I don’t think I can just give her presentation away, but here’s a taste:

  • Middle grade love: Are we friends or what?
  • Young adult love: We’re dating! It’s forever love!

I also found author Steven Sheinkin’s keynote presentation, “Research or Detective Work,” fascinating. Mr. Sheinkin writes narrative non-fiction–which is something I never intend to write–but after listening to his process I’m now very interested in reading his books on Benedict Arnold, the guys who tried to rob Abraham Lincoln’s grave, and the men who staged a mutiny at Port Chicago. Honestly, I didn’t take a ton of notes during his presentation. I just enjoyed listening to him tell stories about how he’d tracked down all of the facts behind these untold histories. And it’s all because he worked for a history textbook company that wouldn’t let him put in the interesting bits! Now I must make sure our school library carries his books … But if you do write narrative non-fiction or even historical fiction and want to get your facts straight, a few tidbits I did catch that I might not have thought of are:

  • You can request FBI files, military files, etc., on people. They might blank things out, but the Freedom of Information Act gives you this right.
  • If possible, interview primary sources or people in the area who are experts on that topic, including authors of other books. He contacted one author who had done in-person interviews no one else knew existed.
  • Check old newspaper accounts.

I would highly recommend Ms. White and Mr. Sheinkin to any SCBWI chapters looking for speakers!

The day ended with a First Five Lines critique by two agents and an editor. It’s always interesting to hear industry professionals respond on-the-spot, especially to gauge their individual tastes. One of my writing friends received some very helpful feedback through the critiques, so yay!

Overall, I was glad I attended, although I’m excited to try something new next year. Some of my writer friends across the country have been urging me to branch out, so I may be headed toward the northeast …

Were any of you at MOSCBWI? What did you think?

Conferences, Revising, Writing

Missouri SCBWI 2013 Conference Recap

On Saturday, I attended the Missouri Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators conference. I would categorize this as more of an inspirational than a working conference. It consists of a series of keynote addresses with one breakout session. There was the option to attend an additional breakout session on Sunday morning, but as I have church commitments, I didn’t attend that part. Oh, there were also critiques available from two agents or an editor. Didn’t do that part, either. While I enjoyed the speeches, I’m going to focus on the two that gave me the most takeaways.

Krista Marino, Executive Editor, Delacorte Press

I’ve heard editors speak before but never with the approach Ms. Marino took. She centered her talk around books she’s purchased, starting with how she encountered the author and then unique aspects of the deal. It was interesting to hear the range of stories, from the traditional offer after an agent submission to buying an unfinished manuscript from an unagented author after a 10-page critique at a conference. It definitely brought home that each writer’s journey is different. Here are a few interesting things I learned from Ms. Marino.

  • E-book serials/novellas are a lot of extra work for the editor. Digitizing a work is a complicated process, and these books still require publicity plans, covers, etc. They can be a great publicity tool when done well, but they are becoming so common the novelty is wearing off.
  • Meta data and internet search marketing have become an essential part of an editor’s job. Book and series titles are extremely important when it comes to searches. Editors spend a significant amount of time considering what terms should be included to ensure the book shows up.
  • Editors are willing to take on books they believe in, even when they know they won’t sell big right away.
  • Editors will pass projects on to colleagues if they see something special but know it’s not for them.
  • When a publisher signs a two-book deal with an author, the second book doesn’t have to be determined yet. Editors often work with authors to come up with the idea for the second book.
  • While publishers do get input from booksellers, they will sometimes go against them if they really believe in something. For example, Ms. Marino is sticking with a cover one bookseller asked Delacorte to change, even though it may cost some sales with that particular bookseller.

I found her discussion of exclusive editions particularly interesting. An exclusive edition is sold to a particular bookseller with special content, whether an annotated first chapter, full-color illustrations that could be torn out, or an extra scene. An exclusive edition guarantees sales with that particular bookseller. It sounds like a great tactic, although a lot of extra work for the publishing team. Ms. Marino has worked with authors on as many as five exclusives for a single book. Once the exclusive deal ends–usually after a year–the content reverts to the publisher. In one case, Ms. Marino’s team compiled all of the exclusive content into a single package and sold it to fans with a teaser for the author’s new series. It was a successful promotion.

Lisa Yee, Author

Lisa Yee was hilarious. I haven’t read her books yet, but I definitely will now! I attended her revision workshop, and here are some of the gems I wrote down:

  • Sometimes when you work too hard on something, you can ruin it. (I so get this. There comes a time when you have to stop revising and set your work free!)
  • Cut ruthlessly. You can probably cut 20 percent of your manuscript. If you think it could be cut, try it, then re-read. If you don’t notice anything missing, it was the right cut.
  • Read your work aloud, or have your computer do it for you. (I agree. Check out my post about reading aloud.)
  • Change the margins and font so the manuscript looks different. It will force you to slow down and you’ll be less likely to skim.
  • Sometimes we do what’s easiest instead of what works. Make sure you’re writing in the correct POV, tense, etc. for the story.
  • When revising, take your work and turn it upside down.

Ms. Yee had us do an exercise in which we wrote a paragraph and then revised it several times from different viewpoints. It was a great way to see how different characters in the same scene might experience their surroundings, particularly depending on what baggage they bring to it. If you ever have the chance to hear her speak or do a workshop with her, I highly recommend you seize the opportunity.

While I could share tips from the agents or other authors, these two stood out the most from the conference. I hope they’re helpful/interesting for you, too!