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!

Conferences, Querying

Missouri SCBWI Conference Recap, Part 2

Yesterday I posted Part 1 of my Missouri SCBWI Conference recap. On to Part 2…

Illustrator Will Terry kicked off the afternoon sessions. He offered the most polished presentation of the day, and of course he had a visual component. Like Ms. Dryden, he spoke about how technology has changed the industry, but he had an entirely different focus. He gave us tips on several iPad apps I’m going to check out for my kids (The Wormworld Saga, Nighty Night, Mash Smasher).

He asked the question: Which is more important, story or craft? I thought this was a trick question, but it turned out it wasn’t. He used movies as examples, saying that his kids would rather watch the old Star Wars than the new ones. Why? Because while the earlier movies had the coolest special effects of the time, they focused on the story. The new movies also have the coolest special effects of the time, but the stories are weaker. I’d never thought of it that way, but he’s right, and it bears out in books, too. Writers like to knock TWILIGHT, but the story draws people in, so it doesn’t matter if the writing technique is weaker.

Mr. Terry said that if you build the right product, you won’t have to spend a lot on advertising because people will share it on their own. The key is to come up with something amazingly “something,” whether that’s good, shocking, touching or “something” else. Great advice, right? Get on that!

Best-selling YA author Ellen Hopkins shared her publishing journey. It was interesting to hear how she started out publishing non-fiction. She wrote CRANK because of her daughter’s addiction to crystal meth. Although I haven’t read her books (I’m a happy ending kind of girl), I appreciated the feedback she shared from her readers. Here’s a quote that really caught my attention:

“My readers need the books to understand themselves but also to understand people who are not like themselves.”

The agent who was scheduled to attend this year’s conference wasn’t able to get out of New York due to Sandy. Instead, Emma Dryden and Ellen Hopkins gave the agent speech from the viewpoint of an editor and author. Here are some of the tips they gave:

  1. Agents aren’t looking for perfection; they’re looking for potential.
  2. An agent has to love your work AND think they can sell it.
  3. Agents aren’t looking for a book; they’re looking for an author. You should have other projects available, especially if you write picture books.
  4. If you plan to write a series, don’t hold everything back for the third book because there’s no guarantee people will want to get there.
  5. Make sure the agent is the right fit.
  6. Your agent is working for you–you are paying them. (Probably wouldn’t hear an agent say that.)
  7. You need an agent for contracts, especially early on. Authors don’t have the clout to ask for things. Ellen Hopkins shared that she made her first deal without an agent and regretted that. She also pointed out that it’s about more than the advance. It’s about subrights and marketing support.
  8. Don’t put illustration notes in a PB manuscript. If a PB manuscript is excellent, the agent should be able to picture the illustrations from the text.
  9. Make sure you have a walkaway clause with an agent if things don’t work out.

It was interesting to hear these notes from the editor/author points of view, although I felt like I could have given the speech based on my querying experiences. In case anyone who was at the conference stops by my blog, I’d like to point out one answer that was incorrect. You should NOT follow up two weeks after a query and definitely not CALL to follow up. The only exception would be if the agent’s submission guidelines state to do so. A few say you can follow up if you don’t hear within a certain time frame, but I haven’t seen any that say you can call.

The day ended with a panel of all the conference speakers. I didn’t take any notes there, but I was about ready to go home by then. Overall, the speakers were entertaining and interesting. Until next year…

Conferences

Missouri SCBWI Conference Recap, Part 1

I attended the Missouri SCBWI conference on Saturday. I drafted a single post with my key takeaways, but it was too long, so I’m splitting it into two. You’ll get Part 1 today and Part 2 tomorrow.

The first keynote speaker was the very entertaining David Harrison, a prolific author who’s been publishing since the ’60s. Here are a couple of quotes that stood out to me.

“What’s the best part about writing? Falling in love with this idea.”

He expanded further on this during his breakout session. He developed a whole book out of noticing he was losing his hair and another after reading a Far Side cartoon. It’s funny how one little thing can be the starting point for a story.

“Six years and 67 rejections later, I sold my first book. It was easy.”

Ha! And he was submitting in a much less glutted publishing marketplace, but what was true then is true today. I’m not at six years yet, but I’ve definitely received more than 67 rejections :).

The second keynote was by editorial consultant Emma Dryden, who spoke about the digital landscape. Ms. Dryden went through an alphabetical list of companies/trends that are affecting the industry. One that stood out to me was the iPad. I’m not sure I got it all exactly the way she said it, but here’s what I wrote down:

“The iPad put the capability of digital reading into the hands of millions of readers who didn’t know they wanted digital reading.”

Think about that for a minute. It really makes sense. The Kindle came out the same year, and it offers the same reading opportunity, but the iPad is different because the e-reader is just one part of the device. I don’t know the statistics, but I’d guess a small percentage of people originally bought it for reading, but a large number of people who bought it for other purposes now use it for reading. I know that’s been the case for my husband.

Ms. Dryden spoke about publishers getting into apps and bookstores figuring out how to stay relevant. Publishers have to re-imagine their business models. Bookstores are no longer the main customer. Publishers also need to go through Apple, Google, and Amazon and even direct to the consumer. Another interesting note was that enhanced ebooks are not as lucrative as publishers expected them to be. She said they’re only worth it if there’s extra value in the enhancements, and that’s not usually the case with fiction.

Thanks to YALSA also happening in St. Louis on Saturday, we had a panel of YA authors do a Q&A during lunch. They included Beth Fehlbaum, Jo Knowles, Deborah Heiligman, Selene Castrovilla, and Shannon Delany.

The first question to the panel was: How do you write about something true? I didn’t keep a good record of who said what, but the basic answer was that it’s a mistake to keep the story too close to what really happened. Instead think about what could have made the situation better. Take yourself out of the story and make it the character’s story instead. Then the story can take flight.

I did take down some other quotes. Most of these are related to how and why the authors incorporate character details and quirks.

“What do we remember about a book? We remember moments. We remember little things.” Selene Castrovilla

“Listen to the characters. Even when we don’t know where they’re going, they do.” Shannon Delany

“The characters that you love most in fiction, you can probably name things about them.” Deborah Heiligman

“You can’t just add quirks. Characters need to have a reason for them. They have to have a purpose.” Jo Knowles

So, I hope those quotes give you something to think about as you’re imagining characters. I’ll definitely keep them in mind.

Check back tomorrow for Part 2 of my recap. If anyone else was at the conference, I’d love to hear your thoughts.