Thursday, August 30, 2007

Writer Mama Give-Aways...

Starting September 1st, Writer Mama author Christina Katz is giving about a writing tool a day for one month through her blog The Writer Mama Riffs. Prizes include Market Books (such as CWIM) as well as ten signed copies of her book Writer Mama: How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids and a one-hour writing career phone consultation. See Christina's blog for official rules along with her list of great prizes. (She'll give away a 2008 CWIM on September 24.)

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Market Books Event Tonight...

It's still silly hot here, people, so it's a great night to spend in a bookstore. Listening to me. Talk about writing and publishing. In the air conditioning. In a new store!

Tonight I will be at Books & Co. in Beavercreek, Ohio, (the Greene location) at 7 p.m. for the second stop in the 2007 Market Books Mini-Tour. Joining me will be Poet's Market editor Nancy Breen and Writer's Market/ editor Robert Brewer. (Be sure to check out this poetic duo's blog.)

If you follow the Books & Co. link, it says Lauren Mosko of Novel & Short Story Writer's Market will be there, but no Lauren, yes me! You can see Lauren on September 11 at the Joseph-Beth in Lexington, Kentucky, along with Guide to Literary Agents editor Chuck Sambuchino, and Writer's Digest Books Editorial Director Jane Friedman.

This is Nancy, me, Chuck, and Robert at our recent Joseph-Beth event. Doesn't it look like we're having fun?

Monday, August 27, 2007

Yoohoo Debut Authors--Who Wants to Be in First Books?...

Since the 2008 CWIM just hit stores, it's the time of the year where I embark on the fun task of planning the lineup for the next CWIM. This includes the popular piece "First Books," our annual article featuring four or five debut authors talking about their paths to publication, their experience, and (of course) their books!

This post is my official call for potential First Books candidates. This is open to authors, illustrators and author/illustrators who have debut books coming out in late 2007 or early 2008 (or thereabouts). Cover art would need to be available to me by late January/early February 2008, and a copy of the book would need to be available by December. (I don't want to interview someone unless I can read their book first.)

If you're interested in being considered for First Books, email me at and tell me a little about you and your book, including the publication date and publisher. If you have a website, include that as well.

If I don't choose you for First Books (and it's so hard to choose!) you may end up as a Debut Author of the Month in my CWIM newsletter and this blog. The deadline for contacting me is Friday August 31.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

K.L. Going/Fat Kid Rules the World...

There's a very provocative discussion happening on author K.L. Going's blog regarding some recent controversy about the inclusion of profanity and mature content in her Printz Honor-winning book, the wonderful novel Fat Kid Rules the World, which was a choice on a school's summer reading list. As I said to her in an e-mail earlier today, reading the posts made me alternately feel angry, indignant, fired up and choked up. Weighing in on the discussion are readers, teachers, parents, people from family groups who want to make libraries "safe," and authors such as John Green and David Lubar as well as Going herself.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Market Books Event at Joseph-Beth Tonight...

All you writers in the greater Nati area: Don't forget that tonight we kick off our (super-mini) Market Books Tour 2008 with a 7 p.m. event at the Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Rookwood. If you show up at the store tonight, you may show up on my blog tomorrow--I'm bringing my camera.

What is it--96 degrees and out there? And humid, oh so humid. Leave your air conditioned home, hop in your air conditioned car, and join us in the very well air conditioned bookstore for a lively discussion of writing and publishing. My fellow Market Books editors and I will answer all your writing- and publishing-related questions.

For those of you who don't live in the area, if you ever come through town be sure to stop at Joseph-Beth. It's a wonderful store--with a really great children's area. (And they have good events people.)

Monday, August 20, 2007

In Publishing News Today...

It's being reported that Julie Strauss-Gabel has been promoted from senior editor to associate editorial director at Dutton Children's Books. Here's an short interview with Julie by agent Anna Olswanger (a version of which appeared in the 2004 edition of CWIM on page 146).

Market Books Mini-Tour 2007...

Every summer after the market books are released, our editors head to bookstores to spend some time talking to writers. Here's our appearance schedule for 2007:

  • Wednesday, August 22nd, 7 p.m at Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Cincinnati featuring your CWIM editor (me), Chuck Sambuchino of Guide to Literary Agents, Nancy Breen of Poet's Market, and Robert Brewer of Writer's Market and
  • Wednesday, August 29th, 7 p.m. at Books & Co. in Dayton featuring Robert, Nancy and me.
  • Tuesday, September 11th, 7 p.m. at Joseph-Beth in Lexington featuring Chuck and Lauren Mosko of Novel & Short Story Writer's Market. (I can't make this one--I'm going on vacation.)
Hope to some of you can come out and meet us!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

My Final SCBWI Conference Post: The Great Rocky Road Bread Pudding Incident of 2007...

When I arrived in LA the Thursday afternoon before the SCBWI conference, the first person I ran into was Writers House agent Steven Malk. (I met Steve at this very conference something like 10 years ago.) He was in the lobby bar area talking with an author of his, Mac Barnett. (Mac was really cool, smart, friendly and fun to hang out with. I can't wait to read his upcoming books.)

Mac and Steve started talking about what they claimed was the best dessert they've ever had in their entire lives--Rocky Road Bread Pudding from Rustic Canyon in Santa Monica. Apparently this dessert would blow my mind it was so amazing!!! I love dessert as much as the next gal (maybe even more), and I must admit, it did sound pretty yummy--chocolate bread pudding with homemade marshmallow cream. Mmmmm.

Pretty much every time I ran into Steve during the four days of the conference he mentioned Rocky Road Bread Pudding. Steven Malk, I must tell you, is a sugar junkie. (This does not in any way mean one should send cookies or candy bars or the like along with one's query letter to Steve. Please do not do that.) I was beginning to catch on that Steve needed a high-quality sugar fix. The bag of cookies I heard he had polished off singlehandedly must not have been doing it. He needed something warm and chocolatey and gooey. He needed Rocky Road Bread Pudding.

If you read my last post, you know that Steve was my ride to Lin Oliver's conference after-party. He was also my ride back to the hotel. We left the party around 9 p.m.-ish and I was ready to go back to my room, pack, and get some sleep. I had a 7 a.m. flight, a 5 a.m. cab, and a 4:30 a.m. wake up call.

But Steve was jonesin. We were stopping at Rustic Canyon. We were havin us some Rocky Road Bread Pudding. I was getting more and more excited about it. My mouth was watering. I was thinking how lame all those cupcakes at the autograph party would seem compared to the ooey chocolate-marshmallowy deliciousness of Rocky Road Bread Pudding.

We parked. We walked in. We waited for a table for an eternity. (Ten minutes is a long time to wait when there is Rocky Road Bread Pudding in your future.)

Finally we were seated. The server handed us menus. The four of us (Steve, Lindsay, Mac and I) flipped them over in unison, our eyes scanning for the dessert list. We read the list. We read it again. How could this be? No Rocky Road Bread Pudding! Noooo!!!!!!!

We found out Rustic Canyon had recently gotten a new pastry chef and had stopped serving Rocky Road Bread Pudding five days before we got there. It was quite a blow. I'm not sure Steve will ever get over the deep disappointment of being denied his Rocky Road Bread Pudding. Sure, we got some pleasing chocolate cake with a scoop of ice cream and a caramel sauce. We got a blueberry corncake that was pretty darn delish. But no Rocky Road Bread Pudding. We (Steve) talked to every server who would listen and I believe the hostess and the manager. They claimed that they felt our pain. They had loved the dessert as well. Other restaurant patrons also missed it. And they indeed did not have any stashed in the back that they were withholding from us so they could eat it all themselves.

If you live in LA, feel free to drop in Rustic Canyon and ask them to put Rocky Road Bread Pudding back on the menu. Do it for all the dessert lovers in the greater Los Angeles area. Do it for sugar-addicted agents everywhere. Do it for Steve.

Mac Barnett and Steven Malk smiling through their pain after not getting Rocky Road Bread Pudding.

Then I Crashed Lin Oliver's Party...

After the SCBWI conference, there's always a party at Lin Oliver's (very lovely and well-decorated) house (in Beverly Hills that I really want to live in). It's for conference faculty and SCBWI Regional Advisors (and kudos to them--RAs do a lot of work at the conference such as registration and running the bookstore, not to mention all the work they do in their own regions. Double kudos!). I was neither conference faculty nor an SCBWI RA so I wasn't really invited to the conference after-party.

I saw all the conference-party buses leaving as I sat in the lobby bar blogging on my laptop. Agent Steven Malk and his assistant Lindsay Davis were on their way to the party after the buses had rolled out and stopped by my table to ask if I wanted to go with them. I said. "Ah, I wasn't invited. I probably shouldn't go. I'll feel weird," but Steve said it would be OK. (I didn't need all that much art twisting.) So off we went. (Yay!)

Cool party. Lots of fun. Lots of writers and illustrators everywhere. And I was feeling chatty. Here are some pictures.

Author Candie Moonshower with Sam Wasson, who works for SCBWI.

Ventura/Santa Barbara SCBWI RA, author Alexis O'Neill.

Illinois RA, author and writing coach Esther Hershenhorn, talking with Newbery winning author and librarian Susan Patron.

Henry Holt Associate Art Director and illustrator Laurent Linn in conversation. (He was nice enough to hang out with me for a bit.)

A picture of Caldecott winning illustrator David Diaz taking a picture of me taking a picture of him as he stands in front of his painting that graces Lin Oliver's kitchen.

Lee Bennett Hopkins Wraps Things Up...

The final conference presentation with from literary luminary/poet Lee Bennett Hopkins. He recited poems. He had on a fabulous shirt that not many people could pull off. He made me tear up. And that was that. The SCBWI Annual Summer Conference in Los Angeles came to an end.

The only things left was the autograph party. (Hooray for cupcakes!)

Conference-goers standing in line. (Don't worry--there were plenty of cupcakes left for all of them after the autographing ended.)

John Green signing his Printz Award-winning novel Looking for Alaska (which I'm in the middle of reading right now--and it's so good.)

Erin Vincent, showing off the cover of her YA memoir Grief Girl. (In the hallway earlier in the day someone mistook me for Erin and excitedly waved me over and asked, "Are you the author of Grief Girl?!" I hope that fan of Erin's work got to talk to her at the autograph party.)

Ellen Wittlinger prepares to sign her novel Hard Love. (Notice she's got her own stack of books.)

Lisa Yee holding my copy of Millicent Min, Girl Genius. Lisa's table was my last stop (got my autographs in alphabetical order) before I hit the cupcakes.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

What Makes My Perfect Book: Five Editors Break It Down...

Getting into the homestretch of the conference, SCBWI offered a panel of "esteemed female editors" (as Lin Oliver described them) talking about the perfect book. Panelists included Dinah Stevenson of Clarion Books, Emma Dryden of Margaret K. McElderry, Rachel Griffiths of Scholastic, Julie Strauss-Gabel of Dutton, and Allyn Johnson of Harcourt.

Here's my in-a-nutshell report of what they said:

Dinah Stevenson: She wants a book that's original, not derivative, in any genre. Not everyone who reads it will love it, but everyone will recognize it. The author has plenty of time for author appearances. The book wins the Newbery, the Caldecott, the Coretta Scott King Award, the Pulitzer and a Nobel Prize in literature; is publicized by Daniel Pinkwater and Oprah; and is number one on every bestseller list.

Emmy Dryden: What strikes her is continuity and consistency in text. A certain rhythm. Character. A sense of a wonderful unfolding layers of the story. A sense of spontaneity and a sense of planning. Picture book text with enough room for art. A story that allows for surprises to be revealed. Wordplay and use of the delicious words of our language. Humor doesn't hurt. The author makes smart choices. Opportunities in the text that can be played with.

Rachel Griffiths: She looks for honesty, passion, unique point of view. A manuscript from which the perception of a fascinated mind comes through.

Julie Strauss-Gabel: She talked about the perfect author rather than the perfect book. Her perfect author possesses playfulness and lack of ego. He or she is someone who wants to work on the process in a non-adversarial way, someone for whom the joy is in the process. Her perfect author writes active, engaged, original contemporary YA fiction for the older end of the YA spectrum; YA that's not coming-of-age but about the process of becoming a human; YA written with unique choices and unique decisions; YA that's ambitious.

Allyn Johnston: Allyn talked about picture books, saying she got into the business of children's publishing because of the picture books that were read to her as a child. She wants a book that casts a spell on those who are reading it and stays with them so much that they want to immediately read it all over again; books that adults take with them from their childhoods into their adult lives.

Tomorrow I'll wrap up my 2007 SCBWI conference coverage and start counting the days until next year...

Lisa Yee: Ethnic Diversity in Literature...

During the SCBWI conference, I got a copy of Lisa Yee's Millicent Min, Girl Genius, but I haven't gotten a chance to read it yet. If the book is as enjoyable and funny as Lisa's conference speech, I can't wait to start it! (Here's a sample chapter if you're curious.)

Here are a few tidbits from Lisa Yee's talk:

  • "I'm Chinese, but I just became Chinese recently."She considers herself typically American.
  • She said when she was young and read children's books, she didn't think about the under-representation of Asians in children's literature--she worried about whether or not she was going to get taller.
  • Her first book was plucked out of the slush pile by Arthur Levine.
  • She was shocked when she got a copy of Millicent Min and there was an Asian girl on the cover--she'd never seen a contemporary novel with an Asian on the cover.
  • A Hollywood producer contacted her and asked about using her book as the basis of a series, but he wanted to make Millicent white. (She said no.)
  • Race and nationality shouldn't limit what you write any more than it should dictate what you read. But you have to get it right--it must ring true.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Laurent Linn & Mark McVeigh: Graphic Novels 101...

On Monday at the SCBWI conference Henry Holt Associate Art Director Laurent Linn and Aladdin Editorial Director Mark McVeigh (formerly editor at Dutton) offered a short history of the graphic novel, starting with comic book deity Will Eisner's The Contract with God Trilogy in the late 70s (which is classified as the very first graphic novel), and moving through the popularity of manga today.

They told us that in 2006 graphic novel sales in the U.S. and Canada hit $330 million, a 12% increase from the 2005 figures. Four million graphic novels have been sold through Scholastic Book Fairs since 2004. For young readers, picture books are the first fine art kids are exposed to--graphic novels serve that same purpose, they said. However, graphic novels can be much longer than picture books. There are a huge range of art styles and subject matter that can be appear in graphic novels. And both teachers and librarians seem to like them.

They talked about the process for three different graphic novels and offered visuals for the projects in progression. Laurent discussed Blindspot, by Kevin C. Pyle, a graphic novel for which the same person created both the text and the art.

Laurent also talked a graphic novel written by one person and illustrated by another called Joey Fly, Private Eye, book 1: Creepy Crawly Crime (scheduled form Spring 08). For this project, he said, the author Aaron Reynolds wrote the dialogue in a screenplay format. Brian M. Weaver is the illustrator. Laurent described the creation as an organic process of text and illustration. The words begin the process and the art follows. Writers need to be flexible, revise, and collaborate.

Mark McVeigh recounted his experience working on Dutton title called Dead High Yearbook, a graphic novel including a collection of creepy stories bound in a yearbook-type of format. (He wrote one of the stories for the collection.) Mark emphasized the importance of the "show, don't tell" rule when it comes to graphic novel writing, which he said is a highly structured form of writing. Writers must be open to text being cut to allow art to tell the story.

Someone (who had just attended Comicon) asked about the submission process for writers. Laurent and Mark agreed that writers would never submit rough sketches. Writers should instead submit a full manuscript (which I've gathered should be in a script format) and publishers then select an illustrator just as they do with picture books.

Friday, August 10, 2007

SCBWI Conference All Work & No Play? No Way...

I posted photos from the Saturday night SCBWI Silvery Moon Party, but that was not that only shindig I attended during the conference. On Sunday evening I went to a great party at Dutton's bookstore in Brentwood given by Steven Malk of Writers House. (Here's how cool this party was: Delish sangria. Tiny ice cream sandwiches. A retro candy station which included Abba-Zabas. The Fonz showed up.)

Some photos...

My pals authors Paula Yoo, Kelly DiPucchio, and Lisa Wheeler. Paula gave me a tour of the bookstore during the event.

Authors Jennifer Barnes, Sara Pennypacker, and Sonya Sones, and Sonya's husband Bennett Tramer a writer who wrote for Saved by the Bell (and yes, I've seen every episode numerous times).

The delightful and talented Marla Frazee and the equally delightful and talented Bruce Hale (sporting his signature chapeau).

A bird's-eye view of the party. I'm sure The Fonz is in there somewhere.

(A Non-conference Post) Check out the GLA Blog Today...

Guide to Literary Agents
editor Chuck Sambuchino just posted a great interview on his blog with agent Michelle Andelman of Andrea Brown Literary. Check it out.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Kirby Larson: Wild Horses Dragged Me In...

Newbery Honor winner Kirby Larson delightfully recounted her journey as a writer in her Monday morning speech. Kirby had published a couple of picture books, but "after The Magic Kerchief, I didn't sell anything for five years," she said. She talked about the idea spark for Hattie igniting as her grandmother, who suffered from Alzheimer's, mentioned that Kirby's great-grandmother was a homesteader. Read the whole story on Kirby's website.

Here are a few things she said she considers as she reads a manuscript:

  • Did I connect with the story?
  • Where is the story problem introduced?
  • How is the story problem resolved? Who resolves it?
  • Are there at least two plot lines?
She also recommends studying opening lines and looking for hooks.

Allyn Johnston & Marla Frazee...

Lin Oliver dubbed the session with Allyn Johnston of Harcourt and illustrator Marla Frazee the one with the longest title in the history of SCBWI conferences: "Baby Steps, Boxer Shorts, Birthday Cake, and a Roller Coaster: An Illustrator and an Editor Get Serious About Making Picture Books."

This was an interesting look into the process of picture book making from an editor and illustrator who obviously have a great working relationship and enjoy working together.

They started off talking about a book Marla illustrated called Mrs. Biddlebox, written by the late Linda Smith. This was first published by HarperCollins in 2007. It sold 12,500 copies then went out of print. Harcourt purchased the rights and are reissuing the title with a new cover. Marla and Allyn talked about the cover process and showed some designs. They were encouraged to go with something brighter for the new edition, and produced a cover with a pink background (a nice tribute to the author who died of breast cancer), adding a subtitle. When they showed the cover to the Borders buyer, they were told that "nothing about this book is pink," and if they went with a pink cover, Borders wouldn't buy in the book. So they changed to a blue background. The book releases October 1, and thus far Borders has not ordered any copies.

The original Mrs. Biddlebox cover (which I think is amazing, dynamic and gorgeous and is truly one of my favorite picture book covers ever).

The new Mrs. Biddlebox cover with it's blue background and new subtitle. (Note the title character's pink undies!)

Here are a few more things I enjoyed hearing and thus jotted down:

  • (Marla) The picture books Allyn edits have an emotional center. She has an amazing ability to pierce through the confusion and find the beating heart of the story.
  • (Allyn) The mother of all page turns in 31 to 32--the last page of a picture book must have a strong emotional impact.
  • (Allyn) Authors and artists have the scariest job in the field in creating something out of nothing.
  • They talked about getting to a point where they have to look at the advice from Sales & Marketing and booksellers and finally say enough is enough and create the book they believe in. The most important thing is having the chance to connect with readers in a meaningful way--this is what keeps them going.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

The Current Market for Children's Books: A Complete Survey...

Monday morning the conference started off bright and early with Connie Epstein giving her annual commentary on her Market Survey for this year, which contains 79 book publishers whom she contacted for updated information. (I feel her pain.) Being cognizant of not giving away the store, I'll offer a few highlights here:

  • She reported no corporate mergers this year, but a number of high level position shifts and staff changes. Of her 79 entries, 32 are entirely open to unsolicited submissions, 19 are entirely closed, 4 are partially open (perhaps they take picture book submissions but not novels, for example), 24 are open to queries only. (I check the math--it adds up.)
  • Response time given in her listing remained pretty much unchanged. (I think, however, that these can be often be best-case-scenario or in-a-perfect-world-ish date ranges.)
  • Deborah Brodie, formerly editor with Roaring Brook Press, is now freelancing as a book doctor for publishers, agents and writers. You can contact her at
  • Connie noted that more publishers are now discarding unsolicited manuscript that don't interest them in instead of returning them in SASEs. She sited Philomel as an example. Here's the information as stated in their listing in the 2008 CWIM:
"As of January 1, 2007, Philomel will no longer respond to your unsolicited submission unless interested in publishing it. Rejected submissions postmarked January 1, 2007, or later will be recycled. Please do not include a self-addressed stamped envelope with your submission. You will not hear from Philomel regarding the status of your submission unless we are interested in publishing it, in which case you can expect a reply from us within approximately four months. We regret that we cannot respond personally to each submission, but rest assured that we do make every effort to consider each and every one we receive."
The Market Survey of Publishers of Books for Young People, August 2007 is now available to members on SCBWI's website.

Sara Pennypacker: Writing Chapter Books...

Something I love about attending SCBWI conferences is the opportunity to hear writers talk with so much passion about what they do. Sara Pennypacker is one such writer. I got a sense from her that she cares deeply about both her characters and her audience.

During her breakout session on writing chapters books, she told us as she works she keep in mind why she's writing chapter books and who she's writing them for. Before she began writing Clementine, Sara's first series was centered on Stuart, a boy who was afraid of everything. When she talked to second- and third-graders during school visits, she would ask them to write down something that they worried about. Their number one worry, it seemed, was that they wouldn't be able to find the bathroom. After 911, however, they began to worry about planes crashing into buildings. This made her think: Am I supposed to be doing something about this? She feels it's important that kids learn from books that in life there are choices. And there's no downside to telling kids they have choices. However, she says a book is not a place to preach and proselytize.

Sara feels that whatever it is you're writing, you have to believe it in order to be able to go the emotional distance otherwise your voice won't be authentic. She told us that she gets totally immersed in her characters when she's writing, almost becoming them in an altered-perception-of-reality kind of way. There are so many series at chapter book level, she says, because they are for new readers, "and we need to throw them a rope."

The Golden Kite Luncheon...

Over plates of rubber chicken (Lin Oliver said it, not me. I had the vegetarian meal) SCBWI conference-goers had the pleasure of hearing from the 2007 Golden Kite winners. Here is the list of award recipients:

  • Tony Abbott won the Golden Kite Award for Fiction for his book Firegirl published by Little, Brown and edited by Alvina Ling.
  • Russell Freedman won the Golden Kite Award for Nonfiction for The Adventures of Marco Polo published by Scholastic imprint Arthur A. Levine Books and edited by Arthur Levine.
  • Walter Dean Myers won the Golden Kite for Picture Book Text for Jazz, illustrated by Christopher Myers, published by Holiday House and edited by Regina Griffin.
  • Larry Day won the Golden Kite Award for Picture Book Illustration for Not Afraid of Dogs written by Susanna Pitzer, published by Walker & Company and edited by Emily Easton.
Also during this luncheon, Sara Pennypacker accepted the Sid Flieschman Humor Award for her book Clementine. (This is when she made me tear up.)

Then there was the singing contest. Each table received lyrics to moon-themed songs (a conference theme--the by-the-pool party was the By the Light of the Silvery Moon Gala). They picked the numbers of five or six tables, and one volunteer from that table got up and belted out a song, a cappella. And guess what? They picked our table. No, I didn't volunteer (although I would have if no one else did--I think it's healthy to make a fool of oneself in from of a roomful of strangers every so often). Our enthusiastic volunteer was Tyler McBroom. Unfortunately I had gone up to my room for a few minutes and missed all the singing. I hear it was fabulous (a semi-off-key-but-very-enthusiastic kind of fabulous) But, even though I missed the performances, as a member of table #10, I got a $20 gift certificate for the SCBWI bookstore as prize. Thanks Tyler! I'm enjoying my new SCBWI t-shirt I got for free because you sang us a little Van Morrison.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Mary Hershey: Funny Bones...

Mary Hershey is a funny author
of funny books but she takes her humor writing very seriously judging by her breakout session titled Funny Bones: Excavating Yours for Writing Better Humor. She's the author of My Big Sister Is So Bossy She Says You Can't Read This Book and The One Where the Kids Nearly Jumps to His Death and Lands in California. How could those not be funny?

During this session, she made us do some writing exercises. While I generally prefer sessions during which I don't have to do any work (I'm lazy that way), the exercises were really fun and useful. She told us you really have to dig to find your humorous voice, and that the art of humor is in the way you look at the world.

Just to be ironic, here is my list of speakers who made me tear up at least once during their presentations:

John Green: All Writing Is Rewriting...

Author John Green, who won the Michael L. Printz award for his debut novel Looking for Alaska, gave a entertaining speech Sunday morning. He started out by saying he felt like an elephant who has been asked to talk to a big group of elephants on how to be an elephant. So he opted to talk not about how to write, but instead about what writing is. Writing, he says, is as much translation as it is creativity. It's thinking about questions that aren't answerable. He feels books need some degree of ambiguity in order to have truth.

You know that age-old question, how do you get your ideas? Green says wherever you get your ideas, the hard part is writing those ideas down in a form in which people will be excited enough about those ideas to ask you, how do you get your ideas?

He says the truth does not lie in the facts of the story, it lies within the characters in the book. The truth doesn't lie in artifice--there's more to a story than pretty writing. Great books don't happen by accident, there's a measure of intent to them. Green's editor is Julie Strauss-Gabel at Dutton.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

By the Light of the Silvery Moon Poolside Gala: Photos...

Each year at the annual summer conference, SCBWI puts on a themed party by the pool with Mexican food and a rockin deejay. Oh--they also encourage theme-based costumes. Take a look.

Newbery winner Linda Sue Park made her outfit from duct tape and ribbons.

Children's writers and illustrators diggin the disco.

Disco mermaid Jay Asher gets down in his Elton John shoes.

Wear silver...silverware. Get it!

That's Anastasia Suen on the left. The Silver Moon Queen a.k.a. Tina Nichols Coury, won the costume contest (second from right if you didn't guess).

Panels from the winning costume.

Art Portfolio Showcase and Reception: Photos...

I volunteered to help with the annual SCBWI portfolio showcase because I love getting the chance to view all the portfolios before they are mobbed with conference goers. I also love watching and listening to the judges discuss the short list of winners and hearing their comments.

This year's grand prize winner was Ashley Mims. (It was just announced at this afternoon's Golden Kite Luncheon She will receive an expenses paid trip to New York to meet with art directors set up by SCBWI.

Here are some photos from the event.

The judges doing their judging

l-r: Judges Elizabeth Parisi (Scholastic), Tim Gillner (Boyds Mills Press), Laurent Linn (Henry Holt), Caldecott winning illustrator David Diaz, and SCBWI Illustrator Coordinator and the woman responsible for the event Priscilla Burris. editor Roxyanne Young with W.I.N grand prize winner Elizabeth Dulemba

Illustrator Jim di Bartolo (whose portfolio was much talked about) and poet-extraordinaire Lee Bennett Hopkins

Ellen Wittlinger: Writing the GLBTQ Book...

As the author of a number of books featuring GLBTQ (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, questioning) characters including Hard Love and Parrotfish, her latest, Ellen Wittlinger maintains that a writer does not have to be gay to write gay characters, but must possess the skills to write with thoughtfulness and do some research.

Wittlinger expressed the need to book for young readers with GLBTQ characters beyond coming out stories (although those are important as well). Her goal is to normalize homosexuality and transsexuality and show it as one of the many ways we are different from one another. She says she feels we lull ourselves into thinking that homophobia is going away and said that there are much higher rates of skipping school and suicide among GLBTQ kids. She's actually been dis-invited from industry events when organizers find out she's written about gay characters and has been instructed not to discuss her books that include gay characters while doing school visits. (She agrees to not base her speech on such books but will always answer questions from young readers in the audience when they reference her GLBTQc haracters.) Very interesting discussion.

Kadir Nelson: Words & Paintings...

I caught the tail end of the session featuring illustrator Kadir Nelson who has created beautiful, rich paintings for 17 pictures books, including Moses: When Harriet Nelson Led Her People to Freedom, Henry's Freedom Box, and We are the Ship: The Story of the Negro Baseball League (which he both wrote and illustrated).

Previous to working as a picture book artist Nelson worked as a conceptual artist for Dreamworks on such projects for Amistad and the animated feature Spirit: Stallion of the Cimerron.

Nelson said as he reads a new manuscript he's illustrating, he begins to make sketches right on the manuscript. He doesn't create a dummy when he's working on a project. And he loves to do research--for example, he spent some time driving around the South looking at old slave plantations as he worked one project. He does have an agent, he says, not so much to help find him work, but to help plan his career and to deal with contracts.

I'm sorry I didn't get to see this entire session, because viewing Nelson's painting on the big screen in the auditorium was pretty spectacular. I can imagine how amazing they would be in person--some of them are as large as six feet wide.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Two Agents, Two Views..
SCBWI kicked off their conference Saturday with a presentation by agents Tracey Adams and Kate Schafer.

Tracey Adams, who used to work at larges agencies (McIntosh & Oits, Writers House) started her own agency, Adams Literary, in 2004. The staff consists of her and her husband Josh, and they represent more than 50 authors and illustrators. She feels like Adams Literary is a part of the family. Both Tracey and Josh handle all aspects of the agenting business from reading submissions to selling subsidiary rights. They handle all kinds of children's books from picture books to YA and also represent illustrators.

Kate Shafer works for Janklow & Nesbit Associates. They're big and have been around for many years. (The old school agency does not have a website.) She does not handle picture books but is interested in mid-grade and YA material, anything from teen chick lit to urban fantasy, adventure stories, and humorous romance.

One point of this panel was to contrast the differences between working with an independent agent vs. one who works for a large agency. Here are some highlights:

  • Adams attends the Bologna Book Fair each year to push her titles to foreign publishers for sub right sales and Hollywood producers. Shafer, who is part of her agency's sub rights department, attends Bologna as well as the Frankfort Book Fair.
  • Neither agents require exclusive submissions, although Adams prefers them--she says she responds to exclusive submission more quickly than non-exclusive. Shafer says that if she's considering a non-exclusive sub and the writer gets interest from another agent, this lights a fire under her to get make a decision about the manuscript.
  • As a small agency, Adams says they are more aggressive when it comes to pushing publishers to send author check. (They have a mortgage to pay, after all.)
  • These agents also talked about why a writer should have an agent. Agents have relationships with editors that a writer can't possibly have. "We know about their boyfriends, we know about their relationships, we have lunch," said Shafer. "We know if they are cat people or dog people," said Adams.
  • A big disappointment for both of them is when they get a great query, request the material, and the writing is just not as great as the idea.
  • if an agent asks for revisions, don't send it back in 24 hours or a week.
  • When you're talking to your potential agent, be prepared and ask questions.
  • Agents are all in touch with each other all the time and are actually friends. They will suggest another agent for projects that are good but not quite right for them.
  • Adams said they post material on Publishers Lunch that they think would be of interest to Hollywood producers and that they always get inquiry calls after they post a deal.
  • Don't send them pirate and vampire books--there are too many of them any no one's buying them now.
  • Picture books are still a tough market. Mid-grade and YA are really what there's a need for.
  • What do agent's want in a submission: According to Shafer, an "elusive feeling." And if your manuscript makes it into Tracey Adams' dreams, she'll probably sign you.
  • Tracey Adams sends an e-newsletter. You can sign up on her site.

Wine & Cheese Reception Honoring SCBWI Global Voices...

Seven words sum it up:




Mongolian Throat Singer


Panel--Professional Criticism: How to Receive It and What to Do with It...

This panel consisted of Arthur Levine (Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic), Elizabeth Parisi (Scholastic Art Executive Art Director), Mark McVeigh (who just left Dutton for Aladdin) and Krista Marino (Delacorte).

Getting a face-to-face critique can be a truly nervous-making experience. So what advice did this panel have for those about to spend half and hour with an editor discussing their manuscripts? In a nutshell:

  • Be open minded.
  • Think of yourself as an equal with the editor (hard as that may be).
  • Don't argue with the editors about what they say about your work; don't get defensive. Ask questions instead.
  • Don't be mean.
  • Listen and take notes.
  • Think about it as a business meeting. It's not about social interaction.
  • Remember that a critique is meant to help, not hurt. It's about focusing on strengths and how to improve them.

Cynthia Leitich Smith: Blogs & Websites...

This session was another in the Increasing Books Sales & Revenue track. When this session ended my brain was tired--it was jam packed with information. Cynthia Leitich Smith could have given a day-long seminar. She knows a lot about making the most of the web in a marketing capacity and began with a rather unique approach to creating her online presence in 1998 when she got online. Cynthia's website offers a wealth of information about children's publishing and children's books including resources and book reviews. There's information about her books as well, of course, but what gets people coming back to her site over and over is the constant flow of new, useful information. She had 1.6 million unique visitors to her website last year (which is a tad more than visited my blog).
I couldn't possibly relay all the information Cynthia covered in this session. A few key points:

  • Everything you put out on the web can effect your career--be careful what you say, even in "private" listservs. (It's very easy to hit that forward button.)
  • Jane Kurtz told her that marketing is a never ending endeavor--try to do just one thing a week, "sprinkling seeds."
  • It's really important and necessary to have a web presence if you're an author or illustrator. There's an expectation now in the school and library market that author info should be readily available online. Illustrators should have online portfolios.
  • Work on a site once a book is sold before it is released. Building a proper site takes time--a site should be up and running before advance copies of a book are sent out.
  • Offer a clear purpose on your homepage.

Lunch Panel: Increasing Your Revenue & Book Sales...

I paid the extra fee to attend sessions in the conference's Increasing Your Revenue & Book Sales track meant for published authors. The lunch session for this track was made up of number of panelists including Krista Marino of Delacorte, Tracey Adams of Adams Literary, Rachel Griffiths who recently moved from Arthur A. Levine Books to Scholastic Press, Julie Strauss-Gabel of Dutton, Rubin Pfeffer of Simon & Schuster, Brenda Bowen who returned to HarperCollins in June and will launch a new imprint in winter 2009, Bonnie Bader of Grosset and Dunlap and Price Stern Sloan, Allyn Johnston of Harcourt, agent Kate Schafer of Janklow & Nesbit, and Arthur Levine who has an eponymous imprint at Scholastic. It was a big panel.

I didn't feel like they gave much in the way of actionable advice in regards to actually improving ones books sales. The emphasis was more on the best way to run a career, however. Some interesting topics were covered. I'll give you a few highlights of the Q & A. Note: Assume these answers are paraphrased, not direct quotes. Some questions came from Lin Oliver, some from the audience.

Q: Is it okay to publish at multiple houses?

Levine: Consider how many books you're publishing.
Pfeffer: It's okay, but coordinate your publishing schedule.
Marino: Sometimes it's not a good idea--listen to publishers when they help you plan your career.
Adams: Use caution--make sure to leave time to write what's in your heart along with what's bringing in steady income.

Q: (From Pfeffer to panel) How realistic is it that a new writer should put all her eggs in one basket? What about editors moving:

Marino: I expect a certain loyalty. If you work with another house there's an expectation that you're not all ours--we're no longer 100% behind that author. We're basically supporting their backlist.
Bowen: If and editor leaves, your initial champion is gone. That can work to your advantage. Maybe a senior person was working on your book and a junior, more hungry editor takes over. There are pros and cons.

Q: How can an author get herself out of the midlist?

Shafer: If you publish 2-3 titles a year, they all can't be frontlist.
Levine: I hate the term midlist. It's invented by CEOs. Let go of the idea of " midlist author" and concentrate on maximizing the sales for the particular book you've written.

Q: What if we go to someone else because you pass on our book?

Marino: A pass decision is not necessarily based on marketing, but maybe on career building. Maintain open communication.
Levine: We as individuals are not going to be right all the time about a book. But we don't want your second book to not do as well as your first book. And we'll tell you if your second book, we feel, is not your best work.
Strauss-Gabel: I like to pretend it's not a human process but it is. Your agent is a very important part in this process--and agents have different philosophies when it comes to running an author's career. Know your agent's philosophy going in.

Then Brenda Bowen and Arthur Levine, just briefly, sand a duet.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Cecil Castellucci on Creating Characters...

This was a great session during which author Cecil Castellucci had attendees do some writing exercises with the intent of learning more about their characters and making them more complex and interesting. She started by reading the beginnings of several books to illustrate just how much an author can give to readers about a character in just a few lines. Check out Speak; Tyrell; Ironside; Tale of Despereaux; Millicent Minn, Girl Genius; An Abundance of Katherines (author John Green was in the audience); and her book Boy Proof.

Cecil suggested all characters are like Superman--they are all heroes with some sort of special power; they all have a flaw (their own Kryptonite); they all have a Lex Luthor-type enemy, whether a person or a circumstance that holds them back; they all have a place, a fortress of solitude of their own; and they all have something they love, their own Lois Lane. She also feels that readers learn about characters in two ways--from their voice or how they view themselves, and from the way the world views them.

Cecil's published several novels including Boy Proof, Queen of Cool and Beige and the debut graphic novel from the new DC Comics imprint Minx, The Plain Janes (first in a series)

For some writing prompts recommended by Cecil, visit Jo Knowles blog at the start of every week for her Monday Morning Warm-up exercises. (You can find plenty throughout her blog archives.)