Agent Interview: Michael Bourret...
Michael Bourret, an agent with Dystel & Goderich Literary Management, is interested in a wide range of books, from middle grade and young adult fiction, to arts and entertainment, to serious nonfiction. His clients include the National Book Award Finalist Sara Zarr, author of Story of a Girl; Ellen Klages, Scott O'Dell award winner for The Green Glass Sea; Doug Lansky, author of the hilarious Signspotting and its sequel; Anne Rockwell, the acclaimed author/illustrator; and Bernadette Rossetti-Shustak, whose I Love You Through and Through has sold hundreds of thousands of copies.
You’re open to unsolicited submissions, correct? Are there common mistakes you see in submissions from writers, things that drive you crazy?
I am, indeed, open to unsolicited submissions. Simple mistakes are misaddressing the query, which happens all the time; misspelling the agent’s name; sending the query to more than one agent at the agency (most agencies have a policy that you can only send to one agent within the group); addressing an e-mail “Dear agent,” which tells me you’re sending it to everyone and his brother; sending an e-mail to yourself and BCC’ing the agents, because again, I know you’re sending it to everyone in town; other than that, the only real crime is a boring query letter--make your book sound as unique as it is!
What are the chances that you’d actually find an author in your slush pile? That you’d find an author at a conference? (Do you have any upcoming conferences?)
The chances are good! Sara Zarr, Lisa McMann, Heather Brewer, and Joe Fenton (a great author/illustrator you don’t know yet but will shortly) all came through slush. Suzanne Selfors and Jill Alexander (another one you won’t know yet but will next year) both came through conferences. I don’t have any conferences in the next few months, but I’ll be at the Desert Nights, Rising Stars Conference at ASU, and I hope to be at the New York SCBWI conference.
In your SCBWI presentation on building a career over the long haul, you said that ultimately an author’s goal should be to become a “brand.” Is there anything a newer author can do to set that in motion, or is it simply the result of publishing a number of books that catch on with readers?
The key, I think, is to establish yourself as a writer of something. I think it’s tough to establish a brand when you’re jumping from one category to another or from one genre to another. You want to give readers what they expect while still satisfying your own muse. It’s a balancing act, but being an author and having a career as an author are two different things.
YA memoirs and middle grade are two areas you’ve said you’re interested in. Are you simply not getting many of these manuscripts or are you not getting good ones? Is there anything else you’re looking for but not getting?
I very rarely see YA memoir, so that's one I’d really just like to see more of. It’s such a great category in adult books, and Tweaked has proven that it can work well for teens. I actually think some adult memoirs, like Smashed, for instance, would work really well in a teen-specific edition. As for middle grade, I just think it’s a tough category to write for, and I’m so picky about it. All I can say is, keep it coming!
Do you have any quirks as an agent—have you ever been on an agent panel and heard all the other agents agree on something that you don’t?
Oh, I have so many quirks, but probably not as an agent. I do disagree with people on panels sometimes, and sometimes vociferously, but not because I’m quirky, just because we all have different ways of doing things and different preferences. That, and I’m one opinionated sun-of-a-gun. That’s a trait that runs through both sides of my family.
Tell me about the DGLM blog.
The DGLM blog is something that we’re really proud of--it’s something we do to give back to the writing community. We pride ourselves on being open and honest about the process, about teaching writers how this process works so that it isn’t some big mystery. The better educated the writer about the business, the better they are as a client. That’s our way of thinking.
Anything to add in the way of advice for unpublished or unagented writers?
Be patient, do your homework, and be open to new things!
Friday, August 29, 2008
Agent Interview: Michael Bourret...
Debut Author of the Month: Laurel Snyder...
This month's debut author Laurel Snyder's first two books have release dates just a few months apart. Her picture book Inside the Slidy Diner is an October release from Tricycle, and her mid-grade Up and Down the Scratchy Mountains is coming in October from Random House. Both books were slush piles submissions. Here she explains her almost simulteanous first books; talks about finding her agent, waiting tables, and writing poetry; and offers advice to those seeking publication.
How did you end up with your first books being published so close together?
Oh, it's a funny situation, but for a good reason! Basically, both books were pulled from slush, about a year apart. Tricycle accepted Slidy a year ahead of Random House contacting me about Scratchy. So then Slidy was due to come out last fall, in time for Halloween (it's a spooky kind of book) and Scratchy was supposed to follow about a year later. But the artist working on Slidy threw herself into it like you wouldn't believe. The pages are very involved, hand painted with with collage elements, and some crazy details. There are recurring images like a mouse you have to hunt for on each page, and all sorts of little jokes... it's wonderful, a work of art (that I really can't take credit for at all). So it took a long time, and at first I think the press wanted to speed her up. But when they saw what she was doing, they decided to let her take her time so she could maintain that level of complexity, and they gave her another year!
Please tell me and my readers a little about both of your first books.
Inside the Slidy Diner is a picture book about a little girl named Edie who lives in a macabre sort of diner where the lady fingers really are! Watch out for the Wigglepedes!
Up and Down the Scratchy Mountains is a lower middle grade novel, an old-fashioned fairy tale set in a place called "The Bewilderness"—about a milkmaid named Lucy and a prince named Wynston. When Wynston has to pick a queen, and Lucy is deemed too common for the job, Lucy runs away in search of her mother. So of course Wynston chases after her, and they have all sorts of silly adventures. It has wonderful pictures by Greg Call, and a lot of silly songs. There's a sniffly prairie dog named Cat, a sweet but ornery cow, and some cautionary tales about living life too rigidly.
You started out submitting on your own, but you have an agent now. How did you find her?
When you get pulled from the slush at Random House, it suddenly becomes easier to find an agent! I queried about 30 of them in one whirlwind weekend, got offers from several great folks, and was lucky enough to be able to choose. I'm very very very happy with my amazing agent, Tina Wexler. I picked Tina because she didn't scare me. She talked to me like a person, laughed a lot, and felt immediately like a friend. One of the best decisions I ever made. But I was rejected by a lot of people before that all happened (some of whom sleazily offered to rep me after the book was in committee, but I'll never say who!).
Tell me about getting your first BFYR contract.
They never tell you how long it'll take to get the actual contract, do they? The formal offer came one day while I was teaching comp at a community college in Atlanta, and I actually got the message as I was dashing from school to pick up my son at his babysitter. I must have looked like a crazy lady, screaming my face off in the gridlock traffic all the way home. But the contract came about four decades later, in the heaviest envelope ever, and I just signed where I was supposed to, and sent it back. Maybe that's dumb but I figure that's why I have an agent.
How must inspiration did Slidy Diner draw from your experience waiting tables in several greasy spoons?
It really is a kind of encoded memoir of those years. I guess its a lesson in how anything can be interesting, and how we need to collect details wherever we go. Show Don't Tell, and all that. Rotten grill grease, tattooed waitresses, and sad patrons who sleep in their oatmeal don't sound like things you'd put in a children's book, but somehow it worked. I should say, for the record, that I love waiting tables, and plan to do it again when my kids are a little older. The Hamburg Inn, where I worked in Iowa City, was a second home to me. For me, living in a world of non-writers is important, so I have something to write about.
How have SCBWI, the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and the Class of 2k8 each helped to shape your writing career?
I could write a whole book about the Workshop. I really have a love/hate relationship with that world. I love poetry, and I love Iowa City, and I cannot imagine my life without some of the friends I made in those years. But the climate of that MFA program made me a little nutso. Not the program itself, but the weird competitive stuff that happens among the students. It made me so crazy I stopped trying to keep up and dove into children's books, my touchstones, and that's really how I began writing for kids. So I have to thank them for that! Also, although I didn't share with anyone else, my teacher Marvin Bell was very supportive of Scratchy Mountains. I'll never forget that!
Once I found myself writing for kids, I didn't feel like I could show anyone at the Workshop the things I was working on. And that's where the SCBWI came in. It provided, along with the Verla Kay Blueboards and the CWIM, a community and a set of instructions for how to think about publishing. I don't know how I would have ever found a home for my work without SCBWI. I don't actively participate in the physical world, but as a virtual community it was critical for me.
2k8 is awesome, but that happened very late in the game. I was already into several other books by the time I joined 2k8, and it's a nice way to meet people and get the word out, but I don't feel it had any effect on my publishing career, per se. Though another class member from Iowa, Sarah Prineas, was an early reader for my second novel (Any Which Wall, 2009) and she's become a good friend, so that's wonderful!
You have a lot of experience writing material for adult readers, having published in Salon, Utne Reader, The Iowa Review and others. What led you to write for children?
Children's books are some of the best, most innovative books in the world. I read them myself, and I find that there's a spark of magic in them. I just love them. I'd say that 80 percent of the most important books in my life are things I read before I was 12. I hate the division between children's books and the literary institutions. I just don't think the divide makes sense. Also, writing for kids feels almost political to me. Helping to shape the future--not writing political books and offering "messages," but providing the right stimulus for kids. Giving them something to chew on.
You've said that writing children's books is not as lucrative as you thought it would be when you were in fourth grade. Since (so far) writing for young readers has not helped you buy a mansion or become a gajillionaire, what keeps you interested?
Well, it's a lot more lucrative than poetry!
No, seriously, one benefit to beginning as a poet is that poets don't write to earn. They write to write. I don't think about money or the market when I write. As a result, I have written some books you will never see, like a morbid picture book called, The Boy Who Caught His Death. I always assumed I'd write, and make my money some other way--whether teaching, waitressing, or writing schlock for hire.
You have a book release party coming up and have a string of promotional events on the horizon. What's your plan for engaging your audience?
Oh, I don't know that I have a plan. I just think meeting kids and seeing them excited about books is the most exiting thing in the world. I want to believe that if I work hard, I'll write good books, and that if I write good books, they will find their way into people's hands. It has been explained to me, in so many words, that I'm not a "bestseller" kind of author. I can live with that. It's a great gift to me that I can write the books I most want to write, and I have an editor and an agent who will help them reach people. Especially since more copies have already been pre-ordered than were even printed when I published my book of poems. Poetry really does make you appreciate having a wider readership of any kind. Based on anything I've ever experienced, both of my books have already been successful.
What's your advice for those working toward publication?
I think the trick is a very careful balance--between writing hard without thinking about selling, and then selling hard (by which I mean hunting for a book deal) without thinking about the possibility of failure. I do believe that a good writer who plugs away will someday publish. You can only fail if you set quantitative expectations like, "I'll publish before I'm 30" or "I'll send this to 51 agents and then quit." I do think you have to listen to your most honest readers and friends, and if one books isn't working, try another. But you can't quit. I have about 30 "dead" picture book manuscripts in a drawer and Scratchy Mountains went through draft after draft before it was accepted. In fact, you can go to my blog and see a rejection letter from the very editor who acquired it! I figure if I can have two books pulled from slush by two different editors, it still happens a good bit.
Monday, August 25, 2008
Random House 'Morality Clause' Only in UK ...
I just found a post that sheds some light on the Random House morality clause issue which I mentioned recently. According to GalleyCat, the purported morality clause is present only in UK Random House contracts. According to an agent questioned about the issue,"there's a lot of strange language that goes into UK contracts that has little bearing on the American market."
So US Random House authors...have a good time.
Friday, August 22, 2008
Up for Discussion: Critique Groups...
Today on Jane Friedman's There Are No Rules blog, she posted the following:
This morning, we pitched a book on writing and critique groups. While anecdotal evidence tells us that most writers do participate in some form of critiquing (whether as part of a formal group or not), we don't have hard evidence. So the sales people tabled the project until we could return with information that substantiated our claims. They also disputed whether writers would spend their money on a book about writing groups and critiquing, even if they are an active writing group member.
So we're putting together a survey that will soon go out to Writer's Digest newsletter subscribers, to see what data we can collect. I'd love to hear from readers of this blog as well, if you know of any information/data that would be useful to us. (And if you have a blog, perhaps you can post on this topic and gather feedback too!) Ultimately, I'd love to create a groundswell of discussion that will convince our sales team that this idea deserves realization as a physical book.
I'd love to know your opinion on this issue.
- Are you in a critique group?
- Would you or your group consider buying a book about writing groups and critiquing?
- Do you think such a book is needed?
Thursday, August 21, 2008
Random House Says Authors Must Behave?...
Check out this post on BoingBoing that claims Random House contracts contain a morality clause saying it will take action (up to termination of contract) if authors behave in ways that can damage their reputations and thereby hurt the sales a their books.
I have never seen Random House's contract so I can neither confirm or deny that this is the case. Anyone?
Lots of interesting discussion going on in the comments section of this post (big red pens, badly behaving writers like Lewis Carroll and Shel Silverstein, republican fundraisers, economic considerations, some anti-antisemitism from Roald Dahl...)
The First Books Publishers Lowdown...
This week I've been happily perusing a formidable stack of emails from debut authors (still deciding on who to interview for First Books), and now it's time for my annual lowdown--my unscientific findings regarding which publishers are friendliest to new writers based on the 75-ish emails I received.
This year, the following publishers/imprints were sited by more than one debut author:
- Delacorte (consistently debut author friendly)
- Feiwel & Friends
- Farrar, Straus & Giroux
- Henry Holt
- Little Brown
- Simon & Schuster
- HarperCollins (publishing five of the debut authors I heard from)
And only a handful of the new writers who emailed me mentioned having agents. I did not ask, however--I am sure more than five of you have agents. Don't you like your agents, new writers? I kid--I know you do! If you didn't think to mention them to me, I'm sure you remembered them in your acknowledgments and you'll thank them when you win awards. (Please don't Chad Lowe your agent.)
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
Upcoming Market Books Bookstore Events...
To celebrate the recent release of the 2009 editions of our Market Books, I, along with editors Robert Brewer and Chuck Sambuchino, will be appearing at two local bookstores to discuss writing and publishing with aspiring authors. Here's the scoop:
- Wednesday August 20 (tomorrow) at 7 p.m. we'll be at Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Rookwood Pavilion.
- Wednesday Aug 27 at 7 p.m. we'll be at Books & Co. @ The Greene.
If you live in the Cincinnati or Dayton area, we'd love to meet you. (We'll have free beer and free cupcakes. Just kidding. Come anyway.)
Monday, August 18, 2008
Enter Chuck's 'Worst Storyline Ever' Contest...
My editor pal Chuck Sambuchino just posted the first-ever contest on his Guide to Literary Agent's Blog.
If you think you've got what it takes to enter the "Worst Storyline Ever" contest, visit Chuck's blog for contest rules.
Here's the scoop on the prizes to get you interested:
First prize (the grand prize) consists of a query letter critique from Chuck, a follow-up phone call to discuss the query critique, and a plan of action for seeing your work published, along with copies of both the 2009 Guide to Literary Agents and the 2009 Writer's Market (and public praise from Chuck on his blog).
Two runners-up will win their choice of a free copy of either the 2009 Guide to Literary Agents or the 2009 Writer's Market.
Friday, August 15, 2008
First Books Update...
I'm still going through all my emails from debut authors. I'll be in touch with some of you soon, hopefully next week.
Thanks to everyone who gave me info on their first books--and thanks for being patient. There are a lot of you, which is awesome, but it makes my job harder. (And I'm busy busy busy.)
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
I Made The Lisa Yee Blog...
Click here to see Lisa Yee's continuing coverage of Peepy's conference adventures, including one involving me. (Peepy is fun at parties.)
Note: One scene depicts violence against an editor. Parental discretion is advised.
Friday, August 08, 2008
PW Fall Children's Announcements Issue Available...
For some odd reason I decided to go through my inbox this morning (it's tall, scary, and often avalanches onto my office floor), and lo and behold I found this:
It's the Publishers Weekly fall 2008 children's books issue, featuring listings of 2000+ new titles. Flipping through the ads is like viewing mini catalogs from pretty much every children's publisher that matters. The cover price is $12 so head to your newsstand, or check out the info on the PW website.
Thursday, August 07, 2008
Check Out Stephanie Meyer on Good Morning America...
Toward the end, she talks about Writer's Market.
If only she would have said Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market...but that's quite a mouthful to get out on live TV.
Posted by SCBWI at 3:33 PM
- Bruce Coville on the first day in his opening speech
- Yuyi Morales during her Golden Kite acceptance speech and during the SCBWI Success Stories panel
- Sara Pennypacker during her Golden Kite acceptance speech (for the second year in a row)
- The tribute to Sue Alexander
- Susan Patron in her conference-closing address
Hours of Sleep I Got During My Five Nights in LA:
Things I Really Dug About My Conference Experience:
- The first person I ran into was my oldest conference pal, illustrator Kevan Atteberry
- Gretchen Hirsch introducing herself as Stephanie Meyer at the faculty dinner
- The steel cut oatmeal at the Breeze, and seeing Arturo the long-time host who always remembers my name
- The Literary Ladybugs
- “Reading Is Power” red rubber bracelets (with graphics that could possibly be interpreted as “Dreidel Equals Muscles”)
- Steve Malk’s party at Equator Books in Venice, even though I left before Nicholas Brendan got there
- Hundreds of people eating Dove ice cream bars outside the ballroom
- Being saved from technical difficulties by audience members
- Riding in Aaron Hartzler’s pickup truck
- Yoga class and dinner with Martha Brockenbrough from Washington (who has a daughter named Alice which I find brilliant)
- My one celebrity siting: Jami Gertz (best role: Muffy Tepperman in "Square Pegs")
- Having my photo taken by Sonya Sones
- Getting my photo taken with Lisa Yee’s Peepy
- Micheal Stearns' chart that explains the entire publishing industry using a few overlapping circles
- Autographing and cupcakes
- Scoring an SCBWI hoodie
- Chatting with everyone at the wrap party at Lin Oliver's house (even though the food wasn't super vegetarian-friendly)
- Discovering that Paula Yoo loves Skyline Chili, the official favorite food of the Nati
- Being on the faculty
- Lin Oliver ending the conference in a fit of giggles after announcing someone lost a shoe ornament
Things I Didn’t Dig About the Conference:
- The 2009 CWIM didn’t show up for the bookstore
- The gaping hole in the lobby bar that used to be filled by Darlene the (former) Century Plaza cocktail waitress
- The X Bar (especially because they stopped serving the awesome onion rings they used to have on the menu)
- The oddly bright red veggie burger I ate a few bites of at Houston's in the mall (my dinner companions, however, were stellar)
- Leaving--and the hell that is LAX. (I apologize to the woman at the Delta check-in counter with whom I had some angry words. Next time you wait on four people who came up after me because they can't figure out how to use the kiosk and you make me stand there for 10 minutes in that hot crowed space when I haven't gotten much sleep I'll try to be a little more patient.)
The End of the Conference: Autograph Party Photos...
After half a chocolate cupcake and half a yellow cupcake, I got some shots of the autograph party (which I didn't have to participate in because the 2009 CWIM didn't make it to the bookstore which in a way was OK because I feel a little silly signing books).
Susan Patron, Sara Pennypacker, and Ann Whitford Paul look happy about autographing.
Washingtonians Holly Cupala (who is holding one of the roses from the gorgeous bouquet her husband sent in celebration of her very recent two-book deal!) with RA Jolie Stekly and her stack of books.
The awesome Paula Yoo listens to a conference-goer as she prepares to sign her first novel, Good Enough.
Authors Katherine Applegate and Jay Asher--both of whom I interviewed for Insider Reports in the 2009 CWIM.
Rachel Cohn happily passes one of her novels off to a conference goer (note the red "Reading Is Power" bracelet) while Bruce Coville concentrates on signing.
Marla Frazee and her line of autograph seekers. (I wonder if her hand got tired.)
SCBWI RAs/authors Esther Hershenhorn (Illinois) and Ellen Hopkins (Nevada).
Down the row: Linda Zuckerman, Paula Yoo, Lisa Yee, Mark Teague, and Adam Rex (who you can sort of see).
Lisa Yee: On Revision...
It was standing room only for Lisa Yee's session on revision. Lisa started out by talking about her first version of her novel Millicent Min, Girl Genius which she said was "episodic and weird." In her next version, 11-year-old Millicent was in college, but editor Arhtur Levine suggested Lisa explore a version in which the main character interacts with kids her own age. She continued to revise--and what was constant through each revision was her character.
There was a show of hands to see who loved revision and who hated it. Those who love revision, Lisa said, often love is so much that they can't stop themselves. Those who hate it can't get started.
Lisa, who is currently revising a work-in-progress from first person point of view to third persion, said she she can fall so much in love with her writing that she doesn't want to cut any of it. But when you look at your work, she says, ask yourself, "If I had to cut my story by 20%, what would I cut? She said that generally her first three chapters can be thrown away.
One tip she gave was taking your document and making a copy of it, changing the font, adjusting the margins just slightly, and making it look like something someone else wrote--this can help you look at your story in a different way. She also suggested reading your manuscript out loud as you revise to hear words in a different manner than reading it silently. Also circle what you think is really great in your story and that becomes your standard to adhere to.
For revise-a-holics, she suggests setting deadlines for yourself, or have your writers group set them. This way you can force yourself to write to a deadline and write on a schedule.
Finally, she recommended everyone check out the radio program Bookworm on KCRW featuring an interview with Tobias Wolf (there are two--try the fiction one) in which he talks about his writing process--he just keeps cutting.
Wednesday, August 06, 2008
The Golden Kite Luncheon & Awards Presentation...
The conference Golden Kite Luncheon took place on Sunday (I'm posting out of order a bit--I used various notebooks that ended up in various places when I packed), during which lots of awards are given out (and I always cry).
After the food (the vegetarian dish was delish) we were entertained a capella by conference-goer Tyler McGroom, who participated in a contest involving singing during last year's event (for which I, as his table mate, got free SCBWI merch from the bookstore) and volunteered to croon once again.
Next SCBWI Illustrator Coordinator Priscilla Burris announced the winners of the portfolio showcase (which, as usual, she did a bang-up job of coordinating). Here they are:
- Best in show: Patricia Cantor (she wins a trip to New York to meet with art directors and you'll see her illustration on the cover of an upcoming SCBWI Bulletin.
- 2nd place: Ken Min
- 3rd place: Hyewon Yum
- Picturebook page winner: Stephanie Roth Sisson
The judges for the event:Left to right: Abigail Simoun, editor with Tricycle Press; Laurent Linn, art director at Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers; my favorite agent, Steven Malk of Writers House; Frieda Gates, coordinator of the annual NY Children's Illustrators Conference; and illustrator Joe Cepeda.
Next Erzsi Deak was named SCBWI member of the year--because she's awesome.
Then there was the crying...
First SCBWI showed a video tribute to the late Sue Alexander who passed away suddenly last month. Sue was a driving force behind SCBWI from the organization's inception, and the first official member. The touching words from Lin Oliver combined with a James Taylor song...tears.
And Here are the Golden Kite Winners:
- Picture Book Illustration: Yuyi Morales for Little Night (made me cry)
- Picture Book Text: Sara Pennypacker for Pierre in Love (made me cry)
- Nonfiction: Ann Bausum for Muckrackers
- Fiction: Katherine Applegate for Home of the Brave
Cecilia Yung: Everything You Ever Wanted to Ask an Art Director…
There was a full room for Cecilia Yung’s session in which the Penguin Young Readers Group art director fielded questions and offered advice.
She told the audience that there are five people in her department. She works very closely with printers to get what she wants in terms of achieving the specific vision of picture book artists. There are three components of her job: work with artists, work with her staff, and work with printers (which she demonstrating by showing several takes of a spread from a Tomie de Paola book whose color she worked on perfecting through slight adjustments in the inks).
In responds to a question about what to do when you get a positive response to a postcard mailing, she said when art directors (or editors) show a positive interest, they’re seeing a quality in your work, but they’re not ready to use you; they’ll keep an eye on you. She advises illustrators to keep updating their work—don’t keep sending the same postcard sample. They keep postcards on file—and they’ll keep building that file as you send new images.
Very often, she says, editors are the ones who find an illustrator. She doesn’t have to love the work of every illustrator she’s working with—she can find some qualities of the work she appreciates. When working with illustrators, she doesn’t think in terms of a book, but a career.
“I can’t make you brilliant,” she said, “But I can teach you how to put a picture book together.” Whomever you work with, she says, should be asking you a lot of questions, not doing all the talking.
And she said that illustrators have to accept that original art is original art and reproduction is reproduction—it’s never going to be exactly the same.
Emerging Editorial Voices Panel…
The last day of the SCBWI conference opened with a great panel of emerging editors, featuring four editors relatively new to the industry—Nancy Consescu of Little, Brown; Amalia Ellison of Abrams; Gretchen Hirsch of HarperCollins; and Namrata Tripathi of Hyperion/Jump at the Sun.
Krista Marino of Random House moderated, and opened by saying that, just as each writer has her own voice, each editor has her own unique voice in terms of what she acquires and how she acquires. Publishing, she said, is an industry based on apprenticeship. Editors start as editorial assistant (honing their Xeroxing and mailing skills), all the while learning from their mentors who pass their philosophies onto them.
Gretchen Hirsch include Allyn Johnston and Liz Van Doren among her mentors, and she currently works under Farrin Jacobs at Harper. She said she’s learned different skills from each of her mentors. She signed up two picture book authors at a recent regional SCBWI conference. She learned from Allyn Johnston that even when you think you’re done working on a book, you might not quite be there. She’s interested in smart teen chick lit, paranormal YA, and offbeat picture books. She said Harper is currently growing their picture book list. Books about dogs are an interest.
Amalia Ellison started as an intern at Scholastic before moving to Random House and now Abrams. She’s been working in publishing for three years and describes her interests as eclectic/commercial. She feels that writers should be really plugged into what kids are into—it’s valuable in abstract ways. She’s just recently completed her fist acquisition which was through an auction. She’s interested in “just something good.”
Namrata Tripathi describes herself as part analytical and part nurturing. She works on picture books through YA fiction and describes her style as eclectic/literary. She learned from Brenda Bowen that “interesting people make interesting editors.” Her interests are varied, including picture books, nonfiction, fiction, and funny, quirky, truthful, and heartbreaking all appeal to her.
Nancy Conescu started working on paperbacks at Penguin then mass market books. Now she’s at Little, Brown working with Andrea Spooner, Liza Baker and Megan Tingley. She favors books that are ultimately somehow hopeful when it comes to fiction, and irreverent when it comes to picture books. She sometimes finds new talent (illustrators) online in places like blogs or etsy.com. She’s interested in a strong chapter book voice, which she says is missing on her list.
Tuesday, August 05, 2008
I'm Leaving L.A....
I'm about to go downstairs and check out of the conference hotel, and I'm really sad to be going. The four days of the conference went by so fast. I had fun, made some new friends, connected with some old ones, talked to some interesting people, and got a lot of ideas for CWIM.
Although I've blogged on many of the sessions, I haven't talked about all of the ones I attended so I'll be continue to post about the conference through the end of the week. (It will give me an excuse to not look at the 87 million email in my inbox.)
So stop back soon for more on the conference.
I'm off to the airport...
Monday, August 04, 2008
My Session #2: Keeping Current Roundtable...
After the agent panel, I had a breakout session that was part of the Published Authors track called Keeping Current on Market Research: A Roundtable Discussion. Instead of doing all the talking myself, I started by asking the audience questions. I wanted to know whether they do anything different in terms of market research now that they're published. I wanted to know what their concerns are. And I wanted them to share information with one another--and they did. The audiences included several SCBWI RAs and authors like Susan Patron, Linda Joy Singleton, and Verla Kay.
Verla talked about the boards on her website that registered members can access, such as the agent boards and response time boards--really useful stuff.
We actually ended up talking a lot about promotion. We discussed MySpace and using it as a means to connect with readers. We talked about getting mentioned on blogs and doing blog tours, and in fact had an author in the audience, Tina Nichols Coury, who interviews tons of authors and illustrators on her own blog.
Someone mentioned Library Thing, a site where you can enter books and be connected to others based on the books you share--a way to find readers reading your own books.
I really enjoyed this session and felt like I learned a lot from the participants and got some ideas for CWIM. Thanks to all who attended and share information and asked great questions. Please remember to email me if you'd like a handout.
Sunday, August 03, 2008
All About Agents...
My Sunday morning started out with an agent panel moderated by Mark McVeigh Editorial Director of Simon & Schuster imprint Aladdin. And here's some news--Mark revealed that Aladdin is now a hardcover imprint and will be publishing picture books through novels for teens.
The panelist were Dilys Evans, president of Dilys Evans Fine Illustration; Michael Stearns, editor-turned-agent with Firebrand Literary; Michael Bourret, agent with Dystel & Goderich; and Laura Rennert, senior agent at Andrea Brown Literary.
Mark asked the panel: Why does a creative person need an agent?
Micheal Stearns: He said writers need agents for two reasons. First, to work out deals with the editor so as not to pollute the writer-editor relationship. (Or, as Mark McVeigh put it, "Let the writer make the snowballs and the agents throw them. He is very much a pro-agent editor.) And second, because agents keep on top of the market in ways that a writer cannot.
Michael Bourret: He said a writer need an agent for direction as the writer builds her career.
Laura Rennert: She said agents are the advocates to deal with situations of problems that arise as the industry changes.
More from the panelists:
Michael Bourret: He shared a success story about his author Jill Alexander whom he met at the SCBWI conference last February. (She also met her editor there). He was taken in my her a title A Hood Ornament in the N0-Jesus Christmas Parade and knew he wanted her as a client. Her book will come out next year. (He agents Sara Zarr, a National Book Award finalist.)
Laura Rennert: She describes herself as a "literary omnivore," and says she's looking for a strong voice, a voice she takes pleasure in, a new perspective, a fresh and unusual angle. (She agents NY Times bestselling author Jay Asher; and Kathleen Duey, also a National Book Award finalist.)
Dilys Evans: She says agents must establish great working relationships with their editors--they must find ways to get what they want, smiling. (Mark McVeigh referred to agents as "honest sharks.")
And I wish you all could have been there to here Dilys Evans tell stories--she was terrific.
Seeing Red: A Paint the Town Red Party Photo Essay...
Here are some shots of the outfits at the annual themed-party-by-the-pool with free drink tickets and questionable guacamole and much dancing. Sadly I did not stay long enough to see the Disco Mermaids. I hope someone else got a shot of them. If I can scare one up tomorrow, I'll share.
The Literary Lady Bugs.
Guy dressed as one of his superhero guy characters.
Superhero guy and another guy.
A sea of red with lots of black and gray, cause, ya know, red's not for everyone.
Don't be fooled--there were not Wristrong bracelets for party goers--these are SCBWI's Reading is Power bracelets.
Hawaiian shirt, one of a bunch (this one worn by David Gale).
Hawaiian shirt, two of a bunch.
Hawaiian shirt, three of a bunch.
A crayon taking a picture instead of coloring one.
I'm not sure what this costume is, but I believe part of it lit up.
Who wants to publish the Big Bad Wolf? No advance--just fresh meat!
This was my choice for best costume until I discovered it was the Scarlet Letter, not an A for Alice.
Portfolio Showcase & Reception...
There was a portfolio showcase today. I, as usual, volunteered to help because it's fun to look at all the portfolios before anyone else does and watch the judging going on.
Here's a glimpse.
There were lots of portfolios on lots of tables. Some of them were awesome. There were some judges. And they looked at those portfolios. And stood around and had judge-y conversations. And they picked some of the awesomest ones to win prizes. And I know who won. But I'm not telling. I'm keeping the judges secret, too, because I promised I would and I'm that kind of volunteer. And I like secrets.
After the hours of judging were over, the room looked like this.
Tomorrow during the Golden Kite Luncheon all the secrets will be revealed, the prizes given away, and I'll be allowed to spill the beans in this space.
Rachel Cohn: Embracing (and Resisting the Urge to Throttle) Your Inner Teen...
YA author Rachel Cohn gave a great keynote on the Inner Teen which she kicked off by bringing out a life size doll version of her teen self complete with a questionable haircut and a flannel shirt.
Rachel talked about meeting Judy Blume, and her obsession with Deenie as a girl. Judy Blume, she says was really able to validate the feelings of an adolescent, and Rachel strives for this as well--to speak to teens authentically and build that fundamental trust that happens between teens and authors.
She talked about her passionate attachment to the things she loved as a teen (many the same as mine)--Luke & Laura, Prince, eyeliner from the mall, Ryan's Hope--and reminded us that, while the things that teens are into may change, there is always that passion, those feelings, that remain constant whatever the era. Teens are always embroiled in love, lust, hate, envy, fear, secrets like they are epic. Self-involvement is the thing.
She spent a bit of time reading quotes from other YA authors on keeping that authentic teen voice (Wendy Mass, Megan McCafferty and others).
I really enjoyed listening to Rachel read passages from her own work. She talked about writing as the teen Rachel and what she read from Nick & Norah's Infinite Play List was a great illustration of that teen voice. It's really a joy to hear writers with passion for their craft reading from their own work. I could have listened to her read the whole book.
She also shared letter from readers that, too, were illuminating in terms of how teen think about things and express themselves.
To wrap things up, were were treated to the trailer for the upcoming film adaptation of Nick & Norah. (And how is that not the coolest thing ever?) Enjoy it here.
Saturday, August 02, 2008
Michael Bourret: The Long Haul...
Michael Bourret, an agent with Dystel & Goderich Literary Management, offered this session in the Published Author Track on how to maintain and build a career over the long term. He feels the career writers need three things: focus, diversity and openness.
In terms of focus, he suggests one's goal as an author is to establish a brand--think Sarah Dessen or Bruce Coville--so buyers and librarians will know how to position your books, and, ultimately, readers will know what to expect from an author. His rule for the authors he represents when they are starting out is that they must publish three books of the same type before they can branch out into other areas.
In terms of diversity, Michael is a believer in writers keeping their day jobs and being involved in other things. It's unhealthy to only talk to other writers, he says. He also cautions against telling anyone the terms of your book deal and details about contracts. He advised keeping up with networking. He told writers to be open to doing revision. And he warned against over-publishing, suggesting no more than one book a year in most cases (talking about trade books).
It takes time to build a career in children's publishing, he said, and publishers are willing to stick with you, even if you don't have stellar sales the first time out if they believe in you as an author.
What's he want in terms of submissions? He'd love a fantastic YA memoir. He loves great middle grade novels and says there's a real market for MG fiction--it's the one place in the children's market that is growing and continues to grow. He's desperate for literary writing for teens. And he wants more books for boys.
Saturday Morning Panel: Today in Children's Publishing...
Since I stayed up past two a.m. last night, I didn't make it to the first morning ballroom session on picture books with Arthur Levine, but I did end up having a serendipitious breakfast with illustrator Melanie Hope Greenberg (who was sporting some great temporary tattoos of mermaids in support of her book Mermaids in Parade) and we talked about picture books, so I kept to the morning theme.
After some sub-par $8 oatmeal, I made it to the Today in Children's Publishing panel featuring Brenda Bowen of The Bowen Press and Walden Pond Press, Debra Dorfman of Scholastic, David Gale of Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, Dianne Hess of Blue Sky and Scholastic Press, Elizabeth Law of Egmont Books USA, and Allyn Johnston of S&S imprint Beach Lane Books. (Interesting to note the the majority of the panel have recently taken on their current positions and several--Bowen Press, Egmont and Beach Lane--are brand new imprints.)
Lin Oliver moderated the panel. One question she asked was What's different now in the industry--what defines children's publishing today?
Here's a little from each panelist:
David Gale: He said publishing now is more complicated and kind of schizophrenic, without rules. The picture book market is still soft. The cost of producing a book is more challenging--tighter P/Ls--it's more difficult to make books earn money on paper when they are trying to get them approved. There's a lot of contradiction, and publishing a book is more of a gamble than ever.
Elizabeth Law: She discussed the fact that a company is always looking for more growth and more cash. And with higher numbers come more pressure.
Dianne Hess: She said marketing is at the forefront of publishing now.
Debra Dorfman: She talked about mass market accounts (Toys'R'Us, Wal-Mart) trying to dictate to them what they should be publishing as well as designs for products and price points.
Brenda Bowen: She said everyone can get their material out there now--as opposed to 10 years ago--via the Internet.
Allyn Johnston: She said, during her days at Harcourt, everything was lumped together in terms of sales. Now, at her new imprint, she feels like there's a spotlight on the outstanding expenses and the pressures on e to sell when their debut list materializes.
Lin Oliver asked if publishers track what's going on online--and they definitely do. They all talked about ways their companies are trying to attract kids to books online, create book projects with interactive elements, finding readers on MySpace, etc. Social networking sites are definitely on publishers' radar it seems.
It's Very Late...
My clock say 2:13 a.m. I'm going to pop some extra vitamins and try to get some sleep. I can't guarantee I'll make it to the opening session because reliving my first conference day has gotten me a little excited--I still feel the conference buzz. I think it might take me a while to get to sleep.
Wish me luck on getting some shut-eye and check back for my report on day number two. (Tomorrow I'll remember to get out my camera.)
SCBWI Success Stories...
Conference sessions for the day ended with a panel of authors and illustrators who found success through SCBWI, whether through grants, portfolio showcases, or simply through learning from conference sessions. The panel featured authors Jay Asher, Paula Yoo and Lisa Yee and illustrators John Rocco and Yuji Morales.
Here's a little something from each of them on getting started:
Lisa Yee said her biggest obstacle was "stupidity." Finally attending a conference got her to a place where writing stopped being a hobby and became a mission.
John Rocco said wins at the NYC conference portfolio showcase in 2004 and 2007 really helped him gain exposure for his work. Then he did a lot of research, cut down his day job, and illustrated his first picture book.
Jay Asher said there was a moment he realized that his dream of being an author was something he wanted to go after, but after years of rejections (although good ones) he thought he'd never figure out what all those editors in New York wanted. So he took his wife out to dinner and told her he was going to quite writing--and she stared to cry. So he didn't.
Yuyi Morales said that once she decided to go for it, she had nothing to lose, nothing to go back to. She just had her husband, her son, and the public library. And she studied picture books, finally winning an SCBWI grant, and her first assignment after an LA portfolio showcase.
Paula Yoo said, "I know this is cheesy, but it's about what you want to say in your heart." She said don't worry about getting published--her novel worked when she mined her memories and stared writing the truth in her fiction.
Ann Whitford Paul--Picture Books: To Rhyme or Not to Rhyme...
In this session the wonderful poet and picture book author Ann Whitford Paul answered the age-old conference question: Why do all those editors say they don't want rhyming books? The answer: Most rhyming manuscripts are not good; they fail. Editors would be thrilled with great ones.
Ann emphasized four qualities necessary for a successful rhyming picture book text: brevity, focus, consistent rhyme, and consistent rhythm. She offered examples of how and why each of these can go wrong in a manuscript, using her own rewrites of "The Queen of Hearts" rhyme.
I'm sure all the writers in Ann's session came a way with a little better understanding of how to write better rhyme. But she admitted it took her years to learn things like rhythm. She studied poetry with Myra Cohn Livingston. She recited poetry on walks. Writing great rhyming picture books--or mastering poetic prose--does not happen over night. It takes work and dedication.
She reminded us that editors don't just look for good rhyming--a work in rhyme must also be a great story.
We also had some fun with alliteration, assonance, consonance, onomatopoeia, metaphor, simile, and personification!
Note that you can learn more from Ann Whitford Paul on writing picture books, rhyming or otherwise, in an upcoming Writer's Digest Books title which will be out in 2009--I'll certainly mention it again closer to the pub date.
Margaret Peterson Haddix: Dig In...
I caught the tale end of Margaret Peterson Haddix's session and she was down to earth and delightful, talking about how she came to really get down to writing when she was stuck in her house and was unable to drive as she recovered from surgery shortly after moving to a new town in which she had no job.
Margaret likened writing to falling in love. She talked about how fascinating it is to watch her children change and grow. She emphasized the importance of writing from a kids' perspective rather than an adult looking back--as as writer, she said, you must become a kid. (To drive home that point she shared a funny story about the first time she turned over the keys to her 15 1/2-year-old daughter the day she got her learner's permit and their unique versions of that experience in the car.)
I most enjoyed the advice she received from an old German ski instructor named Horst: "You will go in the direction you are looking." Say it out loud a few time, and I'm sure you will discover how this could apply to both the act of writing and working toward a writing career. Horst is wise.
Note that Margaret is a fellow Ohioan!
Lunch with Anastasia Suen...
Anastasia Suen came to the Westside room at the end of my session and we decided to have lunch together. (She missed me talking about her great blogs and exhaustive list of links.) We had an interesting conversation, sort of a continuation of what I talked about in my session. She told me about how she keeps up with her blogging (she uses an editorial calendar) and we tossed around some ideas for CWIM.
She told me about an upcoming conference for kidlit bloggers that takes place in Portland September 27--the theme: "Bridging the Worlds of Books and Blogs." What an awesome idea--kidlit authors and book reviewers getting together to talk about what they do, share tips, and meet one another.
My Session and Why I Wish I'd Brought a PC...
I skipped Mark Teague's ballroom session to prepare for my first breakout, Keeping Current on Market Research: Websites, Blogs, Listservs & Networking. I checked my notes, practiced my intro, made sure there was no spinach between my teeth, etc., and went to check out the Westside room where my session took place (which was pretty rocking--big, fancy chandeliers, a stage).
When I viewed the setup, I realized I had no cord to plug my Mac laptop into the projector. The conference coordinator called the blue-shirted AV dude who kinda said that's a shame; there's a Mac store in the Mall. So I was just slightly freaking. Here it is, my first LA conference gig, I'm talking about blogs and websites, and I have no visuals; my week of collecting screen shots all for naught.
Then the audience (bigger than I expected and very patient) came to my rescue. Jennifer Bailey offered her zip drive and SCBWI Florida RA Linda Rodriguez Bernfeld offered her brand spanking new Cadillac of a PC. My heroes! Thank you both again for your help.
So, a bit rattled, I made it through the hour of PowerPoint. And it was fun. I wish we would have had more time for Q&A because I was getting some interesting questions. One writer asked how to get readers to her blog. I talked a lot about professional blogs and networking with writers and editors and agents, but not so much about readers. I suggested connecting with bloggers who are booksellers and librarians, who will in turn reach her readers. Tina Ferraro, half of the blogging duo behind YA Fresh, suggested utilizing MySpace. Her YA readers head to her blog for regularly contest or give-aways when she makes MySpace announcements. And in my informal Thursday night survey, other authors agreed--MySpace is great for connecting with readers; facebook more for connecting with other writers and people in the industry.
SCBWI Conference Friday--Kicks Off with Bruce Coville...
SCBWI Executive Director Lin Oliver kicked off the 37th annual conference with her usual wit, first introducing the faculty for the annual Faculty Word Parade where we all lined up waiting our turn to cross the stage, introduce ourselves, and utter our One Word. Vote. Hope. Revision. Tickle. Mine was Click. (Kinda lame, but it came to me a 4 a.m. when I woke up feeling all 7 a.m.-ish.) Note that 900 people in a ballroom on the other side of your microphone--wow--exciting and intimidating.
Lin said there are 900-ish attendees, 746 women, 135 men (more than usual--I've only seen one men's room converted to ladies. One year they put plants in the urinals), and 402 published authors. Then she introduced the first speaker who she promised would kick off the conference with a bang, and Bruce Coville delivered.
Bruce was at once funny and profound, a delight to listen two. I found myself so caught up in his talk that I stopped taking notes a third of the way through and didn't realize it.
He said that kids need heroes. Kids need to contribute. And children's books are the one last place children can find role models. He talked about kids entering kindergarten, tumbling in like a pack of puppies willing to sing and dance and play and pretend--but ask them to do those things as eighth graders... Every day, he said, door close in children's hearts. (I choked up a little thinking of my four-year-old turning in to a disinterested 14-year-old glued to a video game. I'll definitely be bringing him home some new books.) But it's a writer's job to kick those doors open.
And we were off...
Friday, August 01, 2008
SCBWI Conference Faculty Dinner...
As a first time presenter at the SCBWI conference, tonight I attended my first-ever faculty dinner. After mingling/cocktails/snacks we all sat in rows of chairs and, after announcements from Lin Oliver, passed around a microphone to introduce ourselves to one another. It was so helpful to put all the names and faces together and hear what everyone is going to be talking about. It will make planning my next few days of conference-going easier. (It's too bad all the conference-goers couldn't listen in.)
I'm already enjoying being part of the faculty. I feel like I'm suddenly allowed in the clubhouse with the cool kids. And all the cool kids are actually really nice, down-to-earth, interesting, approachable and friendly. It's true! If you're attending, I'm confident you'll enjoy the staff and get a lot out of their presentations. I'm looking forward to learning from them.
Now I'm off to bed. I'm hoping while I'm sleeping I'll come up with a word for the faculty word parade (a conference tradition during which each presenter walks to the mic and offers one word to sum up...something). Any suggestions?