SCBWI Summer Conference and That Lovin’ Feeling

The 2012 SCBWI Summer Conference is fast approaching. If you’re headed to LA and want to get pumped, or staying at home (like I am) and want to feel that conference-y goodness, check out these pre-conference interviews from the SCBWI conference blog. In Martha Brockenbrough’s interview with agent Jill Corcoran, Jill talks about what she’s looking for in YA romance and why that’s hard to find:

“Maybe it is difficult to recapture the innocence and wonder of first or even second love. Of crushes and unrequited love. Of waiting for that kiss, that touch, that moment when you no longer think straight and lose a part of yourself–for the good and the bad–to the person you ‘think’ you love. Of discerning between love and lust towards another person, and towards you. Of truth and lies. Of wanting to believe and not trusting your gut…it is about characters–soul-searching, groin-yearning, heart thumping, heart breaking, fast paced, laugh out loud, cry out loud, make me want to be your character ROMANCE!”

It’s easy to look down on romance, but it’s so hard to do well. I think Jill’s statement above touches on a lot of the very real, understandable feelings we’ve all experienced or wanted to experience. One of my YA favorites, Feeling Sorry for Celia by Jaclyn Moriarty, handles romance beautifully. Elizabeth experiences the pains of rejection and the hope of adorable first love. As Jill mentions, it captures that innocence and wonder of first/second love. (Plus it’s a hilarious and awesome book.) I’m definitely keeping Jill’s advice in mind for my romantically-inclined characters.
Make sure to check out the SCBWI blog for all the interview and more pre-conference info. Have fun in LA, conference-goers!

Tips for Writing Conference Success

Great post at YA Highway about how to enjoy and get the most out of your conference experience. They have very helpful suggestions like “bring snacks” (I’d also add “bring mints” because they’re perfect for sharing) and “talk to agents like they’re human beings.” My favorite:

Be cognizant of other attendees. During workshops, try to ask questions that apply to other attendees – not only your specific book. During group pitch sessions, don’t talk about your project the whole time – let everyone else have a chance, too.”

This is my biggest pet peeve from any kind of Q&A session. If you need to preface it with a very specific story from your very particular experience, it might not be a worthwhile question to ask during a group session. If you really want to go into something specific, wait until after the session and ask in private.

A couple of other suggestions I have for conferences:

  • Only going to conferences that have specific draws for you. If you want to talk to a particular agent or hear a particular writer talk, that’s a good reason to go. Attending a conference just because you like books in general might not be worthwhile. There are a lot of conferences out there, and they can be expensive.
  • Don’t get conference burn-out. It can feel like you need to see absolutely everything, but it’s okay to skip a session and take a walk, call a friend, or nap.
  • Get pumped on the writerly energy and actually write. Maybe wake up a little early and work on that outline that’s been frustrating you, or try a new writing exercise.
  • Don’t take more free materials and books than will fit in your bag. Seriously. You probably won’t read all of them right now anyway.

And remember, conferences should be fun and energizing. You want to act like a professional, but writing is also a really awesome profession filled with lots of awesome people. Take advantage of being around a bunch of cool writers and readers all in one place. Ride that wave of literary enthusiasm!

Second Novels

At NESCBWI, I went to a workshop about expectations for your writing career and your second book in particular. It was refreshing to hear Cynthia Lord and Linda Urban talk about their struggles writing their second books. Urban mentioned spending a lot of time working on one book in particular and how it was a huge, stressful project. Ultimately, she had to set it aside fro a while and move onto something else.

It’s hard enough to think about getting published and how your first book will do. Then you have to worry about the second one and if anyone will like that. It’s like the work and worry never ends! (Apparently it doesn’t.)

Still, Rachelle Gardner talks about how second book stress doesn’t mean the end of the world. If your agent/editor doesn’t love your next manuscript, that’s okay. Gardner says:

“It’s true, many writers’ subsequent novels fall short of the mark. The most common reason is that most authors work on that first novel, the one that sold, for far longer than the second one. They may have even agonized over it for years. The following novels, by contrast, are usually written much faster and under the pressure of a contract and a deadline, so they might not be as strong…If you wrote one great one, and your second one is not quite as good, the world’s not going to end. You just fix it. Presumably you’ll have the help of whoever told you it wasn’t good enough—your agent or editor. You’ll get notes for revision and you’ll get to work. Or you’ll be told to junk it and start over. (Hopefully not the latter, but it’s been known to happen.)”

I think it’s good to remember that a writing career isn’t all or nothing. Sometimes there are disappointments, but that doesn’t mean your career is over. It’s all a process and it never stops being work. But on the upside, just because you write something that might not be your next book doesn’t mean that your agent will leave your or your editor will hate you. Again, it’s more work, but it’s not the end of your writing career.

Toads, TED talks, and Magical Landscapes: the 2012 NESCBWI Conference

Sara Zarr giving her keynote. Somehow my only picture from the weekend.

Last Saturday I woke up before sunrise, grabbed my bags, and drove a couple hours to Springfield, MA. Why put so much effort into what would otherwise have been a sleepy Saturday morning? Because I had to get to the NESCBWI conference!

I attended the international SCBWI conference in January, but this was my first regional conference. As with the larger SCBWI conference, there was a fantastic writerly vibe at NESCBWI. Fellow attendees were friendly and enthusiastic; presentations were informative and invigorating; and I left excited to get to work.

It’s a smart idea to have a regional conference. While I loved going to SCBWI in New York, I’m not sure I could make the trip out every year. The New England version is a little more manageable. Also, the workshops I attended felt much more focused on a particular topic. I’m sure regional conferences allow a little more tailoring to what particular attendees want to work on, as opposed to a much larger conference. A few workshops I attended were about setting expectations for your writing career, creating magical worlds, and navigating book contracts. Again, really interesting and helpful stuff.

A few highlights/thoughts/fun moments from NESCBWI:

  • In her keynote speech, Sara Zarr (one of my favorite YA authors) talked about what characters care about. So often we’re asked “What does your character want?” but Sara mentioned that sometimes what you want can just be a symbol for what you care about. I hate the “what does X want?” question; the “what does X care about” makes so much more sense to me. (She also related the writing life to Frog and Toad stories. Loved it!)
  • Also from Sara Zarr: “Let your writing actions speak to your commitment.”
  • Cynthia Lord mentioned there are peaks and valleys in a writing career; it’s not always an upward trajectory. She suggested thinking of the successes and rewards as “gifts” from readers. If someone write a good review about you or wants to give you an award, it’s a gift. Gifts can’t be expected, and as a result there’s way less pressure on you to hit those peaks.
  • Kate Messner shared her TED talk with us (so cool!) and reminded us that sometimes fear lets us know we’re exceeding the artificial limitations we set for ourselves.
  • A behind-the-scenes look at New Yorker covers and comics from Harry Bliss. His keynote made me wish I could illustrate.
  • When creating magical worlds, ask yourself questions like “How would geography affect class structure?” and “What kind of medicine or drugs do they have?” Cinda Williams Chima gave such a great workshop; I felt with major fantasy invigoration.
  • The Apocalypsies/Class of 2012 debut novelists are awesome people. It was great to hear about how weird the first novel experience can be. Special thanks to AC Gaughen and Diana Renn for chatting with me afterward.
  • On a more personal note, I was invited to join a fabulous YA/MG critique group. So excited to start workshopping with such wonderful writers!

If you want even more on NESCBWI, make sure to check out these posts by other attendees/presenters. And if you attended, please share your thoughts/links to blog posts about your NESCBWI experience in the comments.

 

Authors Inspiring Authors

At the SCBWI blog, Martha Brockenbrough asked fellow SCBWI members and debut authors what being part of the organization has meant to their careers. My favorite response comes from Kimberly Sabatini, whose novel Touching the Surface will be released this fall:

“The best thing I learned from SCBWI is that I will never cease to be inspired by the authors in my tribe.”

I think this is a huge part of being a member of a writing group of any kind, whether it’s SCBWI or an MFA program or a bunch of friends who get together to workshop stories while drinking wine. There’s something really energizing about being part of a group that shares your goals and passions. Writing in a vacuum can be very draining. At the SCBWI conference in January, everyone I met was so friendly and encouraging. Having a base like that can be really helpful during rough writerly periods, too. You know you’re not the only one experiencing rejections and you know that success can take a lot of hard work. But there’s a built-in cheering section spurring you on. Being a member of a writers group doesn’t mean you’ll automatically get published, but it’s a great base to have.

The 10 Percent

Depressing:

“Every year the Cooperative Center for Children’s Books at the University of Wisconsin reports the number of books they receive from US trade and small publishers and how many are written by authors of various backgrounds. Again, in 2010, more than 90 percent of books for children and young adults in the United States were written by white authors about white protagonists.

Hopefully this can spark more publishers to accept books about different characters and background, and spark more writers to share different stories.

If you’re an SCBWI member, you can read more about this in the current SCBWI bulletin (March/April 2012).

SCBWI Artists Are Awesome

Congratulations to the 2012 SCBWI Tomie dePaola Award winners! I’m not an illustrator myself, so I have enormous respect for anyone who can create such beautiful and lively images. Make sure to check out all the winning illustrations through the link.

There are even more great illustrations at the Unofficial Tomie dePaola Award Gallery. What a great way to start a gray Tuesday!

How Many Frequent Flyer Miles Would This Require?

I’m looking forward to going to my first SCBWI conference later this month. I’ve been to AWP before, but that veers to the literary fiction side and I also attended with my fellow grad students. I’ve heard fantastic things about the SCBWI conferences and I’m psyched to attend a weekend of kid lit-related events.

In case I get bitten by the conference-bug (and find a huge amount of expendable income), I’ve got this fantastic list of 2012 conferences over at A Fuse #8 Production. Lifetime goals? Hit the ALA conference, Comic Con, and the Bologna Children’s Book Fair.

What conferences or events are on your calendar this year?

The “Something”

From an interview with publishing powerhouse Jean Feiwel:

As you and your fellow editors look to acquire books, is there one element that grabs you each time, that one essential element?

I say this in my rejections letter, if I don’t emotionally connect with something I’m not going to respond to it. There’s something about the story that has to pull on my emotions in some way. It has to make me laugh. It has to be very dramatic. It has to surprise me. Something has to happen for me to respond to a story. Even it’s something I’ve heard a lot , even if it’s yet another vampire story, if there’s something in it that feels fresh or emerges in some surprising way I’ll will respond and go after it. There has to be something emotionally alive in it for me.

I think this is the hardest part of querying. You can have a fantastic pitch and a wonderful book, but if it doesn’t connect with that particular agent/editor it’s not going to work. And that’s good, in a way. You want your agent or editor to be passionate about your book. If they’re not, they won’t really want to put in the time and effort required to make it a wonderful, successful work of art that readers will love. And it’s so hard to tell what exactly will strike an agent/editor. As Feiwel says, it can be an old story (back again, vampires?) but something about it has to stand out. While you can revise a novel to tighten the plot or enhance the character development, it’s really hard to pinpoint what that “something” that will catch an editor’s attention.

Jean Feiwel will be part of the “Children’s Books, Today and Tomorrow: Four Expert Impressions” panel at the 2012 SCBWI conference in January. So excited to hear more of her thoughts on the industry, and for the conference in general! (For more conference news and previews, check out the SCBWI conference blog)