I headed out to the Merrell Center in Katy for the Houston SCBWI conference on Saturday. Cynthia Leitich Smith opened the proceedings with one of her typically excellent presentations. What a treat! She is a real treasure – writers, if you ever have the opportunity to hear her speak, take it!
Nancy Feresten of National Geographic Children’s Books, had an especially interesting talk on eBooks vs. printed books. Her prediction is that, with the advent of low cost, full color/graphics eBook readers, most, if not all, paper books will be PODs. Not sure if that means that Barnes & Noble et al will become mall Kiosks with Espresso Book Machines and a strong online presence, or if they will just cease to exist. She said that publishers will definitely change from their how they look now, maybe even largely disappearing, but content providers (aka, writers) will always be needed.
The brand new Kendell library is open! We took a quick tour and it is amazing. The top two floors are library (adults on the second floor, kids on third) and the ground floor has a gymnasium, a classroom and a big meeting room. We went back with the kids when they got out of school. They got to do a craft project and they each checked out a book. Coolness.
The Brazos Writers put on a plotting workshop with Mark Troy, mystery writer, this morning in College Station. All five of the members of my CG went, so we rode together. That was fun. Writers are told, “A story has to have a beginning, a middle and an end.” Mr. Troy says, “That doesn’t tell you anything. A line at the post office has a beginning, a middle and an end.” He talked about Acts I – III, doorways and midpoints. I enjoyed the workshop and feel I learned something. Another thing he said was that even if you’re not writing a screenplay, screenplay writers’ techniques are very helpful in writing a novel. His suggested reading materials:
Screenplay by Sid Field
The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler
Alexandra Solkoloff’s blog, The Dark Salon
The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman
Books/stories he suggested for analysis
“Million Dollar Baby” by F.X. Toole
The Jack Reacher books by Lee Child
The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown
I volunteered at TLA (Texas Library Association) this morning, then explored the exhibit hall. I would highly recommend it for writers. There were tons of authors doing book signings (I blundered into Candlewick’s booth, just before Cynthia Leitich Smith started signing her newest book, Eternal – I now have an autographed copy). Many of the publishers there have ARCs (advanced reader copy) that they give away for free and I picked up If I Stay by Gayle Forman and After by Amy Efaw. I also learned that Libba Bray has a new book coming out this fall, Going Bovine. Have to see if I can pre-order on Amazon. Most of the Big Houses (Scholastic, Candlewick, HarperCollins) don’t have any editors there, just sales people. But a lot of the small presses/regional publishers do. It is a great place to do some networking, with publishers, librarians and other writers. Even though I didn’t register for the conference and attend any of the programs, I would love to go back tomorrow morning (it’s only ½ day Fri.). But my daughter has her spring program. Over spring break, her class had to write biographies. She chose Dr. Seuss, so she has some lines about him to recite. I finally got her red Cat in the Hat bowtie finished. Can’t miss my little ham on stage!
Saturday, March 21, SCBWI Houston will host a free video-based plot workshop at Tracy Gee Community Center at 11:00 AM. It would be helpful to have read Al Capone Does My Shirts.
The topic of tonight’s SCBWI meeting was recapping info from the Editor’s day last Saturday for the benefit of those who did not attend. There was a lot of good information, so I thought I’d post it here. Points are in no particular order.
Do your homework. Very carefully target your submissions to the right agents/editors. Use The Writer’s Market to research, but always double check agent/publisher website – things might have changed. Check agent/publisher’s website to see what books they’ve sold/published. Is yours a good fit? Read acknowledgements in books you like. Sometimes the agent and/or publisher is thanked.
Sometimes you submit something to an editor at one publishing house and it gets rejected. That editor leaves. Feel free to submit to new editor. Conversely, don’t resubmit to editor who has rejected a project (unless they as you to!) and who has moved to a different house. Keep track of the editors you send your submissions to, as well as the agents/publishers and dates.
There is apparently a market for read-aloud picture books about bakers/baking and scarecrows.
Henry Holt and Company has a great list of author’s rights in their manuscript submission guidelines.
Don’t rely on the publisher to market your books. Send a postcard to everyone on your Christmas card list telling them about your newly available book. Ask bookstores to do book signings.
The national SCBWI website has great resources available for members, including updated market information, formatting standards, and more.
Illustrators should send portfolio postcards out quarterly and MUST have a website.
Blog. Have a website.
Once your book is published, marketing is your second job. Have a plan.
One blog that was mentioned was Blue Rose Girls. They have a letter writing campaign going to lobby congress to remove warehouse inventory taxes on books so that publishers can once again support mid and backlists.
Editorial Anonymous is a blog by an anonymous children’s book editor. There is an Evil Pages clinic in which first pages might be critiqued.
Do school visits.
Have printed bookmarks as handouts (at conferences, school visits, etc.) for each book you have published.
Regional publishers can be a great start. Some mentioned at the meeting are Pelican Publishing, Absey (website [absey.com] is down), Sleeping Bear, Bright Sky Press, WordWright. University Presses might be good choices for non-fiction.
The editors at the conference were very upbeat and positive. There is always demand for good books.
Buy other people’s books.
Give Amazon/Barnes & Noble/Borders gift certificates to school libraries and/or teachers.
Non-Fiction is an ENORMOUS business.
School markets: Lots of visual presentation, especially photos (vs. artwork); sidebars; high demand for High Interest/Low Reading Level books.
Some Educational/Nonfiction publishers: Capstone, Follet, Enslow, Heinemann, Bearport
Whether it is fiction or narrative NF, KIDS must solve the problem (in children’s literature).
Don’t lock yourself into one genre.
Often NF is done as work for hire (flat fee, no royalties). However, the more you do, the more you build your reputation. If you write it well and are easy to work with, editors will call you with projects and you can end up with as much work as you can handle.
Narrative NF is HOT HOT HOT
Be relentlessly professional. Editors/agents are looking for reasons to reject your project. Make it very hard for them to do so.
Never send ANYTHING out unless someone else that you trust has read it.
For whatever genre you write, READ READ READ READ READ READ READ READ READ READ READ
Little Golden Books claims to be a great place for new writers & illustrators with stories about the wonder of everyday experiences, warm and fuzzy short picture books. However, they are an imprint of Random, which is a closed house.
High demand for books with boy main character/high boy interest – often sports.
Graphic novels/manga is still hot and getting hotter. Babymouse is very popular. You don’t necessarily have to be an illustrator to do GNs. Text is submitted like a screenplay. Many classics are being retold in GN format.
Make sure you know who your reader is. Kids like books that empower them. Story telling starts with the character. Character should have a life before and after the story and should make the reader think.
Make sure your book is different from what is out there and current. Use Google and Amazon to check this.
Become good friends with your school librarian. Find out what kids of books s/he wants and needs.
Everybody loves heroes. Regional biographies of contemporary Texans. History of the King Ranch.
Check the TEA website or your local ISD site. Come up with historical fiction or narrative non-fiction that integrates well into TAKS (even better if you can do creative math & science books like this). Picture books are good for this – kids do so much AR reading that pictures are novel and interesting.
Go to as many conferences/events/meetings as possible. Network network network.
It is a good idea to do story boards/dummies for picture books (even if you don’t illustrate) just to make sure you have enough story on each page for different scenes.
Always check out agents and publishers, preferably before you submit, but definitely before you sign a contract. Good resources: Preditors & Editors, Absolute Write
The mystery of the missing dial tone is solved. There is a large piece of artwork that hangs over our couch. It is a 3-D affair with cave-style painting of horses and it has some arrowheads in little compartments. Dear little Friendly decided it must be a mysterious lair to be explored, and he tried to climb into it. The thing came crashing down and the kitten went racing, with flue-brush tail, into the other room. It occurred to me, of course, only after two separate half-hours in an electronic call routing maze and camping out on hold, that the phone jack is in the vicinity of the fallen picture. I climbed over the couch and there was the crushed DSL filter, still plugged in, keeping the line open. Problem solved.
The BV conference was very good, as usual. Kudos to Liz Mertz, the BV SCBWI RA, for doing an excellent job. I was very pleased with my critique. Cynthia said she thought my manuscript was probably one draft away from publishability, and that I needed to dig down to pull it up a level. She recommended some agents she thought would be interested in it. She also said that she felt I had real talent, so I was over the moon about that. We talked about other writing things, like branding (she has three different publishers and writes very different things for each), and what happens if we move to Norway. Another thing she said is that there is a dearth of good MG out there – she was trying to think of her top 10 MG books for 2008 and she couldn’t think of more than 8.
Conventions of any sort always include a variety of interesting characters. There was one lady there who was convinced that she knew me, and I was equally convinced that she did not. Not surprisingly, SCBWI has a huge contingent of both active and retired school teachers and librarians. People under 30 at these types of events are uncommon. And yet, next to me, sat a young man who appeared to be a college student. He didn’t take notes and fidgeted through the whole thing. Which made me wonder why he was there. Lose a bet? Class project? Real interest/photographic memory? Had to drive his mom? There’s a writing exercise right there.
The agent I interviewed with asked for an email submission, so I got that off to her. If she doesn’t like it, there were two others who said they were interested. I’m keeping my fingers (and toes) crossed.
I believe there is a lot of value in going to conferences. When you and agents or editors meet face to face, it is much easier to decide whether you want to want to have a business relationship with them, and I’m sure, for them to decide about you. It is also good to meet other writers. No telling what kind of connections you can make or what sort of useful information you might learn (or impart).
Middle grade books sell the most. Partly because librarians are encouraging kids to read the most at that time, and partly because boys tend to stop reading around 10 (cutting into the YA/Teen market).
Paranormal/supernatural is very hot right now
Girls will read about boys, but boys will not read about girls (unless they are vampires, or buried alive)
Tweens (older MG, younger YA) are very popular
The “gritty” trend for YA may be starting to wane
Contests are great for building your writing credentials, so enter as many LEGITIMATE ones as you can.
Graphic novels are hot and getting hotter