Finding the Heart to Unlock Your Story

Newbery Award winning author Susan Patron spoke at the 2011 Southern California Writer’s Day. A former librarian and lover of children’s books, she had a lot of heartfelt insight on writing for children. Her talk ranged from finding the courage to write to insights from childhood. The following are my notes taken from her presentation:

Why Does it Take Courage to Write?

  • Why do we keep writing after the shocking horror of the 1st draft?
  • Why do we continue to write after the shocking horror of the 2nd and 3rd drafts? Maybe I should be a carpenter instead, we think.
  • Each draft takes courage!
  • Writing a novel is a thrill, like riding off on a runaway horse, it’s thrilling and terrifying.
  • When Patron became a full-time writer she was scared because this meant there were no more excuses to not be writing.

What is the Higher Power in “The Higher Power of Lucky”?

  • Patron deliberately left this open-ended. Maybe it is God, maybe it is a goal, maybe it is the power of self. Each reader will (and should) interpret it differently.

Insights about Childhood:

  • “Growing up is something that happens in the tiny details of everyday.”
  • The inner life of children is rich.
  • We (humans) are fundamentally good, but we are able to do things that are very bad. She wants to show that her characters are human and flawed. That’s why they do bad/mean things sometimes.

Thoughts on Censorship:

  • The educated possess the knowledge, judgment, and ability to make decisions and opinions on their own about what they read.

Insights on Writing and Reading:

  • Reading is the only time we are able to merge our consciousness with another (with the character).
  • It wasn’t until she finished “Lucky Breaks” that she realized she was writing a trilogy.
  • Patrons writing process: She doesn’t know what she wants to say till she’s thrashed her way through a book. She reads like she writes – to see what happens.
  • You need a view to write, so that imagination can meet memory in the dark.
  • She has never written a novel in under 2 years.  So it was really hard when she was given a 9-month deadline for her “Dear America” book.
  • This quote unlocked the “Dear America” book for Patron: “Boldness is a mask for fear, however great.” – ?
  • I know everything I know about this industry from coming to SCBWI. She’s been a member since 1972.
  • The cover is the first step to getting a reader to pick up your book. It is important.
  • You can write in multiple genres. Look at the work of Linda Sue Park as an example.
  • The diary element of her “Dear America” book seemed like a challenge at first, but soon she treated it like any other first person narrative.

Thoughts on winning the Newbery:

  • It was a whirlwind.
  • “You lose a year of your writing life when you win the Newberry.” – Richard Peck

About Editors:

  • Your editor is your collaborator and your friend. Their suggestions will make your book stronger.
  • The Lucky Trilogy had three different editors. The first editor retired (first book), the second editor was let go with budget cuts (second book), and the third book had third editor.
  • Editors are very good at seeing what you are too close to the manuscript to see.

How do you get over Writer’s Block?

  • Take long walks.
  • Despair!
  • Read craft books.

Fun Tid-bits:

  • Patron taught herself to read using the LA Times comics section.
  • The public library was “Mapquest for the heart.”
  • A State of Arrested Decay – the state of a building that has been abandoned but preserved by the state.
  • Patron doesn’t read other novels while she is writing.
  • Patron was a very active librarian. She even served on the Caldecott and Laura Ingles Wilder award committees in her career.
  • Verite Sans Peur = Truth without Fear

What Resources does the Library Have that we should be aware of? (This was a Question from Audience)

  • Go to your library and talk to the librarian about your project. They will direct you to sources you may not be aware of.
  • There are lots of databases that the library has subscriptions to that the patrons can use. Often you can access these from your home!

Susan Patron specialize in children’s services for 35 years at the LA Public Library before retiring in 2007. That same year her novel The Higher Power of Lucky was awarded the Newbery Medal and the FOCAL Award, and went on to become an New York Times National Bestseller, as well as being translated into 12 foreign languages. The Higher Power of Lucky has been turned into a trilogy including Lucky Breaks and the forthcoming Lucky for Good.

A View From The Top

From the top things look pretty good! But from such a high angle one has a different point of view of the marketplace. Four senior editors were kind enough to share their view of the current children’s book  marketplace at the 2010 SCBWI LA Conference. This star studded cast included editors: Stephanie Owens Lurie (Disney/Hyperion), Francesco Sedita (Grosset & Dunlap, and Price Stern Sloan), Jennifer Hunt (Little Brown), and Justin Chada (VP and publisher at: Simon and Schuster, Anthem, and Margaret K. McElderly Books).

MODERATOR: Tell us a little about yourselves.

FRANCESCO: I’m the publisher of two imprints at Penguin. I was at Scholastic for 8 years before, an also worked at Knoph adult before that. “Leading by Instinct” is my motto. The spirit of a project is what is most important to me. I also went to school for writing and am the author of Miss Popularity.

STEPHANIE: The school library introduced me to Little House On the Prairie, and later my heart was stolen by Harriet the Spy. I worked at Little Brown for 12 years, then Simon and Schuster for 6 years. Dutton for 9 years, and now I’m with Disney Hyperion. I was interested in working with an entertainment company and a smaller staff.

JENNIFER: I work at Little Brown. Initially I started on the marketing side, and I also did an internship with Beacon Press. I’ve also worked at Time and Money Magazines, and Random House Adult, as well as with Lee and Low’s multi-cultural picture books. I’ve been with Little Brown for the past 9 years. We are a small boutique house and we “strive to be the best in the class.”

JUSTIN: I work at Simon and Schuster. I work on the fourth floor.  I oversee 250 titles per year, and work with a staff of 15 editors and assistants. I used to write for kids television and this is my 12th year in publishing!

MODERATOR: Characterize what you do at each of your imprints.

FRANCESCO: Grosset and Dunlap was a licensed publisher for awhile, and did things like Star Wars, etc. We are trying to develop books for 1-10 years old and middle grade. Price Stern Sloan is the original publisher of madlibs, and is thought of as the obnoxious little brother to Grosset. We like to try to new things with format and develop new ideas. We are trying out a $9.99 picture book. We are playing with margins to make books easier to read. Some of our books include: Frankly Frannie, George Brown Class Clown, and Katie Kazoo Switch-a-roo.

STEPHANIE: Disney Press publishes all things related to Disney. But Disney Hyperion does non-Disney related content.  We publish everything from Pre-School to YA, and things that are high concept. We are author focused and have people like Mo Willems, Clementine (book), Rick Riordan, Ally Carter, Melissa De La Cruz’s Blue Bloods. We publish 100 books a year, including literary fiction through series. 80% of our titles (per year) are commercial, and 20% are literary.

JENNIFER: Our Imprint Poppy publishes Gossip Girl, It Girl, and other series of that nature. Little Brown Kids is our licensing and novelty imprint, and Little Brown Young Readers is our core list with picturebooks through YA. We are about quality, thoughtful work from editorial to marketing. We are a house that an author can find a career at. We want you to grow with us. We really like debut authors. We don’t give up on books. For example How to Train Your Dragon took a while to find its audience.

JUSTIN: Each imprint for us has its own team and is its own entity. Our philosophy is not all literary books are not commercial, and not all commercial books are not literary. Commercial = Kids are reading it. Books for young readers publishes series, picture books, and commercial stuff. Atheneum is our literary imprint. That’s where our Newberry’s come from. McElderly is a boutique imprint that does poetry and literary work, fantasy, and publishes authors like Ellen Hopkins. It’s very versatile.  We have no policy against sending things to multiple imprints, but research and find out who is right for you. We also have Simon Pulse and Aladdin, but I don’t oversee those imprints.

MODERATOR: What role does the Children’s Book Division play in your overall company?

JUSTIN: Children’s books used to be “cute,” but now we are a major presence. Children’s books actually float many companies. We are a major player!

JENNIFER: Children’s books plays a major role in our company. After all we did publish Twilight, which has gained a lot of respect for our imprint. But you never know what will be a blockbuster.

STEPHANIE: “Where’s Our Twilight?” (Joke). At Hyperion we are the only children’s book division and we are separate from Hyperion adult. We have actually made more money than Disney Press.

FRANCESCO: Children’s books are the sleeping giant, and we are slowly waking up. “If you’re not make mistakes you’re not taking any risks.” That is our philosophy.

JENNIFER: It feels great to be innovative!

MODERATOR: What is your allocation of resources in terms of advances, promotion, etc.?

JUSTIN: It’s different than it was before. There are less human resources and less marketing resources. For example if no one comes to a book tour then it was wasted money. Some of the bestsellers actually come from word of mouth and reviews. You need every dollar to count. Marketing online makes things more possible. Facebook and Twitter are great way to promote directly to consumers.

JENNIFER: We have a smaller list 100-120 books per year including series. We think a lot about each book and want to see where it fits in. I love our marketing team! But we try to be thoughtful for each book.

MODERATOR: How do you make acquisition choices?

STEPHANIE: We have A, B, and C books. Big, strong, and developing. We want authors to deliver year after year. Our resources are bad news. It feels like our work load has tripled. But we are a small enough company to keep and author in house. We want them to have a home and we pick our authors carefully. We like to see good ideas, strong execution, and then we think about compatibility.

FRANCESCO: We have low price points ($9.99) so we like to take on new voices.  We like successful series. For example the Frank Frannie books are $4.99. I hate the word mass market, I like to think about it more as a project that opens a lot of doors. It’s tricky all over the place. We do market every book, but we don’t have tons of money to promote books instead we have lots of smart people to help push it forward.

MODERATOR: What’s your opinion about multi-media and the importance of platforms? Specifically in the near future?

JUSTIN: E-books are great, and everyone else who doesn’t think so is wrong – in my opinion! All our hardcover books go into e-books now. There’s a growing audience. Adults are reading teen books on kindle now too. But there’s a weird discussion going on about apps vs. digital books. We are trying not to make the betamax. We want the VHS! “Looser Queen” is an online publisher.

FRANCESCO: Take a look at any proposal that’s direct to video. Read the digital stuff like The 39 Clues. Learn from it. We need your help too.

JENNIFER: We do think about digital assets even from the acquisitions point. Enhanced books, etc. The question is does the story lend itself to creative marketing?

STEPHANIE: Kingdom Keeper Series created a trans-media game where you have to read the book to get keys to the video game. The third book sold 70% more than the other two that did not have the game element.

FRANCESCO: The apps need to serve the story. If they do then tell me about it as part of the project proposal. Otherwise we have a whole marketing team who can dream up the other stuff.

JENNIFER: It’s about great writing for me!

STEPHANIE: Yes, first start with the story. Then get me with the second part about the marketing. But only if it is essential to the story.

JENNIFER: Focus on writing. Tell a great story.

MODERATIOR: Can you leave us with a word of council to everyone?

FRANCESCO: When you write, write for yourself first. Shut the door on what you’ve learned. Write what you want to write.

JUSTIN: Don’t write to trends. If you write to the trend then the Vampires win!

JENNIFER: Think about your own excellence and write toward that.

STEPHANIE: Write what you think is cool! Remember the child you once were.

Stephanie Owens Lurie is the editorial director of Disney Hyperion, a position she has held since October 2008. In addition to acquiring and editing picture books, middle grade, and young adult novels, Stephanie manages six acquiring editors. The primary goal of Disney Hyperion is to provide content that will entertain and inspire kids.

Jennifer Hunt oversees the acquisition and development of all middle grade and young adult fiction for the Little Brown for Young Readers list. She edits a wide range of books including titles with Sherman Alexie, Sara Zarr, Cornelia Funke, Pseudonymous Bosch, Walter Mosley, and Jewell Parker Rhodes.

Francesco Sedita is an accomplished writer whose work includes an ongoing children’s book series; his literary career also includes his role as Publisher of Grosset and Dunlap and Price Stern Sloan. He developed and oversaw the marketing campaign  for the final book in the Harry Potter Series. He also recently edited the first young adult novel by author Ann Hood.

Justin Chada is the VP and Publisher at S&S Books for Young Readers, Atheneum Books, and Margaret K McElderry Books. He is an editor at Atheneum books. He has worked with authors and illustrators such as David Shannon, Jon Scieszka, Loren Long, Kenneth Oppel, Adam Rex, and Eric Wright.

From Your House to My House: Editors Discuss What Makes Them Choose Your book

Editor Panel at 2010 LA SCBWI

Four fantastic editors got on stage at the 2010 SCBWI Conference to share what makes them choose your book. Moderated by editor Krisa Marino (Delacorte), she asked the tough questions of fellow editors Nick Eliopulos (Scholastic), Claudia Gabel (Katherine Tegen Books), Brenda Murray (Scholastic), and Jennifer Rees (Scholastic).

A Few Opening Notes From Editor Krista Marino:

Krista Marino

  • Acquiring books is a deeply personal decision for an editor. They have to read it six or seven times, so they want to love it.
  • Some editors work to fill a need in their list and it is a less personal decision, while for others it is very personal.
  • One editors dream book is another’s nightmare.
  • More editors in the field create more options and more opportunities to move books.
  • An editor’s choice to acquire a book is often about taste and vision.

KRISTA: Please introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about what you are looking for and what you publish.

NICK: I work at Scholastic. Prior to working at Scholastic I worked with Random House Children’s Books. I just transferred to Scholastic in April. I love comic books! Comics are what helped me to break into this business. I am also looking for middle grade and young adult books. I focus on guy books, mostly middle grade guy books or graphic novels.

CLAUDIA: I am the senior editor at Katherine Tegen Books. I used to work for Alloy entertainment who brought you things like Gossip Girl and The Vampire Diaries. I’ve also worked in adult books, as well as working at Delacorte. I like to do development work and have also worked as a book packager.

BRENDA: I have been with Scholastic since 2002. I’ve worked on over 250 books in my career. I was once a teacher. I acquire books from Pre-K up through 8th grade. I’ve also worked on atlases and dictionaries in my past.

JENNIFER: I am a fiction editor at Scholastic. I’ve worked there for 12 years. I started out as a bookseller in Ohio. I love children’s books, and I acquire everything from picture books up through young adult. I mostly acquire fiction, and not much non-fiction. Personal love is what drives my acquisition choices. Some of my authors include Wendy Mass, Susan Collins, and Sarah Litman.

KRISTA: What is more important to you: voice or plot?

JENNIFER: It’s all about voice! With great voice we can fix plot.

NICK: I’m a plot guy. Of course I want to find both, but if I have to pick I’ll choose plot. I need a hook, one sentence that I can really wrap my head around. That will cause me to pick something up and read it. But an unfulfilled idea won’t work. It must have good writing. But if I did come across something with a really amazing voice I could be convinced.

KRISTA: Well, an editor has to convince others as well, too.

CLAUDIA: The voice really needs to come organically with a manuscript, but plot an editor and author can work out. Great character is important. You can’t have an unlikeable character. Character development is really important and has big appeal.

KRISTA: Name two books in the last ten years that really inspire you.

BRENDA: In My Own Words which is a Bigfoot biography. It’s absolutely hilarious. And also, the biography of Claudette Calvin. It just came out. I love the photos of Brady.

NICK: The Hunger Games! Anything by John Green, Scott Westerfield. Those books really win over guy readers.

CLAUDIA: What I Saw and How I Lied, and it’s older than ten years, but, Little House on the Prairie.

JENNIFER: A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray, and Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson.

KRISTA: Do you find inspiration outside of the trade book world?

CLAUDIA: I watch lots of TV and read magazines to come up with series ideas. The show Barefoot Bandit inspired a series.

NICK: I think it’s important to notice where kids are looking if they aren’t reading. Like checking out YouTube. That can really help inform packaging a book.

BRENDA: It’s important to try to create a tie in with television, if possible. I love planet earth and discovery channels, I’m always looking for trends there. I also look at news articles and magazines. Great non-fiction books can come from hot news items like the presidential election or the oil spill, or something like the anniversary of WWII and the Attack on Pearl Harbor which is coming up.

JENNIFER: I try to keep an ear to the pulse of what people are talking about. NPR is very inspirational, a story from NPR was the basis for Eleven Birthdays which is coming out soon. I also have a six year old boy, so I try to notice what he thinks is cool.

KRISTA: What are you looking to acquire?

NICK: Guy books. High concept books.

BRENDA: With non-fiction, if you can tell me something I didn’t know before, and tell it to me in one sentence then I will be intrigued. Fascinate me. I like both modern and historical. And of course I’m always looking for that gem. Looking for something new and fresh is difficult, if you have an old topic but it is well written then there can be a way to find a place for it. Put a fun spin on your idea. Make it appeal to kids.

CLAUDIA: Beautiful prose. But I’m also looking for people who can write fast! We like to keep a ramped up schedule. I’m also into tween books and teen mysteries.

JENNIFER: Fascinating writing and voice, but something that is also commercial. Ask yourself if it has a wide audience or not. We get really excited about something with wide potential.

KRISTA: What are your pet peeves? Things authors should not do, or common mistakes you see?

JENNIFER: A package that is not professional. I don’t like synopsis that are boring and phrased as “… and then this happened…etc.” I also need authors that can promote themselves in a positive way.

BRENDA: When I get a submission and the author has done no research before submitting. They have no sense of what is already in the market, what’s on the shelves, what’s similar to their book, etc. I want you to sell it to me first! Have credibility if you are a non-fiction writer. Tell me why your book is unique.

CLAUDIA: I don’t like query letters that have no personality. I want to be interested in the author, I want to see who you are on the page. Put all of you into your work.

NICK: I agree with Claudia. The relationship is a huge part of the job. Facebook is another tricky thing. Yes, I will respond to you if you send me a message there, but it can be tricky and unprofessional.

KRISTA: Do you read slush?

JENNIFER: We don’t accept slush, but we get it. And yes, the interns do read my slush for me.

BRENDA: The first book I ever published was found in the slush. But my interns go through it/read it first.

CLAUDIA: Check a house’s submission guidelines. Eventually someone will look through the slush. But you may not get a response. We used to have slush parties where we’d all order pizza and go through the slush. You’d be surprised how much of it is from people in prison.

NICK: If you’ve done your research it will show and stand out in the slush. Don’t randomly send out work.

Audience Question: How do you make sure your agent represents you properly when they are writing the query letters?

JENNIFER: I will often ask to speak to the writer when I find something I like. That will give me a good sense of who they are.

CLAUDIA: Work with your agent before submitting.

Audience Question: Can you comment on books that get rejected quite a bit before finding a home, like The Book Thief?

NICK: I can speak specifically to The Book Theif, but not all queries represent the book as well as they should. It is hard to communicate something high concept in one sentence. Be inventive to make sure you communicate what your book is about.

CLAUDIA: The real question is – did someone respond eventually? Yes. I found and published a book from a contest and the author told me that they were about to give up on writing. That book had been rejected 16 times before. You’ve got to keep plugging away, and find the editor to gets you.

KRISTA: I agree. You need an editor who has the same vision as you do.

About the Editors:

Krista Marino is a senior editor at Delacort Press where she edits and acquires young adult and middle grade novels. Books she has edited include King Dork, The Necromancer, The Maze Runner, and The Forest of Hands and Teeth.

Nick Eliopulos is an editor with Scholastic, following a 5-year stint with Random House Children’s Books. He has edited many middle-grade and young-adult titles, including the Tapestry series, The Pricker Boy, Unfamiliar Magic, and the forthcoming Sons of Liberty graphic novel. He has also worked on chapter books, cutting his teeth as an assistant on the Magic Tree House series.

Jennifer Rees got her start in children’s books as a children’s bookseller in Ohio. Since then, she’s found great joy in working as an editor at Scholastic Press, where she acquires and edits fiction and nonfiction picture books, middle grade, and young adult novels. A sampling of projects she’s edited include The Hunger Games Series, Winter’s Tail, 11 Birthdays, Purge, and Girls and Dangerous Pie.

Brenda Murray was once a 6th grade teacher who went on to receive an M.S. in Instructional Technology. She’s been at Scholastic since 2002 and has worked on more than 200 nonfiction titles. She is currently managing a list of approximately 45 children’s books per year in grades ranging from Pre-K through 8th grade.

Claudia Gable is a senior editor at Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Children’s Books, acquiring developing middle grade and YA fiction in a variety of genres. Her best-known titles are Summer Boys, The Scarlett Wakefield Mystery Novels, and In or Out.

Q&A with Disney Hyperion Editor Stephanie Owens Lurie

Disney Hyperion editor Stephanie Owens Lurie was one of the faculty members at the 2010 SCBWI LA National Conference. I attended her breakout session on How To Think Like a Publisher and the below question and answer session followed her presentation.

Q: Can you comment on the rights landscape?

A: You need to think about property in multiple ways. Everything is so new, and we are all exploring the possibilities. Yes, there will be rights discussions and fights. We are all working through this.

Q: How should one implement new technology?

A: Get your story down first, then think about technology. Share it with your editor and feel them out on the subject. It is not the authors idea to execute these ideas. Share them with the publisher. The publisher will produce the product.

Q: Why did you move to Disney Hyperion and how does it compare to other houses you’ve worked at?

A:  I love that Disney Hyperion is both a book publisher and an entertainment company.  I was interested in seeing how books can branch into new areas. For example Disney has just acquired Marvel, and so we will be making graphic novels! We are also a much smaller company than some of the others I’ve worked at, and I enjoy that aspect.

Q: Can We Submit Our Work To You?

A: No. Disney Hyperion has a very strict policy about non-agented work. We don’t accept it. Because Disney is a big company we are often getting sued about copyrights and plagiarism. Therefore we do not accept unsolicited work. Even if we win the lawsuits, we still have to pay for them in the first place.

Q: If you’re an illustrator and not a writer, what is your elevator pitch?

A: Look for a character in your portfolio that has the potential to become a book. Develop that character into a story. Become a writer/illustrator!

Q: In a recent New Yorker article it was quoted that 70% of all books don’t make back their advance. Is that true for children’s books?

A: It varies depending upon the advance.  In general if an editor continues to buy books that don’t sell out their advance, then the editor will get fired and the author dropped. Books last about two years now, which is less time than in the past.  We are hoping that the digital landscape will help to create new opportunities.

Q: What is the ideal number of book for a YA series?

A: It is better to have too few than too many. Limited series are always better. I would shoot for 3 or 4. You can always do a spin off later.

Q: With all the new opportunities for digital arenas, what is your thoughts on self publishing?

A: Publishers really help in so many ways – editing, distribution, expertise, know book sellers, etc.  But there doesn’t seem to be any harm in self publishing. However, if your book has been reviewed by a lot of people (yourself published book) then it can be hard to get it reviewed again later if a larger publisher publishes it.

Q: How has the iPad changed the game?

A: There’s all sorts of new apps now. Things like a marketing app, a Dr. Seuss App, a monetized app (which is a version of any sort of book with some type of game play). I suggest you click around and explore to see what is out there.

Q: What should an author have on their website?

A: Author info, a biography, information about how teachers can use your book, game play, etc. The key is to keep the content coming so someone will continue to revisit your site. Book content is always good. Websites are really essential for illustrators. I am always trolling online for illustrators. I don’t keep/use printed materials anymore.

Q: How does one contact their market?

A: Use Facebook, or do school appearances. Twitter it turns out is an older person’s thing, but you can still interact with other writers with twitter. Think about contact with your market as a pebble thrown in a pond. Everything you do causes ripples of some sort.

Q: Should authors make their own book trailers?

A: I am not a fan of authors making their own book trailers, unless you are a film student or have film experience. Otherwise they will end up looking very amateur. Book trailers are great for YA books. If you have an idea for a book trailer share it with your editor. If they like it the publisher will put up the cost to create a trailer for the book. Often book trailers will cost between 5 and 15 thousand dollars to make.

Q: What are some of your favorite current books?

A: I love M.T. Anderson’s Feed, The Book Theif by Marcus Zusak. Some of the new stuff Rick Ryerden is doing is very exciting. He’s really stretching himself.

Q: What are your thoughts on edgy content in YA novels?

A: Teens buy their own novels so using edgy content is less of an issue.  But I did hear some teen reader say recently that “We are not all depressed you know.” So feel free to move away from edgy content. Personally I am often looking for books that are uplifting and entertaining.

Stephanie Owens Lurie is the editorial director of Disney Hyperion, a position she has held since October 2008. In addition to acquiring and editing picture books, middle grade, and young adult novels, Stephanie manages six acquiring editors. The primary goal of Disney Hyperion is to provide content that will entertain and inspire kids.

How to Think Like a Publisher

At the 2010 SCBWI LA Conference, senior editor Stephanie Owens Lurie shared her point of view of the publishing process. Her intention was to get the audience to think about publishing from the eyes of those on the other side. So here is what the publishers are think and how you can fit into the process:

1. Considering Books Submissions

  • One must ask what are the book’s merits? How well does the book fit with our list? Do we already have too much paranormal romance? Etc. What is the ideal publishing season for this book? How soon can we get it to market?
  • A publisher’s goal is to fill a hole as soon as we possibly can.

Tips for Authors Submitting:

  • Keep in mind a publisher’s strengths when you submit to them.
  • Familiarize yourself with the formats and age groups.
  • Research publisher’s lists. Go to the library or book store and look at what one particular publisher publishes.
  • Beware of something that is too similar to another book already on their list.
  • Don’t submit a book to a publisher in a category that they don’t publish.
  • Look at great resources like publisher’s marketplace online.
  • Polish your work! Get it ready to be put into publication as soon as possible.
  • Be flexible about your publication date.

2. The Pitch

  • In today’s market a lot depends upon your pitch.
  • The pitch helps the editor to get other people on board for your book.
  • The pitch helps marketing, publicity and sales have an edge.
  • The pitch helps book sellers to hand sell your book.
  • The pitch is how readers will spread the word about your book.
  • A sales rep has about 30 seconds to get a buyer interested in your book.

What An Author Can Do:

  • Develop a log line or elevator pitch for your book. Use TV guide movie blurbs as a way to figure out what makes a good log line.
  • Focus on story. Put your story into one sentence.
  • Example: __________ (Character) is so ______________(personality trait) that _________________ (such and such happens). This is a good way to start your query letter.

3. The Franchise

  • Your book is not just a story, it is a franchise. We want to produce multiple books from your story.
  • We are not looking for just one idea. We are looking for authors that can continue to produce books. (This doesn’t have to be a series). We are looking for authors that we can develop relationships with over time.
  • Chain stores like authors that have books coming out every year.
  • Getting a movie deal for your book is great! It helps to sell more books.

 

What An Author Can Do:

  • Help your publisher see you as a creator of a franchise, but don’t come on too strong. We want to see that you have ideas, but that you are also flexible.
  • Show that you have other ideas within the same age group, if you don’t write series. Your following will leave you if you go too long without publishing a book. Remember that the age group grows up fast and moves on to the next age group.

4. The Deal

  • Books seem to fall into three categories. There are the huge blockbusters (Harry Potter, Twilight, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Hunger Games, etc.). Then there are six-figure books (Shiver, Fallen). And then there is everything else.
  • Publishing is a gamble. Not every book works.
  • Authors can be dropped when an advance doesn’t pay out, and often editors get canned as well.
  • Publishers are under a lot of pressure to find top talent.

 

Tips for Authors With an Offer:

  • If you are in a position where you have multiple offers consider the amount of money being offered. Is it enough to pay your bills? How will it affect the way the publisher markets the book?
  • Consider the marketing plan. Do you get to be a part of it? Do you like what the publisher makes?
  • Does the editor share your vision for the book? Does the editor have time for you? Do you have chemistry?
  • The speed in which a deal is made and the amount of money being offered are not the only important parts of a book deal.

5. The Media

  • You need to help sell your book!
  • Make noise to get your book attention!
  • Try and make personal connections with your audience.
  • Publishers want an author that they can promote. Having a fascinating back story can make you marketable.
  • You need to think about what inspired you to write your story. Does that help to market the book? If so, mention it in your query letter.
  • Your credentials can help sell books if they relate to the story in some way.
  • Do you have an active platform?  An active platform can sometimes be more interesting to a publisher than your publishing or writing credits.
  • Do you enjoy “pressing the flesh” – meaning meeting the people who will sell/buy your book – librarians, kids, etc.
  • Are you willing to promote your book online? Authors are expected to help spread the word in today’s marketplace.
  • Do you have an interesting presentation for school visits or book tours?
  • Share all of the above with your publisher and together you can build a marketing plan for your book.
  • Remember, editors have expertise in the market, so don’t be too demanding or disappointed if they shoot down an idea.

6. The Gatekeeper

  • The gatekeeper is the bookseller. These are the stores, outlets, chains, etc.
  • Books sell for two reasons. One, it is something that the store thinks the customers will busy. Two, the bookseller has an emotional connection with the book.
  • Booksellers take the heat when things don’t sell well.
  • Sales representatives build relationships with booksellers. Sales reps consider who will want what type of books and over time the buyer will begin to trust the sales reps opinions.
  • Large booksellers (Barnes and Noble, etc.) like to have custom content. A B&N exclusive – new chapters of the next book, etc.  This type of thing is unlikely however with a first book.

What an Author Can Do:

  • Be careful of mature content.
  • Introduce yourself to your local bookseller.
  • Inform your editor if you don’t see your book for sale at a local book shop (not the big chains, smaller stores).
  • Develop ideas for custom content.
  • Trust your sales team.

7. The Consumer

  • Most children’s books (picture book through middle grade) are purchased by adults. These are usually women (mom and grandma).
  • Teachers no longer buy trade books anymore due to the introduction of “No Child Left Behind” as they are not focusing attention toward test scores.
  • Things that turn off Mom and Grandma: Bratty kids, lots of text, depressing stories, odd names. Etc.
  • The Cover is often the most important thing in making a decision to buy a book.
  • Teens usually buy their own books.
  • Teens are looking for classy covers. Books have actually become something of a status symbol within the teen world.

What an Author Can Do:

  • Come up with sales handles from the start.  What makes your book different? What will make a consumer pick it up?
  • Compare your book to the competition.
  • Think about packaging. If you have image ideas share them with your editor.
  • Trust your design department.

8. The End User

  • The end user is the kids.
  • Publishers and authors have the same goal – we want to deliver a high quality work in a kids perspective, and grow a readership.

 

What an Author Can do:

  • Write for kids and not for ego gratification.
  • Writing is not just an art form, it is a form of communication (with kids).
  • Put in the time.
  • Know your target audience and don’t condescend to them.
  • Interact with your fans! Go to schools!
  • Answer your fan mail. Interact.
  • Don’t leave your audience hanging. Write the next book!

 

9. The Future

  • For content providers (you) there are so many new ways in which to reach your audience (the kids).
  • Remain competitive, innovative, and profitable.
  • Embrace technology! Publishers are looking for creative people who want to enhance the way in which they communicate.
  • Don’t distrust the future. Be a part of the creative discussion with your publisher.
  • The rights landscape is constantly changing. Be patient.
  • Think about the bigger picture.

10. The Author

  • It’s your job to tell the story. It’s the publisher’s job to sell it.
  • If you and your publisher are thinking along the same lines, then it makes everything easier.
  • Be strategic from submission to final decision.
  • Be willing to promote your book.
  • “I need your book in order to get a raise.” – Owens Lurie

The Ideal Author Will Be:

  • Talented
  • Dedicated
  • Reliable
  • Strategic
  • Collaborative
  • Appreciative

About Stephanie Owens Lurie and Disney Hyperion:

  • Owens Lurie is the editorial director and oversees other editors.
  • Disney Hyperion creates non-Disney content.
  • They publish about 100 books a year. 75 of those books are original, and 25 are reprints.
  • Owens Lurie has been in the editorial business for 30 years. Previous places of employment include Little, Brown and Penguin.
  • Owens Lurie edits about 15 books per year herself.

Check Out Notes From the Follwoing Q&A of This Session Here:

Stephanie Owens Lurie is the editorial director of Disney Hyperion, a position she has held since October 2008. In addition to acquiring and editing picture books, middle grade, and young adult novels, Stephanie manages six acquiring editors. The primary goal of Disney Hyperion is to provide content that will entertain and inspire kids.

Tweet. Tweet. Tweet.

Twitter has become a great way to get involved in the kidlit writing community. Online you’ll find authors, editors, agents, illustrators, and pre-published writers alike all posting great articles on writing. Or simply letting you know what type of cream they take in their coffee. It’s a great place to get to know agents/editors pet peeves or insights into the marketplace. You can support fellow writers as they punch out thier 1000 words per day. Or just say hi to a favorite author. And nothing makes you feel more connected, than finishing an authors book, tweeting about it, and having them thank you for reading their book the next day! How cool!

Therefore, I’ve compiled the following is a list of Kidlit professionals and their twitter names/profiles.  I highly recommend you follow all these great tweeps.

Kidlit Book Editors and Publishers

@planetalvina : Alvina Ling – Editor at Little, Brown and Company

@editrixanica: Anica Rissi – Editor at Simon Pulse

@sadtoby: Sara Sargent – Assistant Editor at Balzer and Bray

@ABBalzer:  Alessandra Balzer – Editor of Balzer and Bray

@GCPeditor: Grand Central Publishing

@thisjordanbrown: Jordan Brown – Editor at Harper Collins

Kidlit and Adult Literary Agents

@MichaelBourret: Michael Bourret, Agent with Dystel & Goderich Literary Management

@bradfordlit: Laura Bradford, Agent with Bradford Literary Agency

@literaticat: Jennifer Laughran, Agent with Andrea Brown Literary Agency

@RachelleGardner: Rachelle Gardner, WordServe Literary Agent

@JillCorcoran: Jill Corcoran, Agent with The Herman Agency

@Natalie_Fischer: Natalie Fischer, Agent with Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency

@Kid_Lit: Mary Kole, Agent with Andrea Brown Literary Agency

@ChrisRichman: Christ Richman, Agent with Upstart Crowe Literary Agency

@RebeccAgent: Rebecca Sherman, Agent with Writer’s House

@BostonBookGirl: Lauren E. MacLeod, Agent with Strothman Literary Agency

@Janet_Reid: Janet Reid, Agent with Fine Print Literary Mangement

@NathanBransford: Nathan Bransford, Agent with Curtis Brown Literary Agency

@colleenlindsay: Colleen Lindsay, Agent with Fine Print Literary Mangement

@mikalroy: Michael Sterns, Agent at Upstart Crow Literary

@UpstartCrowLit: Upstart Crow Literary

@bbowen949: Brenda Bowen, Agent at Greenburger and Associates.

@JuliaChurchill: Julia Churchill, Agent at Greenhouse Literary

Young Adult and Kidlit Authors

@KarstenKnight: Karsten Knight (Wildfire – Coming 2011 Simon and Schuster)

@rachelvailbooks: Rachel Vail (Gorgeous, Lucky, Brilliant)

@carolynmackler: Caolyn Mackler (The Earth My Butt and Other Big Round Things, Virgin Vegan Valentine)

@jtdutton: JT Dutton (Stranded, Freaked)

@barrylyga: Barry Lyga (Goth Girl Rising, Boy Toy)

@gayleforman: Gayle Forman (If I Stay)

@jandynelson: Jandy Nelson (The Sky is Everywhere)

@halseanderson: Laurie Halse Anderson (Speak, Twisted, Wintergirls)

@realjohngreen: John Green (Looking For Alaska, Paper Towns, An Abundance of Katherines)

@maureenjohnson: Maureen Johnson (Suite Scarlett, 13 Little Blue Envelopes)

@EllenHopkinsYA: Ellen Hopkins (Crank, Impulse, Glass)

@hollyblack: Holly Black (The Spiderwick Chronicles, White Cat)

@sarahdessen: Sarah Dessen (Just Listen, Lock and Key, How to Deal)

@megcabot: Meg Cabot (Princess Diaries, Teen Idol)

@elockhart: E. Lockhart (Fly on the Wall, The Boyfriend List)

@JustineLavaworm: Justine Larbalestier (Liar, How to Ditch Your Fairy)

@PaulaYoo: Paula Yoo (Shinging Star, Good Enough)

@suzanne_young: Suzanne Young (So Many Boys, The Naughty List)

@susanecolasanti: Susane Colasanti (Take Me There, When It Happens)

@libbabray: Libba Bray (Going Bovine, A Great and Terrible Beauty)

@sarazarr: Sara Zarr (Once Wast Lost, Story of a Girl)

@kdueykduey: Kathleen Duey (Skin Hunger)

@serenarobar: Serena Robar (Give Up the V Card)

@RichelleMead: Richelle Mead (Vampire Academy Series)

@MelissadelaCruz: Melissa De La Cruz (Blue Blood Series)

@heatherbrewer: Heather Brewer (The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod)

Who Do You Follow?

Please leave a comment and share your favorite kidlit authors, editors, agents, and community members!!

SCBWI LA 2010 – The Quick Take Away

The SCBWI LA 2010 conference was a treasure trove of information! And the goldmine is coming, but it will take a few weeks to type everything up and post it all, so keep checking back for new articles and notes. But in the meantime here’s a taste.

The Digital Revolution:

  • We are in the middle of a digital revolution, and writers and illustrators may find themselves with a new name: Content Creators. But don’t be afraid of what is to come. Books are not going away. Agent Rubin Pfeffer stressed that the new media is “not instead of, but in addition to!”
  • Rights are a big issue right now. Be sure you have an agent who will have your best interests in mind. (Agent Panel)
  • The story comes first. Don’t add extra apps, media, animation, etc. if it doesn’t serve the story. (Editor’s Panel)
  • You want to have an online presence before you sell your book, because after you sell it you won’t have time to set one up. (Jill Alexander, Author)

Trends, The Marketplace, and What Editors are Looking For:

  • Funny middle grade boy books are hot hot hot! If you have one, editors and agents want to hear from you!
  • “If you want to write to the trends, then the vampires win.” (Justin Chanda, Editor)
  • Every house is looking to make a graphic novel. They just haven’t quite figured out how to do it, but we’ll bumble through anyhow. (Nick Elipulos, Editor)
  • The ideal author is one who is talented, dedicated, reliable, strategic, collaborative, and appreciative. (Stephanie Owens Lurie, Editor)

Writing, Storytelling, and Craft:

  • The purpose of fiction (and art) is to rediscover a new landscape. To show the reader the world in a new way, by estranging them from the familiar. (M.T. Anderson, Author).
  • “The emotional resolution is your truth. Feel your way through the story.” (Marion Dane Bauer, Author)
  • “Comedy is tragedy. It just happens to be wearing clown shoes.” (Sid Fleischman, Author)
  • Experimental fiction is actually not experimental at all. These techniques have been used for years, and in fact may be perfect for children! (M.T. Anderson, Author)
  • Voice is what makes your story, how it is told, what it conveys, and how it maintains our interest, powerful. (Jennifer Rees, Editor)
  • Concerning Non-Fiction: There are mistakes that alter the truth of a book, and there are those that do not. We all make mistakes. No book is perfect. (Non-fiction Panel)
  • Think about your own excellence, and write toward that. (Jennifer Brown, Editor)

Inspirational Words of Wisdom:

  • “Fill yourself up to overflowing and then give it back.” (E.B. Lewis, Illustrator)
  • ‘Not bad, pretty good,’ is the best compliment you will ever get from an 8th grader on your book. (Gordon Korman, Author)
  • “Throw your heart over, and follow.” (Gennifer Choldenko, Author)
  • “If you put art into this world, you will get beauty in return.” (Ashley Bryan, Author/Illustrator)

Keynote Speeches, Panels, and Breakout Session Notes – COMING SOON!

I attended the following keynote speeches and sessions (listed below). Please stay tuned for detailed notes on each of these amazing presentations. I will update this list with links as new articles are posted, so bookmark this page!

FRIDAY:

SATURDAY:

SUNDAY:

  • Non-Fiction Panel: Why Narrative Nonfiction is Hotter than Ever
  • Carolyn Mackler Keynote: For Richer or Poorer – Writing Through Good Times and Bad
  • Rachel Vail: Seeing Your Characters From the Inside Out
  • M.T. Anderson: Literary Experiment in Books for Children
  • Gennifer Choldenko Keynote: Kill the Bunnies – Writing Novels for Today’s Kids
  • Rubin Pfeffer Keynote: Are We Now A Society of Content Creators?

MONDAY:

  • Rachel Vail Keynote: School, Drool, and Other Daily Disasters
  • Paul Fleishman Keynote: Surviving the Novel
  • Editors Panel #2: A View From the Top – 4 Publishers Discuss our Industry
  • Jennifer Rees: Your Voice is  Your Voice – Keeping it Real
  • Jill Alexander and Michael Bourret: Your Manuscript is Ready But Are You?
  • Ashley Bryan Keynote: A Tender Bridge

Learn more about SCBWI at: www.scbwi.org

If you went to the conference, I’d love to hear some of your quick take-away’s as well! Please share!