Five Publishers Give an Industry-Wide Picture

Editors Debra Dorfman, Beverly Horowitz, Jennifer Hunt, Allyn Johnston, and Julie Strauss-Gabel all spoke on a panel at the 2011 SCBWI LA Conference about the current state of the children’s book industry. Big issues like self-publishing, e-books, and digital trends were discussed, but deep down it seems that content is king. The following is my transcription of the panel discussion. Please note that these are my notes and not direct quotes from the editors mouth.

Moderator: Please introduce yourself and your company.

Allyn Johnston: VP of Beach Lane Books which she runs with one other colleague. They put out 18-20 books per year. Mostly these are picture books for very young kids and a few middle grade or YA titles.

Julie Strauss Gabel: VP at Dutton Children’s Books, which she has worked at for a decade. Dutton has moved to become a boutique company that does mostly MG and YA. She acquires 10-12 books per year (more YA now) and is looking for things that are literary and commercial.

Jennifer Hunt: VP at Dial Books for Young Readers. She just moved to this new company. Previously she worked as an editor at Little Brown. She is looking to build a high-quality literary book list and is interested in partnerships that broaden what a book can be.

Beverly Horowitz:  VP at Delacorte Press. Delacorte has evolved over the years and is now focused on MG and a wide variety of YA. The Newbery winner this year came from Delacorte and is a debut author! Their books include Fallen to Maze Runner, but they’re always looking for little gems (though that’s not the norm). Looking for books that will translate into international fairs, and she likes voices from other cultures.

Debra Dorfman: VP at Scholastic where they do everything from baby books to YA. In fact, lots of YA recently. Her focus is on middle grade and chapter books. Her group does hardcover series’ and works closely with book clubs/fair for paperback series’.

Moderator: Are there any genres that are endangered or growth spurting right now? (i.e. picture book, fantasy, etc.)

Beverly: With the demise of Borders we have to begin new thinking. Genres aren’t going to die, but they do cycle. Certain strong genres lead the pack. Borders demise is a sad thing. There’s an opportunity for independents to have great potential, but we should also not be afraid of the e-book. Be nimble! Big box stores are opening up to YA (stores like Walmart), though maybe not picture books yet. Everyone is going to need to re-think the business. With that, new ideas and opportunities will arise. The adult book world may have a harder time (in the short term).

Deb: I think there will be books moving to non-bookstore markets (mass retailers).

Beverly: Be optimistic AND realistic. Walmart and Target are not innovators. Don’t be too tough on the electronic future.

Julie: There is not one way to publish a book to success. Not being in Target is not the end of the world. Each will find their way. If the content is there it will find its audience. Take your time. Target can be a skewed view of the YA market.

Jen: Kids are always at the forefront of innovation. Meanwhile books with a 30th anniversary edition is an example of content that stays. Content is king.

Beverly: Sometimes you can be before a trend. Some cycle and come around. As publishers we look to the backlist to repackage a book. Suddenly a repackaged book can become big as it’s new to the audience ten years later. The kids market has a lot of turnover. Don’t use the old system. It doesn’t work anymore.

Moderator: What kind of skills does an author or illustrator need? What do you expect from them more than just the ability to write?

Deb: Put yourself out there. Websites, school visits, etc. Talk with your publisher. It helps if you create your own buzz.

Julie: Social media only works when it’s genuine to who you are. Do you want to do it? Do what’s natural to your marketing voice. Don’t force yourself to blog and tweet. It’s not what we expect. Do what’s genuine.

Jen: I agree. There’s a lot of anxiety for writers with social media. Focus on your writing.

Moderator: What about Self Publishing?

Deb: Amanda Hocking is a really interesting self publishing phenomenon. She’s been selling her paranormal YA novel online for 99 cents and gotten herself a multi-million dollar contract out of it. There’s a lot of different ways to do things now. In Japan girls are writing  YA novels and texting them to each other. People are putting things online and when it gets enough hits publishers are taking notice. However, these guys are the outlier and not the norm.

Beverly: It’s like Justin Bieber – he’s an outlier.

Jen: Independent publishing can be good for under-represented communities. That’s important. The LA Times did an article on the shifting face of what a family is and kids want to see themselves in print.

Julie: I firmly believe in voices finding their way. But beware of the “I submitted to some houses, got no’s, so they must be idiots” attitude. I believe in editing, and gate keeping. The book can be better! Or maybe it’s the 4th book you write that get’s published. We need moments of personal honesty.

Moderator: How does New Media affect Picture books?

Allyn: I believe in the traditional format, e-book included. The enhanced book is distracting and disrupts the purity of words and pictures. I’m not interested in moving stuff unless it’s about education.

Beverly: Can we put that in YA? These are questions being asked now. It’s evolving. Some of those enhanced book elements may work better with an older audience.

Julie: The content (or value) isn’t the book (the physical book). It’s the editorial team, the intellectual property, etc. That is the value that goes into the content.

Beverly: As things get cheaper (iPads etc.) the technology changes. Even the homeless have ear-buds in their ears.

Deb:  We are publishing all our YA books simultaneously in e-book and regular book, as well as a lot of MG. A lot of adults are buying and downloading YA today.

Moderator: Can you comment on the fact that NY Times Bestseller lists are not consistent? The hardcopy and e-books have different lists and are selling differently.

Beverly: Kids books are only 4% of the e-book market, while adult books have about 30-40%. We have a lot of room to grow.

Jen: Kids aren’t mini-adults. They are going to interact with technology in their own way.

Beverly: Browsing is the part of the e-book technology that hasn’t been figured out yet.

Moderator: Have you noticed a change in the reading habits of kids?

Deb: Looking to publish earlier chapter books, girls are jumping to chapter books rather than picture books.

Bev: I think it comes down to content. When someone says “My kid is reading Dostoevsky,” sure they understand the words, but do they understand the content? There are emotional needs of a child that need to be nurtured.

Julie: They are sophisticated readers but not emotionally ready. What do we give them? It’s a challenge. What are they ready for as a reader, but not as a person? We need to speak to the head and heart of a child. Older YA can be distinguished through voice or content. Some jump ship to adult books, but they don’t “get it.” They are not a mini-adults.

Jen: Something about the word “crossover” makes me bristle. I’d hate for us to ever not make the best book for that reader in the MG or YA market.

Moderator: Tell us about one of your upcoming books?

Deb: Ghost Buddy – it’s funny, heartfelt, and funny!

Bev: All the Earth Thrown to the Skythis is by an author who was originally an adult writer. It’s literary, compelling, and a lovely story. It’s a little game. I love the beauty of the writing and the passion.

Jen: Counting by Sevens is about exploring family identity and your place in the world.

Julie: I have two. The first is The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. It will blow open everything you know about John Green. And The Disenchantments by Nina Lacour which is a road trip book about figuring out what happens next once you discover that you’ve grown up. There’s a complexity and clarity in how she tells a story.

Allyn:  10 Little Caterpillars which is a poem picture book and Stars by Mary Lynne Rae which is an exploration of all things star.

Debra Dorfman is VP, Publisher Paperbacks, Non-Fiction & Licensed Publishing at Scholastic. She worked in the Scholastic Book Club division for twelve years, then move to Penguin Young Readers Group as President and Publisher of Grosset & Dunlap for seven years. In 2008, she came back to Scholastic. Some of her favorite books include Go, Dog, Go!, Stargirl, and Looking for Alaska.

Jennifer Hunt is VP of Acquisitions and Editor-at-Large for Dial Books. She was formerly Editorial director at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. She is the editor of many award winning books including The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacugalupi, and Story of a Girl by Sara Zarr.

Allyn Johnston is VP and Publisher of Beach Lane Books which focuses on emotionally engaging, lyrical, and highly visual picture books for young readers. Allyn has worked with Mem Fox, Lois Ehlert, Marla Frazee, Avi, and M.T. Anderson.

Beverly Horowitz is VP Publisher of Delacorte Press. She began her career in the editorial department of Little, Brown in Boston. She’s held positions in all aspects of publishing including publicity and promotions, school and library marketing, and editorial. She has worked with Judy Blume, Louis Sachar, and many more!

Julie Strauss-Gabel is VP at Dutton Children’s Books.  A graduate of Amherst College and Harvard University she worked at Hyperion Books and Clarion Books before joining Dutton in 1992. She has worked with the authors: John Green, Galye Forman, Stephanie Perkins, Nina LaCour, Lauren Myracle, and many more.

Perfecting Your YA Voice (Part 2)

In Part 1, Editor Krista Marino explained how YA Voice is related to diction, perspective, dialog, interior monologue, and character. In this second section she explains what makes a young adult voice unique and different from an adult writing voice.

Let’s Talk about the Teen/YA Voice in Particular:

  • YA is specific in terms of voice.
  • YA is teen experience, outlook, and their limited life experiences.
  • YA is about teen beliefs, likes and dislikes, etc.
  • Think about how small your life was when you were a teenager. Remember when you believed in Santa? What did you believe when you were in high school? Did you think you were going to marry your high school boyfriend?
  • An adult looking back on the teen experience is an adult book.
  • “When you’re young everything feels like it’s the end of the world.” – movie quote. Teens have no reference to know that things will get better in their lives, where as adults bring life experiences with them.
  • Teens are not making stupid decisions. They are making their decisions because they have only been on the planet for 16 years and don’t have any life experience.
  • Teens have nothing else to compare their experiences to.
  • When you are writing you need to erase the worldliness you’ve experienced over the years.
  • Your protagonist can’t be simple.
  • Every teen is questioning how other teens view them.
  • Your character must evolve. Voice can change as a character grows and learns over the course of the book. Voice must change with the evolution and movement of the book.

Exercises to Get to Know Your Character:

  • Exercise: List three character traits about your protagonist (i.e. sassy, romantic, uptight) then push yourself to go deeper and find out who they really are under those traits.
  • Exercise: Write two pages that tell you something new about your character. These pages do not need to go into the manuscript. See what they will tell you.
  • Exercise: Go to a public place and eavesdrop on teens. Write down their conversations exactly as you hear them. Now try to use that conversation in a scene you are writing. Watch how your characters interact.

Telling about Character in the Writing:

  • Weave info about your character into the story, but make it invisible.
  • In the writing insinuate how a character looks without listing everything they are wearing. Pick a particular trait to embody a greater image of the character. Example: A character wearing skull rings.
  • You can’t assume the reader knows what is going on inside your character. You need to clue them in. Is the character tired? Excited?
  • Layer your characters actions. Stomping could mean a character is angry, but they could also be embarrassed. Sometimes more is more.
  • It’s better for someone to tell you to cut than add.
  • Beware of too much telling, it will sound like you (the author) are speaking to the reader rather than the character.

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.

Perfecting Your YA Voice (Part 1)

Editor Krista Marino spoke at the 2011 SCBWI LA Conference and shared the following insight on how to perfect your YA voice:

There are Two Types of Voice:

  • Authorial Voice – this is when you know a book is by a certain author. For example you know when you’re reading a John Irving or Meg Cabot book.
  • Narrative Voice – This is the voice invented by the author and the voice of the protagonist.

What is Voice?

  • Voice is illusive and hard to define.
  • Marino’s says voice is made up of: diction, perspective, characterization, and dialog.

Diction as Voice:

  • Diction is vocabulary choices and a style of expression.
  • Think word choice!
  • Marino used an example from The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan. She pointed out how the author does not use contractions in the novel to reflect the “old fashioned” sensibility of the town/people, but when a scene started to pick up in pace the author would begin to use contractions (Cannot vx. Can’t).
  • Focus on your character’s distinct vocabulary or expression. This doesn’t mean slang. This will reveal how the protagonist relates to the world.
  • Does your character use cultural references (X-men, animal planet) to define how they relate to the world? This is part of his or her diction.
  • Beware of leaning on cultural references too much for your voice. That will become a crutch. Take a look at Frank Portman’s King Dork as an example of teen voice that feels current without using specific cultural references.

Perspective as Voice:

  • This is the mental view of the character and how it affects the storytelling.
  • This is not point of view.
  • How does the limited teen experience influence how they view the world and the way they speak? For example look at the movies BIG and 17 Again. In Big you have a kid in an adult body. How does this “adult” act and speak to reveal they are really a kid? Or in 17 Again you have an adult in a kid’s body, how does action/speech reveal that they are really an adult with an adult way of thinking?
  • How does the setting (historical fiction or futuristic) change the experiences of your character?

Character as Voice:

  • Voice can convey info about character, age, gender, hobbies, religion, motivation, ambitions, looks, etc.
  • You must know everything about your protagonist.
  • Everything in the book with be filtered through the protagonist.
  • Character driven books are amazing because the character feels real and you (the reader) will follow them anywhere. The secret is to have an amazing character and a plot to sell to a larger audience.
  • Think about the protagonist in your favorite book and write down reasons why you like them. Why did they come to life for you? Was it their speech? Actions?
  • A solid 3D character will come to life and have a believable voice.
  • You need to know your characters and you want to know them emotionally.

Dialog as Voice:

  • This is about the verbal exchange in the book (not interior monologue).
  • Dialog directly reflects a character’s voice and personality.
  • This is about more than just the words.
  • Dialog needs to feel real, not like on a sitcom.
  • Dialog doesn’t exist just hanging there in space. If they just say something but there is no context for it, the reader won’t understand who they are and what they are thinking.

Interior Monologue as Voice:

  • Interior monologue is what the character is thinking and gives context to the dialog.
  • The #1 thing that Krista Marino finds is missing in manuscripts is interior dialog or interior monologue.
  • Interior monologue is important, if not most important to conveying the feelings, reactions, and judgments of your character.
  • Interior monologue shows a character’s perception of a scene and their feelings.
  • Without interior monologue we lose the inner emotional stakes of the scene.
  • All dramatic irony is lost without interior monologue.
  • You need interior monologue to create empathy, rather than having the reader observe and make guesses about the character.
  • You loose back-story, sarcasm, and emotion without interior monologue.
  • We always want to know what a character (on the page) is thinking.

Stay Tuned for Part 2 – Coming Soon!

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.

To Plot or Not to Plot?

Three Act Structure (from http://www.themoleskin.com)

I’m currently working on an essay on the differences between narrative, story, plot, and structure. I promise to share all of my findings in the near future, including all sorts of graphs and alternative plot structures than the good old Aristotelian model.

In my research, however, I came across a transcript from a lecture given by Scholastic Editor Cheryl Klein. If you are a little fuzzy on what Aristotelian plot is and how it manifests itself in YA and MG literature, I highly suggest checking out the links below. It covers all sorts of great topics including types of action plot, emotional plot, catharsis, and structure. It also uses great examples from YA and MG books! Don’t miss it! And it’s a great “brush up” if you already know about Aristotelian structure/plot.

Find the Transcript of Scholastic Editor Cheryl Klein’s Lecture Here: The Essentials of Plot  and Aristotelian Plot Checklist

The Quick Take Away: 2011 SoCal SCBWI Writer’s Day

It’s been awhile since I reported on a conference event, but never fear I’ve got lots of good information coming your way. I attended the 2011 Southern California SCBWI Writer’s Day this past Saturday with a variety of speakers from Susan Patron to Bruce Coville. Here’s a few quick take-away’s from the event:

Susan Patron Newbery Award Winning Author said:

  • Writing a novel is a thrill, it’s like riding off on a runaway horse, it’s thrilling and terrifying.
  • For children growing up is something that happens in the tiny details of everyday.
  • More on to come on winning the Newbery, new projects, and finding the heart of your story.

Tony Johnston author of almost 125 Picture Books shared:

  • If I keep alive to everything, a story will find me.
  • Keep it simple. But writing simply does not mean words must be short and easy. It should be the words that belong.
  • Don’t play it safe. Writing is about risk taking!
  • More to come on being inspired by your own emotions, the essence of childhood, and where to begin when writing a picture book.

Rachel Cohn New York Times Bestselling Young Adult Author said:

  • First impressions are really important with teen readers. You must get it right from page one.
  • Everything feels so big to a teen. It’s epic! It’s biblical!
  • Voice is the way you speak on paper.
  • More to come on what makes a good first page, working with a writing partner, and how to keep your teen voice authentic.

Bruce Coville Fantasy author of almost 100 books shared:

  • “Fairytale is the best way to tell the truth.” – C.S. Lewis
  • The world has become too small for the heart of a ten year-old. Fantasy liberates kids, it sweeps them off to a new place.
  • Ask the tough questions. Why are we here? What do we need? These are the riddles of our lives.
  • More to come on the difference between Sci-fi and Fantasy, tips for writing fantasy, and how to find the courage to dream.

10 Tests to Prove Your Manuscript is Ready for Submission

You’ve re-written your novel twenty times and you are about to poke your eye balls out, but is it really ready? How do you know when it’s time to start sending out submissions? Award winning author, and editor Deborah Halverson spoke at the 2010 SCBWI LA conference about this very subject. She offered up the following ten tests to help you find out if you are ready for prime time.

1. Stop “Looking” — Voice

  • Looking reveals passive voice and generic narratives. I.E. smile, frown, face (as verb), glance, nod. Replace these reactions/actions in between bits of dialogue with dynamic action and body language.

Fix These Issues by:

  • Using dynamic language.
  • Inject more personality into your characters.
  • Change the character’s behavior
  • Change the entire scene – move the character around.

YA’s Most Used Words:

  • Look
  • Stare
  • Gaze
  • Turn to smile
  • Frown
  • Laugh
  • Great
  • Very
  • Wearing
  • Seem
  • Really
  • Just
  • Feel (show it instead)

2.  Twist & Drop — Characterization

  • Take the main character from your final chapter and drop him/her into the first scene (write or imagine). When he/she lands there, he/she should behave differently. Otherwise, reveals flat character
  • In MG and YA readers are looking for growth.
  • Tells – did I give an arc?

Ways to Fix These Issues:

  • Put larger obstacles in his/her path. Force the issue and be extreme.
  • Put more at stake, and make the loss more important. This adds emotional depth and will force epiphany
  • Stop playing it safe. Add flaws! You can still have a character that is likable and sympathetic.
  • Your character needs a core center – purity

3.  CIP Challenge — Cataloging the Concept (in the front of the book).

  • This reveals how focused you are, and the book’s place in the marketplace.
  • Hook: If you have a universal issue, have you provided a fresh approach. If not, it lacks focus and uniqueness.
  • Understand how to distinguish your book. Editors look for this right away.
  • TEST: Write one statement about your book include character(s), main theme and problem.

How to Fix This Issue:

  • Examine your theme.
  • Make your problems more defined, articulate your goal.

4. Read With Your Fingers  — Plot and Characterization

  • Read only the 1st paragraph of each of your chapters
  • i.e. The Golden Compass – there is NO stuttering, no time lost.
  • Look for escalation of plot, movement, things must be progressing.
  • Don’t meander.

How to Fix This Issue:

  • Scene Switch – cut of change “kill your darlings.”

5. “Blah, Blah” Bleck! — Dialogue

  • With a highlighter, highlight statement of plot facts.
  • You want dialogue to reveal personality and illuminate character.
  • Reveal emotion with dialogue. One character leading/influencing, awareness or behavior.
  • DO NOT state plot facts in dialogue.

How to Fix This:

  • Use broken statements, fragments in dialogue to reveal plot facts, and are more active and organic.
  • Show characters reacting to each other. You want back and forth dialogue.

6. Check For “As” — Voice

  • Reveals passive voice, distances narrative, less immediate voice
  • Search for “as”. If you have too many this is a red flag!

How to Fix This:

  • Make your voice more active.
  • Use direct sentences as they are more immediate.
  • Use sentence variety and length. Don’t describe how someone said something.
  • Use beats to add action. Do something!

7.  Scratch & Sniff — Setting

  • Do you have Ambiance? A sense of place ads depth.
  • Highlight sensual references. Anytime a passages engages one of the five senses in a tactile way is good.
  • Look for three highlights per chapter

How to Fix This:

  • Show your character interacting with the setting.

8.  The Italics Detector — Voice

  • Keep italics for internal thought.
  • Search for italics.
  • Really there is no reason for italics when used for emphasis. It creates a melodramatic feeling

How to Fix This:

  • Delete them.
  • Replace with dialogue.

9. Check Your Sleeve — Emotional Resonance and Narrative Sensibility

  • Beware of an adult sensibility. This comes from telling instead of showing.
  • Teens see judge, act, react, deal with consequences.
  • Scan for statements of feeling – telling, being adult.

How to Fix This:

  • Judge it youthfully and deal with consequences.

10.  The Eagle Eyes of Igor – Mechanics

  • Proofread! Look for errors/typos.
  • Ask someone objective – ideally someone you don’t know.
  • Not your critique group.

If you’ve passed all these tests then you are ready for submission! Good luck!

Deborah Halverson is the award-winning author of the teen novels Honk If You Hate Me and Big Mouth (Delacorte/Random House). She edited picture books and teen novels for Harcourt Books for ten years before leaving to write books full-time.

The Master List: 2010 SCBWI LA Conference

I’ve finally posted all of my notes from the 2010 SCBWI LA Conference!

For your convenience I have listed below and linked all of the keynote speeches and breakout sessions I attended to their corresponding posts. Be sure to bookmark this page for future reference!

2010 SCBWI LA Conference Keynote Speech and Breakout Session List:


FRIDAY:

SATURDAY:

SUNDAY:

MONDAY:

To learn more about the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and their events visit them online at: www.scbwi.org