Quick tour of Bologna. I have more pics, but I’ll start with these. Enjoy.
Quick tour of Bologna. I have more pics, but I’ll start with these. Enjoy.
Wifi access hampers my ability to share tidbits from our SCBWI Bologna conference in a timely manner. With the expectation of instant access to information these days, a 48 hour delay from spotty service feels frustrating.
Hard to imagine the days of old when written word travelled by foot, horseback or boat.
Here are my hastily-typed notes from Monday’s conference.
Fiona Kenshole: Taking the Mystery out of the Movie Deals
“I am a personal shopper for filmmakers.”
What are movie studios looking for?
The Holy Grail = a story that appeals to boys and girls and is contemporary and relatable.
We often option book of Genesis, but make the story of Moses.
Small independent producers still make lovely films from non-brand books.
Each film takes for years to make. I’m looking for options in 2020.
The studio investment in a film is so huge, movie studios need merchandising to make their investment profitable.
Fox is the most book-friendly studio.
Warner – 180 options each year, make 10% of them each year.
Development process — from book to script and beyond.
When reading a book, the magic of the journey is the interpretation inside your head. Film is about what people say and people do in on the screen as you watch.
Book to film: 1 page = 1 minute = $1M!
Sometimes we work for three years to sift for the nugget of the story to craft a good screen-play adaption.
Dressidea Cowell – “How to Train your Dragon” – “superficially, the film is not like the book, but the theme is still there…!” Book optioned in 2003 for 2010 debut.
“Take the money and run!”
“Be careful what you wish for.”
Ellen is the award-winning author of twenty children’s nonfiction books, and six New York Times bestselling young adult novels-in-verse. She also critiqued one of my manuscripts — giving me thought-provoking ideas on a change of characters…and perhaps a non-fiction book, as well.
Her thoughts on the Young Adult (YA) market and how it’s changing:
YA authors should write for readers aged 11 to 70, but aim at the older teen.
Why write YA ?
YA writers – we feel responsibility to our readers, we write better literature.
It helps if you’ve never quite graduated.
Where will your journey start? Don’t underestimate your readers.
Start with a premise:
Has it happened to you? Your family? Kids? Someone you know? Or maybe it happened to someone you read about. Or hear about.
“Tricks” about teen prostitutes – I spent a week in Vegas with Vice Squad, talking to teens on the street.
Build characters: 2 month process before ever putting words on paper.
Hugely important to have characters relate to readers.
The adorable Richard Peck received the National Humanities Medal in 2002, the first Children’s book writer to receive the award. His remarks at SCBWI conference had us laughing and cheering. I’m thrilled to share his advice to writers of children’s books.
“Stories for the young must move in a straight line to where they should go.”
Our opening lines – our minefield.
Are we writing with invitation simplicity?
EB white uses simple language: “Where’s papa going with that ax.”
As authors, we can doom ourselves with our own words.
“You are writing for a generation of youth whose facebook pages grow hot into the night, long after parents go to sleep.”
In the lonely front of the classroom, I was handed another career – writing. When you’re a teacher you have no time for your own problems. As a writer, you have no time for yourself either because your characters are clamoring for attention.
“My students kicked the living autobiography out of me.”
Children’s book writers: “We have a higher calling, a deeper craft.”
“If Earnest Hemingway had really caught all those fish, or climbed all those mountains, or loved all those women, he would never have had time to write…nor the need to.”
While the text message is always fiction, it is never literature.
Social networking: A book unites, what the computer divides.
Nobody but a reader ever became a writer…
Twice as many college graduates get degrees in social work than in literature or foreign language combined.
“If you can’t find yourself on the page, you’ll go looking for yourself… in all the wrong places.”
Kristen Nelson of Nelson Literary Agency, Stephen Chutney of The Chutney Agency, Francis Plumpton of Richards Literary Agency, Sarah Davies of Greenhouse Literary Agency, Rosemary Stimola of Stimola Literary Studio, Marcia Wernick of Sheldon Fogleman Agency, Kendra Marcus of BookStop Literary Agency.
Kristen Nelson – What grabs our attention? The turn of a phrase, character resonance…not action for action’s sake.
Rosemary Stimola – Don’t wax nostalgic, that’s an adult thing. Kids don’t look back.
Sarah Davies – Titles sell books. Invoke an intriguing spirit of the story through the title.
Kristen Nelson – Interested in simple writing. Need to write complex concepts with simple language.
Marcia Wernick – Rhyme needs to work really well. Otherwise, no point. Need brilliant writing to pull off rhyme.
Rosemary – Rhyme: what’s the driving force? Story should be in the driver’s seat. Rhyme shouldn’t drive the story.
Sara – Don’t force words into the rhyming line to tell story.
Kristen – Read your own words aloud. Smooth out dialogue.
Stephen– A decent middle grade = 40-45k words. You can always tell a novel in fewer words.
Kristen – I see tons of manuscripts about “waking up…in a dream…etc.”
Marcia – First few lines need to draw reader in – grab reader, throttle them.
Kendra – What is your book about? Why should I care? We also read tons of: “First day of summer vacation…”
Rosemary – If your character is starting summer vacation, start it!
Rosemary – A times, language gets in the way of the story. I’m not against imagery, but my attention is pulled away from the story.
Sarah – Agents see lots of overwriting, easy to overload a pieces with adverbs and adjectives. Keep it simple!
Rosemary – Take care with “regionality” – words, descriptions unique to a certain place. May not be understood across areas.
Rosemary – Spiraling: story moves forward then slips backward. Not good.
Sarah – I see “travel” stories each week. Not too interested in stories to teach children about “places.”
Rosemary – Photographic novel in fiction (unless you’re the photographer) is harder to sell, but nonfiction might work.
Nelson agency — learn more at: www.pubrants.blogspot.com
Kendra – publishing is a pendulum. It will swing back.
Marcia — picture books: market is quite fierce
Publishing Today: from Idea to Marketplace.
Dierdre McDermott of UK WalkerBook Publishing, Stephen Roxburgh of Namelos US electronic publishing, Gita Wolf of Tara Books in India, Sara Grant of Working Partners UK, Tessa Strickland of Barefoot Books UK, Sarah Foster of WalkerBook in Australia & New Zealand, and Neal Porter of Roaring Brook Press.
Question: Digital revolution – is this hopeful news? How is the revolution affecting your editorial/publishing process?
Sarah Foster – We make it up as we go. Agents don’t think through what they’re asking editors for.
Stephen Roxburgh – Publishers don’t know what to do with e-books. They don’t know how to re-gear. Business model has to be dealt with. In the meantime, books are being withheld. Model – it’s a partnership. We split 50-50. But we don’t know what we’re splitting. It may be 50% of nothing.
Dierdre – A good story is good story. No matter the medium.
Question: Is the picture book is the last book standing?
Tessa – Books not going away. Just like TV didn’t do away with books. Making our books available e-books. YouTube videos from picture books. Internet plays an absolutely central role in what we do.
Gita – Marketing question. We use internet/youtube We have oral storytellers. We put the bards (who sing) on YouTube. Book is the intermediate step.
Neal Potter – Penguin did iPad models of books. Spot: DK Guide to Rome (GPS map). Vampire Academy series. Changed my feelings about digital books. GPS applications of DK is revolutionary app. Allows us to go beyond the 32 page format. 32-page format is a great economical model – works to constrain authors/editors.
Question: Print on Demand model. Do authors and illustrators still need publishers?
Tessa – Illustrators enjoy online media. Blogging is a great medium for writers. Marketing directions really exciting.
Stephen – Traditional publishers brought set of capabilities to the table. Access to distribution from publishers. Traditional set of functions on the table will change. Publishers need to give authors what we need.
Neal – Editorial process. It’s what we do. It depends on how authors value what we do. As publishers have gone more corporate. Editorial process diminishing with how fast market process moving.
Sara Grant – Glad I never took to market some of my apprentice novels – aka – garbage.
Stephen – Brilliant editors let go. You can find editorial help outside the publishing houses.
Question: How is this changing editorial process?
Sara Grant – New generation of editors – proactive about the type of fiction they want to create.
Tessa – 25% new authors.
Neal – 25% new
Dierdre – 2 new – finding new picture book writing hard.
Stephen – 80% new.
Sara – 1 new writer – great training writers to work with editors.
Sarah – majority new.
Question: How do you find voices?
Sara – Online forum, speak at conferences, form online with sample writing. Collaborative effort, not original stories
Gita – We travel a lot to find best artists, community art. We find only one or two people each place who are willing to work in a new art form or format.
Question: Global market – which countries are the fastest growing?
Gita – Is India really as hot a market as hype would have it? Not convinced.
Neal – Americans are great navel gazers. We’ve avoided selling our books across the world. Americans are more culturally insular. To turn it around, I come here to Bologna to see what I don’t see in U.S. – new and fresh.
Dierdre – If your book can make it to America, you can make it everywhere. Millions of people with money to spend. Good books will go anywhere.
Sara – Find an agent with an international base.
Stephen – Distribution. In cyberspace, everything is around the corner. Not today, but talk to me tomorrow.
Question: How important the BUZZ is to make the book survive?
Neal – Issue of maintaining or starting the buzz. Authors must take proactive role in selling book. Editors and marketers cut from budgets. What money is left is concentrated on big names. Blogging, networking, facebooking helps authors. How do you separate the quality sounds from the rest of the noise?
The cab driver stopped at the curb and pointed across the street. Penn Station. Our destination. I stepped from the cab. Frigid 16-degree air bit the flesh on my face, as if ravenous hunger drove its aggression. Sharp. Painful. I thought about Steph’s poor ungloved hand. Somewhere on the streets of New York City lay one turquoise glove. We gathered our luggage and dodged oncoming traffic to cross the street.
“Which way, Mom?”
“I have no idea. I’ve never been dropped off here before.” I looked up to see the Madison Square Garden sign overhead. Somewhere inside this structure, our Amtrak train awaited. I lead my daughter into the building.
The moment we stepped beyond the entry, we encountered creatures — humanlike, yet not quite alive. None made eye-contact. Some spat unrecognizable words. They shuffled in slow forward motion, as if on auto-pilot. Male and female, tall and short, dirty and ragged. Everywhere, yet nowhere.
I felt as if we’d entered Zombieland, formerly known as Penn Station.
“Are they allowed to live here?” Steph spoke softly, fearing one of the creatures might awake to our presence.
“I don’t know. Maybe if they keep moving. It’s too cold out there to survive for long.” We kept moving too, quickening our pace.
Steph saw the ticketed passenger lounge area before I did. Humans greeted us. Real, live humans. They stood apart from the zombies — making eye-contact, speaking words we understood, and yes, they smiled. We flashed our tickets and slipped into the safety zone where zombies weren’t allowed. Guilt followed us in.
I’ve been back from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Winter Conference in New York City for several days now. The images from Penn Station still haunt me. I’m overwhelmed by what I saw. I looked up statistics for New York City: 38,000 individuals EACH night use shelters. That number obviously misses all the homeless we saw in Penn Station at 6:00 in the morning. The NYC Department of Homeless Services offers help for those in need, but the problem just seems SO huge.
Sometimes I fixate on issues that I think are problems — like my heater can’t seem to get over 64 degrees in this crazy cold weather. But hey, I have a home to shelter me. I may get frustrated when project I’m working on doesn’t go forward as quickly as I’d like. But, I have a job and a paycheck coming every two weeks. How easy to let all the little things in life bug us. In the grand scheme of life, who really cares if I don’t make it through the traffic light behind the car in front of me?
My trip to Zombieland reminded me: be thankful, count my blessings, help those who can’t help themselves.
Here are a few pointers from Libba:
Alvina Ling, Senior Editor, Little Brown
Alvina spoke about Literary Novels. She shared the distinction between commercial and literary.
“I love meaty tragic books that make me cry, make me think, and offer hope.”
As a literary editor, Alvin is looking for books to fall in love with, savor every word. Literary fiction steeps in relationships, characters, development of internal struggle. Literary fiction is quieter than the commercial fiction; more about the writing, less about the plot. Both should be well-written.
Literary books may not sell well, but hopefully get a good review.
Ben Schrank, Publisher, Razorbill
Ben shared insights on the teen fiction market.
“I can almost scratch a manuscript to see if it’s something I’ve never seen before.”
The real pleasure of being a writer is writing, not publishing:
“If you write a good book, it should find it’s way to the market.”
Authors: it pays to be nice:
Arianne Lewin, Senior Editor, Disney/Hyperion
Arianne shared insights on the YA fantasy market.
What she’s looking for:
“Fantasy stories can’t be an excuse for the characters to stare at the world and wonder.”
Good story-tellers unfold the world without exposition. Find an organic way to introduce information. Start at a pivotal moment in the story, but decide what is the pivotal moment for your character.
Common mistake of new writers: too aggressive with fantasy elements. They cram everything into the story. The dragon saving an elf in vampire land won’t ever work.
The end game: “What are the stakes that create tension for your readers? Make sure your reader can relate to them.”
Whew! Another big day. Mary Poppins on Broadway awaits. Tootles.
Quick highlights from today’s Writers’ Intensive at the 11th Annual Winter Conference for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. For starters, I started the day out at the wrong conference. A man with an accent-other-than-mine asked me if is was a “story-maker,” or so that’s what I thought he said. I followed him to a registration table, only to find out it was the “History-makers’ Conference.” My bad. But, then again, I could’ve been at the right place, but for two pesky letters.
Fiction writers = story-makers. Can you think of a better description?
I finally found the right registration table and the right room, packed wall to wall with writers, editors and agents.
I’ve attended the NYC Winter Conference several times, but today was my first pre-conference Writers’ Intensive. Intensive is the PERfect title: two, count them, two critique sessions in one day, where we humbled ourselves by reading 500 words of a manuscript aloud to a group of eight writers and an editor/agent.
We giggled a good deal in our first critique session:
Our second session included the delightful Suzanne Young, author of the Naughty List series, as our guest SCBWI blogger.
I’m so thankful for the opportunity to grow and learn from the editors and authors contributing to our critique sessions. But…critique (of any kind) can feel like ripping off a bandaid. Necessary to move forward, but OUCH, it stings.
The more I learn about the craft of fiction the more I learn that I need to learn.
I’m in an eternal do-loop…or at least that’s how it feels sometimes. That’s why writers’ conferences are so important. We come to hone the craft, and learn about the industry. Oh, and make new friends too.
BTW: Shout out to writer Billy Baldwin, a new buddy from last summer’s Southampton Writers’ Conference. How fun to see him again and hear about how his stories are progressing.
Much more to cram into my brain tomorrow. Yawn. More later.
Keep up to date on what’s happening at the conference on the SCBWI conference blog.