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Bits of Wisdom: SCBWI Bologna 2010

Bologna International Children's Book Fair 2010

Bologna International Children's Book Fair 2010

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

Fiona Kenshole: Taking the Mystery out of Movie Deals

Fiona Kenshole: Taking the Mystery out of Movie Deals

Fiona heads up the Acquisitions Department of Laika Entertainment, the Oregon- based feature animation studio. They recently produced the Academy Award-nominated animated film, Coraline.

“I am a personal shopper for filmmakers.”

What are movie studios looking for?

  • Ancillaries — merchandising, and more;
  • Spirit and theme of story that translates well on screen;
  • Best selling book not necessary to make good movie; and
  • Interested in a “brand.”

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.

Option process:

  • Option deal – give film producer the right to work on story to film – one year-18 months.
  • Sometimes authors get money up front. Sometimes not.
  • You, the author, give the studio ALL rights to your book.
  • Even though your book is optioned for a film, doesn’t mean a film will EVER be made.

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.

  • No one will sit in the theater long enough to have the entire book unfold.
  • Film translates the “spirit” of the book.
  • Screenwriters may need to add or delete character.
  • Screenwriters shift the point of view of the book from inside to the outside view of film-makers.
  • Writers lose control of what happens in book. Decisions by film-making crews.
  • Control: writers have none.
  • Best thing you can have is a great relationship with film-makers and trust the process.

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.

Making Coraline:

  • Coraline’s sweaters knitted by hand with knitting needles the size of human hair!
  • Every vowel sound has a different face – over 12000 faces!
  • 6 seconds a week for animation!

Holly Black of Spiderwick Chronicles managed her expectations about her movie option. At the end of filming she asked, “Can I be excited now?”

Fiona’s Advice:

“Take the money and run!”


“Be careful what you wish for.”

Ellen Hopkins: The YA Renaissance

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 pushed into 14 and older.
  • Edgier.
  • 9-12 = Tween fiction.
  • Newer grey areas in categories.
  • New middle ground above the YA market.
  • Tween fiction – stories with positive family interaction.
  • Notable exception in Tween Lit – Lemony Snickett and JK Rowlings – adult characters aren’t good guys.
  • Tween for girls – Lizzy Maguire, Hanna Montana.
  • Tween for boys – graphic novels, Harry Potter.

YA authors should write for readers aged 11 to 70, but aim at the older teen.

Why write YA ?

  1. It’s a hungry market.
  2. YA readers buy their own books.
  3. Buy independently from their parents.
  4. Write for your audience, not parents and librarians

YA writers – we feel responsibility to our readers, we write better literature.

  1. To shed new light on old problems
  2. To make a positive difference in a young person’s life

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.


  • Antagonist
  • Friends
  • Foils
  • Adults

Hugely important to have characters relate to readers.

  • Characters should have flaws, Let us see them and let us know how each character feels about having flaws.
  • Bad guy could be a werewolf, a blizzard, addiction, a computer – what if a chat room took on a life of its own?
  • Understand not only the victims, but also the perpetrators.
  • Break stereotypes. Challenge yourselves so you can challenge your readers to break stereotypes.
  • How can friends propel your story forward?
  • Foils are human obstacles that stand in the way of your protagonist getting what he or she needs of wants….
  • Create realistic, musti-layered characters.
  • No flat characters.
  • What is their background, motivation, philosophy on war, drug use, college, future on this planet.
  • If they’re hopeful, why? If not, why not?


  • How will you tell this story to make it uniquely your own?
  • Think visually. Unsusual formatting – including verse, journals, letters, etc.
  • YA novels are often told 1st person, to put the reader solidly into the characters’ heads.
  • Beware of didacticism and slang – date your book.
  • Don’t stomp on your characters’ voices with your voice as a storyteller.
  • What is the most impactful way to tell story.

Recommended authors:

Richard Peck

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.”


  • Adverbs destroy the rhythm of our speech.
  • Boys don’t use adverbs. Why write with them?
  • If you see an adverb, shoot it.


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.

  • Third person = distance.
  • Speak as they speak.
  • I learned how to talk in no other voice than the young character I’m writing about.
  • Story is about the reader, not the writer.
  • No one in this world wants to read your writing, except your own mother.

“My students kicked the living autobiography out of me.”

The Story:

  • Story is an alternative reality. Not what wasn’t but what should’ve been.
  • Story must entertain above all else.
  • The hook upon which all stories hang – universal truth that all actions have consequences.
  • If actions have no consequences, the book falls apart.
  • Consequences: Least attractive proposition for young readers.
  • Sermon is not entertainment.
  • But if you can’t preach, add paranormal science fiction to grab their attention.
  • Use anything to lure readers into our story.

Children’s book writers: “We have a higher calling, a deeper craft.”

  • Live on our reader’s turf without invading it.
  • Because of Mark Twain, the Mississippi River flows through all our stories.
  • We never write about anyone who can walk away.
  • Our stories must end with more hope than that of “moving home after college.”
  • We must go on the road to act out the book to our readers – to readers who don’t read reviews.
  • Every book is a survival manual.
  • We always throw our characters into the deep end.
  • We turn up the heat!
  • A book, like a school, should provide what is no longer available in life.
  • A book should be a tighter community than in real life.
  • Scenes strung together by an invisible wire….

Character development:

  • Characters take on life based on luck – Characters become another human being on the page when we get outside ourselves.
  • A story is always about something that did NOT happen to the writer,

“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.”

First pages Agent Panel

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.

SCBWI agent panel

SCBWI agent panel

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.

Agent summary:

Kendra Marcus


  • We’re looking for young, middle, YA.
  • We work hard for good stories.
  • Not interested in trends.
  • Want stories that sound like a child and relates to children.
  • Love non-fiction. Send me some!

Marcia Wernick


  • 3 agents: Sheldon, Linda Pratt, Marcia.
  • Love to find new talent, but don’t take new clients.
  • Looking for prolific authors.
  • Mean-spirited stories don’t appeal to me.
  • Love voice.
  • Character-driven story + voice compels and attracts me.

Rosemary Stimola


  • Eclectic tastes.
  • Dystopian realm – Suzanne Collins of Hunger Games.
  • Don’t follow trends but like setting them.
  • Love new talent.

Sarah Davies


  • Sarah + Julia Churchhill in UK.
  • All about new talent.
  • Business only 2 years old.
  • Very editorial.
  • Complete rewrites.
  • Fiction rather than non-fiction.
  • Heartland: middle grade, tween, YA.
  • Doing quite well with middle grade – beautifully voiced middle grade.
  • Would love to find more Kate DiCamillo-type girl stories.
  • Like great commercial ideas.
  • YA – looking for fresh voice, different.

Frances Plumpton

  • New Zealand clients only.
  • Picture books.
  • Like whole gamet of stories.

Stephen Chutney


  • Great book = wonderful characters, great voice, great settings.
  • Historical fiction – looking to fill hole in marketplace — Templar Trilogy, etc.
  • What’s really selling now? Realistic contemporary fiction with characters and voices and situations that leap off the page.

Kristen Nelson

Nelson agency — learn more at: www.pubrants.blogspot.com

  • Fiction: YA + adult + middle grade.
  • Glad to make NY Times list without blood and guts.
  • Query letter – all electronic.
  • Email us.

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.

SCBWI Bologna Panel: Editors and Publishers

Stephen Roxburgh

  • No longer tied to ink on paper.
  • Hard cover and paperback – print only on demand.
  • Electronic version – immediate download.
  • Publishing for young people who don’t care about medium of delivery.
  • Surface you read on shouldn’t determine what you read.

Gita Wolf

  • Make books entirely by hand.
  • Tactile experience.
  • Collective of writers and artists making books we want to see out in the marketplace.
  • Use the strengths we have – people who paint walls and floors – and nudge tradition along to a more contemporary field.
  • “Do” – award-winning book – 2010 BolognaRagazzi award.
  • Brings back the craft of bookmaking.
  • Bookmaking artisans.

Sara Grant

  • We are writers.
  • Work with Sarah Davies Greenhouse literary agency.
  • Work out story line to fill gaps.
  • Look for writers to write the samples from storywriters based on sample outline.
  • Sample chapters shopped around to publisher.
  • New story coming out: David Beckham meets James Bond.

Neal Porter

  • Started as small independent house, now owned by McMillian.
  • 60% picture books.
  • “A Ballet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring.”
  • Took five years to bring into being.

Tess Strickland

  • Where language is image other than words.
  • 12-16 new projects per year.
  • Young fiction program – bringing into the English language wonderful stories that haven’t made their way into English.
  • “The Gift” – Carol Ann Duffy and Rob Ryan Peters.
  • Looking for books that will stay around for sometime.
  • The title is very important – title WAS “The Plot” but was changed to “The Gift”

Sarah Foster

  • Walker Books in Australia & New Zealand.
  • Sister company: Candlewick press.
  • “Simpson and His Donkey.”
  • “Pearl Verses: The World,” by Sally Murphy Illustrators by Heather Potter.
  • Picturebook making is very slow.

Question/Answer Session:

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?

Bologna Fair 2011

Bologna Fair 2011


Filed under artists, writers

Space Tweeps: Flying High

Oh what to say about the amazingly flawless STS-129 Space Shuttle launch…AND the opportunity to watch it with space tweeps from around the world? Yes, around the world. @RobOotc traveled from New Zealand — the furthest of ALL. (Shout out to Tiffany @astrogerly and @ericmblog for driving non-stop from Michigan!)

How incredible to give 100+ eager @NASA twitter fans the opportunity of a lifetime to see one of the few remaining Shuttle launches. Yes, I get emotional writing about it. We’re at the end of an era. We’re watching history unfold in the skies above us.

But, I gotta’ say…I spent a good deal of time over the last two days explaining Twitter to non-Tweeps. (Can I get away with calling them Twitter losers…or TWosers? Is that totally rude?)

My advice: you can’t just stick a toe in. JUMP!

The guys still dry have been asking about the Return on Investment ROI for Twitter. I had an entire blog ready on ROI of Twitter, but I’m throwing it away. Instead, I’ll paraphrase a comment by @CatherineQ from New Zealand. She told me her personal ROI (PROI?) for using Twitter was one Million fold. Her reward: Space Shuttle launch and tweet-up!

How cool is that? OUR launch tweet-up IS HER Twitter ROI.

So, what’s my ROI for using Twitter? The chance to give 100+ tweeters the thrill of a lifetime with today’s Shuttle launch. They couldn’t stop grinning…and giggling…and thanking us for sharing what WE do for a living — this thing we call “space.” They even made a presention to the NASA employees. A poster they’d signed…for us. Now, that’s a first.

Thanks guys! Soooo much.

Nick @Skytland suggested we scan the poster and make it available online to our tweeters. Brilliant. Stay tuned. Thanks also to @flyingjenny and @apacheman for hanging with the tweeps as our KSC experts…and founders of Space Tweep Society.

Because our tweeters were so enthusiastic and incredibly awesome, we’ve already had discussions for more launch tweet-ups — another ROI, perhaps? We only have five launches left, after all. (And, BTW, launch control called. They’d like us to create the Huffer-Puffer Brigade to blow the clouds away for all the remaining Shuttle launches!) 😉

Let’s do this thing…AGAIN!

You too can share our emotional experience from the launch. Take a look at the living-growing archive of our tweet-up tweets, along with our group pic. Aren’t we a good-looking group? Now, if we only had a video record of our space-wave. Or…maybe not. You had to be there.

Thank YOU space tweeps. You’re the best! I LOVE you all!


Filed under NASA, social media, tweet-up