Turned in my new edits for Nightshade yesterday, a day earlier than planned! So, now I can tell you what I learned at the SCBWI IL Conference, known as Prairie Writer's Day! I guess I'll go by topic and let you know what one and all had to say.
Picture Books: Yolanda LeRoy, Editorial Director at Charlesbridge, used Where the Wild Things Are, as an example of a great picture book. She read it to us in fact! She said as an editor, she maps out the picture books she's working on, making sure she knows the best place to turn the page! She noted how important that is and that PB writers should do the same, making sure something valuable happens on every page, and each page is turned with a sense of anticipation. She said she wants authors to choose a subject they are passionate about. That's what she wants to see! At the end of her talk, Yolanda sang to the audience! She is an actress and a singer, and has amazing voice. It was quite unexpected!
Children's Non-fiction: Stacy Cantor, Editor at Walker books for Young Readers, mentioned how important it is to have a strong voice in non-fiction. She said non-fiction can and should be beautifully written. She enjoys seeing non-fiction that teaches a lot, but is written so well, kids don't even know they're learning! Of note, she also mentioned it's important to write about topics that can't easily be found on the internet. If someone can look it up for free, why would they want to buy a book? If it is a common topic, you need to have a standout book to get noticed, something that makes it different. Stacy said finding an amazing story about World War II "would make her day!"
Middle Grade: Alisha Niehaus, Editor at Dial Books for Young Readers: Alisha said middle grade fiction needs to have a special voice. What sets this girl or boy apart? Why are they special? She said children like secrets and are good at keeping them. They like knowing things that no one else knows. She also mentioned how death or other life altering events can shape the voice of a middle grade character. Alisha would like to find a story with "wicked humor" and has "a soft spot for this wild land and loony Americana." After Yolanda showed off her mad singing skilz, Alisha finished her speech with a cartwheel and a good one at that!
YA: Nick Eliopulos, Assistant Editor at Random House, who should be a standup comedian if he ever leaves publishing, would like to see different types of MC's, other than the stereotypical one's out there. If you're going to write a multicultural novel, he'd like the story to be about more than just the multicultural aspects. He says it's important to have a clear sense of your audience and "know what they're buying." Nick is particularly interested in middle grade or YA genre works with commercial appeal. Oh, and he's a writer too!
The Agent/Editor Relationship: Michael Stearns, Agent and Founder of Upstart Crow Literary, gave a talk on what it's really like to work with editors. He knows firsthand, as he used to be one at Harper Collins and Harcourt! He said it's interesting how one editor will want a book completely different than another. He mentioned how Mary Cash, from Holiday House (my publisher!) will want something totally different than the editor at another house. He also said the lunches editors and agents have are not really as glamorous as we think them! As for his agency, Upstart Crow, love that name, they are still building their lists. Since they just opened don't expect a quick response. He said normally one month, but with all the craziness of a new agency, they are a bit overwhelmed. They are doing their best to keep up with the queries that apparently number in the thousands (good gad!), so please be patient. Michael says the agency is fairly hands-on when it comes to editing, as they all come from a writing and/or editing background and they work hard with authors to get things right before sending out to editors. Michael has a wry sense of humor (the very best kind) and just seems to be one of those guys who "gets it", so be patient if you query him. I'm sure it will be worth the wait! http://www.upstartcrowliterary.com/ Be sure to check out the Writer's Toolbox page for helpful advice on query letters, dialog for children, and a must have reading list!
Be Your Own PR Machine: Cynthea Liu, Author of Paris Pan Takes a Dare and The Great Call of China, gave a breakout session on public relations. She spoke about everything from using the power of social networking (Facebook, Twitter, JacketFlap) to identifying niche organizations and outlets who might be interested in your book, not just bookstores! She said go to libraries, booksellers, schools and tell them what you can do for them, not the other way around--offer them something! Make your own business cards, get a free website, start blogging, make unique items to giveaway at conferences and schools at speaking engagements or signings, and believe it or not, you can do all this on the cheap! Cynthea was a ball of energy and had lots of great ideas! Please check out her website for loads of tips on self-promotion. Get yourself out there! http://www.cynthealiu.com/
Cynthia Leitich Smith: Last, but certainly not least! Cynthia Leitich Smith, acclaimed author of Tantalize and Eternal, among many more great titles, gave an inspirational opening and closing to the IL Prairie Writer's Day. I talked to her briefly and she's just lovely! She has an award winning blog and website, full of useful information for children's writers of all genres. Please be sure to check it out if you haven't already! http://cynthialeitichsmith.blogspot.com/
Okay, I'm tired! This was like doing homework again, but I've got to be good for something, right? I hope you all found something useful here! There were some other fantastic speakers that I did not get to see, but hopefully you'll have enough to get started. If any other attendees have anything to add on the info above or some of the other speakers, please leave it in the comment section. Every little bit helps!
All right then, I'm done with Nightshade edits, Edwin Copperpot is finished too. What the heck do I do now? Hmmm...I have a few new book ideas to mull over! ;)
xoxo -- Hilary