Children’s Literature

SCBWI Summer Recap 2012: Words of Wisdom and Inspiration from Bryan Collier

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Bryan Collier, amazing author and illustrator, gave a moving and inspiring keynote at this year’s SCBWI Summer Conference. At the end he received a well-deserved standing ovation. Here are some of the gems he shared with us.

You have to drop that idea of what it means to be a romantic artist and do the things of the real world. Do what you have to do to get things done.

Society will tell you your dream doesn’t make sense. But no one knows the gift you embody.

Nurture the seed inside you. Protect it.

The dream is bigger than you dream it. Elmo is known around the world, but started with an awkward kid who made puppets of the arms of his mother’s coats.

Your art will transcend all.

The beauty is in the struggle. Nothing can help you, except the struggle.

The only way to get something is if you dare.


SCBWI Summer Conference Recap, Part 4

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This post was supposed to go up yesterday. Apologies. Long day. Long story. Today is a new and inspired day.

If you missed last week’s SCBWI recap posts, you can read them here, here and here.

From Norton Juster’s “An Accidental Author Tells All”:

What an honor it was to hear Norton Juster’s recounting of how he became an author. He was honest, sharing the good and the bad times with a room full of aspiring authors. His advice was direct and his opinions bold. Here is some of what he shared:

  • It’s good for children to be bored; boredom encourages improvisation (or in his words, “creative delinquency”)
  • The hardest thing for kids to understand is to listen to their own inner voices
  • The quiet kid probably has more thoughts in one hour than most have all week
  • Being out of context is one of the great creative/liberating forces in our lives; being out of context led to such discoveries as gravity and penicillin
  • As a writer, spend a large part of your time out of context
  • Keep kids out of context for as long as possible

From Beverly Horowitz’s “Forget the Trends: The Story Only You Can Write”:

I was impressed with Beverly Horowitz’s (Delacorte Press) answers during the publisher’s panel (read about it here). So I was interested to hear what she had to say in her breakout session regarding trends. She likened the publishing industry to gambling. Work is projected two years out, predicting what will sell, what the trends will be. Sometimes the gamble pays off, and sometimes it doesn’t. She says for authors what matters most is what is between the covers (i.e., write a killer book); but she also said as authors we can be aware of trends as indicators of particular needs in society. As most editors point out, she said if you’re writing the best book you can write, you don’t need to worry about trends and how far out you are from them.

Before the conference, Beverly polled her colleagues, asking what makes them respond positively to a submission. Their top five answers:

  1. Interesting overall concept
  2. Enchanting voice that pulls you in
  3. Appealing characters you remember
  4. Structure that works for the genre
  5. Clearly directed to a particular audience

She suggests you ask yourself (and ask others) if your book has these qualities. It’s a big mountain to climb, she said, but you can do it.

From Mary Pope Osborne’s “A Bridge of Children’s Books”:

Mary Pope Osborn delivered a beautiful speech at the end of the second day. Listening to her speak was like listening to poetry. I didn’t take that many notes, but rather sat back and just enjoyed what she said. Here are the few items I wrote down. I wish there’d been a way to capture the beauty of what she shared. I’m afraid these don’t do her justice.

  • Make the ordinary extraordinary
  • Be an observer; she writes details on notecards for use later
  • Choosing the right details “dilates the pores of time and lets us enter like oil”
  • She learned how to plot by reading children’s books
  • She feels like she’s always going after something and never quite gets there
  • God’s joy moves from cell to cell (Rumi)
  • Look at the work with a never-ending wonder
  • A bridge of children’s books can lead us to joy

More to come tomorrow…

Should Children’s Books Have A Rating System?

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Last weekend’s Wall Street Journal article, Darkness Too Visible, sparked a discussion with a friend of mine. She’s a writer, too. Our discussion ended with us contemplating whether or not children’s books — or any book, really — would benefit from a rating system, such as the one used for movies, television, or video games.

My initial reaction to this idea was no, of course books don’t need a rating system.

Then, while at a store looking at Wii games for my children, I found myself choosing between games…based on the rating system…and it got me thinking.

As a mother and a writer of children’s stories, I find it difficult to take an unbiased stance on this topic. I love books. I read a lot of books. I read wide and deep and am not easily offended by “dark” subjects in books. I read books with my kids. I make informed choices of which books they would enjoy and which books would scare the snot out of them. (Here’s a post I wrote at The Parking Lot Confessional on this topic: What I learned from reading Harry Potter with my daughter.)

But this isn’t possible for all parents. Times are hard and some parents are maxed out. Others don’t recognize the importance of reading to and with their kids. Still others don’t realize there’s a wealth of resources online and at libraries to help them make informed decisions about the books their kids read.

Not being informed, I think, leads to situations like the one mentioned in the WSJ article: a mom walking into a store completely clueless which books would be a good fit for her daughter.

Kind of like me, with the Wii games.

I’m not convinced ratings are the way to go. Or that any changes need to be made, other than readers making informed choices. But the idea has me wondering what others out there think.

So I ask you:

  • Would a rating system be helpful for books?
  • What effect would a rating system have on books and publishing?
  • Are books different from other forms of media that do have a rating system?

NOTE: I am not advocating banning books. I am absolutely 100% against banning books. Let me state that again: I AM ABSOLUTELY 100% AGAINST BANNING BOOKS. You don’t want to read a book, don’t read it. Banning is never the answer.

SCBWI Recap #4: Agents View the Marketplace

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Much like yesterday’s SCBWI recap, today’s also features a moderated panel. This panel was led by Lin Oliver, and she asked four agents to give us their views on today’s marketplace.

The agents on the panel were Ginger Clark, Ken Wright, Josh Adams and Lisa Grubka.

What is the state of the children’s lit market?

  • GC: MG is coming back, and editors are looking for strong MG; dystopian still strong in YA, but it’s time to look at more unusual creatures for paranormal
  • KW: Young MG is growing; picture books remain tough, but some are selling
  • JA: Market is strong; editors are cautious but there’s been a surge in hiring and acquisitions
  • LG: Dystopian is hot right now, but don’t chase trends; publishers are beginning to understand how many adults are reading YA and read now with an eye for crossover potential

What should authors understand about foreign rights?

  • GC: When you write, don’t think, ‘This will be huge in Germany’, but don’t write something that is super American and therefore difficult to translate; make sure your agent is aware how much money can be made in translations
  • KW: Business is just as subjective in other parts of the world
  • JA: Foreign partners also takes a cut; much better deal having one agent sell direct overseas
  • LG: Agent/publisher should have an eye to how they’ll market abroad and use any foreign aspects of the author to promote

What rights should authors retain, especially with new platforms emerging?

  • KW: All of them
  • JA: Theme park rides don’t come along often
  • GC: Publishers want audio to be boilerplate, but don’t just give it to them; there is conflict between publishers and film studios regarding multimedia and enhanced ebooks rights
  • KW: Inserting reversion language into contracts is good idea, so unused rights revert back to author
  • JA: More publishers are asking for audio, even if they don’t do audio; the more they grab, the higher the advance gets; don’t grant film and commercial rights to publishers
  • LG: So much new technology and no one knows what the next platform will be, so publishers are grabbing all they can get

Do enhanced e-book and print coincide?

  • JA: Convergence is key; consumer decides the platform they want to view/read on; while e-books have grown exponentially, it’s still a small fraction compared to print; always include a clause in contract to renegotiate rights three years later, depending on market place

Self-publishing is changing the definition of what published means. What impact does this have for agents?

  • GC: Ethically, can agent function as packager for client? Should they take a cut? There’s a change to ethics codes coming; Wylie can do what he did because he isn’t in AAR; agents have to figure out how they’ll change their roles

How do you assess the business in terms of conglomeration and how that affects the unpublished and midlist authors?

  • LG: It’s hard, but there are still imprints that publish new authors; houses are trying to figure out how to use money to promote everyone on the list but are beholden to Amazon more than they realize
  • JA: In some cases it’s easier to sell a debut than subsequent books because there’s no track record to compare
  • KW: It’s frustrating that children’s books have been following adult in focusing on big sellers; but editors are still looking for that great new voice
  • GC: We’re headed into the golden age of children’s books in publishing houses, especially in foreign markets; houses are watching what’s happening in children’s market and modeling based on what they see

What are the primary services your provide? What is a good/not good relationship?

  • JA: Team work; all striving for best for clients and all being on same page; doesn’t see himself as editor of the client’s book, but more like a realtor, he doesn’t redecorate the house, but stages it to help you sell
  • KW: A good agent is your first editor; plays bad cop to your good cop
  • LG: Edits quite a bit; whatever it takes to give the project the best possible chance, even if it takes three rounds of edits; communication is key
  • JA: Strategize together; agents wants to know what you’re working on next, if multiple genre, etc.
  • GC: Not your therapist, best friend or mother; is your bad cop, longest professional relationship
  • JA: There isn’t one approach; it’s what’s right for you; they sometimes act as your shrink or direct you to a good one; job is to instill in you the confidence you need
  • KW: It’s case by case

Is there a bad time to submit to agents?

  • KW: Summer is better for him
  • JA: The time to submit is when your work is really ready; when you can’t make it any better
  • GC: Don’t submit two weeks before or after foreign fairs
  • LG: It’s a 24/7 culture; there’s a spike during the foreign fairs, but they’re busy all the time

SCBWI NY: Three Agents Analyze The Market

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Three agents discussed the current children’s literature market in the second-to-last session at the SCBWI 2010 Winter Conference. The participating agents were:

Lin Oliver moderated the discussion.

Each agent gave introductory remarks before Lin asked questions.

George Nicholson (GN) gave the following advice during his remarks:

  • Keep an outrageous sense of humor at every turn as the publishing world keeps changing
  • Continually think of reinventing yourself
  • Ask yourself what you know that can be utilized into a book
  • Remember the editing process is crucial to good writing, and good publishing

Rosemary Stimola (RS) addressed the importance of keeping an eye on subrights and categories, as they are always changing.

Tina Wexler (TW) asked authors to keep in mind that agents are in the business because they love books.

Then the Q&A started.

1. What is the current climate of children’s book market?

  • RS: It’s a challenging time, but not hopeless; write a great story
  • GN: There’s a career behind even a midlist author
  • TW: Writers need to be mindful of market and know that trends come and go; write a great book, but know that even a great vampire book will be hard to sell in a glut of vamps market

2. What about trends?

  • RS: Set trends, break new ground
  • GN: Have faith in your own instincts and judgments; read adult fiction even if you write for kids
  • TW: Cultivate writing, but also develop a second creative outlet you love that will inform your writing; bring your nonfiction hobby into your fiction because it shows your passion

3. Are you willing to look at unpublished authors?

  • TW: Yes, she loves finding new talent
  • RS: Yes, but considers carefully if she can give a new author time; selectivity is important

4. How do you know if you and a book are a good fit?

  • RS: She knows a great story/idea when she sees it or feels it
  • GN: He must feel passionate about a project in order to represent it