A blog about the amazing things teenagers do, about writing for teens, books for teens, and occasional forays into my world and the world of publishing.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

SCBWI-AZ Conference Report, Part One

Last weekend I escaped from the rain and drab of the Northwest and headed to sunny Arizona for their SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) conference. At least I thought I'd escaped rain and drab, it turns out that Western Washington was sunny and dry with a mild 70 degrees while I was gone. Arizona, on the other hand, had hot dry winds and 109 degree temperatures. I soaked it in, knowing that the rainy days of the Northwest are coming. Besides, the conference was well worth enduring the heat. I had the chance to meet with fellow writers and learn from the great faculty: publisher, Francesco Sedita; editors Claudia Gabel, Calista Brill, and Eve Adler; agent, Jill Corcoran; and senior designer Amelia Anderson.

I've never been to a SCBWI conference, or any writers conference before, so I didn't know what to expect. My experience started on Friday night with the hospitality room for conference-goers. Over M &Ms, almonds, and cheese puffs we talked about what we were working on, our successes, and of course, our learning experiences. I love meeting other writers. We all seem to share the same insanity--I mean passion--even though we come from different backgrounds and have different ideas. (Thank goodness, think how boring reading would be if all writers were the same!)

Because I got so much good information from the conference, (still trying to digest it myself) I'm going to spread it out over a couple of posts. My overall summary is that I came away from the conference with new ideas about the business of writing, and with inspiration to continue writing. It was definitely a worthwhile experience, and I would recommend a writer's conference for anyone who needs to recharge their writing batteries.

The first speaker on Saturday morning was Franscesco "Rocky" Sedita the Vice President and Publisher of Grosset and Dunlap and Price Stern Sloan. His presentation, entitled "You Do it Because You Love It," was funny, poignant, and inspirational. In the midst of stories from his childhood, (I'm exactly one month older than him), he reminded us all that we write because we love it. A message that doesn't always stay clear when writing becomes a job.

Here's a quote that Francesco put into the conference packets:

There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action. And because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique and if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost. The world will not have it.

It is not your business to determine how good it is, nor how valuable, nor how it compares to other expressions. It is your business to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that activate you.

Keep the channel open.

--Martha Graham

I love it! I can see why Francesco told us to hang it up where we write.

Francessco also talked about what he does at Penguin Young Reader's group. He gave me a whole new perspective on "mass-market" paperbacks, especially the kind of books that you find in the book orders kids bring home from school, (like a Strawberry Shortcake or Sponge Bob Book). He emphasized that these books aren't junk, but are an effective way to get kids to read. Find a character that they're interested in and they'll read the book. This interested me as both a writer and as a mother. "Mass Market" paperbacks not only a good way to get kids into reading, but they are a way for a writer to build their "list" and experience. (Something to file away for future reference.)

Claudia Gabel, (Senior Editor at Katherine Tegen Books) talked about another avenue for writers. Her presentation was called "Think Like a Packager." She talked about "Packaged" books, books that came from a concept, decided on by an "Intellectual Property" development team. With this kind of book an idea is developed by the team and then an author is hired to write the book. Books that were developed this way include GOSSIP GIRLS and THE SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING PANTS. This is another interesting concept to a writer. Taking someone's idea and making it their own.

According to Claudia some of the things writers can learn by "Thinking Like A Packager" and looking at "packaged books" are:
  • How to strengthen plotting and outline skills
  • What a high concept idea is
  • How to construct a three-act story arc
  • What publishers and editors are looking for
  • How to create a book that will thrive in a digital age
The next speaker was Calista Brill, an editor at First Second Books--writen like this :01 (like the first second, get it?) First Second Books publishes graphic novels, sometimes called comic books with a spine. She brought up some interesting points about graphic novels:

  • They are for all ages (on :01's list there are novels for 5 year olds through adults)
  • The brain process for reading a graphic novel is different than the process for reading a regular novel--you have are engaging more senses as you read and look at the illustrations
  • There are some brilliant, original, graphic novels out there. She suggested THE PHOTOGRAPHER which I am adding to my "to be read" list.
Before listening to Calista, I didn't know very much about graphic novels, although I read and loved a bound copy of Frank Miller's BATMAN, years ago, before graphic novels were popular. Now I look at graphic novels as another way for writers to get published and to get kids to read.

To give all of us some time to digest, I'll write about the two fabulous workshops I attended and the rest of the speakers next Monday.

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