When myself and the rest of the regional leadership team — Assistant Regional Advisor Shelley Ann Jackson and Illustrator Coordinator Amy Farrier — sat down to start planning, we had four goals, all things we’ve experienced at the best conferences we’ve been to:
Learning: Whether it’s craft or career, the best conferences make me leave with pages and pages filled with notes. The more I’ve learned about publishing, the more I’ve learned the importance of craft, so we wanted to make the craft of writing and illustrating the focus on our conference. But, in Austin we’re blessed with a membership that’s varied from those just dipping their toes into children’s books all the way up to multiple-book published authors, so having some offerings for the more experienced writers and illustrators was important too.
Sharing: I don’t mean sharing work here. I mean sharing experience and support. Publishing is not an easy industry to be in, filled with highs and lows, disappointments and rejections. It’s easy to feel alone when you’re the sole creator of your work. Whether you’re writing a story or developing an illustration style, having people around you who know what it’s like is so important. Critique partners and friends are also supporters, and being surrounded by like-minded people for a weekend can leave you with enough love to last a while.
Inspiring: Never underestimate the power of inspiration. Writing and illustrating for children is perhaps one of the best jobs in the world, but as I said in Sharing, the industry isn’t necessarily easy on our egos. But we don’t do it just for us. We’re the only ones who can tell our stories, but to keep pushing on, to keep creating, we need to stay inspired. Keynotes and sessions at conferences, hearing about the challenges others have overcome, can be like fuel to the flame within us. We need to keep it burning.
Next Level: As in coming out of the conference and feeling like I can take my work there. I usually come out of a conference with at least one nugget that I can hold on to to push my work and career to the next level (sometimes a giant leap, sometimes a small step, but something that moves forward), and I wanted that for our attendees. Whether craft or professional, I wanted each attendee to leave with at least one nugget that they can put in their work to give them a boost in their next step.
Last weekend, our first conference was held. Bouncing off the goals above, we tried to have something for as many people as possible, novelists, picture books and more. We also introduced some new items, including a Professional Development track, with sessions on school visits and pitching, and an all-day illustrator track.
We invited speakers who could inspire, teach and offer opportunities for signing with an agent or getting a book deal. Award-winning author Matt de la Peña and award-winning illustrator Kelly Murphy gave the keynotes, reminding attendees why we should push our art. Simon & Schuster Art Director Laurent Linn encouraged the illustrators to grow in their style. Agents Liza Pulitzer Voges of Eden Street Literary and Abigail Samoun of Red Fox Literary gave sessions on plot, series and more. And Candlewick Press Executive Editor Sarah Ketchersid and Bloomsbury Children’s Books Associate Editor Laura Whitaker taught writers about picture books, novel opening lines, rasing the stakes and looking your best in front of editors.
We also invited four published authors (Liz Garton Scanlon, Bethany Hegedus, P.J. Hoover, Nikki Loftin) and an author/illustrator (Don Tate), as well as a local micro publisher (Madeline Smoot of CBAY Books), who live in the Austin area to do sessions and sit on panels, reminding attendees there’s so much to learn from the people in our own community, as well as providing inspiring success stories that are close to home.
When the weekend was over, the conference proved to be a raging success. Attendees said it was the best they had been to in a long time, and even our faculty said they left feeling energized.
I was left happy, satisfied and humbled. But not so much because of the work we did. I mean, sure the months of organization helped it run smoothly; and yes, the researched schedule and speakers offered opportunities; and wow, our local published authors was incredibly generous in their door prize donations. (And I can’t thank our speakers and volunteers enough for all they did!)
But what made this conference so special were the lessons, sharing and inspiration that all our faculty members gave, and our attendees’ willingness to learn, share and soak up as much inspiration as they could, all so we can get to that next level, not just for ourselves, but for our work and for children’s books.
And that’s what conferences are all about.
If you haven’t checked out an SCBWI regional conference somewhere in the world, I highly recommend you do. They’re all listed on the organization’s events calendar. And if you can make it next to Austin February, we’d love to you. We’ve set the bar high and plan to push it even further in 2015. Hope you can join us.
The changing publishing industry is offering new opportunities to writers, but is self-publishing for you? My friend and great writer Dotti Enderle (aka Dax Varley) has been published traditionally and self-published. Her most recent release, SEVERED (A TALE OF SLEEPY HOLLOW), is a young adult novel that’s gives its own version of the Icabod/Katrina story. It’s a fun story with great characters, and I recommend it.
Dotti offers us a little insight into the pros and cons of doing it yourself…
Most of you know me. I’ve been writing since the 1900s, but my first book wasn’t published till 2002. I’ve published forty more since then and have six books coming out next year. These are my traditionally published books.
It so happens, this past spring, I found myself with a YA novel that wasn’t trending. Humor for girls. Check the shelves. Seriously. I think Louise Rennison is pretty much alone. But I loved my book. I had faith in my book. And there was only one person who’d publish it. That’s when my self-publishing adventure began.
But wait…Dotti…does that mean you’re now one of those 99 cent millionaires? Hahaha. How cute. I’m not even a 99 cent thousandaire…yet. I’m not going to bore you with all the details of my journey, but I will lay out the pros and cons and what I’ve learned in my mere five months of self-publishing…or indie publishing…or my new favorite, author publishing. Whatever you call it, it’s still you uploading your work to Amazon, B&N and Kobo.
Here we go.
PRO: DIY kicks butt. I’m the master. I’m in control. Me like.
CON: DIY kicks your butt. There’s definitely a learning curve.
PRO: The indie community is a group of fabulously supportive authors who are willing to hold your hand, give advice, and help you across that troll infested bridge.
CON: Your traditionally published friends now look at you funny. It’s like I’m back in high school and they’re the A List. Not all of them, of course. But some of my lunch buddies no longer invite me to lunch. This hurts my heart a little.
PRO: You can do all your promoting from the luxury of your couch.
CON: You have to be a social media maven. I’m not. But gosh darn, I’m giving it my best.
PRO: Swelling with pride when you see your sales numbers grow.
CON: Dying a little inside when one person returns your book for a refund.
PRO: Your finished (edited, copyedited and formatted) book can be published in a matter of days.
CON: All that stuff in parenthesis costs money.
PRO: Reinventing yourself.
CON: Sometimes the patent office is closed.
Maybe I’m just hardheaded, but in my case, the pros outnumber the cons…except for that whole not being a 99 cent millionaire. But here’s one important thing I’ve learned from the indie community: Your best promotion is you next book. I’m building a readership. And I intend to keep them happy. When you get down to it, isn’t that what it’s all about?
Thank you, Dotti. I wholeheartedly agree.
Anyone have any pros and cons they’d like to share?
While I’m still a huge fan of traditional publishing, I’m also all for the opportunities that are now available for those who want to go it alone. And as an editor, I’m impressed and admire those indie authors who go the extra mile to make their books professional.
Megg Jensen is one such author, which is why I’m happy and excited to talk about her new book, which is coming out in January.
Megg writes young adult fantasy, and if you haven’t tried it yet, you should check out her Cloud Prophet Trilogy. Anathema, the first book in the series, is great fun.
Her latest book, HIDDEN, is the first in the Dragonlands series. Here’s the synopsis:
The mystery enshrouding Hutton’s Bridge is as impenetrable as the fog that descended at its borders eighty years ago. Each year, three villagers enter the mist searching for answers. No one ever returns.
Then a dragon falls from the sky to the town square, dead—the first glimpse of an outside world that has become nothing more than a fairy tale to Hutton’s Bridge. Except to Tressa.
Tressa grew up with Granna’s stories of the days before the fog fell. When Granna dies, leaving Tressa without any family, Tressa ventures into the fog herself, vowing to unravel the foul magic holding Hutton’s Bridge captive.
What she discovers beyond the fog endangers the lives of everyone she loves.
Sounds fun, huh?
If you want to win an eARC of Hidden and a swag pack, leave a comment on this post and one lucky reader will be chosen randomly. Add the book on Goodreads and tell me about it below for more chances to win. The winner will be decided on Dec. 13 and prizes will be sent out after Dec. 20.
Today I’m thrilled to have a guest post by Anna Staniszewski, author of My Very Unfairy Tale Life and its sequels, My Epic Fairy Tale Fail and the latest, My Sort of Fairy Tale Ending (check out the trailer below). Anna’s got another series starting in January, The Dirt Diary. With all those words in print, she knows a thing or two about keeping up writing momentum — actually, she knows eight things — and I’m excited that she’s sharing her secrets here.
In my experience, momentum is one of the hardest thing to maintain when you’re working on a novel. If you’re like me, you start a project with a million ideas buzzing around in your brain…and then you get fifty pages in and those ideas feel as flat as pancakes.
How do you keep the momentum going? Here are a few things that have helped me.
Write a synopsis. I’m not an outliner, but it helps me to have a 1-2 page synopsis of the story. Then I can refer back to it when I get stuck and (hopefully) get excited about the idea again.
Have a deadline. It’s unbelievably motivating if someone is expecting the manuscript by a certain date. So if you need a push to keep going, try promising the book to a friend, for example.
Just write. This advice might sound obvious, but sometimes I get so caught up in how a novel isn’t working that I forget to just sit down and write through it. You’d be surprised how many ideas work themselves out while you keep forging ahead.
Set a timer. Don’t put pressure on yourself to write for hours. Set a timer for twenty minutes and really commit to your novel for that amount of time. You may just find a spark that will help you keep going.
Celebrate small victories. You finished that tricky scene? Yay! You finished a whole chapter? Double yay! Sometimes the only way you’ll get through the big stuff is to celebrate the small stuff.
Have a carrot. By “a carrot,” I mean a reward that keeps you going. For me, the carrot is the promise of working on a shiny new project once I finish the one I’m writing. Find whatever will motivate you (a fun outing, a chocolate cake, etc.) and use it to keep yourself on track.
The most important thing: Don’t get discouraged. You won’t love your book every day. Sometimes you might even hate it. Do whatever you can to keep writing because there is seriously no better feeling than typing “The End.”
Born in Poland and raised in the United States, Anna Stanszewski grew up loving stories in both Polish and English. She was named the 2006-2007 Writer-in-Residence at the Boston Public Library and a winner of the 2009 PEN New England Susan P. Bloom Discovery Award. Currently, Anna lives outside of Boston with her husband and their black Labrador, Emma.
When she’s not writing, Anna spends her time teaching, reading, and challenging unicorns to games of hopscotch. She is the author of My Very UnFairy Tale Life and its sequels, My Epic Fairy Tale Fail and My Sort of Fairy Tale Ending, all published by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky. Look for the first book in Anna’s next tween series, The Dirt Diary, in January 2014, and visit her at www.annastan.com.
There’s nothing more inspiring than debut authors, which is why I’m thrilled to be part of the 2013 Debut Author Bash, organized by YA Reads. Today I’ve got a wonderful guest post by Claire M. Caterer, whose debut book is the middle-grade adventure The Key & the Flame, published by Simon & Schuster imprint Margaret K. McElderry Books.
And Claire’s giving away a signed copy of the hardcover book. Leave a comment and you’ll be entered. One commenter will be randomly selected on Oct. 8.
Here’s the synopsis of The Key & the Flame, which is an American Booksellers for Children New Voices pick:
An ancient key grants three children passage to an amazing world where a ruthless king seeks to obliterate magic forever. If 11-year-old Holly can unlock the magic within herself, she just might find a way to get them all home—unless the king finds her first. The Key & the Flame is the first in a five-part fantasy adventure series for ages 8 and up.
Sounds wonderful! I can’t wait to read it.
Now I’ll turn it over to Claire, who’ll tell us: “What I Learned From My Debut Year.”
It was nearly two years ago that I got that wonderful, heart-stopping Call (“Guess what?! Someone wants to publish your book!”). And I’m nearing the end of the Year in Which I Was Published, when I finally got to hold a hardbound copy of The Key & the Flame in my very own hands (and yes, wept just a little). So what have I learned? Plenty. But I’ll limit it to Seven Very Important Things.
1. Structure Your Writing Time.
In my happy-go-lucky, pre-publication writing days, I wrote whenever I felt like it. I worked at home, so I could structure my own time. I tried to write for the first two hours of the workday, when I was at my most creative. But I thought that being flexible meant that I could chat on the phone instead of write, or do the laundry instead of write, or walk the dog instead of write.
Getting a publication contract meant that other people depended on my keeping a consistent working schedule. That meant—means—that voicemail handles the telephone. The laundry piles up. I walk the dog early in the morning. During my writing time, I write.
2. Make Time for Promotional Stuff.
Another good reason for writing first thing in the morning: It isn’t my only job. Promotional tasks took a lot more time this past year than I thought they would—on average, one to two hours a day. You all know that writers are responsible for that stuff, right? Stuff like:
blog posts and interviews
Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads updates
designing promotional items like bookmarks, stickers, author bookplates, signage
planning a book launch
setting up author events and presentations, including school visits
Make time for them. You will need it.
3. Be Patient. Really Patient.
Book publishing is a sloooowww process. Slothlike, in fact. You think it’s not moving, but oh! It just blinked an eyelid. Hang on, it might do something else after a month or two.
The steps toward publication seem to take forever: finalizing the contract (4 months), finishing the cover (4 months), the editorial process (4 months), the production phase of copyediting and proofreading (5 months). Many of them overlap, but still, the time period between the Call and my publication date was 17 months. That timeline is not only reasonable, it’s far longer for some people.
4. Make Friends with Other Writers.
There will come a time when Hubby, Wife, or Special Someone Else tires of listening to the whinings of the neurotic author. Best Friend, Sister, and Mom start to wonder why you’re always complaining when your lifelong dream is coming true. They mutter to each other and turn a deaf ear.
That’s why you have writer friends. They’re super easy to find online—the internet forum was basically invented for socially awkward, introverted people—and you will kiss your mouse every time you virtually chat with them. They get it, as no one else will.
5. Stop Reading About Your Writer Friends.
You’ll love your new writer friends. You’ll rejoice at their successes. You’ll be their number one cheerleader. You’ll be so selfless that you’ll think, Ha! I guess that nasty imp named Envy doesn’t live in my brain. Lucky me!
At some point, the envy imp will rise and attack. You’ll see all the starred reviews and movie deals and fan mail your colleagues are getting, and one day it will start to burn. That’s when you stop reading. Stop comparing. It sounds corny, but yes, everyone’s path is different. Chances are the people you envy are envying someone else—maybe even you. Don’t give that nasty imp any head space, because it will eat you alive from the inside out. If that sounds unpleasant, trust me: It is.
7. Write Down What Works.
If you want Year Two to go more smoothly than Year One, write down what works for you. Keep a journal, notebook, notes on the wall, whatever. Which do-it-yourself bookmark printer is easiest and cheapest? Was the blog tour a huge waste of time or did it result in a lot of good exposure? Who became your champions and fans? (Love them. Cherish them. Shower them with hugs and free stuff.) Which bookstores were enthusiastic and helpful? You’ll want those notes later, so keep them organized.
6. Keep Writing, No Matter What.
It’s the cure for all the angst: The how-many-books-am-I-selling angst; the everyone’s-better-than-I-am angst; the what-if-no-one-comes-to-my-launch angst. Stick to your writing schedule like a barnacle to a barge. Disappear into your head and talk to your imaginary friends. Not only will you get something done (because you want to write another book, right?), you will silence the noise of the insanity around you, and that will be a blessed relief. Writing is what this whole gig is about, anyway. Remember?
There are many wonderful things about being a writer in the Austin, Texas, community, and one of the best is The Writing Barn. I admit I’m biased. The Barn was created by my brilliant friend and author Bethany Hegedus (Between Us Baxters). But no one can leave The Writing Barn without being just a little thrilled to know that a place like this exists and feeling that desire to want to come back.
Developing a great space to write and create is a skill, and I wanted to talk to Bethany about this dream space and what she’s doing to help writers everywhere.
Okay, Bethany, you know how much I love what you’ve done with this place. And to think that it’s a former horse stable! But it’s much more than a pretty space. What was your mission when you created The Writing Barn?
Our mission at The Writing Barn is summed up in our tag line: Retreat. Create. Celebrate. We offer writers, and others, a place to get away, clear their heads, read, write, and relax with private or group retreats. We offer classes and workshops to aid writers in the process and creation of their projects. And, we celebrate the journey along the way with visiting authors and illustrators autographing the “party porch.” We also are available for book launch parties, book-themed baby showers, and even small weddings.
You have a lot of wonderful events there, including one I attended with your wonderful agent Alexandra Penfold. Tell us what you’ve got in the pipeline.
Oh, there is a ton going on at The Writing Barn this fall. Award-winning Latino author Francisco X. Stork (Marcelo and the Real World) is leading our last Advanced Writer Weekend Workshop for the 2013 season. The Advanced Writer Weekend events are a combination of lecture and workshop and the weekend is kicked off with a Cocktails & Conversation get together on the porch. Stork will be lecturing on “Thoughts, Gestures, and Dialogue” and we will discuss how to use reflection, imagination, and authorial technique to create and deepen our character’s complexities. The application deadline for the Nov. 8-10 workshop is Sept. 12. It’s a real treat to have Stork teach with us and I can’t wait to get many ah-ha moments for my own writing. You can apply here.
On Sept. 14, we have Triple Threat: Voice & Character with three amazing S&S authors: Newbery Honor author Kathi Appelt, Susan Fletcher, and Uma Krishnaswami. Our triple threat team will be co-presenting and writing exercises will be sprinkled throughout the workshop. Plus, included with the registration fee, each attendee will receive a hardcover copy of each author’s latest book: True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp by Appelt, Falcon Glass by Fletcher, and The Problem With Being Slightly Heroic by Krishnaswami. For more information see here and to register, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The weekend of Sept. 21 and 22 is going to be a busy one. On Sept. 21, Michael B. Druxman, a veteran Hollywood screenwriter, will be teaching The Art of Storytelling, which will focus on screenwriting but has techniques for all writers to apply to their work. Then, in the afternoon, Michael Noll will present his Read to Write Workshop, where attendees examine scenes from novels and short stories and apply author techniques to their own works-in-progress. On Sept. 22, Dean Lofton, offers her popular Write Your Life as a Woman class. Attendees unplug, write by hand, and enter an inspirational and no-judgment zone.
Told you it’s going to be a busy fall! But there is something for everyone. Writers in Texas, writers traveling to Texas. Austin is known as the Paris of Y,A and we’re thrilled to offer a diversity of programming. We hope to see many of your blog readers join us for these fantastic events.
How do you choose the people you bring to The Writing Barn to do workshops?
As a writer myself, I start with thinking about who I’d love to learn craft from. Then I approach The Writing Barn Brain Trust—writing friends from all over the country, mentors of mine, including Cynthia Leitich Smith and Kathi Appelt, and others—and generate a list of superb authors who not only write well but are tremendous teachers. Then I send out the invites. I was thrilled this launch season when Sara Zarr answered with a big ole’ YES before she even finished reading the invite email. She’d heard of The Writing Barn, had seen pictures of us online and was dying to come. Her sold-out event this April really took the work we do to a whole new level.
Locally, we have been and will be available for writers and others to rent and host their own classes and workshops. NLP Austin is hosting a weekend workshop in late September and we’ve had interest from The Daring Way, facilitators who’ve trained with Dr. Brené Brown, author of the best-selling Daring Greatly and new O magazine contributor. It’s exciting to get inquiries and see what groups and types of events are interested in our space.
What do you hope people will take away from their time at The Writing Barn?
When writers come for retreat, I hope they leave feeling they spent their time well at the page, and they were able to do so without the distractions of daily life. I hope they leave renewed and fall in love again with the work.
With our classes and workshops, I hope writers leave armed with new tools for their toolboxes and plenty of ah-ha moments that they would not have had if they didn’t place themselves in a creative and safe learning environment.
And, with our parties, boy—I hope they’ve had a grand ole’ time, chatting under the trees, meeting new people, and if it’s a book launch, with a brand new autographed copy of someone’s dream tucked in their arms.
What are your future plans for The Writing Barn?
Lots! An expanded Advanced Writer Weekend Workshop series, some whole-novel retreats, perhaps some offerings for illustrators and in 2014, we will host a launch event for my new picture book, Grandfather Gandhi, co-written with Arun Gandhi and illustrated by Evan Turk. 2014 is going to be hopping!
Thanks, Bethany! Looks like I’m going to be spending a lot of time at The Writing Barn next year.
Check out Bethany talking about the Barn in this interview: