Meals at Asilomar are a great way to get to know other SCBWI members and conference faculty. Many have been coming to this conference for a very long time and come with their whole critique groups. This, however, did not keep them from warmly engaging with me. This is a friendly group and I so enjoyed everyone I got to know.
Saturday started out with agent Sarah Davies (Greenhouse Literary Agency) giving the recipe for a breakout novel. The first ingredient: write the story you are excited about. Work out the “USP” or unique selling point and avoid information dumps. (A light sprinkling, perhaps, but no dumping.) She addressed six aspects of a successful novel: larger than life characters, inspired concept, high stakes story, deeply felt theme, setting as character and voice.
Ken Wright (Writers House agent/New York office) followed with a question and answer approach, allowing the session to take its own unique form. (Ken, I learned in my private critique session, prefers his synopsis to look like a book jacket and he would rather not know the ending.) An interesting tidbit: 70% of his clients come from referrals from other industry professionals. He also emphasized the subjective nature of evaluating manuscripts.
Breakout session speaker AnnMarie Anderson (Scholastic editor) spoke next on paperback series. She gave examples of series (Goosebumps, Baby Sitters Club, Geronimo Stilton for reluctant readers, The Amazing Adventures of Nate Banks and the Poison Apple series which she described as supernatural chick lit for 8 – 12 year olds.) She described the paperback series as the mac and cheese of the publishing world. Each series needs to have a hook (which was certainly the thematic word of the weekend launching with Erin Dealey’s rap, “You Gotta Have a Hook”). That hook can be recurring characters (Babysitters Club) or thematic continuity (Goosebumps). Plots must resolve from book to book. My social media session with Greg Pincus was scheduled during this session so I needed to leave before it was over. On the way to my session, three deer walked in front of me as if to say, “Really? Social Media?”
Greg took quite a bit of time to inventory what portals were being used and how they may work together more efficiently. He let me know what I was doing wrong (never status both Facebook and Twitter through Tweetdeck) and offered suggestions in extensive notes on how to zero in on what you are trying to achieve with the social media (make it easier for people to subscribe to your blog and subscribe to other blogs which you can centralize and read from one place with http://www.google.com/reader) Just having someone to ask questions was great.
Following lunch, I found new friend and another first timer, Kristi Wright. We were both wandering around trying to figure out which way to walk in the conference grounds maze. We ended up deciding to take a walk down to the gorgeous coastline and see the great Pacific. Kristi and I discovered we had much overlap in our lives and I was reminded of the synchronicity that reigns over these SCBWI events.
After our speed walk down the beach, my two hours of sleep was starting to show. Sleeping in a tiny bed next to my poor, sick coughing roommate who was very close by in her tiny bed made for very little sleep on Friday night causing me to reevaluate Saturday’s sleeping arrangements. All cabins are different, but I think we picked the short straw. I didn’t want to be a zombie Sunday, so I jumped on Hotwire and found the most charming hotel in Monterey with a king bed called Pacific Hotel. Friendly people, cute place. Officially, a diva.
Sleeping arrangements in place it was back to class. Social media was the next topic presented by Greg Pincus. Greg asks writers to ask questions like “Who do I want to read my blog?” If you can’t answer that, he suggests you wait to blog until you can. Greg tracks who is reading his blog and suggests you do the same. He talked about his success with social media using poetry and how he was able to land a double book deal with Arthur A. Levine without actually having books. Way to go, Greg!
Ellen Klages (The Green Glass Sea (2006) won the Scott O’Dell for historical fiction and the sequel, White Sands, Red Menace (2008) won the California and New Mexico Book Awards) and whom I had the pleasure of dining with Friday night talked about the young adult crossover novel and not being pigeon-holed. She is quite funny and her refrain was “the interesting things happen on the edges.” When asked why she writes for children, she says, “I don’t. It just happens that way.” I can relate to that.
Following a fun dinner where I got to know Linda Joy Singleton and Nathalie Mondo, my Twitter buddy, for the first time, we headed back to the Fred Farr Forum which is where most everything happened.
The keynote speaker Gary Schmidt was incredible (Wednesday Wars won the 2008 Newbery and he has written more than fifteen books for children/ young adults and has won numerous other awards). I thought he might be a religious leader because he had this hypnotic and inspiring way of capturing his audience and telling them, “what happens next.” Master storyteller, he began his talk by reading a pile of recipes. (Later we find out they were recipes written down by Holocaust prisoners who wanted to leave part of their legacy behind.) He told the story of Humphrey the whale. The message was not just what was said, but the way he delivered it, modeling for listeners how to stay awake and tell a good story. My favorite story was one he told where he was taken to a “book group” by a librarian following a talk and ended up in a prison with some fans. Despite his success, Gary does not have a website, an agent or cards and maintains a humble, encouraging demeanor.
What an amazing day.
Stay tuned for Day 3: the entire faculty weighs in on their favorite books of the year and Tracy Gates puts on a power point presentation with some great visuals that show us what “thinking like an editor” looks like.