Saturday, February 6, 2010

SCBWI New York: Conference Wisdom

Libba Bray opened the New York conference & she's just as funny in person as she is on the page (Going Bovine has many funny scenes). She told us to "strive for small, unexpected moments that surprise you."

She also told us to find the gritty bits that allow readers to connect with characters. I loved that because I hate reading about perfect characters, being so far from perfect myself.

Libba warned us that trying to please other people with your story is "madness." I also think that you can't worry about what others (like family members) will think about your story either.

Writers should take risks. "If it's not scary to you, there are no stakes," Libba says. "Aim high, trust in the work, and wait for the wind to let you soar." Yes!

Next I heard Ben Schrank, the publisher of Razorbill. The thing that he said that will stick with me the most is about treating people well. He talked about authors who yell at their editors, sometimes making them cry which upsets him, as the publisher. When opportunities arise to give books a little extra something, he often will ignore books by authors who act like divas or treat publishing professionals poorly. It was comforting to hear that being a nice person still matters.

Jen Bailey, a social networking guru, talked about viral marketing. Since I'm not Neil Gaiman or John Green, and I don't have Cynthia Liu's energy, some of her examples felt intimidating. But then she said, "Be yourself. Everyone else is taken." And I thought, okay. I'm doing that. Even if that means not being able to find any love for Twitter.

One of my favorite talks was by Little, Brown & Co. editor Alvina Ling. She talked about literary writing and her comments dovetailed nicely with the conversation I'd had with my agent about revising my work-in-progress. She said that commercial fiction is like French fries while literary fiction is like a chocolate truffle. I can always relate to food similes!

Alvina Ling also read examples of literary authors turning a paragraph of commercial fiction into something literary. I plan to try this one myself! Very fun!

Agent Sheldon Fogelman, founder of the Sheldon Fogelman Agency spoke on Sunday morning. I loved this advice: "If you're going to be a writer, keep writing. Don't stop with book one, book two, or book three. You never know when you're going to write something that can be published." As someone who sold book four, this comment really resonated.

Later he advised us to keep learning, be open to criticism, don't get distracted ("It's a business for serious people," he said). Let your work speak for itself. Sheldon Fogelman finished by saying he's always impressed when someone has written many stories.

Illustrator Jim Benton, creator of Happy Bunny told us not to be afraid of our stupid ideas. That bunny sure worked out well for him (several snark around my house, I know). He also advised to draw or write for fun every single day. I love that advice too--especially since my first magazine sales came from quick writing exercises that turned into short stories.

Jane Yolen ended the conference with twenty bits of advice. I'll just list my three favorites:
#4 Have fun writing!
#5 B.I.C. Butt In Chair. H.O.P. Heart On The Page.
#14 Love the process of revision.

She ended her talk by saying that "the working writer, writes."

So after filling my head with all kinds of advice and inspiration, I headed off for a matinee of the Tony Award winning play God Of Carnage with my husband (very funny). We ended the day with possibly the best hamburger I've ever eaten at Five Napkins Burgers in Hell's Kitchen (just so you know, I only got one napkin, but probably could've used two).

Next I'll tell you about attending a taping of The View.


  1. Ooh, I love that--we always talk about raising the stakes for your characters, but I never really thought about it as an author. I love the idea of taking risks. If you play it safe, what impact can you really have?

  2. I agree, Kaylie. Now go finish your novel with the awesome risk-taking voice!!!!

  3. 我的痛苦會停止,但求我的心能征服它。..............................

  4. That is just so fascinating. I'm taking my first ever writing class and have attended a few conferences. I LOVE hearing from others wisdom and ideas. Even if I never write, this whole industry is just so so fascinating to me. I love hearing about it, gleaning from it, immersing myself in it. Sounds like a great conference!

  5. Debbie, I'm so glad that you're writing. I hope you stick with it!