NJSCBWI Conference Or…

…a drink at 11:30AM is fine if you are learning!

img_3765.png
pool hall girls

This past weekend I put my job and family life in a box, shoved it under the bed and went all the way to beautiful downtown New Brunswick to get my author game ON.

Maybe (like when Jenny and Lynda Gene and I tried to play pool in the 15 minutes between sessions and did so, badly) it wasn’t always pretty. But it was enlightening. Invigorating. Inspirational and damn. good. fun.

This is why writing conferences are so important. You can nerd out to your heart’s content about the things that usually bore your friends and family. Your conference family UNDERSTANDS that you want to talk about how hard it is to write that perfect query letter. Or how you are having legit heart palpitations because you’re about to do your first ever agent pitch. Or how it’s okay to have your mouth full of dessert at dinner because the agent sitting next to you does too. It feels awesome to ‘come home.’

Among an embarrassment of wonderful workshops, here are my favorites:

Let’s Talk Marketing with Doreen McGettigan
Doreen unleashed a metric ton of amazing information on us. My hand could not write fast enough to keep up with her – no fault of hers, there was just a lot to take in! I need a marketing plan for my book. I need to learn what goes into that marketing plan! Doreen had the answers and even better, questions that I need to ask myself about what I want and what I can do. It was an amazing start to the conference and got Jenny and I revved up! Check out Doreen’s site here.

Writing Marginalized Voices in Children’s Books w/ Emma Otheguy & Andrea Loney
Okay, first of all, look at this amazing:

bunnybear-cover-768x512main_martis_song_for_freedom_cover

Andrea Loney’s lovely BUNNYBEAR about a bear that is very different… and very sweet. Emma Otheguy’s MARTÍ’S SONG FOR FREEDOM is BILINGUAL which I love! It’s also wonderful. Both these books have gone on youngest’s bookshelf.

It was a joy hearing Andrea and Emma talk about marginalized voices and how writing books for  all kinds of children (and bears and bunnies too) gives those children a mirror to see themselves reflected in the world. It tells our kids, you have a place. Your stories are important.

It was a no judgement zone and an important discussion about how to write marginalized characters (representation) and how not to (appropriation) and lots of other good stuff in between. I heart these ladies. Find Andrea here and Emma here.

Developing a Gay or Questioning Character in Middle-Grade Fiction with
Mary E. Cronin
This was my favorite workshop. Mary Cronin has such a generous way of ‘teaching’ that it feels less like knowledge transfer and more like talking to a *really* smart person over cups of tea and pound cake.* I’ve been aware for a while (and have worked to be inclusive in my own work) of LGBTQ characters in YA, but there’s less representation in Middle Grade. I suspect that comes from a misunderstanding of what sexual identity means and when it develops (spoiler alert, doesn’t equate having sex) or a general ignorance on the part of readers. I’ve had the experience of hearing that my daughter’s friend’s mom didn’t allow her to read Raina Telgemeier’s DRAMA because there was a gay character in it and that ‘wasn’t appropriate for her age.’ Can you imagine being 11 and being told, implicitly or not, that your feelings are not appropriate? I am not on board with that. NOPE.

Mary had so many wonderful ideas on how, where and what kinds of experiences would make wonderful parts of a character’s discovery of self – and make a great story. Got me excited to try writing an MG! You can find Mary here.

Of course my brain is bursting with ideas from this conference. I’m practically drooling words over here. That’s the good work that going to a good conference does. So where are YOU going this summer?

*or gin and cheese straws. I’m up for either.

Rochester Teen Book Fest 2017 & What Makes a Successful Writer

Writers are, by nature, curious people. One of the biggest areas of curiosity for us is what is the difference between a successful writer and one that is not. Is it talent? Is it persistence? Is it connections and slippery palms? What better way to answer this question than by meeting super successful writers in real life and analyzing their success.

Last week, I went to the Rochester Teen Book Festival, and here’s what I learned.

Successful writers are:

(1) Not the ones with the most degrees. They are the ones who never stop writing. A.G. Howard, author of Splintered, talked about how she only did one semester of college before realizing it wasn’t for her. Instead, she did her own thing. And she wrote. Like, a ton. She wrote her first book 12 times in two years. She wrote another 6 books after that before she finally got one published. If you don’t have that kind of stamina, and that kind of belief in yourself, you need to find it.

(2) The ones who get carried away by what is possible, not inhibited by what is not. Sarah J. Maas spoke about a book that she had meant to write as a novella–you know, a little 30k word piece, about a side character who gets to be the star of his own story. The result? She wrote a 100k+ novel that may be spinning into its own series. If she had been the “checkbox” type writer, that paint-by-number type writer who only wants to do what will make them $$, she never would have written that book. But she let herself be carried away by something different. As a result, she got to enjoy the act of writing and create something truly unique.

(3) The ones who know how to connect with their readers. Whether it was Sara Shepard, author of Pretty Little Liars, giving props to the fashion sense of the girls on her show, or Renee Ahdieh swooning over girls who kill, all these successful authors knew why readers came to their books, and they harnessed those qualities when speaking. It was a sight to see–watching all of these young girls go all fan girl on these authors because they were exactly the people who, from reading their books, the readers expected them to be. The cynical may call it successful branding. I call it knowing how to connect. Because as an author, you represent something more to your readers than just your book. You are their friend too.

Are Writing Conferences Worth the Cost?

I belong to a SCBWI writers’ group in Pennsylvania and had the pleasure of meeting with them this week to discuss, among other things, making and keeping writing goals.

Our fearless leader had a list of things that can distract us from our goals (internet, family, dirty laundry – my old nemesis), and a list of things that can help us achieve goals (writing groups, deadlines, conferences.)

But one person in our group thought conferences might belong in the ‘distractions’ column. After all, it’s a weekend where you are emphatically not writing. You’re talking, you’re listening, (if you are me, you are drinking) you’re absorbing – basically the opposite of writing.

If you are not at the stage where you are actively looking for an agent or editor—whether because you have not finished a manuscript, or because you already have one of those mythical unicorn-type people in your corner—it might seem like a conference is a waste of time.

Also, the expense, lord save us all. THE EXPENSE. If you get out of the experience losing only a few hundred dollars, you have gotten a BARGAIN. Travel costs, the basics of the workshop and add-ons like ms. reviews, round tables, dinner with faculty. It’s A Lot.

So, is it worth it? It can be. Here’s what I think can make conference going worthwhile.

  1. You’ve done all the hard work of getting your writing in good shape. You’ve polished the scat out of it. It’s ready for new eyes.
  2. You are ready to expand your circle of writerly-friends. From my first conference, I met the very talented Ramona Defelice Long and Becky Levine. Becky is an incredible crit partner and Ramona is just a joy. Neither of them live close to me. I wouldn’t have met them if I hadn’t gone to my first conference.*
  3. You want to try to pitch to agents. Personally, I hate pitching. I am terrible at all sports and this sounds like sports + the Inquisition. But nothing will focus the mind like knowing you have to reduce your book to its essence and make that essence sing. It’s scary. You may not be good at it. You have to try.
  4. The workshops speak to you. Some workshops will not be your cup of tea. You could never get me to go to Yoga For Writers. NEVER. But, Building an Online Platform? Revision the Right Way? LGBTQ in Middle Grade? Sign me up! The workshop descriptions should rev you up.
  5. The faculty are people you respect. You know how you know you’re ready for a conference? You have already (nicely, respectfully) stalked some of these people online. Meaning, you follow their twitter accounts, you’ve read their blogs, you know what books they represent and who they publish. Like the most amazing Hermione Granger ever, you have ‘swotted up’ and know all about them. Now it’s time to make those connections in person.

And of course, you have to be able to afford the conference. But – here’s the trick – there are A MILLION** conferences for you to choose from. There are the big ones once or twice a year (SCBWI, Writers Digest, Thrillfest, Bouchercon, just to name a few) and much smaller ones – one day workshops, weekend retreats that are primarily self guided. You can find some listings at the back of the latest issue of Writers Digest and you can find some at Shaw Guides (though, be careful. Some ‘conferences’ are really just dolled up B&B experiences without the faculty or experts on hand to make it worthwhile. Buyer beware.)

Another way to find conferences is to join an association (Sisters in Crime; SCBWI for children’s book writers), that either hosts conferences/workshops, or can list them on their site. Finally, look for regional conferences near where you live, to cut down on travel expenses.

So far, I have never regretted attending a conference. I have always made connections, learned something and come away a better writer. Your mileage may vary, but if you’ve never attended one before, take the plunge, if you can. If you are willing to work for it, it will be worth it.

I’m at two conferences this Spring;

Color of Children’s Literature, NYC April 8th

NJ SCBWI Annual Conference, New Brunswick, NJ, June 3rd.

Are you going to any conferences this year? Any that you have loved or loathed? Or are all conferences evil drains of your precious writing time? Let me know!

*I also met my agent Barbara Poelle at my first writers conference. I impressed her, I think, with the large quantities of bacon I was eating at breakfast. Somehow, she still chose to represent me.
**Not a million. I made that up.