Tag Archives: Jane Yolen

SCBWI New York 2013

I would have posted this sooner, but I returned from New York to a sick child and then got a head cold. Ugh. Still, I wanted to share some of the highlights of the 14th annual Society for Children Book Writers and Illustrators Winter Conference in New York City.

First, if you write or illustrate, you should be a part of this group. Go ahead, join it now. The group offers local critique groups, and regional and national conferences. This was my second national conference, and I can definitely say the people are the coolest. Really. I attended an educational conference not long ago and one of the big-name speakers was whisked away at the end of her talk, leaving me sputtering a question at her back. Nice, huh? But at the SCBWI conference, I was walking around the evening social, and who was at my regional table? Jane Yolen. And then a woman I met asked, “Would you take a picture of me and Meg Rosoff? She’s right over there.” How cool is that?

The speakers were funny and inspiring. A booksellers panel discussed what’s hot in the market. Meg Rosoff was perfectly snarky when talking about the misconception that writing for children is easy and that “real” authors write for adults. Shaun Tan’s work proved how powerful an image can be and how a story can be told without words, Margaret Peterson Haddix said she’s thrilled that her books appeal to reluctant readers since they are the hardest to reach, Mo Willems encouraged us to dream big. Instead of saying your goal is to publish a book, why not say you want to change the world? And Julie Andrews and her daughter Emma Walton Hamilton were what you’d expect of Mary Poppins and her child: so sweet and engaging.

The breakout sessions had a common theme this year, with agents and editors answering the question, “What hooks me?” Molly O’Neil, an editor at Katherine Tegen Books/Harper Collins said she has to fall in love with a project since, if acquired, she’d spend more than a year–at least– on it, reading it multiple times and considering everything from cover art to the marketing campaign. She works on all types of children’s books, from picture books, to middle grade stand-alones, to YA series. Jennifer Besser, publisher at G.P. Putnam’s Sons, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group, talked about writing that pops off the page. She read from Rick Riordan’s THE LIGHTNING THIEF, which was her first acquisition as an editor.

In the end, the answer to “What hooks me?” was the same: good writing. Each editor had criteria for this, but in general, they know it when they see it. Timing is a major component, too. Vampire books may not get as much attention now post-Twilight, but they’d never say never.

The best part of the conference was talking to other writers who are at different stages of the writing-publishing process. Some work full-time and write when they can. Others write full-time. Some have an agent and are on submission, while others are drafting their first novel. What we all have in common is a desire to create stories. Everyone I met was friendly and supportive, regardless of whether they were a beginner or a published author. Again, I say, how cool is that?

Here are some of my favorite quotes:

“Books are not better just because they are written for adults.” -Meg Rosoff

“You don’t get to be an author without a certain amount of persistence.” -Margaret Peterson Haddix

“Fail big if you have to, but go down trying.” -Margaret Peterson Haddix

“Aren’t we lucky?” -Julie Andrews

And finally some photos and a suggestion: if you haven’t attended a writer’s conference, you really should. You leave all warm and fuzzy inside, wanting to throw your hands in the air and shout, “I’m a writer!” Of course, you don’t do this, but you want to. They are that inspiring.

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Me chatting with Meg Rosoff, author of HOW I LIVE NOW

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Me and Meg Rosoff

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Me and Margaret Peterson Haddix, author of AMONG THE HIDDEN and many other novels.

Rejection: A Normal Part of the Publishing Process

Now that the dust from the SCBWI New York conference has settled into my bones, I have realized that one of the things I appreciated most about the experience was hearing writers talk about rejection.

Yes, rejection. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a negative, the glass is half-empty kind of girl. I don’t relish in someone else’s misery. What I mean is, I found it refreshing to realize how common rejection is in the book business, even for already-published, well-known authors.

While my novel is on submission, I wait and hope and pray and teach every day and take care of my daughter and dog and wait and hope and pray and on and on…and then I get an email from my agent. And I’m immediately a little sad because I know what it is. If it were good news, she would call. And since I am new to all of this, I wonder if this is normal, especially since I read all of the announcements on book sites about the 23-year-old grad students whose first novels sold for six-figures at auction.

Jane Yolen signs books at the SCBWI NY conference

The SCBWI conference made me realize that rejection—lots of it—is the norm for many, dare I say most, writers. Some of the conference’s funnier moments were when writers shared their stories. Jane Yolen—THE Jane Yolen—said she still gets about two rejections per month. She said when she had a cat she would kick the cat. She was joking. I think. Now, she takes a walk or complains to her daughter, who tells her to get over it.

Illustrator Sergio Ruzzier joked that his worst rejection was delivered by a cute girl in elementary school. After that devastation, publishing rejections must be easy, the moderator replied. Ruzzier followed up by saying now, he cries for a few days after a rejection and then moves on.

Of course, I had heard some of the more famous rejection stories. J.K. Rowling was turned away by a dozen publishers before being picked up by Bloomsbury. Stephen King was told by an editor “We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell.” The book was CARRIE. George Orwell’s ANIMAL FARM was rejected by a publisher with this note: “It is impossible to sell animal stories in the USA.” For more of these, check out this article by The Examiner.

Hearing these stories at the SCBWI, though, was different. I think it was because I heard them while sitting in a crowd of like-minded people–people who love children’s literature and push through the creative process with the goal of being published. This time, hearing these stories made me feel like I wasn’t alone in this process–like everyone in that crowd understood, which was comforting.

Conversations I have had with other writers about rejection boil down to these conclusions: Yes, rejection hurts, but don’t let it consume you. Everyone has a rejection story, so you’re not alone. Consider the rejection. Is there anything you can learn from it? Can you glean something from the responses that could make your pitch, query letter, or manuscript better? As soon as possible, get back to work.

Dealing with rejection in publishing is really no different from dealing with let-downs in other professions or in our personal lives. We all fall down and scrape our knees. Sometimes, we suffer minor scratches; sometimes, we’re left with scars. Sometimes, we laugh about it and repeat the story so that others can nod knowingly. In the end, we get back up and move on. We get back to living and loving and working and taking care of children and pets and hoping and praying and waiting for the phone call that will deliver great news.