Monday, March 22, 2010

Virginia Festival of the Book, part two: The Panels

One of the cool things about VA Book is that in many ways it is very much like a writers conference. Not only do you get to meet authors of different genres, but you get to hear what they have to say about various aspects of their writing journeys, and learn from them.

SCBWI sponsored several panels this year. The first of those was called Terrific Kids' Novels Adults Will Love Too. Middle grade and YA authors read from their novels. Kathy Erskine read from her new novel Mockingbird, sharing a scene in which her protagonist, a girl with Aspberger's, is having trouble communicating with a peer. Sue Corbett read from The Last Newspaper Boy in America, making us laugh with the antics of a newspaper family teaching their kids paper-throwing techniques. Sara Lewis Holmes read from Operation Yes, giving us a glimpse into how a drama teacher in her book gets her class involved in improv. Irene Latham read from Leaving Gee's Bend, sharing with the audience a bit of what she has in common with her main character: a love of fabrics and quilting. Finally, Fran Cannon Slayton read from When the Whistle Blows, engaging the audience with her characters' Halloween pranks.

After the readings, the authors answered questions posed by moderator Barbara Kanninen. She asked about why each of these authors them made the decision to add so many adult characters, when kids in books are often on their own. Sue said that adults add richness and make a story more realistic. Sara said that her story is set in a school, and that schools are populated with adults as well as children. Also, giving each character a battle to fight makes for a better story. Irene said that kids learn from parents about love, and that really resonated with me.

All five authors agreed that you have to be passionate about your writing, and you have to be passionate about the subject you are writing. That passion has to carry an author through the long process of writing a book and getting it published.

The second panel Sarah and I attended was Getting Published--Picture Books to Young Adult. The panelists, Laura Rennert, Deborah Heiligman, Bonnie Doerr, Emily Ecton and Ruth Spiro, shared their stories of how they became authors. Moderator Fran Cannon Slayton asked their advice for hopeful authors. Here's a list of what they said:
  • Join SCBWI
  • Be persistent
  • Do your homework-research agents and editors before submitting manuscripts
  • Read in the category you are writing
  • Subscribe to Publisher's Marketplace
  • Work on your craft-write the best book you can write
  • Get out there and become part of your local literary community
  • Develop a thick skin because there will be a lot of rejection along the way
The authors discussed the pros and cons of having an agent. While most agents won't work with authors who write only picture books, fewer publishing houses are taking unagented manuscripts now. An agent can act as a support system and also help improve your writing. One advantage of not having an agent is that an author is more likely to work with smaller publishing houses where there is less bureaucracy, so the author can have more input on the final product.

Someone asked where to go for more information, and the authors suggested reading Nancy Lamb's book The Writer's Guide to Crafting Stories for Children. SCBWI was listed again as a great resource, as well as The Complete Idiot's Guide to Publishing Children's Books, by Harold Underdown. I have used all of these resources myself, and agree that they are well worth looking at.

The final advice from the panel was not to try predicting trends. Write a story you care deeply about and let it be the best story only you can write.


Caroline Starr Rose said...

Sounds wonderful! I remember seeing banners for this annual event when I lived in Fairfax County. Wish I'd attended back then...

TerryLynnJohnson said...

thanks for the write-up! I love when bloggers take the time to share these conferences and fairs so I can learn. I haven't heard of a lot of these in the States, so thank you for the link as well.

Andrea Franco-Cook said...

Great post, very imformative. I will check out some of the sites you suggested.