Missouri SCBWI Conference Recap, Part 2

Yesterday I posted Part 1 of my Missouri SCBWI Conference recap. On to Part 2…

Illustrator Will Terry kicked off the afternoon sessions. He offered the most polished presentation of the day, and of course he had a visual component. Like Ms. Dryden, he spoke about how technology has changed the industry, but he had an entirely different focus. He gave us tips on several iPad apps I’m going to check out for my kids (The Wormworld Saga, Nighty Night, Mash Smasher).

He asked the question: Which is more important, story or craft? I thought this was a trick question, but it turned out it wasn’t. He used movies as examples, saying that his kids would rather watch the old Star Wars than the new ones. Why? Because while the earlier movies had the coolest special effects of the time, they focused on the story. The new movies also have the coolest special effects of the time, but the stories are weaker. I’d never thought of it that way, but he’s right, and it bears out in books, too. Writers like to knock TWILIGHT, but the story draws people in, so it doesn’t matter if the writing technique is weaker.

Mr. Terry said that if you build the right product, you won’t have to spend a lot on advertising because people will share it on their own. The key is to come up with something amazingly “something,” whether that’s good, shocking, touching or “something” else. Great advice, right? Get on that!

Best-selling YA author Ellen Hopkins shared her publishing journey. It was interesting to hear how she started out publishing non-fiction. She wrote CRANK because of her daughter’s addiction to crystal meth. Although I haven’t read her books (I’m a happy ending kind of girl), I appreciated the feedback she shared from her readers. Here’s a quote that really caught my attention:

“My readers need the books to understand themselves but also to understand people who are not like themselves.”

The agent who was scheduled to attend this year’s conference wasn’t able to get out of New York due to Sandy. Instead, Emma Dryden and Ellen Hopkins gave the agent speech from the viewpoint of an editor and author. Here are some of the tips they gave:

  1. Agents aren’t looking for perfection; they’re looking for potential.
  2. An agent has to love your work AND think they can sell it.
  3. Agents aren’t looking for a book; they’re looking for an author. You should have other projects available, especially if you write picture books.
  4. If you plan to write a series, don’t hold everything back for the third book because there’s no guarantee people will want to get there.
  5. Make sure the agent is the right fit.
  6. Your agent is working for you–you are paying them. (Probably wouldn’t hear an agent say that.)
  7. You need an agent for contracts, especially early on. Authors don’t have the clout to ask for things. Ellen Hopkins shared that she made her first deal without an agent and regretted that. She also pointed out that it’s about more than the advance. It’s about subrights and marketing support.
  8. Don’t put illustration notes in a PB manuscript. If a PB manuscript is excellent, the agent should be able to picture the illustrations from the text.
  9. Make sure you have a walkaway clause with an agent if things don’t work out.

It was interesting to hear these notes from the editor/author points of view, although I felt like I could have given the speech based on my querying experiences. In case anyone who was at the conference stops by my blog, I’d like to point out one answer that was incorrect. You should NOT follow up two weeks after a query and definitely not CALL to follow up. The only exception would be if the agent’s submission guidelines state to do so. A few say you can follow up if you don’t hear within a certain time frame, but I haven’t seen any that say you can call.

The day ended with a panel of all the conference speakers. I didn’t take any notes there, but I was about ready to go home by then. Overall, the speakers were entertaining and interesting. Until next year…

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About Michelle I. Mason

I'm a full-time writer, focusing mainly on middle grade and young adult fiction with some freelance PR writing and editing on the side. I'm also a wife, mom, Christian, violinist, avid reader and St. Louis Cardinals fan. And I watch way too much TV.
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4 Responses to Missouri SCBWI Conference Recap, Part 2

  1. Hey Michelle, Were you planning on attending the SCBWI Winter Conference in NYC in February? I’ve already signed up and have a room reserved at the Hyatt (at conference rates), if you are going and looking for a roommate. I’m a YA/MG author and we have some author/writer friends in common, such as Shannon Messenger. My blog is http://elizabethfais.wordpress.com.

    • I would love to attend the national conference at some point, but unfortunately I’m not planning to next year. I would love to hear about it afterward, though. I hope you’ll post what you learn!

  2. Jess says:

    This is an excellent post! Great advice- I loved the quote. My co-author, Stephanie, and I are lucky enough to have found a wonderful agent to represent out middle grade book. It was a process of following the guidelines that you mention here, and patience. You are right about not checking back after two weeks. From what we have learned, 6 weeks is an appropriate amount of time before you nudge- our agent even reiterated this regarding the publishers she submits to. However, I can’t stress the word “patience” enough- lol! You have to become very “zen” during this process : ) Thanks for sharing! ~ Jess

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