Thursday, December 17, 2009

Exclusive SCBWI TEAM BLOG Pre-Conference Interview: Laurent Linn...

Visit Lee Wind's Blog for the latest in our series of exclusive SCBWI TEAM BLOG pre-conference interviews with SCBWI Winter Conference speakers and keynoters.

Lee interviewed Laurent Linn, Art Director at Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. Lauren will offer breakout session on The Real Deal About Visual Story Telling.

I'll continue to direct you to more pre-conference interviews as we approach conference time. (It's getting close!)

To register for the SCBWI conference, click here. And here's a link to Laurent's own website:

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Embracing Inappropriate, Violent & Blasphemous: Three Writers Make Negative Reviews a Fashion Statement...

As I prepare for the SCBWI Annual Winter Conference I thought it was about time I followed-up with three of my favorite Annual Summer Conference attendees, Emily Wing Smith, Brodi Ashton and Bree Despain, to talk about their outfits.

I spotted Emily, Brodi and Bree at the LA conference this past August wearing these t-shirts:

Word shirt ring leader Emily Wing Smith told me the terms emblazoned on their chests—"blasphemous," "violent" and "inappropriate"—were all stinging comments they heard about their own novels.

Below the three talk about those negative critiques, how they were impacted, and how they forged ahead through fashion.

Emily Wing Smith

When I wrote my YA novel THE WAY HE LIVED, I expected some backlash. After all, the book deals—however briefly—with some serious themes: suicide, homosexuality, mental illness. But I wasn’t prepared for the words of an anonymous commenter who left a review on a book retailer’s website, claiming she “tried to overlook the references to homosexuality and other inappropriate matters” but ultimately couldn’t get past it.

Okay, so I don’t happen to believe that homosexuality is an inappropriate matter. I don’t think anyone should believe that. But what really baffled me? Being offended by even a reference to something she deemed inappropriate. I believe that murder is inappropriate, but I’m not offended when someone refers to it. Maybe that makes me inappropriate—if so, then my “Inappropriate” t-shirt is actually appropriate!

Brodi Ashton

My YA book ECHO features a teenage girl who becomes an alien hunter, so I wasn’t surprised when readers called it “too violent.” The problem came when I tried to change every scene that had offended someone. I quickly learned two things: 1) No two people were offended by the same scene; 2) If I removed every scene that had one detractor, there’d be no book left.

Not everyone is going to like my book. Someone, somewhere, is going to think a story about a teenage girl who can kill an alien with a fork will be too violent. But if I let myself think that too, I never would’ve typed “The End” and found an agent who thinks my book is just violent enough.

My “Violent” t-shirt was a smart move because it got me to the front of one of the lines at the SCBWI conference. The lady said I could cut because she didn’t want to mess with me.

Bree Despain

I think for many authors, one of the hardest things to deal with is occasionally hearing negative feedback about our book. It doesn’t seem to matter how much praise, or how many awesome reviews we receive, when somebody finds something not to like about our books, or is offended by something we wrote, we can let that negative energy eat away at us—sometimes even to the point where we find ourselves unable to write.

Around the same time that Emily’s book received a particularly upsetting review because of some supposed inappropriate references, I was dealing with getting over something someone else had said about my book THE DARK DIVINE. A writer friend had read the manuscript and told me that she thought my book was “blasphemous” because I talked about faith and mythological paranormal creatures in the same story. She also worried that people would think it was blasphemous to use a teenage girl as a metaphor for grace and redemption. I didn’t agree with my friend, but I found myself wondering if I needed to rewrite my entire book in a way that it couldn’t possibly offend anyone. (A completely impossible feat, I soon discovered.)

Luckily, Emily, Brodi, and I decided that instead of letting the negative things people said about our books cripple our writing; we would just put our bad reviews on t-shirts and “own” them. Our bad review t-shirts have been a lot of fun to wear. People love to stop us to talk about our shirts, which always leads to discussions about our books—and Sherman Alexie even remembered our names because of them!

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Exclusive SCBWI TEAM BLOG Pre-Conference Interview: Tina Wexler...

Tina Wexler is a literary agent at International Creative Management (ICM), a full-service agency and home to Dr. Seuss and E.B. White. Her list includes fiction and nonfiction for children and adults, with a focus on middle grade and YA.

Recent and forthcoming titles represented by Tina
include Donna Gephart's As If Being 12 3/4 Isn't Bad Enough, My Mother Is Running For President (winner of SCBWI's 2009 Sid Fleischman Humor Award), Sara Lewis Holmes' Operation Yes (Arthur A. Levine Books), Mara Purnhagen's Tagged (Harlequin Teen), Laurel Snyder's Baxter, The Pig Who Wanted To Be Kosher (Tricycle), and Sanjay Patel's Ramayana (Chronicle).

Please tell us about how you got into agenting and how you ended up at ICM.

After getting my MFA in poetry, I applied for a job as an agent assistant to Louise Quayle and Elizabeth Kaplan at the Ellen Levine Literary Agency. There, I cut my teeth on permissions, audio and serial sales, and foreign rights. Around the time ELLA merged with Trident, I moved to the Karpfinger Agency to continue with foreign rights but soon left to start building my own list at ICM.

What are the advantages for you working at a big agency? What are the advantages for your authors?

The advantage of being at a big agency is that everything is kept in-house , which means having more control of what is happening with my clients' projects (and for the client, only one commission). We have the Los Angeles office shopping our books for film/TV; we have the London office securing UK and translations deals; we have an in-house lecture department; an agent who sells audio, ebook, and serial rights; and a theater department ready to negotiate stage adaptations of our books. I'm able to pull from a number of resources: our in-house attorneys, our tax and royalty departments, the knowledge and experience of the ten other agents working in our literary department. All of these elements come together to make my office run smoothly so I can focus entirely on my clients and their needs.

Do writers of books for young readers really need to have agents?

I think the benefits of having the right agent--whether you write for the adult market or the children's market--are immeasurable. Certainly, there are books that get published without the involvement of an agent, but that's not the route I would go were I a writer. Having an agent is a real asset, and in most circumstances, an absolute requirement just to enter the ring. (Don't ask why a boxing metaphor is cropping into my answer. We can debate whether writers need to have agents, but there's no doubt everyone could use an editor!)

If a writer is unsure whether she needs an agent, she will want to assess how comfortable she feels mixing business dealings with the creative process. How contract-savvy she is, how great she is at negotiating. How many doors are open to her at the various publishing houses. How capable she is of selling subrights such as audio, film/TV, and UK/translation rights to her book on her own. And for agents like me who can be very hands-on when it comes to getting a manuscript into the best possible shape before submission, how strong is her revision process. If she feels that she'd like a partner to help her in any or all of these areas (and there are so many other things that agents do each day for their clients), she needs an agent.

What type of material do you represent? Are you open to queries?

I represent mostly YA and MG (and adult non-fiction too). Within those categories, I'm interested in most everything: magical realism/paranormal, mysteries, adventure, suspense, contemporary, and some non-fiction for teens. I tend to shy away from high fantasy and poetry collections, but I love novels-in-verse. In short: make me laugh, make me angry, make me cry, make me pause. Also, I do not represent screenplays. I am accepting queries at twexler[at]icmtalent[dot]com, despite what ICM's website says about unsolicited material.

Would you offer some general advice on approaching agents?

First, do your research. I know it's tempting to query every agent you find info on--the old "throw it at the wall and see what sticks" approach--but doing so only results in slower response times and fewer agents responding to queries at all, which no one wants. So do yourself and your fellow writers (and agents) a favor and be selective. Second, be professional but know that I'm in this business because I love the written word, I love stories, and I really do want to hear from you if our interests overlap.

What will you be talking about at the SCBWI Winter Conference?

I'll be doing an agent panel ["Ask the Agent: 3 Agents Analyze the Market"] with George Nicholson [Sterling Lord Literistic] and Rosemary Stimola [Stimola Literary Studio], talking about the market and addressing any other questions thrown our way.

Why do you recommend writers attend conferences? Have you found clients at such events?

Conferences are a great way to connect with other writers, to meet editors and agents, and to get a sense of what is happening in the business all while being inspired creatively by the workshops and speakers. I am working with several writers whom I met through conferences, and a majority of my clients are SCBWI members.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Exclusive SCBWI TEAM BLOG Pre-Conference Interview: Ben Schrank...

Visit Suzanne Young's Blog for the first in our series of exclusive SCBWI TEAM BLOG pre-conference interviews with SCBWI Winter Conference speakers and keynoters.

To kick us off, Suzanne interviewed Ben Schrank, president of super cool Penguin imprint Razorbill.

I'll direct you to more pre-conference interviews in the weeks to come--and you'll find a few in this space.

To register for the SCBWI conference, click here.
To read more from Ben Schrank, click here for my 2007 interview with him.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Jane Yolen is Added to the SCBWI Winter Conference Lineup...

The 11th Annual SCBWI Winter Conference already has a terrific lineup--and it just got a little better. SCBWI announced yesterday that author Jane Yolen has been added to the roster.

Jane, who's been called the Hans Christian Andersen of America and the Aesop of the twentieth century, and is the award-wining author of numerous children's books, fantasy, and science fiction, including Owl Moon, The Devil's Arithmetic, and How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight?, will offer the closing keynote address.

I remember seeing Jane speak from a wheelchair at the 2006 SCBWI LA conference after a night in the emergency room. She still knocked our socks off!

There's still time to register for the SCBWI event--click here. Early registration rates apply until January 4th.

If you can't make it, you can follow the conference as it's happening with full SCBWI TEAM BLOG coverage on the Official SCBWI Conference Blog.

And if you'd like some Jane Yolen wisdom you can carry around in your bag, check out her wonderful book Take Joy.