Thursday, January 29, 2009

SCBWI NYC Conference Starts Tomorrow--Don't Forget to Read the Conference Blog...

I'm all packed and I'm off to bed. I'm sure it will be tough to get to sleep because: 1) I'm excited; 2) I'm sure I forgot to pack something; 3) I'm worried about the weather messing with my flight.

The next few days, this blog will be relatively quiet while I work to populate The Official SCBWI 10th Annual New York Conference Blog. Please click over and check it out. I'll post a little tomorrow, twitter from the VIP party, and be in full-swing blog mode on Saturday and Sunday.

I'm Doing a Webinar February 12...

Writer's Digest has recently begun offering a series of webinars as part of Writer's Online Workshops--and the next one will be led by yours truly! These have been popular so far--and pretty exciting. My session, held Thursday, February 12, at 1 p.m. eastern time, will be my webinar debut. I'll be going over some basics, offering tips, answering questions, and doing first page critiques. I'm kinda stoked about this (although nervous about technical difficulties of my own doing. But I always worry about that and the other editors have had no problems, so, really, things will be fine.)

You can click here to register and click here to see the list of upcoming topics that will be offered in upcoming webinars through the end of March.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

I'll Be Live Blogging from the SCBWI Conference in New York!...

Right now I'm in my second day of being held hostage in my house by snow and ice. But it's stopped snowing, and I'm sure the snow emergency will be lifted tomorrow. And I'm assuming everyone at the Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport is working really hard on the runways so I will have no trouble or delay for my trip to New York on Friday.

Yep--Friday I'm headed to NYC for the SCBWI Annual Winter Conference and I'll be serving as SCBWI's Official Blogger from the conference floor! I'll have my laptop and my iPhone and I'll be keeping you abreast of all the conference happenings throughout Saturday and Sunday. (I get in Friday afternoon, so I'll offer a few Friday posts as well.)

Here's where you can my find SCBWI conference news as it happens:

  • For my SCBWI conference reports, visit the as-yet-unpopulated SCBWI conference blog. (I'm going to work on that next.)
  • You can follow SCBWI on Twitter for some quick and dirty updates.
  • You can follow me on Twitter for those I'm-totally-in-the-elevator-with-Richard-Peck tweets as well as some scoopage from the Friday night VIP party during which I will mingle with Very Important publishing peeps and tweet anything noteworthy.
  • And if you're on facebook, you can join the Fans of SCBWI group and follow the status updates.
It will be almost as if you're all there in person!

(Now I'm off to plan my outfits.)

Monday, January 26, 2009

Agent Interview:
Elana Roth...

Elana Roth worked at Nickelodeon Magazine and spent nearly five years as an editor at book packager Parachute Publishing (where she worked on R.L. Stine’s Rotten School among other series) before her career veered into the world of agenting and she joined the staff of Caren Johnson Literary. Here Elana talks about her career, her agenting style, and more.

What made you decide to move from editorial work to agenting? How has that transition been for you?

I was really lucky to work at a packager for as long as I did. I think being an editor there was a perfect education, since my fingers were in every pot from of the book-making process from writing to production and I really learned the anatomy of the product. But after those five years, I realized I had learned as much as they could teach me, and having worked on books for pre-school through adult, I had winnowed down my tastes a lot. So, I realized I wanted to switch tracks and work on the kinds of books I loved the most. The transition has been fun and challenging. While it's a lot of the same skills as my old job (working with editors around town, dealing with contracts, and foreign rights), I'm really happy to get to be learning new things again. And just getting to fall in love with new books and new writers is amazing.

You're very hands-on with your authors. Is that more of a necessity in today’s children’s publishing world or is that just your particular style due to your background?

A huge part of it is just my training. It was my job to deliver a great, finished manuscript to editors that they could publish as is. So I can't look at a book and not think of what would make it stronger. When I read a book, I have to see what those editors will see. And yes, a lot of it is more of a necessity now that the climate is so tough. Editors have to be pickier and pickier, and it's in everyone's best interest to iron out any issues that might give an editor pause before acquiring the book. I know there are a lot of people out there who say "writers should write, agents should agent, and editors should edit," but being very editorially-minded gives my clients an edge. If I send out a book that's publishable as is, then the odds of selling it go up dramatically. Plus it makes editors trust the product I offer them, so there's really no downside.

Have you changed anything about the way you work due to the effect the recession is having on the publishing world? Is there anything writers should be doing differently?

I haven't had to change anything yet. I am still going to be picky about the projects I sign, and then work hard to send the best book out the door. I set my bar pretty high on the quality of book I'll sign up, so if anything I'll just get pickier--but I think that's a good thing. If the number of books being published shrinks, hopefully the quality will increase. As for what writers can do, it's basically some version of the same. Work harder. Revise more. Read everything in your category so you know what's making it to publication. Spend more time on craft before querying agents. Don't waste time on conferences thinking that will get you in the door. Only query agents when you are sure your work is as strong as it can be.

You’ve got a lot of conference appearances scheduled this year. Is that the best way for you to find authors?

My dirty little secret is that I'm not necessarily going to conferences to find clients, though finding something can be a big bonus. I think conferences serve a lot of purposes, and one of them is certainly giving writers some face time with industry professionals. But the weekends are so overwhelming, and there are many writers at many different stages of readiness in terms of their work. I've found that a good percentage of attendees just aren't ready for anyone to see their work, let alone pitch an agent or editor with it, even though they do anyway. But I go because as a newer agent it's important for the writers out there to get to know me, my style, my tastes, my reputation. I also love being able to network with the other industry professionals, which is really valuable down the line. Anytime you get like-minded people in a room together, good things can happen.

Are you looking for anything in particular right now? What types of books for young readers do you really dig?

I'm a sucker for a big hook. If you look at my clients' books, you'll see that I can't get away from it. (Prime example and shameless plug: Pam Bachorz has her debut novel, Candor coming out this fall, and it's about a planned community where everyone is brainwashed to be perfect, but one boy knows the truth and works the system to his advantage. You can't get much bigger hook than brainwashing, and the book sucked me in from the first page.) I'm always looking for a new, great hook. I love alternate visions of the world we live in, or some strange "what if?" premise. I'm mostly really big on plot. Which doesn't mean I don't think voice is crucial. But on their own, really introspective, quiet books that are all voice and no story don't do it for me. And I have a lot of YA right now, so I'd like more middle grade, but I'm not picky about genre when it comes to falling in love.

Some of my favorite books I've read lately have been Libba Bray's Gemma Doyle trilogy, which I admire for being so entirely pleasurable and gripping. I haven't had that much fun reading a book in a long time. I also loved The Big Splash by Jack Ferraiolo. I'm jealous I didn't get to rep it. The humor is great, and I love Raymond Chandler, so this was such a fun read for me. And I thought What Would Emma Do? by Eileen Cook was charming and funny and a really refreshing contemporary YA. So if those books are any indication of my taste, then I think I'm in good shape.

Any advice for unpublished authors approaching agents at conferences? Through queries?

At conferences, sign up for critiques whenever you can. It's a better way to get feedback and let someone see a glimpse of your work than just giving them a kamikaze pitch at lunch or in the bathroom. I've also noticed that writers seem to avoid the agents and try to get straight to the editors, which I always think is funny. As soon as that conference is over, the editor wants the agent as his or her first line of defense. Agents aren't the bad guys...I swear. Just make sure your book is ready for viewing. I think a lot of people jump the gun before they're ready.

In terms of queries, just be as polished and professional as you can be. And polite behavior always wins out. I try to be sensitive and respectful of the fact that the writer is putting themselves out there to be rejected, so I would hope you'd be respectful of me as well. I hear a lot of complaints about queries, and how hard it is. But the thing hopeful authors need to remember is that you're applying for a writing job. Which means the query should read nicely. I know they are hard to write, but if you want me to think you can write a 250 page book...then I hope you can write a good cover letter. Just be succinct and polished.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Blogger of the Week:
Laurel Snyder...

Laurel Snyder
, you will learn below, is a long-time blogger who's not afraid to be herself in cyberspace--with a few rules. Soak up her advice below and click here to visit her blog.

You blogged on Kid*Lit(erary) from April 2007 until March 2008. You began blogging on your website on December 2007. Will you tell me your motivation behind starting each of these blogs, and why you stopped blogging on Kid*Lit? I'm interested in your evolution as a blogger. (Because why wouldn't a full-time writer with small children have plenty of time to keep up with two blogs?)

Ha! You don't know the half of it. I started blogging around 2000, after going to SXSW with a webby friend. At the time, my blog ( was personal, VERY personal. I posted all sorts of sordid things about nasty ex-boyfriends. I don't think I really had a clear sense for what the web was yet. I did all of that in dreamweaver, and had to upload through this funny ftp window, using dialup. I can't believe I bothered!

Then, I took that down and discovered Blogger. I built a new site called, and again, it was personal, but not THAT personal. Lots of poetry blogging and religion rants and an attempt at community building for kids of Jewish intermarriage.

When I began writing for kids and knew I was going to be publishing, I decided I needed a new focus for my blogging. Honestly, I wanted a site that wasn't riddled with naughty words. Something I wouldn't get in trouble over when parents found it googling my name. I also wanted a chance to think in a more critical/academic way about children's books. Hence, Kid*Lit(erary) was born.

BUT, after 2 kids were born, I started blogging for pay at Jewcy, podcasting at Nextbook, AND I sold a novel on proposal (and was expected to write it), I didn't have time for the reviewing I'd been planning. So I just killed the site and began an author blog, which I update now and then.

Whew! Sorry to go on so long. Looking back, I realize I'm a fickle sort of blogger, huh? But that's nice thing about blogs. Like haircuts, you can always start over if you mess up!

You started blogging well before your first books were published. Would you advise new writers, even those without book contracts, to work on their Web presence?

YES! Absolutely. But I think people do it for the wrong reasons sometimes. I don't understand when people blog because they're concerned with marketing themselves before they publish. Marketing is tiring and time-consuming and it will kill your soul and get in the way of your writing. Blogging isn't marketing. It's a productive, generative, creative way to think online. It's a starting point for community building too.

What do you do to maintain your own presence online (blogging, reading other blogs, Twitter, etc.)? How much time do you devote to that?

All of it. Facebook and Twitter. Blogging and reading blogs (in Jacketflap reader, mostly). Commenting on other people's blogs. I'm on several listservs. I love it all. I think the real trick is just to limit the amount of time you spend online. I use an egg timer when I'm trying to write. When it dings, I go offline. Hard to measure it in hours when I'm not regulating myself. With two toddlers underfoot I'm online a lot, back and forth all day in 30 second intervals. Twitter is perfect for me for that reason.

What kind of posts will readers find on your blog? Are they certain types of posts that get more response than others? (When I blog about Brussels sprouts or my '80s prom dress I get a lot more hits and comments than when I offer industry news, for example.)

Yes, well, I'm (I think) in the Kidlitosphere minority on this issue. My blog is an extension of ME, and I am a loosey-goosey, ranty, accident-prone, haphazard gal. I rarely censor myself much, and my blog is all over the place. Despite my best efforts to keep a "clean" site, I still can't seem to stop from losing my temper online. But I think the more blunt I am, the more people respond.
Popular topics have been my hatred for snooty adult writers who don't appreciate the amazing value of kidlit, fluffy kidlitters who don't understand why "literary" writing is more artful than crappy commercial writing, my confusion over Israel and Palestine, and my WRATH at ├╝ber-protective mommies who use too much Purell and make their kids sleep in helmets. Ha!

What advice would you offer new bloggers?

Just that a blog is published material. So we should all remember--it is one thing to be a crazed maniac online, and quite another to be a DUMB crazed maniac. If you want to say crazy things, try to sound smart and funny. Smart funny writers can get away with almost anything.

And please, for the love of Mike, do not tell us anything you don't want your boss (or your husband) to know.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Upcoming Writer's Digest Webinar:
Get Your Nonfiction Book Published with Jane Friedman...

My very knowledgeable Publisher Jane Friedman is offering a great webinar next week on getting nonfiction published. The session takes place Thursday, January 29, 2009 at 1 pm, EST and lasts a full hour and a half, for only $79.

Here's what attendees will learn during Jane's session:

  • Find out the difference between a nonfiction book concept that gets an immediate, enthusiastic response from agents/editors—and one that gets no response.
  • Learn how to craft a selling handle with sizzle.
  • Learn the one golden rule of nonfiction book ideas and how it assures publication every time.
  • Learn the basics of nonfiction book proposal writing (smart authors never write the book first, they always write a proposal).
And there's a BONUS: The first 25 people to register may submit a 100-word summary of their nonfiction book concept (which must include the book’s tentative title), to be critiqued in live time by Jane during the webinar. The second 25 people to register may also submit a summary, and will receive a custom critique within 24 hours of the presentation.

If you or any of your writer friends are interested in publishing nonfiction, you can click here for the full scoop and to register.

(Also note that I'm doing a webinar on children's publishing in February. You can register through the same link. And I'll remind you again later.)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

State of the Union? How About the State of Children's Publishing?...

I hope you all got a change to watch history in the making today. Alas, I was at a meeting during the inauguration, but I'm planning to watch it later in the day with Murray (who will have his Air Force One made of Legos in tow).

In between inauguration TV coverage, online news and Twitter updates, you can read Harold Underdown's rundown of what's happened in children's publishing over the last few months as well as his take on how the current recession will affect those working in the children's book industry.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Blogger of the Week:
Lisa McMann

I discovered YA author Lisa McMann when I began following her on Twitter. But when I read her author bio on Simon & Schuster's website and discovered we share a tremendous love for peanut butter (the world's awesomest food) that made me visit her website. And read her blog. And ask her to be my Blogger of the Week. Below she talks about her books and blogging.

For anyone not familiar with your
work, tell us about it.

The Wake trilogy is paranormal YA from Simon Pulse. The first book, Wake, came out last year and it's about a 17-year-old girl named Janie who gets sucked into other people's dreams, and how Janie learns to deal with her emerging powers with a little help from a mysterious, geeky-hot guy named Cabel who has creepy nightmares. Book 2, Fade, comes out February 10, and it continues the story of Janie and Cabe in their second semester of senior year.

The third book, Gone, is scheduled for spring of 2010.

When and why did you start blogging? What did you hope to accomplish?

I originally started blogging about four years ago, while I was still trying to write a novel that wasn't crap. At that time the blog's purpose was purely to entertain the small group of readers/friends I had. That blog has since disappeared, although I've kept some of the posts just in case I ever write a memoir. Heh.

My current blog began after I got my agent, Michael Bourret--a fabulous guy as you well know. This blog is purely to inform people about my books, contests, awards, etc. I still like to play and entertain, but I do that on Twitter and Facebook now, rather than on my blog.

Do contest work well for you promotion-wise? Any tips for other blogger on offering contests?

I do contests for two reasons. One, because I love to give stuff away. It's hella fun, and I feel like it's a way to say thanks to the readers who have supported me by buying Wake and making it a NYT bestseller. And two, because contests remind readers that my books exist and brings in new potential readers.

A word about promo: Back in my early days of selling real estate, my broker sent out newsletters every other month to his past clients. I suggested to him that maybe that was a waste of money--after all, who has time or inclination to read junk mail? They just throw it out. He said, "I don't care that they throw it away. The sole reason for sending newsletters to clients is for them to read my name or see my photo and remember that connection we had for a split second before they trash it. Because you never know when they're ready to buy another house. I want to make it easy for their brains to pull up my name again when it happens." That concept stuck with me.

As authors, we know we have limited time to make an impression. And promo gets old, fast. It's tiring, it's awkward--we'd rather write, not shill. There's a reason we hide out in our caves, writing, and that's because we are (typically) introverted. We don't do sales. Contests are a great way to keep the buzz going for your book without it feeling like it's in-your-face marketing.

To do a proper contest, you need to know who some of the book bloggers are. Get to know them--they rock. Many teen book bloggers do weekly roundups where they inform their readers about current contests. These bloggers are wonderful--they willingly help spread the word for you. Cynthia Leitich Smith also often posts contests on her amazing blog. Many book bloggers would love it if you send them a copy of your book. They'll review it and maybe give it away, or point people in the direction of your contest.

What other kinds of posts can visitors expect when they visit your blog?

Besides contests, I post news about my books, like any awards or nominations Wake has received (Cybils, Borders Original Voices, Best of 2008, BBYA, etc). I'll offer links to sites where readers can find widgets and screen savers and countdown clocks with a Wake theme. And I'll also post about other books I've read that have really touched me. Too, I have my Twitter widget on my blog so people can easily see what off-topic things I'm talking about elsewhere that day as well.

Could you offer any advice to authors new to the blogosphere?

  • Have a theme in mind when you start your blog.
  • Post on others' blogs a lot and get to know other the bloggers you enjoy reading, and those whose blogs are like yours.
  • It takes time to build a readership--work diligently on that by posting about interesting topics (think about what people might google that you happen to know a lot about) every other day or a few times a week.
  • Let people know on your fave message boards, your MySpace or Facebook, etc. that you are now blogging and invite them to come check out your contest. If you don't have books of your own to give away, offer somebody else's book as a prize. Or, do like Heather Brewer does for her vampire series--offer Vlad-themed hoodies. Or like A.S. King does for her awesome debut--offer very quick contests that are tons of fun and give away V.O.G.s (very odd gifts).
  • Be quirky and clever and word will spread. Also, you should definitely follow my blog, not only because I have two awesome contests going on right now, but because I just started that "follow me" feature and I want more followers than Alice Pope. ;-)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Authors on Twitter...

Here's a link to a list of authors on Twitter.

Tweet, Tweet: Do You Twitter?...

A few weeks after the SCBWI LA conference last summer, I was emailing with agent Michael Bourret and he mentioned something about being on Twitter. What is this Twitter, I asked? He sent me a link and I joined. (If you don't know what Twitter is, click here. There's even a video.) In a nutshell it's a micro-blogging platform. It's sort of the Facebook status update minus everything else on Facebook.)

For several months, I only followed a handful of people and had a handful of followers. Every so often when I was bored I'd search for new people and companies and newspapers to follow. Then I got an iPhone and now I'm becoming a bit of a Twitter fanatic. I stop myself from checking it all day long. I tweet (that's what you call the posts) at stop lights. I read tweets right before I go to sleep. It's a little like crack.

A few minutes ago I got a notice that F+W Media was now following me (that's my company) which only proves that, officially, everyone is tweeting. And, really, there is a great publishing presence on Twitter. Check out this ever-growing list of publishers, agents, publicists, and bookstores which I'm sure is not comprehensive. Off the top of my head I thought of four agents I follow who are not on this list. (If you want to find lots of publishing folks, also check out who I follow. You need to have an account to do so.)

For writers it's a quick and easy way to stay up on what your favorite publishers, agents, authors, and bookstores are doing. You can also follow The Onion, John Hodgman, Wil Wheaton and The Daily Show Producer Miles Khan, which are my personal favorites. Shaq, Britney and the like tweet as well. And, of course, me:

Twitter is the new Facebook; Facebook is the new MySpace; MySpace is the new Friendster; and Friendster is so five-minutes ago.

Monday, January 12, 2009

In the News...

  • The awesome Susan Patron defends the Newbery in the Los Angeles Times in response to Valerie Strauss's claim in the Washington Post last month that "the literary world is debating the Newbery's value, asking whether the books that have won recently are so complicated and inaccessible to most children that they are effectively turning off kids to reading."
  • Publishers Lunch reports: "Running Press president and publisher Jon Anderson will join Simon & Schuster as evp and publisher of their children's division on January 21."
  • PW Children's Bookshelf reports on holdiday sales: "Children’s books proved to be one of the most recession-resistant segments of the book business this holiday season, with the Twilight series and the latest from J.K. Rowling leading the pack."

Friday, January 09, 2009

Blogger of the Week:
Debbi Michiko Florence...

Author Debbi Michiko Florence has been maintaining One Writer’s Journey on LiveJournal since September of 2004. Below she talks about her experience as a writer-blogger.

Why did you start One Writer's Journey?

I’d toyed with the idea for a few months prior, but hesitated because I thought, who cares what I think? But I really loved the idea of being able to keep a record of my journey as a writer. At the time, I didn’t think anyone would read my blog save for family and friends. I was shocked to learn there was a whole children’s writer community already on LiveJournal and as we found each other, I gained a valuable group of friends and colleagues.

What kinds of things do you post about? Has that changed over time?

My intention was to blog about my writing process--the ups and downs, and to honestly catalog what happened and how I felt. That was easy at first because I thought that only a handful of people were reading my blog. As the months wore on, more and more writers found LiveJournal and the children’s writer community, and suddenly I was aware that complete strangers were reading about my writing life.

How boring, I thought. So I started sharing good news about other writers and linking to my author interviews on my web site. The warm community feeling made me more comfortable sharing my opinions and stories about the non-writing part of my life, too.

Then, one day, I received an e-mail from a well-known and respected editor who thanked me for talking positively about one of her author’s books. It was suddenly clear to me that anyone could read my blog. While I never spoke badly about books or other people (just annoying TV commercials and miscellaneous pet peeves), I realized that what I said directly reflected how complete strangers (and editors) would perceive me. So whenever I write a post I imagine four people reading it: my agent, an editor, a complete stranger, and my mother--and if I’m okay with that, then I post it.

These days, I blog about almost anything: my writing, my books, good news about other writers, books I love (I keep my reading list on my blog), my dog, and snippets from my life in general.

How has blogging been beneficial to you as a writer?

Blogging has helped me feel less alone. There are wonderful, warm, and supportive writers out there and we offer each other encouragement and cheers. I suspect blogs help with marketing/sales, although I’ve not done any formal research on it. I definitely believe my blog helped get word out about my book. Certainly, I learn about books from other writers’ blogs and have made purchases after reading praise for a book.

What's your advice for newer bloggers?

There are such a wide array of styles and personalities out there. My suggestion is to be yourself, but also remember that your blog is not like keeping a private journal. Figure out who your target audience is (for me it’s children’s writers and book lovers), but also remember other people might come across it (a 10-year-old, your grandmother, a former nemesis). One of my cousins keeps up with me by reading my blog daily. Consider the length of your posts. I like to try to keep most of my posts on the short side, because I suspect readers of my blog read many blogs and are short on time. And finally, post consistently. Figure out what your schedule allows. Daily? Weekly? Probably more often than once a month. You don’t want to lose your audience. Mostly, have fun! If you don’t enjoy it (some writers don’t)--don’t blog. But if you love it? Dive in!

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

CBI Clubhouse Just Launched...

Just read this JackFlap message from Children's Book Insider's Jon Bard:

After months of development, we've just opened the doors of The CBI Clubhouse--The Web Community for Children's Writers!
The CBI Clubhouse is where writers for children & teens--beginner and pro alike--from around the world can come to hang out, make new writing buddies and sharpen their skills. The site is packed with audio, video, ebooks, a great message board and much, much more. It's like nothing else on the web, and it's simply blowing away the folks who've already joined.

Please take a minute to come check it out. We have a great video tour that shows you everything!

Here's the address:

This site is free to CBI subscribers and those who aren't subscribers can sign up for $3.95 a month for the first 400 members.

Has anyone tried this out? (I'm not currently a subscriber so I didn't sign up. I started to watch the tour video, but it's 15 minutes long, and I don't have that kind of time today.)

Monday, January 05, 2009

GalleyCat's Publishing in 2008 Rundown...

Happy New Year everyone. I'm back at work and almost through my email. (I've read them all but haven't answered them all.)

Today, for my first post of 2009, I offer links to GalleyCat's year in publishing 2008 rundown, offered in month-by-month capsules featuring phony memoirs, fake controversy, Glenn Beck, publisher jumping by big names authors, editors hopping houses, layoffs, salary freezes, restructuring, signs of the publishing apocalypse, Sarah Palin, and Madonna's brother (not necessarily in that order). It's fun to read them chronologically from January to December, so here you go:

You also might find this interesting--here's a piece in the New York Times about the new austerity in the publishing world where "fancy lunches, sparkling parties, sophisticated banter" and sales meetings in the Caribbean are being replaced by pizza in the cafeteria and video conferencing. (Oh the horror.)