Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Back from Iowa

I'm home from a delicious few days speaking at a Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) retreat in Iowa, held at a hotel near the Amana Colonies. This is the first speaking invitation I've ever gotten from Facebook: the conference organizer, Connie Heckert, and I became friends over Facebook, I expressed enthusiasm for attending another one of her wonderful events, and then, via Facebook, she invited me to speak at this one. So Facebook is more than just tons of time-wasting fun!

The attendees for the event - some 40 authors drawn from five states - were required to have three finished manuscripts to submit for critique. The bulk of the weekend was spent in critique workshops where we all exchanged comments on each other's work, the workshops facilitated by the retreat faculty - published authors (such as me) as well as editor Samantha McFerrin of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, editor Julie Romeis of Chronicle Books, and literary agent Scott Treimel. At first I was a bit nervous about the workshops: oh, how to balance kindness and honesty, encouragement and incisive criticism! But the other attendees were so good at striking this balance that I just followed their example, and I think everyone left with truly dazzling insights into how to improve the manuscripts.

The faculty also gave talks. Mine was a nitty-gritty craft-oriented one called "Manuscript Makeovers," where I gave guidelines for how to avoid all the many mistakes I've made in my own manuscripts over the years. The one I took the most notes on was an overview of the state of the industry by Samantha, Julie, and Scott. Here is some of what I learned.

- E-books are happening faster than even the most aggressive predictions. New and very appealing picture book e-readers are in the works. Editors themselves now read all their manuscripts on their Kindles. This is "the most momentous change our industry has gone through since the advent of paperbacks." Editors are even working on books that will come to readers through email and cell phone calls! Eric Carle is about to issue "My First App by Eric Carle" !

- Electronic royalties remain a huge issue of contention between editors/publishers on the one hand and agents/authors on the other hand. The former make the same amount of money on electronic editions of books (lower price for the books offset by lower production costs); authors (and so agents) lose out.

- The recent New York Times article that announced the impending demise of the picture book is "overstated and extreme." Yay!

- Editorial office joke: "Vampires never die." But fallen angels are also catching on. Ditto for druids.

- In the ever-cyclical rotations of the publishing world, it may be time for middle grade to come again to the forefront. Or dinosaurs. Graphic novels are still a wonderful option for this age group, especially for struggling readers.

- For nonfiction, consider writing "a little known story about a well-known person." Or take a fresh angle, as in a recent picture book biography of Louis Armstrong told from the point of view of his horn.

Oh, and so much more! My head is spinning! I think I could write a nonfiction book that would be a little-known story about a well-known person. But could I ever write an i-phone app??

1 comment:

  1. Wished I could have been there to hear your talk, "Manuscript Makeovers".