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I promise not to get all weepy and new-age-y on you — I am Tough Agent Lady! (Some of the time…) — but there’s this amazing photographer called Meg Perotti who works in the SF Bay Area and she posted a wonderful, inspiring image on her blog to ring in the New Year. (MK trivia time: I love photography. I have written for a photography trade magazine called Rangefinder. I’m better at appreciating it than doing it myself, but I am an absolute sucker for a stunning photograph, especially portraiture, which is how I fell in love with Meg Perotti’s blog in the first place!)

It’s a bit small here but if you click on it, you can blow it up, print it out, and look at it often, because that’s what I’m doing. I know that New Year’s Eve was, like, a week ago, and everyone is already over it and back to work and slogging through and waiting for the next vacation, but, dang it, there’s too much that’s good and creative and powerful about life to let it streak by unnoticed!

Plus, it doesn’t hurt that the bottom of this picture is the beeeeeeautiful city of San Francisco, which I will be visiting next week.

I got a nice month’s break from traveling in December and now it’s back to the skies. I’m flying to ALA in San Diego today for some fun, meetings, and face time with my Southern California colleagues Kelly, Jen, and Jamie. Then on Monday I’m up to San Francisco to see family and friends and to meet with my NorCal colleagues, Andrea, Laura, and Caryn.

For a belated Christmas present, I’m taking my mom to go hear Elizabeth Gilbert speak next Friday. (I think this Gilbert lady wrote a book? Something about eating? Just kidding. It’s pretty hilarious, actually: my mom just discovered EAT, PRAY, LOVE. I’m all like, “Remember that whole collective ommmmmm hovering over 2006? No? Oh well!”) Then it’s back to NYC for a whirlwind!

On January 17th, I’m doing my last Learning Annex class for now. It’ll be in the evening, somewhere in midtown Manhattan, and you can find a link to the event here. If you’ve already gone to one, this will be the same material: an overview of the children’s publishing marketplace. Come out, see me, and get your work critiqued! Next weekend is the Writer’s Digest Conference (see you at the Pitch Slam!), then Digital Book World (more on this next week), and the NY SCBWI. (I’m not speaking or giving a workshop, I’m doing the roundtable critiques on Friday, so I’ll be around all weekend, but I’m not doing any Saturday or Sunday sessions that people can show up for. You’ll just have to find me. Hint: I’ll be near the coffee…) That’s all within two weeks, folks!

Whew! It’s no wonder I’m finding so much calm, solace, and inspiration from Meg’s lovely thought for 2011! I hope you all enjoy it. See you next week with ALA updates.

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I’m in Big Sur today, getting ready for my beloved Big Sur conference with all of my colleagues and some amazing editor and creator guests, like Marla Frazee (!!!). In the spirit of conferences, here’s a question from Melissa:

I’d like to attend the January SCBWI conference–my first. Could you maybe post about what a first-timer should bring/be prepared for to get the most out of the experience? Let’s say the writer has a completed book (that has been beta-critiqued) but has not queried yet.

This is a good question. A lot of the things you’ll end up “bringing” to a conference are actually mental, not physical. (For more thoughts on conferences, see “Should I go to a writers conference?”) Even so, I will try to make a list of things to bring and things to leave at home. Even though I now attend conferences as a faculty member, I keep these things and more in my head and in my suitcase when I travel!

Things to bring (mental):

  • An open mind: Lots of people go to conferences to learn and to meet new people (and ideas!), so approach every conference with an open mind. You don’t know everything there is to know and your work isn’t perfect. That’s not an insult…that’s a good thing! With that attitude, you’ll get the most out of a conference and take your savvy and your work to the next level as a result.
  • Your social butterfly hat: Conferences are very social and you get more out of them if you’re willing to engage, meet new people, strike up conversations, and, yes, *gulp* approach faculty (at appropriate times, of course). Even if you’re naturally shy, dip a toe outside your comfort zone and you’ll meet new friends, potential critique partners, other writers on the same journey, and maybe even a business connection.
  • Your relaxation tools: Conferences are stressful and overwhelming, especially for first timers. The days are packed, the nights offer lots of socializing/writing opportunities, and you’ll probably feel like you haven’t slept in days when you get home. Bring something to help you relax and unwind (pleasure reading, a journal, your sweatpants), or something from your home routine (jogging shoes, your iPod, a movie on your computer) to help you keep your sanity.

Things to bring (physical):

  • Journal/notepad and lots of pens: Conference panels and workshops are chock-full of ideas that you’ll want to jot down and take home with you. You’ll get to do very little actual processing while you’re at the event, so take copious notes so that you can revisit them once you’re home and settled down. If audio recording is your thing, take a recorder. Just make sure it’s okay with conference organizers (it may not be) before you record any audio or video at the event. Important: Your notes and/or recordings should be for your own use only. We all work very hard on our presentations, and they’re our intellectual property, so don’t reproduce, reprint, or transcribe our words verbatim for your friends or on your blog. Writers who may see us speak in the future may feel cheated if we give a talk that they’ve read a transcript from before, but most of us only have a handful of talks that we like to give.
  • Camera: Capture the fun (and the faces of your new friends) of a conference. Make sure you have your camera, film/memory stick, and your battery charger.
  • Networking swag: Before you go to a conference, make sure you have business cards, bookmarks, or another paper form of publicity for yourself that you can give away. Even if you don’t have an agent or a book deal yet, make attractive cards to give around. Most faculty will not take cards or papers from you — we don’t need the extra thing to lose, nor do we want it weighing down our suitcase. But you will meet lots of other people at the conference, and you will be grateful to have something with your name and contact information to give out to new people. It’s a lot better than having to scribble your email address on torn-off paper corners, and attractive and customizable business cards can be had for free (or the cost of shipping) from websites like VistaPrint.
  • Art and previous books: If you are an illustrator, have postcards made of your work to hand out as well (I get postcards printed by NextDayFlyers.com for my illustration clients). If you have a portfolio, bring a copy to show to attendees and faculty (at appropriate times). If you have previously published books, do bring them as an example of your work (but not to give away, see below).
  • Travel necessities: Don’t let anything stress you out at a conference. Check and double-check all the nitty gritty stuff in your suitcase: chargers, toiletries, etc. For me, forgetting to bring my phone charger or computer cable is enough to throw me off my game, as I’m always worried about the battery status of my gadgets. By checking the “duh” stuff and making sure you have it all, you’ll take them off your mind.
  • Good clothing choices: Bring comfortable shoes. They are a must. Also, bring sweaters, cardigans, layers, and light jackets, even if you’re going to Phoenix during a heat wave. A lot of conferences are held in big hotel ballrooms and meeting rooms, and those always tend to be freezing. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve made the mistake of bringing a flimsy cardigan and shivering my way through a weekend. The temperature in the conference city is for outside, ladies and gentlemen. The inside of hotel conference centers operates on its own climate altogether!
  • Food for thought: For the bigger weekend conferences, your registration fee will usually cover meals. Sometimes these hotel catering affairs are decent. Other times…oh boy. And food choices in an unfamiliar location can be a nightmare for people with dietary requirements. (For example, some hotels will just serve pasta at every meal to vegetarians…) If you like to eat consistently and not have to worry about food while you’re away, bring some snacks from home and check ahead to see if there’s a grocery store near the hotel. When I travel, I like to go grocery shopping on the first day. Most hotels will have a mini-fridge in the room. If not, you can have one delivered for either free or a small daily fee. If you have dietary needs or just plain think hotel food is yucky, having some of your favorite food will be a great comfort.

What not to bring:

  • Your manuscript: Nobody will take your 300 page manuscript home with them, even if they like your work. Most faculty will request samples after the conference that you can then send. Don’t come with printed copies of your work, unless it is required at a workshop-type conference and the organizers have explicitly given you instructions. It will, in 99% of cases, end up leaving the hotel with you after the weekend is over.
  • Bound books: The same goes for self-published or otherwise printed books that you want to give to the faculty. If there is interest, you can always send it after the fact.
  • A book contract: If you’ve been offered a book deal, don’t bring your contract in the hopes that a faulty member will be able to look it over for you. This type of thing, again, can be discussed and arranged, if desired, at a later date.
  • Your know-it-all attitude: Nobody likes a know-it-all. Don’t be hostile, combative, or pushy with faculty or other attendees. Most people come to conferences to learn new things, and those characters who show up with the wrong attitude not only disturb this atmosphere, but they get a notorious rap with the faculty.

I hope this is a good checklist to get you set for your first conference, or a reminder as you gear up for subsequent events. Speaking of conferences, I’ve updated my Events page for what I’ve set up so far in 2011!

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Vacation!

Hey all! I’m going on vacation! Later today, I’m jetting off to Ireland and Scotland to drink Guinness, eat fish and chips, flounce around haunted castles, drink Guinness, delight in authentic brogue, and otherwise have a great time. I’ve been to Dublin before, but never to Edinburgh, so this will be an exciting trip that mixes old favorites with, I hope, new ones. I also have a client in Scotland…and we are, of course, cooking up appropriate shenanigans.

Long story short: I will not be monitoring the blog, reading comments, responding to emails, or doing any of my usual deskbound stuff until the week of September 13th, and even then, you’d be wise to give me some time to catch up on all my correspondence.

I do have posts scheduled for the duration of my vacation, so the blog will carry on in my absence. However, if you are new to Kidlit.com and have never commented before, your comments will go into my moderation queue until the week of the 13th and won’t be posted on the site until I have a chance to check them out.

You can still query me and send me emails and all that good stuff, just know that I’ll be blithely ignoring them until I get back to New York.

In the meantime, don’t forget to sign up for my Writer’s Digest webinar, which is happening on Thursday, September 23rd. You can enroll by clicking here. It’s the next best thing for all of you who have been waiting to see me live…and you don’t have to leave your pajamas! If you have to miss the live event itself and can’t call in, you can always register for the webinar and have access to the recording of it for one full year.

I pledge to answer all questions posed to me, either during the seminar or later, in writing, and, as a registered student, you will get a critique of the first 500 words of MG or YA novel or the first 300 words of your picture book manuscript, depending on what you’re writing. If I get a good turnout for this webinar, Writer’s Digest will host me again, and  you know how much I love getting teaching opportunities, so tell your friends!

Speaking of Writer’s Digest, if you pick up an October issue or order one online, you’ll find a mini-profile of me in the “27 Agents Looking for New Writers” cover feature. I’m on the “annual hot list”! Hot dog!

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Hey all. If you’re thinking that you’d love to attend a virtual writer’s conference for kidlit writers only — maybe you’ve never experienced a conference, maybe you’re still nursing your SCBWI-LA-is-over-for-another-year blues — you’re in luck. This week is WriteOnCon, a fantastic virtual kidlit writer’s conference put on, in part, by one of my fabulous clients, Jamie Harrington.

WriteOnCon features editors, agents, and published authors who will be writing articles, doing vlogs, giving presentations, hosting chats, answering your questions, hanging in the forums, and otherwise interacting with writers all week long.

The conference runs from Tuesday, August 10th, to Thursday, August 12th, is completely online, is completely FREE, and features a special vlog presentation (about character depth vs. character stereotypes) and a live chat with yours truly.

Check out WriteOnCon here, and register today: http://www.writeoncon.com.

I’ll also be hanging out in the forums this week and answering questions, so watch out!

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BEA (Book Expo America) ended yesterday and, as of this morning, I’m finally feeling a bit more human. Expo week is always huge, busy, and full of friends, colleagues, parties and, of course, ARCs.

frazee_the_boss_babySome of the highlights of the week for me were: the Teen Author Carnival, running into Marla Frazee and her editor (Marla’s newest book, out this fall, THE BOSS BABY, is one of my absolute new favorites), seeing my fantastic colleagues (and our agency’s phenomenal foreign rights and subrights co-agent, Taryn Fagerness).

BEA is always crowded and it’s hard to get where you’re going without running into people you know or recognize if you’ve circulated in the publishing industry for any length of time. So you can set up all the meetings you want, but you’ll always be surprised by who you bump into.

brown_childrenI also loved meeting Peter Brown (whose newest picture book from Little, Brown, CHILDREN MAKE TERRIBLE PETS, out this fall, is the best thing I’ve ever seen), reconnecting with some old friends and making plenty of new ones (just in time for my move!), meeting agents from the tight-knit agenting community in NYC, and seeing an AWESOME panel for the new GUYS READ: FUNNY BUSINESS anthology coming out this fall from HarperCollins/Walden Media (the panel featured children’s book heavyweights Jon Scieszka, Mac Barnett, Adam Rex, Jeff Kinney, David Lubar and the editor of the anthology, Jordan Brown).

keplinger_the_duffIn terms of YA news and ARCs, I went to the YA Editor’s Buzz panel, an annual event where five excited editors talk about the big books on their list. Ally Condie’s MATCHED was the big book for Penguin, of course, Erin Bow’s PLAIN KATE was Scholastic’s exciting new find, Rebecca Maizel had INFINITE DAYS on the St. Martin’s list, and Sophie Jordan’s FIRELIGHT will be coming out from HarperTeen, but there is one book that I kept hearing about over and over and over again: THE DUFF, coming this fall from Little, Brown.

Kody Keplinger was seventeen, I believe, when she wrote THE DUFF (which stands for “The Designated, Ugly, Fat Friend” in insult lingo). She appeared at the Teen Author Carnival, had several signings and panels at BEA, has sold movie and foreign rights all over the place, was flagged by her publicist and editor wherever she went and was otherwise a consummate professional…and she’s just getting started! I can’t wait to read THE DUFF and have heard from pretty much everyone that it is amazing. I had a chance to talk to several Little, Brown editors and they’re really getting behind an amazing list for next season (including Daisy Whitney’s phenomenal debut, THE MOCKINGBIRDS, which got lots and lots of buzz).

the-mockingbirdsOther impressions I got at BEA from editors and panels and all that jazz: paranormal needs to be absolutely unique (don’t start writing a vampire, angel, werewolf or zombie book unless you want to give yourself the steepest odds possible). This applies to mythology, too (Greek and Egyptian will be a hard sell unless we haven’t heard about those characters before).

Mermaids are definitely on the uptick in terms of acquisitions, as is dystopian: those books will start coming out next season. Editors are definitely looking for thrillers, contemporary/realistic, mystery and stories of friendship, romance, and betrayal, in both MG and YA. This is great because all of these themes are right up my alley — I’d love to stop seeing derivative paranormal romance and hear from writers who are really telling unique stories. It’s finally time to break out of the TWILIGHT mold, and it seems like more and more of publishing agrees.

On a purely personal note, I got to meet and fangirl about Bernadette Peters. She was there, signing her newest picture book. I think finally meeting one of my theatre idols made my life at least 117% better. Overall, a fantastic week. Now, off to catch up on emails from all those patient people who’ve been trying to reach me. 🙂

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At some point in every aspiring writer’s life, they will ask themselves: should I invest in a conference? That’s how you should phrase it, anyway. It is an investment: of time, of money. A lot of people report feeling more committed and professional after an event.

Here is an easy list of pros and cons of conferences, in case you’re on the fence about going to your first or going again. Use this list to keep your expectations in check (very important).

Cons: Why You Might Not Want to Go To A Conference

  • Expense: Conferences are expensive. The conference fee (usually between $100 and $500 dollars). Hotel. Airfare. You’re usually looking at about $1,000 bucks if you go to one of the larger conferences outside of your home state. Some conferences, though, do offer scholarships. It’s always a good idea to ask. Smaller conferences and  regional SCBWI days are a good alternative if cost is a huge factor.
  • Intimidation: This might be one of the first times in your life you’ll be meeting real, walking, talking agents and book editors. This makes some people more nervous than excited. My advice: try as hard as you can to get used to the idea. We’re the people you want to work with. And we’re just people who love good books. Look! We already have something in common!
  • Other writers and workshops: For some more advanced users, conferences are frustrating because some of the other writers operate on a really basic level. For some complete newbies, the advanced level of other attendees might be really scary. Workshops at conferences are also a mixed bag. One time, I was at a conference where someone raised their hand (totally unrelated to the discussion at hand, mind you) and asked what the difference was between fiction and non-fiction. Color me underwhelmed! It’s best to go into it eager to make new friends and expecting to learn something (but not have your mind blown) from the workshops.
  • Crazy opportunists: Conferences are rife with crazy opportunists, or people who hawk their projects to anyone who will listen. These are the people you hear about, sliding their manuscripts under the bathroom stall to a terrified agent. You’d be wise to avoid these folks. If you ARE one of these folks, don’t waste your breath/time/money. These tactics are much more “cautionary tale” than “success story.”
  • Unrealistic expectations: It is very, very rare that you will spot an agent from across the room, leap all over each other like Romeo and Juliet, and ink an agency contract by the end of the weekend. Writers connect with agents and editors all the time. But don’t expect it to happen. You will most likely get your heart broken if that’s the only reason you’re going. And don’t, whatever you do, show up with 10 copies of your full manuscript, all nice and printed out, and try handing them out. Nobody will take them. It’s ALWAYS best to query after a conference or, if you make a connection with an agent or editor, to send them a follow-up e-mail. I repeat: nobody will take the 300-page brick of paper off your hands right in the middle of the hotel ballroom. Don’t try it.

Now for the good news! There are tons of reasons to go to a writers conference.

Pros: Why You Should Go To A Conference

  • Agents and editors: Most people, people really serious about launching their careers, go to conferences to network. Forming bonds with other writers is great but…at a conference you can meet (and impress) some agents and editors. Saying “I met you at so and so” really does catch my busy eyes when I’m combing the slush.
  • Motivation: A near-guaranteed aftereffect of a writers conference is that you will get new ideas and get really pumped to write them. Don’t take your meanest writing block to a conference and expect it magically fixed, but you’ll be impressed with how motivated you feel.
  • Other writers: Yes, you’ll probably make some friends! Friends are good!
  • Critiques: Conferences are great for getting your first critique or pitch session in with a real, live publishing professional. Yes, they cost money. But the way I figure it, you’re already spending a lot of cash. What’s an extra $50-$100 for a critique? Skip lunch and dinner and opt for sandwiches from the corner store, if you have to. You’ll get to sit down with an agent or editor one-on-one and talk about your work. You might even get a request for more material, if your work is really polished.
  • A change of pace/scenery: Sometimes, a conference is great just because it doesn’t feel like your real life. You feel like you’ve just vacationed in Writerland and that’s a nice way to recharge your batteries.
  • Self-confidence: Every little bit helps, right? Well, after a conference, a lot of people get much more comfortable with the idea of writing, the logistics of becoming more committed to their work. It can work psychological wonders and, if you haven’t figured it out already, writing is a mental and emotional challenge for the ego.

So there you go! Literally! Go, if you feel compelled to.

For kidlit writers, I highly recommend making it out to a national SCBWI conference at least once. More info here: SCBWI. I prefer the summer one in LA over the NYC winter conference, though maybe I’m biased because the shorter flight has lured me. Seriously, though, it is the longer-running one and, puzzlingly, seems to attract more New York agents and editors. If you can’t make it to one of the national conferences, do go to your regional SCBWI chapter’s events. Some excellent chapters throw amazing conferences, like the Nevada SCBWI chapter run by Ellen Hopkins. Why I like SCBWI events: all the people you meet are into kid’s books. Every single one of them. So you’re not sitting next to a cozy mystery/romance thriller writer at lunch.

With most other conferences, you have to watch the list of participants and speakers like a hawk. Seriously. Do your research. Google everybody. Figure out where in publishing they are. The last thing you want to do is spend all that time and money and show up at a conference populated by non-fiction or adult fiction agents and editors. Make sure at least a handful of children’s book professionals will be there. The benefit of zeroing in on the kidlit people at an adult conference, though, is that you’ll likely have more face time with them as one of the few children’s writers in attendance.

So no matter which conference you choose, take this list to heart and take the plunge. It’s worth it at least once in every writer’s life.

And, of course, I’d be totally remiss if I didn’t point you all to the Big Sur Fiction Writing Workshop, put on by the Andrea Brown agency, that’s coming up December 3rd through the 5th! It’s an amazing weekend of small groups, in-depth workshops, close attention from faculty and, of course, lots of chances to network and meet writers, agents and editors. Click here for the website!

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I mean it. Mad. Ness.

Okay, so I have some pictures that I’ll put up here after I get home and I have tons of ideas for posts. However, I would just like to take this opportunity to summarize BEA 2009. Here are the essential stats:

Authors met: 27
ARC’s received: 21
Hopeless geeky crushes on other book nerds: 2*
Editors met: 11
Red Bulls imbibed: 3 (We all know I’d be lying if I didn’t put down at least “5”)
Bars attended with writers and friends: 5
Official publishing parties attended: 2
24-hour diners eggs-benedict-ed in: 1

And now for the most shocking (to me) numbers of all: sleep stats. I arrived on Thursday at 6 p.m. and am leaving Sunday at 11 a.m.

Total hours in NYC: 64
Total hours slept on Thursday night: 4.5
Total hours slept on Friday night: 4
Total hours slept on Saturday night: 0
Total hours slept: 8.5

No sleep ’til… Book Expo! I can’t imagine this sheer amount of mind-blowing awesomeness will repeat itself but I’ve made up my mind regardless: I am adding BEA to my annual schedule. Like whoa. Heart, soul, mind all agree: this was one of the best, most interesting, most intense and most amazing weekends ever.

* I’ll never tell. Muah hahahaha.

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