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Conferences

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This January 20th to 22nd, I will be participating in the Writer’s Digest Conference at the Sheraton in New York City! I’m very excited about this conference.

On Saturday morning, I will be speaking on an agent panel and taking agent- and publishing-related Q&A with some fellow agents and moderated by 2012 CHILDREN’S WRITER’S AND ILLUSTRATOR’S MARKET editor and Guide to Literary Agents blogger Chuck Sambuchino.

Then, Saturday afternoon, I will be in a room with over 60 literary agents for the annual Pitch Slam. You will have unprecedented access to come and pitch your book to some of the brightest and most hungry agents in the business. There is a nice mix of kidlit, adult, and non-fiction agents represented (and representing!).

On Sunday, I will be speaking about today’s kidlit marketplace and how to get published there. Yep, I am all over this conference, guys. But I’m not the only fantastic speaker. The Saturday keynote is digital/indie publishing guru and adult thriller writer Barry Eisler and I just saw that Chris Baty, the genius behind NaNoWriMo, which I know some of you just finished, has been added as a speaker, too!

The great thing about the Writer’s Digest Conference is that they’re running a special holiday promotion right this minute. If you register for the conference before midnight on December 16th, you will get a $50 discount. Just click here and use the following promo code: HOLIDAYWDC

If you’re going, spread the word on Twitter and Facebook by mentioning @WritersDigest and the hashtag #WDC12

It’s not too late to book that dream trip to NYC and get your 2012 writing goals off to a strong start at the Writer’s Digest Conference. And, of course, if you’re reader and planning on going, I would love to meet you!

Now, I also have a super special holiday gift for you guys. Speaking of Chuck Sambuchino and the new 2012 CHILDREN’S WRITER’S AND ILLUSTRATOR’S MARKET, I have two copies to give away!

Inside this handy volume, you will find articles on craft, writing, submitting, and landing an agent, interviews with kidlit glitterati like M.T. Anderson and Meg Cabot, and updated listings for agents, publishers, and magazines that take work from children’s writers and illustrators. If you want to land an agent or find a market for your work in 2012, this is the book for you.

I highly recommend it. In fact, you will see a familiar face featured on the back cover, and an official blurb from me that reads:

Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market is the most complete, trusted, definitive, and inspiring source of publishing opportunities for children’s writers and illustrators working today.

It’s true. Not only did I lend my mug and stamp of approval to the book, but I have two articles featured inside. One is about writer’s conferences, like the Writer’s Digest Conference this very January in NYC, and how to make the best of your investment in them (whether it’s your first or your fiftieth), and the other covers my three favorite craft issues: Voice, Character, and Authority, with lots of juicy annotated examples from my favorite MG and YA books on shelves.

So if you want to see examples of Voice that works — an especially tricky topic that lots of writers struggle with — pick up a copy today! This elegant guide is crammed full of useful information and updated agency, publisher, and magazine listings to make your quest toward publication a no-brainer. Let 2012 be the year you really MARKET your writing!

Because I want you to have an awesome writer’s holiday gift this year, either for you or for a loved one, I am giving away two free copies of the 2012 CHILDREN’S WRITER’S AND ILLUSTRATOR’S MARKET to two writers randomly selected from the comments. Leave a comment below (make sure to include your email address in the comment form, though know that only I will be able to see it and it won’t be published on the site). Deadline for entries is midnight, Tuesday, December 20th. The winner will be announced in Wednesday the 21st’s blog, and then I will ship your copy to you next week. (US residents only, please.)

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Upcoming Workshops

Just in case you missed ABLA’s Big Sur Workshop in December, I’m writing to let you know that there’s another Big Sur in Monterey in March. The ABLA agents and a select group of editors will gather with attendees to workshop their writing over an intense and productive weekend in a beautiful location. I have participated in the workshops since 2009 and can tell you that it’s an amazing and transformative weekend for attendees. I see writers take real leaps in their craft each and every time. This workshop format is extremely hands-on — you’re in a group of only four or five attendees — and that kind of close writing scrutiny from faculty and fellow writers is invaluable.

Mark your calendars now for our first 2012 Big Sur, which will take place March 2nd through the 4th in Monterey, CA. Registration is now open. You can learn more and sign up here. Even though I’m not listed as one of the agents on faculty (an annual glitch), I will be there!

There’s also another intensive workshop on my radar, and that’s the Highlights Foundation Whole Novel Workshop that’s taking place in Pennsylvania in the middle of March. I had the great pleasure of participating in a Highlights workshop in the summer of 2010 and highly recommend this one to writers who can spare the week and are serious about their craft. The Foundation has opened a brand new conference center on their idyllic plot of land up in rural Pennsylvania, and this year’s Whole Novel Workshop leader is beloved novelist Helen Hemphill. The deadline to sign up is December 21st! You can find out more about it here.

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It is with great pleasure that I share the following pictures from my wonderful visits to the Tokyo and Hong Kong SCBWI chapters. The first picture is me and the group from Tokyo. We met at the lovely Yokohama International School the Saturday before Halloween and then spent one long day talking about the marketplace, queries, craft, and the submission process. The Q&A session included concerns for the Aussie writers in attendance (there were several!) and, of course, curiosity about the digital changes coming to the publishing industry.

Overall, a talented group of writers and illustrators — and quite a few guys representing the SCBWI in Tokyo! (You don’t usually see a large male population at children’s writing conferences, though that’s not to say that there aren’t wonderful male children’s writers, both published and aspiring.) This brave crowd, well, braved about seven straight hours of talking, first pages, query analysis and Q&A from yours truly…

And then we all went out to dinner to celebrate the end of a long day! The only person missing from the above sea of beautiful faces is Holly Thompson, the intrepid leader of the Tokyo SCBWI chapter, as well as the author or the exquisite verse novel ORCHARDS, out from Delacorte.

Holly was kind enough to take me to the Sankeien Gardens in Yokohama after a more relaxed day of one-on-one critiques on Sunday. Because so much of my Japan trip revolved around food, here’s a picture of me from that afternoon with a soba noodle trio. I’m so grateful to her and all the SCBWI Tokyo members for the hospitality!

I’m so blessed to work from home and be able to add travel time to my conference duties. After ten nights in Japan, I flew over to Hong Kong on Thursday, November 3rd. There, I was greeted by Mio Debnam for critiques first thing Friday morning, then a delicious Shanghainese lunch. What a lovely introduction to a city that’s all about food. I would’ve posted a picture of the sea cucumber and abalone that we devoured, but it was gone too quickly. (A heads up: Sea cucumber does not stay on chopsticks well, and therefore doesn’t make very graceful eating. Sorry, Mio!)

On Saturday, I did another marathon day of talks, first pages, query critiques, and Q&A with the Hong Kong members. Here we are, below:

Everyone is looking pretty relaxed in those plush leather chairs. I’m glad you can’t see my feet in this shot, because this is probably after I took my shoes off. (That’s Kole Code for: “Now I mean business…”) Something about public speaking always makes me want to go barefoot.

I eventually shut my mouth and put my shoes on for a lovely post-conference dinner at the China Club with Mio, several members of the Hong Kong chapter, and Kathleen Ahrens, the International Coordinator for the entire SCBWI. She has the fascinating job of helping regions all over the world develop chapters and programming, and I also owe her a huge debt of gratitude for this amazing opportunity.

Here we all are at dinner. Mio, our gracious hostess, is wearing red in the back, and Kathleen is my gray-attired bookend on the opposite side of the bottom row. It was fantastic getting to know these writers over delicious soup dumplings.

Overall, the trip was wonderful. Truly the opportunity of a lifetime. And it was so great to meet writers in the larger SCBWI community. I’m still processing everything — and trying to find the energy to upload all of my pictures to share with friends and family.

Just as I was ready to go home this past Wednesday, my overseas adventure refused to sink quietly behind the International Date Line. My plane from Hong Kong took off in bad weather and suffered some kind of damage. They tried to fix it in the air for a few hours but were unsuccessful. The pilot decided he didn’t want to risk the trans-Pacific flight back to San Francisco. The plane was full up with enough gas for a 12-hour flight — a long-ish haul for a 747 — and we were too heavy to land, so we flew out over the ocean and dumped fuel for about two hours. That was a bit unnerving. In case anyone doesn’t have the memo, I’m an uneasy flier (even though I do it at least once a week…and, because I’m a glutton for punishment, apparently, I was home a day before jetting off to Southern California for the weekend, got back yesterday, and am flying again tomorrow). With jet fuel spraying out of the wing right outside my window and the plane shuddering from the aforementioned bad weather…let’s just say I was a bit on edge.

Long story short: We returned to Hong Kong, were rebooked on new flights, and I was back in the air about seven hours later c/o Singapore Airlines. I’m so happy with how it went, overall, and the United’s decision to turn around and be safe, even though it was the longest day I’ve ever had (40 hours). And that little hiccup was nothing compared to the absolutely tremendous time I had exploring Japan and Hong Kong and meeting my fellow children’s book enthusiasts across the globe!

I’m still having trouble sleeping because of jet lag, but I’m back stateside, baby, and ready for Big Sur, client business, and lots of new and awesome projects in my inbox! 🙂 If you’re still curious about my food adventures, head on over to my older post from Chowlit. I plan to add a Hong Kong edition tomorrow, if I ever get all those pictures organized…

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My darling readers, hello! I loaded up some content and have had the blog set up on auto-post for about a week, so it feels wonderful to actually be writing to you “live.” If you want some food-related details from my trip to Japan (I’ll do a larger round-up for the trip on here, as well, but probably after I get back), you can check out my foodie blog, Chowlit.

Right now I’m in Hong Kong, getting ready for my one-on-one critiques with the members of Hong Kong’s SCBWI chapter. How exciting! I just flew in last night and can’t wait for my first real taste of the city (I’m writing this from an airport hotel, so I haven’t really been “outside” yet).

Before I rush off to breakfast (a weird idea for those of you reading this on Thursday afternoon), let me remind you that it’s officially that time again. Sure, it’s time to put in your 1,667 daily NaNoWriMo words, but I mean something else here: it’s time to sign up for Andrea Brown Literary Agency’s Big Sur Writing Workshop!

There is still space available for this year’s December 2-4th, 2011 weekend at the beautiful Big Sur Lodge. Fabulous faculty include Jennifer Hunt, VP and Editorial Director for Penguin Group/Dial Books, Diane Landolf, Senior Editor at Random House Books for Young Readers, Melissa Manlove, Editor at Chronicle Books, NYT Bestselling author, Ellen Hopkins and award-winning author Carolyn Marsden. Not to mention the wonderful agents from the Andrea Brown Literary Agency (if I don’t say so myself)!

The conference takes place at the gorgeous Big Sur Lodge in the majestic redwoods of the Northern California coast. During a Big Sur weekend, you get intense, hands-on feedback for your work, a chance to meet editors and ABLA agents, and the feeling that you’re on a writing retreat in one of the most serene and inspiring places on the planet. Plus, my colleagues and I will be there, with bells on, to welcome you to our favorite weekend of the year.

You can find more information on the weekend here. If you can’t make the December Big Sur, we are also meeting in Monterey the weekend of March 2-4th, 2012.

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Boiling It Down

Recently, I’ve posted two things that I firmly believe are the cornerstones of my fiction philosophy. First, writing must make me care. I need to care about character (most important) and then about their story. If I don’t care, you’re dead in the water. If you aren’t thinking about the emotional impact of your story, good luck to you in someone else’s inbox.

Second, fiction is a balance of action and information. Too much action and we don’t hook into the character or situation. (Especially if the breakneck action is at the beginning of your novel, like if you start with a hectic chase sequence, for example, we have a really hard time figuring out what’s going on or why.) Too much information (a first chapter where your character sits in their room thinking about his life, for example) and there’s no action, no plot, no forward momentum, and the whole thing drags. The two elements must always be in balance. In times when there’s a lot of information being introduced, you must also keep your characters moving. You can’t indulge in an info-dump. In times of action, you must also work hard to keep us invested by giving us context and information (later on in the novel, once character and situation are established, this usually means emotional context, ie: interiority).

I was at the Rutgers One-on-One Conference this past weekend, in a roundtable discussion with super agent Tina Wexler from ICM. We were talking about novel beginnings and, of course, I sprouted off my “action vs. information” line. Then Tina put the missing piece together and it fit perfectly: “But it needs to have emotion, too. Emotion is the third point of that triangle.”

I made a joke at the time about really working a metaphor to death, but a lightbulb definitely went off because of her comment, and now I think I have the perfect image for my two most important tenets of writing.

If fiction is a balance of action and information, the axis of the scale, the part that holds everything else together, is emotion. Without emotion to lord over the work and to keep everything else in check, your whole manuscript falls apart. (And you do not get to hold the Sword of the Awesome Manuscript.)

We should always be in touch with your character’s emotions (especially if you are writing in third person, as that is a challenge for many) and they should be legible and resonant for readers. Whether you’re writing a scene of action or dropping information in your manuscript, keep in mind your characters’ interiority (thoughts, feelings, reactions) near the surface. You can even indulge in some strategic Good Telling.

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This past weekend I spoke at the excellent and first ever YA A to Z conference. While the Writers’ League of Texas has been connecting writers to the publishing industry and helping them reach their goals for 30 years, this YA-centric conference is just beginning. If this first year is any indication, I know it will be around for a long time, and you should all look out for next year’s. It was really well-organized, had a great roster of faculty (if I don’t say so myself), and got some really fabulous writers to the show.

I did three panels, some consultations, and still had enough time to explore amazing Austin, see some bats, catch up with an old writing friend and meet some new buddies (including the fabulous ladies from PR By the Book and the Erin Murphy Literary Agency, who were in town on an agency retreat), explore the food scene, play some midnight piano, and get into a little worthwhile trouble. 😉

Speaking of worthwhile trouble, one of my esteemed agent colleagues and friends who I got to hang out with this weekend is John M. Cusick of the Scott Tremeil Agency (whatever bad joke you’re thinking about the name, he’s heard it before…I tried all of them, much to his fascination, I’m sure). He’s also the author of GIRL PARTS (an excellent book) and the upcoming CHERRY MONEY BABY, both from Candlewick Press.

Now, I know you come to my blog to hear me say brilliant things on a mostly regular basis. And I appreciate that. But I’m not the only one who says brilliant things (shocking, I know). On one of my panels on Saturday, this one about Agent Secrets (dun dun dun), my new BFF John said something wonderful and I wanted to share it with y’all (still getting the Texas out of my system). We were talking about character development and relatability, and John said:

Relatable doesn’t mean generic.

Wise words! Storytelling in the Middle Ages would’ve laughed Mr. Cusick out of Ye Olde Hyatt ballroom. A lot of their traditional “character development” included naming some poor shmo John Everyman and then getting all allegorical on his ass. The character was basically a cipher, a blank screen that readers could project themselves onto in the watching of his or her tale.

Now it’s the opposite. Or at least it should be, for the tastes of me and my fellow agents on the panel. Specificity is the key to good fiction, and generalization is where fiction goes to die. The best characters, the ones that stick with me, are the ones who have very specific quirks and characteristics. I am not going to relate to a character because they are very much like me. That’s boring. I know myself, spend all day in my own head, and sometimes just want to get out…that’s why I crack a book. I relate to a character when they are thoroughly fleshed-out and unique, just like I am thoroughly fleshed-out and unique as a person. When I feel like I know their quirks and their particular outlook on life because the author has made those elements really comprehensive. We don’t just love people who are like us: we love loud, larger-than-life, authentic characters. (At least I hope so, ‘cuz that’s what I’ve pretty much been basing my entire personality on for as long as I can remember.) Those are the ones we remember in books and movies, and the people who spark our imaginations when we meet them in real life.

So aim for a really complex character, someone who is exactly who they are. That will pull a reader in so much more than trying to reflect and please everyone with your literary cipher. An example is this: I was reading either a book or a manuscript a few years ago. In it, a character was cooking something while home alone. Some food dropped on the dirty counter and, even though the character knew she was home alone, she glanced over her shoulder before succumbing to the guilty (and, for many people, gross) temptation of picking the food up and slipping it into her mouth. This taught me so much about the character and was so specific that I remember it all these years later. I can’t relate to the shame of eating counter food — I don’t care about the 5 second rule — but it’s so dang human that I could really see a person doing it in real life. And that’s what grabs me in a good character. Well said, John!

Also, I am in love with Carrie Ryan, and with a dude name Jeremy, who chopped all my hair off on Saturday. You like?

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From now until forever, I am going to refer writers who ask me query questions to this quote. It comes from Andrea Brown, my brilliant boss and mentor, and it’s about query letters:

A query letter is like the perfect skirt: long enough to cover everything but short enough to be exciting.

I have worked with the woman for about two and a half years now and have never heard this gem. Where has it been all my life?

This Big Sur, I think, was my absolute favorite. Sure, it was at the Embassy Suites in Monterey (as our March workshops are) instead of the gorgeous Big Sur Lodge in Big Sur proper (as our December workshops are), and the weather spoiled on Sunday, but I think this mix of writers, faculty, and agency clients along for the ride was one of the best I’ve experienced.

A special shout out to Jamie Harrington and Pat Netzley, and to my wonderful colleagues. We missed two of our Jennifers (Mattson and Laughran) at this Big Sur. Fabulous faculty members like Ellen Hopkins, Eric Elfman, Mary Colgan, Anica Rissi, and Deb Wayshak shared their writing expertise with our group of just under a hundred attendees.

My two workshop groups inspired several blog post ideas which you’ll read in the near future. For right now, though, I’m going to catch up on my sleep after this exhausting weekend and start chipping away at my pent-up email. Today is a very exciting day for me in San Francisco, Berkeley, and the Napa valley, which all ties in to my secret new blog/professional project. Soon, my pretties, soon all shall be revealed! For now, delight yourselves with Andrea’s fantastic quote.

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It’s a flummoxing time in publishing right now. Most publishers, editors, developers, marketers, and creators freely admit that the digital book world is the Wild West. We don’t quite know what to expect, but most of us are hitching up and riding for the horizon.

Literary agents are among those forging new trails. Some spectators (and even some colleagues) are now wondering whether there is a place or even a need for these middlemen of publishing in the digital future. As an agent, I want to say yes, of course, and, self-interest aside, I do think there are new and exciting opportunities for both authors and agents in this changing landscape.

At the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, we’re working on concrete strategies for apps and ebooks every day. Since we’re a sales leader dealing almost exclusively in children’s books—a sector where app and game opportunities are growing rapidly—we’re seeing a lot of the changes firsthand.

My thought is this: There will always be people who want to produce writing or art and see it be made available to readers/viewers/players. There are creators and their content, and then there are the people bringing that content to market. The agent’s role will still be necessary to act as intermediary between the two parties, whether working to create an app, a film, a licensed t-shirt, or a printed book.

In fact, I’ll argue that, as publishers embrace different content delivery systems and processes, agents will take on more packaging responsibilities: editorial work, marketing consultation, design, etc. Whether we’re presenting a book to editors or an app proposal to a digital publisher, we will have had a more active hand in its reaching “market ready” status.

That’s not to say that editors, marketing staff, sales teams, and all the other hardworking people of traditional publishing will be obsolete. But already, as we saw from James Frey’s latest venture, publishers are relying more heavily on “camera ready” packaged work. It makes good business sense (as long as you don’t use Frey’s contract) to invest in a developed product ready to go to market.

My colleague Laura Rennert has recently been exploring digital options for her clients, some of whom include high-profile children’s bestsellers like Ellen Hopkins, Maggie Stiefvater, and Jay Asher. “We have to figure out digital parameters as we did with book rights parameters,” she says. “What rights we hold, what rights we cede; what royalties, revenue share, and subrights splits should be. This is the time of start-ups. We have to figure out what media or dimension a book’s content should occupy.”

Jim McCarthy of Dystel & Goderich Literary Management agrees: “The role of the agent, fundamentally, is to act as an author’s advocate and to serve as a bit of a sieve between aspiring writers and content producers. People will still be writing. And they will still want to connect with readers and make money off of what they write.” Traditional roles, in other words, are relevant no matter the medium.

Blogosphere favorite, former agent, CNET staffer, and author Nathan Bransford sees a segmented agenting community in his digital crystal ball. Agents, he thinks, will be broken up into those that have blockbuster clients and those who don’t. Agents-to-the-stars will deal primarily with major publishers and do business as usual, while others will act more like managers, consultants, and publicists to help smaller authors navigate small presses and self-publishing.

“As long as the polarization between blockbusters and everyone else continues,” Bransford says, “it’s going to be hard for agents to make money unless one of their clients should take off. There’s still a need for authors to be able to draw upon experts who can help them get a leg up and reach their readers, and smaller agents may fill that niche.” In Bransford’s view, then, it’s possible for agents to exist, but they’ll work and earn their keep in new ways. “It seems like it’s a time ripe for experimentation with new agenting models,” he concludes.

For now, I say we delve into new venues for our existing properties and experiment. We should negotiate contracts with the shifting new digital parameters in mind, hold digital rights, insert renegotiation clauses for digital deal points, monitor ebook sales, and collaborate with print publishers as they devise digital strategies for our clients’ existing books. Several of my colleagues are now developing standalone digital book or app ideas and approaching the new crop of digital publishers and developers.

In fact, I’ll argue that agents should start treating their clients’ business like a tech start-up. As a Silicon Valley ex-pat (and a former product manager for a Facebook app development venture that recently sold to Google), I feel lucky to know the ins and outs of the dot com sector from experience. The key there is relentless development, speed, novelty (Twitter, anyone?), and the willingness (and often capital) to delve into new ideas.

For clients rapidly expanding into digital, I predict that no-advance/higher-royalty sales and experiments that require start-up costs will be much more prevalent in the next two years. Agents will also have to keep a hard eye on tech and industry developments, learn the basics of the gadgets, understand tech and programming capabilities, explore what makes a good app (a good starting place is School Library Journal’s “Planet App: Kids’ book apps are everywhere.”), and be at the forefront of brainstorming digital strategy with clients who want to play in the app arena, including developing new properties to pursue. The revenue-sharing model for the agent/client relationship might also change, especially on the digital front and for properties developed mutually.

I’ll be the first to admit that seeing digital topics on our agency meeting agenda always seem to coincide with the flare of a tension headache. Just like the original frontier cowboys, though, we’ll all have to strap on our six-shooters and figure out just what kind of terrain lies over the western ridge of the great Print-Digital Divide.

The one thing we can’t do is pretend that things aren’t changing or that apps don’t exist. Things are and apps do, and that’s why I’ll be at Digital Book World 2011 in two weeks, to see what all this change means for this year and beyond.

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This article originally appeared on the Digital Book World website, and I will be doing a more extensive write-up of my thoughts after I attend the conference, which is January 24th through 26th. Thanks to Guy, Chuck, and the Writer’s Digest team for the opportunity!

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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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