Ah! Business and Inspiration from the 16th Annual SCBWI Winter Conference

SCBWI represents those who work in children’s literature, a category often divvied up by age of intended reader. Loose, rough divisions include: Picture Books (4-8 years old); Chapter Books (7-10 years old); Middle Grade (8-12 years old) and Young Adult (14 and up).

Over two days, I attended two workshops, eight keynotes and a much-welcomed cocktail party. Among the speakers I heard were bestselling authors who also work in television and film (Anthony Horowitz, James Dashner, Lin Oliver), bestselling author/illustrators Herve Tullet, Laura Vaccaro Seeger), a Newbury-winning poet/author (Kwame Alexander), five well-respected, successful editors (Justin Chanda, Laura Godwin, Beverly Horowitz, Stephanie Owens Lurie, Jess Garrison) and four career-making agents (Barry Goldblatt, Jennifer Laughran, Tina Wexler, Heather Alexander).

All this to say, these people know their stuff.  In reviewing my notes from each of them, I found four common categories—universalities that expand well beyond children’s literature to successful content creation across industries, audiences and media. Here are 1 and 2. Come back tomorrow for 3 and 4.

The Business

1. Don't forget the business.

Writers do not become authors because they love finance. They love writing. Kwame Alexander loves writing. You can feel it in every line he recites and every sentence he utters. (The man is a presence.) And in an hour, he drove home to me like no one ever has that writing is not and has never been about me sitting in a room practicing a craft.

Yes, sometimes I have to sit in a room and practice a craft. But it’s equally important that I get out and connect with people—that I get my writing to my audience. That I understand the business. That the point is selling books.

And, in this business, your agent is your employee. So you need to understand what they do and you need to interview them thoughtfully before signing. (Thanks to agent Heather Alexander for this good advice.)

Herve Tullet on Ah! at the 16th Annual SCBWI Winter Conference in New York City, February 7-8, 2015.

Herve Tullet on Ah! at the 16th Annual SCBWI Winter Conference in New York City, February 7-8, 2015.

The Inspiration

2. It’s not all business.

French author/illustrator Herve Tullet’s favorite word is “Ah!” That exclamation of delight and surprise that comes when a book successfully serves as a conduit for interaction—a connection between adults and children.

Again and again, people asked how to write a query that agents and editors would respond to. A query is like a cover letter for your book—you send it to an agent to try to get represented or an editor to get published. And while there are ‘rules’ for successfully querying, an inspired, well-executed idea trumps the rules every single time.

Truly successful advertising and marketing campaigns earn an ah from their audience—an ah that can’t always be predicted and can nearly never be formulated.

For the final two takeaways from #NY15SCBWI, come back next week.

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