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Publishing Tips from SCBWI NYC 2010

Teen contributor Kody Keplinger (left) and I (right) were lucky enough to head to New York City this past weekend for the SCBWI Winter Conference. (Kaitlin Ward was there too, but we had to abandon her in the hotel room.)

Besides hanging with masses of inspiring and amazing people -- including our agents and editors -- and being afflicted with a massive authorcrush after Libba Bray's keynote address, we took away quite a few publishing tips I thought I'd share with our YA Highway audience.

Note: since these come from my hurried scrawlings, they might not be exact.

Agent Advice
"Seventy-five percent of my clients were unpublished when they came to me. Debut authors aren't fighting any previous track record. There's a lot of undiscovered talent we're trying to discover."
-Tina Wexler, Agent at ICM

"As an agent, every person you bring in is deserving of a certain portion of your time, which they need and deserve. That's why the answer is more often No than Yes. We need to be selective. Publishers need to be selective."
-Rosemary Stimola, Agent at Stimola Literary Studio

"You must read actual adult books. You cannot be a great writer of children's books if you don't know what's going on in the adult world."
-George Nicholson, Agent at Sterling Lord Literistic, Inc

"Along with reading adult fiction, cultivate a hobby -- another thing you love that's not your job, family or writing... Something that can find a home inside your writing."
-Tina Wexler

Regarding following trends in the marketplace...
"I like to set trends! It's always great to break new ground. Since Hunger Games (which Rosemary represents) moved along, I've gotten countless subs with dystopian futures. Maybe it's fun to ride in the wake of something successful, but I want to be the first one."
-Rosemary Stimola

"In the end, all you have to do as writers is write a kickass story. Leave the rest to the professionals."
-Rosemary Stimola

~*Bonus: check back this Monday for a hilarious publishing tips vlog, featuring Joanna Stampfel-Volpe (Kody's agent), Michelle Andelman (my & Kristin Otts's agent), Suzie Townsend (Kristin Miller's agent), Kathleen Ortiz and Laura Whittaker!*~

Marketing AdviceSusan Raab at Raab Associates told us a bit about what's selling in the YA/MG market:

"Fantasy is softening. Dystopian is going strong. Vampires, etc., are going strong but not going to last. And mystery and ghost stories are going to be big."

Editor/Publisher Advice

Ben Schrank at Razorbill listed several common mistakes writers make when trying to break into the teen market:

Trying to talk like a teen. Slang will change a year from now. "Teens are impressionable. If you want to create a new language, do it!"

Writing for the market. The market is fickle, "a weird beast that's hard to control."

Don't introduce your character in an "on-the-nose" way: "I'm Tracey and I love to dance."

Don't "windmill" -- sections with lots of words, where nothing's actually happening.

Don't yell at your editor.

Among other tips, Ben says he does like when writers start in media res (in the middle of action or any scene); post apocalyptic fiction is here to stay; and if your story doesn't fit in the "cafeteria pecking order" -- in other words, include familiar teenage dynamics, post-apocalyptic or not -- it's probably not going to resonate with teens.

Alvina Ling at Little, Brown spoke at length about literary writing, which we all know is tough to describe. She asked a few of her editing colleagues how they defined it, which resulted in a few gems -- and very different takes.

"I'll know it when I read it."

"Books that may not sell well, that will hopefully be well-reviewed."

"You reread commercial books for entertainment. You reread literary for the layers -- because you get more out of it each time."

"Well-written books for smart people."

Overall, Alvina says the sweet spot is a combination of commercial and literary: literary with a commercial hook, or commercial with a certain literary quality. When acquiring literary books, publishers are hoping for strong reviews and awards potential -- though she emphasizes "a hook helps!"

Last but not least...

At lunch, there was a competition to see which table could come up with the most creative television/kid's book hybrid. Among their examples were Lost starring the Runaway Bunny, and Nip/Tuck with The Saggy Baggy Elephant. Our table included my fellow 2011 debuts Kim Harrington (Clarity, Scholastic) and Sonia Gensler (The Revenant, Knopf); illustrator/authors Heidi Woodward Sheffield and Kevin McNamee, and several other people whose names I didn't catch (sorry!). We didn't win, but I really think we should have with this one:

Jersey Shore: Where the Wild Things Are.

Epic, right? Other good ones our table came up with:
  • Bizarre Foods with Katniss Everdeen
  • What Not to Wear with Fancy Nancy
  • The Vampire Diaries of a Wimpy Kid
  • Antiques Road Show Starring the Tin Man
  • House with Dr. Seuss
  • Alias with Harriet the Spy

And now, for you guys:
I'd love hear your takes on the SCBWI advice above. And if you have a TV/book hybrid, I'd doubly love to hear it!

~kirsten hubbard
Kirsten Hubbard

Kirsten is the author of Like Mandarin, Wanderlove, and the middle grade novel Watch the Sky.

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  1. It was great to meet you two. And our table totally should have won! ;)

  2. Great advice! And those TV/book hybrids are hilarious!

  3. Oh, awesome post!

    TV/Book would so have to be Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs/Iron Chef. "And the secret ingredient is.....PASTA!!!" *cue screams*

  4. I think that contest must have been rigged. You're tv/book hybrids were awesome!

  5. Thanks, guys! I have to attribute most of the awesomeness to Kim and Kevin. I feigned participation by writing everything down.

    LOL Michelle.

  6. Thanks for the wealth of information in this post! Sounds like you had a great time.

    Ghost stories and mysteries going strong, eh? *steeples fingers* Excellent.

  7. Yay for this gorgeous post, Kirsten. I'm so excited for everyone to see the vlogs on Monday. *bounces impatiently*

  8. I wasn't there, so thanks for the info! Would someone please tell me what "Dystopian" lit is, as in "Dystopian is strong."
    Pat Aust or on twitter

  9. Hehehe...looking forward to the blog post of Jo :) Me? Not so much...

    Our table came up with a few good ones (including Dr. Seuss House). My fav was "America's Next Top Model with Fancy Nancy" :)

  10. Pat: creepy futures, often post-apocalyptic or SF lite. Like Hunger Games, or The Giver, or 1984, or the Uglies series, or Feed, or The Forest of Hands and Teeth, or Unwind, I could go on forever but I'll stop now.

    Kathleen, yours was great!

  11. Dystopian refers to a futuristic society that is *supposedly* perfect, but in reality it's very very messed up. Check out this post for a more eloquent description:


  12. Eek! Monday is only a few days away...

    Great to hang out with you girls!

  13. I attended the conference too, and this is a great recap! Our table's TV hybrids included EXTREME MAKEOVER HOME EDITION with the Big Bad Wolf and QUEER EYE FOR THE STRAIGHT GUY with Prof. Gilderoy Lockhart.

  14. I love this post! Such great advice from agents and industry pros. Thanks for sharing your experience with us!


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Item Reviewed: Publishing Tips from SCBWI NYC 2010 Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Kirsten Hubbard