Monday, August 13, 2012

It's All About the Story

Week of August 12, 2012: Stand-out Moments from SCBWI, LA
Monday, August 13—It’s All About the Story

SCBWI handed out these bumper stickers before the pool party in LA,
which was called the Hippie Hop!

Do you remember a few years ago when politicians would say, “It’s the economy, stupid,” as a reminder to focus on the major issue of the time? At SCBWI, LA, this year the saying should have been, “It’s the story, stupid!” (Of course, everyone would have left stupid out of the saying.) Why is it that the most logical thing is often the thing we have to be reminded about? Story. That’s the key.

Arthur Levine, Vice President and Publisher of Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic Inc., was the opening keynote speaker and said that our responsibility is to create “books for the ages” and “characters infused with authentic emotion.” Our end goal, according to Arthur, is to “capture a moment of intimacy between author and reader.”

Tim Ditlow, Associate Publisher of Amazon Children’s Books, said, “It’s the coffee, not the cup. Don’t get attached to the format, get attached to the story.” Tim said he always looks for books with good story and doesn’t really even worry about what age group a book is for. If a story answers the questions “Who am I?” and “Where am I going?” then Tim is interested.

Rubin Pfeffer from the East West LiteraryAgency (and my agent) said, “It all depends on story.” An agent or editor has to love a story they are acquiring. According to Rubin, some of things that can make story have appeal include:

Knowing the audience
Creatively rendering the manuscript
Language (every word matters)
Something that can be read again and again
A hook (a reason to publish and stock on shelves)

Clare Vanderpool, author of Moon Over Manifest and Navigating Early, said we have to balance craft—the “skills we learn”—with creativity—“the ability to bring to existence through art.” Then Clare went on to say, “Craft is only as good as how it impacts your story.” To a writing teacher, that’s a big concept. You can know all the craft in the world and you can put it into use, but if the story isn’t there, what’s the point? Clare also said, “The universe is made up of story . . . Pat attention . . . We all have a need for connection to story.”

A panel of editors gave more details about what to do and not to do when developing stories. The panel was made up of Tamar Brazis, Editorial Director, Abrams Books for Young Readers and Amulet Books; Jordan Brown, Senior Editor, Walden Pond Press and Balzer + Bray at HarperCollins; Laura Godwin, Vice President and Publisher of Henry Holt Books for Younger Readers/Macmillian; Elise Howard, Editor and Publisher, Algonquin Books; Farrin Jacobs, Editorial Director at HarperCollins Children’s Books; and Neal Porter, Editorial Director of Neal Porter Books and Roaring Brook Press/Macmillian. Here’s a summary of the panel’s do’s and don’t’s:

           Do please yourself.
       Don’t worry about trends.
            Don’t publish for “the market.”
            Do finish.
            Don’t get too much advice.
            Do know the market because no one will publish your story if it has already been published.
            Do know questions that have not been asked and answered in stories.

            Do know the market, but write what you want.
            Don’t ask an editor, “What are you looking for?” rr “What’s the next trend. Editors want great stories.
            Do know the market.
            Do read.
            Do your best  book.
            Don’t follow trends
            Do be aware of advice, if it’s well-intended. But no one can know everything about you and your book when they give you advice.

Always remember—it’s all about the story!

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