I've been on three panels in two weeks. I think I'm panelled out right now. I don't know what I was thinking, scheduling these things all smack dab in the middle of IRA, BEA, and ALA, but I got through it! Now, even if you don't read this post (it's another "wrap-up" post, which I realize isn't necessarily that interesting for everyone), please scroll down to the bottom to participate in a poll on submissions policy. Thanks!
I was on a Children's Book Publishing panel on May 31st for the Women's in Children's Media organization. My fellow panelists were Nancy Mercado of Dial, Rebecca Sherman of Writer's House, and Michele Beno of Curtis Brown. My colleague Jennifer Hunt was the moderator. We answered questions about our favorite books as children (The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats and Little Women by Louisa May Alcott for me), what we look for in a manuscript, the author/editor/agent relationship, and so on. It was a lot of fun because I'm friendly with all of the panelists, and it was an interesting crowd, different from the type of people I normally talk to. Basically, the audience was all women who work in children's media, whether it be television, magazines, movies, etc. (although the event was open to the public, so there were some non-members in attendance) I had dinner afterwards with some of the leaders in the organization, and they were all really nice and interesting. I'm considering joining, partially because I realize that I do very little networking outside of the children's book field, and partially because I just love being inspired by great women.
Then last Tuesday I participated in the Meet the Editors Day in Doylestown, PA along with Cheryl Klein of Scholastic and Karen Chaplin of Puffin. Cheryl and I took the bus over and arrived in time to join everyone for a lovely lunch (I had a delicious pear and walnut salad with roasted duck. Yum.). I saw a few familiar faces from Kindling Words, the Rutgers One-on-One conference, and the Poconos conference from a few years ago, which was nice. The three of us just talked about our respective houses, the kinds of books we work on, our submissions policy, and then we read through ten first-pages and each gave our thoughts. One thing that I found interesting was that the three of us tended to agree on the first pages. Usually when I do a first-page critique, there are at least a few that someone has a completely different opinion about. Not sure if that means that the three of us just have similar tastes, or what.
And finally, this past weekend I went up to Poughkeepsie for the Eastern-NY SCBWI Conference. My colleague, Art Director Patti Ann Harris and I drove up together, and it was fun getting to know her even better. Ellen Yeomans, the lovely author of Rubber Houses which came out this past January, is the former regional advisor, although she stepped down and relinquished her role at the beginning of this year. But it was wonderful to be able to spend time with her at the conference. It was also nice to be able to talk more with Laurie Halse Anderson, who I first met a few weeks earlier at IRA in Toronto. She told me how much she loved the new Sherman Alexie galley of The Absolutely True Diary of Part-Time Indian that I had given her at our booth.
Dinner conversation Friday evening with some of the organizers was lively, and ranged from farm animals (Ellen works on a farm)--castrating bulls, flipping bunnies--to a dive-bombing bird with a nest under a mailbox, to soft-shell crab, running, and books, of course.
Laurie's keynote the next morning was fantastic. Conversational but focused, inspiring but funny. She talked about how to find time to write (make it a habit, stop watching American Idol), how to nurture your creativity (be active, expose yourself to other art), and more.
Then I was up. I felt much less prepared for this talk than any other I'd done, because I hadn't had a chance to write my speech until the day before--but it was a hodgepodge of other speeches I'd done before, so I felt pretty comfortable. I also never know what the right balance to strike between giving a lot of nuts and bolts information for beginners, and yet something different for more experienced writers. So, I'd really love some honest feedback--feel free to post anonymously, even! Basically, I spoke about acquisitions process at my publisher, telling the acquisitions story of three specific books I'd acquired and edited: Hippo! No, Rhino; Blow out the Moon; and Nothing But the Truth (and a few white lies). I gave a few tips on getting out of the slush pile, and also gave some advice on what to do before submitting.
Then I did a six one-on-one critiques, and the day ended with a panel of all the faculty (you can see a complete list of faculty here). One question posed to all of us was: if we could have edited/written/illustrated one book that we haven't, what would it be. I said Zen Shorts by Jon Muth. Some of the other answers were Harold and the Purple Crayon (Patti Ann Harris), City of Ember (Kathy Dawson), Holes (Laurie Halse Anderson), Wizard of Oz (Steve Petruccio), the Winnie the Pooh series (I think Kelly Going said that), etc.
And that was it. Patti Ann and I skedaddled back to NY right afterwards so that I could attend Meghan's Strong Man: The Story of Charles Atlas book party, which was a complete blast. I scored myself a free copy of the book, which looks fantastic, and ate, drank, and was merry. Anna and Grace made it down from Boston, so there were four BRGs in attendance. I'll have pictures to share later on.
I'm glad I don't have another conference lined up until November, although I did manage to get involved in another panel discussion in LA on July 7 with the Taiwanese United Fund (TUF). I don't really know much about TUF (the organization contacted me through my father), but I'm always eager to encourage other Taiwanese Americans to be involved in creative fields. Charles Yu, author of Third-Class Super Hero will also be on the panel.
One thing (of many) I started thinking about more while doing all of these panels is different submissions policies, and their pros and cons. I've been thinking about adjusting my own submissions policy a bit, so here's the question. For all of you authors out there, what is more important--a closed house with a somewhat personalized rejection letter, or a more open submissions policy, but either only a response if the editor is interested, or only a form letter if you're rejected? Specifics: 1) Dial has an open submissions policy, but you only get a response if an editor is interested. 2) Cheryl Klein also has an open submissions policy, but she only sends back form letters. Whereas 3) I have a more closed policy, but I tend to try to write personalized rejection letters for almost every submission. Which would be more valuable to you, 1, 2, or 3? Vote by posting in the comments section. Thanks in advance!