Thursday, September 30, 2010

Everybody Watchung Tonight

If you've never been to Watchung Booksellers, you're missing out! It is a great independent bookstore in the heart of Montclaire, New Jersey, that really does its best to bring published authors, aspiring writers, and book lovers together. Last Friday, on September 24, I was lucky enough to participate in their Writing Matters series, serving alongside a panel of authors to discuss the children's book market. The other panelists were Susanna Reich (author of Painting the Wild Frontier, Penelope Bailey Takes the Stage, and Jose! Born to Dance), Tracey Baptiste (author of Angel's Grace, Madeleleine L'Engle, and Being a Leader and Making Decisions), and Troy CLE (author of The Marvelous Effect and Olivion's Favorites--both part of the Marvelous World saga). Very cool company indeed. 

By the time I got to the bookstore, there was already a packed house! Some were adults who are writers themselves hoping to write children's books, some were just interested in the publishing process, and some were kids eager to meet a few authors and find something new to read. I just couldn't get over the fact that I was part of the reason they had all come that night. Most of the time, I still can't believe I'm being paid to work on books, let alone write them. So it was an honor for me to sit on this panel and share whatever knowledge I've gained so far. 

First they introduced each of us and we each talked a little bit about how we broke into the writing-for-kids business. I may have told you this before, but I got my first writing job by responding to an ad on craigslist, believe it or not. Troy self-published his book and it became so successful that publishers eventually took notice. Tracey submitted a couple of chapters of her book, not even thinking it would lead to anything. But those chapters became Angel's Grace. And Susanna once worked in book publicity. When she decided to write for children, she initially wrote picture books, which is harder than it looks. But then she discovered historical biographies for kids and success soon followed. 

We went on to discuss what we think makes kids stay interested in our books. We all agreed that it's a combination of things: story lines and characters kids can relate to, writing that is entertaining, and in my case, providing something that's interactive so the reader is engaged on a personal level. I completely agree with Tracey, who said that she still writes for the 12-year-old inside her. (I still feel like that 12-year-old!) So if she finds the story entertaining, young readers will too. 

We also talked about eBooks and if we think traditional books will be able to compete for the attention of our audience against TV and video games, etc. Personally, I'm not afraid of eBooks. My own books are available in eBook format, which I think is great, and I do have a Kindle. But I still see plenty of kids reading books that they can carry around and flip through without turning on any kind of device. There's room for both, and people who have always loved paper books will continue to love them. (I hope.) 

Someone in the audience asked how important it was to be up-to-date with technology as far as Web sites and blogs. Very! I, for one, really love being able to talk directly to my fans in this format, and I love it even more that they can reach me too. Not to mention a lot of great opportunities have come my way because I have a Web site and it isn't too hard to get in touch with me. And I can't even tell you how much it helps all writers that there are so many blogs devoted to book reviews these days. It's so weird. When I was in college only (mumble mumble) years ago, we were just being introduced to email. It actually took me forever to figure out how to use my account. I still have a box full of letters--yes, handwritten letters--that my friends and I wrote to one another all through college. Checking my mailbox was sometimes the highlight of my day. And now, not that many years later, I can't IMAGINE my life without the Internet. I like being able to find out what's going on with all my friends on Facebook in a matters of minutes. I like being able to post pictures of my latest vacation so my mom can see them without bending the photos. And I love getting to chronicle this new career of mine for whoever is interested. No doubt technology has changed the game, and no one knows that better than the kids who are coming up now, most of whom have never known life before computers. 

Anyway,  we ended up giving the writers in the audience some advice that would be helpful for any aspiring writer to know.  Here are the ones that stayed in my head:

* Read a ton of books! If you're just starting to write, reading everything that's out there will give you a good sense of how it's done. And you'll start to figure out what kind of books you would want to write. 

* If you already have a book deal, don't just sit back and expect the publisher to do everything. The truth is, they can only do so much. So be willing to promote yourself in whatever way you can. Be creative!

* Get an agent. It isn't the only way to get published, but it's still the most surefire way. Publishers get submissions from people all the time--most of which ends up in what they call a "slush pile." If you get an agent on your side, your work is taken a little more seriously. Plus an agent knows the right people to show it to, which will give you a better shot at getting published. 

* Don't keep it a big secret that you write! You never know who will be willing/able to help you on your road to getting published. So tell everyone! (I mean, don't be obnoxious about it. Just make it clear that you have skills and that your dream is to be a writer.) Bottom line, no more writing something great and then stuffing it in a shoe box under your bed. 

Okay, so now all of you tell me what you think. What keeps you interested in a book and what bores you to tears? Who are some of your favorite writers? What do you think of eBooks? If you want to be a writer, what steps are you taking toward your dream? And while you're thinking about your answers to these questions, check out the websites of the authors who were on the panel with me.

And let me know if you start reading one of their books. Maybe we can read it at the same time and have a little informal book group! Until next time... 

1 comment: