The energy from the 80-90 mentees and abundance of incredible mentors was apparent at the start..with breakfast and then a great success story from authors Jean Reagan and Lora Koehler. It was great to hear of their near 15 year crit group experience and their paths to publication and how they felt when their book made it to the NY Times Bestseller lists. Congratulations to the both of them!
From there we broke out into the Five-on-Five Sessions. With the direction of the RUCCL lead, Author/Illustrator Lindsay Barrett George, five mentees were paired with their mentors and had a group discussion about all things children's book. At my table were mentors Clarissa Wong, Editor, HarperCollins Children's Books; Erica de Chavez, Sr. Designer, HarperCollins Children's Books; Beth Terrill, Editor, NorthSouth Books, Lee Harper, Author/Illustrator; and Bryan Langdo, Author/Illustrator. Mentees included: Saki Tanaka, Kavita Ramchandran, April Tonin, Caro Libreros and myself. Discussions included so many topics including the following: pros and cons of having an agent, the inner workings of how submissions are taken in at HarperCollins, how the editors and Sr. Designer find illustrators, social media, claiming yourself as an author vs. "aspiring author", as well as introductions from all of us. There were lots of questions and answers and it could've gone for hours..but alas.
After a break, we attended a great panel discussion led by the incredibly talented Margery Cuyler, Author/Publishing Consultant, "Writing Today for Tomorrow's Market"- Panelists: Stacey Barney, Senior Editor, Putnam/Penguin Random House; Jill Flaherty, Children's/YA Buyer, Baker & Taylor; Tara Lazar, Author and Council Member; and Dean Smith, Co-owner and children's buyer, JaZams bookstore.
Tara discussed how ideas came to her and how she gathered the ideas - "write it down, anything" - you never know when it will hit you. Stacey Barney discussed their process of acquiring books which was primarily decided through the editorial team, but this will vary with other houses. Dean spoke of the fact that he attends all kinds of shows from gift shows, toy shows, etc. as he is the buyer for his bookstore/toystore. He says that 8 years ago, he was telling people that unicorns were going to be HOT, and how he predicts the hot new animal will be the.....
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Jill Flaherty told us that there are more libraries in the US than there are McDonalds! Applause! She then spoke of how their work at Baker & Taylor were to share with libraries what's coming down the pike in terms of the publishing world..she will look at trend reports and they also find out about what customers want. She mentioned that a series was also a great way to sell books continually and to look for anniversaries that would be coming up. Next year, the 50th anniversary of the moon landing and Woodstock. Very interesting! The panel answered the question "Do you think about the future when you think about the present?" - and the answers varied..yes and no..how to find trends, Tara watches trends from illustrators and their posts! She makes regular dates to the bookstore and takes note of the "face out" books. She spoke of hearing about the "ugliest animal in the world", but Blobfish and how she worked on Blobfish Bob, and saw blobfish books on the market. Dean says yes and no - and what he hopes to see - namely publishing that speaks to "hope for young boys". I believe he said that he loves the book by Thomas Scotto & Olivier Tallec - Jerome By Heart, as an example. He also stated a wish for books that take a deeper look at cultural awareness. Other wishes from the panel included more middle grade non-fiction, like Marley Dias; quality sports-fiction, more rich storytelling of stories that don't necessarily include or touch upon suicidal realities; and books about "young people who are just kids" who are cool just by liking and respecting one another. Another wish was for more real-life, common situations that reflect confidence in the character, and positive mental health for teens, as well as the hot current trends of: own voices, diversity, indigenous peoples, and STEM/STEAM.
I spent my lunchtime with Brian Schatell, Illustrator. Author. and Council Member who was very kind to have read and provided feedback on my manuscripts while at lunch! We were joined by Margery Cuyler, Author/Publishing Consultant and Council Member, who also took the time to read my ms (apologies for showing it to you on my phone, Margery!), and my other dummies while enjoying a lunch of sandwiches, salads and pizza. I am so grateful for their words of wisdom and advice and can't thank them enough! At the end of lunch, I had the great pleasure to meet and sit with Tara Lazar, Author and Council Member who, along with Margery and Brian, were incredibly fun to speak with. I can't thank Tara enough for her one tweet on Twitter many months ago, promoting the RUCCL.org One-on-One-Plus Conference event on her feed! She is such a joy to listen to and be encouraged by and her excitement about books and ideas filled the room.
My One-on-One was more than I had hoped for..a meeting with dear Clarissa Wong, Editor at Harper Collins Children's Books. I can't thank her enough for such insiteful and honest feedback about my manuscripts. We spoke about many things, including family, the Chinese-American experience, the process at HarperCollins, the industry, and so much more. It was so fun to see how we have had some parallel aspects of our lives and she left me with much to think about! I have a notebook with lots of notes to help me along the way as I revise my work in hopes to get them submission-ready. Thank you so much, Clarissa! Joining us later, was Erica De Chavez, whom I have followed through social media from back in the early years of IllustrationFriday.com and IllustrationMundo.com..wow, it was a highlight to get to finally meet her in person and get to know this joyful, talented woman and hear of her wealth of information about the industry. Thanks so much Erica!
The keynote was given by the power authors, Jane Yolen and Heidi E.Y. Stemple! I have always wanted to hear them speak, and together, they provided such down-to-earth words of wisdom. For two incredibly successful authors, with hundreds of published books to their names, it is easy to assume that these things come easily for them, but no, what they provided in their speech was insight into their fears (Heidi shared a personal email she sent to her (their) agent), as well as Jane's motto: Passion, Patience, Persistence! They spoke of Heidi's book, You Nest Here With Me, and it's journey (a many year journey) to publication...persistence! And glorious illustrations by Melissa Sweet upon waiting for her schedule to clear so that they may have her illustrate the book. I was so encouraged to hear these wishes for all of the attendees:
1) When you find the beginning of your book halfway into your story.
2) Your first draft
3) When you share your story for the first time
4) When your critique group says it's ready (find your trusted reader!)
5) A good rejection (loved it but not enough to marry it)
6) An open-ended rejection (try to revise)
7) the opportunity to revise ("Butt in chair" - J.Y. and "Yes, I can!" - J.Y.)
8) When a child reads your book - ("The ultimate thrill!" - J.Y.)
9) When you receive a letter from a child
Unfortunately I missed some of their keynote, and my apologies to Tara for missing her closing remarkds, due to a flight, but I gained so much from their words of advice and left with a smile on my face. So much to think about, sit with, and do!
I highly recommend applying to the conference which occurs every year. For information, go to RUCCL.org, and follow them on Twitter@ruccl1on1.
Some closing thoughts - I really enjoyed my trip with my dearest friend Renee..we California girls loved seeing New Brunswick, New Jersey and the surrounding areas for the first time. The Garden State is truly lovely..so green, so crisp. Rutgers University is HUGE, and they were having a homecoming college game against Northwestern which brought Hall-of-Famers from all over to the campus. We drove a rental on the surface streets to the hotel..lots to see, and unfortunately traffic that seemed like the Bay Area. On the way home, we ventured onto the New Jersey Turnpike which was a dream! In an instant, we were on our way home, watching the last bits of our view of Manhattan from the AirTrain at the airport. Back to reality now..hard work ahead in the next few months. I'm looking forward to spending the bits of downtime on my manuscripts though. I know I'll be pulling my hair trying to get just the right word down, while I hone in on the heart of the story but it will all be worth it. OH, one last thing, Renee was kind enough to ask me to attend a talk by Rick Steves, the author, T.V. personality of many books about travel. This resonated with me...remember when we used to say "bon voyage" when you heard someone was going to travel? but that it has been replaced with "safe travels!"...Mr. Steves talked about travel and being open to talking to the locals and broadening your view. Never having visited New Jersey, we met some really great people along the way and experienced downtown New Brunswick by eating at Old Man Rafferty's and enjoyed a great grilled cheese pulled pork sandwich yesterday. It was a joy to experience all of the newness of the city..and I shall be back. Thanks for reading, and apologies for the length! Have a great rest of October and the Fall everyone! ~ Shirley