Amy Goldman Koss – SCBWI Presentation

Amy Goldman Koss – SCBWI Presentation

I knew I would like Amy Goldman Koss by her name. I mean, she’s an Amy. Ironically, it was in her presentation that I met a new writing buddy at…and she is also an Amy. What can I say, I have an affinity for the name. I was never one of those kids who wished my parents had chosen differently, I loved my Amy-ness and still do.

Amy Goldman Koss gave a great breakout presentation on writing age. And her advice is really, REALLY simple: Remember what it was like to be the age of your reader. Think of your character’s reactions as yourself at that age.

Writing for young adults? Remember the crappiness of high school and describe it in all its glory. Writing picture books for young children? Remember the simplicity and joy of learning something new and exciting every day. And writing for middle grade? Well remember that boy who said you had buck teeth and looked like a beaver and have your character spit a loogie on him. Yeah…that’s a little personal regression there.

Here are some writing prompts she gave us:

  • Remember where you read when you were the age of your reader
  • Look in a mirror and describe yourself when you were the age of your reader

I first heard this in Amy’s session, but heard it repeated again by Rachel Vail in another session. You need to know EVERYTHING about your character.

  • Do they eat oatmeal or Cream of Wheat?
  • Do they wear boxers or briefs?
  • Are they a vegetarian or do they eat meat?

Every random detail you can think of, make a note of it. It doesn’t necessarily have to go in the manuscript, but you need to know this about them to write them true.

I asked her about writing across gender. Her fantastic response: “It’s the same shit.” The minor differences: Boys talk less, boy characters don’t like to stand genital to genital (it’s shoulder to shoulder), and boys need to have something to do in a scene.

Stuff to keep in mind when writing for kids:

Everybody’s insecure

Your enemy is so clear if you’re the picked on kid. If you are popular it gets dicier.

Take the characters that you love and treat them like dirt.

If you find a character you are writing is getting stale, do a find and replace and change their name. You may find that a “Casey” acts differently than a “Rhonda.”

Teenagers are not and are never altruistic – they are only thinking about themselves. They may be thinking “how do I make myself look more altruistic” but that is not real altruism.

And when I met Amy around in the hotel later that night, after buying a copy of her book “The Girls,” she signed it to “One of the Amy Crowd.”

Swoon.

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SCBWI – Stephanie Owens Lurie, How to Think Like a Publisher

I’m back from the SCBWI conference with about 100 pages of notes! It was an amazing experience and I thoroughly enjoyed everything about it. I got to hear great speakers from inside the industry (writers, agents, editors, and publishers), meet fellow writers, and learn. Those who know me well know what a huge learning nerd I am. School is my happy place.

The first breakout session I attended was with Stephanie Owens Lurie, an editorial director at Disney-Hyperion Publishing. Disney-Hyperion is the branch of Disney Publishing charged with creating non-Disney content, and not tie-ins to existing content at theme parks, movies, or television. Stephanie has been in publishing for 30 years and at Disney-Hyperion for 2 years. The woman knows her stuff.

She talked the process of publishing a book from query to publication.

Here are my notes, in raw form.

IMPORTANT: a book is judged not only on its own merits but whether or not it fits with a publisher’s list. When sending out your work, keep in mind a particular company’s strengths and needs.

The Publisher’s List

Publisher’s Goal: fill a hole in the list as soon as possible

Author’s way to support:

  • Know the standard formats
  • Research the publisher’s list
  • Don’t send what they already have (this means vampires)
  • Don’t send a category of book that they don’t publish (this shows lack of research)
  • Make sure the manuscript is polished (revise, revise, revise)
  • Be flexible about the publication date (they are not on your schedule, you are on theirs)

The Pitch

The Publisher’s Goal: To have a compelling sales handle (to sell stuff)

Author’s way to support:

  • Have an elevator pitch (FORMULA: name of character is so exaggerated personality trait that the following happens) – if you can’t do this your story isn’t focused enough.

The Franchise (intellectual property that can be leveraged beyond one book and used in different media)

The Publisher’s Goal: To grow revenue year over year

Author’s way to support:

  • Once the manuscript is complete, think bigger: is this a series, does it have global potential, can I as an author crank out additional manuscripts on a tight schedule?
  • Show that you have ideas and are open to feedback and collaboration
  • Don’t be afraid to share your ideas in your query, but don’t be overwhelming

The Deal

The Publisher’s Goal: To secure top talent that can be grown over time

Author’s way to support:

If you receive multiple offers, take the following under consideration: the money being offered, the marketing plan, what else will be in the sales bag, and the chemistry.

The Media

*once the book is done and sent to the printer the job is only half done!

The Publisher’s Goal:  To have a promotable author with a fascinating back story

Author’s way to support:

  • Think about what inspired the book
  • Do you have relevant credentials?
  • Do you have any media contacts?
  • Do you enjoy meeting new people / schmoozing?
  • Are you willing to promote your book online?
  • Can you develop and give a presentation?
  • Would your book lend itself to a discussion guide?
  • You can share all of these ideas with your editor, but … trust your  marketing and publicity departments too.

The Gatekeepers: The Bookseller & The Consumer

*Booksellers will bring in books that they respond to on a personal level, but also know what will sell.

The Publisher’s Goal:  To partner with the bookseller in order to achieve the highest possible sell-in

Author’s way to support:

  • Give careful thought to mature content
  • Remember most children’s books are purchased by adults (the majority by mothers and grandmothers) – for picture book through middle grade, but most teenagers but their own books

The End Users

The publisher and the author should have the same goals: to deliver high quality entertainment to young people, to change a child’s perspective, to grow readers

But authors, keep in mind:

  • Write for kids, not for ego gratification
  • Know your target audience
  • Respect your readers
  • Never condescend of ridicule your target reader
  • Writing is not just an art form, but a form of communication

The Future

The Publisher’s Goal: To remain competitive, innovative, profitable

Author’s way to support:

  • Embrace technology, because your audience has
  • Find out what different publishers are doing in the digital arena (and good news…l’ll be posting some of that information coming soon)
  • Realize that the rights landscape is changing

What is the difference between an author and a publisher?

  • The Author: TELL the story
  • The Publisher: SELL the story

The ideal author is:

  • Talented
  • Dedicated
  • Reliable
  • Strategic
  • Collaborative
  • Appreciative

And, if you’ve kept reading until this point, I would also add patient. As you can see, Stephanie gave a great presentation. My hand hurt from writing after it, and it’s hurting again now after typing. Now time for sleep!

Setting and plot/character in poetry

Writing question of the day: Is setting in poetry, especially YA poetry, as important as setting in either fiction or non-fiction?

Just as setting in non-fiction and fiction, setting in poetry has a purpose and importance. However, the difference, especially in YA poetry or novels in verse, is the focus on the main character’s thoughts and feelings and less so on the setting surrounding them. The setting plays a part, of course, but it is not an equal to the part of the thoughts and feelings and needs of the main character. This leads to a greater emphasis on plot and character.

I recommend reading Far From You by Lisa Schroeder as an example of YA poetry setting. There was plenty of setting shared, but the words used to describe it were carefully chosen. Yet you felt as strongly to the car and woods they were stuck in, the stepmother’s parent’s house, and the record store where boyfriend Blaze worked and hotel they went to that they did not feel any less important. It’s not pages and pages of prose, but it’s letting you into the character’s mind to show how they felt about the setting to make it stronger with less words.

But what there was more of in Far From You was plot (a very strong plot) and character development. The plot, which focused on a teenage girl dealing with a new stepmother and stepsister after the death of her mother, was very strong. Yes, this book had the dead mother syndrome. But it added with the impending crisis of being stuck in the woods.

The same goes for character development. There was a strong main character whose voice was heard throughout. I felt her pain and her denial and her acting out as it happened. Main character Alice had her own wants, needs, and issues she needed to work through during the story.

There were also very strong supporting characters – her best friend, her boyfriend, her stepmother. However, although her father was a very important figure in her life, as a character I felt he was extremely underdeveloped. Perhaps this was purposeful.

I most equate YA poetry with YA fiction. You need to have a strong character and a strong plot to really pull the manuscript along. You probably even need your MC to have a stronger voice than usual, especially if they are the narrator of their lyrical poem.