I don’t want to rehash agent and editor blogs, nor do I want to repeat what writer-bloggers tend to discuss on a fairly regular basis. Instead, I aim to provide you with the top ten shockers I learned at my SCBWI conference in
10. Many panelists were not opposed to picking up successful self-published writers. HOWEVER, the average self-pubbed writer will likely be consumed by sharks long before s/he sells enough to be noticed by the publishing professionals. My words, not theirs. I think editor Molly O’Neill said winning the lottery would be easier. Michelle F. Bayuk, Director of Marketing, cautioned conference-goers that the problem with an already pubbed book is the initial reviews—critical components of a marketing campaign—are impossible to get, virtually rendering a previously published piece invisible to school and library markets.
9. Nor were the panelists afraid of the e-book. Rather, many embraced it as “the wave of the future.” They tended to view it as simply another format in which to sell a project. None of the panelists believed the e-market would replace illustrated pieces any time soon. Tip: Retain your e-rights.
8. The idea of Bloggers as Booksellers has been circulating, so I asked panelists to weigh in. Of those who answered, the consensus was that bloggers can and do create buzz. But—yes, the answer always came with a “but”—anybody can write a review. Not every blog reviewer has clout and some have more than others. So, use this technology if it’s you, but don’t fret if your book isn’t making the review rounds.
7. Marketing and promotion. It is not our job as writers to sell books. It is our job as writers to create connections that will sell books. Convoluted? Here’s an example given by Ms. Buyak. Never ask a bookseller to carry your book. EVER. Form a relationship with that bookseller so he wants to carry your book and let your marketing team get the books onto his shelves.
6. Which leads me to the whole school-visits-are-a-good-thing shock. Self-promotion is all about connections. Create them at schools, churches, organizations, non-profits, fire departments, etc. Book signings are a different can of worms. Do those to celebrate you, not to sell your book.
5. Whatever your book’s audience, engage in those communities as often as possible. The more ties your book has, the bigger your market. This equals backlist potential, and the ability for a book to backlist well is one of the defining factors the panelists look for when considering a project. So, what does this mean for us? Exploit natural tie-ins, and do not ignore the library/school potential.
4. Writing is two-fold. Business and craft. Each is distinct, yet inextricably entwined, like DNA. Be aware of both and the impact one has on the other, but do not sacrifice one for the other. Without true art, there is no product to market. Yet without a market, art cannot find a home. Need a boost right about now? Agent Stephen Fraser believes that every project has a home. It is just a matter of finding it.
3. The universal message of every speaker: “Write your own story in your own voice with your own vision. Do not write derivatives. Know the trends.” So what are they in the juvenile lit arena? According to Mr. Fraser, chapter book series will continue to do well, as will books with metaphorical or spiritual components for YA readers. Historical fiction and picture books are slow now, while graphic novels will become commonplace.
Ms. O’Neill believes character-driven books are key, even in picture books. This plays largely on a reader’s ability to make solid connections with the story and the MCs. All panelists agreed that while picture books are a hard sell now, agents and editors will advocate to the end for a picture book that tugs at their heartstrings and speaks to them.
2. Talent is a must, bios are optional. Everyone loves debut authors. Yes, yes and YES! From agents to editors to acquisitions boards, the excitement of finding a fresh, new voice is akin to finding a trunk of jewels at the end of a treasure hunt. Ms. O’Neill explained that a debut novelist has no mixed track record and can often be an easier sell.
1. And the biggest shocker of all: series are it. I’ll say that again. Series are desirable. They are easier sells on the bookshelf than single titles, and successful series are the biggest money makers. Why? The short answer is because readers have an instant connection and familiarity with the characters. They are comfortable and satisfying. The long answer is far too complex to go into now.
Want more on series? Come back May 6th when I post what I learned from a master, Ms. Lin Oliver.
Want more depth? I’ll do my best to answer any questions.