The Push to Publish YA/Children's Book Panel: the questions we asked and answered

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Before Catherine Stine, Nancy Viau, Alison DeLuca, and I met yesterday afternoon at Rosemont College for our Push to Publish YA/Children's Book Panel, we were invited to submit questions and answers for potential mulling during our panel. As the group's moderator, I promised the audience that I would share those very questions and answers here, to supplement the many other things we discussed during our it-flew-by-so-fast hour.  

Many thanks to all of you who came, to Catherine, Nancy, and Alison, who spoke so intelligently, and to Christine Weiser, Queen of Philadelphia Stories (from which the annual Push to Publish conference springs), who took this photograph for us. 


Catherine Stine:
1. How important is social media to your promo plan and when should you start to implement it?

The best advice I got from an early mentor was to start a blog way before my next big book came out, not when it came out. I started Catherine Stine’s Idea City about two years before my latest novel was published, and by that time I had over 340 followers, who helped with my book blog tour, and other promo posts such as interviews, features and giveaways, as well as me guest posting on their blogs.
I had no idea that the blogosphere would be so friendly and eager to help. Part of the fun is that it’s a mixed age-community, with everyone from savvy book reviewers, still in high school, to seasoned authors in their sixties. The key is to care about what others are posting! If you want good comments on your posts, you must return the favor. I’ve learned so much about publishing and writing from this vibrant community, and from indie authors as well as ones who are published with the Big Six. Other important social media to develop: a Goodreads author page, a Facebook author or book page, a Pinterest page and a twitter account. There are others, but this is a great place to start!
Topical online reads:
1. Publishers’ Weekly article on YA Marketing-Digital versus Physical:
2. Basic Marketing Tips from YA author, Elana Johnson:
3. What the heck is Pinterest, you ask? Check out a sampling of YA books for OCT on Pinterest!

2. What are the big differences between indie and traditionally published books/authors? Between ebooks and paper copies? How do you see these trending in the future?

I see a blending in the future of who is published traditionally to who is publishing on their own, or with small houses. It will be more about the quality of the fiction and the authors’ growing readership than how authors publish. I’ve published with big houses such as Random House and American Girl, and I’ve also published through my own Konjur Road Press. Many traditionally published authors are now publishing their own out-of-print-books and novels that their agents haven’t placed. As publishing houses become more gun-shy and picky (because of less physical bookstores to sell to!) and authors learn how much they can potentially earn on their own the quality of indie fiction will grow ever higher! There is also a trend toward POD printing—that means print on demand. For instance, if someone orders your POD book through Amazon, or B&N, their publishing arm will print as many paperback copies as are ordered and no more. This has an upside for a beleaguered industry: publishers will no longer have to deal with huge store returns, which lose money for the houses when they must refund that revenue. On the other hand, it means less variety on the physical bookshelves. As more and more readers get comfy with ereading devices, more and more ebooks will sell. In the Catskills, where I go on the weekends, I feel the burn of bookstore closings. There are no more bookstores within 40 or 50 miles! People won’t stop reading, they will always want stories; they will simply buy more ebooks.  
Some related online articles:
1.     A post by indie fantasy author, Lindsay Buroker: 

2.     A post by Susan Kaye Quinn, indie YA author:

3. Trends in YA? Write to trends or to what I love?

It’s always a gamble to predict specific trends because they change from year to year. And one should never, ever write specifically to the trends. You should write that amazing novel that only you can write! I tell my students to focus on a subject or theme that they are totally inspired by, because maintaining fuel for those entire 250 to 350 pages is something only fierce interest and passion can drive. That said, there do seem to be trends for 2013/14: realistic YA is making a comeback, after a paranormal and fantasy-saturated market. Vamps are trending out, but there will probably always be room for that unique, geeky or charismatic vamp! Historical fantasy is in with novels such as Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly. Magical realism is growing, as is confidence in YA sci-fi like Black Hole Sun by Gill and space opera, such as A. Ryan’s Glow. Horror and unusual blends are growing in popularity as seen in novels like Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by R. Riggs. There is also a trend toward sci-fi romance, as in novels like V. Rossi’s Under the Never Sky. And then, there are the trend-busters whose mind-bending novels start entirely new trends! Will you write one of these?

Nancy Viau
How do I avoid the slush pile?

It's the "kiss of death" to address your submission to Dear Editor, Agent, or To Whom It May Concern. Research a name and target your manuscript to a real person, one who is acquiring work in the genre in which you write. There's a wealth of info to be found on websites such as>  (monthly subscription is about 20 bucks), <> , <> , and <> . Bloggers like Casey McCormick, <> , often feature authors and agents, and many editors and agents have blogs and are on Twitter or Facebook. But, instead of relying only on info found on the Internet (where everything's always correct, right? Ha!), find a better, more personal connection by going to conferences and/or getting one-on-one critiques at conferences. Strike up a conversation, exchange business cards, and schmooze your way to success.

What is in a query letter to an agent? How about a cover letter to an editor?

The best way for me to answer this is to give each person copies of letters I wrote to the above people. I'll dissect what I've included and why, and tell the group if it was a successful or not. I feel that the best "takeaway" is something someone can actually take away. : )

What types of picture books are children's book editors looking for?

This is the million dollar question! Who really knows? Many agents and editors say they want a story based on a marketable character. (Ex: FANCY NANCY, LADYBUG GIRL, DON'T LET THE PIGEON DRIVE THE BUS). In additon, they want short over long (less than 800 words), loud over quiet, and non-rhyming over rhyming. They'd also like you to be a celebrity! (*Smirk*) That being said, there are plenty of recently acquired books that break all these rules. (Ex: LOOK WHAT I CAN DO! and STORM SONG, my two picture books due out this spring. They are not character-based, they're considerably quiet, and they rhyme. And yes, I'm still shocked that they sold.)

Alison DeLuca

 1. What are the challenges of being an Indie author of children's books?

The main one, and it seems to be continually lessening, is the question of access. Do children and young adults have access to platforms on which to read ebooks? As the ereader market widens, this becomes less and less of a concern. Still, I do think that Indie authors of YA and children's books should explore the POD (print on demand) market. There are several different sources for this: Createspace is the most obvious, and Lulu is a cheap alternative. LightningSource is perhaps the best-regarded within the traditional industry, which is important to remember if an author wants to get books stocked in local bookstores.

For anyone considering POD, my advice is to do plenty of research. Print is very difficult. Consider hiring a professional format person and cover artist. A pro will remember issues like having headers, chapters that begin on the right side of the book, inserting blank pages where necessary... it can all be overwhelming for a beginning Indie author. Really, formatting is an art unto itself.

Another challenge, and in a way it is a good thing, is that Indie authors are, to some degree, held to a very high standard. Reviewers will be quick to point out shifts in point of view, tense irregularities, the use of the present progressive... Again, consider hiring a professional copy editor, as well as a structural editor. Don't skimp on the beta readers - try to have two rounds at least. The more feedback, the better.

Before doing any of the above, do your research and find companies and professionals that you can trust. It is here that a writer's group or collective can be invaluable. If you have a personal recommendation, it makes it much easier to contact and trust the editor or artist involved.

2. What are some good sources for Indie children's authors?

All writers, not just Indies, should be completely familiar with the breakdown of genres and metadata in the BISAC system. You can see a list of BISAC headings here, and each will click through to subgenres:

There are many Indie author groups online. I interact with The Indie Exchange on Facebook. That page is nice because they don't allow book promo of any sort, so the conversation sticks with writing and publishing, instead of turning into a stream of spam. Do be aware that there are "rules" for each page, and if someone does post promos on  a non-promo site for example, the mods will delete it and contact you.

As in all things, be pleasant and professional when interacting within a group. At the same time: BE ON YOUR GUARD. There are many, many wolves out there. Do not give out personal contact info or enter into a contract without spending a lot of time on background research.

3. Once my children's book is up, how do I get sales?

Ah. Now we enter the wonderful world of marketing. Be aware that writing the book was the easy part. And even when it is formatted and edited, there is a lot of work ahead for Indie authors.

The beginning author may find herself excitedly throwing her info and promos on every available type of social media. It's good to have a presence, but there are some things to keep in mind:

A steady stream of spam on Facebook, Twitter, or any type of social media is boring and off-putting. INstead of tweeting buy links over and over, how about being creative? For example, if your book is about music, you could schedule a Twitterchat about favorite songs or lyrics.

My mentor in all things marketing-related is Kristen Lambe. She runs a wonderful writer's blog here:
Not only does she offer guides to the tangled world of social media, she also gives what amount to in-depth treatises on plot development, story arcs, and characterization.

Beth Kephart
What is the most surprising—or affirming—aspect of the YA writing community?

Although I’ve taught teens for years, I never planned to write books that were specifically set aside for that age group.  It seemed, to me, like an entirely different language, a world that I would never effectively penetrate.  Now with my eighth and ninth YA novels set for release, I have learned important things about the generosity of the YA writing community, the fervor of librarians and teachers, and the wide open heart of teen readers. Power—sometimes chaotic, sometimes strange, but nearly always mesmerizing—abides in the YA community.  And that is why, I think, adults increasingly lean in our direction.  That is also why so many teen books increasingly refuse to stay within set boundaries.  We writers of teen books want everyone to share in the magic.

Is there room for the quiet YA book?

I wasn’t sure there would be one, when I first started writing.  In fact, my kind of book was a bit of an experiment for Laura Geringer, my first YA editor, then at HarperCollins.  What would happen, she wondered, to teen books that were deliberately focused on emotion and mood, setting and  ideas, language and light, in the age of Twilight?  Would they find an audience? The good news is that there is an audience.  Not a rip-roaring, I’m-going-to-be-rich-and-famous audience.  But enough of an audience to enable me to keep writing my kind of book, to keep finding my kind of teen (and adult) reader. And for that I am hugely grateful.

What is the hottest trend in YA fiction?

I have been saying for a while now that we are at long last shedding categories with YA fiction.  We are celebrating individuals who write books that break rules and boundaries.  The Book Thief freed us, in that way. Writers like Patricia McCormick and A.S. King continue to remind us how powerful the unexpected is. And of course I still believe, as I wrote last year, that illustrated YA books, along with well-written, engaging historical novels, will find firmer marketing footholds.


Caroline Starr Rose said...

What a comprehensive look at your event! Thank you.

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