Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Things I learned at the SCBWI Conference in NYC

Firstly, I just have to share this with you, dear readers:

Also to be found on where Mary Kole shares her own memories of the conference

Uh, yeah, that's me in the front in the sweater dress and high boots.  But who is that in the back?!  Yup, Mary Kole of Andrea Brown Literary Agency.

Now, let me be forthcoming here and admit a lot of the overwhelming feelings I had stemmed from the fact that there were quite a few brilliant agents at this conference.  Mary Kole is, of course, amazing, but she was by no means the only amazing one there (she is, however, the only one I have proof of meeting).  Ginger Clark of Curtis Brown, LTD and Dan Lazar of Writer's House also happened to grace the event.  And let me tell you, they are both people I would LOVE to work with. 

Hah!  Wouldn't we all? 

But I digress.  You wanted to hear about what I learned.  

What I learned:

1. Different agents want different things.  

Duh, right?  

Well, we all know to look out for what agents want regarding genre, but did you ever stop to think that maybe each one feels differently about how a query should look, too?  Again, we all know the basics like put the personal stuff on the top for one agent and on the bottom for another, but I'm talking MAJOR differences.

Dan Lazar, for example, almost seems to prefer the gimmicky stuff.  Now, that's not to say you should go all crazy and write a query from the POV of your MC's cat, but the examples he gave of good queries definitely did seem to be written in the voice of the MC (which some agents caution against).  A couple of his favorites might have even had some swearing in them. :o ;)

Ginger Clark, on the other hand, prefers a straight-up business letter.  Get to the point in as few words as possible.  No gimmicks, just plot.  If you were to send a query with swearing in it to her, I'd hazard to guess you wouldn't pique her interest.  

What does this mean?  

Well, if you plan on querying more than one agent, you might need to start thinking about having more than one query written up.  And the golden rule is to definitely, ABSOLUTELY do your research.

2. The future of YA is looking bright.

We've all heard that a million times, but don't you ever wonder if it's really true?  Well, according to the industry professionals at the conference, it absolutely is true.

Sales in YA have been virtually unaffected by the e-book revolution (not so with adult books) and it seems that today's youth prefer the nostalgia of paper over technology.  This is actually important to note because there's less profit to be had from e-books as opposed to hardcovers.  

The big chains have begun moving their YA books into their own section (out of the children's department) and devoting more space to them.  Not only is this great because it shows the chains recognize the profit they're garnering from YA, but it also means more potential customers may be wooed to purchase YA (i.e. customers who previously may have been uncomfortable purchasing something in the children's section).

3. Science Fiction is the next vampire

Holy cow, guys, you have no idea how excited I am!  EVERY agent said this.  Every. Single. One.  I swear my brightened face must have been seen from the moon I was so happy.

And you want to know something else?  They're desperate for space operas.  Do you see my eyes popping out of my head like Roger Rabbit right now?  No?  Because they are!  

Why, you ask?  

Well, I've actually been trying to avoid the whole space opera label because I'd read most people think they're trashy.  But I'm now proud to admit to all the world that ELEMENTAL is a space opera!  Phew!  I feel so much better for getting that out into the open.

For those who aren't necessarily aware of what a space opera is, think of Star Wars.  They're stories on a grander scale.  Instead of planetary tiffs, galactic empires battle for control.  Instead of just a bad guy, it's the war between good and evil.  Usually there's some massive battle scene where some really huge stuff gets blown up (which I have, by the way :) ).

So yeah, super excited about that one.  

Side Note: I rewrote my query for ELEMENTAL, so please check it out and let me know what you think!

And to read more about what I learned at the SCBWI Conference, check in next Monday!  Friday, I'll be getting back into book reviews (so don't miss it!). 

Discussion: What do you guys think?  Are you excited about the future of YA?  Did I say anything here you didn't already know? (and if I didn't, that just goes to show how lame I am because this was all new to me)


  1. that sounds great for elemental! whoohoo!!!
    i didn't know they were looking for scifi either! and i didn't realize how much difference they were looking for in query letters. yikes!
    and i'm definitely excited about the promising future of YA!! :)

  2. Thanks for sharing your notes! YA does seem like a great genre to write in - and I'm happy to say I already do. What's helpful when I query is to google the agent's name and see if they have any interviews. *usually* there will be a question about what they prefer in queries and how to format it. Another resource is to go to querytracker and look in the comments section for that particular agents. People sometimes share how they queried and in what genre, and if/when it was rejected.

  3. Sci-fi? Really? Hmmm, that's interesting.

  4. It's true about really doing your research on what agents wants. It's a lot of work, but worth it.

    Great news about YA.

  5. Hmm, suppose I need to go back to my zombie story again soon if they're looking for SF. But I'm still more enthralled with my fantasies right now. Best of luck with Elemental.

  6. I've been hearing the same thing through the vine that scifi is the next thing. It is exciting with all the scifi stuff I have rolling around my brain. My current novel is caught between scifi and fantasy. Hope I can find a place for it.

    Thank you for sharing the info and good luck with Elemental.
    Funny Stuff I Write

  7. Yay for YA! Very cool about the sci-fi bit too, since my latest was sci-fi. (light sci-fi) *grin* So here's hoping good things for ELEMENTAL!!!

  8. I'm so glad that YA is going strong. There were a few years there, when I was running the YA department at the bookstore, where I was genuinely concerned. That's fantastic news! Too bad I don't write YA...

  9. love the dress and the boots ;)

  10. I had a suspicion about the differences between agent tastes. It really is a fickle business. Thanks for filling us in! :)

  11. Wow, I didn't query taste were different. Hmmm ...

    Oh, and it fabu to hear that about YA! (Since I've recently written one, lol)


  12. Fantastic! I'm so glad to hear that you had a good time (you look great in that sweater dress by the way) and these are great points about what you learned. I had no idea that sci-fi is the new vampire but it makes sense.


  13. Great stuff! And very interesting about YA and e-readers. I didn't know!


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