Here are some session summaries and high points:
Julie Romeis (Chronicle) - Trends in the US Market
While Gossip Girls and books like the Lightning Thief are hugely popular right now, in two years time it will be different. Write what you want to write and be a trend-setter, not a trend-follower. There are more novels being published now but there will inevitably be a move back to picture books. The huge funding cuts for schools and libraries have meant that publishers have had to pull back from publishing aimed at those markets, and look more at books that will sell in stores and places like WalMart (big retail).
There are more licenced characters and more "books with bling" (sparkles and glow stuff) - these are the covers that make kids take them off the shelves, and there are more fun books being produced rather than educational. There is also a big shift to graphic novels for as young as 5-6 year olds (Baby Mouse early readers). US publishers are interested in international authors but they still need to be writing something unique or different.
There was a session on picture books that I wrote the SCBWI report for - it will be up on the Australian SCBWI site next week, I believe, along with my report on educational publishing.
What are they publishing?
Linsey Knight (Random House) - everything from picture books to YA, and they are also doing a lot of series and mass market stuff. They buy in from overseas as well as local authors.
They are always looking for people who can tell great stories, are interested in chicklit for YA but it needs to be a fresh voice.
Anna McFarlane (Pan Macmillan) - are doing 41 books this year, of which 8 are new writers. She talked about the first-time authors and how their manuscripts were accepted - 4 from the slush pile, 4 from agents.
Leonie Tyle (Random House) - Leonie has recently joined RH and has her own imprint. She is looking for literary, high quality books, and plans to publish 12 books per year. She said the 9-13 age group are very savvy readers and consumers, and publishers are actively targeting them right now. She will be more interested in novels than picture books, but is putting illustrations in novels (this was an obvious trend - it came up several times).
Sarah Foster from Walker Books talked about new voices in their program this year, including The Stone Crown by Malcolm Walker - this book needed a lot of work but the author's voice was strong and he had great characters, plus he was willing to do a lot of rewriting and work hard with the editor. Walker are also publishing a new series called Lightning Strikes, 10,000 words, aimed at upper primary (10-12) - pacey, funny stories.
Julie Romeis (Chronicle) talked about a book she had published while at Bloomsbury - Ophelia. She was attracted to the book idea first, but always she knows if she's going to love a book by the first page. The writing and voice leaps out at you.
Lisa Berryman (HarperCollins) sees that it's her job to recognise potential - voice is everything in a book to her, and it determines your response to it. She talked about Alexandra Adornetto and that her submission was perfect, as well as the book and writing were great. (If you haven't heard of AA, she wrote her first book at 13, and her second is about to be published.)
Steve Mooser (president of SCBWI International) was at the conference and did a useful presentation on writing funny books. I might post about that at another time.
Overall, the sessions provided a wealth of information for those who want to pursue publication. The main points that I came away with (and they were mentioned many times) are:
* That you need a great voice working in your story, and you need a story that has a different or unique perspective. Publishers look at thousands of manuscripts every year, and that first page has to be working in terms of voice and action to capture their interest.
* Publishers are constantly looking at marketing and how a book is placed out there - what will make someone buy it. Covers are important, but so are efforts by authors - websites and school visits in particular. Word of mouth will still sell more books than advertising.
* Series are popular but there are drawbacks - booksellers don't always like the idea of having to fill shelves with them. But kids like them, and they become collectables.
Thanks to all the publishers who attended the conference and were so approachable and patient.