Have just returned from Sydney and our bi-annual conference. Straight into teaching on Monday morning, but luckily I resisted the late-night gabfests (tempting though they were) and got some sleep while I was there. The Hughenden Hotel, where the conference took place, was also where many of us stayed. It's very old and historical, with a dungeon and lots of little rooms and things like ceiling roses and embossed tiles. Sydney was hot and muggy to us Melbournites, but probably just nice for the northern writers!
Guest US editor was Julie Romeis from Chronicle Books, with publishers from HarperCollins, Walker Books, Penguin, Random House, plus Leonie Tyle who is establishing a new imprint of her own at RH. Rick Raftos was the guest agent. They were all very generous with their information and advice, and I saw quite a few writers who were glowing after their manuscript assessments. We all ate far more delicious food than was good for us!! I went for a walk around the circuit in Centennial Park on Sunday morning, which helped me feel better about all those cakes.
I'll post more about individual sessions shortly, but I wanted to mention the pitch session on Sunday afternoon. This was interesting as, instead of participants having to write a pitch (like the paragraph in your query letter) and have it critiqued, they had to actually stand up and do a two minute presentation. Quite normal in the screenwriting world, but pretty scary for children's writers who've never done it before.
The publishers' panel was fairly brutal and honest, but they needed to be. I guess they were showing us (verbalising) what goes through their brains when they read someone's query letter and/or submission. It was a bit like Miss Snark in action. It soon became apparent who had a grip on what their story was about, and who was still talking in abstracts. Some people chose to read a bit of their story, which didn't always work. Others presented story outlines that really captured the audience's imagination.
One of the highlights for me was Ellen Hopkins, whose verse novels I greatly admire, not only for their stark subject matter but also for her poetry and the way she uses words on the page. Her session was moving and educational, and I also got to talk to her about verse novels the next day. And she showed us all that Nevada is not just Las Vegas, and there are some beautiful mountains and scenery up north.