Thursday, October 29, 2009

SCBWI-CAROLINAS CONFERENCE 2009; When is YA not YA? A workshop by David Mcinnis Gill

David Macinnis Gill is the author of SOUL ENCHILADA, a highly anticipated novel released this spring by Greenwillow. SOUL ENCHILADA has been nominated for the BBYA (Best Books for Young Adults) honor. He is the past President of the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents and teaches at UNC Wilmington.

According to Mr. Gill, YA (Young Adult) is not a genre, but a marketing category instead, as is the term MG (Middle Grade). They both fall under the umbrella known as “children’s literature.”

A YA is a book with a teen main character and involves a teen “problem.” It is written primarily for a teen audience and is told in the here and now. NOT as an adult looking back on his/her past as a teen.

Mr. Gill quoted Cheryl Klein, Senior Editor at Arthur A. Levine Books (An imprint of Scholastic) on her definition: “ YA is centrally interested in the experience and growth of its teen protagonist, whose dramatized choices, actions and concerns drive the story and is narrated with relative immediacy to teen perspective. “

YA vs. MG:
YA spans ages 12-18
MG spans ages 9-14

-More MG books will make it into libraries than YA.
-MG & YA share some characteristics, such as a teen protagonist, because of the overlapping age range. What differentiates the two is the intensity of the story. For example, in a MG, a teacher can only be so mean. But in a YA, a teacher can become predatory.

More often than not, it is not the author who decides which category a book fits in. As the author, it is up to you to write your best story. It is up to the editor, the sales team, marketing or your agent to decide what section of the bookstore or library your book will sit.

When you gear your writing toward the YA market, your main character should be roughly two years older than the target audience and push the boundaries in subject matter. YA is also reaching toward college-age readers allowing for longer text and more complex and darker themes. However, on the flipside, the MG market is also getting larger as publishers push toward the fourteen age range with an average of 200 pages per book.

If you want to get a good idea what is popular in YA fiction these days, go to the bookstore. Check out the SINGLE titles, not series. Look at the hard cover copies as they are the most recently published works. On the web, look at the web sites for ALAN or YALSA. On the YALSA site you can find the BBYA (Best Books for Young Adults) Award or Top Ten Teen Reads. Another great way to find hot YA’s is to look up the Prince Award and its prior honorees.

So basically, what I have gathered from Mr. Gill’s workshop is when marketing your YA work to editors/agents during the search for publication, do your homework. Read lots of YA and find out what’s out there. Check out the competition and make sure yours is as good or better. Read the acknowledgements page of similar works and find out the name of the editor or agent who helped develop it into a finished product. Target your work appropriately.

The biggest issue for me, in recognizing YA is HOW it is written. The story MUST be told from a teen’s point of view in the here and now. A true YA will not be written from a teen’s point of view after he/she is an adult and looking back at the past. This is the key and seems to be the major factor in what differentiates YA from regular adult fiction.

Are you still confused? Does your book run the gamut between YA & MG and you’re just not sure how to market it to that editor/agent? Don’t lose any sleep over it. If you have a good story, killer voice, and great character, your book will be published. Leave the marketing aspect of it to “the powers that be.” They’re the experts and they’ll know just what niche your book fits into. Happy writing!

-Niki Masse Schoenfeldt

This article was taken from my own workshop notes. Any error or inconsistencies are solely mine and not that of David Mcinnis Gill.

Monday, October 5, 2009

SCBWI-Carolinas Conference 2009 The Picture Book is NOT Dead by Fatimah Kahn

Fatimah (pronounced Fateema) Khan is Associate Editor at Little Brown Books for Young Readers. She is new to the conference circuit and this was her first time addressing a crowd. She confessed immediately to being very nervous but honestly, it didn’t show. She was cute, lively, funny and most importantly, interesting!

She began by telling us that this year has been a great PB year for Little Brown! In this tough economy, that is great news. Especially for those of us who focus mostly on that genre. On the head table she had displayed some of those banner books for us to see and then took the time to give us her take on why she thought they were so successful.

1. THE CURIOUS GARDEN by Peter Brown (Author/Illustrator)
a. Has a timely, environmental theme.
b. Likeable boy character. No parents involved.
c. Fantastic artwork.
d. Spare text. Easy & clear for kids to understand.
e. Great progression with a beginning, middle and end.
f. Clear message. 1. Anyone can make a difference. 2. “Green” message.
g. Eco-friendly packaging.

2. THE I LOVE YOU BOOK by Todd Parr (Author/Illustrator)
a. Love sells.
b. Has holiday appeal. (Valentines Day)
c. Inexpensive price.
d. Designed to look like a greeting card and makes a great gift.

3. BIRDIE’S BIG GIRL SHOES by Suejean Rim (Author/Illustrator)
a. New take on growing too fast.
b. Wonderful artwork.

4. MARTHA DOESN’T SAY SORRY by Samantha Berger(Author) &
Bruce Whatley (Illustrator)
a. Story is character driven.
b. Has lasting value & appeal.
c. A new story with a classic feel.

5. DINOTRUX by Chris Gall (Author/Illustrator)
a. Marketed to boys. Strong boy appeal.
b. Dinosaurs + Trucks = Hit!!
c. Fantastic design & illustrations. d. Great read aloud.

6. OFF TO KINDERGARTEN by Tony Johnston (Author/Illustrator)
a. Low price.
b. Great back-to-school promotion.

Afterward, Ms. Khan shared with us her list of attributes that she feels make for a good children’s book.

1. Child is the hero.
2. Author uses rich, lively text and dialog.
3. Author is NOT condescending.
4. Characters seem real, complex and show growth.
5. There is a twist.
6. No heavy-handedness.
7. Details are included with a child’s sensibility.
8. There is a story arch.
9. Author has created an interesting, believable world.
10. The story is moving. –It makes you laugh, cry, ect.
11. It carries a fresh revelation through repeat readings.
12. The story is enjoyable for both the child and the adult who
reads it out loud.
13. It has a clear approach.
14. Details are carefully thought out. (This pertains to the design
of the book.)
15. Doesn’t follow a trend but has lasting value all its own.

Ms. Khan is always looking for innovative novelty projects with a playful twist, picture books with strong commercial appeal as well as novelty formats, eye-catching holiday, seasonal tie-ins and fresh fun-to-read-aloud stories. She works on books for the youngest readers ranging from board books to interactive lift-the-flap and touch-and-feel projects. Little Brown does not accept unsolicited queries or manuscripts. Most submissions are through a literary agent.