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Muse to Market – SCBWI – Southern Breeze

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SCBWI’s Southern Breeze region wrapped up its SpringMingle’09 with advice from Caitlyn Dloughy, editor of the Simon & Schuster imprint Atheneum. Dloughy urged writers to develop characters with action: “If you find yourself starting with a few paragraphs of physical description of your character, you may not have developed your character enough.” She asked the audience to name memorable characters from children’s books and then say why the characters were memorable: Lily (of the purple plastic purse), Eloise, Max (the wild thing). Each was noted for something they did; not what they looked like. In particular, Dloughy cautioned writers to avoid descriptions such as “twinkling eyes” and “blond hair.” Recommended reading: Dark Dude by Oscar Hijuelos, Shift by Jennifer Bradbury, and The Underneath by Kathi Appelt.

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Our keynote speaker, award-winning author Kathleen Duey, explained that writers need to work on three aspects of the writing life: “art, craft, and filthy commerce.” The bottom line, she said, is always “write the BEST book.” She suggested that beginners should attend conferences, join critique groups, and take writing classes. Start submitting only after you know your work is really, really good. Otherwise, you crowd the mailboxes, desks, floors, and closets of editors who are getting busier as the industry downsizes. In order to feed your art, she said: “spread your wings, read poetry, read literary novels for adults.” If you stare at children’s books all the time, that will help your marketing knowledge (filthy commerce), but it won’t help your art.” She cautioned against trying to write to trends; write what you absolutely MUST write — from your heart. Recommended reading: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, and The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron.

Note: I will post more about the conference in the coming days. Check back for more from other speakers: Abigail Samoun, Daniel Powers, and Liz Conrad.

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Shelli Johannes-Wells, one of our own Southern Breezers, launched the conference with a great talk on marketing. She made a convincing argument for writers to begin marketing during their “pre-published” years. I couldn’t agree more. She explained branding (including the often overlooked shadow brand.) Her talk was funny and full of good tips. You can find more of the same on her blog called Market My Words.

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Mary Kate Castellani, an associate editor at Walker Books, cautioned writers against trying to write to trends. In her talk titled, “Young Adult Fiction: What Works?” she explained some of the characteristics of YA books: immediacy (everything for teens is happening right now; not much perspective of past or future) and offer some hope. To keep up with what’s being published and finding success in the market, she recommended a newsletter. I thought she said YA Pulse, but the only thing I could find with a similar name is the Check Your Pulse newsletter from Simon & Schuster. Anyone else find the YA Pulse? Recommended reading: Ten Cents a Dance by Christine Fletcher; Octavian Nothing by M.T. Anderson; What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell.

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