SpringMingle’11: Part 1

I spent the weekend in Atlanta at SpringMingle ’11, a conference by the Southern Breeze region of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. The highlight of the weekend for me was my chance to “launch” Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature. I also enjoyed the other folks’ launches. Our region sure has a lot to be proud of this year.

Some authors and illustrators who launched books this year
photo by Sandy Fry
Lindsey Leavitt

Lindsey Leavitt

Our keynote address Friday night was delivered with good humor and aplomb by Lindsey Leavitt, author of Princess for Hire and Sean Griswold’s Head.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from her talk:

“The only thing in this business that we can completely control is the words.”

“Ask yourself: What is the story I want to tell and why am I the one to tell it?”

“Some things to home in on: emotions & feelings; experiences & memories; unique settings; complete randomness (things that spark your interest for no apparent reason. For ex., fog machines).”

“The primary relationship is between you and the page. The ones who succeed are the ones who keep writing and keep submitting.”

“Find what you do well. Stop trying to do what others are doing. Embrace the books that you are good at.”

Sarah Davies agent

Sarah Davies

On Saturday, Lindsey did a joint session with her agent, Sarah Davies, of Greenhouse Literary Agency.

Sarah began by relating what happened when she read Lindsey’s query letter three years ago: “I sat up. My boots came off the desk. I had this visceral sense that this person knew what she was doing. Her promise was borne out by the pages she sent.”

After they agreed to work together, Sarah sent Lindsey a six-page (“extremely alarming”) document with revision suggestions. Lindsey had to adjust to the revision process. “I thought revision was spell check.”

After revision, Sarah submitted Lindsey’s Princess for Hire to 17 American editors and 14 in the UK. In the end, Lindsey signed a 3-book deal with Hyperion in the US. The UK deal went to Egmont.

Sarah called Lindsey on a Friday afternoon. Lindsey was driving and had her kids in the car. Sarah told Lindsey to pull over. Lindsey: “I kept saying, ‘Shut up!’ ‘I don’t understand what you are saying.’ It was a surreal moment. It was delightful; it was life-changing. I wish I had a tape of it so I could watch it over again.” Sarah could hear everyone crying.

Katie Carella

Katie Carella with her conference angel Stephanie Moody

Katie Carella is an assistant editor for two divisions of Penguin: Grossett and Dunlap and Price Stern Sloan (PSS!). In her talk, she walked us through the development of a “homegrown series” titled Pete and Penny’s Pizza Puzzles. A homegrown series is one that is developed entirely in-house at a publisher. In the case of Pete and Penny’s Pizza Puzzles, the idea came to Katie from a friend. The friend had read an article in the New York Times‘ Home and Garden section featuring an apartment with puzzles and hidden clues.

Katie explained her three step process:

1) Who is my audience and what do they need?

She decided to aim for 6- to 8-year-olds, which meant the stories would need to be high-interest and fast-paced. She decided she wanted to reach boys and girls. She chose mystery.

2) What is the vehicle for my story?

She settled on 64-page chapter book series, which would be illustrated.

3) Is there room for my story in the marketplace?

She did research. A few similar series were Jigsaw Jones and Cam Jansen, but she had identified at least one way her series would be different: it would include puzzles that the character would need to solve. The reader would get the puzzles at the same point in the text.

Once she had the concept for the series nailed down and had gotten approval to move forward, she began the process of finding the right writer and illustrator for the project. She consulted her work-for-hire files. (In order to be considered for work-for-hire, writers should send a resume and a 5-page work sample. Illustrators should send postcards with references to internet-based portfolios. “Work for hire projects aren’t really publicized that much so you have to talk to each other. That’s how you find out about the opportunities,” she said.

She asked a few writers to audition for the series by writing a sample chapter. Carella provided a detailed outline. Illustrators auditioned by doing two sketches, based on a few paragraphs about the main characters.

Aaron Rosenberg won the writing job and David Harrington got the illustration nod. You can read about Case of the Secret Sauce on Penguin’s website.

I’ll continue the wrap-up tomorrow.

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