Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Notes on a Conference PART 2: RUCCL One-on-One

Previously on ... the Rutgers One-on-One Conference: (What? You haven't read PART 1 yet? Get on it!)
When we left off, lunch had just ended and the Five-on-Five portion of the day had begun. So who were the five mentors at my table?

In addition to the lovely and aforementioned Julie Tibbott (my mentor), Editor at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Pamela Gruber, editorial assistant at Little, Brown & Co, the mentors were:

Stacey Barney, Editor at Penguin Putnam: She has this no-nonsense vibe that I completely respect. It seems like she has high standards AND a sense of humor, which is a great mix in an editor. Among many other YA and MG titles, she's edited DONUT DAYS and (the upcoming) BOYS, GIRLS, AND OTHER HAZARDOUS MATERIALS.

Christian Trimmer, Assistant Editor at Disney-Hyperion: He's so much fun and wears a bow tie spectacularly. But you can tell he knows what he's talking about. Talent and personality? I'm sold. He edits MG, graphic, and YA novels, including (the upcoming) THE GHOST AND THE GOTH and CARTER FINALLY GETS IT.

Margery Cuyler, Publisher at Marshall Cavendish: She has this incredible vision of cultivating talent and discovering new authors that's reflected in how Marshall Cavendish operates. You can tell she really believes in what she does. She's also written 45 books and has previously worked as an editor.

Basically, Five-on-Five operated in a Q&A format. Of course I was the first to raise my hand. (Twelve years of Catholic school -- I can't undo the hand-raising instinct.) Here's a brief, paraphrased recap.

I asked what their ideal author would do to market a book.
Christian: He recommended a web site, author Facebook page, and Twittering. He suggested working with local teachers and librarians and calling the Community Relations person at your local Barnes & Noble. Primarily, though, you need to keep your editor/publisher in the loop!
Margery: Emphasized the importance of publishers sending books to bloggers.
Julie: Recommended you send a list of your personal blog contacts or recommendations to your publisher -- they might not know everyone. Also, if you have a marketing plan, approach the publisher's marketing department with it to see if they can fund it with money from their marketing budget.
Pam: Reiterated that it's most important that you communicate your ideas and plans with your publisher to make sure there's no conflicts or conflicts of interest.

Another mentee asked about response times for unagented submissions.
Stacey: Admitted she had a slow response time for unsolicited submissions (months) because she had current projects and agented submissions to work on first.
Margery: Marshall Cavendish has a monthly meeting in which every employee gets together and they spend three hours reading slush (unagented submissions). There's still a 4-to-6-month turnaround, but 20% of their list comes from new talent.
Pam: Like many publishers, Little, Brown doesn't accept unsolicited submissions.

Question about author relationships.
Basically the consensus was that the majority of relationships are positive. Occasionally an author's head will get too big and cause trouble, but as long as an author is open to criticism and is willing to work with the editor, everything's peachy. Stacey pointed out that she calls every single author before offering them a deal because sometimes she can tell right away that they won't work well together, so it's in everyone's best interest to know beforehand.

Questions about preferred novel lengths / language & sex in novels.
Regarding length I think Stacey said, "After Harry Potter, anything goes." Everyone pretty much laughed and agreed. The consensus about word count AND language/sex --- if it's right for the novel, then it's right. Don't force language; don't be more wordy than necessary. If your work is true to itself, then the editor won't ask you to change it.

After the Five-on-Five, all that was left was the keynote by Judy Freeman, a well-known children's literature consultant. I didn't know what to expect, but I DIDN'T expect a sing-a-long or that many giggles. Judy's presentation had quite a few interactive elements (at one point we acted out pages from Mo Willem's ARE YOU READY TO PLAY OUTSIDE?), which was fun. She brought to my attention a lot of awesome picture books (I'm not well-versed in them at all), but she didn't mention much YA. However, there was a slide dedicated to the influence of a little series by Stephenie Meyer. Have you heard of it?

Anyway, to re-emphasize how this conference was made of awesome, here's a list of who sat around me during Judy's presentation:

Alvina Ling (Senior Editor) and Connie Hsu (Assistant Editor) from Little, Brown - Both of these ladies were incredibly sweet and chatted with me for a couple minutes, even though by that point I'm sure they were exhausted. The two of them have edited such excellent (and varied) books as WABI SABI, WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON, and THE DEVOURING. Seriously, I love Little, Brown editors! They're wonderful! (Also, follow Alvina's blog if you don't already.)

Beth Fleisher and Joe Monti of Barry Goldblatt Literary - Together, they're 2/3 of the well-respected agency (Barry also attended, but I didn't get a chance to meet him formally). Barry Goldblatt Literary represents YA authors such as Libba Bray, Robin Wasserman, Cassandra Clare, and Lauren Myracle. (One moment - let me pick my jaw up off the floor.)

One of my goals at the conference was to speak with agents, but because of the lunchtime setup, I hadn't gotten a chance. Because Beth and Joe (two agents I'd REALLY wanted to meet) were RIGHT THERE, I knew I'd regret it if I didn't at least introduce myself. They were nice enough to talk with me at the very end of the conference, and Beth even encouraged an impromptu pitch. Beth, I'd like to publicly apologize for probably sounding like a bumbling idiot, because I think I got about 50% of my point across. (I REALLY need to work on translating my passion for my novel into a pitch.)

After that, it was time to leave. I walked past the BUSLOAD of editors and agents ready to head back to NYC (and resisted the urge to sneak onboard) and got in my car to drive the hour back home. My conclusion? Totally worth it. Of course, I regret not meeting more agents, but the editors I met were fantastic, and I feel like I got my money's worth 196%. And next time, I'll be ready to pitch.

My top three pieces of advice for a mentoring conference:
(1) Be prepared: It's not stalking. It's preparation. Do you want to go home filled with regret because of a missed opportunity? Plus, research means an increased chance of easy conversation pieces. The other side of "be prepared" means to know what you want to work on/discuss with your mentor. This is invaluable time you have -- don't waste it!
(2) Make the first move: Your dream agent/editor will most likely not fall into your lap. (Unless you trip him/her, which I SERIOUSLY discourage.) Take a risk! Walk up and politely introduce yourself. What's the worst that could happen? (You could vomit and pass out, yes. But hey, that's memorable. Imagine that query letter - I met you at the conference in July. I was the one who puked on your shoes.)
(3) Keep an open mind: Just because someone ISN'T your dream agent/editor doesn't mean you shouldn't take full advantage of being in their presence. Get to know them - even if they edit MG and you write picture books - there's nothing wrong with networking! You never know what could come of it, even if it's just a great conversation.

I wish I'd also found the time to meet these agents:
Barry Goldblatt, Barry Goldblatt Literary
Victoria Horn, Liza Dawson Associates
Tracy Marchini, Curtis Brown Ltd.
Beth Miller, Writers House
Ammi-Joan Paquette, Erin Murphy Agency
Elana Roth, Caren Johnson Literary Agency
Joanne Stampfle-Volpe, Nancy Coffey Literary
Becca Stumpf, Prospect Agency
Emily Van Beek, Pippin Properties
Anna Webman, Curtis Brown Ltd.
Tina Wexler, ICM
Marietta Zacker, Nancy Gallt Literary Agency

This list breaks my heart, but at least attending the conference allows me to query them! And if you think this list is long, there were even MORE editors I didn't get to meet. Sigh. But I think I did pretty well for myself, considering the time I had, and I'm so so happy that I applied!

(Thanks to Theresa Martin Golding for suggesting the conference!)

Want more RUCCL? Read Alvina's take on the day on her blog.
Any questions I didn't answer? Comment with them below!


  1. Awesome post Donna! Sounds like an amazing experience. Thanks for sharing with us.

  2. Thanks for lengthening my query list!

  3. Very thorough, Donna. Thanks for keeping us informed. And don't feel bad about not having time to talk to all of them. Sounds like you made a few really good connections and that's what counts.


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