Monday, April 18, 2011

PITCHING, LEARNING AND MAKING FRIENDS AT THE YA A TO Z CONFERENCE

Me (Demetra Brodsky) and Bettina Restrepo. No authors were injured in the making of these photos.
It isn’t often that I’m at a loss for words. But walking up to dream agents at the first YA A to Z conference in Austin left me tongue-tied. I knew if I just got the first sentence out the words would follow. “Hello, do you have time to hear about my book?” or “Does your agency represent books based in mythology?” As each agent smiled, the words flowed from my mouth and swept my frazzled nerves away.

At the end of the conference I had pitched three agents, and asked for the business card of one at the end of the wrap up party (because quite frankly she looked, well, done and I needed to respect her as a person with limitations). On Saturday afternoon, I had an appointment with Agent X. I sat outside the room, ready for my speed date, with a racing heart. When I was called up to bat, I took my seat and the agent smiled (as above). All fear was gone. Agent X was as real as they come. I gave her my pitch and we spoke about my book more in depth. She asked for the first 50 pages, and my time was up. Another author was waiting to woo her. I left the room in complete awe of her intelligence. Agent X knew exactly what she wanted to represent, what facets in a novel needed to be included, and how she could position it in the market. All in 15 minutes time. Amazing. 

I made many new friends at the conference who I know will be in my life for a long time. They are brilliant, talented, funny and supportive women. Who knows, maybe will all be on book tour some day at town near your. Look out world. We're coming.

L to R: Demetra Brodsky, Jenny Peterson, Tori Scott, Caroline Tyler and Amy Rose Thomas

FRIDAY SESSIONS:
Why YA
I owe a great deal of gratitude to Literary Agent Laurie McLean of Larson-Pomada. She sat two seats over from me at the opening session. There is something in Laurie’s demeanor that made me feel at ease. Maybe it’s her effervescent personality, her award winning smile, or the fact that she just seemed genuine. Probably, it was a combination of all three. But when she stood up and challenged the attending aspiring author to pitch their story to her at some point during the conference, I knew she was a woman I wanted to speak to. In return, Laurie promised to accept the query and first page of our novels. Not a bad deal at all. I approached her as soon as that first panel discussion was over, and lo and behold, I didn’t have a heart attack or break out into a sweat like I anticipated. Thanks Laurie.

Major Takeaways:
The components of a great YA novel are based on Story, characters and plot. The market is looking for great books for boys and one attendee, whose name I unfortunately missed said this about writing for boys (mind-set).
“First person is best. Their thoughts reveal those issues they can’t address with their peers. The dialogue hints at it, but they will deny it.” Genius. Thank you. Books for boys are based on actions, not thinking.

New Voices in YA:
Sitting across from John Cusick, Bettina Restrepo and New York Times Best Selling author, Carrie Ryan made me realize they have been in the exact same position as the rest of us. They started somewhere. The moderator (Debbie Gonzales) did a great job of bring personal anecdotes about each author, or author/agent in the case of John Cusick, to the table. They each read an excerpt from their books and I could feel the honesty in their words, the work that went into writing each sentence and the dedication to their craft. John Cusick, I learned, went to high school in the town I grew up in, Carrie Ryan’s husband tells her when she can do better (as does mine) – the best advice ever—and Bettina…where do I even begin. Bettina took a small group of aspiring authors under her wing this weekend and changed our perspectives, calmed our nerves, and coaching us to the finishing line with several victories. A simple thank you seems inadequate. She lives by the principle of paying it forward, and has earned a great many fans. Bettina gave me a critique on my query and I bought her book. For me, the winning was all on my side. A million thank yous to you, Bettina.

Major Takeaways:
Bettina said it best: “You are asking your readers: May I crawl into your brain and whisper intimately.” 

SATURDAY SESSIONS:
The Imaginarium: Writing Fantasy
Cinda Williams Chima and Carrie Ryan did a fantastic job breaking down some major components of fantasy writing.  Carrie writes in first person present and was asked how she writes her support characters. She said it’s in the memories, how they dress, how they handle their emotions, their body language…

Major Takeaways:
Don’t rely on your magical systems to solve all problems. Fantasy worlds have to have rules and you must stick with them. Magic has to have a limit, that’s why we have kryptonite. Sometimes there is a cost to doing magic. Magic creatures have to have human elements.

SECRETS OF THE AGENTS II: How to shop your book
Major Takeaways:
When you query, let agents know you have an established online platform. Make you’re your query reveals how they can position the book to tap into the intended audience. And work on your first lines until they’re perfect. Tell the agent why you chose him/her. Flattery does help. Research the agents you query. It’s important to know who they are and what they like to represent.

Thank you Writer’s League of Texas for hosting the first conference completely dedicated to young adult fiction. It was a smashing success, and I hope there will be another next year. I know I’ll be there. And if you write for young adults, so should you.



2 comments:

  1. I loved when Bettina read. She has unabashed passion for her own work, and that was the most inspiring thing for me, oddly.

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  2. Jaimie- I hear you. She is a rock star. I felt the same as you when she read. It means so much to her. She is so giving. Incredible.

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