Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Inspiration, Craft, Business and Community

SCBWI offers writers and illustrators information on the craft and business of writing and illustrating for children and teens, loads of inspiration, and most importantly, community.

In that spirit, here's some Inspiration, Craft, Business and Community for you...


I followed the whole #YASaves kurfuffle this summer, when the Wall Street Journal published a piece by Meghan Cox Gurdon on how contemporary YA books were too dark.   Among the many passionate and well-reasoned responses in the #YASaves movement (#YASaves is actually a twitter hashtag that you can follow here even if you're not on twitter) this response by Sherman Alexie was inspiring:
"And now I write books for teenagers because I vividly remember what it felt like to be a teen facing everyday and epic dangers. I don’t write to protect them. It’s far too late for that. I write to give them weapons–in the form of words and ideas-that will help them fight their monsters. I write in blood because I remember what it felt like to bleed."  -Sherman Alexie
(A side-note:  I found this inspiring quote and link in "Expression Online" The SCBWI international online newsletter.  It's a great resource, and SCBWI members can sign up for it by emailing Beaulah at  bpteditor (at) yahoo (dot) com.  Be sure to use the email address you're using with your online
account at www.scbwi.org so that we can find you when we click on the Search Members button.)

Sara Zarr blew me away when she gave her Keynote address at the #NY11SCBWI Winter Conference, talking about sustaining the creative life.  Here, in this guest post at Nova Ren Suma's blog, Sara talks about what inspires her, and the answer is pretty surprising.  It's failure

"In a way, “failure” is just another word for “the journey,” for not being there yet but on the way. It’s the road we walk on to get wherever it is we’re trying to go."
And even though it's about failure, it's not a downer of an article.  It's actually... Inspiring.  You can read it here.


For writers, Emma Dryden has a great article at her blog on the definition of "voice" - and how to have one:

"Editors talk frequently about the necessity of an author staying true to their own voice in expressing the voice of their main character; a definition of "voice" in this instance encompasses the word choice, sentence structure, cadence, vernacular, slang, idioms, quirks, and the poetry of speech that help to identify a character within a setting. To my mind "voice" also encompasses that which lies beneath the actual words a character expresses—namely, the emotions, motivations, doubts, desires, fears, hopes, and internal trajectory of the character. These are the elements of a "character" that will turn an "anyone" into a "someone"—a distinct individual with whom readers might identify and in whom readers will believe."
Read the whole article here.

And here's some words on Craft for illustrators, from the multiple Caldecott-honored Marla Frazee, on putting together your portfolio:

Q:  Should I have only one style in my portfolio?
A:  Borrowing the word that authors use to describe their writing, the best portfolios are unified by the illustrator's "voice."  If every piece in your portfolio speaks clearly in your own unique voice, then it won't matter if you sometimes use watercolor, sometimes work digitally, and sometimes are into collage or whatever.

Q:  What should an illustrator for children be sure to include in a portfolio?
A:  Anything that the illustrator loves so much that they seem as if they totally get the essence of whatever it is they are portraying.  We are beyond the days of saying you need to have b/w, children, pets, everyday scenes.  If you are into wombats, and that's all you care about, then by all means, have a wombat-driven portfolio.

Essential reading, and there's much more at Marla's"Portfolio Tips" on the "Studio" page at her website.  And those tips are from a more in-depth article she wrote for Kite Tales, the quarterly Southern California Tri-Regions SCBWI newsletter.  (The regional newsletters are a great benefit of SCBWI membership.)


Subscription & member-supported access to children's books is an innovative business model in the news.

Here's a physical bookstore trying it:

Point Reyes Books in Point Reyes, CA is experimenting with a member-supported model they dub "CSB", for Community Supported Bookstore. The CSB, which launched last month, "allows customers to deposit anywhere from $150 to $500 into a bookstore account, draw purchases from that balance and receive a 5 percent discount on all items." Owner Steve Costa tells the Point Reyes Light the store hopes to enroll at least 200 customers in the CSB by the end of 2011 and to have at least 500 members within 12 months. 
You can find out more and even become a Point Reyes Books Community Supported Bookstore Member at the store's website here.

Amazon just announced that they're going to be in the business of lending out e-books (one book a month, and according to Publisher's Lunch, mostly back-list titles) to their Amazon Prime members. They're starting with 5,000 titles, but for now, as the Wall Street Journal notes,
"None of the six largest publishers in the U.S. is participating."
And in an interesting twist, Publishers Lunch reports in their article, "Kindle-Lent, Without Consent" that some of the publishers/rights owners/authors of books on that list of 5,000 didn't agree to the deal with Amazon... for those, it would seem,
"Amazon pays the publisher the wholesale price each time a qualified Prime member "borrows" the ebook. Those will count as sales, because, well, they are sales..."

And uTales is a new e-book subscription business for picture books that launched this month.  As their founder Nils von Heijne says:

"Our aim is simply to build something good; good for talented storytellers, good for parents, and good for kids. uTales is a new way to enjoy modern picture books, and in doing so also making the world a little better for kids, one story at a time."

uTales also supports the non-profit Pencils of Promise to help build new schools in developing countries.  That's another trend of note, creating new business models that are "as focused on giving back as they are on turning a profit."

As you get deeper into the world of Children's Literature you find that, indeed, It's A Small World After All (thank you, Disney!)  Here, I can prove it:  Who's the head of the editorial panel ensuring the quality of the books included in the uTales e-book library?  The remarkable Emma Dryden.  See?  Small world.  Fascinating innovations.


There's a fun celebration of picture books (the physical kind) going on all November, organized by SCBWI member Diane De Las Casas - with 30 days of picture book champions (like Peter Brown, Anastasia Suen and Jane Yolen) sharing their takes on "Why picture books are important."  Dan Yaccarino's essay had this gem:
"Picture books are important because they are with us for life. They are the most important books we’ll ever read because they’re our first. No matter how many books we’ve read since, they will always have a place in our hearts."

Lin Oliver often refers to those of us writing and illustrating and creating children's books as a tribe.  And SCBWI is a tribe - I felt it at my first Summer Conference.  That these were my people.  Our people.

One of the easiest ways for you to plug into the community is to join the conversation.  Comment here.  Follow us on twitter.  Like our SCBWI Fan page on facebook.  Check out the offerings of your local SCBWI chapter.  And consider joining us at the upcoming Lucky 13th Annual SCBWI Winter Conference in New York, January 27-29, 2012.

However you connect, know that just by reading this, you're part of our tribe.

And we welcome you.

Illustrate and Write On,

1 comment:

Joanna said...

So much good information, Lee. I especially appreciated your tip about the SCBWI online newsletter. I shall definitely be signing up for this. Thanks.