Tuesday, August 08, 2006

The picture book is back! And so am I

Me with most of the Gregory K. possee

I’m back from the 35th Annual SCBWI Conference in Los Angeles, and it was a blast. I've consumed way too much information to attempt a recap, and to be honest, after 17 one-hour keynotes, 7 break out sessions, and an array of other activities, I need a break from kids book talk, for a couple of days. I had hoped to return energized, however what I’m feeling is challenged. Working hard is not enough, I will need to work even harder, and smarter. But, more on that later.

The most exciting news: The picture book is back! I heard those words several times over the course of four days, by various speakers. "Editors are calling me looking for picture books," said agent, Jodi Reamer of Writer's House. That's good news for authors and illustrators of picture books but, on the same note, publishers are now extra careful about which titles they put their money behind, looking closer for what they see as the big book. For some houses, particularly Harper Collins, I'd say, that’s good for celebrities and big name authors and illustrators, but for the first time author, it’s gonna be harder to get your foot in the door.

Multicultural picture books always have been, and continue to present a challenge for publishers. Aside from big award winners, book stores give these books very limited shelf life. These books may get center attention on the day they publish, but are soon set aside, out of the mainstream. Because of this, some publishers, such as Lee and Low Books, depend more so on school libraries, than book stores, to get their books into the hands of children.

Children’s books specifically marketed for African Americans, Asians, Latinos, etc. are often "put in a box and treated different," said Michael Stearns of Harper Collins. These books will reach the market at a slower pace, and won’t get the same marketing attention as others. Alvina Ling, brought an especially positive perspective to the table. She talked about Little Brown’s diverse editorial staff, and how she, as a person of color is especially passionate about bringing multicultural picture books to market. All agreed, it will be a great day when multicultural books are treated simply as a children's book, and not lumped into a sub category by themselves. Another exciting tidbit that was echoed many times, is that authors who can also illustrate their own manuscripts have an advantage, and in many cases, these days, are preferred. Jody Reamer, Alvina Ling and illustrator/author Nina Laden, and others all made those statements.

Also, the YA novel appears to be stronger than ever, the middle grade chapter (novel?) is even hotter than ever, but chick-lit has over saturated the market. Overall, the outlook is good. So, as author, Jane Yolen summed up her keynote: Write the damned book!

Here are my personal highlights:

Meeting Gregory "GottaBook" Pincus, the Disco Mermaids, and the rest of his posse!

Jacqueline Woodson's keynote address. I wish more African American's took interest in this field, brown faces were few and far between. So it did my heart good when the conference kicked off with a speaker who looked like me. She read from several of her books, including Show Way.

At her session, "Writing Multicultural Books," editor, Louise May, pointed me out as this year’s New Voices Honor winner. That was kinda cool.

I was totally blown away by Jarrett Krosoczka's keynote, as was everyone. I cannot even do it justice with words, so I won't try. With the exception of the "Special 35th Anniversary Keynote" given by Jane Yolen, Jarret was the only person to receive a standing ovation, and for good reason. At one point, he showed a short movie that he produced. I don’t know if he realized, but it brought out emotions in many people. Several people I talked to afterward mentioned tearing up. Though the movie was Jarrett’s experience, it was a movie about each individual in the audience. Under the uproarious humor, it was the story about a hardworking author/illustrator trying to reach a goal: to get a book published in a competitive market. And it ended with his doing the "happy dance with a group of unsuspecting park partons" If you have a book published, you know what the "happy dance" is all about.

At The Jade Jubilee, I was a wallflower, and satisfied to be one. This was not a stuffy, pretentious stand-around-and-eat-meatballs-on-the-end-of-a-toothpick-while-trying-to-look-important kind of dance. No. This was a get up off your butt and shake your booty (and everything else attached) kind of dance, complete with a hip-hop DJ MC, and music to boot! Everyone dressed in Jade, or as Lin Oliver put it, came to the party jaded. The dance floor bounced, and onlookers gawked from the hotel balcony above. I even heard about several people trying to crash the party, it looking so fun. In the elevator the next day, someone asked me if I was with the party group, and what it was all about. "Children’s book authors and illustrators," I told them, to their surprise. And to anyone wondering about the black guy at the party, with the double-pierced tongue, green dress looking thing, and jade painted bald head. That WAS NOT Don Tate, thank you.

Meeting Suzanne Cruise, my licensing agent for over 10 years. This was our first face to face meeting. She greeted me with a huge hug, and...well, her hair completely filled my mouth. After pulling it from between my teeth, we agreed to meet at the bar. But no booze for me, with at least two more keynotes that day, it would have put me to sleep.

SCBWIdol turned out to be much fun. Contestants competed by performing a three-minute school visit presentation. On Sunday, the top six winners competed on stage. The winner, whose name escapes me, juggled rings, demonstrated giro scopes, and rode a unicycle across the stage.

Lastly, the host for the conference, Lin Oliver, was a hoot! She is the perfect host for an event like this, and kept us in stitches throughout the entire conference, with her fierce quick wit.

It was a magical weekend. In addition to the impressive faculty, there were many unexpected luminaries strolling around the halls: Robert Sabuda, Matthew Reinhart, David Diaz, and many others.

Off the wall observation: I was surprised by the number of kid-lit celebrities who just kinda hung out at the bar. All. The. Time. Nothing wrong with that, but is this an SCBWI minging tactic, or has the industry truly driven us to drink?


Lisa Yee said...

Hey, I noticed that bar thing, too. Perhaps the hotel paid them to be there. You know, like how clubs pay celebs to show up.

Gregory K. said...

Whoa, Don. Nice recap for someone who couldn't do a recap :-)

Great meeting you!

Chris Barton said...

Welcome home, Don. When I was out there three years ago, one Caldecott winner was parked at the bar drawing his latest illustration on another (younger, femaler) patron's back. Sounds like that's still where the action is.

Varian Johnson said...

Man, I'm so jealous. I'm glad you had a good time. I should have told you to give Lisa Yee a big hug for me.

Melinda said...

Sounds like you had a great time!

rindawriter said...

Thanks! Very much, Don, for sharing. It was great fun to read all about it!

Miss P AKA Her Royal Cliqueness said...

Great recap, Don. I'm especially pleased to hear that PBs are back.

I went to SCBWI Mid-Winter and the buzz there was that each publisher felt they would soon make a comeback. Now, months later they seem to be asserting it more agressively. That's great!

I'm also psyched to hear how strong YA is (as that's my baliwick) and that multi-culti books are on the up tick.

All wonderful news! Now, let's all just write the damned book. :-)

Rita said...

Hi, Don! I had a really wonderful time meeting you. Yay for you posting this photo!! :D

Best wishes to you and your family during these next busy months! I hope our paths cross again!

(You should definitely do SCBWIdol next time!)