Tuesday, April 27, 2010

One of the most successful and largest book festivals in the United States is the Virginia Festival of the Book—a celebration of the written word in all forms that enriches the city of Charlottesville, VA, for nearly a week. On March 20th, Leap Books author Bonnie J. Doerr was privileged to serve on a panel at this festival. But before the day of her panel, she was determined to make the most of this book extravaganza. Let’s listen in:

I’d barely unpacked when on Thursday, March 18, I hoofed it to UVa’s campus (asking students every two blocks where the heck I need to go) to hear authors discuss their Mentors, Muses, & Monsters. Wow, when Alice Randall (Rebel Yell) said she is inspired by and writes country music, I was hooked. Gotta love that lady.

Then on Friday, I ran from the Central Library to the City Council Chambers and then to an actual bookstore (YAY!) to soak up wisdom from more authors and get a glimpse of the inside story in the life of book reviewers. Listening to Ron Charles, The Washington Post Book Reviewer, describe how books are chosen for review, I realized there was no magic involved.

Here’s how it goes: Do they like the cover? Yes. Maybe that one will get reviewed. Oops, one fell on the floor. Sorry. That one won’t get reviewed. Didn’t we just review one similar to this last month? Yes. So, negative on that one. Hey, good ol’ so and so likes to review books like this, right? Yes. Send it to her. And you better hope you’ve already gotten a couple good reviews or your book won’t make the cut. Honestly, it was kind of depressing. And then there was the big discussion about what we already know—that with budget cuts, print reviewers are few and far between. And you know what? Reviewers get edited over and over also and don’t make much money. Just like authors! Does that make you feel better? Didn’t think so.

An air of celebration permeated every event and every business. The festival, beloved by hoteliers, restaurateurs, and retailers had been nearly served a death sentence mere days before it opened for what would have been its last season. However, the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, the organization that runs the festival, escaped a House of Delegates proposal to eliminate its state funding that very week. The people complained to their legislators, and the festival, though severely injured, survived.

Saturday there were several events for children’s book enthusiasts. Finally, my kind of people. It was sheer pleasure listening to my fellow authors and friends (Kathy Erskine, Fran Cannon Slayton, Sara Lewis Holmes, Sue Corbett, and Irene Latham) discuss their novels for the panel on Terrific Kids’ Novels Adults Will Love Too.

And then it was my turn. I shared the table with some amazing people: Ruth Spiro ( Lester Fizz, Bubble-Gum Artist), whose articles and essays have been published in the Writer, CHILD Magazine and Disney's Family Fun. Emily Ecton, author of Night of the Living Lawn Ornaments and Boots and Pieces, writer and producer for the NPR news quiz, Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me!: Deborah Heiligman ( Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith, National Book Award Nominee for Young People's Literature (2009), School Library Journal Best Book of the Year (2009), and Printz Honor (2010)), and Laura Rennert ( Buying, Training, and Caring for Your Dinosaur and Emma, the Extraordinary Princess), senior agent at Andrea Brown Literary Agency, representing several New York Times bestselling authors. I was seriously awestruck by the talent at that table.

Questions were asked and in answer we shared our collective and varied experience along the path to publishing. Do you need an agent? Not necessarily, but it’s recommended. (Two of us were published without one, but would now like to be represented.) What is the process for query letters? Depends. Read what each editor requires and follow it to a T. Big publishing house vs. small? Big house—more money, wider distribution. Small—(Finally, my chance to brag about Leap Books.) I love the easy and fast communication with my editor and the opportunity to influence cover and book design. Best advice for aspiring authors and illustrators? Join SCBWI, read the trades, attend conferences, take workshops, study the craft, develop a thick skin, read your genre, don’t try to gauge the market. Oh, and keep your day job!

Finally, I enjoyed listening to David Macinnis Gill, Jennifer Hubbard, Amy Brecount White, and Paul Chase Hyman talk about their Hot Young Adult & Teen Fiction. Awesome!

The next day I packed my bags and took my energized brain and inspired soul off to Maryland to chill with my dear friend and fellow author, Edie Hemingway (Road to Tater Hill, Parents Choice Gold 2010). What beats a gourmet campfire cookout, served by a charming man, complete with wine and s’mores. The perfect ending to an brilliant trip.

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