My tolerance for lengthy plane rides is getting worse, I think. Flying to Toronto takes 4 hours and I was already complaining. How on earth did I fly back to Hong Kong with a flight time of 13 hours?
Anyway, I stayed at the Grand Hyatt where the conference was taking place. The room wasn’t so grand. In fact, it was squished and the bathroom felt like a closet. Not to mention the tub didn’t have an anti-slip bottom. Yikes. There wasn’t a coffee maker or water, either, unlike in Surrey where they gave you everything and more.
Once again you’ll be faced with paragraph after paragraph of text, as I neglected to take a camera. So, Day One for me was the writer’s intensive. We had pre-assigned seating at the tables in one of the giant ballrooms (held up to at least 200 people) and each table had 9 writers and one editor or agent. How it worked: one writer gets the spotlight for 12 minutes. The writer passes out copies of his/her first 500 words, reads it aloud, and everyone else comments or writes remarks on their copy. The editors usually reserved their opinions for last. I read a lot of vibrant and creative stories and it was such a nice experience to have so many different opinions on my work. Most of all, I was able to learn from other people as well (one lady had an absolutely gripping 500 words, I just wish I asked for her contact information). My only gripe with the intensive was the sheer lack of time, as we only got 5 minutes to ask the editor questions at the end of each session.
I find that the New York conference is more oriented towards industry information, rather than improving your craft, so it was much different than the one in Surrey. In any case, the keynotes were awesome: I got to hear THE Lois Lowry, THE Jane Yolen and THE R. L. Stine speak, among others. It was a really wacky experience–I read their books as a kid and it felt unreal to see them in person!
I’ve collected some interesting tidbits from the break-out workshops that I attended (boy that was a long day). The difficulties in the industry right now stem from a lack of places to sell books. This resulted in a hard time for everyone involved, and it forced publishers to adopt high standards. Everyone’s looking for something that’s a cut above the rest. However, publishers are more willing to take risks and look for innovation. The word “fresh” was repeated a lot.
Not much has changed in terms of what they’re looking for: they want good storytelling, and despite what the trends are, to tell a story that matters to you. There are even higher expectations now that authors will take the time to establish an online presence.
Trend-wise, according to one agent 2009-2010 was angel season, and another editor reported having a lot of angel, fallen angel, twisted fairy tales and fairy tale retelling manuscripts crossing her desk. Dystopian seems to be in as well, so if your current project has anything to do with the above, take care to set yourself apart from the crowd. Personally I don’t follow trends, but I was surprised that everyone seemed to be writing about angels. Who sent out that brainwave anyway? My current work involves them so I guess I’ll have to be careful about how I pitch now. *insert shameless self-centered grumbling here*
If you’re worried about the good old printed book disappearing, worry not–kids are still finding books to be friendlier than e-books (giving a physical book to a friend as a gift is much better than an intangible file, a sentiment I agree with). Also, teens are suffering from something called “digital fatigue”–they spend so much time staring at screens already that they would actually prefer reading a physical book instead of reading it on yet another screen. So it seems the printed book will be around for a long time to come. There’s simply too much sentimental value attached to them.
Overall the conference was another inspiring experience. On the last day, the opening keynote was done by Sara Zarr, who gave a wonderful speech on persevering through the journey of getting published (a speech so good, in fact, that she got a standing ovation from everyone). Needless to say, I got the encouragement injection that I needed. So on that note, this concludes my conference writeup.