I should confess up front that I got to far fewer workshops than I’d planned today because I spent so much time talking to some really great people. I’d slept in a little so it was 10am before I traversed the obstacle course of road construction to the UVU campus. This involved dashing across streets, serpentining around the roundabout, and bobbing and weaving amidst crazy drivers.
My intention was to catch the rest of the panel discussion, What Exactly Does an Editor Do? that included my editor, Stacy Whitman. But before I got there, I crossed paths with an unpublished writer who had just finished a book and wanted to know what happens next. We ended up finding a quiet corner while I explained to her about agents and submissions, pointing out the pitfalls she might encounter. So I didn’t walk into Stacy’s panel discussion until about the last 15 minutes.
Next stop was Middle Grade Books for Boys which Stacy was moderating. My main focus is on young adult, but I do have one MG book that I’ve considered expanding into a series, so I wanted to get more information for that age group. The panelists were Tyler Whitesides (Janitors) and E.J. Patten (The Hunter Chronicles).
First, they clarified the basics. The age range for MG is 8 through 12, and the length is 50,000 to 70,000 words. It isn’t just a matter of age or length, though. The themes of an MG book have to be age-appropriate. The stories are more adventure-based and if there is any romance, it’s puppy love.
They mentioned that some MG series do transition to YA within the series (Harry Potter is a prime example), but in general, there is not as much of a market in YA for boys. Boys tend to go directly from MG to adult fantasy. Boys also love non-fiction.
A writer should think about what boys like to figure out how to write for that market. Characters should be a year or two older than the target audience because kids read up. Age 13 is probably the top age for MG characters.
Boys like slapstick and potty humor. Kids in general like familiarity and will read the same books over and over.
After the MG panel, I got caught up in another conversation or two and so arrived late at the panel discussion on self-publishing. Since I’ve self-pubbed some of my backlist, I was interested in what new information I might glean. I confess (again–I must be channeling my Catholic upbringing), I was a bit put off by some of what was presented in this panel. When asked “what works” in the way of promotion, the answers varied from the “throw whatever you can out there, maybe something will work” to “book bombs so you’ll be on the bestseller list for a day.” A couple suggestions sounded reasonable–put up a free short story to entice readers to check out your book, and also to look for long term success rather than immediate short term results.
One panelist’s answer to “What do you find frustrating?” was that formatting, editing, and promoting take so much time, it impacts how much time there is left to write. Where I see myself as a writer, these folks have to be publisher/writers and I don’t think the proportion of writing to publishing would satisfy me.
But here’s what really raised my hackles. At one point during the Q&A, someone in the audience asked “So, should I self-publish first, or go to the traditional route first?” The panel’s answer–self-publish first because a traditional publisher might discover you that way. I wanted to stand up and shout, No! That’s not how it works! Your odds of having a traditional publisher discover your self-pubbed book out of tens of thousands are as bad as hitting the lottery. Self-publish if that’s what you believe in, but don’t do it as a route to traditional publishing. I kept my opinion to myself. Well, until now.
Next up, a screenwriting related workshop I had arranged ahead of time to jump in on. Michaelbrent Collings and Blake Casselman were kind enough to let me horn in on their already scheduled panel. They had planned for the panel to be entirely Q&A so I fit in pretty well. I like to think that I brought something to the discussion having spent a number of years writing screenplays.
I headed to lunch (side note: it is apparently possible for a 3 Musketeers candy bar to age to the point of rock-hardness, based on the one I bought at the UVU cafeteria) then retraced my perilous path back to the hotel for a break. After my R&R, I again danced around Orem traffic to return to campus, got lost for a bit in the IT department (thank you, help desk for getting me on the wireless network), then found Stacy again. She introduced me around to a few more people, I got into a few more lengthy conversations, and never did make it back into a workshop. My bad.
Stacy and I connected again later and she introduced me to the lovely ladies who became my dinner companions (Gwynne Meeks & Audrey Gonzalez). She also gave me an intro to James Dashner (The Maze Runner) with whom Stacy promised she would “hook me up, Utah-style” for dinner Friday night.
Japanese Pan Noodles at Noodles & Company with Gwynne and Audrey, back to UVU for the tail end of Stacy’s last panel (where I learned about a story featuring an LDS vampire systematically killing her family–cool!), then we added another new friend, Brittany Heiner, and the four of us ventured out for incredibly yummy ice cream at Cold Stone.
I am full of knowledge and tasty ice cream. It has been a perfect day.