So, I went to the SCBWI Illinois Prairie Writer’s Day Conference this Saturday. It was a strange experience for me. I haven’t been to a conference since we lived in Florida (I used to go to the Florida Suncoast Conference every year) — and, more importantly, since I got published. It feels entirely different now. Of course, there’s also the difference in conferences; the Suncoast one is much larger and for writers of…well, everything…while the SCBWI ones are (naturally) for those that deal in YA, kiddie lit, and illustration.
I still remember very fondly the year I got to have dinner with Harry Harrison. That was one of the highlights of my life. Should I say that? Oh, I am such a sci-fi geekette. Anyway, back to today.
It was a good conference but, as most such things are, it’s really geared more towards the pre-published than the published. I can’t say that I learned a whole lot. But then, I’ve also been “around” the business for quite some time what with running YA Books Central all these years. And other stuff. Eh, did I ever tell you I interned as an editorial assistant at a University Press? Oh my, the slush pile. It was, eh, academic. But weird.
But I digress (like I normally do).
Not that I am by any means an expert at anything in this crazy writing business. I may be published (and come May I’ll be more than a one hit wonder–Yay!), but I still have lots of questions. But they aren’t really the questions that get answered at conferences unless you can have a wee bit of a chat with an editor or agent (but not a stalkerish one). Though technically I suppose I can chat with my own editor or agent. And I do. But sometimes, it’s hard to get solid answers. And I have to sometimes wonder if they’re just being nice (because they are, you know. Nice. Really. Awesome people.).
Like I’ll ask, “Um, so how is my book doing? Is it doing okay? How many copies should I be selling? How many copies do debut authors tend to sell on average?”
The answer I’ve gotten to that question is basically “Hey, it’s doing just fine.” and “It’s hard to give an average. I really couldn’t say.”
Maybe it’s because my husband is a math dude that I get a little caught up in numbers. Or maybe because he’s always asking me. When I get my royalty statements I can tell him how many copies I’ve sold, but I’ve never really been able to say whether it’s a good number or not. Because I really don’t know and it’s not the kind of stuff you can find anywhere online and they don’t teach it at conferences (though if someone did a breakout session on that? Oh, I would totally take it). And you can’t compare to news reports because they only seem to report on the big guns.
And I am NOT J.K. Rowling or Stephenie Meyer. I am not selling millions of copies. Not that I would complain if I was. So, you know, if you feel like going out there and buying a copy or two or three…
Um, anyway, where was I? Oh yeah. The conference.
One of the little tidbits I happened to learn today was during a session with Michael Stearns of Upstart Crow Literary. He’s an agent that I’ve followed on Twitter awhile and kept up with his blog posts (he’s pretty funny and if you know me, you know I like funny). He used to be an editor with a couple of different (very large) publishing houses. He said that [fairly popular author who I've heard of and admire greatly]‘s first 4 or so books sold only a few thousand copies each. And even his [really great, very awesome] award-winning novel only sold like 6,000 copies in hardcover.
Really?? I mean, I’d seen a news article recently that said something about how a first book nowadays is considered a success if it sells 5,000 copies. I thought it was a typo. Seriously.
Sucks to Be Me (in hardcover) has sold a bunch more than that. Not like Rowling level bunches or anything (not even close), but way more than that! And the paperback version that came out in August? It’s already sold more than that (though I think the numbers he was quoting were all about the hardcover, so I don’t know how the paperback sales stack up). And the hardcover did even go into a second printing, pretty fast.
So I do feel like, hey, maybe my book is doing pretty good! And who knows what will happen once the sequel comes out in May? Maybe even more people will discover it.
Hmmm. Betcha didn’t realize that even published authors still stress about stuff, huh? It makes me smile every time a fan writes me (and I write back) and they go “OMG! A Famous Author wrote me back!” Because I sooooooo do not feel remotely famous. If I’m ever out and about and I actually see someone reading my book (someone I don’t already know), I will probably SQUEE out loud and faint dead away.
Hmm. Maybe it’s a good thing I’m NOT J.K. Rowling. I’d have to carry a pillow around to land on or something.
But I should get back to talking about the conference. It was pretty good. Besides Michael Stearns, the other keynote speakers were Cynthia Leitich Smith (it was incredibly awesome to FINALLY meet her in person after having “known” her for years via email and she also brought along her husband Greg, who writes middle grade novels that I also love, so that was a bonus), Stacy Cantor from Walker Books, Yolanda LeRoy from Charlesbridge, Alisha Niehaus from Dial Books (Penguin), and Nick Eliopulos from Random House. They were all great, though Nick was especially funny — PLUS he also went to the University of Florida AND he also played D&D in High School! And he’s on the shorter side (though not nearly so short as me). I’d love to work with him someday. I think he’d be fun. I would totally write a paranormal gay romance just to do it.
Okay, I’m sure that made no sense to you. Ha! Nick had filled out a questionnaire about what he’d love to see come across his desk and that’s what he put down, even though he was kind of joking. But only kinda.
Though the novel I’m working on now is paranormal and it does have some romance and it does have a gay character…hmmmm. Though the gay character is a best friend and not the main character, so not a 100% fit. Anyway. But who knows, maybe my agent can send it to him when I’m done. You never know.
I thought all of the editors that came were very interesting and knew their stuff. And they were entertaining…Yolanda even sang and danced for us and Alisha turned a cartwheel.
Um, maybe you had to be there.
I also took in a breakout session with Cynthea Liu, the author of Paris Pan Takes the Dare. It was on PR. I actually pretty much already do all the things she talked about (which, geez, hopefully so since my first book came out in 2008!), though the one thing I ought to be more proactive about is scheduling events and trying to book school visits. I just haven’t put that as a big priority, partly because of The Max. But Cynthea’s got a 2 year old and if she can do it…Though, really, I think it’s tough right now because most schools and libraries just don’t have the funding to book authors. And I can’t afford to do visits for free (heck, childcare for The Max is around $100 if I’m gone all day) except when I do it as a promotion/giveaway. *sigh* Darn economy. But who knows, maybe next year will be better.
The only cringe worthy moments for me were when anybody brought up vampire novels during the talks. And how they were so over and blah, blah, blah. *sigh* Every time someone at one of these things asks me what my book is about, I kind of hate telling them it’s a vampire book. But it’s different! I say, while their eyes glaze over. I feel like I need to get a T-shirt written up with a disclaimer: Yes, I wrote a vampire book. No, I didn’t write it because of Twilight. I wrote it before Twilight came out, thankyouverymuch. There was a bandwagon? Wow, I must have missed that. Really, the undead are sooo dead? Thank you for telling me. I hadn’t heard that. Yes, I do have fangs. Do you want to see them? No, the book I’m working on now doesn’t have any vampires in it. No, it doesn’t have werewolves in it either. No, there are no zombies. No angels either. Would you like a bookmark?
Okay, maybe that wouldn’t be a good idea.
Um…this is getting really long and it’s past my bedtime. And it’s not even a rant. So, to sum up (as Inigo says)…
The conference was interesting. The guests were informative. I still feel all “Whoa, I’m an actual author.” And free Snickers? Those are always yummy.