On cold, rainy Saturday I participated in the Rutgers One-on-One conference out in New Jersey. I believe I had gone to this conference twice before, but not for a few years. It really is a great conference, and the set-up is unique from any other I've been to. Each mentor (editor, agent, or published author or illustrator) is paired with one mentee. The mentees are all carefully screened, and I've found that across the board, the quality of writing is much higher at this conference than any other. My mentee from my first year, Marie Lamba, is now published, and at the conference I was informed that another mentee's first novel is coming out next year.
Five of us from Little, Brown were attending, and so we piled into a Zipcar and caravaned over. The morning was kicked off with breakfast (agent Barry Goldblatt made fun of my choice of a blueberry bagel. I like blueberry bagels, bright purple color and all!), and the mentors and mentees are in different rooms. This is to give the mentor time to review the mentee's work in advance, and to also network and chat with our fellow mentors. We then came together for opening remarks, and then mentors and mentees broke off to meet for 45 minutes one-on-one. This time can be used to critique the work, but can also just be to chat, talk about the business, answer questions, etc. This year, I was matched with a talented author/illustrator. I was especially enthralled by the maps she creates--she called illustrating maps her "day job." The 45 minutes flew by.
A panel discussion followed. This year, the topic was "Staying Power in Children's Literature" moderated by agent Rachel Orr. The panelists were author/illustrator Peter Catalanotto, Publisher of Marshall Cavendish Margery Cuyler, Digital Books Coordinator at Disney Publishing Worldwide Colin Hosten, and Emily Sylvan Kim, Agent at Prospect Agency. They discussed what is necessary to have both a lasting career, and to create a lasting book. They discussed how to last through this economic downtrend, and the effect of new technology on the industry. Margery stated that she's been through two economic downturns already in her career, and that this one too would end. She said that publishers are being more selective about buying books, and there may be more revising before contract than usual. (I've certainly found this to be the case at L,B.) Many felt that eBooks were the future, although to varying degrees. And everyone said that good stories are lasting.
Lunch was followed by the five-on-five meetings--five pairs of mentor-mentees join together in a group that is led by a facilitator. Again, it's mainly Q&A. In my case, all of the mentees were illustrators, so at the end of our time they put out their portfolios, and we went around and reviewed them all. I always love looking at art, and everyone was quite skilled.
And finally comes the keynote. This year, the keynote was Judy Freeman, children's literature consultant. Judy is a former children's school librarian, and served on the Newbery Committee in 1990. I've met Judy many times throughout the years--she does fabulous book talks, and is known to be a "big mouth" in the industry--if you're lucky enough to have written or edited a book that she gets excited about, your book will no doubt find an audience. She travels all over the country talking to kids, educators, writers, etc. Her presentations are lively, interactive, funny, and informative.
In this case, I was shocked when one of her slides featured my personal blog with the post Decline Letters 101! I must say, it was odd, but fun, to see my blog on the big screen. Later she book talked Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin (yay!), saying that she adored it and hoped it would have a medal on the cover come next year. She also mentioned Wabi Sabi by Mark Reibstein, illustrated by Ed Young--she showed some gorgeous collages and haikus that students of a class had created in honor of Wabi Sabi. Amazing. After the talk, people came up to me to ask how much I had paid Judy to include my books and blog--ha.
It was also lovely to have many people (including many mentors) come up to me to say that they follow me on Twitter or read my blogs. Hello, everyone, nice to meet you and chat!
And then the day was over. I have to say, I felt quite drained after the conference--last week had probably been the busiest week of the year for me, and this week is looking to be the second-most busy. But still, it was a great day, and I'm glad I went. Next up for me will be SCBWI conferences in Tokyo (Yokohama) and Hong Kong in November! Stay tuned...