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Book Expo America 2007 Kicks Off with Outstanding Writers Conference

By M D Caprario

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Book Expo America 2007 kicked off in New York this year with its fifth annual Writers Conference in partnership with Writer's Digest Books.  Some five hundred writers gathered to enjoy this outstanding day of lectures, educational sessions, and networking.

BEA Director of Education, Mark Dressler, and Jane Friedman, and Greg Hatfield, Editorial Director and Publicity Director of Writer's Digest Books and F+W Books, respectively, outdid themselves this year with a choice roster of author/editor speakers, a mock publishers' conference, and an unforgettable agent/editor 'Pitch Slam.'

West Coast children's book author/illustrator Bob Barner checks out the bidding on the piece he produced and donated for the ASCBA's "Secret Garden" fund raiser held in conjuntion with Book Expo

Although promised only at least one crack at three minutes of one-on-one time with some 60 agents and editors of their choice, most attendees enjoyed several of these potentially career-launching chats.  A first-time attendee reported that six New York agents showed interest in his latest novel, one even asking for an exclusive. 

'For me, the most important issue of this conference was meeting with agents,' seasoned author/editor Frances Metzman told me.  'I learned a couple of new things but mostly it's reinforcement of what I already know -- that's a good thing.' Metzman- who also had a favorable Pitch Slam experience- has a blog on the Wild River Review web site called "The Age of Reasonable Doubt."

Colby, MA's Fairmont's Jim Carey and loveable "Catie" Colby. "Catie" is the star of a new and very special picture book.

Participating agents included Andree Abecassis of the Ann Elmo Agency, Inc. (Berkeley and New York),  Elizabeth Pomada and Michael Larson of the Larson-Pomada Agency (San Francisco), and Sharlene Martin of Martin Literary Management (Encino).  They were excited about the Writer's Conference, too.  'I'll be here all week,' Sharlene Martin told me, 'and I've got appointments every fifteen minutes' ' 

Even the Cat In the Hat made an appearance at Book Expo opening events, here seen at the ASCBA's (American Society of Children's Book Sellers) "Secret Garden" fund raiser.

 Keynote speaker for the day was New York Times best-selling novelist Jodi Picoult, author of fourteen novels including her latest, 'Nineteen Minutes,' a #1 best-selling title since its March debut. 

'Jodi Picoult's talk was very entertaining and enlightening,' attendee Robert Jeffrey Grant, author of 'Two Bottled Dolphins,' said.  '(She was) everything a featured speaker should be; it struck me how much research she does and how she enjoys the process of writing while being prolific and stressed the discipline of writing.'

Lunch featured a New York editors panel comprised of Judy Hottensen, vice president and publisher of Miramax Books, Shaye Areheart, vice president and editorial director of Shaye Areheart Books/Random House, and Will Schwalbe, senior vice president and editor in chief of Hyperion.

Also seen in the BEA exhibition hall: "Silver Palate" cookbook celebrated its anniversary with a very special book signing to the first 250 lucky people in signing line.

Breakout sessions included 'How to Write an Irresistible Nonfiction Book Proposal' brilliantly presented by veteran agent Rita Rosenkranz, 'Crazy Queries' with Sharlene Martin, her nonfiction client, psychiatrist Dr. Stanley Kapuchinski, author of 'Stop Your Misery: The Definitive Guide to PDI's' and other titles, and HCI Editorial Director Michele Matrisciani, and 'Writing the Breakout Novel' with agent Donald Maass. 

Kapuchinski's book is about people with personality disorders.  He talked about what NOT to write in a query letter, humorously noting that an author should not appear 'manic' or overly aggressive.  While he opened his own query letter to Martin by asking her, 'How do you feel about having 'all the power' over authors?,' he advises others to be a bit more humble.  Martin explained Kapuchinski's opener worked since his book was about PDI's- and the author is a psychiatrist- so it was a great technique that would not work for any other query. 

 'You do have to get me at 'hello',' Martin quipped, 'since I receive about 250 queries a week.  Do three or four draft query letters, then talk to your friends to see what's best,' she advised.  'Then send out a few and see what the response is.  If they work for you, continue.  Don't fix what's not broken' ' 

Another great tip offered concerned queries for novels with sequel(s) or series books.  'We're all about 'brands,'' Michele Matrisciani told the group.  'Options are great, and to know you are thinking ahead is good.'  These do require a special treatment, and Martin advises that the author pitch the first book, attaching a one-page addendum covering the sequel book(s).

Maass talked about what to do when one's novel is in its 'twelfth draft.'  'Write down the novel's central conflict or main problem, focusing on the external problems of the inner conflict.  This is the first area to look at it.'  He cautioned, however, that if this process leads to more than four lines of descriptive text, the author has 'more than s/he needs.'  Maass should know what works:  he sells more than 100 novels a year to top publishers in the US and overseas.

A tongue-in-cheek donation from an infamous children's book illustrator (as seen in the New Yorker...)

The 'Mock Pub Board' was an excellent, highly realistic portrayal of the kind of discussion that takes place in a publishing office before a manuscript is green lighted for publication.  Jane Friedman, Steve Koenig, Greg Hatfield and others provided an 'inside the heads' look at just what a publishing team might discuss, including such things as how the book should be targeted, how to do piggyback marketing with television and film, and even 'guesstimating' the kind of shelf real estate chain stores and others might be willing to devote to the title.  It was a very illuminating experience for quite a few of the conference attendees.

This year's writers conference seemed to have something of special value for everyone, including literary agents not seeking new clients:  agent Sohair Soukkary was scouting for a publisher for her client, renowned author Nawal El Saadawy.  An outspoken feminist who writes about the status of women, El Saadawy was imprisoned by Sadat because of her work.  Soukkary told me that her client's book,  'God Resigned at the Summit,' was burned and that her author is now on a death hit list.  Soukkary, located in New York, represents overseas authors in US book deals.

Author/illustrator Bob Barner's selection produced for his latest book "Penguins! Penguins! Penguins!" and donated to the Secret Garden fund raiser.

Next year, the 2008 BEA/Writer's Digest Books Writers Conference will be held in conjunction with Book Expo America in Los Angeles on May 28, 2008.  For more information please visit www.writersdigest.com/bea.

Text & photos copyright 2007 M.D. Caprario

M. D. Caprario is a writer working in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York, and wherever good things related to books, film and entertainment are happening.  Reach her at [email protected]


Published on Dec 31, 1969

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