The other day, I was at a meeting of our local chapter of the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. We had a great mix of people attending, including a friend who just got an agent (yay!), another who is in the middle of getting his MFA in writing, and author Sara Pennypacker. Since I learned things, and I approve of learning things, I thought I’d share them!
First, my friend who just got an agent was asked to write pitches for the three books her new agent is shopping around. This interested me because I’d definitely heard of agents using an author’s own words – usually from the hook paragraph in the author’s query, or from a synopsis – to pitch a book, but had not heard of them asking authors to write the pitches that would be used on editors. (Haha, “used on” makes them sound like spells. “Libri redemptio!”) This isn’t at all to say that the agent isn’t on the up-and-up – it’s really quite logical to have the author write a pitch, I think. After all, the author has practice (see above, “query, synopsis”). And I assume that the agent will use her knowledge of the various editors’ interests to tailor her pitches to them.
The other very cool thing was a little presentation, as she called it, by Sara Pennypacker. The author of the popular Clementine series of children’s books, she is often invited to speak at conferences, etc. She had just come up with a new talk to give and wanted to try it out on us. It was excellent. The thrust of it was that when you write for children, you write “for” them not just in the sense of “for the consumption of,” but also in the sense of “on behalf of.” Many children are not able to tell their own stories – they don’t know how, or they lack confidence, or no one listens or validates them – but they do consume stories, and they need to be able to find both themselves and others there. Stories should be, as they say, both a window and a mirror. These are all thoughts I’ve encountered before, but Sara made them all sparkly and new.
(And yes, I do feel somewhat presumptuous referring to a well-known author by her first name, but it would be awkward to keep calling her “Sara Pennypacker” in the same way that I always call David Bowie “David Bowie.” And if you’re wondering how often I have cause to refer to David Bowie, then . . . you probably haven’t talked to me in person. :P)
Anyway, Sara concluded by reading an extremely touching letter she’d just received from a sixth-grader who says that reading Clementine in second grade changed her life. (For the better, obvs. Otherwise, that would be a pretty depressing/accusatory/generally unpleasant letter, wouldn’t it? Probably not one she would read out loud to a group, in any case.) Just a reminder to everyone of the power of the right book.
Then, everyone was kind enough to give me feedback on my pitch for The Book of Foxes. Oh SCBWI peeps, you are great.