I attended my first writers’ conference on the 6th of May, eager to meet other like-minded folk and industry professionals. The first were the keynote speeches (The Great Content Divide: Bridging the Gap between East and West and The Asian Invasion Starts Hereby Kenneth Tan and Nury Vittachi respectively, both gentlemen spoke about the relevance of children’s content in Asia and how a critical role providers (writers, publishers, producers and institutions) play in bringing Asian content to the rest of the world. There was also a new initiative called PANTONE.
Nury Vittachi asked a good question: Are Asians creative? Indeed, we are. We should make use of all the platforms available to bring stories to children.
Then, after a bit of running around (the rooms were a little confusing), I attended What Publishers Look For In Children’s and Young Adult’s Stories – The Real Score. The speakers were Anushka Ravishankar (children’s author and former editor) and Sayoni Basu (publishing director at Scholastic (India)). Children’s books include a diverse range: story books, non fiction/reference books and activity books. Furthermore, they spoke about what distinguishes a children’s book from an adult’s. The vocabulary for a children’s book should be simplified and the themes related to children (the same goes for young adults). Basically, what publishers wanted to see in children’s and YA’s fiction: a good story, with good characters and riveting dialogue/structure/pacing. Of course, they stressed that these are strictly subjective. An author has to be sensitive and empathetic when it comes to characterization. Ms Ravishankar spoke about the importance of listening. Perhaps, it takes a bit of research and a lot of listening for – say – an Asian writer when he or she decides to write about white characters (and vice versa). Likewise, the author’s worldview and beliefs will affect the story.
YA authors do not have to be didactic. Reading is supposed to be entertainment, fun. Moral messages can be woven in subtly. Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games was used as an example.
Right after the panel was a good introduction to Digital Rights and e-Publishing. Bill Rosenblatt brought the audience through what Digital Rights Management (DRM) is. I found the talk a little technical for my liking, but really informative for publishers (traditional or self). Should online content be made free? How should publishers safe-guard their content from theft? To tell you the truth, I am digesting the information, because it means a lot for self-publishers and indie authors who publish their fiction online.
Many Windows: How to Co-write Across Cultures and Countries was interesting, because it was basically about a project by three people: Rukshana Khan, Uma Krishnaswami and Elisa Carbone. How do authors from different ethnic and faith backgrounds work together without fighting? The project comes first, egos second.
After a quick lunch (the cafe was over-stressed and under-staffed), I attended Self Publishing: Pros and Cons. Shamini Flint was an engaging speaker, pulling the audience right into the world of a self-publisher who had to work tirelessly as author, marketer, speaker, mother and publisher. Emily Lim spoke about the trials and tribulations. Self publishing is not an easy job, especially if you are a full-time mum with little kids. Emily spoke about having passion, faith and hope. And that as authors, we should write about what we like, what is true to us. When it comes to marketing your books, be creative. Use all avenues and media channels. Network, make many friends. Always look out for new platforms. But most importantly, know when to rest, because burnout is real.
I got to talk to Shamini and Bill over some drinks. I met a nice lady – Renu – as well.
Another rushed dinner (Waldorf salad) and Ken Spillman’s Writing Young Adults Fiction was the last on my list. The workshop was good. Ken told us to list down what were important to us or caused us anxiety when we were teenagers. He got us to share. Parental issues, fears, wanting to fit in, the need for validation etc… these are the very themes young adults have to face. We did exercises whereby we imagined ourselves as teenagers (18 year old boy, 15 year old girl, 13 year old etc) in different situations. He told us to trust our instincts. I am still looking at my notes and going “Wow”, simply because I know I am on the right track. I might share what I have written in the coming week. They make good story hooks.
The writers’ conference was a good experience for me. Talking to other writers, listening to similar stories and journeys. I find myself wondering if I should create my own name-card (everyone has one, dammit). Perhaps, the most important thing I’d learned: write. Sit down, write, get bum glue, be disciplined and write.