Monday, July 19, 2010

18 Conference Round-Up: Leaps of Imagination: Fact, Fiction, & Fantasy

The Maryland/Deleware/West Virginia Chapter of SCBWI held the Leaps of Imagination: Fact, Fiction, & Fantasy event this past weekend. Many big names were in attendance, such as agent Stephen Fraser, Michelle Poploff (Executive Editor at Delacorte Press Books for Young Readers), agent Elana Roth, Louise May (Vice President/Editorial Director of Lee & Low), and Debra Hess senior Editor at Highlights for Children). Several other industry professionals, as well as authors and illustrators were on hand for the 2-day event. Read on, as Marissa shares tips and information coming out of this conference.
We're going to do things a little differently today. The event I attended this weekend was so jam-packed with excellent information, that we've decided to break it up a bit into several posts over the next few weeks. First up is literary agent Stephen Fraser of the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency. His presentation was entitled Leaping Into Action: How An Agent Sells Your Book. But before we get serious here, let me give you some background. Trust me, you'll want to listen even more to what Stephen presented after I dish a bit.

Before I went to the conference, I did the research any attendee might do to prepare. I checked out Casey McCormick's awesome Agent Spotlight on Stephen, as well as read through his profile on Query Tracker. The comments were so consistently positive, even when writers had been rejected. Comment after comment read as though he was akin to Jimmy Stewart's character Elwood P. Dowd in the 1950's classic Harvey. And after spending two days listening to his presentations, interact openly with attendees, and having a few conversations with him myself, I have to say it's all true.  

But I digress. Stephen Fraser's background includes working at Simon & Schuster and HarperCollins as an editor before making the switch to agent. His philosophy as an agent is that a good book has a home. He considers himself a matchmaker, finding the appropriate home for the work of his clients. He repeatedly emphasized his appreciation for well-written, beautifully crafted writing throughout the weekend.

There's a lot of discussion about agents in a somewhat negative light at times in the blogosphere. Stephen Fraser is a living example of how this is far from true. You could sense the excitement he feels for projects he believes in, as well as the extreme disappointment experienced when that feeling is not shared with an editor at a publishing house. He expressed passion for the projects he has been a part of, though he cautions they may take time to sell. One example he provided was working with Carol Lynch Williams' book GLIMPSE, written in verse. After reading this book in one sitting at Starbucks, he said he didn't sleep at all that night because he felt haunted by the story and elated by the manuscript. After one full year, it finally sold and has been met with excellent reviews.

In today's market, Stephen emphasized that books are being evaluated as to whether or not they are potential bestsellers. One such project he represented that fit this description was the book THE CLOCKWORK THREE by Matthew Kirby, set to release this October. After having been introduced to publishing houses on a Thursday, it was purchased just three business days later by Scholastic Press. The buzz around this book is likely to grow and grow.

Quick Tips:

  • Create your elevator pitch, or one sentence pitch. You should be prepared to compare your work to at least two other books to help create the concept for whoever you are pitching to. Stephen suggested that if you are struggling with your pitch, this may reflect a lack of focus in your book.
  • Having an agent doesn't equate to getting published, but it will increase your odds.
  • Be honest with your agent as a writer. If the relationship is going to work, be prepared for their honest opinion, too.
  • Stay alert to good, creative ideas.
  • Share your story and be brave. This is scary to do, but it will make your story stronger.
  • Sustain joy in your life as a writer. Only you can be the source of that joy over time.
  • Write well. Don't spend all your time crafting a query letter. Just write well.
  • If your work has promise, Stephen considers himself an editorial agent, working with you.
Any finally, to bring things full-circle, I have to tell you that the attendees at this terrific event were smitten with Stephen Fraser's easy-going, humorous, sincerity. He was swarmed at breaks like Justin Bieber at a Sydney, Australia concert, and it was easy to see why. I've decided that if this whole writing thing doesn't work out, I might start selling t-shirts at SCBWI events with the following logo printed on them:

Happy Conferencing!



  1. I've always had a great impresssion of Stephen Frazer, maybe it's his genuine smile in his picture. A smile can't be faked! Thanks!

  2. I want to go conferencing SO bad!!!! GReat post ladies!

  3. He does sound great! And I think it's all good advice, especially the honesty. That's one of the things I value most about my own agent. I know when he gives me a compliment it is real. And when he says it needs work, I pay attention.

  4. I found this post very helpful--thanks! Especially the tips: "be brave...sustain joy...write well." Powerful words for me as this week begins!

  5. He does sound like such an honest, kind, genuine person!

  6. Great post. I'm glad you are breaking up the posts into more than one so you can share more of the helpful information.

  7. wow great post. it was so nice to learn more!!

    a huge thanks to you lovely ladies!

  8. I saw him at a conference and felt the same way. All of your posts are SO helpful!!

  9. Thanks for sharing. This is wonderful and timely info. I've got a query out to him. I'm crossing my fingers. He sounds great!

  10. I wish I was going to one this year! I SO miss going. The last one I went to was the BEA several years ago. It was a blast.

  11. This is such a great post. I was going to quote my favorite tip, but they're all valuable. I'm really looking forward to the rest of your report.


  12. Lisa, absolutely. We need genuine feedback in this business to grow and be successful.

    Kenda, yay! We're glad the tips are useful. I took copious notes during his presentation because he had so much to say.

    Jemi and Laura, he truly is amazing. I hope you get to meet him someday.

    Thanks, Tahereh! We're happy to spread good information. :)

    Natalie, we're thankful for your feedback. Sometimes there's so much to digest that it can be overwhelming coming out of a conference.

    Saumya, I'm so glad you agree! It seriously has to be impossible to NOT like him :)

    Traci, you'll probably hear back pretty quickly. On QT, his response times seemed very fast. Good luck!

    T. Anne and Candyland, I hope you get to attend a conference soon. They're SO worthwhile.

    Thanks, Mary! It's great when you come back from conferences with loads of new information.

  13. Thanks for your comments, everyone! Marissa is the energizer bunny. I don't know what time she got back last night, and she still managed to have this put together this morning. I, for one, am grateful. (Since I didn't get to go.)

    Stephen Fraser sounds amazing, doesn't he? And Jennifer DeChiara (@4writers) is on Twitter this week answering questions. Don't forget to watch that in progress.


  14. Marissa and Martina,

    Thank you so much for your kind words about our MD/DE/WV SCBWI conference this past weekend! I agree that Stephen Fraser was a highlight, and I'm pleased he made himself so accessible to the attendees over the course of the two days.

    I'll look forward to reading your posts over the next few weeks.

    Thanks again,
    Edie Hemingway

  15. Edie, it's our pleasure! For those of you unfamilar with the regional chapter, Edie is the regional advisor. She puts on an awesome conference, and writes excellent books, too! Thanks, Edie!

    Martina & Marissa

  16. Stephen Fraser sounds like a sweetheart! Thanks for this list of tips, and I look forward to hearing what else you learned. And I heart that t-shirt logo!

  17. I want a t-shirt!

    I signed with Stephen in May! Here's what he said to me in an email this morning about your t-shirt idea: "How embarrassing. Funny, too, I guess."

    I feel very, very, very fortunate to have snagged him as an agent. He had my novel on submission within a week of signing our agreement, and he's been super encouraging and enthusiastic since. I just wish I could meet him in person! I'm jealous of all of you who were at the conference.


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