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Five Local YA Authors Speak At Arcadia

November 2, 2012

One of the perks of working at a university is access to terrific cultural events on campus. Over the twelve years I’ve worked at Arcadia University, I have had countless opportunities to be privy to words of wisdom from the mouths of many speakers, from famous neurologists and scientists to international political experts. Of course my favorites are writers. Arcadia’s English Department does a fine job of bringing interesting writers to campus – including returning writers who have found success after their stint at the university — and that’s truer than ever since we began offering an MFA in writing a few years back.

Last week current English adjunct Frankie Mallis brought five young adult authors to campus for a rollicking panel discussion on writing and publishing in the YA genre. I’ve written about Frankie previously in this space. She’s a former student of my Writing for Children class and is well-launched on her own publishing career with a top agent and an impressive writing output.  She also really knows the business and has personal contact with all of the presenters gathered in the impressive Rose Room of Grey Towers Castle on Arcadia’s Glenside, Pennsylvania, campus on October 23.  They were: Amy Garvey (Cold Kiss), E.C. Myers (Fair Coin), Jeri Smith-Ready (Shade series), Maria V. Snyder (Touch of Power), and K. M. Walton (Cracked).

All are current working writers who have attained considerable success. E. C. Myers, the lone male of the group, also maintains a day job, while Amy Garvey, a former editor for a top publisher, does writing/editing consulting. This made me realize that even when a writer makes the big time, additional income may be needed. I have heard that children/YA writers sometimes make more of their income from school visits than from their published works. That’s a good thing to know.

Once you’re published, you need to devote a lot of time to promotion since publishing houses don’t have the staff to do extensive work in that area anymore. Myers said he was “surprised how much time is devoted to things other than writing to promote the book.” Not easy when you also hold a day job.

All the authors cited the necessity of reading extensively as imperative to developing an ear for what works. “You know when the teen voice is authentic,” said Myers. K. M. Walton said that two things have done the most to help her writing: reading and teaching. It helps that her teaching involves young people. She “tries it on” and gathers feedback from actual potential readers. Not a bad marketing technique. Since so much of YA fiction seems to be series-based, successful author Jeri Smith-Ready’s words resonated: “always have someone who hasn’t read your earlier books read a new one in a series.” That way you can see if the new book stands on its own.

Garvey had an interesting historical perspective on the recent evolution of YA writing. She said that teen writing in the 1970s was more “genuine and real.” Then in the 80s and 90s, it became more commercial and “packaged.” Garvey believes that pendulum is swinging back – which is a good thing. That got me thinking that it’s also important to read good books from every era, not just what’s being published currently.

In response to my question, many of the panelists cited the important of attending conferences and being active in the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). Walton raved about the value of SCBWI and says she still attends the major conferences. Finally, Maria Snyder spoke about the importance to her own writing career of being in a formal graduate school writing program. She attended Seton Hall’s graduate school for Popular Fiction and said such programs “get you jazzed up.” I couldn’t agree more.

The popularity of the YA genre was evident by the crowd who gathered. We had to bring in lots of extra chairs! Stay tuned for more Arcadia events and classes geared to those who wish to write for young readers.

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