Last night I attended an event at Wix Lounge, hosted by the New York chapter of the Women’s National Book Association, The Making of a Young Adult Bestseller: From Acquisition to Reader. The panel was stellar, including Susan Katz (President and Publisher, HarperCollins Children’s Books), Joy Peskin (Editorial Director, Farrar Straus & Giroux Books for Young Readers), literary agent Jenny Bent (The Bent Agency), Marisa Russell (Publicity Manager, Penguin Young Readers Group), and the inimitable YA/MG author Hannah Moskowitz, all moderated by rock star librarian and blogger, Betsy Bird (I’m a total fangirl; I can’t help gushing!).
So, just to set the record straight, they did not answer the how-to question or hand out an algorithmic rulebook for writing a blockbuster YA bestseller. What there was though, was some smart and interesting discussion, appropriate for both publishing professionals as well as writers. And as with most WNBA-NYC events, it was a great opportunity to meet other people in the industry, engage in intelligent discourse about books, and of course eat cheese and crackers. (So that’s called networking, by the way…)
Now I learned a couple of things about the publishing process, I was entertained, and I made some nice contacts. All good. But for me, the takeaway lesson was about something that anyone, trying to achieve anything, might do well to think about. After the panel, I introduced myself to Jenny Bent and we spoke a bit about agenting. She couldn’t have been kinder and more encouraging to me, still a newish agent. But one thing in particular about our conversation has stuck with me. She said, “People who persevere, succeed.” (That’s how I remember it, anyway…) But yes! Yes! Yes! Thank you for reminding me of that, Jenny! It seems so obvious, doesn’t it? I mean, if you quit something then what are your chances of succeeding at it? That’s right: zero. She also told me that having self-doubt may never stop, that she still has self-doubt, but that it shouldn’t actually influence my actions. Holy moly. Jenny Bent still experiences self-doubt?! Ok. I’ll get over myself. I guess I’m in good company!
Then, later in the evening (yes, we were up to the cocktails and yummy food part) Hannah Moskowitz said the most brilliant thing. (Yes you did, Hannah!) We were talking about publishing, ebooks, getting/keeping an agent, the submission process, etc…Now this is what I think she said, not necessarily what she actually said. It was something like, “If your manuscript isn’t selling, write another one.” Write another one! Now please people, pay close attention here. Hannah is 21 years old. She’s copped to writing about 15-20 novels in her life. She’s had 6 accepted for publication so far. There are 4 in bookstores already and another 2 in the tubes. Did you hear me?! SIX NOVELS. 21 YEARS OLD. Is Hannah a prodigy? Perhaps. But what she also is is tenacious, indefatigable, incredibly upbeat, and a poster girl for the word persevere. (Not that this is relevant, but she has nice teeth, too.)
Ok. So takeaway for the evening: keep at it. If you’re a writer, keep writing. Write another manuscript. And then another. And then after that, another. If you’re trying to get into publishing, keep trying. Try something new. Try something old. But keep trying. When you stop trying your chances for success will drop off considerably.
Do you give up?