Friday, January 6, 2012

Ari Lewin, the #NY12SCBWI Team Blog Pre-Conference Interview

Ari Lewin, Executive Editor, G.P. Putnam (Penguin) and #NY12SCBWI Faculty

Arianne Lewin is an executive editor at G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers. She has edited award-winning authors including Cinda Williams Chima; Julie Anne Peters; Michael Rex; Rachel Hawkins, and Jessica Spotswood. She'll be giving three breakout sessions on FANTASY on Saturday January 28, 2012 as part of the Lucky 13th Annual SCBWI Winter Conference in New York City.

Here's our interview - enjoy!
Lee: Hi Ari, thanks so much for taking the time. You’re giving three breakout sessions on FANTASY. Are there any books (that you’ve worked on or otherwise) you’d like to suggest attendees read in advance so they can get the most out of your workshops?

Ari: I can't think of any particular books I'll be referencing yet, but I might do a handout on first pages or chapters of successful fantasy novels. My hope is that anyone interested in publishing into the genre will be able to get something out of the discussion, no matter how much or little they've read.

Lee: For many manuscript critiques and conferences (and it’s true of the Writers roundtable intensives on the Friday before this conference) authors have a chance to share the first few pages of their work with agents and editors. But it’s only the first few pages. Or the first 500 words. Or maybe even just the first page (which starts half-way down!) Often, writers despair at this – how could anyone know if they love it (or not) so soon? How far do you need to read something to know?

Ari: I consider first page sessions an opportunity to decide if I like the premise and the writing enough to want to read more.

Lee: Speaking of beginnings, since you’re talking about fantasy I have to ask: Prologues: Love ‘em or hate ‘em?

Ari: That's not a fair question! I love good prologues that draw me in and tease the rest of the book. I don't love prologues that exist solely for exposition -- that just feels lazy to me.

Lee: How about trends: How much should authors care about vampires being in or out. Or angels, or unicorns, or… the next BIG thing. (And yeah, I just added unicorns in there. But I don’t have a unicorn manuscript, I’m just asking…)

Ari: I suppose it's worth considering the idea that if the market is already glutted with a trend, publishers may not want to buy more. That being said, if someone handed me a dystopic novel that I absolutely LOVED, I wouldn't turn it down. I would never suggest writing to a trend -- authors should write what comes naturally.

Lee: What’s your opinion of the Hollywood-style pitch (“It’s ‘Mad Men’ meets ‘Aliens’… in middle school!”) Useful, or too reductive?

Ari: I vote useful. TV is such a big part of our consciousness that using it as shorthand seems natural. I do realize that there are a lot of books out there that can't be described in those terms, though, and that's okay too! If I were an author I'd spend about twenty seconds thinking about this, then get back to writing my story. NOTE: It’s easy to sound grandiose when using TV/Movie references, so try to stay reasonable...

Lee: Can you tell us what you’re looking for?

Ari: "I'm looking for writers who use words and story in a way that makes me feel something. I like all kinds of stories, but I want something to wake me up!"

Lee: Most of the people working in Children’s literature do it because they (we) love it… but I wonder if there’s a fear that once you make something you love your work, you can’t enjoy it ‘simply’ any more. Can you turn off your editor-brain and just enjoy a good book, or are you always in ‘editor’ mode?

Ari: I can forget myself if the book is good enough. And isn't that what you want every book to do? I’m probably not as patient a reader as I used to be– I don’t try to “push through” books that are not engaging or very flawed. I just put them down and move on.

Lee: To follow up on that, what are you reading for fun?

Ari: I'm trying really hard to read grown-up books, mostly so I'm not a total fail at cocktail parties. I just bought *am the last person on earth to buy* Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

Lee: Illustrators and writers will be coming to #NY12SCBWI with lots of hopes. Some hope to be discovered and break through to be published. Others, who are published, hope to break out from the mid-list and really soar in their careers. Any many, from those just starting out through best-selling authors and illustrators, hope to immerse themselves in inspiration and community. What are your conference hopes? Do you come ‘shopping’ for new illustrator and writer talent?

Ari: SCBWI is such an amazing community. I always come to conferences hoping to recruit for my list, but I also come because I find it so refreshing and inspiring to spend time with people who are passionate about our business.

Lee: Is a business card something you like to have handed to you when you speak to an author or illustrator at a conference?

Ari: The unfortunate truth is that I don't keep 99% of the business cards that are given to me (does anybody?). If there's a reason for me to get in touch with someone, I'll ask for their information and probably plug it right into my phone.

Lee: Can you share with us your advice for conference-goers?

Ari: Talk to lots of other writers, and don't worry too much about meeting agents and editors -- that will come in time. Pay special attention to any lectures that will help you become a better writer.

Lee: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given that you’ve used in your career in children’s literature?

Ari: Work on what you love.

Thanks so much, Ari!

Now I'm even more excited about her session! You can still register to attend Ari's FANTASY Break Out Workshop yourself and experience the entire Lucky 13th Annual SCBWI Winter Conference in New York City, January 27-29, 2012.

Hope to see you there.

Illustrate and Write On,


Anonymous said...

Excellent interview! Kind of glad to know that I won't have to print up 9000 business cards before SCBWI, too. ;)

Katy Manck, MLS said...

Go, Ari! Discover more of those great authors whose works for young adults keep me up waaaay too late reading and make my fingers itch to get to the computer to write up my recommendation!

Wondering if scannable info on verso of business card would be useful? (e.g. QR code, etc) Then folks could have just a few of those 2-sided cards, allowing smartphone users to snap their info while also having physical card to give to those who like to collect them.

(Lee, I'm doubling here, as I began following your blog after meeting you at KidLitCon & am also going down the Comment Challenge list, site by site. Keep up the stellar work!!!)

**Katy M
Recommending YA books beyond the bestsellers at
Follow me on Twitter @BooksYALove

Loni Edwards said...

That was an great interview! As someone who is unable to go to the big conferences, I value interviews like these with publishers/editors/agents. Thank you so much for the post.

Hero Fiction Writer said...

I love the interview, especially the part about writing what comes naturally. It makes sense to give the market what it wants, but if it is a subject you are not initially inspired by, the story will probably fail.

That beings said, any subject can be inspiring, the writer just needs to find the right angle that interests them. I believe that if the writer enjoys the work that they create, often the reader will too--even if it isn't quite what the market is buying at the moment.

Laurisa White Reyes said...

Hey Lee! Enjoyed reading the interview! It's fun getting know people that way. I also wanted to thank you - I sent a young writer your way. I've kind of been his writing mentor for several years. He's gay and so I told him about your site. I believed he signed up. He's got a lot of talent and a bright future. Hope you can steer him in the right direction.

Ali B said...

"Work on what you love." Sounds like the perfect New Year's Resolution.

Charlotte said...

gosh, I wish I could go too!

Magdalena Ball said...

What a terrific interview. Much of the advice is good for writers of all genres. I laughed at the idea of reading 'adult lit' so as not to be a total fail at parties. I do sometimes think that the labels are arbitrary or marketing driven. The Book Thief, Life of Pi, and the Inheritance series for example are all "YA books" that could easily have been called 'adult books'. Mind you, the difference in reading perceptions between say, a 16 year old and a 25 year old are also pretty fuzzy.

Anamaria (bookstogether) said...

So wish I could attend this conference--even just this session. Thanks to both Lee and Ari for the informative interview!

Jen Klein said...

I'm glad Lee doesn't have a unicorn manuscript. Just felt that I should say that.

Lovely interview!

Avi de Turenne said...

Great interview and looking forward to your conference blogs for those of us who will have to tough it out in the arctic Southern California winter while the rest of you frolic in the Big Apple.

The Pen and Ink Blogspot said...

Sounds like they will be good breakout choices