My local chapter of SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) hosted an event with bestselling YA author Simone Elkeles this past weekend. I confess, the event snuck up on me and I didn't take the time to do my homework and read any of her books before I attended. But, especially because I hope to be putting my own books out there for publication on the somewhat near future, I felt I should still attend and see if I could gleam any pearls of wisdom from someone who has not only survived the publishing gauntlet, but has flourished.
What I didn't expect when attending this event was to be so entertained. Simone is hilarious! She's very down-to-earth, honest, and real. She openly shared with us mistakes she made on her journey and times when she made a fool of herself. (There was an amusing anecdote of the time she met Judy Blume -- not that any aspiring YA novelist who grew up on Blume's novels could blame her for going gaga in the presence of such greatness.) She was very open when it came to how much money she makes, and how much she was paid when she was starting out. She offered a lot of good advice on marketing and ways to make money between those infrequent and insufficient royalty checks. Overall, it was a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon, and even without reading a single word she has written, I am now a Simone Elkeles fan.
I did buy a copy Perfect Chemistry, the first in one of her trilogies, and she was kind enough to sign it for me. I then returned to my seat and pulled out my Kindle to buy an electronic copy of the same book. I wouldn't want my autographed copy getting beat up on the train, right? I am looking forward to diving in as soon as I finish the other books I am reading at the moment.
If you aren't familiar with her work, check out the video she made to promote Perfect Chemistry and then tell me you aren't intrigued -- if not by the plot of the book, then at least by her out of the box thinking for drawing attention to her work. I find most "book trailers" to be a snooze, but this one had me laughing out loud. It is also a perfect example of the kind of risks she takes to promote her work.
I found two things particularly reassuring about Simone's work and the information she shared with us. Her books are teen romances -- and there isn't a vampire in sight. Nor a werewolf, a witch, an angel, a demon or any other paranormal creature that keeps today's adolescent readers so riveted. This was refreshing for me because my YA work in progress is also rooted in reality. They are characters that could live in places that could actually exist. The fact that Simone's books are so popular gives me a little more hope that maybe my book won't be passed over just because it lacks a fantasy element.
Simone also calmed one of my worries when she said she has received very little flack for the violence, sex, drugs, swearing, and other taboos in her books. This is another thing I was concerned about with my own WIP. She creates characters who would realistically be doing these things in a world where these things exist. If she censored her book, it would hurt the story, and I feel a little more comfortable with these aspects of my own WIP now. As writers, its very important we stay true to our characters and not worry about offending readers (or readers' parents, for that matter).
I am reaching the point in my journey where I can really benefit from the advice of other, established writers, and I am very grateful to SCBWI for putting on this event. Has anyone else gone to see a writer recently who left an impact?
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