Someone Doesn’t Get It

October 5th, 2009 • Kate

A second late-night post, because this columnist at the Washington Times just doesn’t get it. You may have seen this article linked on Twitter, but if you haven’t, I advise you to take a moment to get worked up by reading it. Following is my response, which I emailed directly to the author, as well as to the general feedback email address given:

Dear Ms. Duin,

As a literary agent who has attended numerous SCBWI events and conferences, as well as various other conferences sponsored by other organizations for writers, I think you missed the point of the conference you attended.

It is meant as a learning experience, and an opportunity for face time with agents and editors who are otherwise just names on a submission list for the many writers who hope to be published by a traditional trade publishing house. Any contact with those agents or editors, whether it is in one-on-one pitch sessions scheduled by the conference, in workshops, or in casual conversation, is valuable. At the same time, if you met a doctor at a restaurant where he was having lunch, would you ask him to diagnose your aches and pains? When agents and editors attend conferences, they too need to eat, and that time is not yours to interrupt with a description of your work — not when there is other scheduled time for pitches, or when they have already expressed an interest in receiving email submissions from conference attendees, when their houses or agencies may otherwise be closed to unsolicited submissions.

As for the cost of the conference, would you begrudge tuition paid to a college to learn how to be a better accountant, or scientist? The cost of a SCBWI conference, which provides fees to the agents and editors who attend, and the rental fees for the location, among other expenses, is far less than most course fees, and the lessons learned are far more valuable, as well as being real-world applicable to those who are open to learn.

Furthermore, your contention that only “one person out of the hundreds” who attends these conferences may find success may be that organizer’s opinion. I know I have met authors who became clients at SCBWI conferences multiple times, to great success. Although it must be said, I also receive hundreds of queries, and of those hundreds, I find less than one new client for every several hundred I receive. If the conference you attended boasted a 1 in 100 success rate, perhaps you need to reevaluate your standard of success.

In the publishing world — which you say you inhabit — that level of success is astronomical.

A final note — yes, there are disreputable organizations that prey on would-be authors, but your intimation that the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators is one of these is maliciously untrue, and I have no doubt that you will receive dozens — if not hundreds — of emails in their support.

Regards,
Kate Testerman
kt literary, llc.

I have no doubt that my readers have their own responses, and I invite you to leave them here, but please, also email them to The Washington Times.

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20 Responses to “Someone Doesn’t Get It”

  1. Kiersten White Says:

    As soon as I finish ripping out my hair I plan on compiling a list of contemporary books that she has clearly not been reading. Thanks for pointing this out, Kate. RIDICULOUS.

  2. Jamie Harrington Says:

    Oh, I have a response. It's just not one I need to be mailing to the Washington Times.

    Tomorrow, however… I will be cooled off to make a coherent email, and THEN I will give this woman a piece of my mind.

  3. Sara Raasch Says:

    In response to your letter: YES. Hopefully she responds to it; I'd be interested to know what her reaction would be to a conference-attending agent.

    Two things (well, two things in particular) really ticked me off about her article:

    "Everything is fiction, of the "problem books" variety where the hapless teen struggles with the lack of boyfriends or girlfriends, acne, nasty teachers, bad parents, awful friends, sex abuse and drugs."

    and

    "Despite the latter's crude anti-Christian propaganda, Mr. Mills wrote, the trilogy does include moving scenes of sacrificial goodness."

    Yay, someone else who doesn't read a lick of YA fiction yet feels they have the credentials to complain about it.

    Firstly, the reason much of YA fiction is about "problems" is because that's what teens face — PROBLEMS. Teens NEED books that depict their struggles and show protagonists overcoming these impossible odds so that they know THEY can overcome their problems too. Generations ago, problems such as sexual abuse and "bad parents" and other issues were kept very hush-hush, don't talk about it, don't let anyone know you're struggling (which is the society Duin grew up in…). Society has changed drastically since then (thank God), taking us to a place where we CAN publish books about "problems". So, no, YA fiction isn't choked full of "morals" found in Little House on the Prairie, but that's because YA fiction is choked full of what teens NEED — survival.

    Secondly, if "sacrificial goodness" is what Duin is looking for in YA fiction, again, I'm guessing she's one of those people who hasn't read any of it and feels she can complain about it. Because if she had read any of it, she would've found so much sacrificial goodness she would've been brought to tears. In fact, I can't think of one YA book that doesn't have some sort of "sacrificial goodness." Now, if by "sacrificial goodness" she meant great, sweeping, epic death scenes reminiscent of Christ's death, then no, there aren't many of those. But scenes full of people sacrificing themselves for others, be it physically or emotionally? Scenes of people having to sacrifice something in themselves in order for them to grow as a person? The power in YA fiction is overwhelming.

    You really think that people would stop harping on YA fiction after awhile. Kids are READING. That and that alone should make people weep with joy. No, they aren't reading the Bible or the "classics", but they are finding happiness in READING. If people keep up this criticism, kids will stop.

  4. Kim Baker Says:

    Well said, Kate!

    I can't believe how wrong she was about so many aspects of a conference. As a conference organizer, I've heard bellyaching about not enough face time with faculty, but thankfully it's not the norm and most attendees get it.

  5. Korianne Says:

    Kate,

    Like you this article left me thinking, "Someone doesn't get it." I posted my response here: http://koriannespeaks.blogspot.com/2009/10/i-shou… Thanks for sharing your thoughts too. You were very respectful but still made your points. You are awesome.

  6. Jason Black Says:

    I read the article, but honestly, I have trouble getting that worked up about it.

    Not because I agree with anything in it, but rather, because I failed to locate any kind of coherent theme or point to the article. It's like she was just rambling, rather than trying to actually make a point.

    I have trouble getting worked up over incoherent rambling. It's like the Bard said. Much ado about nothing.

  7. HWPetty Says:

    Ms Duin's three (?) disorganized points are all over-obvious attempts to justify her lack of success in the kidlit industry.

    1. "SCBWI conferences aren't worth the money."

    Sadly for Ms. Duin, she misunderstood the intent of the conference. Worse yet, she obviously didn't take advantage of the learning she could have taken home with her. The comment that editors' eyes glazed over is more an indication of the quality of her concept than an indictment of the quality of SCBWI as an organization.

    2. "The industry doesn't market to more traditional and conservative families such as homeshoolers."

    This shows an ignorance of the industry as a whole. Zondervan and other such publishers market to religious and conservative groups, often with a specific focus on homeschool. Just because every major publishing house doesn't have a homeschoolers imprint, doesn't mean those books don't exist.

    3. "The kidlit industry is shallow and lacks morality."

    Besides the obvious–that her opinions here come from the fact that Ms. Duin is most likely not writing marketable books and would rather blame the market than adapt–this shows such an ignorance of the genres she's speaking of… as well as ridiculous ignorance of what morality even is. And then look where she points… Little House? Lord of the Rings?

    These are the deep, moralistic giants that the industry should emulate? And yet she ignores the messages of hope and love, family, acceptance, honesty, justice, and triumph over hardship that exist throughout the kidlit genres.

    So tired of hearing/reading this much ignorance from the media. It's been near constant lately, and it's just getting old.

  8. Ryan Says:

    The fact that the WA Times would publish something like that is disgraceful. The woman's words scream ignorant and small-minded. What famous book wasn't a little racy or "problem" oriented when it came out? I've never been to a conference, but I think this article does more than just that–it attempts to criticize all of children's literature, which is at its peak.

    Go Kate!

  9. Julia Says:

    Kate,

    Great response! I'd love to know her reaction to it. I fear her ignorance, tucked into a huge bunch of sour grapes, was showing!

    My first thought upon reading her article was that she did absolutely no research before attending the conference. Had she – she would've known what to expect and how to act.

    Well, okay – that wasn't my First thought – but it is my printable one! *grins*

  10. Jenny Says:

    First of all, the fact that Duin is befuddled by the notion that only one in a hundred authors were published thanks to a single conference shows that she is clearly missing the larger, far more complex picture. Since when is it to be expected that you can receive a degree (to tap Kate's example) after taking one course? The same goes for attending one event. She's a published author and should realize that getting a book published is a multi-step process, unless of course she waved her magic wand and *poof* got a book deal. That's seems as unlikely as walking up to the agent of your choice, handing them your manuscript, telling him/her to "get er done," and holding a published book in your hand the next day. It doesn't work like that.

    Of course that doesn't irk me as much as her uninformed, asinine rant on the moral value of YA lit. But since I couldn't say it better than those of you who have already replied I will simply applaud your arguments and agree whole-heartedly. Sara couldn't have said it better … kids are reading and *gasp* enjoying it. How is that ever a bad thing? Oh and isn't it the parents' responsibility to teach their kids morality, or did I miss something?

  11. Carrie Harris Says:

    I'm done ripping out my hair and sending an email to them post haste. I hope they're happy that I'm bald now.

  12. Donna Gambale Says:

    The article nearly made me nauseous, half because of the writer's closed-minded ignorance, and half in defense of SCBWI, which is such an incredible organization. Excellent response!

  13. Jeanie W Says:

    This writer is being ridiculous. I attended the Maryland SCBWI conference in July. It was a well-run two-day conference. The costs included continental breakfasts, cafeteria lunches, and afternoon snacks both days. The main meeting room had food and drinks on the tables all day long. Learning opportunities abounded. The faculty included agents, editors, an art director, all but one member of the Longstockings writing group (longstockings.blogspot.com), along with other published writers and illustrators. Saturday's keynote speaker was Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, author of the Newbery-winner SHILOH (a book rich in moral depth, yet sophisticated enough not to hammer readers with its lessons). The conference had a wide variety of breakout sessions addressing issues at all different career stages – from craft development, to querying agents, to marketing strategies. Nothing in the conference registration information suggested that attendance would guarantee publication.

    I have also met the RA for the Virginia (aka Mid-Atlantic) region of SCBWI. If she's the person referred to in the column, I suspect her words to the columnist were intended to cool her outrageously unrealistic expectations of what a conference offers.

    But all this is beside the point. I live in Washington, DC and I can count on one finger all the people I know who read the Washington Times. Very few people will read this column outside those of us who follow the KT Literary blog, and we all know better.

  14. Susan Says:

    Great response, Kate! I am proud to have such an eloquent agent.

    I typed up two different replies/comments on the post this morning but both were somehow wiped out as I ranted. I took that as a sign the Internet Gods were saying I should shut up. 🙂

    Long ago, I had my share of newbie Post-Conference Blues, so I know unrealistic expectations happen. But I am surprised that someone who has gotten as far as she claims to have (she has a children's book published?) could be so clueless about how conferences work or why someone's eyes might glaze over as she pitched them "ideas" over a salad bar.

    I probably have more to say, but I'll save it for the blog!

  15. sally apokedak Says:

    Argh!!! sorry for the exclamation points, but this is infuriating.

    Dunn is confused and she's confusing issues.

    SCBWI is the best writers' organization I've ever belonged to and I've belonged to several.

    The fact that Dunn went to a conference with proposals and expected editors and agents to take them and cart them around just shows her ignorance.

    The thing that is so upsetting to me is that she is supposedly a professional and she is the reason that agents and editors have put up barriers at conferences. They are tired of getting jumped in the salad lines.

    And just because she published a children's book in 1998, or whenever–what has that got to do with the fact that her new ideas are boring people until their eyes glaze over?

    Thanks for getting my blood boiling.

    🙂

  16. Kathryn Says:

    Great post!

    Sounds like Ms. Duin (who writes a column on religion, not literature) came to the conference with a huge chip on her shoulder. Not the smartest approach if you’re looking to move beyond Xlibris and evangelical publishers.

    Kudos on calling out her ignorance and bias. That she doesn’t understand the world she craves to enter is evident, particularly in her blanket acceptance of a friend’s assertion that “few biographies, histories or autobiographies are marketed to children”. If she visited a real library or school, she’d find abundant evidence to the contrary.

    But, as other commentators have pointed out, Duin’s rant isn’t about facts, it’s about rejection. Sour grapes, indeed.

  17. Stina Says:

    I attended the LA SCBWI conference this summer and thought it was well worth the money. My husband's conferences usually cost at least $2000 for admission alone. I was there to learn and not to hound the agents and editors while wavying my ms about (though I know of some attendees who did do that). They all give you the opportunity to query them because you attended the conference. Why isn't that enough?

  18. Blythe Says:

    On any given day you, Daphne, get more readers (aka "eyeballs") and comments than Duin does in a week. I took the time to look at some of her other articles. Five readers is a big day. Attacking SCBWI has given her the best hit count of her career. All I can say is that SCBWI has done nothing but good for me. I'm grateful they exist. As for Duin, she can stew in her own spite. Bon Appetit!

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