Sunday, July 9, 2017

Keynote: Stephanie Garber

Stephanie Garber is the New York Times and Sunday Times best-selling author of the break-out, young adult fantasy Caraval, which is one of the publishing success stories of 2017. When Stephanie isn’t writing, she teaches creative writing at a private college in northern California, where she’s been known to turn assignments into games and take students on fieldtrips that involve book signings. She can be found on Twitter @sgarbergirl, or Instagram @stephanie_garber. 

Lin Oliver introduced Stephanie Garber as "the definition of an overnight success." 

But that overnight success was more than seven years in the making. 

"The last time I was here, I was not published. So I'm very excited. And I'm really nervous," she says. "I know what it's like to sit here and wonder if you'll ever get an agent or a book deal, hoping that someone will see something in you and your work. Hoping someone will say the words that would make it all better."

She was you when she got here. "I wanted a magic formula -- agent, book deal, success. That's not how it works." 

How it did work, Stephanie edition: 

-She queried 100 agents with her first manuscript. Got silence. 

-She wrote four more books. Queried the hell out of them. Nada.

-She landed an agent with her 5th book.

-That book got close, but didn't sell.

During that time, "I moved back in with my parents and went to many family functions where people questioned my life choices," Stephanie says. "I also questioned my life choices."

Then, "The week I finished Caraval, my agent left the business. So I was back in the query trenches," Stephanie says. "I felt like I was made to tell stories. But that dream I loved so much didn't love me back. So every time I was rejected, it felt personal."

"But then a miracle happened. Close to 70 percent of the agents I queried requested the book," Stephanie says. "Out of those agents that requested, eight agents offered. Caraval sold in an eight-editor auction, and the film rights sold the same day. It couldn't be a more dramatically different experience from my first time on sub."

So what changed from the first book to Caraval? Here are the four things that Stephanie believes were truly crucial on her journey:

1) "Write the book you are brutally obsessed with. The book that wakes you up at night, itching to write." Because chances are, if you're obsessed, someone else will be, too. 

2) "Do the things you're afraid of." For Stephanie, one of those things was joining SCBWI and going to a conference -- her worst nightmare. But going to conferences -- both on craft and the publishing business -- helped Stephanie up her game and improve her writing. 

3) Learn to let go. The first three books Stephanie wrote were part of trilogy -- more than a thousand pages and two years of writing. "I was so enchanted by own story," she says. She'd written so many words and spent so much time on them, she couldn't let go. "Not only had I invested time in it, but my hopes were in the pages of that story. My heart was in it." But, Stephanie says, "once I let go of it, I never looked back." Starting over is hard. But usually necessary. 

4) Read widely. And read deeply. Advice from Lin, probably via Judy Blume: "For every one book you write, read 500." Create a personal canon of books. It will help you find your voice. "When I meet a writer who doesn't enjoy reading, it baffles me." When Stephanie moved home, she didn't have much money, but she took home stacks of books from the library. She read for pleasure, but she also studied those books. Learn and know what you do and don't enjoy -- if you don't like it, chances are your readers won't like it. Write the kind of books you want to read.

"I just want to say that being here means you are on the right path," Stephanie says. "If you persevere, I believe wholeheartedly that you will achieve your dreams. That is what I needed to hear when I was that wannabe writer sitting right where you are right now. The reality is, most people in this industry is kind. When you hear no, there's usually a valid reason for it. Keep working, keep trying, but keep growing. If this process hasn't hasn't humbled you, it should. There is always more to learn. But I can't wait to hear about the success of everyone in this room."

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