Thursday, February 2, 2012

Holy Cow That Actually Stuck

I want to write a little bit more about the SCBWI conference.  The keynote speaker, Chris Crutcher, (described as one of the most successful and frequently banned authors of realistic fiction for teens) was incredible.  If I could bottle that speech up and send it off to all of you, I would.  But I can't. So I urge you to listen to his interviews on YouTube.

My favorite quote in the speech:

 The truth, as you know it, is what will get you published.

And I heard a lot of that throughout the conference. 

Write what you love. 

Your work will always find the right readers. 

If there's heart in your writing, it will shine through. 

A lot of agents and editors spoke of how they find what they want in a book and fall in love, stars in their eyes, fates aligning, I know it when I see it.

And then the harsh cold reality of a well-respected panelist: Make no mistake about it.  We're looking for best-sellers.  This is a 'hits' business. 


But we already know this.  Publishers are out there, molding best-sellers, throwing all of their publicity dollars into big glitzy series and in-your-face books that yell loudly.  At first this depressed me.  To think of it exclusively as best-seller or nothing. 

But then I stepped back. 

I know a little bit about what it is like to work in a hits business, working in the toy business. And no one could have possibly predicted the hits over the years: ugly babies delivered by a stork (Cabbage Patch Kids), a vibrating, giggling monster (Tickle-Me-Elmo), mechnical hamsters (Zhu Zhu Pets), fluorescent trolls (um...trolls), wacko alien plushes singing (Sing-A-Ma-Jigs), gumball machine treat playsets (Squinkies) or rubberband animals on your wrists (Silly Bandz).  And it should be noted that these are big-scale hits.  There are many, many more small-scale hits too.

Everyone who worked on these toys will tell you: they knew.  They knew they had a hit. They planned it that way.  Of course.

I am here to tell you, as someone on a team of people behind two of these hits (and when I say 'behind' I mean, I was in the very last row, trying desperately to see over big hair) that they. did. not. know.  In fact, they threw it against the wall and stood back in stunned silence, completely unprepared for the holy-cow-that-actually-stuck result.

In the toy industry, all the glitz and glamour items with big marketing campaigns and humongous advertising budgets sell.   They sell because they are deemed safe. 

But, make no mistake about it, they are not hits.
The hits, both big and small, come as surprises, when a risk is taken.  And the risks dictate what will later be safe to sell.  I think that's important to remember.


  1. Love those quotes! Thanks for sharing them.

  2. Good quotes. I am astounded by the number of writers who write blogs, I had no idea there were so many.

  3. This is fantastic. And sometimes, I think things are hits for different reasons. Not because they are flashy, but because of the heart in them. My book doesn't scream "best seller" but it sold for the heart. So there's that...

  4. "The hits, both big and small, come as surprises, when a risk is taken. And the risks dictate what will later be safe to sell. I think that's important to remember." Love this! You're right, it's so important to remember.

  5. This is great Melissa! I love those ideas too :) You never know what people will connect with so you must write what you connect with.

  6. Love this connection between the toy hits and the book hits. Thanks for sharing your insight about the conference. I especially like the quote about truth. Excellent!

  7. The conference must have been an awesome experience. Great connection: toys=>hit books.

  8. I loved your perspective on this. Zhu-zhu pets amaze me. We have 2 (no I think I just gave them away) and I still don't get them. Neither did my kids. But you're right . . . hits can't be predicted. They just are.

  9. Wow, that really is profound!
    Industry (toys, movies, books) throws all its money at "safe" concepts that model the real hits ... which were always a surprise, always unexpected.
    Very nice observation, Melissa!

  10. Great post! I've always wondered where some ideas come from and why some stick--it's a tricky business!

    1. Thanks Meradeth! Certainly a tricky business. But I kind of like that there is no rhyme or reason. :)