Yesterday, in classic last-minute-Melissa fashion, I was really lucky to attend the YA: What’s Next — Children’s Publishing Conference hosted by Publishing Perspectives.
I felt so incredibly happy and proud to hear my friend Beth Kephart who delivered the keynote. Her beautiful words started the conversation and placed us all in this remarkable mind-space, capturing the beauty, the immediacy and the urgency of young adult literature, how it transcends any label. You can read the start of it: here. (UPDATE: Read the speech in it’s entirety here !!!)
When I attend publishing conferences, I love to learn from the people who call this industry their home. Sometimes, I don’t love what I learn. Sometimes, it sounds like a lot of very loud noise with unwavering definitions and slaps of labels. Sometimes I see boxes and lines being drawn and I see a real danger in that way of thinking.
What, for example, would have happened if someone had followed the rules and drawn lines for a book like The Book Thief, one of my favorite books of all time? What would have happened if someone said, this isn’t narrated by the voice of a 14-17 year old protagonist, and it doesn’t belong on any shelf, and it doesn’t fit in the six letter alphabet we’ve created for ourselves: YA, A, MG, PB? What story would the world have lost because a set of words didn’t exactly fit into a planogram?
Sometimes, if I’m being honest (and I am), I start to see the publishing industry as a fortress, a military stronghold that nurtures certain big blockbuster books and doesn’t let anyone else in.
But, then, I remember that The Book Thief is a book. And Beth Kephart’s books are books. And all of the incredible and important books that aren’t conventional or aren’t blockbusters, books that challenge labels and yet are labelled in some way, some form, because someone allows them to fit somewhere, thus changing the very label they own (which, if you think about it, is amazing), are…
And then I feel really great about the publishing industry.
Have you been to a publishing conference? Do you go through a similar (or different) wave of emotion? Or am I just weird? (Don’t answer this last question. Okay, fine. Answer it)