Friday, January 28, 2011

ERIN MURPHY and AUDREY VERNICK TALK QUIET BOOKS


During the recent Miami SCBWI conference, I attended a workshop with literary agent Erin Murphy and her client Audrey Vernick. The topic was quiet books.


What exactly is a quiet book? It's the opposite of a high concept book, (e.g. vampires). If you hear that an author wrote a vampire book, you're pretty sure of what the book will be about...romance with a vampire. On the other hand, a quiet book is hard to summarize in one sentence. Quiet books are often about relationships, sometimes they're historical. These kind of books are harder to sell and harder to market.


Ms. Murphy spoke about ways to make a quiet book louder. She used Lisa Schroeder's book, IT'S RAINING CUPCAKES, as an example. This book is technically a quiet book. It's about the relationship between a mother and her daughter. Sounds like a hundred other books, right? But the author made this book more interesting by its unusual setting: many scenes take place in a cupcake shop. The publisher was able to use this setting as a marketing hook. The cover is pink with cupcakes to appeal to tween girls.


Ways to Make A Quiet Book Louder:


1. Add a hook. (e.g. THE EXPRESSOLOGIST by Kristina Springer - main character is a barista)

2. Really unique setting. (e.g. IT'S RAINING CUPCAKES)

3. Glamorize the situation. (e.g. THE PRESIDENT'S DAUGHTER by Ellen Emerson White)

4. Wish fulfillment (e.g. ANNA and the FRENCH KISS by Stephanie Perkins)

5. Have the character make a really bad choice. (STORY OF A GIRL by Sara Zarr)


I developed a reading list of both picture books and novels from Ms. Murphy's workshop. Check out the following titles for quiet books that were loud enough to find success in the marketplace.


LOOKING FOR ALASKA by John Green

CLEMENTINE by Sara Pennypacker

THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE by Jandy Nelson (Erin Murphy's favorite book of the season)

THE PENDERWICKS by Jeanne Birdsall

TOYS GO OUT by Emily Jenkins

A CROOKED KIND OF PERFECT by Linda Urban

JULIA GILLIAN by Alison McGhee

STORY OF A GIRL by Sara Zarr

THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER by Stephen Chbosky

TRIGGER by Susan Vaught

PENNY DREADFUL by Laurel Snyder

RED GLASS by Laura Resau

AMAZING MORNING ON ORANGE STREET by Joanne Rocklin

ADIOS, NIRVANA by Conrad Wesselhoeft

SOMEDAY THIS PAIN WILL BE USEFUL TO YOU by Peter Cameron

SOMEDAY by Alison McGhee

NOTES FROM A LIAR AND HER DOG by Gennifer Choldenko


Quiet books are my favorite books to read and to write. This workshop gave me lots to contemplate as I plot my next novel. Audrey Vernick writes quiet books too. Be on the lookout for her upcoming novel, WATER BALLOON.


If you've read any of the books on the list, I'd like to hear your opinion. Or if you write quiet books, I'd be interested in hearing about your experiences.

25 comments:

  1. Quiet books are my favourite too and I'm so excited about Audrey's book, Water Balloon! Have already pre-ordered it.

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  2. I'm looking forward to reading it too. Erin talked about how the painful water balloon scene makes the book stand out.

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  3. i now realize i write quiet books. will have to really think on this hook concept. I'm so relationship-y.

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  4. It's like having an epiphany. There are ways to make a quiet book louder, but you have to really think about it.

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  5. Great post, Shannon.

    Thanks for sharing that info and the excellent book list.
    Really enjoyed talking with you at the conference.

    All best,
    Donna

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  6. Thanks, Donna. I'm headed over to your blog to read your conference notes.

    I enjoyed talking with you also. After reading your blog, I knew that I wanted to meet you.

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  7. Great post, Shannon. I've always been curious about what, exactly, makes a book quiet. Fabulous list of books, too! Thanks!

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  8. Wowsers! Thank you for this. Great post and reading list...it's one of the ways I learn best...by seeing how it is done and how it's done _well_.

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  9. Oh, forgot to add that on Clementine what really works (I think?) is the setting. Often when I am shelf talking it all I need to add is it is set in a New York, in a high rise. It gives it that something new to the contemp quirky girl chapter book. And...the mc's name! Kids eyes light up when they hear it.

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  10. With CLEMENTINE, it's all about voice. A great voice trumps all rules.

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  11. I'm not sure why Clementine is classified as "quiet". It's got a "loud" voice to me--a voice that is by itself a marketing hook.

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  12. This is interesting. I didn't realize it, but I guess I'm a big fan of quiet books. LOOKING FOR ALASKA is one of my favorites. I think I write on the quiet side, which might hurt me.

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  13. Think about how you would summarize CLEMENTINE in one sentence. The voice doesn't come through until you start reading. To describe it for marketing purposes it would sound like lots of other books.

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  14. Julie, writing quiet books is definitely a harder sell, but using some of the techniques in this post should help.

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  15. So I popped over after you posted on Verla's today and scrolled down and was like, um, what is my book doing there? :) I can't believe Erin used it in her talk. She's not even my agent. Pretty cool, I must say.

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  16. Great post, Shannon! Thanks so much for sharing, and I agree with you: a great voice trumps all . . . :)

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  17. Thanks for this post - very interesting stuff! I think those are my favorite kinds of books to read, quiet books with a hook. They're satisfying because of the relationships, but the stories feel more vivid and focused because of the hook.

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  18. Great post! I love the list of books mentioned. I didn't get to hear her speak at that workshop but I feel like I got a little peak from reading your blog. Great meeting you there too!

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  19. Hi Lisa,

    I hope I'm getting this right, but if I understood Erin correctly, she had an "epiphany" about quiet books while talking with your editor.

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  20. Hi Anna, I think the trick is to find the hook. I'm working on that for my current WIP.

    And Christina, that's a great compliment that you sort of feel like you were in the workshop. Thanks!

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  21. I absolutely loved IT'S RAINING CUPCAKES! After I read it, I bought a copy for each of my younger kids and we read it together . . . then made the cupcakes from the recipes in the back (the S'mores are our favorite)!

    Though I'm more of a high-concept reader/writer, I enjoy the occasional quiet book.

    Another one I really liked was LOSING FAITH by Denise Jaden (I consider it a quiet book).

    Thanks for the list! I've added many of those to my "to read" list. =)

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  22. Thanks for the tip about LOSING FAITH. I haven't read IT'S RAINING CUPCAKES, but after hearing about it at the conference, I can't wait to give it a go.

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  23. Thanks, Shannon! This is a terrific post. I prefer quiet books, and I know that there are many kids who do as well. I think they can help to answer "life questions." BTW, what was Erin's' epiphany while talking to that editor?

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  24. Hi Linda, Erin's epiphany was that IT'S RAINING CUPCAKES was made louder by its unique setting and sparkly cover art.

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