A group of aspiring Latino writers—some from as far as Miami, Oregon, and even England—gathered in Brooklyn, NY, earlier this month at the second annual Comadres and Compadres Latino Writers Conference held at Medgar Evers College. Approximately half of the 75 writers and publishing professionals who gathered to exchange advice, tips, and words of inspiration were in attendance to participate in panels dedicated specifically to children’s literature.
The event, which was organized by Las Comadres para las Americas, a national grassroots organization that promotes literature by Latinos, aims to address the challenges and opportunities specific to Latino writers.
Eileen Robinson, former executive editor at Scholastic and Harcourt and cofounder of F1st Pages, an editorial consulting firm, led the craft workshop for children’s writing. She emphasized the importance of honing skills, following submissions guidelines, and membership to such organizations as the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), and Comadres.
Robinson also cited works by industry veterans—such as Harold Underdown’s The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Publishing Children’s Books (Alpha, 2008), Nancy Lamb’s Writer’s Guide to Crafting Stories for Children (Writer’s Digest, 2001), and Cheryl Klein’s Second Sight (Asterisk Books, 2011)—as go-to guides for those writers seeking to getting their foot in the door.
The session mostly focused on technique, but also reminded participants to stay true to their vision and culture. “It’s important to find your unique voice. Who can tell your story better than you?” Robinson encouraged.
An afternoon author panel included young adult author Matt de la Peña and graphic novelist Jorge Aguirre. Both authors confessed to wishing they knew more about the publishing industry before attempting to publish their first efforts, and de la Peña, known for Mexican Whiteboy (2008) and Ball Don’t Lie (2005), shared that he didn’t even know what “young adult” meant when he first started his writing career. His latest novel, The Living (2013, all Delacorte), goes in a different direction then his previous works, but still touches upon issues of race and identity.
Also during the panel, TV and film writer Aguirre confessed that for Giants Beware (First Second, 2012), he and fellow creator Rafael Rosado armed themselves with a mock-up of their collaboration and stacks of business cards, while pitching to editors and agents at Comic Con. Both authors advised conference attendees to do the research on their intended genre and market, in order to avoid some of the missteps they made.
Keynote speaker Reyna Grande, author of three critically-acclaimed books: Across a Hundred Mountains (Atria, 2006), Dancing with Butterflies (Washington Square Press, 2009) and The Distance Between Us, a memoir (Atria, 2012), urged writers to use failure as ammunition for writing. Grande shared a heartrending tale of her first rejection—experienced as a newly immigrated fifth grader—when her first story was instantly cast out of an essay contest because it was written in Spanish.
The daylong event also included one-on-one chats with editors interested in working with Latino authors. As a result, at least two books were signed up as a result. Lesley Tellez, who recently landed a contract thanks to the networking opportunity, remarked, “It was a really inspiring, action-packed day, and I would highly recommend it to any writer who wants to network and learn more about the craft.”