I had the good fortune of attending the 2015 SCBWI Winter Conference in NY in February. The overall message-reiterated by almost EVERY keynote speaker- Never give up! Only those who persevere will eventually be published.
Saturday’s opening keynote was delivered by author Anthony Horowitz, who has been hired to write the next James Bond novel by Ian Fleming’s estate. He discussed grabbing young readers from first lines to last. His advice:
Plan out your writing. You should know the beginning, middle, & end before you ever start the first draft.
Remember that you are writing for a “visual” generation.
The best writing is based on truth-write with authority & confidence.
Beware of including too much autobiographical information-there shouldn’t be too much of “you” on the page.
Write “up” to children-don’t over simplify.
Remember, that first line is what they’ll be reading in the store-make it a winner!
The editors’ panel, consisting of Justin Chanda (S & S), Laura Godwin (Henry Holt), Beverly Horowitz (Delacorte) and Stephanie Owens Lurie (Disney-Hyperion) said that they believe picture books are experiencing a renaissance, that the market is fluid-and there is always room for creative intervention. Additionally, in the YA category-there is a direct correlation between the number of Twitter followers & book sales, and market research now proves that kids prefer physical books to e-readers. They warned people to guard against piracy and not spend so much time on social media that you forget to write or illustrate!
I attended two fabulous breakouts, one on writing middle-grade fiction led by executive editor Jordan Brown and the other on writing diverse characters and books, led by the 2015 Newbery Award winning author, Kwame Alexander. Brown reminded the audience that middle grade books should be about the most formative experience of your character’s young life. Alexander implored us to be authentic and be intentional in our efforts to write & illustrate the kind of world we want our children to live, learn, and love in.
Saturday ended with two last keynotes. Author/illustrator Herve Tullet led us in playful readings of several of his works, and author Kami Garcia reminded us how the right book can change a child’s life.
More words of advice followed on Sunday from keynote speakers Laura Vaccaro Seeger & James Dashner. (I had to miss the agent’s panel and Alexander’s keynote in order to make my plane.)
Seeger feels that it is important to have a place to collect your thoughts or ideas, whether it is a journal or IPad. She suggests trying to add layers to your PB to bring it to a new level, and thinks anticipation is vital in PB writing-you’ve got to make them want to turn the page and interact with the text. Pacing is everything! She suggests playing with font size to control the way the text is read, and thinks the essence of the book should dictate art style. She states that it is important to be open and willing to let something go to make the work better-no matter how attached you to it. (She made over 60 paintings for her book GREEN-and only 22 went in.) She also stressed that you should believe in your ideas and work through them, even if they are difficult. Seeger is a strong believer in visual literacy and leaving open ended endings so that children can use their imagination.
Dashner-who had been reading and writing stories since he was a young child-ended up an accountant. His block buster, The Maze Runner, which he wrote in 2005, was initially rejected by everyone. He put it away, and then rewrote it in 2008. It sold in two weeks! His advice: set goals for yourself. Have a party every 25th rejection. Every rejection hurts. It’s hard and emotional. But stick with it and keep working at it- success is possible!
Conferences-whether small or large are the perfect place to hone your craft and network. Some of my favorite moments occurred during the socials, lunches, and parties I attended.Look for events that feature specialists in your field or genre. Getting one-on-one critique time can be well worth the extra investment-there are not many other occasions that you will have the undivided attention of an agent or editor.
Till next time-happy writing & illustrating!
Over the weekend I attended the SCBWI Illinois Prairie Writer’s & Illustrator’s day: From Inspiration to Perspiration to Publication. Faculty included Caroline Abbey, Senior Editor, Random House Children’s Books, Jordan Brown, Senior Editor, Walden Pond Press & Balzer + Bray, Brett Duquette, Editor, Sterling Children’s Books, Karen Grencik, Agent, Red Fox Literary, Esther Hershenhorn, Author, Loraine Joyner, Senior Art Director, Peachtree Publishers, Rachel Orr, Agent, Prospect Agency, Eliza Wheeler, Author/Illustrator and Noa Wheeler, Editor, Henry Holt Books for Young Readers.
One of my favorite parts of the weekend was a pre-conference schmooze with my fabulous agent, Lori Kilkelly of Rodeen Literary Management. I took the blue line into the city and then we headed to a cozy restaurant: Summer House Santa Monica for wine and dinner. The food was delicious; I indulged in a hamburger on a homemade English muffin, topped with avocado & pico. The company was even better-my agent is the BEST!
I shared breakfast the next morning with agent Karen Grencik (who I had met the previous weekend at the SCBWI KS conference) and author Esther Hershenhorn-both of whom exude warmth and positive energy. then it was off to Harper College for the conference.
Eliza Wheeler started the show with a keynote titled: “Inspire Your Work (Without Breaking A Sweat)” Wheeler says: stress, fear, & impatience block ideas. That’s why good ideas come in the shower or on long walks. Furthermore, she believes inspiration isn’t something you can go looking for, it has to come to you. Lastly, she advises: Be playful. See what happens when you change key elements in your work.
The opening keynote was followed by a faculty panel, where I learned the following tidbits about some of the presenters: Editor Brett Duquette admitted he has the memory of a goldfish. He says this makes reading manuscripts when they come back revised a joy. Agent Karen Grencik said cutting and cleaning are her favorite parts of the augmenting/editing process. Editor Jordan Brown enjoys “cracking the code” of a manuscript to fix its flaws & then getting to offer debut authors a 2nd contract. When asked: what do you miss from childhood? Loraine Joyner replied-roller skating. Rachel Orr- dance lessons. Caroline Abbey-building forts. When asked what famous book they have never read, Wheeler responded: Wind in the Willows, Joyner-Harry Potter, Orr- to Kill A Mocking Bird, Brown- Anne of Green Gables. Lastly, when asked to admit a Guilty pleasure: Wheeler- reading in cemeteries, Abbey-Oreos in peanut butter, Grencik-Chardonnay.
For my first breakout, I attended A Vision for Revision with editor Jordan Brown. He said: Revision is the most important, but often the most daunting part, of the writing process. He reminded us that: first impressions are important, you only get one bite out of the apple, you don’t get a second chance, even if you revise.
For Breakout session number two, I attended Before and After MG, with Jordan Brown & Caroline Abbey. We focused on seven tips to consider when writing the first page. Brown advised: your book should be about the most formative event in your characters life. during the Q& A at the end, both editors said in regards to prologues: sure, if they work. And here is Jordan Brown’s perspective on why he chooses a book: I’m connecting with an author’s instincts and perspective more than anything, and you can break the rules- do whatever you want as long as it works. Says he decides to stop or go on by 20% mark. His advise on beginnings: start with the way you’d tell the story to a friend.
My last breakout was Parents, Sidekicks, and Nemeses…Oh My: Developing Your Secondary Characters with Rachel Orr. The handout was fabulous and particularly helpful since I’m at the beginning stages of writing a MG with plenty of secondary characters.
After the conference- I was able to spend time with family that lived in the area. We chomped on pizza, cookies, and played games. Great weekend! Next up- the SCBWI Winter Conference in NY.
I just returned home from the SCBWI KS Step by Step: Advancing The Writer’s Craft Conference in Overland Park. I had a wonderful time hanging out with old frinds from the SCBWI community and learning tricks of the trade to apply to my writing.
The conference started for me with a one-on-one critique Friday night with Bloomsbury Editor Brett Wright. His praise for my writing was uplifting- but even more important was his criticisism of my synopsis. Since I am just beginning a new manuscrpt, it was great to get constructive feedback on elememnts of the plot that he felt weren’t working. His insights will be a valuable tool as I begin to shape my character ARCS and plotline.
Saturday kicked off with an uplifting and thoughtful message from award winning author Sharon Draper. She addressed the need for creating diverse literature. She stated that an authors purpose when writing should be to make sure that the kids that feel invisible-don’t. Other pearls of wisdom:
Remember that you are not creating characters, you are creating real people. If you don’t, we don’t want to read your books.
This was the second year I’ve been in charge of the SCBWI AWR. After I picked Mary Kate up at the airport, we jetted off to chow down on some fabulous Mexican food at Catino Laredo- they have guacamole to die for. Were we too full for dessert? Heck no! I took her to Andy’s Frozen Custard.
Then we headed to Elfindale Mansion. Attendees began arriving around 1:00PM and Mary Kate began one-on-one critiques shortly afterwards. I sat around greeting old friends and meeting new ones until dinner at 5:00 PM. Afterwards we broke up into critique groups-which are always one of my favorite parts of the retreat.
Mary Kate gave two presentations, the first was “The Wide (and Competitive) World of Picture Books: Making your Story Essential. We broke into groups and examined several picture books. We discussed common concepts, the top 3 reasons why PB manuscripts are declined, & asked ourselves some hard questions about the marketability and craft of the stories we are working on.
Mary Kate’s second presentation, “Honing your Hook: Using a Title Information Page to Find Your Elevator Pitch” was also extremely useful. During the workshop time, we attempted to create a handle, identify competitive/comparison texts, write a short descriptive paragraph and list 5 selling points for our novel.
She also spent almost an hour answering questions about the industry.
In the morning, those that weren’t rushing off to beat the storms shared their first pages and received feedback.
It was a wonderful, productive weekend and thankfully, everyone made it home before the storms hit. I’m already looking forward to the next one in 2015.
In February, I attended the 2014 Annual SCBWI Winter Conference in New York. I saw a play and ate wonderful food at the galas and socials. I was captivated by the amazing artwork at the art browse. I discussed banned books and the future of authorship. I watched the presentation of awards and attended an autograph party. I made new friends. And I learned a few things I’d like to share with all of you.
Optional Intensives were held on the Friday before the conference. I attended the Author Roundtable, which opened with an editor panel. Attendees heard advice about what makes a good hook: voice, an economy of words, unexpected events and first person dialogue. And the panel’s recommendation on prologues? Don’t use them!
Each group of eight attendees was assigned an agent or editor who led the discussion and critique of five pages of writing. I had the privilege of working with Brett Wright, an Associate Editor at Bloomsbury Children’s Books in the morning session and Tina Wexler, a Literary Agent at ICM Partners in the afternoon. These sessions reaffirmed for me the power of belonging to a critique group. Every single person at the table had suggestions for the other members of the group that were both helpful and insightful. Your manuscript will be tighter and more polished if you share it with others (grandma doesn’t count!) on a regular basis and you keep an open mind to the suggestions you receive.
In addition, for those still looking for an agent, Wexler offered this advice: don’t be afraid to try the “newbie” agents. They are the ones looking to increase their client base and have just as much knowledge as the “old timers.”
The Round table Intensive ended with a session on revision mapping led by independent editor and author, Harold Underdown. Underdown discussed four types of revision maps: Darcy Patterson’s favorite the manuscript,condensed which are chapter summaries or shrunken manuscripts (single spaced, reduced font, no margins); outlines, which can be done to follow plot or character arcs; bookmaps, which use illustrations to tell the story (JK Rowling and Anastasia Suen are proponents of this method) and grids.
Jack Gantos gave the opening keynote on Saturday. He was quirky, entertaining, and his stories kept the audience enthralled. But here’s what I remember most: he writes six hours a day. He goes to the library and writes for two hours, then revises for two hours. Next, he takes a two hour break to read. Then he puts in another two hours. Now, many of us still have day jobs that make putting that kind of time in impossible. But the lesson I learned between giggling at his antics was, if you want to succeed as an author or illustrator, you have to actually write and illustrate. Daily.
There were a host of breakout workshops available to conference goers. The first session I chose to attend was Writing Historical/Period Fiction led by Kendra Levin, Senior Editor at Viking Children’s Books. She discussed seven essential points: use diverse sources when researching, be thorough & precise, create context, balance history with the story, value authenticity, know your audience and make connections.
My second session, Writing The Classic Middle Grade Novel, was led by a senior executive editor with Knopf Books, Nancy Siscoe. Like Levine, she also discussed seven essential things: audience (it’s an age of enthusiasm and openness), plot (the characters must solve their own problems), hope (MG novels have to have some), likable characters (a main character they’d want to friends with), voice (be distinctive), heart (the quality that makes the story last) and readability ( does it read well aloud?).
On Sunday, the highlight for me was the keynote delivered by author Kate Messner. Her topic: The Spectacular Power of Failure. She said many thing that brought tears to my eyes, but what I decided to take home with me was this: take the time to celebrate your successes. So often we meet a goal, only to raise the bar on ourselves. We vow to write or draw at least 15 minutes a day, then lament that it’s not thirty. We finish a manuscript or illustration, but lament not having an agent to send it to. We get an agent, then lament that the manuscript or illustrations haven’t sold. We sell a manuscript or illustration, then lament that it is not a best seller. JUST STOP! Remember to pat yourself on the back and enjoy every success, no matter how small.
2014 has started off with a bang for this writer!
I am now represented by Lori Kilkelly of Rodeen Literary managemnet! I am so thrilled to have joined their team of fabulous authors and illustrators. Visit them at:http://www.rodeenliterary.com/ or on facebook https://www.facebook.com/#!/RodeenLiteraryManagement
I have been notified that I will be a 2014 World Book Night giver. The book I’ll be giving away is Code Name Verity, Elizabeth Wein.World Book Night U.S. is a celebration of books and reading held on April 23, when 25,000 passionate volunteers across America give a total of half a million books within their communities to those who don’t regularly read. Find out more at:http://www.us.worldbooknight.org/
Lastly, I officially took over as Regional Advisor for SCBWI Missouri. I have a great team and we are putting together some fabulous events. Take a look:
March 8: Learning To Work with the Common Core
What: A representative from the National Writing Project will explain the new Common Core Standards. A panel of librarians and book sellers will discuss how they choose authors for school visits and books for their shelves. Lastly, Karen Pfister Nelson will run a presentation on how to design a school visit.
April 13-15: SCBWI Missouri PAL Members Directory and Missouri Association of State Librarians (MASL) Conference
What: Join us at 2014 MASL Spring Conference to promote yourself for school visits and sell books.
April 25-27: Advanced Writing Retreat with Mary Kate Castellani, Senior Editor for Bloomsbury Children’s Books.
What: Revise your manuscript in a single high powered weekend retreat.
June 20 – June 22: Writers’ Getaway Weekend
What: A fabulous retreat where you and a group of like-minded souls can write to your heart’s content in the beautiful and peaceful surroundings of the Abbey. All meals included.
Apply by June 30, 2014 for the 2015 Mentorship Program
What: The 2015 mentorship focus is nonfiction or fiction PB. Application for the Ellen Dolan Mentorship for Writers is open to any currant Missouri SCBWI member not published in PB. Applications are screened by a panel of judges, with three chosen to submit for blind review to the mentor. The winner will work with the mentor for one year on a mutually agreed upon project. The winner will also receive a scholarship covering registration cost to the Missouri SCBWI conference in September 2014.
September 6 – September 7: Annual SCBWI Missouri Fall Conference
What: Keynotes, breakouts and critiques on Saturday. The following presenters have already confirmed: Editor Deborah Halverson, Agents Jody Sadler & Nancy Gallt, Art Director Guiseppe Castellano, Curriculum Specialist Debbie Gonzales, artist Dan Yaccarino, and authors Steve Sheinkin and Cecily White. More agents TBA. New this year: headshots by Davis Photography and a silent auction featuring items from our presenters! Staying for Sunday Intensives by Halverson, Gonzales, Castellano, or Sadler? Then join us Saturday night for a brief cocktail/coffee time with Sunday faculty and peer critique groups led by senior PAL members.
A Talk with Jody Feldman: A Q&A with PAL author Jody Feldman on the creative process of illustrating a YA book.
How to Market Yourself as an Illustrator: We will cover: promo cards, website, social media presence and how to approach and agent, publisher, or art director.
Sketch Crawls: At Soulard Market, TowerGrove, Farmers Market, and the zoo.
Illustration Book Signings
From the moment my daughter and I stepped off the plane at Boston Logan Airport-we were blown away.
Gale force winds were rocking the city.
But we didn’t let it bother us. After a quick stop at the Sheraton to drop off our gear, we were off to the New England Aquarium. What a fantastic experience. I’m fairly certain some of the magical underwater creatures I saw will find their way into my current work in progress.
The next morning we were on to the main event: ALAN 2013! Teri Lesesna came out to introduce Jack Gantos in flashing red glasses. Gantos, looking out over the stacks of books attendees had unloaded , quipped, “I love the smell of books in the morning!”
Gantos continued to entertain us for the next twenty minutes. He closed with this bit of wisdom,”Children need access to great books!” Gotta love him!
Next up was the Fantasy panel with Tamora Price, A.G. Howard, Holly Black & Nancy Werlin. Werlin shared an interesting way to choose the genre of your next manuscript: picture a plot of land see what sort of house you’d build on it. Pierce called fantasy, “The literature of passion and idealism.” Howard said: books kept her company as a kid. Wanting to know what happened to Alice in Wonderland motivated her to write her series. Black confessed: my mom brought me up believing in hosts! The entire panel agreed that fantasy is a way of understanding reality. Howard closed by saying: teens like to read about others crawling out of even deeper holes then they, personally, are in.
ALAN participants celebrated Mysteries with Megan Fraiser Blakemore, Michaela MacColl, Julie Berry & Andrea Cremer. They were followed by the humor panal: Gordon Korman, Bruce Hale, Gina D’Amico and Lindsey Leavitt. The moderator asked several questions of the panel-leading up to this doozy: Would you rather wear a parka in the Sahara or a bikini in the North Pole? Hale’s response: Is it a thong?
We celebrated Dystopia with Neal Shusterman, Cristin Terrill, Jeff Hirsch and Kathleen Simmons. When asked to describe their latest novel in 6 words, Hirsch responded: Brutal Civil War,Adorable Little Puppy (The Darkest Path). Terrill: Time Traveling Teens Must Murder Friends (All Our Yesterdays). Shusterman confessed: I don’t say ANYTHING in 6 words or less. He then shared his favorite fan moment: some students had created profiles for his characters and were tweeting as them. I also learned that Terrill & Hirsch bake.
There were eight author breakout sessions to choose from and I found my way to Examining the Culture of Sports: 40 Years of Ball in YAL chaired by Alan Brown. Authors Chris Crowe, Robert Lipsyte, Chris Crutcher and Joshua Cohen discussed the possibilities of utilizing and critiquing the culture of sports as a means of increasing student engagement and promoting student learning in the English classroom.
After lunch at Cheesecake Factory-yes, I had a piece- I lugged my box-o-books to FedEx. (They arrived Friday and both my girls carried away a large stack. The “leftovers” will keep me busy for weeks! First one I cracked open: All You Never Wanted by Adele Griffin.) Crutcher then gave an emotional keynote titled,” Can we be f***ing real?” He stated: education happens when you get into the kids imagination. It’s all about creativity. He got a standing ovation.
One of my favorite panels was Novels of Contemporary Problems with Lauren Myracle, Cal Armistead, Shirley Verneck and Sarah Dessen. Myracle, when she wasn’t making Dessen blush said: edgy books aren’t safe, but we aren’t here to be safe, we’re here to change lives. And Vernick had some good advice for teachers: Help students so they aren’t intimidated by the polished writing in books-they need to understand that its been reworked with help from professionals.
We celebrated Coming of Age novels with Alan Sitomer, Joan Bauer, Kathryn Erskine and Meg Rosoff. Sitomer says: Break your character’s back-that’s when you find out what they are made of.
Then it was time to sing Happy Birthday to ALAN-which turned 40 this year. There was cake aplenty.
The Graphic novel panel- Gene Yang, Gareth Hinds, Swati Avasthi & Shelia Keenan- shared how much research went into their projects.
Jacqueline Woodson read aloud from Beneath a Meth Moon & Brown Girl Dreaming. One word: lovely.
Last but not least we celebrated That First Unexpected Relationship with Bill Kongingsberg (a newlywed) and Rainbow Rowell-who says she wrote her first YA because she still had a lot of knots to untangle from that time in her own life.
Stay tuned to hear all about Day 2!
An agent who attempted to send the presenter panel into diabetic comas by providing them each with a Gooey Butter Cake. An RA waving a magic wand and wearing a sparkling crown. These are just two of the things you missed if you weren’t at Lindenwood University November 2-3 for the 2013 SCBWI Missouri fall Conference.
Despite weather issues in NY and the airport shutdown in LA, all of our presenters arrived safely on Friday, November 1. However, Illustrator Coordinator Katie Wools took Dan Santat and Lisa Yee on a perilous tour of the City Museum where, sources tell me, Santat was lobbing balls with deadly accuracy and Wools almost tossed her cookies on the rooftop Ferris Wheel of Terror. Lisa Yee did not escape unscathed: she suffered a minor scrap after a tumble in The Loop. Peepy was unharmed. Thankfully, they eventually arrived at the hotel for dinner with no further incidents.
Dinner was one of the conference’s magical moments for me. Conversation was lively and afterwards I had a chance to sneak off with Lori Kilkelly, an agent at Rodeen Literary Management, to discuss my WIP, a fantasy manuscript currently titled The Fifth Dragon. She was personable and sharp- I would be delighted if she eventually extended me an offer of representation.
The conference started bright and early the following morning. I’ll admitt to feeling a little bleary eyed- incoming ARA Shannon Moore & I spent a few hours hashing out details for some of the events our team has planned for 2014. Than goodness for coffee! I was thrilled when it was annouce d that one of my critique buddies, Suzanne Walker-Pacheco, won the 2013 mentership! Next, Regina Brooks offered advice in her keynote “Tapping into your Inner Muse One Whisper at a Time,” and Krista Marino discussed “The Business of Publishing at Delacorte Press.” Next up was Santat who had everyone giggling. This admission, “My fear of inadequecy kept me from wanting to give up anything,” resonated with me as I struggle to balance carving out writing time with my “duties” as ARA, OWP Youth Director, and editor of an upcoming MCB project: Word & Image: Prompts for Composing.
Breakouts came next. I’ve had an author crush on Matt de la Pena since I saw him speak at the ALAN Conference in Chicago several years ago. His session on writing dialog was fantastic. We considered things like: who gets the most dialogue in a scene? Why using “creative” tags is a no-no. How having white space on the page-ie dialogue- is inviting to readers. And how the action around the dialogue is so important. Matt’s keynote, “Working Class Writer” was a huge sucess a s well. I’m looking forward to the release of his new novel, The Living, on November 12th.
Next up was the aforementioned Kilkelly who shared “Thoughts From a Literary Agent.” She was followed by Judy Young, who discussed “Counting Her Lucky Stars.” Lastly, Yee chatted about “Following Your Dream Without Falling on Your Face.”
Saturday’s dinner, with Joyce Ragland, Moore, Yee, Marino, Young, and Jennifer Jiang was insightful. Lots of insider gossip- but I can’t share, ’cause then I’d have to kill you!
My breakfast buddies both days were aspiring authors Erin Mos and Laura Moore from the KC area, as well as the RA and ARA from SCBWI Kansas, Colleen and Sue. Seeing friends from faraway places is one of the best parts of these gatherings.
Lastly, I attended Lisa Yee’s session, “Creating Compelling Bad Guys and Bullies” on Sunday. We discussed great literary bad guys and gals, role played, wrote and shared character sketches- I came away with a plethera of ideas for the bad folks in my WIP. Instead of reading PEOPLE, my usual guilty pleasure while traveling, I will be happily creating character sketches on my upcoming trip to CA.
I’m already looking forward to my trip to Boston and the ALAN Conference to scout out the a great faculty for future SCBWI Missouri Conferences. I’m also excited to be attending the national conference in NY in my new role as RA. And though it will be hard to top this year’s ‘Dream Team’ of presenters- I am proud to annouce the line-up for 2014: Editor Deborah Halverson, agents Nancy Gallt & Jody Sadler, authors Cecily White & Steve Sheinkin, Curicullum Specialist Debbie Gonzales, and art director Guiseppe Castellani. We will shake things up a little by offering headshots by Davis Photography, a cocktail/coffee hour with presenters Saturday night, peer critique groups led by PAL members, as well as written critiques from Marino among others. We are also hoping to steal an idea from our cohorts in Kansas and Ohio by having a “First Five Lines” reading and a celebration honoring PAL members who publish work in 2014. Hope you’ll join us at this, or one of our other SCBWI Missouri events in 2014.