Celebrating Midwest Authors & Illustrators KansasSCBWI Annual Conference

I got in my car and took a drive up to Overland Park, Kansas, last weekend to attend the Kansas SCBWI Annual conference at the BEST Conference Center.

The weekend started with a bit of work-the future leadership team of SCBWI Missouri met to hash out details for 2014 events-then took a cheesecake break. Later in the evening, there were critique groups led by  author faculty and pre-conference one-on-one manuscript consultations with aan editor or agent. I had the pleasure of meeting with Sara Sciuto from Full Circle Literary. She had mostly complimentary things to say about the manuscript I submitted,Momma Don’t Own a Machine Gun, but helped me find a few places where I could improve it. Revision is the name of the game afterall! I’m happy to report that she asked me to submit the first 50 pages post conference and I would be thrilled if she chose to represent me.

Saturday started with intensives. I attended Make Your Picture Book a Perfect Ten, which was led by Andrea Welch of Beach Lane Books. After reading some modern classics like Click, Clack, Moo Cows That Type, the group discussed what made them “work.”  Ms. Welch also discussed  guidelines for creating a successful PB.  She stressed that the manuscript must have a clear audience, be emotionally engaging, meet specific childhood emotional or developmental needs, have a highly creative structure & execution, use clever, evocative language, have a compelling narrative arc, exibit strong pacing and page turns, leave plenty of room for at work, have a memorable, relatable, flawed character and lastly, be a story kids want to hear over and over and over and over.

After intensives, there were several breakout sessions. The  first one I attended was led by Liza Kaplan, an editor at Philomel. Ms. Kaplan discussed the different types of tension: dramatic, romantic,environmental,world building, and thematic. She also said that the key to getting people to feel empathy with your characters is having high stakes. Push your characters to the edge. Write about pivitol moments. Take the reader on a rollarcoaster ride.

After a lovely lunch in the sunshine with great company: Welch, Kaplan,Sciuto and Shannon Moore, I attended my second breakout An Agent’s Guide to Querying led by Sara Sciuto. She discussed the basic elements of a query: a personalized intro, a brief description of the project (“Tease us. Be sure to include genre, word count, and target audience.”) and a brief bio.  You can also include comparable works and mention your current work in progress.  The whole thing should be one page, error free, and be followed by whatever sample pages the agent’s website specifies.

One of my favorite parts of the conference was the First Five Lines session with Quinlan Lee, Kaplan, Sciuto, & Welch. RA Colleen Ryckert-Cook read participants first 5 lines aloud annonousmsly and the panel commented on its strengths and weaknesses. Heard some fantastic first lines! (And was secretely thrilled that they all enjoyed my piece from Big Al.)

The conference concluded with a moving keynote by award winning novelist Clare Vanderpool. She brought tears to my eyes.

This was fantastic event and the Kansas SCBWI team deserve kudos for a job well done.



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