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!

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