Tips and Tidbits from the SCBWI-Iowa Conference

Iowa knows how to do it. I’m talking about the SCBWI-Iowa Conference, which I attended this past weekend – “The Career of Dreams!” From Friday afternoon until Sunday afternoon, the conference schedule was jam-packed. Attendees were awed and inspired by a group of talented presenters. Here are some tips and tidbits from the fabulous weekend.

Molly O’Neill, Associate Editor at Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Children’s Books, spoke about book beginnings and characters.

Every story should “evoke something in us as readers and as people.” It should “stir up a reaction and make us feel something that connects us to the story.”

If you want to catch the eye of an editor, make sure you have a great story, great story telling, and memorable characters and voices.

For a memorable character, know your character through and through. “Stalk your character. Study your character from all angles.”

Candace Fleming, an award-winning picture book, middle grade, and nonfiction author and Eric Rohmann, an award-winning author and illustrator, gave a funny and informative presentation on the fundamentals of picture books.

From Candace Fleming:  A picture book has a “unique structure” – a basic framework with visual aspects and written aspects. The problem in the story should be in the first few sentences, and the most important page in a picture book is the last page. It should have a final twist or surprise – an “aha ending.”

From Eric Rohmann:  When writing a picture book, think visually. Everything written has to have a purpose. Be concise. When it comes to the ending of a picture book, “you have to earn the ending.” The “best endings solve the problem, but don’t end the story.”

Alli Brydon, an editor at Sterling Children’s Books, spoke on how to strengthen a manuscript and get it out of the slush pile.

When submitting a manuscript, know the publishing house. Be professional. Be unique. The elements editors are looking for are plot, theme, tone, setting, character, voice, and style. Your manuscript should have a solid story arc. Show that you’re committed to your craft.

Diane Muldrow, an Editorial Director at Golden Books/Random House and the editor of Little Golden Books, evoked memories of Golden Books from years past in her presentation about the history of Golden Books. As the editor for Little Golden Books, she still looks for the feel of those originals.

The fabulous Lin Oliver was also in Iowa this past weekend. She is the Executive Director of the SCBWI and one of its founders. She is also a children’s book author, writer-producer of family films, television series, and movies for children. How does she do it all? 

She talked about writing a book series and the elements involved in a book series and had some words of wisdom and “Morals of Success” to share with us.

Spread literacy.

Persist with belief in yourself.

Seek mentors.

Stay in touch with professionals who believe in you.

Stay actively engaged. All work breeds work.

Step into fear.

Do the work.

Gary D. Schmidt, an author of two Newbery Honor books and the Michael L. Printz honor award, gave a powerful speech.

He said, “Writers must engage with the world.” They must pay attention to the world and love both the beauty and tragedy of the world in order to come up with the right questions for their readers. Those questions will energize writers and be the ignition for their stories.

Stephen Fraser, a literary agent for The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency, gave an inspiring talk and sent out positive vibes on how to win the publishing game.

“Dare to be quiet each day. Listen and let ideas fill you up.” Stephen reminded us that “a creative person can accomplish anything and a good book has a home.” *  

The organizers of the conference planned a full schedule. I wasn’t able to attend all of the sessions, but word had it that every session provided attendees with something valuable to take away with them. The weekend stirred our thoughts, encouraged us to keep at our writing, and motivated us to be the best that we can be!

* For more on Stephen Fraser and what he’s looking for as an agent, DON’T MISS an in-depth interview, Friday, on this blog!

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