Hooked on a Writing Conference

The SCBWI-Illinois’ 7th Annual Prairie Writer’s Day had me hooked from the moment I walked through the doors of the Wojcik Conference Center at Harper College in Palatine, IL.  SCBWI members greeted attendees with fishing nets filled with chocolate candy. Hey, I don’t care what time of day it is – chocolate is always welcome.

This year’s theme was Get Hooked, and they had me – hook, line, and sinker. I was lured into a fabulous conference. From aspiring writers to established writers, there was something for everyone to catch. Swimming in the Prairie Day waters, were editors from well-known publishing houses, an Edgar-nominated author, an agent, a senior art director, a literary lawyer, and much more. By the end of the day, my brain was reeling from an overload of information.  

Here are some highlights from my fishing day at the conference.

Daniel Nayeri, editor at Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, likes quirky but not wacky submissions. Of high interest at Clarion are Picture Books, Graphic Novels, and Fantasy/Sci-fi.

Molly O’Neill, editor at Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins Children’s Books, likes to see a manuscript with a compelling story to tell and then asks, “Who is this book for?” High interest is YA, Fantasy/Sci-fi, Mystery, and Middle Grade Fiction. Revision is important. It’s re-seeing your story and making it better.

Mary Rodgers, Editor-in-Chief of Lerner Publishing Group, says as an editor she really has to believe in a book in order to convince others to feel the same way. High interest for this group is nonfiction.

Michele Burke, editor at Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers/Random House, has high interest in Picture Books, YA, Mystery, and Middle Grade. She talked about world building and said there should be a balance between action and the world in which the characters live. Acquiring a manuscript is more relaxed at Knopf. It’s primarily between Michele and her publishing director.

Stacey Barney, editor Penguin/Putnam Books for Young Readers, has high interest in YA, Multi-cultural, and Middle Grade. If you want to make an editor fall in love with your book, you must make your book stand out with something innovative or unique. Voice, characterization, and pace should be right on target. Your main character should have flaws and obstacles to overcome. The pace and plot of your books should have a steady forward movement.

Kathy Landwehr, Vice President & Associate Publisher of Peachtree Publishers, has high interest in YA, Multi-cultural, Middle Grade, and humor for all ages. When she pitches a book, sales and marketing are there, and they have to be on board with it, too.

Josh Adams, co-founder and literary agent for Adams Literary, represents authors in all genres. His advice to writers is to wait until you’re ready to look for an agent. Do your research and make sure the agent you choose is a good match.

Bruce Hale visited via Skype. Humor was his topic. He suggested that when revising you should play with word choice and details to heighten humor and listen to rhythms of speech.

Editorial comments:

Picture books should have spare sensibility, rhythm and cadence, and vivid verbs. If you’re writing a rhyming book, make sure your rhymes work perfectly. The best rhyming books focus on concepts and word play.

In chapter books, characters should have a good relationship with other characters and the dialogue between them should be believable.

Make sure your ideas are fresh and original.

Choose your words well.     

If you’re a serious writer, fish for conferences in your area. Take advantage of them. It’s a time to learn, to network, and to have the opportunity to send your manuscripts to closed houses. It’s a win-win situation for everyone. It could end up being a whale of a tale to share with others.

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