Archive for the ‘Conferences’ category

Tips from a Writing Conference

April 18, 2013

Once again, SCBWI-Iowa hosted another fantastic conference. The members of the Iowa chapter are not only extremely talented, but they are some of the nicest people I’ve met. This year’s theme was “The Sky’s the Limit,” and I’m still flying high from an overload of valuable information from a very knowledgeable group of speakers.

Take a look at this lineup!

Bonnie Bader- Editor-in-Chief, Warne & Early Readers Grosset & Dunlap, a Division of Penguin Young Reader

Patti Ann Harris- Senior Art Director, Little Brown Books for Young Readers

Stephanie Pitts- Assistant Editor, Schwartz & Wade, Random House

Jennifer Mattson- Literary Agent, Andrea Brown Literary Agency

Rebecca Janni- Author from Iowa

Alice McGinty- Author from Illinois

Pat Zietlow Miller- Author from Wisconsin

Here are a few tips from the speakers at the conference.

Picture books are back! Yes, after a few slow years, editors are looking to acquire picture book manuscripts once again. Here’s what editors want in the picture book genre:  Short books 250-500 words, clever concepts, humor, unique voice, and character-driven books. Think visually. Now get to work on a new manuscript or dust off a manuscript you filed away and write something amazing!

There is a need for leveled readers to go along with the Core Curriculum Standards. If you are thinking in terms of writing a series, there must be a hook and you must have at least three story ideas. Each book should have a catchy title and must stand alone. Nonfiction is also being considered for the leveled readers.

Oral pitches should be no longer than thirty seconds. Take a look at Jill Esbaum’s (Iowa author) post from for crafting a one sentence synopsis or “elevator pitch.”

In the YA category, contemporary realistic fiction is the trend. Zombies and paranormal are out for now.

When writing, word choice, language, style, voice, and pacing are key.

A note on cover letters:  They should be short and concise – no frills! If you’ve been published and are an SCBWI member, include that information.

Writing conferences are beneficial. If you have the opportunity to attend one – go! You come away with new friends and worthwhile information.

Happy writing!

Tidbits from a Writing Conference

October 25, 2012

This past weekend I attended a writing conference at what I call “The Nunnery.”

The room and food — not so good. The speakers and attendees — fantastic!

With editors like Melissa Manlove from Chronicle Books, Kristen Nobels from Candlewick Press, and Michelle Poploff from Delacorte Press Children’s Books and authors like Kathi Appelt, Sara Zarr, and George Shannon, who wouldn’t be excited? The weekend was filled with camaraderie, laughs, encouragement, and valuable information.

Alas, I cannot share everything I learned, but I can let you in on some tidbits of information from the faculty.

Find your voice and unique style.

There is magic in words. Use them to your advantage.

Word choice should have patterns of sound, rhythm, a sense of urgency, and pitch that provide emotional impact.

Surprise your reader.

Put personality and place in your writing.

Actively engage your readers.

The number one job of an author is to worry the reader. That will keep the reader turning the pages.

Up the ante to create tension.

Every word counts.

Perfect your craft.

Good writing plus good pacing equals a good book.

If you have a passion for writing, no matter what, stay in touch with what you love.

Suggested Reading:

Dear Genius The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom written by Leonard S. Marcus and illustrated by Maurice Sendak

Tidbits from the SCBWI-Iowa Conference

April 24, 2012

This past weekend I attended the SCBWI-Iowa Conference. As always, Iowa did an amazing job preparing and organizing a conference that sent attendees home with a wealth of information.

Below are a few tidbits I’d like to share.

Brett Wright, assistant editor at Bloomsbury Children’s Books USA, mentioned that paranormal and dystopian manuscripts have pretty much saturated the market, and the market for picture books is still tricky. Manuscripts need to be unique and have a good hook, and that hook should come near the beginning of the book.

Brett is on the lookout for middle-grade boy books, but the book needs to stand out from other boy books. He noted the ideal middle-grade word count is between 30-40,000 words.

Marilyn Brighman, editor at Marshall Cavendish/Amazon Children’s Publishing, said writers should take risks and write what they want to write. Don’t follow trends. Marilyn likes edgy contemporary fiction. She is looking for solid middle-grade books and would like to find a new chapter book manuscript with series potential. Manuscripts should have a unique voice and a fresh writing style.

Kari Pearson, editorial assistant at Abrams books for Young Readers, addressed the aspects of publishing. Quality of work is paramount. Editors get excited about innovative ideas. Some things a writer should think about before submitting to a publishing house are marketability, books that are similar to yours and how well they sold, and to make sure your book fits the publisher’s list. Kari is interested in picture books from ages 0-5 years, and wants to read something interesting about you in your cover letter.

Kristy “Ty” King, a literary agent from Writers House, gave an excellent talk on how an agent can help you navigate publishing. An agent wears many different hats. He/she should involve you in all steps of publication. An agent acts as your business manager, legal counsel, editor, and is your support. In a nutshell, your agent is your career counselor.

Ty represents children’s books, young adult authors, and illustrators across all age ranges. When querying, a one-page professional letter is best. It should pique interest in your project, and when describing your manuscript, it should read like flap copy. You should also include information about yourself and your background and note that your manuscript is available upon request.

Ty also spoke on “Becoming Literate in the Children’s Book World.” Books she recommended are:  Minders of Make-Believe by Leonard S. Marcus, Dear Genius:  The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom by Ursula Nordstrom, and Writing with Pictures by Uri Schulevitz.

There were two breakout sessions from which to choose:  “Plotting the Novel” presented by Jan Blazanin and “From Research to a Fiction Picture Book” by Wendy Henrichs. I chose to go to Jan Blazanin’s presentation. She is the author of A & L Do Summer and Fairest of Them All. Jan’s presentation was overflowing with excellent information — way too much to include here.

SCBWI-Iowa is a great group. You immediately feel at home when you’re with them. Thank you Iowa for a wonderful weekend!

Hooked on a Writing Conference

November 15, 2011

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.

Tasty Tidbits from a Conference

October 18, 2011

There is no better way to continue learning your writing craft than by surrounding yourself with dedicated writers, top-notch speakers, and tasty chocolate. These three ingredients are a writer’s recipe for success. (Well, maybe not the chocolate, but it sure helps.)

 Here are some tidbits from the SCBWI-WI Fall Retreat.

Andrea Welch, Tracey Adams, LeUyen Pham

Laura Ruby, Cheryl Klein, Marsha Wilson Chall

LeUyen Pham, an upbeat and talented illustrator, spoke on visual storytelling. In order to make a stand out picture book, an illustrator carefully studies the author’s story. Objects, size, and color choices work together to determine how the illustrations on each page are precisely placed to make the reader’s eye travel around the entire page.

Cheryl Klein, executive editor of Arthur A. Levine Books, presented a detailed talk on the principles of plot. It’s something all writers should study and know. Do yourself a favor and buy Cheryl’s book, Second Sight: An Editor’s Talks on Writing, Revising, and Publishing Books for Children and Young Adults. It’s well worth your time and effort.

Marsha Wilson Chall, an award-winning picture book author and instructor in the MFA program at Hamline University, talked about taking a second look at picture books. Look at the structure of a picture book. Look at the pacing and page turns. When you’re writing, keep these in mind and don’t forget to cut and trim any unnecessary words.

Laura Ruby is a multi-talented author who writes for adults, teens, and children. She talked about world-building – how she creates a unique world for her characters. She said when she can see that world and when she starts to hear the sound of the story, she knows it’s time to begin writing.  

Andrea Welch, senior editor at Beach Lane Books, spoke on how to make your picture book a perfect ten. Three things she looks for in a picture book manuscript are heart, humor, and irresistible characters. She likes a manuscript that captures her on the first read. She also noted that spare picture books are selling now – books between 300-500 words.

Tracey Adams, agent and co-founder of Adams Literary, shared tips from twenty years in the business. She mentioned that Margaret K. McElderry mentored her and was inspired by her. At times when she is questioning something, she thinks, “What would Margaret do?” Here are some things Tracey offered up to writers. Always be professional. Work with people you like and admire. Write what you know and love best. Laugh.

K.T. Horning, Director of the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, was our final speaker. She gave an excellent talk on “What We’ve Learning from Harry Potter” and how the Harry Potter books have influenced, not only our world of reading, but also the world.

There were also break-out sessions presented by fellow Wisconsin SCBWI members that were well-planned and filled with excellent information.

Writers and illustrators know how to have fun!

This conference left a good taste in my mouth and a yearning for more. What more can I say? Except… Take your chocolate to a writing conference today!

Chocolate and Writing Conferences

October 14, 2011

Attending a writing conference is like sinking your teeth into a piece of chocolate. You’ll find some are better than others, but they all offer something tasty.

As a writer, I highly recommend taking advantage of writing conferences. It’s a time to meet and greet fellow writers. It’s a time to keep up with what’s going on in the publishing industry and to connect with editors and agents. It’s a time to share experiences, to pitch ideas, and get feedback from those attending the conference.

Later today I’ll be on my way to the WI-SCBWI Fall Writing Retreat. The Wisconsin group is filled with extremely talented writers and illustrators. I consider myself very lucky to be able to connect with these delightfully fun and gifted people. On the chocolate scale, this group is “To Die For!”

The weekend lineup includes a variety of authors, illustrators, editors, and agents. I’m expecting to devour some tasty tidbits of information from each of them. Cheryl Klein, senior editor at Arthur A. Levine Books, will be there. Andrea Welch, senior editor at Beach Lane Books, will be there. And Tracey Adams, agent at Adams Literary, will be there. I’ll be on a chocolate high by the time the weekend is over. I’m not greedy. I’ll gladly share some pieces of tasty information with you on my Tuesday post.

Tips and Tidbits from the SCBWI-Iowa Conference

April 5, 2011

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!

Movin’ Right Along

April 1, 2011

It’s that time of year again. Iowa, here I come. Why, you ask? It’s the SCBWI-Iowa Conference, and it’s well worth the time and travel. “The Career of Dreams!” is right within my reach. I get to rub elbows with Alli Brydon, Michelle Bayuk, Wendy Delsol, Candace Fleming, Stephen Fraser, Diane Muldrow, Lin Oliver, Molly O’Neill, Mary Rockcastle, Eric Rohmann, and Gary D. Schmidt. Wow!

Last year a group of us traveled the roads to Bettendorf, Iowa. Plane, plane, plane, but when we got there, it was anything but plain. Along with the amazing conference, there was a sorority spring formal that weekend that kept us entertained, on our toes, and awake all night – but I digress. The conference convinced me that a return visit was a must.

So as the Muppet’s song says, we’re “movin’ right along in search of good times and good news, with good friends you can’t lose…”

No time to dawdle. It’s time to go. Check back on Tuesday for highlights from the conference followed by a very special interview on Friday. DON’T MISS IT!

Inspiration from Prairie Writer’s Day

November 16, 2010

If you haven’t had the opportunity to attend the SCBWI-IL Prairie Writer’s Day, you are missing out on a fun-filled, information-packed day. From 9:00 AM until 5:00 PM you are on the go. A fantastic group of professionals is on hand, offering writing tips and industry information.

Here are just a few of the tidbits I took away with me from the editors who were there.

Andrea Welch, editor from Beach Lane Books, reminded us how important emotions are in your manuscript and to remember to “speak to the heart of the reader.”

Katherine Jacobs, associate editor from Roaring Book Press, spoke on pacing in your manuscript. Control the pacing of your story though the structure of your manuscript.

Marilyn Brigham, editor from Marshall Cavendish Children’s Books, talked about choosing the right words to create powerful sentences and to find your voice because “voice is most important.”

Tamra Tuller, editor from Philomel Books, discussed writer’s block suggesting different ways of unblocking yourself and concluded by saying, “only you can control whether or not you write.”

Janice M. Del Negro, PhD, an author, storyteller, and Assistant Professor at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at Dominican University in River Forest, IL, said something that really hit home. “Words are the raw stuff authors work with. Mastery of language is what makes art.”

It was a perfect day. I have a treasure trove of notes and handouts to pore over and to keep me inspired. I’m looking forward to next year’s Prairie Writer’s Day, but for now, it’s time to get to work!

News & Views from a Writing Retreat

October 19, 2010

The SCBWI-Wisconsin Fall Retreat was fantastic. Who cares that we stayed in a retirement home for nuns with austere rooms and bathrooms reminiscent of old college dorms. It was all about the people who were there – the speakers and the attendees. It was a Shake, Rattle and Revise weekend ─ a time to learn how to strengthen our writing craft and a time to mix and mingle with some very knowledgeable and talented people. And if that wasn’t enough, the “Sweets Table” was to die for and take a look at these views of Lake Michigan!

Bruce Hale, author of the Chet Gecko series and other books, kept us in suspense as to which hat he might wear next. Editors, Lisa Yoskowitz (Dutton) and Greg Ferguson (Egmont USA), gave us insights into the submissions process, marketing ourselves, and the editorial process. Mary Kole, an agent with the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, talked about what we need to do to get an agent. Loraine Joyner, art director at Peachtree Publishers, walked us through the steps an illustrator takes to reach the finished product. Finally, author Deborah Wiles made us laugh and made us cry with tales from her personal life and from her life as a writer.

Each presenter left us with food for thought. They were equally as appealing as the “Sweets Table.” Could any writer ask for more? Well, we got more!

Our own talented members offered breakout sessions on point of view, writing to foster emotional growth, uncovering the secrets of finding the right agent, writing a one-page synopsis, and revising with fierceness. There were also peer group critiques and individual critiques from visiting faculty and our own published authors. This was a weekend not to be missed.

When an opportunity to go to a writing conference presents itself, don’t think twice – GO! You never know what pearls of wisdom you can add to your hope chest of writing!

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