Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Welcome to Your First SCBWI Conference

Are you here for the first time?


And know you are not alone.

Did you know that nearly a third of conference-goers* are attending for the first time? And many of them do not know a single person. That might even be you!

Just a few hundred of the first-time attendees at the 2016 summer conference. 

I've had the honor of welcoming hundreds at the summer conference, so I thought I could share some (possibly) helpful information with you here.

Meeting Like-minded People

I repeat, you are not alone. There's a reason Lin Oliver calls us a tribe. This conference can open doors (it does open doors) in so many unexpected ways. More than the editors/agents in attendance, it might be the person sitting next to you who impacts your writing/illustrating life in unexpected ways. Take the leap and say hello.

There's a Social for That

On Saturday night, from 8:30 to 9:30, there is an optional social for first-time attendees and new members. Check it out, and meet some new friends.

Also, don't miss the Gala dinner, just prior, where you can connect with your fellow regional members. And, hey...food and drinks!

What to Wear

Baby it's cold outside!

"What do I wear?" is one of the most frequently asked questions. Because it's winter in NYC, you'll want some outdoor layers. As for the conference, think business casual in your own personal style. And consider, if you had the opportunity to speak with a publishing professional, would your look say, I take this seriously.

As for the Gala on Saturday, you can can go in whatever you were wearing during the conference day, but if you want an excuse to change and gussy up a bit, by all mean, do so.

Editors and Agents

You can have a very successful conference experience without speaking directly to editors and agents. These wonderful industry professionals are in demand. The good news is that most will open their doors to submissions just because you are at the conference. Take the time to learn as much as you can about each and decide who might be a good fit for your work. Then, when your work is ready, submit.

Create Realistic Goals

Think about a few things you'd like to accomplish at the conference, goals that are realistic and achievable. If you do that, there's no doubt the experience will be a successful one.

Also, check out the SCBWI conference blog (SCBWI Team Blog will be live blogging from the conference floor) and follow the hashtag #NY17SCBWI.

See you there!

*This estimation is my own based on past conference attendance.

Monday, February 8, 2016

GARY SCHMIDT: A #NY16SCBWI Pre-conference Interview

This is it. The week writers and illustrators from all over the world will descend on New York City for the SCBWI conference.

While many are counting down to the start of the conference, I'm already looking forward to a perfect "the end" when the award-winning and extraordinarily talented Gary Schmidt delivers this year's final keynote.

Gary Schmidt is the author of the Newbery Honor books The Wednesday Wars and Lizzie Bright and the Buckminister Boy. His Okay For Now was a National Book Award Finalist and a Children's Choice Award winner. His latest novel is Orbiting Jupiter. He teaches writing and literature at Calvin College, and is a member of the faculty for Hamline University's MFA in Writing for Children.

A huge thank you to Gary for taking the time to answer a few questions before the conference gets underway.

You were a kid who wasn’t a reader until the right teacher came into your life. You are now a professor of English, as well as a writer. What brought you down this career path?

I think the love of story led me down my career path.  I did learn to read, and to love story, and to love what words can do--their miraculous way of communicating and engaging.  I went to college to become a lawyer, and did finish a political science major, thinking that I might want to go into local or state politics, but in the end, I loved my English classes, and the literature that spoke so powerfully to me.  It seemed the obvious career path to share what I loved.

You’ll be speaking at the conference’s novel revision intensive—a much-coveted event. Can you give us a glimpse of what you’ll be sharing with the lucky few who will be attending?

On the intensive:  We sometimes speak of a passage's tone, or even a novel's tone, but I'm not sure we all are talking about the same thing, or even if we can define the idea of tone, or even if we can specify what elements go into tone.  So this intensive is intended to wrestle with the element of tone in our writing, to recognize and define tone in ways that contribute to a story's meaning and presentation.

What is the best (or favorite) piece of writing advice you have ever been given?

Read a lot.


We look forward to seeing you at the conference, but if you can't be there, join us as we blog live from the conference floor at The Official SCBWI Conference Blog. You can follow us on Twitter using the official conference hashtag #NY16SCBWI

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

MEM FOX: SCBWI Pre-conference Interview

I'm so thrilled to be able to bring beloved picture book author MEM FOX to the blog. 

 Mem Fox is a retired Associate Professor of Literacy Studies and also Australia's most highly regarded picture book author.  Her first publication, Possum Magic is the best-selling children's book in Australia. This year marks its thirty-second in print, still available in hardback. She has written many other internationally best-selling books including Time for Bed, Where Is The Green Sheep?, and Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes. She has also written several nonfiction books for adults, including her renowned book for parents: Reading Magic. She lives in Adelaide, Australia, but travels constantly as an advocate for literacy. 

Over the many years I've been attending SCBWI conferences, time and time again I've heard editor extraordinaire Allyn Johnston say, "If you want to write picture books study the work of Mem Fox."

This summer we get to hear directly from her. What a treat!

Not only that, but she took time to answer a few questions before the conference for all of us. 

How has your writing process changed (if at all) since you began your writing career?

My writing process hasn’t changed at all over the years, which is to say I probably write for a total of about four weeks a year. Most of my writing occurs in my head, in my subconscious, most of the time. In other words I work constantly, but not on paper or on the computer. I still handwrite a lot. My brain works more contemplatively with a pencil in my hand: it slows the speed of thought, which is hugely beneficial for my creativity.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
The best piece of 'wakey-wakey!' advice came from my first publisher, before my first book came out: ‘Writing is a business not a hobby.’ I’m grateful to have been given that advice. It has concentrated my mind on writing the best books possible. Wasting two years on writing a 400 word picture book that doesn’t sell is irritating and chastening, and bad for the bank balance.

A small number of lucky conference attendees are registered for your intensive class. You, along with editor extraordinaire Allyn Johnston, will be discussing the importance of rhythm in picture books. For the majority of us who will not spend those three hours fully immersed with the two of you, can you give us a thought, suggestion, or tip as it relates to rhythm in our stories?

Glorious art and high-end writing are essential in any picture book, and by 'high-end' writing I mean prose in which every syllable counts. Word choice is crucial, such as the choice between beneath and under. Both have two syllables and mean the same thing, but one has a slow beats and the other has fast beats, and if you can’t tell the difference you’ll spoil the sentence you’re trying to get right. Musically, it’s about composing with crotchets, quavers and minims; but if that’s unfamiliar territory, we’re talking about the sort of speed and weight of words. It’s so hard to explain. Sometimes I wonder if having a sense of rhythm in writing is a case of 'you either have it or you don’t'. I’m not sure whether this essential, deep-seated sense of rhythm can be taught. It has to be caught by hearing rhythmically perfect prose and poetry, and speaking it aloud. I’m thinking of anything from the King James version of the Bible to Dr Seuss, to folk songs and children’s clapping rhymes. Rhythm has to be in the marrow of our bones and we’ll only know if it’s in our writing by reading aloud every phrase and sentence, then every sentence and paragraph, as we write. I am a re-writer of phrases to the point of madness and despondency. I draft as I go, not at the end of the first draft. Often the beginning of a book has more drafts than the rest of it put together, for the sake of the right rhythm. I re-wrote the first paragraph of Possum Magic 23 times before I was happy with it. (That worked!)

You mention on your website that you write three to four books at a time and that it has taken you up to two years to revise a picture book (I’m certain that resulted in many, many drafts). Do you find there’s an often-overlooked aspect when writers revise? And, how do you know when the book is hitting all the right notes and you’re ready to hit send?

These are hard questions. I’ve been rabbiting on about the importance of rhythm, but perfect rhythm counts for nothing if the characters, setting and plot don’t speak to the child. Too many of us write children’s picture books to please our adult friends. We forget that our main aim and focus should be capturing the child’s mind and heart. So when we’re revising, the question too rarely asked, and probably most often overlooked, is this: 'Would a child give a damn about this book?’

As for knowing when the book is ready! Hmmm. It’s different with every book, but in general (and I hope this isn’t going to sound crazy) the hairs on your arms have to stand up. 

Watch for Mem's forthcoming book NELLIE BELLE, coming later this year. 

Follow Mem on Twitter: @MemFox1

And, if you want to find great advice from Mem, check out her wonderful website

Today is the last day (June 23) to register for the conference at early bird prices. Don't miss your chance to see Mem Fox. 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Emma D. Dryden: A Pre-#NY15SCBWI Interview

Registration for the SCBWI Winter Conference in NYC is well underway. If you’re attending, or planning to attend, you also have the opportunity to register for one of the great intensives taking place on Friday, February 6. Spots are going fast, and the Writers’ Intensive: World Building: A Hands-On Workshop is almost sold out.


 If registering for this intensive is in your plans, don’t delay. Register now. 

If you’re still considering, I have just the person you’ll want to hear from: the fabulous Emma D. Dryden, who will be moderating the World Building intensive. Emma is the founder of drydenbks, a premier children’s editorial and publishing consultancy firm. Emma has edited over a thousand books for children and young readers and many of her titles hit bestseller lists in USA Today, the New York Times, Washington Post, and Publishers Weekly. Books published under Emma’s guidance have received numerous awards and medals, including but not limited to, the Newbery Medal, Newbery Honor, and Caldecott Honor.

Emma took time out of her busy schedule to answer some questions about the nearly sold out World Building Intensive. 

Jolie: Each year, the SCBWI precedes the winter conference with several great intensives. For writing we typically see a new focus each year. This year's: World Building: A Hands-on Workshop. While the idea of focusing on World Building for a entire day sounds amazing, I'm even more drawn by the hands-on aspect of this intensive. Can you share more about what participants can plan to experience as well as walk away with at the end of the day? 

Emma: I’m all about writers deepening their craft at every opportunity, and that includes new writers as well as writers who’ve been writing and publishing for many years. So saying, I’m a huge fan of any workshop, session, or intensive that provides opportunities for writers to actually do some WRITING. Impromptu writing, based on writing prompts or provocative questions, not only forces writers to write with abandon and with their internal editor turned off, but can also spark new ideas or perspectives for writers that they hadn’t thought of before. It can be quite exciting and revealing. So, in our World Building session, several of us will be guiding the attendees through some writing exercises specific to their current works-in-progress and specific to the concept of world building. By the end of the day, not only will writers walk away with helpful handouts and heads full of ideas, but they will walk away with some pieces of writing that may find their way into their manuscripts in some form—writing they might not have achieved otherwise. 

Jolie: I agree. There’s nothing better than an opportunity to do some writing, and I love that you say participants could write something they might not have otherwise. The other added bonus is that participants will have the opportunity to share their ideas and work though world-building strategies with industry experts. Can you tell us more about the critique opportunity? 

Emma: The writing exercises that will be discussed during the round table portions of the intensive are going to be based on Henry Neff's S.P.R.I.T.E. acronym which he'll be describing in his opening session. Honestly, I don't think there will be intensive or scary critiques of the writing exercises as much as discussion about the writing exercises insofar as this means a discussion about where people are with world building in their own manuscripts. The round tables will be a chance for all the attendees to, using Henry's exercise as a guide, discuss their world building techniques, questions, thoughts, to identify what work they need to do to deepen or authenticate their world building, and to get professional feedback and guidance in that setting. 

Jolie: That sounds invaluable. Is World Building focused only on fantasy and science fiction?

Emma: Not at all. Really paying attention to the details of world building is essential for the success of any story, be it fantasy or realistic, fiction, nonfiction, historical, or contemporary. How one character perceives the world in which they live, even if it’s meant to be our “here and now,” is going to be quite different from how another character perceives that very same world. Additionally, we often overlook the fact that world building consists not only of the details and facets of the world in which a story takes place, but also within our characters themselves. Just as a physical, geographic world has texture, landscape, and topography, so too does a character—and it’s just as important to explore and build the internal world of a character (the emotional, psychological, spiritual architecture of the character) as it is to explore and build the external world in which that character functions, emotes, perceives, and lives. 

Jolie: The Intensive description states that all children's book authors are welcome, but might you have advice about where writers should with their writing projects (concept only, ready to revise, submission ready, etc.)?

Emma: First, it’s important to note that world building is the architecture of any story, and world building happens at different levels in picture books, in novels, in non-fiction, and in fiction, so we trust writers who are not writing sci-fi or fantasy will see the value in this session. If writers are at the early concept stage, this intensive will help them focus on what questions they need to ask themselves in order to start figuring out the details of the external and internal worlds of their stories and characters. If writers are further along in the process, ready to revise or re-revise a completed manuscript, this intensive will help them sharpen their world building skills and assist them in spotting the places in their work where more external and internal world building may need to be teased out, developed, or fine-tuned. If writers are coming to this intensive with the feeling their work is submission-ready, I suspect this intensive will provide them with a kind of world building checklist that is likely to send those writers back to their manuscripts for at least one more round of revision! ☺ 

 Jolie: Thank you so much, Emma.

Emma also shared several related blog posts if you’re interested in a bit more reading about world building. The first two are from Emma’s blog, “our stories, ourselves,” and the third gives a sneak-preview of what Henry Neff will be talking about during the intensive.




You can also find and follow Emma and drydenbks on Twitter (@drydenbks) and Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/drydenbks)

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Executive Editor Jill Santopolo: #LA14SCBWI Interview

Your opportunity to take advantage of early-bird registration is ending soon. Save a little by registering for the conference on or before June 15. 

Whether you're already registered, or planning on doing so soon, do consider adding the Monday intensives to your conference schedule. The intensives are just as they sound: concentrated, intimate, and valuable. 

Photo Credit: Michele Arlotta
One of the faculty members who will be leading an intensive is Jill Santopolo. I've had the pleasure of learning from Jill in many settings: retreat, intensive, conference break-out, and she is fantastic. This is a wonderful opportunity to learn from not only an executive editor but a successful author. Learn more about her intensive in the interview below.

Jill Santopolo is an executive editor at Philomel Books, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group, a division of Penguin Random House. Her list includes many award-winning and New York Times best-selling authors including T.A. Barron, Floyd Cooper, Andrea Cremer, Olivier Dunrea, Lisa Graff, Alex London, Erin Moulton and Jane Yolen. Jill holds an MFA in Writing for Children from the Vermont College of Fine Arts and is the author of the Alec Flint series (Scholastic), the Sparkle Spa series (S&S), and the Follow Your Heart series (Puffin).  
It’s so great to see you’re part of the faculty for this summer’s conference. You were so well received at the winter conference. 

It’s so great to be part of the faculty! I had such a great time talking plot at the winter conference—I’m excited to go even more in-depth this time around.

At the winter conference you were part of the full-day plot intensive (with other editors and writers), and in LA you will be offering a 3-hour plot intensive. For those considering registering for the intensives who should hurry to grab up a spot before they’re gone?

I think my plot intensive will be helpful for writers in two different places in their book-writing process. First, I think it’ll help writers who have a nugget of an idea and want to flesh it out into a fully-formed story arc before they begin a first draft. Second, I think it’ll help writers who have written a first draft, but feel like the story is murky in the middle, or who have been getting feedback that not much happens or that there’s a lack of tension in their manuscript. The plot intensive should help writers in that second category diagnose plot problems and prepare them to tackle a plot-focused revision.

Can you give us just a peek inside your 3-hour intensive, From Beginning to End: Tips on Plotting Your Plot? 

Absolutely! We’re going to start small and go bigger and bigger and bigger, with a ton of exercises along the way. When people leave the intensive, they should have: An elevator pitch, a synopsis, a broad plot outline, a detailed plot outline, an emotional heartline, a story timeline, and a chapter-by-chapter manuscript outline, which should be the perfect jumping off point for beginning either a first draft or a revision.

I know many of those in attendance in NY felt your talk on plot helped them rethink their synopses. Perhaps this was an unexpected connection. Do you think some of your plotting tools are also helpful for synopsis writing?

 I don’t think the connection was unexpected at all. I think plotting and synopsis writing are similar because they both require breaking down the novel’s action in different ways. In fact, writing a synopsis will be part of the plot intensive.

Do you feel there is an element of plot that is often lacking or missing altogether in submission you receive?

I don’t think there’s anything that’s often missing altogether, but I do find that often the rising action could use some extra attention. A writer I once worked with told me that his mother, who was a writer herself, taught him that he had to torture his protagonist. It’s hard to do that sometimes, but when plots really work it tends to be because a protagonist keeps coming up against obstacles over and over again and then has to overcome them in new and different (and exciting) ways.

Are there any books that you’ve worked on that you think have especially well-crafted plots?

I think all of the authors I work with are pretty great plotters, but I’d suggest reading Proxy by Alex London andNightshade by Andrea Cremer if you want to see some extra intense, exciting plotting.

Follow Jill on Twitter @JillSantopolo.

Register for the conference and intensives here. Remember the final day for early-bird pricing is June15th.