From the time that we first met Jenn, her first love was for writing and illustrating children’s books. So who better to get a report about the SCBWI conference. Take a read below and to see more about Jenn, click here:
By now, you know that I am a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and that this international, professional organization is key for any creative person in children’s books, whether newbie or pro, or in between. This organization provides encouragement, support, and information on all aspects of the business.
So, you know that I was thrilled to attend this year’s SCBWI Winter Conference in New York: a three-day affair for over 1400 people held in the swanky halls and conference rooms of the Grand Hyatt Hotel, in Grand Central Station. While I have attended several times in years’ past (different venues), I felt ready to plunge back in, to pick up where I left off before I took a 3-year hiatus to attend FIT for my MFA Degree.
While I didn’t attend Friday’s Intensives, I entered my portfolio in Friday’s Art Directors’ Review. No prizes for me, but I did get the chance to see a plethora of portfolios on display. Competition, Baby, competition! Many illustrators had already been published, and most portfolios were of very high quality. Conference Lesson # 1: Raise Your Game!
On Saturday, YA writer Anthony Horowitz kicked off events with a humorous, informative speech on how to grab young readers from first line to last. He spoke of looking for “light bulb moments” to give your writing authority of tone and truthfulness of character. Never write down for children, he advised. Make the children rise up. Lesson # 2: Kids are Smart. Don’t Patronize Your Audience.
This was followed by an Editors’ Panel, a Report from the Front Lines, by four distinguished publishers. My best take-aways were Laura Godwin’s remark that we are going into a Renaissance of the picture book, even though adult titles are currently flat; and Stephanie Owens Lurie’s advice for writers and illustrators to ‘look broader’ than just having the goal of publishing one story. (She also said that kids prefer hardcopies over eBooks!)
My first break-out session was with Ben Rosenthal of Katherine Tegen Books on Creating Nonfiction. His advice “not to overvalue information over narrative” gave me food for thought re: my picture book proposal on the Triangle Factory Fire. I will need to take another look at that… It was wonderful to hear that literary non-fiction is desirable now. Lesson # 3: Narrative, Narrative, Narrative (even in nonfiction).
I also had a break-out session with agent Heather Alexander (Pippin Properties) onDeveloping Your Brand and Career Path. This event was disappointing to me, however, perhaps because so much of the info was familiar to me from my FIT classes. Heather also had tech problems, and that didn’t help, either.
Saturday ended with two dynamite presentations to the entire conference: Hervé Tullet of wide-spread picture-book fame declared his love for producing books that express ideas, those that might shock or provoke. Like Eric Carle’s books-as-toys before him, Hervé aims for freedom from the expected, books that are engaging as toys. Lesson # 4: Take Risks!
Kami Garcia, author of teen novel Beautiful Creatures, concluded Sat. night’s events, speaking of her publishing experience. She took many risks in creating her book since she was not writing to be published, but writing for the love of her teen readers’ group. (Kami is a teacher.) She advised: Who is reading your book? Who is your tribe? Lesson # 5: Write for Your Audience, Not to ‘Get Published’.
As if Saturday’s events weren’t enough, I kid you not when I say that Sunday’s were evenBETTER. Please keep reading!
Picture book writer/illustrator and Caldecott Honor winner Laura Vaccaro Seeger was first up on Sunday morning with a CAPTIVATING presentation. Her generous display included sketchbooks, journals, and lists, giving all of us a peek into her incredible process. She showed us how she creates her deceptively simple concept books, reminiscent of the work of Lois Ehlert, and how all fits together like a Rubik’s cube. She spoke of the power of certain words, and leaving something to the imagination. I was mesmerized and told her so later on. Lesson # 6: Be True to Your Vision.
James Dashner of Maze Runner fame was up next, with a humorous speech on Writing Commercial Fiction, followed by an Agent Panel.
The last speaker of the day, however, was the one that truly brought down the house. Newbery Winner Kwame Alexander was simply electric!! In an engaging presentation,Saying Yes to the Writerly Life, the talk centered on his own writing journey, and was peppered with his emotionally-charged poems (yes, there were tears flowing…), and was infused with his humor, his advice, his humility, his charisma. Working the room like a powerful preacher, he asked the crowd, “How are you going to live this writerly life?” Answer: “Not just sitting in a room writing; it’s about getting out there and living,” he advised. Woven into the info and narrative was the lesson to say yes to opportunities that come your way, and the mantra: “Do not let other peoples’ “NOs” define your Yes.” That bears repeating: Lesson # 7: Do Not Let Other Peoples’ “Nos” Define Your “Yes”!
Needless to say, I bought Kwame’s Newbery book, The Crossover, and had him sign it to me, too. I told him how enthralled I was by his speech, and that I was moved to tears when he’d recited his poem on his daughter’s growing up, adding that my own daughter had just gotten married. He replied, with an impish grin, “Then you know what that’s all about.” Indeed, I do. Thank you, Kwame.
Then we all went home, tired but inspired, and ready to take up the challenge of our work once again.
Until next time,
THAT’S NOT ALL-
Jenn will be speaking about her own book,
and Visual Thesis Project, SEW STRONG, on Long Island.