The reason I love SCBWI so much is that it gives writers and illustrators a definite place to find encouragement, to learn, to become the better form of their creative selves. That is definitely what this past weekend’s conference was all about.
We had five excellent speakers who dazzled and enlightened us with their presentations from morning till early evening.
Maria Middleton, the Associate Art Director at Abrams Books for Young Readers and Amulet Books, and rocker of some seriously gorgeous tattoos (what else would you expect from an art director, right?) spoke first. She discussed picture book design and her overall process, where she takes an original picture book manuscript and shapes this “nebulous idea” to give it more focus.
She said that design is an opportunity to continue telling the story; not just to sum everything up. “Everything in a picture book should feel related to the story.” This means from the illustrations, style of the text, the endpapers, the cover, etc. That’s what design can do. Fascinating, eh?
Maria told me that she will speaking at this year’s SCBWI LA summer conference for the first time. So if you missed her this weekend and you want some summer sun, sign up for the big conference here and check her out in person!
Next up was Katie Carella, Editor at Scholastic, Inc. She has a delightfully youthful voice and naturally curly hair that gave mine some serious curl envy. And that’s saying something. Katie talked about her professional journey and how she took a detour at one point to teach young grade schoolers. Once there, she discovered that although she loved kids, she loved acting like a kid more, which meant that she was perfect for children’s publishing!
Katie discussed Early Chapter Books. You know; that extremely hard to define niche of writing? Well she helped us understand it perfectly. Early chapter books are aimed at newly independent readers who are ready to graduate from picture books, but aren’t quite ready to tackle a full chapter book, yet. Age range is 5 – 8 (grades K-3). Early chapter books need to have four things:
- Relatable characters
- Fast-paced plots
- Cliff hanger chapter endings
- Easy-to-read and decodable text
Katie then broke down each step in great detail, using some examples from the new Branches imprint from Scholastic. They have several exciting releases coming out this year, including The Notebook of Doom, written and illustrated by Troy Cummings.
To learn more about Katie Carella, you can follow her on Twitter here.
Claire Evans, Assistant Editor at Dial Books for Young Readers and Kathy Dawson Books, made her solo speaking debut at our conference. You wouldn’t have known it from her presentation. Spectacular. And she brought prizes. Who doesn’t love prizes?
Claire walked us through the day in the life of an editor – which began with riding on the subway and strange looks from people for cramming in some reading time (What grown woman doesn’t read a book about sleepovers?) and ended after a day of meetings with design teams and sales teams, etc. – without her getting to the actual work of editing. That’s homework. It totally exhausted me.
The point was to press upon us how many different teams of people have to get excited about a book in order to get it sold. That publishing is actually a business. After all, when we first submit our manuscript, we have to sell our stories through our query letters and get editors and agents excited about our stories enough to read them. Claire showed us how to develop our marketing and pitching skills through several activities. (That’s where the prizes came in.) They were so helpful; I know I’ll be using a lot of those skills very soon.
All of this was before lunch. So…what happened afterwards?
Was there even more to this unbelievable day? Oh, yes!
Stay tuned for Part Two!