This year’s SCBWI Oklahoma Spring Conference set a high bar for future conferences. A month later and I’m still processing the wealth of information the speakers imparted. Here’s Part I of the brief recap!
This year’s conference began with something new, a warm up event on Friday evening. With three different options, I chose to attend the Friday Night Panel with Ally Carter, Matt Ringler, and Linda Camacho.
This fun and informative panel was asked everything from their views on professionalism to what keeps them reading a manuscript to what other agents and editors would say about them. Needless to say things got interesting!
The three speakers held the attention of the packed room and started the conference off with great enthusiasm.
One of my favorite stories was from Ally Carter. When answering a question about professionalism, she commented that she was simply doing what her mother taught her when she wrote a thank you note to a very important book seller. She found out later that he actually kept it displayed. It was the only one he’d ever received from an author. A reminder that being thoughtful to everyone in this business can make a difference.
Our first speaker of the day showed us the power and beauty of using fewer words to tell our stories.
Katrina Damkoehler – Senior Designer with Random House Children’s Publishing
Katrina is currently a Senior Designer for the trade imprints of Random House Children’s Publishing, where she designs and art directs approximately 35 middle grade and picture book titles per year. She was previously Art Director at Amazon Children’s Publishing. Recent projects she art directed include the 2015 Geisel Award-winner “You Are Not Small” (Anna Kang/Christopher Weyant), “Grover Cleveland, Again” (Ken Burns/Gerald Kelley), and “This is My Book” (Mark Pett).
Katrina gave a talk entitled, “(Almost) Wordless Picture Books” where she gave examples of picture books that used few words to tell great stories. The (almost) wordless manuscripts may have as few as 50 words. With a limited word count, it’s helpful to have a road map. That’s why most wordless (or nearly wordless) manuscript submissions include illustration notes.
Here are some examples she shared:
THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS LITTLE by LeUyen Pham
CINDER-EYED CATS by Eric Rohmann
HELLO HIPPO, GOODBYE BIRD by Kristyn Crow
She also walked us through the illustration process – from submitted manuscript to finished book – for EAT, SLEEP, POOP by Alexandra Penfold.
One thing she emphasized about nearly wordless picture books is that emotional expressions of the characters need to be extremely clear. After all, the illustrations are doing a lot of heavy-lifting with the story-telling.
To learn more about Katrina, follow her on Twitter here.
Prior to the conference, Katrina participated in a Twitter chat with us. You can view the Storify version of our conversation with Katrina here.
Next, a true power couple shared tips on how to write authentically for a YA audience.
Ally Carter – Young Adult Author
Ally Carter writes books about spies, thieves, and teenagers. She is the New York Times bestselling author of the EMBASSY ROW, HEIST SOCIETY, and GALLAGHER GIRLS series, which together have sold more than two-million copies and have been published in more than twenty countries. She lives in Oklahoma, where her life is either very ordinary or the best deep-cover legend ever.
Kristen Nelson – President and Founding Literary Agent at Nelson Literary Agency
Kristen established the Nelson Literary Agency in 2002 and over the last decade+ of her career has represented over thirty-five New York Times bestselling titles and many USA Today bestsellers. Clients include Ally Carter, Marie Lu, Scott Reintgen, Gail Carriger, Stacey Lee, Marcia Wells, and Simone Elkeles. When she is not busy selling books, Kristin attempts to play golf & tennis. She also enjoys playing Bridge (where she is the youngest person in her club), and can be found hiking in the mountains with her husband and their dog Chutney.
NY Times best-selling author (and Oklahoma native) Ally Carter joined her agent Kristen Nelson to give a presentation together entitled, “‘So You Want to Write YA…Start by Asking the Right Questions!”.
One of those right questions was instead of asking how to learn teen slang, you should ask if you have a voice that appeals to teens.
Slang comes and goes, and is often regionally specific. Besides dating your manuscript, it can end up alienating readers instead of connecting them with your story.
Another great question was instead of asking if you can just age your characters up or down to ‘make’ your book YA, you should ask yourself if you’re telling a true coming-of-age story that will resonate with teens.
It’s not enough to have characters the same age as your readers. Age doesn’t equal connection. You have to engage your teen readers with a story they can relate to.
And this one was my favorite:
Q: Should I alter myself when writing for teens?
A: Ally – “Yes, write smarter.”
Kristen – “I’ve never heard a teen say, ‘I felt obligated to keep reading’.”
Teens expect the writing to be great from page one and will put a book down the minute it stops delivering.
To learn more about this dynamic duo:
Visit Kristen’s agency site to view what she’s currently seeking and to observe her submission guidelines.
The final speaker of the morning dazzled us with his presentation and his wit.
Matt Ringler – Senior Editor with Scholastic
Matt is a senior editor at Scholastic specializing in chapter book, middle grade, and YA fiction. He is the editor of the Goosebumps series by R.L. Stine, the Game Changers series by Mike Lupica, the STAT series by Amar’e Stoudemire, and the Little Rhino series by Ryan Howard. His YA list includes the New York Times Bestseller Kill the Boy Band by Goldy Moldavsky and It’s Not Me, It’s You by Stephanie Kate Strohm.
Matt spoke about “Writing Success at Many Levels”. He started out by giving us some background on himself (started as an intern for the David Levithan – can you say fangirling?) and some mind-blowing Scholastic stats (like Scholastic publishes 1 out of every 3 books, and first experience most kids have buying their own books is through Scholastic Book Fairs).
Matt moved on to talking about writing, and specifically about not fighting your own writing process, even if it changes from one book to the next. You change as your experiences grow – you’re not the same writer you were a few years ago. It’s okay for your process to change. Embrace it.
Matt shared an insight into his selection process. When deciding what projects to take on, Matt said, “To work on a book, it’s a year. It’s committing to a relationship. If it doesn’t feel right for me, I’ll pass on it.”
That’s another reason to not take it personally when your manuscript is rejected because an agent or editor didn’t love it enough. That doesn’t mean your work isn’t good, just that their commitment level wasn’t right for the relationship to work. You want your book to succeed and you want someone to champion your book. That’s going to require a strong commitment to your story.
Matt went on to discuss the different kinds of success:
All aspects of success can build on each other. Writing is hard! Don’t forget to celebrate the little steps of success along the way.
To learn more about Matt, follow him on Twitter here.
Matt will be our guest for #okscbwichat on Twitter August 22nd from 7-8pm CST! We hope you’ll join us!
Break time means networking (read “socializing”) and taking selfies with my writing friends!
One of the best parts of writing conferences is connecting with my fellow writers (and the odd illustrator or two, Jerry). I love my tribe!
Stay tuned for Part II of the conference recap!