Interview with Ginny Sain – Actor, Writer, Celebrator of Boundless Imagination

Ginny Sain


We’ve been getting to know some of the faculty for our upcoming 2015 OK SCBWI “Fan the Spark” Fall Retreat through a series of Twitter Chats and now, right here on this blog.

Today, Ginny Sain stops by for an interview. As a faculty member of the Novel Track for the Fall Retreat, Ginny will share drama techniques to help writers with character development. Below, she’ll enlighten us on how acting and writing are more alike than one might think.

About Ginny

Ginny graduated summa cum laude from the University of the Ozarks in Clarksville, Arkansas, in 1995 with a degree in theatre.  She has worked as an artist in residence teaching theatre arts workshops in Arkansas and Oklahoma schools as well as teaching and directing all classes, workshops, and productions for over 18 years with the very successful Stages Theatre for Youth program, an intensive actor training program for serious and dedicated young theatre artists in grades K-12, which she founded at the University of the Ozarks, where she also worked with college theatre students.

With more than 20 years of experience as a working director, choreographer, playwright, theatrical designer, performer, and theatre arts teacher, Ginny is thrilled to be back in Oklahoma as one of the founders of HeARTsong Creative Center, a creative and performing arts organization dedicated to providing professional quality arts programs and events that will encourage people of all ages to explore the depths of their souls, stretch the limits of their possibilities, celebrate the boundlessness of their own imaginations, and recognize the value of hard work paired with creativity.


The Interview

Ginny SainValerie Lawson: You grew up in a very literary household, and yet you chose the theatre. What about that medium called to you?

Ginny Sain: Oscar Wilde said, “I regard the theatre as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being.”

I’ve always believe that. I’ve always been drawn to the immediacy and intimacy of communication that you get in the theatre – both with your fellow artistic collaborators, and especially with the audience.

VL: I love that – thinking of your audience as part of the art.

In the realm of theatre arts, you have been a teacher, director, choreographer, actor, playwright, etc., what aspect of the field do you enjoy the most?

GS: I love to act, but what I am most passionate about is teaching and directing young people who are serious about developing as theatre artists. I spent 20 years working with one amazing group of kids, taking many of them literally from kindergarten through high school graduation, and watching them grow and develop as artists, and as people from year to year.

The kind of theatre we were able to do together because of that, and the kind of community they built with each other – that was such a huge thing to be a part of, for them and for me. So many of them are out there doing amazing things now. No matter what else I do with my life I will always consider those students to be the most special thing I have ever been a part of, my greatest contribution to the world.

VL: That kind of continuity is rare, I would imagine. So fantastic!

How would you say that acting and writing are related? What can a writer learn from the theatre arts?

GS: For writers and actors, it’s all about developing real, honest, believable characters and bringing them to life for an audience. Both art forms are about creating something so real that, just for a little bit, people forget that those characters don’t exist.

In the theatre, we do a lot of character analysis work that I think would be very beneficial to writers. We learn to think about the whole life of the character, not just the aspects that figure directly into the story. We build a whole world and we spend time living there. For an actor, the key is asking questions and then, instead of deciding on an answer ourselves, letting the character answer those questions for us. And I think actors tend to ask those questions in a slightly different way than writers do. It’s a really interesting process that actors have.

VL: Yes! Let the character answer the questions. Wonderful.

For the Oklahoma SCBWI Fall Retreat this October, you are co-hosting the Novel Track with your mother, author Anna Myers, how will you be contributing to the workshop?

GS: I’ll be talking specifically about the character developement process we use in the theatre, and how writers can adapt that for their own work. I’m really excited about that. Hopefully, it will cause people to view their characters from a slightly different perspective.

VL: I’m so curious about this different perspective; I can’t wait to discover this new way of looking at my characters.

Tell us a little about your teen years growing up. What was the most embarrassing thing you experienced? What was the most memorable adventure you had with your friends?

GS: Well, you know my mother is going to read this, so……my friends and I spent most of our time just sitting around reading poetry and behaving ourselves.  Lol.  Honestly, my friends were theatre kids and show choir kids. And I grew up in a very small town. Our idea of adventure was, I’m sure by most standards, pretty tame. We were in rehearsal for one thing or another a lot of the time, and those were the best times I remember.

VL: Ha! Well, it was worth a shot. Actually, my daughter might read this, so…yes! That’s all good theatre kids should do – rehearse and read poetry.

What has been your favorite book to read/book you’ve been most excited about over the past year?

GS: I’ve been reading a lot of young adult books this last year.  I really enjoyed John Green’s “Looking for Alaska.” Like I said earlier, I’ve spent almost half my life working with teenagers, and I love them. And the voices in that particular book rang as so authentic to me.

VL: I have heard that you yourself are working on writing a novel, tell us about your experience. What have you learned about writing? About yourself as an artist?

GS: I am working on a book – a young adult novel set in the world of the theatre. Since that’s the world I know best, that seemed like a good place to start. I guess the main thing I’ve learned is that I really enjoy writing. I’ve been told my whole life that I had some ability as a writer, but I never really thought it was something that I enjoyed particularly. Theatre is such a collaborative art form. Writing always seemed to me to be such a solitary process, and that just never really appealed to me. But, I’m beginning to understand that isn’t really true.

VL: Ha! Yes, it may take one writer to draft a novel, but it takes a village to raise it.

You and your sister started your own creative arts center a few years ago, what can you tell us about that project

GS: I’ve always been a director and teacher, and my sister is a licensed teacher. She’s taught in schools in Oklahoma, Texas, and in Malta. So, when I was looking for a change, it just seemed kind of natural that we should combine those things into one joint creative venture. We offer theatre and other creative classes for students of all ages. Most of our work is done in after-school programs at local schools. It’s something we both enjoy and it gives us a lot of flexibility in the projects we work on, which is something that was important to both of us, since we are also raising children and pursuing other interests. It’s been a hard process getting it off the ground, but we’re finally making some good progress.

VL: You have an excellent program. I know my daughter enjoyed taking acting lessons from you. She learned more about her personal strengths and weaknesses as an actor – and how to improve – from you than her own drama teacher. I wish you well in that venture!

Thank you so much for sharing your time with us, Ginny. I look forward to your presentation at the retreat next month!

There are still a few spots available for our Fall Retreat. If you would like to hear Ginny speak, along with our other faculty members, sign up, today! This is an event you won’t want to miss!


Visit the website for more details and to register online.

TweetAnd don’t miss the next Twitter Chat on September 22nd, from 7-8pm CST, when we chat with picture book author Janee Trasler. Use the hashtag #okscbwichat. Hope to see you there!

SCBWI Oklahoma Twitter Chats



Fall is just around the corner and so is our SCBWI Oklahoma Fall Retreat. To get everyone in the mood for the retreat, and to help us get to know some of our retreat faculty, we are hosting several Twitter chats over the next month, beginning this Tuesday, August 25th.

TweetEach Twitter chat will be from 7-8pm CST, using the hashtag #okscbwichat.


Here is our Twitter Chat Line-Up:

Christa HeschkeAugust 25  from 7:00 PM – 8:00 PM CST 

Christa Heschke – Agent with McIntosh & Otis, Inc. and Off-Site Critiquer for Fall Retreat.  Her Twitter username is @ChristaHeschke. Use the hashtag #okscbwichat.

Christa has been at McIntosh and Otis, Inc. in the Children’s Literature Department since 2009 where she is actively looking for picture books, middle grade, and young adult projects. She is a fan of young adult novels with a romantic angle, and strong, quirky protagonists. Within YA, Christa is especially interested in contemporary fiction, horror and thrillers/mysteries. As for middle grade, Christa enjoys contemporary, humor, adventure, mystery and magical realism. For picture books, she’s drawn to cute, funny, character driven stories within fiction and is open to non-fiction with a unique hook.

UPDATE 8/28/15: If you missed this chat, you can view the Storify version here:

Emily FeinbergSeptember 1  from 7:00 PM – 8:00 PM CST

Emily Feinberg – Assistant Editor with Roaring Brook Press, and Off-Site Critiquer for Fall Retreat. Her Twitter username is @EmilyFeinberg. Use the hashtag #okscbwichat.

After graduating from college, Emily joined the editorial team at Roaring Brook Press where she has had the opportunity to work with artists and writers such as Laura Vaccaro Seeger, Jason Chin, Bagram Ibatoulline, Nick Bruel and Yuyi Morales, among others. Emily works mostly with picture book, middle grade and nonfiction titles. While she is always looking for solid, voice-driven picture books and middle grade, she also particularly loves nonfiction for young readers of all ages. Emily is not an editor of fantasy.

UPDATE 9/4/15: If you missed this chat, you can view the Storify version here:


Janee TraslerSeptember 22nd  from 7:00 PM – 8:00 PM CST

Janee Trasler – Picture Book Author and Picture Book Track speaker at our Fall Retreat. Her Twitter username is @janeetrasler. Use the hashtag #okscbwichat.

Janee writes and illustrates clever  and funny picture books like the Chickies series, MIMI AND BEAR IN THE SNOW, CAVEMAN A.B.C. STORY, and BENNY’S CHOCOLATE BUNNY. She’s also been known to sing silly songs and play with puppets.

Learn more about Janee by visiting her website:

UPDATE 9/22/15: If you missed this chat, you can view the Storify version here:


stacks_image_43September 29  from 7:00 PM – 8:00 PM CST

Tim Jessell – Illustrator and Fall Retreat Illustrator Track Instructor. His Twitter username is @timjessell. Use the hashtag #okscbwichat.

Tim illustrates the best seller series Secrets Of DroonDog DiariesAmare Stoudemire’s STAT, Stan Lee of Marvel Comics first children’s picture book, and covers for reissue of Zilpha Keatley Snyder’s Newbery Honor Books. He is also the author/illustrator of two picture books, Amorak and FALCON.

Learn more about Tim by visiting his website:

UPDATE 9/29/15: If you missed this chat, you can view the Storify version here:


And for those interested in attending our retreat, sign up now! There are fewer than 30 spots remaining for our fall retreat.

This two-day event, from Friday, October 9th through Saturday, October 10th, has specially designed tracks for illustrators, picture book writers, and novel writers built in to the programming. There will also be a first pages panel & discussion, and an entire day devoted to editing. (For full details, and to register for this event, visit the OK SCBWI website.)

TweetSee you on Twitter!


SCBWI OK FALL RETREAT 2015 – Fan That Spark


During the fantastic SCBWI OK Spring Conference this past March, we all got our Spark Ignited.

The next step?

We gotta fan that spark!

Come to our unbelievable Fall Retreat. You won’t want to miss it!


This two-day event, from Friday, October 9th through Saturday, October 10th, will have specially designed tracks for illustrators, picture book writers, and novel writers built in to the programming. There will also be a first pages panel & discussion, and an entire day devoted to editing. Manuscript critiques will also be available. (For full details, visit the OK SCBWI website.)

Meet our speakers:

stacks_image_43Tim Jessell – Tim illustrates the best seller series Secrets Of DroonDog DiariesAmare Stoudemire’s STAT, Stan Lee of Marvel Comics first children’s picture book, and covers for the reissue of Zilpha Keatley Snyder’s Newbery Honor Books. Jessell is also the author and illustrator of two picture books, Amorak and FALCON.


Learn more about Tim by visiting his website:


trasler - photo with puppet-crop-u483Janee Trasler – Janee writes and illustrates clever  and funny picture books like the Chickies series, MIMI AND BEAR IN THE SNOW, CAVEMAN A.B.C. STORY, and BENNY’S CHOCOLATE BUNNY. She’s also been known to sing silly songs and play with puppets.

Learn more about Janee by visiting her website:


AnnaMyersphotoCAnna Myers – This award-winning Oklahoma author has published 20 books to much critical acclaim. She has won the Oklahoma Book Award four times for SPY!, ASSASSIN, GRAVEYARD GIRL, and RED DIRT JESSIE. She was also awarded their lifetime achievement, the Arrell Gibson Award, in 2012. She writes historical and contemporary fiction for young readers. She also had her first picture book, TUMBLEWEED BABY, published in 2014. Most importantly, she was our Oklahoma SCBWI Regional Advisor and fearless leader for 14 years.

Learn more about Anna by visiting her website:


LindaUrbanLinda Urban – Linda writes picture books and middle grade novels from subjects as varied as an angry mouse expressing emotion (MOUSE WAS MAD), a red-headed boy searching for independence (LITTLE RED HENRY), a girl who dreams of playing pianos only to end up with a wheezy organ (A CROOKED KIND OF PERFECT), and a girl who tries to fix a horrible mistake with a birthday wish (THE CENTER OF EVERYTHING). Urban’s characters are written with so much heart, yours will burst while reading about them.

Learn more about Linda by visiting her website:

For full details on the retreat and how to register, visit the OK SCBWI website here:

Hope to see you there!

TweetSome of our speakers and manuscript critiquers may be making guest appearances on upcoming sessions of #okscbwichat on Twitter prior to the retreat, so stay tuned!



The Highly Anticipated OK SCBWI Spring Conference Recap – PART 2


Welcome to Part 2 of our fantastic Oklahoma SCBWI Spring Conference recap!

Beginning from where we left off in Part 1, we broke for lunch where each table enjoyed the company of a conference speaker or a published author, allowing all of our attendees to have an opportunity to ask their industry questions in a more relaxed setting.

After lunch, we heard from our second literary agent of the day.

rachel-orrRachel Orr, Literary Agent with the Prospect Agency, gave a two-part talk beginning with, “Main Conflict: The Spark That Fires Up a Manuscript” and ending with, “A Conversation with an Agent & Author” where local author Jennifer Latham joined her to discuss their working relationship and her journey to publishing.

Many problems Rachel sees in novels revolve around conflict:

  • Some writers are afraid to give their characters flaws. They want to keep them as nice as possible; to avoid any conflict. This equates with boring.
  • Some writers have scenes that can fall into any order – when this happens, it makes her wonder about the strength of the story. It’s much better to have things build upon each other.
  • Another problem is when writers use a character as a vehicle to talk about a topic of interest or when they place conflict on a character unnaturally.

“Everything starts with character.” If you know your character well, conflict will follow.

Other problems Rachel notes involve the structure of the manuscript itself.

Conflicts may be introduced, but then they are resolved too quickly. “Instead of plot slopes, you have moguls.” This is a flat-lining approach. In picture books, this can be the day-in-the-life stories with no conflict.

Literary novels tend to be character-driven. Manuscripts like these with problems, nothing happens in the story. Even though your novel may be character-based, it still needs movement; conflict.

Conversely, plot-driven novels with very clear end goals still need some kind of change to take place in the character.

“Make your characters uncomfortable.”

For the second part of her talk, she invited Jennifer to join her and they discussed their professional relationship.OK SCBWI Spring 5


Rachel began by saying her approach to revision/editing is to point out the issues in a manuscript and let the author solve them. “This is what I think needs to be changed, you figure out how to change it.” This type of direction is important for her as an agent and Jennifer is very good at doing this.

Jennifer’s first project received many rejections. She said, “Four rejections is a starting point.” She also learned from her rejections. “Every editor who gave me feedback told me something useful.” It was like her own MFA program. But after so many rejections, She and Rachel decided it was time to shelve that first manuscript.

Jennifer stated, “I deserve to be represented by someone who believes in my writing, not just one project.”

Rachel did believe in her and helped Jennifer navigate her way through a few missteps until SCARLETT UNDERCOVER, her debut novel, was born. Jennifer’s book is scheduled to be released May 19, 2015.


Our next speaker talked to us about picture books.



Julie Bliven, Editor with Charlesbridge Publishing gave a fascinating and informative talk entitled, “Elements of a Successful Picture Book”.


The top two elements are:

  1. Beginning
  2. Narrative Voice


Why Beginnings Matter: “A successful picture book beginning knows its ending.”

Problems she sees with beginnings are too much description and too much back story.


  1. The introduction is about character experience – has personal and immediate conflict. Examples include I WANT MY HAT BACK, ZEN SHORTS, and LITTLE PIG JOINS THE BAND
  2. The introduction recounts person, place or event. Examples include GRANDPA GREEN, ELLINGTON, and BALLET FOR MARTHA
  3. The introduction has an instrumental setting – something really important.  Examples include THE CURIOUS GARDEN, IMOGENE’S LAST STAND, and EXTRA YARN.


What contributes to voice?

  • Distinctive language
  • Author’s attitude
  • Clear structure
  • Illuminating metaphors
  • Definitions in context
  • Use of quotations
  • Awareness of audience
  • Sense of story
  • Character
  • Remarkable facts
  • Connections/juxtapositions
  • Humor
  • ResearchBalloons over Broadway

In BALLOONS OVER BROADWAY by Melissa Sweet, the author’s voice shows through distinctive language by her use alliteration and simile.

Think about word choice. Circle all adjectives and verbs and consider if they can be replaced with something more descriptive or active.The Wall

Peter Sis shows an example of voice through clear structure in THE WALL when he shows two world views in juxtaposition; his own personal view versus the global world view.Day Glo Brothers

We find a good example of voice through definitions in context within the pages of THE DAY-GLO BROTHERS by Chris Barton and Tony Persiani.

Awareness of audience is shown in FEATHERS by Melissa Stewart and Sarah S. Brannen by understanding how different aged readers experience picture books. The main storyline used similes for beginning readers like this: “Feathers can dig holes like a backhoe”. Then the second layer of text for slightly older readers included more detailed facts.Feathers page spread







Our final speaker of the day gave us tips on tightening those first pages.



Alyson Heller, Editor with Aladdin Books (an imprint of Simon & Schuster) enlightened us with some great ideas for improving our beginnings with her talk entitled “Put a Spark in Your First Pages/Chapters”.

Opening Line

This is your book’s handshake, the opening to your reader. It should be assertive and strong.

  • Asks a questions (not always in a literal sense)
  • Sets the mood/directs the reader to what you want them to experience.
  • Sets up voice of a character.
  • Can throw out a surprise.

Books with great opening lines: DIVERGENT by Veronica Roth, CHARLOTTE’S WEB by E.B. White, MATILDA by Roald Dahl, and WINGER by Andrew Smith.


“It was a day that changed my life.”


Did you get a new dog? Meet a best friend? Fall in love? Witness the Zombie Apocalypse?

Define it better than in that generic, non-specific way.

First Chapter

  • Should involve the main protagonist. The reader needs to care. This means your character has to be sympathetic, doesn’t mean likable.
  • Have a sense of drama/conflict  – do you have internal as well as external conflicts? Make sure to introduce the opponent. Is your protagonist proactive? They should not just be reacting to events.
  • Tone – set through dialogue, pacing, and voice.

Book Recommendations: THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN by Paula Hawkins, SEEING CINDERELLA by Jenny Lundquist, BUCK’s TOOTH by Diane Kredensor, EXTRAORDINARY WARREN SAVES THE DAY by Sarah Dillard.

Make your first chapter like the perfect skirt; “long enough to cover the essentials, but short enough to keep it interesting.”


OK SCBWI Spring 6
Our speakers (from left to right) Rachel Orr, Alyson Heller, Laura Biagi, Julie Bliven, Kristine Brogno, and Erica Finkel

Our conference closed with a Q & A Panel with our speakers that was fantastic. What an amazing group of ladies!


I did manage to buy a few books from some of our published members. We’ve had quite a growth in this area. At this rate, we may need to add another table to the book store soon.

Some of our published members holding their books.
Some of our published members holding their books, looking very professional.
…and one for fun!







One of our rising stars, Hannah Harrison, signing my book.
One of our rising stars, Hannah Harrison, signing my copy of REMY AND LULU.


And I almost forgot to mention the part of the day where I nearly lost my mind. During announcements, when our new Regional Advisor, Helen Newton, announced that for our Fall Retreat in October, LINDA URBAN WILL BE SPEAKING!!!

If you haven’t read A CROOKED KIND OF PERFECT or THE CENTER OF EVERYTHING, you must get yourself to a bookstore immediately. And once you’ve read her work, you will be compelled to come to our Fall Retreat. So I’ll see you there.



The Highly Anticipated OK SCBWI Spring Conference Recap – PART 1


This year our Oklahoma SCBWI Spring Conference was outstanding. The theme “Ignite the Spark” set the stage for all of the discussions, as each speaker delivered a truly motivating talk. I’m surprised we didn’t set the place on fire with the collective creativity bouncing around in that ballroom.

Ignite the Spark Conference-Ad

The first speaker of the day was a familiar face to readers of this blog as she had just given a wonderful interview right before the conference.

our_team_biagiLaura Biagi, Literary Agent with the Jean V. Nagger Literary Agency gave a talk entitled, “The Spark an Agent Brings to the Table”. She discussed how an agent works and what an agent can add to the manuscript process. She also shared some of her  red flags that would send a manuscript straight to the reject pile.

One observation she made about when she finds herself searching for quality manuscripts, deep in the slush pile, is that the discovery process can feel “a bit like archaeology”.

And not in the glamorous, Indiana Jones way.

Unlike the adventurous whip-yielding Jones who finds priceless treasure in every place he falls, most great archaeological finds have already been discovered, and it takes a great amount of pain-staking digging before you carefully unearth something truly unique.

She may sift through over 400 queries in a month before finding a manuscript that piques her interest. But the story has to do more than that; she has to absolutely love it. She needs a story she can’t help telling everyone about.

RED FLAGS – Query/Manuscript Level

  • If the characters or plot sound stereotypical
  • If adjectives or adverbs get in the way of a clear message
  • If the story is all about plot – maybe your characters aren’t significant enough
  • If there isn’t a strong plot – your story has to go somewhere
  • Moral message

Once a manuscript has risen above the rest and shown promise that it can be polished into a treasure, then she may make THE PHONE CALL! This is a very important step in the process. An agent can gauge personality compatibilities, discuss the revision process and discover how open the author is to making changes and to taking advice. Creating a book is a very collaborative process. You have to be open to suggestions, and be willing to make changes.

Once both agent and author decide the phone call went well and they want to work together, the next step is taking that rare find and cleaning it up with some editing. Laura makes line edits and brainstorms with her authors. She may even bring other agents from her agency in to help – more eyes on the project to get more ideas.

One of the most important things to remember about making a book, “It’s so much more a collaborative process” and it’s important to respect the expertise of everyone involved, from the art director to the editor, to the copy editor, to the marketing department, etc.


Our second speaker of the day kept the momentum going with her discussion about picture books.

kristine-brognoKristine Brogno, Design Director for Chronicle Books, delighted us with her talk, “Words+Pictures or Pictures+Words: The Difference That Creates Spark!”

Kristine began by stating that in a picture book, there’s not a lot of real estate to tell a story.

Every word must count.

“Picture books are the perfect marriage between text and art; one couldn’t exist without the other.” They are more than the sum of their parts.

Words+Pictures versus Pictures+Words – what’s the difference? Here are the different types of picture books to help us get a better idea:


1) BORING – the illustrations say exactly what the text says. This is the biggest mistake you can make when creating a picture book.  (Although many examples of this types existed, she kindly chose not to share any titles.)

2) TIGHTLY WOVEN NARRATIVE TEXT – Longer, character-driven picture books that can hold an entire world on a single page.


A RIVER OF WORDS: THE STORY OF WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS by Jen Bryant, Illustrated by Melissa Sweet

A River of Words

THE BIG WISH by Carolyn Conahan

The Big Wish


San Fransisco Baby

3) WORDS THAT SET THE STAGE – These books say just enough to set the action in motion. The text on the page has a very thoughtful and intentional place to be.


In Maurice Sendak’s WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE, for example, the illustrations begin to take up more and more of the space until the words disappear altogether.


But then Sendak reverses this at the end when he has only text on the final page:

“and it was still hot.”

Why was there no image?

Because Sendak was bringing us back to a warm, safe place. No image was needed. If there had been an image of Max, it would have been all about him. Again, the choice was very deliberate.

More examples:

A SICK DAY FOR AMOS MCGEE by Philip C Stead, illustrated by Erin E Stead

Sick Day


Great Paper Caper


 Old Hat New HAt

4) WORDS AS A COUNTERPOINT – Here, what you see doesn’t match what you read. There are many ways to use this form. For example, you can let the text play the straight man while the picture is the comic relief.

Children love this; they like to be in on the joke.

THIS IS NOT MY HAT by Jon Klassen is a great example of a very unreliable narrator. The illustrations are very simple, yet incredibly expressive.


This Is Not My Hat 2


More examples:

ROSIE’S WALK by Pat Hutchins

Rosies Walk

NO! by Marta Altes

No 2

Kristine closed with these words of wisdom. No matter which style you choose, remember to “leave just enough space between the words and pictures for magic to happen”.


Our third speaker educated us on the different categories in the marketplace and cautioned us about common errors that may send our manuscript to the rejection pile.

erica-finkel-photo1Erica Finkel, Associate Editor with Amulet/Abrams Books gave a talk entitled “Put a Spark in Your Submission by Knowing the Market”.

She began by comparing manuscript submissions to dating. “You’ll have lots of experiences, and not many will work out.” Each side also comes in with a set of expectations.

Some common errors may sour that experience from the onset – and they have nothing to do with writing skills. Here are a few of them:


  • House Mis-match – Don’t send your NF biography to a house that doesn’t sell non-fiction or biographies. It’s a waste of your time and theirs.
  • Format – If your chapter book is written at the wrong reading level, your target audience won’t be able to understand it.
  • Comp Titles – This is only helpful if the titles used are current (published within the past five years). It also needs to be helpful and realistic. If you claim your story is the next HUNGER GAMES meets TWILIGHT meets HARRY POTTER, that is not only confusing, it’s not very helpful.

Know your marketplace, from board books to YA! Do this by reading! You have to know what’s out there.

BOARD BOOKS: yummyuckyBarnyard-Bath-copy

Age Range: 0 to 5 years-old

Length: 10 to 32 pages

Novelty, concept, repurposed bestsellers (Goodnight Moon, Babar, etc), and some few original narratives. All have short sentences.

Examples: Sandra Boynton, Leslie Patricelli


Fancy NancyPigeon BathA Ball for DaisySky Color





Age Range: 2-8 years-old

Length: Anywhere from 24 to 48 pages with 32 pages being the standard.

Language Level: Adult reading to child

Examples: Chris Raschka, Peter H. Reynolds, Big series like Don’t Let the Pigeon… series, and Fancy Nancy.

I CAN READS (Early Readers):

Age Range: 5-8 years-old

Length: 32-64 pages, limited trim 6×6, often paperback with more illustrations.

Language Level: Meant to instruct, clear and simple.


Captain Underpants 2013Judy Moody BookMy Weird School Junie B Jones





Age Range: 6-9 years-old

Length: 80-176 pages.

More text than illustrations. Series dominate. Most put out two books per year and take up a lot of shelf space in bookstores. It is very hard to do a one-off title or publish an unknown author in this category.

*Language: Simple for new independent readers. *This is tough for authors to nail.

Examples: Series like Captain Underpants, Judy Moody, My Weird School, Junie B. Jones


Diary Wimpy KidOrigami YodaPercy JacksonLiar and SpyOkay for Now





Age Range: 8-13 years-old

Length: 200-400 pages.

Usually released in hardcover first, then as a paperback a year later. Some have illustrations, but most do not. Protagonist is often the same age as the reader. They are attracted to characters going through same issues they are.

Language: Fully independent; level is simple and age-appropriate.



Series –  Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Origami Yoda, Percy Jackson


DivergentMaze RunnerScorpio-paperback-websiteEleanorPark_cover2-300x450TFiOS



Age Range: 13+, 14+

Length: 300-500 pages.

Hardcover release, then paperback one year later. Most are unillustrated, except for graphic novels. Protagonist is often the same age as the reader.

Language: Comparable to adult



Series – Divergent, The Maze Runner, The Hunger Games

NEW ADULT:Glines bookUgly LoveWalking Disaster




Age Range: 18-25 years-old

This is a new category. The protagonist is out of high school and dealing with “new adult” issues – college, first jobs, emerging sexuality. Many authors began as self-published.

Examples: Colleen Hoover, Abbi Glines, Jamie McGuire

Whatever you choose to create, be innovative and show publishers something they haven’t seen before, but in an educated way. You’ll be able to do that if you know the marketplace.

Stay tuned for PART 2, coming soon!

Laura Biagi – Agent Interview

our_team_biagiI’m so excited that Laura Biagi, literary agent with the Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency, will be speaking this weekend at our 2015 SCBWI OK Spring Conference. This year’s them is “Ignite the Spark”. In Laura’s talk, entitled “The Spark an Agent Brings to the Table”, she will be discussing “insights from the front line about what literary agents do and what they offer clients”. She’ll also discuss what red flags may make an agent pass on a manuscript, among other issues.

Laura graciously consented to giving an interview here on the blog to entice us with a little preview.

The Interview

Valerie Lawson: What advice would you give to querying writers?

Laura Biagi: One of the more obvious pieces of advice is to do your research on agents so you’re not querying agents who wouldn’t be likely to represent the type of book you’ve written.  But there are many other pieces of advice that writers too often take for granted: Be persistent–not only in submitting to many agents or reworking your query letter to make it the strongest possible, but also in writing new material.

Your writing will keep growing and become stronger the more you write, and sometimes it’s the next book right around the corner that will be your breakthrough.  Prior to querying, make sure your manuscript is as polished as you can possibly make it.  Show your work to your writer friends or anyone else you trust and get their feedback, then incorporate it organically.  Don’t skimp on the time you devote to revisions.  Revisions are usually THE most important part of a successful writer’s process!  Be sure to read very widely in your genre, not only so you know whether your book is unique enough to stand out in the crowded marketplace, but also–and more importantly–so you can learn better how to write with authority and grace and build tension.

VL: Do your research, don’t skimp on revising, and read a wide variety of books. Great advice!

What makes you stop reading a query?

LB: This varies widely depending on the book.  I make sure to consider each query on its own terms.  However, some examples of things that might convince me to pass include stereotypical characters or plots, too many adjectives and adverbs that get in the way of conveying a clear image, too few details about the characters and their relationships with one another (this makes me worry the characters aren’t developed enough in the manuscript), too few details about the plot (this makes me worry the pacing isn’t strong enough and the stakes and conflict aren’t developed enough).

I’ll be discussing more red flags in my talk at the conference–so for more info, please come!

VL: Yes! You definitely don’t want to miss out on this conference!

What’s one major aspect of a manuscript that hooks you? What doesn’t?

LB: What hooks me right away is an immediate voice that cleverly and organically reveals details (even better if they’re unexpected details!) about the characters, setting, situation, etc.

What doesn’t hook me is a tepid opening that feels too familiar or unintriguing or takes too long to reveal its purpose.

VL: What type of manuscript would you love to find in your inbox?

LB: I’d love to find more magical realism YA novels with literary bents.  I’m very interested in books set in the South or Kentucky, as that’s where I’m originally from.  I’d also love to find a literary YA with Romani characters.  I’m searching for more middle grade, too, but the voice, characters, and plot must be stand out; quiet middle grade novels can be very challenging.  I’m also always glad to find more humorous picture books in the vein of Jon Klassen or with heartwarming, big-voiced characters, and early chapter books.

VL: Oh, those are are intriguing ideas – a Romani character in Kentucky. Hmm. Thoughts are churning here…

Tell us what happens after an author signs with you; what’s the next step?

LB: It’s always so exciting after an author signs with me!

If I think the manuscript needs some revision before I submit it out to editors, I’ll send detailed feedback and discuss it all with the author and we’ll work on revising the manuscript until it’s ready.   Then I’ll create a list of the best editors to go to for submissions and get them excited about the book.  There are many more steps afterwards, including negotiating the deal and contract, selling subrights, working with editors on getting my authors the best publicity and marketing possible for their books, and more.

To learn more behind-the-scenes details about what an agent does for her clients, please come to my talk at the conference!

VL: I for one, cannot wait to learn more.

Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us, Laura.

Learn more about Laura from her agency bio here.

Follow Laura on Twitter here.






For more details on the conference or to register online, click here. I hope to see you there!

TweetAnd for those who’d like more enticements, another one of our speakers for the conference this up-coming weekend, Editor Erica Finkel of Abrams Books for Young Readers will be our special guest this evening on our 2nd official OK SCBWI Twitter chat! Join us from 7-8pm CST and use the hashtag #okscbwichat. Follow Erica on Twitter here.

***If you missed the chat, CLICK HERE to view the recap on Storify. Enjoy!

Tips for Attending a Writing Conference



Our SCBWI OK Spring Conference is a little over a month away, and it will be here before you know it. I look forward to this fun-filled weekend every year.

Are you attending a conference this spring? If so, are you ready?

Do you know what to expect?

Whether this is your first conference or your 30th (give or take a few) you can always use some good ideas to make the most out of your jam-packed day.

Here are some tips I’ve scrounged around among my dozens of conference folders, notebooks filled with years of furious scribbles of knowledge, and just words of advice passed along from my elders. I hope you find them helpful as you prepare for this spring’s conference season.

  • Do your research – You’ll get more out of the conference if you’ve read up on the speakers and know something about their work beforehand. If they are on social media, follow them. (You can see a list of all of our speakers and where to follow them in my previous post here.)
  • Know how to talk about your own writing – Practice your elevator pitch until you know it well enough to ad-lib. Be able to talk about it conversationally. DO NOT try to memorize it. One false stumble can lead to panic. I’ve seen perfectly composed writers turn into blubbering messes because they lost their exact wording. DO NOT LET THIS BE YOU!
  • Say hello to a stranger and start a conversation – Here’s a great opener that’s sure to work in a room full of authors: “What do you write?” or “Tell me about the project you’re working on.” Because that’s what writers do when they get together, they talk about their writing.(Another good reason to know your pitch.)
  • Take business cards if you have them – Networking is an important part of conferences. After you receive a card yourself – during a free moment later – jot down something about that person on the back to help you remember them better. It could be something about their manuscript, what they look like, or anything memorable you discussed. (Here are a couple of sites where you can design your own cards: charges a small fee and has many designs at no cost.)
  • Dress in layers – Cardigans, jackets, and scarves can be your best friends at conferences. In the morning, the room may start out freezing cold, but as the day goes on and all of those bodies heat up the conference space, you may find that you start getting a little too warm. Layers, my friend. Trust me.
  • Bring some spending money – Of course you’ll need money for food and possibly lodging. But more importantly, there are almost always fantastic books available for purchase and the authors who wrote them are usually available to sign them for you! (I don’t need to tell you what fantastic gifts personalized books make, either. Right?)
  • Be courteous and professional – Everyone wants a chance to interact with the speakers. Believe it or not, the speakers also want to talk with you. They just don’t want to receive an unsolicited copy of your manuscript from underneath the bathroom stall. At our conference, everyone has lunch at a table with either a speaker or a published author. It’s a fantastic opportunity to ask industry questions in a smaller group setting. Make sure you keep your conversation appropriate and allow others at the table to have a turn asking questions. That’s right, share the speakers. They are there for everyone.
  • Participate! Ask questions during Q&A sessions, attend pre- and post- conference events, make a writing date for after the conference with a new friend. Get to know your local tribe of writers and the speakers. Our writing community is smaller than you think and you never know what connection will lead to something amazing. Also, writing can be a lonely endeavor; we can all use every bit of support we can get.
  • Recognize your opportunities – If you get a critique or opportunity to pitch, take some time (I mean several days at least) to let the comments sit with you before deciding your life is over and you’ll never write again. Ever. Many of us have this dream that we will be that rarest of rare finds and be offered representation or a book deal right out of the gate. Most of the time, what agents and editors offer when they critique our work is an opportunity to improve our work. This is no small thing. You never know when these insightful suggestions can turn a not-so-fantastic manuscript into a dazzling one. One that can lead to a big fat ‘yes’ a little farther down the road.

Have you any tips you’ve acquired that work for you? What’s your favorite part of going to a conference?