First off, I want to apologize for leaving you all in suspense much longer than I had anticipated. Shortly after writing Part One, I came down with some form of spring plague that left me miserable and bed-ridden. I love ending a post on a cliff-hanger, but more than a week is torturous. Although my family, who had to endure my wretched state of being and constant whining, were probably tortured more than all of you.
Back to our regularly scheduled program!
So, after lunch, where my table dined with the lovely Claire Evans (and we learned a little bit about her book preferences; she loves books with convoluted family histories, books where the setting is really important and becomes almost like a character itself, and books about sports), I made it to the illustrators’ showcase room and had a few minutes to peruse through some of the portfolios. Always a fun thing to do. The range of art and talent was incredible.
I made it back in the nick of time to see Katie Bignell, Assistant Editor of Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Children’s Books, take the stage. The title of her presentation was the Best Practices for Writing Your Best Picture Book. She gave us a detailed hand out so we could concentrate more on what she was saying than on taking copious notes. (I still took notes, but that’s just how I help my brain process information. Super Nerd.)
She talked about the best words, the best places, the best characters, and the best stories.
When talking specifically about the best words, she said:
What if Sendak had said…
‘Let the wild
rumpus party start’?
How would that have changed the story? Use the best words.
Katie has an unusual background for an editor. She is an accomplished dancer and has studied all kinds of dance for many years. She actually put some of her skills to good use, keeping us awake after lunch by showing us how movement was important. She also said writers should give illustrators movement to illustrate in their stories. Her dancing talent shown most brightly when she discussed rhythm. As a dancer, this was her favorite part of picture books. She said something so lovely that I would never forget it:
“By the very nature of our beating hearts, we are hard-wired to crave rhythm.”
Ah! I could’ve just died that was so fantastic.
Isn’t that just gorgeous? And true?
Who hasn’t seen a child move with abandon to music – before they grow up and become aware/self-conscious of how others see them when they dance?
She said because of this innate sense of rhythm, we can also tell when something is out of rhythm. That is why you should read your book out loud over and over. Have several friends read it out loud as well. Make note of what what sounds good to your ear and what doesn’t. Make note of when your readers trip over words. Revise it until it sings.
So hard to believe this was one of Katie’s first presentations. She was amazing.
To learn more about Katie Bignell and her imprint, go to Facebook and like her imprint page, Katherine Tegen Books. Katherine Tegen Books has also just started a Tumblr page here. You can also follow Katie on Twitter here.
Our final speaker was literary agent Karen Grencik from Red Fox Literary. Karen talked to us about rejection; something every writer gets to know intimately. Karen was a very passionate speaker who truly identified with writers and their struggles. It was surprising and refreshing to see someone who felt our misery and took it to heart. You just wanted to hug her.
She told us that when she started out, “I was as scared as you.” In the beginning, there was no one to teach her how to be an agent. She said she made every mistake you hear about at conferences, including chasing speakers out to their cars and asking them to read pages.
Then she started learning. And people were kind to her and forgiving of her earlier missteps. And she kept learning. Now her little boutique agency (that she runs with former editor-turned-agent Abigail Samoun) is really taking off.
Karen gave us an extensive hand out on reasons for rejections (101 reasons to be exact, and they were divided by reading level – picture books, chapter books, middle grade, young adult – fantastic stuff!) and she went through several of the big ones in detail. I’ll share one reason with you here:
#1 reason for rejection: Too quiet to compete or to stand out in today’s competitive market.
What was Karen’s answer to this? Move on and let your heart determine what you write! You’re going to find so many reasons for rejection out there, so you’re either going to quit or keep going.
If writing is your passion, stick with it and learn your craft. Karen did. Who cares how many mistakes you make or how long it takes you to get there? Don’t pay attention to anybody else’s timeline for success. Yours is the only one that matters and it takes as long as it takes.
Next was the Speaker’s Panel where we heard their responses to our pitches. All were read out anonymously, although I did recognize several from our Pitch Clinic that we held over on Twitter prior to the conference. One pitch from the Pitch Clinic received three thumbs up from the panel. That was very exciting! (Congrats! You know who you are, you tyrannical squirrel-lover, you!)
Final announcements came after that where the winners of Best in Show and the Nita Buckley Scholarship fund were awarded.
For the Best in Show, all of the illustrator portfolios were judged by our speakers and the winner…Lauren Juda! She won a free registration to our Agent Day Conference coming up this October, which is a really exciting event!
For Agent Day, we have three agents speaking (and critiquing first pages) along with a special keynote speaker. The agents are: Natalie Fischer Lakosil from the Bradford Agency, Danielle Smith from the Foreward Agency, and Ann Behar from the Scovil Galen Gosh Agency. Right now, registration is only open to SCBWI members, but registration opens up to everyone July 1st. Stayed tuned for more details!
The Nita Buckley Scholarship had so many exciting entries that the judges decided to give out a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place award. Make sure to look for a write-up about Nita and this scholarship in the next SCBWI bulletin.
- The 3rd place honor of a free registration to the Fall Agent Day Conference went to Patricia Harvey(woohoo!).
- The 2nd place honor of a free registration to the 2014 SCBWI OK Spring conference went to Regina Garvie. (These first two ladies were seated at my table. It was very exciting!)
- And the 1st place prize of $1500 toward the cost of the SCBWI LA Summer conference went to Brenda Maier. (Brenda is such a lovely and talented young woman. This will be her first LA conference and I know she’s really excited!)
Congratulations to all of the winners!
What an excellent way to end the conference…although some of us didn’t quite end the evening just then. We headed out to a local eatery for dinner with the speakers to unwind and to take over the establishment that wasn’t quite prepared to be completely invaded. They couldn’t fit us all at one table or even inside the building. Here are a few pics of our fine folks kicking back after a day of literary camaraderie. Thanks so much to everyone who made this conference possible and to our dynamic leader, Anna Myers, to whom we all owe so much and without whom this conference wouldn’t be what it is today. We love you, Anna!