Recap of our Fantastical SCBWI OK Spring Conference – Part One


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.

MTMiddleton_HeadMaria 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!

To learn more about Maria Middleton and graphic design, read her blog, Thinking Made Visual, or follow her on Twitter here.

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 KatieCarellayoung 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:

  1. Relatable characters
  2. Fast-paced plots
  3. Cliff hanger chapter endings
  4. 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-evansClaire 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.

To learn more about Claire Evans, read her Tumblr page, Work in Progress, or follow Claire on Twitter here.

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!

SCBWI OK Spring Conference

Some wonderful writing opportunities and gatherings are fast approaching, especially for those of you in the Oklahoma vicinity, so I thought I’d share my favorite one with you. I’m a giver, what can I say?

SCBWI OK Spring Conference OnceUponAtime
Marriott Tulsa Hills, Tulsa, OK
April 20,2013
9:00am to 5:00pm

I was first introduced to the world of SCBWI at one of these Oklahoma conferences about eight years ago. That one was held in a church basement in a small rural town halfway between Tulsa and Oklahoma City. Even though it was small, the speakers were excellent and the fellow writers were extremely friendly. I met one of my future critique partners for the first time at that meeting. She was the only one I had the courage to speak to that first time out. Since then, I’ve become much better at introducing myself to strangers. These conferences get bigger and better each year.

One of the best perks of attending is being able to submit to each speaker, even if they belong to a closed house. Another nice perk is being able to chat with the speakers, either during the catered lunch or more informally after the conference when we all meet up for dinner. This last event is optional and is not covered in the conference fee, but it’s always well attended and great fun. If you don’t live in Oklahoma, but think you could make the trip and you’d like to attend, fantastic! We welcome you with open arms. (Even if you’re from Texas.) ha!

Here’s this year’s phenomenal speaker line up:

If that weren’t enough, you can also get a written manuscript critique or a verbal portfolio critique for an additional fee. These slots are limited and the deadline for turning in your manuscript to get one of these coveted slots is February 15th.

Check out the SCBWI OK website for more details.

New SCBWI Oklahoma Scholarship – Attend the LA Summer Conference!

I wrote a post a few months ago about the passing of our oldest member, 97 year-old Nita Buckley. Recently a scholarship was started up in her name to help send an Oklahoma SCBWI member to the SCBWI Summer Conference in LA. This conference is a major investment for any writer, but well worth it. I attended my third LA Conference this past summer and shared a plethora of knowledge I absorbed during those three days right here on this blog, starting with this post. If you think you’re ready for this next step in your writer’s journey – and you’re an Oklahoma SCBWI member – but funds are a hindrance, consider applying for this.

The winner of the scholarship will be chosen from entries submitted to a writing contest and announced at the SCBWI Oklahoma Spring Conference on April 20, 2013.


Send the first 250 words of a picture book, middle grade, or young adult novel using the following prompts:

Picture Book: Ellie found the book on a table in the back room of the old library. Running her hand over the shimmering cover, she thought she saw something move. “I’ll just take a peek inside,” she said. But when she opened the book?

Middle Grade Novel: A twelve-year-old boy or girl from a poor family receives a scholarship to an elite private school where he or she will go to school with kids from very wealthy families.

Young Adult Novel: You’re a teenager with a secret. Last night when talking with a friend, you admitted a terrible secret in confidence that had been weighing heavily on you, keeping you up at nights. Your friend reassured you, and you felt better after your confession. This morning when you arrive at school and notice everyone pointing at you and whispering, you soon discover that this same friend had recorded your conversation and posted it online for everyone in school to see.

Send your entry with your name and the type of book to Anna Myers at:  Type Contest in the subject line. All entries must be sent between March 1st and March 20th only, not before or after those dates.

Good luck! And I hope to see some of you at the spring conference!