Joining SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) two years ago was a smart decision that I made as a pre-published writer, since I exposed myself to a professional network and got access to up-to-date information about a publishing world. One of the benefits of being a member is a chance to attend conferences (international and regional). This is an excellent way for a starting writer to improve his/her skills and get closer to agents/editors/publishers.
During past two years I’ve attended quite a few conferences and meetings and would like to share what might be useful to know. I’ll start with the most recent one I’ve been to – Springmingle’13(SCBWI Spring Conference for Southern Breeze Chapter (includes states of AL/MS/GA)) that took place 22-24th February, 2013 in Atlanta, GA.
For the first-time conference attendees my advice would be to research conference faculty beforehand. Usually it consists of major publishing houses’ editors and literary agents as well as professional writers and illustrators. Check out their bios and what they are currently looking for(for editors/agents) and a list of published books (for writers/illustrators) so you’ll choose in advance which of split sessions besides general sessions to attend in order to learn what you’re specifically interested in. At the beginning of each conference there is also a panel where each of the faculty members presents him/her.
This time the faculty consisted of Jill Corcoran (Literary Agent at Herman Agency), Katherine Jacobs (Editor at Roaring Brook Press), Diane Hess (Editor at Scholastic Books), Beck Mcdowell (Author), Carmen Agra Deedy (Author), Nikki Grimes (Author), and Chad Beckerman (Art Director at Abrams Books).
Springmingle conference started off with an inspiring keynote speech by a renown Carmen Agra Deedy (author of The Library Dragon, The Yellow Star, Martina The Beautiful Cockroach, The Cheshire Cheese Cat: A Dickens of a Tale, and 14 Cows for America). She described how she came to realize her talent and love for books even though she hated reading as a child (she was diagnosed at some point with dyslexia) and dealt with cultural barrier since she was originally from Cuba and came to the US as a refugee in 1964. I quote:”Excellence (in writing) is not only about passion, but also about doggedness!”
Nikki Grimes (author of Bronx Masquerade, Dark Sons, The Road to Paris) was talking next about an importance of patience in the writing world. Being an “impatient perfectionist” as she called herself, Nikki said that it’s vital for a writer not to be in such a rush so that he/she settles for a good story, instead of a great one. Sometimes we have a great idea; however, we lack skills to write it down and thus can ruin the whole project. She gave an example of her “patience battle” when she was creating novel “Jazzman Notebooks”. Working mainly in verse, it was hard for her switch to prose at first. Her editor told her to “just keep on writing and you’ll figure it all out”. Which she did:) Nikki focused on small pieces instead of the whole project and became more comfortable with prose with time. She also gave advice not to revise until after the first draft is completed.
Dianne Hess with Scholastic pointed out two interesting things. 1. Digital age pushes more publishers to make sure their books are available as eBooks. Being so, Scholastic launched Storia eReading application recently. One can create an account and buy books for all kids’ levels (birth-18) and price ranges. All Storia eBooks include an age-appropriate dictionary that instantly provides definitions using text, images, and optional Read-to-Me narration. Other standard features can include a highlighter and note-taking functions. 2. Parents and teachers are interested to see more books that support Common Core Program, the new educational standards the goal of which is for students to aim “for college and career readiness”. On a sales and marketing end, it could mean a peaked interest in high-concept picture books, historical fiction, biographies, and works representing diverse cultures.
Katherine Jacobs during her session “Plot and Pacing” compared two types of structure used in a manuscript: Freytag’s Pyramid and The Three Acts Structure. Freytag’s Pyramid stands for how we are all used to divide a book into “pyramid-forming” parts – exposition, inciting incident, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution, and denouement. In this case exposition and denouement, rising action and falling action should have same or similar length respectively. Katherine underlined that nowadays The Three Acts structure is encouraged to be used more, especially in screenwriting, in order to create a dramatic, life-like writing. If you could tell your story in 120 minutes, then Act 1 where we find out what the main problem of the story is should be told in 30 minutes. Act 2 should occupy around 70 minutes and must include the following: the complication and the destruction of the protagonist’s plan. In Act 3 the resolution of the problem should be told in 20 minutes.
Finally, a dialogue between an author Beck McDowell and her agent Jill Corcoran was very helpful for those writers seeking an agent. They talked about mutual expectations between two parties. For Beck, the most important features in her agent are: professionalism; enthusiasm about what she is writing about; being responsive, approachable, nurturing, flexible, and financially savvy. Jill gave advice on what questions to ask an agent who offers you a representation: How much do you edit? How much will you be in touch with me? Who makes a final decision when selling the book to a publishing house?
I also found out that Jill Corcoran recently co-started “A Path to Publishing Workshops” – workshops via a powerful interactive video chat platform that allows you to not only watch presentations but also participate with faculty directly. You can find more about it on her blog. I’ve already signed up for the one on March 6th,2013 with Walden Pond Press Editors.
Besides all of these useful sessions, Springmingle had a bookshop where one could purchase signed books of published authors in the region and sometimes even mingle with them:) Among my precious findings were Beck McDowell’s “This Is Not a Drill” in which readers are allowed into the minds of two high school students who are volunteering in a classroom when a crazed parent with a gun holds the young students, the high school students and the teacher hostage; and Janice Hardy’s “The Shifter” in which Nya, an orphan who has a gift – with her touch, she can heal injuries, pulling pain from another person into her own body – is struggling to stay alive and save her sister during war. I used both books to research character development because both authors succeeded in creating an incredible emotional depth of their characters’ inner worlds.
I also took advantage of both “written only” and “formal face-to-face” critiques. You will be able to read an article on my impressions about each of them in Summer edition of Southern Breeze Newsletter.
In the next blog posts I will continue with an International Summer conference’12 I attended in Los Angeles.
Meanwhile, go ahead and treat yourself for the next writer’s conference!