Wednesday, August 14, 2013

SCBWI-LA Conference Recap

It's Wednesday!

It's our realization that about 80% of Rate Your Story submitters write for children and/or teens (as well as adults), and we thought you might enjoy a [very] short recap of the recent Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) LA Summer Conference. (If you want lots more recap articles and photos, go here.)

Miranda's Unofficial Keywords from the conference:
EVERGREEN - a story that is an instant classic, and will stay in print for a long time
NONFICTION - it seems that in the US, across genres, publishers have an eye out for informational texts or creative nonfiction stories, primarily linked to the new Common Core State Standards
MIDDLE GRADE - seems like a big focus from editors and agents was on finding great middle grade!
DIFFERENT OR STANDOUT - as always, editors and agents are looking for manuscripts that are surprising, or very fresh takes on old tales or subjects

Two other things Miranda found interesting this year:
1) A lot more talk about self-publishing, including the revelation that SCBWI will be hosting a self-published book award beginning next year;
2) Discussion of other digital formats, apps, metafiction techniques, and ways to get kids interacting with and engaged by stories—in their traditional forms and otherwise.

And a quick story from Miranda (with an urge to writers to be professional!):
I was at a picture book workshop held by Allyn Johnston from Beach Lane Books (Simon & Schuster). I knew before coming in to the workshop many of the beautiful books she's edited and her imprint's style. I was so thrilled at the possibility to get to hear her speak about craft and process. Apparently, so were many others—the room was nearly filled by the time she began speaking.

Ms. Johnston started with some basics, and told everyone in the room up front that attending her talk meant she would look at one of their submissions after the conference. She mentioned that there were business cards in the back of the room they could take with her email. As she began her next sentence—and I couldn't believe this—nearly half the room rushed to their feet, ran for the back table, and began snatching up her business cards.

Ms. Johnston, it seemed, must deal with these sort of unprofessional interruptions often. She didn't lose her cool (though she may or may not have rolled her eyes) before proceeding to reassure everyone she had an entire box of business cards and there would be enough for everyone at the end. She then established clear rules for the rest of her talk, and the room suddenly like I was in a middle school classroom of disruptive juveniles.

As Ms. Johnson continued, showing books she loved, the awkwardness faded and I was under the spell of her deep love and commitment to the picture book form. She choked up reading the final line of a book that she's read 100 times or more. It reminded me that editors, agents, and the people who publish our books are champions of our stories. That take what we write, boost it to the next level, and get it in the hands of thousands of eager readers.

The notes I have from that workshop on voice and character and economy of language have already inspired a new PB for me, and reminded me of what needs work in some of my current WIPs. All of those things are why I wanted to attend her talk. I just hope every new writer in the room was listening to those amazing kernels of knowledge, and not just the parts about word count or whether or not to include illustrator notes or what month is the best month to submit to her.

I attended a lot of really inspiring, practical, and thought-provoking workshops during the weekend. I came away with nuggets here and there of valuable information for me, but left reassured—as I always do—of two things:

1. It's a small world after all.
2. The way to get published is to write a really great book.

That's all, folks!
Look! Miranda got to meet three-time Caldecott winner David Wiesner!