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Soaring to New Heights!

On September 26th Missouri SCBWI held its fall conference for children’s writers and illustrators, Soaring to New Heights. It was a wonderful way to spend a Saturday in fall, with something to offer for children’s writers of all genres. Here’s the Wrap-Up!

EB Lewis, award-winning author/illustrator of children’s picture books, was the keynote speaker. Others representing picture books were Connie Hsu, editor at Roaring Brook Press and Kirsten Hall, agent and owner of Catbird Agency. I also did my part for picture book writers in the picture book intensive along with Connie and Kirsten. Representing middle grade and young adult were Brianne Johnson, agent at Writer’s House, Kate Sullivan, editor at Delacorte Press, and author Jennifer Brown. Behind the scenes, not present that day but doing written critiques, was Melissa Edwards, agent at Aaron Priest Literary Agency.

I didn’t attend all of the breakout sessions, but attended the ones that focused on writing picture books.

The day started off with artistrator, EB Lewis, who talked about Art and Picture Books.
He said that the illustrator creates a ‘visual’ language in which you read images like words. Each image moves a story forward. Something that, as a writer, I had not thought about before. Keeping that in mind helps me as a picture book writer.

Agent, Brianne Johnson talked about Character Driven Picture Books.
She said that character influences plot and voice. You want your character to ‘want’ something deeply and not be shy about it! When developing your character, you should look at your character’s values, behavior (including virtues and flaws or weaknesses), and Traits (they should be unique, and have heart). You can put your character in any situation and you know what is going to happen.

Picture book agent, Kirsten Hall, talked about Pitching Your Work.
Your pitch to an agent or an editor should be short and sweet, and include a short summary, a small amount of interesting relevant biographical info about yourself, and be visual. Include comparable titles that are successful and refer to books that the editor has previously edited.

Kirsten’s advice—
1—Pitch to the right editor at the right house
2—Be confident
3—Stand out, be different
4—Remain optimistic
5—Be happy!

The Picture Book Intensive started off with editor, Connie Hsu.
Three things that Connie looks for in a picture book are character, voice and arc. She said to avoid stereotypes when developing characters. Ask yourself ‘why’ your main character is a child or an animal, and how that moves the story along. Regarding voice, ask: who is the narrator and who is the audience? At the end of the story the main character should learn something, and change somehow. There should be a satisfying ending with an emotional resonance, or ‘take-away,’ for the reader.

Agent Kirsten Hall talked about picture book basics. Picture books are written for children ages 4-8. A picture book is structured with a combination of text plus art. The format is a book with 32 to 40 pages—the pages are divisible by 8—although some newer picture books are 90-100 pages!

She gave us 20 tips for writing picture books from editors. Among those were—
Begin at the library or bookstore—ask for their 10 best-selling picture books and read them.
Think visually.
Know your characters and their world.
Know the parts of your story
PUSH the emotion.

‘Cheesy Tip’—Be Nice and Be Professional (also echoed by Connie Hsu)

Also stressed by both Kirsten and Connie, and among ‘Editors’ Tips’ was—
Check your story’s ‘Readability’ by reading your picture book text out loud—over and over! Twenty times or more in one sitting!

My own author part of the picture book intensive focused on 'Show, Don’t Tell.' Why 'show?' We ‘show’ to keep the reader’s attention by making the story more active, putting images in the readers’ minds, and drawing them into the story. We want the reader to ‘feel’ what the main character feels.

What do we want to show? We show characters, emotions, story, setting and time.

How so we 'show'? Some ‘tools’ that help ‘show’ instead of ‘tell’ are—
Dialogue
Action
Body language
Use your 5 senses
Detail (Language)

And, since all picture books have a poetic quality, there are also ‘poetic tools,’ which I’ll talk a little bit about in my next blog post. See you there!  Read More 
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Your Post Conference Plan

2014 Seeds of Success Missouri Fall Conference
What’s Your Post Conference Plan?

You attended that conference for children’s writers and now you’re really pumped! Your head is spinning with ways to revise that work-in-progress so it’s the award-winning picture book you’ve dreamed of. Attending the conference has opened doors to new places to submit your finished manuscripts, and sparked new ideas. And you’ve connected with some wonderful writers who were also at the conference.

Don’t let that drive get away! Here are some things to do to keep the ball rolling long after the conference is over.

Conference notes—

Hopefully you’ve taken good notes from the sessions that you attended. Now is the time to type them up, before the thought gets away from you, before you can’t remember what you meant by that scribble that you wrote down.

As you’re typing, you’re also going over all the great tips and advice that you received from the speakers. You’re thinking about how to use what you’ve learned in your own writing.

Handouts—

Don’t forget about those handouts that were passed out! Read or re-read them to keep them fresh in your mind.

Check out the websites or other links that are listed in the handouts. They may be market listings, great blogs to read about the craft of writing, or other helpful writing links.

Were there handouts about any upcoming events for writers that you’d like to attend? Check out the registration deadline and register on time, or before the event fills up.

Critiques—

If you received a manuscript critique at the conference, what suggestions did you get for improving your manuscript? Think about what was said, then revise while it’s still fresh in your mind.

Conference speakers—

Were there editors at the conference who are open to receiving manuscripts? Read their handout, and check out their website. What genres are they interested in receiving? If your manuscript fits what they’re looking for, is it ready for submission? If not, take the time to work on it now in order to submit it before that window of opportunity closes. Revise your manuscript, then take it to your critique group for their input before sending it out. Be sure to follow the guidelines given by the editor, and send it before the deadline!

If you’re looking for an agent and there was an agent at the conference, follow the same guide as for editors. Read their handout and check their website. Do they represent the type of manuscript that you write? Make your manuscript as perfect as possible before sending it to them. Follow their guidelines, and send it before the deadline.

Did you make a personal connection with an editor or agent at the conference? Was there an author who spoke or another speaker who offered advice that made a special connection to you in your writing? If so, think about sending a personal note to thank them.

Other conference attendees—

Part of the fun, and the benefit, of going to a conference is mingling and meeting other writers. There may be ‘old’ friends who you only see at writers’ events, but there are sure to be new people that you met as well. In this age of social media, it’s easy to follow up or keep in touch with other writers. Visit their websites or blogs. Check out who’s on facebook, twitter, or other social media sites.

New ideas—

Finally, did something spark a new idea in your mind? I always come away with new ideas-- it could be an idea for a new story, or a different way to revise something I've already started, or maybe it's something about marketing or author visits. If you’re like me, you need to write those ideas down, now! Before you forget them!

I attended the SCBWI conference in Missouri a week and a half ago. I’ve gotten some of my post-conference goals accomplished, and I’m working on the rest of them now. I hope to have some tips from the speakers ready to post soon!  Read More 
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