2004 SCBWI SUMMER CONFERENCE

www.LaraLakshmi.com

 

The conference was a delight to attend, because of all the information and inspiration I received, but more importantly, because of all the warm and passionate people I met. Lin Oliver’s priceless humor every time she took the floor still makes me chuckle, and that alone was probably worth the steep tuition. I definitely plan to attend again next year!

 

On Friday morning, to introduce the faculty members at the conference, they had everyone file by and say one word, exactly one word, to the audience. It must have been tough for the faculty members to select one word to represent them, but it was enlightening and fun for the audience.

 

The Glitter Ball on Saturday night was a blast! My husband and almost-two year old daughter joined me, and we had a wonderful time dancing the night away. My daughter must have sensed the warm vibes from the kid-loving writers and artists on the dance floor, because she was unstoppable! The next morning, I made several new friends of attendees who came up and told me my toddler was adorable at the ball.

 

Remember, these are just my impressions of what the speakers said, and I definitely didn’t take exhaustive notes. Some speakers, like Bruce Coville and Donna Jo Napoli, were so enchanting, that I entirely forgot to pull out my notebook till their talks were over. And I missed some main speakers and at least 90% of the workshops – had to, because there were about eleven parallel workshop sessions!

 

I have notes from the following speakers – you can read them all or use these links to jump to specific talks:

  1. Once Upon a Time: The Power of Story - Karen Cushman
  2. The Poet as Storyteller - Nikki Grimes
  3. What Makes the Cut: Delacorte 2004 – Wendy Loggia
  4. Tips from the Business Side of Writing: An Agent’s Perspective – Jodi Reamer
  5. Seeing the World through the Eyes of a Child: Writing Successful Picture Books – Barbara Seuling
  6. Funny Business – Jon Scieszka
  7. Happy Accidents: The Confessions of a Disorganized Writer – Libba Bray
  8. Encore! Wowing ‘em with Engaging Professional Presentations – Rachel Rodriguez
  9. Promoting Your Book: Inventive, Creative and Inspiring Ways to Draw Attention to One’s Published Book – Priscilla Burris & Francesca Rusackas

 

Enjoy!    ~Lara

 

 

MAIN SPEAKERS

 

Once Upon a Time: The Power of Story - Karen Cushman

Friday, August 6, 9:30-10:30am

 

(Her one word was rhythm.)

 

“I am here to tell you a story.” This is a great opening line. People love stories.

 

Somerset Maugham said, “There are three rules for writing. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”

 

Rules for living (from the internet):

-       Show up

-       Pay attention

 

Research is facts that she loves knowing. She probably uses 10% in her writing, and the other stuff gives her a secure place to write from.

 

Loves to read Roget’s Thesaurus sitting in her rocking chair.

 

The advantage of being a writer is you don’t have to get it right the first time – unlike, say, brain surgery!

 

Wants children to care about things.

 

As an aside - Children must be solicited for their opinions. That develops their voice.

 

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The Poet as Storyteller - Nikki Grimes

Friday, August 6, 10:30-11:30am

 

Character Danitra Brown’s favorite color is purple. People assume that’s Nikki’s favorite color as well, and often wonder why she’s not wearing it. Lesson: When you make a choice for a character’s preference, you have to live with it for perpetuity.

 

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What Makes the Cut: Delacorte 2004 – Wendy Loggia

Friday, August 6, 2-3pm

 

Wendy is Executive Editor at Delacorte (Knopf-Delacorte-Dell), an imprint of Random House. They are located at 55th and Broadway in NY, and Chip Gibson is the Publisher.

 

Wendy specializes in Middle Grade and YA, and she has a staff of 10 editors.

 

Year is divided into three publishing spans:

Jan-Apr, May-Aug, Sep-Dec

 

Work for 2004 list started in 2001. Signing books right now for 2007.

Wendy edited A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray. 77000 copies have sold between Dec 2003 and Aug 2004. Libba did a pre-pub buzz tour in four cities.

 

Submit good work to contests even if it doesn’t meet all the contest rules. Work submitted to a contest will get read. It may be published although it can’t win the prize.

 

Ostrich Eye by Beth Cooley got published by winning the Delacorte YA contest.

 

Write “cover copy” for your manuscripts – it’s a great exercise.

 

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Tips from the Business Side of Writing: An Agent’s Perspective Jodi Reamer

Saturday, August 7, 2-3pm

 

Jodi is an agent at Writers House. Used to be a corporate litigator, so loves the legal and contract aspects of her business. Writers House takes a branding approach to new authors. Jodi thinks Amy Berkower is the best agent in the business – she represents Dav Pilkey (of Captain Underpants fame) and Paula Danziger (presumably now her estate).

 

How to contact an agent …

It’s a special relationship – has to be a good match. Call the main number at agent to inquire. Send a query letter with the same tone as manuscript. Include sample writing. No photos! Send manuscript on an exclusive basis for six to eight weeks. Feel free to call after four weeks to remind. Be nice to the assistants!

 

For picture books, authors can have more than one house. That market is hurting a bit. Quality and originality must be exceptional. Editorial advice: Two elements, engaging characters and a strong narrative voice, MUST be present. Can’t sell without those. Also, something unique, special – a hook for marketing and promotion, is good.

 

Check out structure and quality of books in your genre that are selling well.

 

Join a critique group.

 

Know your voice.

 

Know your market:

-       Easy reader, age 5-8

-       Chapter book, age 7-10

-       Picture book, max six page manuscript, writing can be lush, characters no older or younger than market you are writing for.

 

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Seeing the World through the Eyes of a Child: Writing Successful Picture Books – Barbara Seuling

Sunday, August 8, 9:30-10:30am

 

This well-published author taught a course in Moscow on children’s writing and illustration, for writers from recently democratized countries. This was sponsored by the Soras foundation.

 

She talked about the ways in which the course tried to kindle the children’s writer trapped inside each attendee.

 

Think of your childhood:

People

Foods

Colors

Things you liked

No reminiscing! You MUST see the world through a kid’s eyes. Surprise, laughter, mystery and curiosity are important.

 

  1. Real sense of a child’s world, understand his concerns – losing a toy, bedtime …
  2. Desires and feelings of characters – what moves them? ALL stories are about feelings.
  3. Behavior and language that is appropriate – be angry, disobey, run away – honest to child’s view.
  4. Let animals help you. They are empowered child substitutes.
  5. Children love action. Something must be happening even in quiet scenes.
  6. Include humor – silly, exaggerated, chaotic.
  7. Fresh idea – take apart idea and look at it from different angles.
  8. Be willing to let the text relax and breathe a bit to provide room for the pictures.
  9. Again, try to remember childhood feelings – how things looked, sounded, smelled, tasted, felt.

 

What makes a good book?

  1. Something wonderful, surprising or fun.
  2. Familiar situations, concept.
  3. Anticipation – what happens next.
  4. Recognizable experiences and feelings.
  5. Humor and silliness.
  6. New and interesting information.
  7. Something that lets kids be involved.
  8. Characters should be interesting and fun. Kids should feel the same as character or see something new. They should worry if the character gets what he wants.

 

Test your manuscript on children:

-       Does the child like the story?

-       Does the child repeat phrases or the opening?

 

Talent and enthusiasm for writing can’t be taught, but there’s a lot that can be improved.

 

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Funny Business – Jon Scieszka

Monday, August 9, 9:30-10:30am

 

Jon is the author of the popular book The Stinky Cheese Man, illustrated by Lane Smith.

 

His primary advice is to road test your manuscript. Read it any place where there are more than four kids or adults or a mixed group. You need a really broad cross-section of people, especially to cut material out.

 

Practice how to sit down for five minutes, and not do ANYTHING. And work it up to half an hour. This will give you a good sense of what is too long to hold people’s attention.

 

Jon taught a class called Algebra for Dancers, and he remembers a brilliant student called Bea Sage (not brilliant in Math), who finally suggested, “Why don’t we just figure out what x equals and write it down?” He got his idea for a funny book on Math from this class and Math Curse resulted.

 

He says, “Let the crud come together!” … Give a manuscript time.

 

In his Science Verse book, all pieces (except Amoeba) are inspired by various famous poems.

 

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Happy Accidents: The Confessions of a Disorganized Writer – Libba Bray

Monday, August 9, 12:45-1:30pm

 

(Her one word was pedicure, no wait … wrong list …!)

 

Libba is the author of the bestselling YA book, A Great and Terrible Beauty, and her editor is Wendy Loggia.

 

She has never taken a writer’s program.

 

Smart authors are smart marketers. She feels it is important to be respectful and courteous at all times and use please and thank you a lot.

 

She didn’t set out to write for teens. She was a playwright in her 20s and early 30s, and thought she would “circle the literary drain forever!”

 

She then worked for book packagers Alloy (previously 17th Street Productions) and Parachute Press. A book packager is a boot camp for writers. They usually allow only 6-8 weeks for a detailed, scene-by-scene outline of a novel. She met Wendy Loggia through her work at a packager.

 

She submitted a proposal and three sample chapters for a trilogy named Gemma, the main character’s name and original title for A Great and Terrible Beauty, and Wendy accepted it.

 

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WORKSHOPS

 

Encore! Wowing ‘em with Engaging Professional Presentations – Rachel Rodriguez

Friday, August 6, 3:15-4:15pm

 

Rachel is a published author, a national speech coach and a presentation skills trainer.

 

Her message: Let your work as a speaker further your publishing career. Make them want you back!

 

There are four kinds of talks:

-       Workshops

-       School visits

-       Book store readings

-       Media interviews

 

All use foundation skills, which she represents with a triangle:

  1. Substance (the base of the triangle)
  2. Staging
  3. Style

 

1. Substance (= Content):

 

Strategies for organizing the talk:

 

Never open with “Hi, I’m X, and I am going to talk about Y.” This should be covered by the person doing your intro. If not, get to it later. Instead, do something creative. Audiences are creatures of hope; don’t disappoint them. For example, Rachel opened with a question, “How many of you get a little nervous about making a presentation?” (When asking a question, cue a show of hands by raising your own hand.) It’s not too safe to start with a joke. Maybe just in time humor, but only if you know you’re a good joke teller.

 

Kids like repetition, and adults like it too. Start with a main message, and tie it in at the ending. This can be very elegant.

 

2. Staging (= Physical setting of talk):

The podium is a place to put your notes, but it should not be a place for the speaker to hide. It lets you stay nervous. It puts a block between you and the audience; removes accessibility and connection. Push it out of the way if you have to. DON’T USE IT.

 

In any case, you shouldn’t read your notes line by line. Refer to notes, maybe read an excerpt, then step away.

 

You need a lapel mike in a large room. Kids appreciate a dynamic use of space too. Make your speaker reputation further your publishing success. (Rachel tying in main message here.)

 

Pitfalls with using visual aids:

-       Note that attention goes to slide – not you.

-       View may be obstructed to some audience members.

-       Introduce slide, switch it on, step back near the slide, then talk about it.

-       Don’t look at slide while talking. Don’t turn your back to the audience. FEET FORWARD, back to screen, like the weather commentators on TV!

-       What if there’s a lot of info on the slide? Use pauses, while looking at the screen, then turn to audience before saying anything.

-       Note on using PowerPoint: hit B key to blank screen. Attention goes back to you.

-       Caldecott winning author-illustrator Gerald McDermott does a great job with visual aids; don’t miss a chance to watch him.

 

3. Style

 

Rachel spent a good amount of time on this topic, including the audience doing an exercise with a partner:

Partner A: no eye contact, arms crossed – shy, nervous speaker.

Partner B: eye contact, smiling – confident speaker.

And we read out passages that she handed out.

 

About gestures:

They are classified into three zones:

Zone 1: AVOID

Small gestures very close to body, actions like penguins, chickens, spiders (finger push-ups), unless describing these creatures, or perhaps a mouse!

Zone 3: AVOID

Gestures very far away from body, unless describing a giant or a dragon!

Zone 2:

Open gestures, above hip and below head level.

Loosely alternate right and left hand usage.

When talking about lists of issues, use your arm level to demarcate each issue.

Move a few steps away to a new standing location when you move on to a new topic.

Rachel, for example, moved to three different positions forming a triangle on the floor when she introduced the concepts of substance, staging and style.

 

She showed us some video clips of speakers using Zone 2 gestures. She said she is cursing us with this knowledge, because we will never look at a speaker again without analyzing the zone they are in. This is so true – I’ve become a much more critical audience member now!

 

She had audience members volunteer to read ten quotes without and with gestures for us to see the difference.

 

About voice:

 

Be aware of tone and vary it. The main idea is variety.

Rate : Fast <-> Slow

Pitch: High <-> Low

Volume: Loud <-> Soft

 

For example, watch Geoffrey Fieger, Jack Kevorkian’s lawyer, if you get a chance. He is very good at voice modulation. You NEED to sound like you care about your topic!

 

Back to 2. Staging:

 

Pattern disruption is key. Attention span is less than 15 minutes for adults. The level of attention drops off in a wavy pattern with time. So, disrupt the pattern.

 

Closings:

 

Use the opportunity to make a memorable summary and exit. You don’t want to end a talk saying, “No more questions, okay that’s it then.”

 

Rachel’s closing line: “To make a living as a writer and illustrator, make them want you back. Thank you.”

 

Other useful tips:

-       Try to connect to people before the talk – move around and chat if you can.

-       Presentation is more important even than the content.

-       Cue audience to ask questions at the end of the talk if questions get too disruptive.

 

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Promoting Your Book: Inventive, Creative and Inspiring Ways to Draw Attention to One’s Published Book – Priscilla Burris & Francesca Rusackas

Sunday, August 8, 10:45-11:45am

 

(Their joint one words were shameless promotion.)

 

This unusually close author-illustrator team did an informative session about their amazing marketing and publicity efforts for their … All Day Long books.

 

The session was opened by a short talk by Erin Vincent, the charming Community Relations Manager of the flagship Barnes & Noble store at the Grove in Los Angeles. (During my LA visit, I went to this store on Sunday night around 10pm, and I was amazed at the number of small children who were in the store and around the nearby fountains that late – I can’t imagine how busy the store is when more kids are awake.)

 

Erin requires book signings to be set up by emailing or faxing her. She cannot return phone calls. If you have a book under contract, now is the time to meet librarians and booksellers. Tips for a picture book signing:

-       Be on time or early.

-       Talk to the kids.

-       Read the book.

-       Do a finger play or song.

-       See what you extract from the book to plan ahead for an activity.

 

Priscilla & Francesca had these tips to share:

-       Can get oversize copy of cover done as a poster at Kinko’s for a couple of bucks.

-       They went to NY and appeared in the outside audience of the Today show. They went early and took a banner of the hosts. They say you must be willing to embarrass family and friends!

-       They appeared on the Wayne Brady Show. They recommend getting into the audience of shows and trying to be included as a last minute guest.

-       Take your book everywhere and show it when asked.

-       Use cover image on back of binders, T-shirts, postcards. Leave postcards places, send them to potential customers. Sources for economical postcard printing: www.4over4.com,  www.modernpostcard.com, www.4by6.com, www.postcardpress.com. For other promotional products: www.squeekers.com and www.cafepress.com. Do chocolate wrappers, clear decals for windows, flyers, envelopes, address labels …

-       Create brochures, and use your baby pictures on them.

-       Include book reviews on cards to people who matter.

-       Google your book and see what comes up!

-       Your local school district will have lists of local schools – contact librarian or art teacher to set up visits.

-       For book promotion, see Roxyanne’s tips at www.smartwriters.com and Kelly Milner Halls’ articles at www.kellymilnerhalls.com. Kelly’s website has a great summary of tips from a roundtable she conducted at the conference, called Marketing for Authors.

-       Instead of a book signing, call it an ice cream social, a pajama party – do something fun and different.

-       Contact community magazines and provide book signing info when doing interviews.

-       Submit to a regional news article in the local SCBWI bulletin.

-       Promoting through the media TV and radio – put on workshops or contests for the community and when they are covered, tie in book news.

-       Do event announcements in local newspapers or magazines. For magazines, publishing cycle requires 6 month advance planning.

-       Most publicity legwork must be done three months before publication date.

 

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Thanks for visiting! ~Lara

www.LaraLakshmi.com