Thursday, October 27, 2011

Dream Big, or Highlights from the SCBWI Mid-Atlantic Fall Conference

This was my first official year on the SCBWI Fall Conference Planning Committee, and boy was it crazy hard work. I don't know how these women (and sometimes men) do this year after year after year. But all the hard work totally paid off this weekend. Children's book industry professionals all came together just outside the Beltway to inspire, teach and even sometimes admonish the Mid-Atlantic SCBWI community.

We all know I'm a sucker for both baseball and books, so Brian Lies didn't have to work all that hard to get me rooting for him. But when he showed up at the conference hotel around 11 p.m. while I was setting up the AV equipment, he proceeded to spend the next hour making sure his presentation worked with our system and even let me be a fangirl for a little while. Then bright an early the next morning, Brian gave an amazing opening address.

He framed his speech around his marketing plan for his books, including advice on brainstorming (nothing is off the table), going beyond what the publisher is willing to do (his family wraps their van in art for every book) and the most important meal of the day (breakfast, of course). While much of his concepts directly translate into promotional ideas for published authors, the underlying message was clearly for everyone: Investing in yourself will give you the best returns.
"If you believe—if you imagine the wacky stuff—it can happen... Success really does breed success, but you have to keep the ball rolling."
—Brian Lies
author of Bats at the Ballgame and Bats at the Beach

Brian was followed by a panel of literary agents who talked about what they do and what they're looking for in clients. This is also where I get to insert a plug for my friend Megan Sheperd, whose book The Madman's Daughter comes out from HarperCollins in 2013, in large part thanks for her agent, Quinlan Lee. And after hearing Quinlan speak and talking to her after the conference, I can understand why Megan speaks so highly of Quinlan. Both her and Jennifer's dedication to their clients and the children's book industry was clear in their advice.
"If you send to everyone at one time, you lose the opportunity to revise and resubmit."
—Jennifer RofĂ©
agent with Andrea Brown Literary Agency
"One book, two hands, countless reasons we do what we do."
—Quinlan Lee
agent with Adams Literary
Next up as editor extraordinar Chelsea Eberly talking about "The Hook for Your Book". While I missed the first part of her talk because of other conference responsibilities, she gave wonderful insight into why you need to know what about your novel will hook the reader. In knowing what makes your novel strong and unique, you are able not only to pitch it to industry professionals but also fix a lot of problems in your writing before you begin submitting.
"Think about the book industry, which means doing your homework... If you don’t know what you’ve written, you’ve kind of handed us an easy rejection."
—Chelsea Eberly
editor at Random House
National Book Award-winner Han Nolan gave the keynote address. She is both talented and insightful as well as humble and kind. I have never heard a speaker expose herself so fully to an audience, and it nearly broke my heart. She spoke about some of her most embarrassing moments as a writing and why she keeps writing despite the challenges.
"We don’t need more junk, and the young people we’re writing for don’t need more junk. They need to be inspired and invigorated... Powerful art can change you, it can change the world."
—Han Nolan
author of Pregnant Pause and Dancing on the Edge

Time management is a huge issue for authors and aspiring writers alike, and the local author panel addressed how to accomplish your writing goals without sacrificing the rest of you life. And these woman—who are writers, mothers, teachers, friends—understand what it takes to be a Renaissance Woman.
"It is fair to ask yourself what you’re trading your writing time for."
—Wendy Shang
author of The Great Wall Of Lucy Wu
"You can expect kind things to come your way, and you should extend kind things to others as well."
"At some point you have to say, okay, this is when I’m going to write and this is when I’m going to take care of business... We all get the same 24 hours in a day."
—Anne Marie Pace
author of Vampirina Ballerina and Never Ever Talk to Strangers
"You have to compartmentalize yourself...but you also need a break."
—Amy Brecount White
author of Forget-Her-Nots

The day finished off with an the editor panel discussing how voice influences plot and character development. With both practical and theoretical advice on how to develop a unique, believable voice in writing, these editors proved why they are so trusted and respected in the children's book industry.
"It’s so easy to forget to look through your character’s eyes and [instead] look through our own eyes because they’re more familiar... Ask yourself: What would I do if I were the character in this scenario?"
—Abby Ranger
editor at Disney-Hyperion
"There are no absolutes in writing, so clearly all of the rules we give you you are free to break."
—Chelsea Eberly
editor at Random House
"Figure out what your character is most afraid of and then make them do it... When the internal and external conflicts interlace, it makes for a very nuanced story."
—Caroline Abbey
editor at Bloomsbury
It's pretty obvious why I enjoyed this conference so much. Every SCBWI event I attend gets me excited to do more with and be better at what I feel such a deep passion to do. If you aren't a member of SCBWI, join now. And if you already are a member, it was great to see you at the conference, and I look forward to seeing you again next year!


  1. Hey, that's me. :)

  2. Hey, that is you! Loved seeing and chatting with you at the conference, Anne Marie.