Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Chris Cheng's Picture Book Workshop--Learning from Experience

Chris Cheng and Eastern PA SCBWI RA Marilyn Hershey

On Sunday, January 27, 2013 the dynamic Chris Cheng was the workshop leader for the Eastern Pennsylvania’s SCBWI chapter picture book event. It was a frigid day in Philadelphia, but despite the weather approximately thirty people turned out for the event.
If you haven’t “met” Chris, I suggest you visit his website. Chris has a fascinating background, teaching at the Taronga Zoo in Sydney, Australia and working as a bookseller. Now, Chris is a full-time author, with more than twenty years of experience in the business. If you have a question, Chris probably knows the answer. Chris just asked that people from the workshop wait two weeks to contact him as he is quite busy in the U.S. until then. The U.S. version of his picture book Python, is being released later this week.

Some of the big “take home” messages from Chris’ presentation.

1.                          If there is a single thing you aren’t sure about in your manuscript. A single thing you might change—don’t send it off. “You only get one bite at the cherry!” Chris worked ten years on one poem before he submitted the manuscript that became his book Spooky Sounds. That is not a typo—he worked ten years on one poem BEFORE he submitted.
2.                          Be part of the writing community. Chris is RA for the Australian/new Zealand SCBWI and believes that workshops and the exchange of ideas between writers will make your work better. (this puts the 12x picture book group in good stead :))
3.                          Write a good story. Chris spent time talking about book trailers and digital publishing. But he kept reminding us that this part of the writer’s journey isn’t important until we have written a good story --a story that avoids being preachy or message driven. Even for author/illustrators, finish story-boarding the story before you submit. It’s all about the story.

Chris started his career submitting without an agent. He did recommend that if a writer is lucky enough to sell to a publisher, then contact an agent right away (Use the SCBWI’s "THE BOOK"). Chris uses an agent now.
Interestingly, Chris doesn’t use a critique group for his own work. He works on it, solo, until he believes it is the best it can be and then he submits it to his agent. 

One key message I got from my day with Chris is to be hard on ourselves. Be professional. Be tough with our work. Don’t put out bad products, written or digital. When you dip your toes into the big pond that is the writing industry you are building a reputation. Spend the time. Put in the work. Be sure that your work is the best it can be.
If you have the chance to attend an upcoming workshop with Chris, I recommend you sign-up.
Chris took a great photo of our group--I'm in the second row! In the pink, as the saying goes.

Yesterday, Marcie Colleen (one of the 12x picture book group) had a post about combining passion and mastery. If you didn't have a chance to read her post and if I haven't inspired you to sign up for a workshop yet, she will! She's inspired me to look for another.

I also had the pleasure of attending a friend and fellow writer’s author appearance at the Doylestown Library last weekend. My post about that event with children's author Debbie Dadey will be forthcoming.


  1. Great Post. I met Chris briefly at the 2011 LA SCBWI. Hopefully I will get to pop across the ditch to one of the Aust SCBWI meets in the future. I have and love, the Sounds Spooky book.

    1. Being an SCBWI RA, he seems to attend a lot of conferences. Lucky for those of us who want to learn from him.

  2. Wow, Chris has the patience of a Zen Master. I'm always so impatient to get something out. (Baaaad me, I know...though I will add that I edited one short story about 20 times over a span of 2 years before sending it out.)

    1. I'm the same way. What sounds AMAZING right after it's written can lose some of its glow if it sits awhile. Then we can give it the real polish it needs.

  3. I'm reluctant to even look at a piece after I've sent it out. I'm in dread fear that I'll see something and say, "Ugh! I should've....." Scary! Chris is dead right about that. One bite! That's it!