Friday, July 25, 2014

Find a Conference and GO!

Last weekend I attended the MD/DE/WV SCBWI conference. That’s a mouthful. A tasty morsel of writing goodness.

Author/Agent Ammi-Joan Paquette on left
I had never been to one of their chapter events before, but it ran like clockwork. These folks are on the ball. By the time I checked back to their website on Monday, it was updated and the event was gone. Luckily, I took notes.

However, I don’t really need notes because the minutiae of what each speaker said isn’t the point of this post (although I will give those of you who weren’t fortunate to attend a brief run down!). The point is—it was wonderful to spend time meeting other writers and writing professionals. I even had a face-to-face with an online writing friend I’d never met in person. It was a tremendous mini-vacation. For twenty-four hours, I didn’t have to think about what anyone else needed. It was all about me and writing. The next time someone asks you what you want for your birthday or any other holiday involving gift-giving, instead of “stuff,” think of asking to go to a conference. 

T.A. Barron spoke first about the necessity for joy and heroism in stories, and how he weaves these elements into his own work. I guess other listeners were as impressed as I was because by the time I got to the “bookstore” they set up at the conference all of Mr. Barron’s books were gone.

Editor Jill Santopolo was the second speaker. For her, character is the hook that draws her into a story. She advised everyone to put an interesting, imperfect character in a challenging situation and have the character show an element of likeability in the first chapter—if not on the first page. I had to leave ten minutes before the end of her presentation for my critique while she was still using book examples to illustrate what she meant. I’m the kind of learner who needs to “see” something, so the examples were enormously helpful.

My critique with Mr. Stephen Mooser was stellar. Yes, the man who co-founded the SCBWI was there in person, giving encouragement and advice. He has a knack for not just pointing out problems, but also brainstorming solutions. He is a true critique rock star.

Ammi-Joan Paquette was speaking while I had my critique, so if someone who was able to hear her wants to chime in below in the comments, that would be great!

The last speaker before lunch was Mr. Mooser. Talking about the digital age and using quotes from Daniel Nayeri, Mr. Mooser noted the overwhelming number of books being published and advised authors to be sure their work was both as good as traditionally published books AND that they have a way to drive readers to find their work before they go a non-traditional publishing route. is Mr. Mooser’s new interactive website for his self-published book of the same name. He advised writers to think in terms of this sort of additional content before going the self-publishing route with children’s books.

Mr. Zelinsky signing, and signing...
Picture book writer and illustrator Paul O. Zelinsky started us back after lunch. Using his own work, Mr. Zelinsky explained how he structured a picture book. Then he showed illustrators how he looked to museum paintings as inspiration. Finally, everyone got to see the “interior” of an interactive book featuring the work of a paper engineer. Making the images slide and glide isn’t as easy as it appears! Paper magician may be a more apt term for the engineer. We were treated to the hysterically funny Z is for Moose book trailer, with Mr. Zelinsky noting that he didn’t believe the trailer increased sales, but that teachers and librarians like to use them.

Editor Sylvie Frank explained why some picture books are too quiet and admitted that in today’s market she probably would have rejected the classic Goodnight Moon. She also advised writers to avoid formulaic manuscripts. Even though a particular story style worked before she wants to writers to push themselves to write something new and different. (Note: she has recently left Holiday House and joined the Paula Wiseman editorial team).

Agent Evelyn Fazio was the final speaker before the question and answer panel. Focusing on dialogue, peeves that she mentioned are unnecessary use of foreign speech patterns and interrupting dialogue with explanation. She advised writers to focus on setting up scenes before dialogue and make language relatable.

By the time the day finished, my notebook was full of notes for my own manuscripts and fresh ideas for new projects. Sure, the three to four hour drive each way was a drag but doable.

So what are you waiting for? Check your schedule then go find a conference in your area!


  1. What a great synopsis!! It was a really great time and totally agree that a conference should be on everyone's wish lists! Hopefully, I'll get my synopsis up on the blog in a day or two and I'll have more about Ammi-Joan Paquette's talk, but she talked about beginnings starting with the title through the 1st chapter and who each element should pull you to read the next.
    It was great to meet you off line too! I love when that happens!

  2. Thanks for stopping by, Sarah! The writing vibe at the conference was strong.