Tuesday, June 18, 2013

NJ SCBWI Conference retrospective - Part 2

Day two of the NJ SCBWI conference started with a keynote speech by author/illustrator extraordinaire, PeterBrown. Once again, I wished I was an illustrator but having viewed the portfolio presentation tables I know I’m not only not in the ballpark in terms of my artistic ability, I’m not even in the game. I will continue to do all my painting with words!

My first workshop was a First Pages session. Neither editor in my session (Connie Hsu and Steven Meltzer) is open to submissions from the slush pile and this was a good opportunity to have our work read by them. A volunteer read each of ten pages then the editors reacted. It was encouraging to hear that the editors liked the voice and character of my middle grade novel. Then came the editors’ wish lists; one was looking for “YA novels with opportunities for illustration,” the other wanted picture book characters who “let their freak flag fly.” That’s right—neither was looking for middle grade this time around, but perhaps the right project could change their mind . . . .

My signed copy!
Agent Marietta Zacker’s Visual Literacy was my second workshop. She talked poignantly about the importance of visual literacy in her own life, arriving to America as a non-English speaker. Then as a group we discussed why publishing picture houses were requesting shorter word counts in picture books. Marietta urged writers picture books through YA to “just tell the heart of the story.”

Author Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen led the next workshop in Advanced Picture Writing. She bravely posted power point slides with quotes from editors’ letters rejecting her own work or requesting revisions to illustrate possible reasons our work might not make the grade. Amazing. My favorite quote wasn’t from one of the letters, but from Sudipta herself. “Too quiet isn’t a taste issue, this is a market issue you cannot overcome.”

Advanced Nonfiction with editor Carolyn Yoder was my next workshop. She urged everyone to show passion in their cover letters and breadth in their bibliographies. One thing I hadn’t realized was to include sources we consulted but didn’t use in our bibliographies. “Keep the rich details of your research and avoid overgeneralization but make sure details are relevant and necessary.”

And there was still more! My last workshop on day two was an easy reader/chapter book workshop with editor Jenne Abramowitz. Comparing and contrasting these two formats, Jenne emphasized that these genres cannot be “quiet.” Readers spend a short time with these formats and so these titles must be even more attention grabbing than middle grade and young adult offerings.

Then let me use my best infomercial voice. But wait, there’s more!
The day also included lunch at a table with editor Heather Alexander, a one-on-one critique with the talented picture book author Tara Lazar, dinner with fellow writers and then—no rest for the weary—peer critiques into the night. 
Whew! That's a lot of inspiration.
But day three is still to come--


  1. What a great line-up. I really should try and make the trek out to NJ for this conference. I like the in-depth craft workshops they seem to have.

    1. It was great. There were 8 workshops for each time slot, with only one one or two repeats so the hard part was having too much to choose from, not too little!

  2. Wow. Sounds like you had a blast. I like "just tell the heart of the story." I wish I could do that with my YA but it seems agents/publishers want high word counts which I find results in some books being wordy.

    1. It is easy to go off on tangents that are interesting but don't necessarily move the plot. Forget guidelines- you can write a great YA and show the agents/publishers what the proper word count is for YOUR story.

  3. Sounds like you learned tons! I'm envious of your keynote speaker and your critique session with Tara! What fun! I'll be back for your third post. Thanks for sharing with us Wendy :)

  4. Great post. I'm exhausted and need a nap after reading it! What a chock-full-of-fun-day.

  5. Thanks for sharing! How neat that the editors were wanting pbs!