I was fortunate to spend last Saturday and Sunday in New York at the SCBWI Winter Conference. I returned refreshed, re-energized, and ready to dive back into revision on my novels. I may even have a few new ideas for picture books!
The conference was a combination of keynote speeches, breakout workshops, and networking opportunities. Here are the highlights:
* First Speaker: Meg Rosoff. I have not read her books, but I am compelled to check them out, after hearing her sassy, hyperbolic, and funny talk entitled, “So When Are You Going to Write a Real Book, You Know, For Adults?”
* Panel Discussion: A helpful and optimistic discussion about the state of the market, what is selling, and how it is selling (traditional publishing, self-publishing, multiple media, etc.)
* Breakout Sessions: We each participated in two breakout sessions with editors and art directors on what “hooks” them. I chose sessions with editors Yolanda Scott of Charlesbridge, and Francoise Bui of Delacorte Press. Both were insightful, giving examples of books they loved that they had edited that demonstrated the different components that hooked them. I was thrilled to discover Jane Yolen sitting in the row in front of me in the first session.
* Day 2 Keynote: Margaret Peterson Haddix gave a talk entitled “Tell Me a Story.” She wove together personal stories with tips on how to tell a good story. She told us that “books help kids understand and make sense of the world.” Our important role as children’s writers in the tender early development years of life was a common thread among many of the speakers.
* Second Keynote: Julie Andrews and her daughter Emma Walton Hamilton shared their learnings from writing several series (the Dumpy series, the Little Bo series, and The Very Fairy Princess series) together. It was a multilayered talk, and Julie Andrews was everything you would expect: graceful, classy, beautiful, and talented. I was pleased to see what a wonderful relationship mother and daughter have, and how their many years of writing together transcends the typical “celebrity” children’s book writing one might expect.
* Closing Keynote: Mo Willems had me in stitches from the moment he walked on the stage. I expected him to be funny (in a clean, child’s sort of way), but he was humorous in a real, adult way. He spoke directly to us as writers, and shared his take on the profession. He did, however, tell us that if we agreed with everything he said, something was wrong. Some key quotes from Mo:
“Be a filter, not a spigot.”
“Think OF your audience, not FOR your audience.”
“The hook is not the story.”
On writing humor: “Keep writing, then take away whatever isn’t funny. If nothing is left, start over.”
“Childhood sucks, so your job is to be some child’s best friend.”
Joanna and I both love to “collect” rejection stories of successful writers… probably to inspire us to keep going. For Mo, he shared that over a 90 day period in his writing career, he got a rejection letter every day. Yes, 90 rejection letters. And look at him now!
Overall, it was a good conference, full of learnings and ideas. At the end of the conference I participated in the autograph party. I had an amazing opportunity to have 2 books autographed for my children: We Are In a Book! signed by Mom Willems (with a little piggie adorably drawn above his name) and The Very Fairy Princess Follows Her Heart signed by Julie Andrews and Emma Walton Hamilton.
Not only was I able to obtain two great keepsakes for years to come, I was able to talk briefly with each of them. I had the opportunity to thank Mo Willems for his Elephant and Piggie Books, since they are the reason my son (an initial reluctant reader) now loves to read. I told Julie Andrews and Emma Walton Hamilton that my daughter thinks she is a princess like their character Gerry. Truth be told, I could have talked to Julie Andrews about the weather, and I would have been perfectly happy. She and her daughter were just lovely.
For more information on the conference, check out the SCBWI Blog.