This past weekend I attended the Midsouth SCBWI Conference in Nashville, TN. This region seriously puts on amazing conferences! Here are some of my notes:
Bruce Coville (author of more than 90 books)
I've loved Bruce's books that I've read and listened to. He's such a super dynamic and animated speaker. If you ever get a chance to hear him, go, go, go!
HA! WA! YIKES! If you can get all three of these reactions in your reader, you've written a great book.
HA! Kids love humor. How do you get a laugh? Use one of the following words: fart, booger, butt, naked, etc. But the best laugh is one that comes from the story itself. For example, a bully gets puts into his place.
WA! An honest tear. Easy tear - kill the dog. But the best tear comes from the story itself. For example, tears of joy when something so wonderful happens.
YIKES! Kids love scary books. The best scary is when a character you love is in trouble, emotional peril.
Use sensory details to sweep you into a scene. In any important scene, use 3 of the 5 senses.
Make a good story a great story by making your character face a tough moral choice. The question kids have is not, "Do I want to be good?" but rather, "Who do I want to be like?" Provide role models.
"Sometimes I write a fairytale because it's the best way to tell the truth." - C.S. Lewis
Victoria Jamieson (designs picture books, middle grade, and YA for Greenwillow)
Victoria has a website with her own illustration work, and she has a fun picture book coming out next summer, Bea Rocks the Flock!
She prefers illustrators to send in postcard samples of their artwork, not envelopes that she has to open.
Have a web portfolio where she can find more of your work, and she can print it out.
If you like a particular subject or type of book, do at least 3 illustrations like that for your portfolio.
Victoria showed us some picture book dummies which I found very helpful since I would like to write and illustrate my own picture books.
She talked about Darcy Pattison's Narrative Arc Formula:
This is a story about ______________________________
Who more than anything else wants __________________
(Alternate: Who more than anything else fears_________________)
But can’t get it because of these complications:
(Alternate: But has to face it because of these complications:)
Amalia Ellison (Assistant Editor at Abrams)
Why have an agent: Agents protect you in ways you don't realize until it's too late.
If you don't want an agent: query the assistant and associate editors and editorial assistants if they have aquiring ability. They are the ones who will be passionate about your books and will work on building a relationship with you because your success means success for them.
Amalia prefers email submissions with manuscripts as attachments (go green). If she feels your writing is great, but it's not what she's interested in, she'll pass it around the office. Amalia loves mysteries, math mysteries, and humorous adventure books - so do I! She was quite funny and a good storyteller.
I had a portfolio critique with Victoria Jamieson at this conference. Last fall, I had portfolio critiques with Laurent Linn from Henry Holt and Elizabeth Parisi from Scholastic, and I've been putting into practice all that they said about art for trade book publishing. I feel like my artwork has really grown over the past year, but I know I still have a lot of growing to do. I was excited to see what the comments would be at my critique this year, because most of the illustrations in my portfolio are new. There was one piece in my portfolio that an Art Director had said was my strongest piece two years ago. That was one of the only two illustrations that Victoria told me this weekend to take out of my portfolio now. How encouraging! What had been my strongest piece two years ago is now my weakest piece! Most of my new pieces are stronger, so that verified my growth as an artist. Yay!
These two illustrations Victoria pointed out as being some of my strongest:
Harold Underdown and Alexis O'Neill also spoke at the conference. If you're interested in writing or illustrating for children, I highly suggest digesting all of Harold's website and checking out his book, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Children's Book Publishing. Also, join SCBWI and go to some of these amazingly helpful conferences!