The Midsouth SCBWI Conference last weekend opened with an Autograph and Dessert Party. I shared a signing table with Dan Yaccarino, and we chatted about building a career in children's books (really, he gave me advice and I nodded my head and tried to remember everything he said as I sipped wine and nibbled dessert).
Some tidbits from the conference:
Dan Yaccarino views sketchbooks as a place to dump ideas. Don't hold back and don't be afraid to fill it with mistakes - it's not precious.
In one breakout, Martha Mihalick commented on the first page of our picture book manuscripts. Something that came up a number of times was that we need to convey what's at stake for our main character. In a picture book, we should know what the conflict or problem is by about the fifth sentence.
In a panel on marketing: If you're interested in doing school visits, write the descriptions of your presentations to appeal to curriculum-based teachers. A lot of states have their core curriculum standards online for each grade. Use that same language in describing what your presentation can do for the students. Dan said he makes it as easy as possible for schools by listing everything on his website: fees for school visits, equipment needed, a high-res author photo, videos, ordering info for his books, and descriptions of his presentations. I found this especially helpful since I plan on marketing my school visits more next year when my PENGUIN CHA-CHA picture book comes out.
For something different than what I write and therefore different than what I normally hear at conferences, I took a breakout by Sarah Davies on How to Write a Great Thriller. Some of it could definitely apply to picture book writing. Sarah told us that a book could have all the action in the world, but without heart, it's dead. So true in writing for any age. And another great Sarah tidbit: The best fiction doesn't just tell us more about the character, it tells us more about ourselves.
In Martha Rago's breakout, she gave us questions to ask ourselves about the work in our portfolio. A few I want to look into are:
Does my portfolio show my passions?
Does my portfolio reflect where I want to go with my art?
Is all the work in my portfolio the kind of work I want to get?
Kristin O'Donnell Tubb and her editor, Liz Szabla, gave a most informative talk, and I think everyone in the room came away with pages of helpful notes on revising. Wow, those two were great. Revision Tip #2) Sum up your story in one word. For Kristin's novel, THE 13TH SIGN, her word was "change". For her novel, SELLING HOPE, her word was "hope". Do all your details throughout the story support that word? Do your setting and your turning points portray that word?
Julie Danielson from the blog, SEVEN IMPOSSIBLE THINGS BEFORE BREAKFAST (love her blog!), gave an inspiring breakout on picture books. Quote from Charlotte Zolotow, "Writers writing about children are looking back. Writers writing for children are feeling back." Children have more immediate and intense emotions than adults. They're trying to make sense of the world. We have the wonder taken out of our lives as adults. Everything is new to kids. And yet, as Maurice Sendak said, "Children know everything."
My favorite part of the weekend was seeing old friends - writers and illustrators whom I've grown up in my craft alongside - and celebrating their professional and personal successes with them. What a neat group.