Writing Tips from the SCBWI Conference

This Spring’s SCBWI conference in Fort Wayne, Indiana was truly exceptional, so even the few nuggets shared below should send you back to your manuscript—yet again, but hopefully with renewed enthusiasm. For those not yet in the know—SCBWI is the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. I know—what a mouthful! But if you are an aspiring author of books for children you must check out the amazing resources on their SCBWI national website and find out if your area has a regional chapter here. There’s still time to sign up for the 42nd Annual SCBWI Summer Conference in Los Angeles on August 2nd-5th.

familyFor our May conference the organizers of SCBWI chapters in Michigan, Indiana, Ohio and Illinois joined forces and attracted an amazing array of high caliber speakers—editors, agents and authors—who deluged us with so much information that my brain cried for mercy by the evenings. Too pooped to party at the “Wild Wild  Midwest Roundup.” In fact, a highly unusual two hour nap was in order, however on to the good stuff! These tips may sound simple, but ponder them well.

  • We were honored to have Lin Oliver, co-founder and executive director of SCBWI, as a keynote speaker. She has authored over 25 books including the Hank Zipser: World’s Best Under-Achiever series with Henry Winkler. I loved all her heartfelt advice, but one tip stood out to this mother of a teenager. “…eavesdrop, drive carpool. The most important skill of a storyteller is listening.”
  • “Know what your story is about.” This from Rhonda Gowler Greene who was kind enough to show us her stack of 220 rejection letters—to a dozen manuscripts over three and a half years. The encouraging part–she has published over twenty books for kids including When a Line Bends, a Shape Begins and her latest No Pirates Allowed! Said Library Lou.
  • Also from Ms. Gowler Greene—“Submit to editors and agents at the same time.” (Wish I’d heard that a while back…) She generously shared a website that lists publishers accepting unsolicited manuscripts.
  • Ok, so here is where I put in a plug for A is for Aging—do we need a wink and a smile? Please consider just how you might portray an older character in your story. Are you including a negative stereotype—sick, frail, lonely, forgetful…rethink it! Be inspired by a positive aging book review or two on my blog.
  • Liz Garton Scanlon on Rhyme, and she is decidedly an expert—“When editors say, ‘no rhyme please,’ they really mean no bad rhyme…you have to decide—is there a reason to write it in rhyme?” Ms. Scanlon has authored All the World, A Sock is a Pocket for Your Toes and Noodle and Lou among others.
  • “’Said’ is often enough. Avoid descriptive verbs and adverbs to qualify dialogue,” said Linda Pratt, an agent with Wernick and Pratt Agency. So, lose the “she said excitedly!”
  • Kendra Levin, an editor at Viking Children’s Books, noted, “Every good story has at least one reversal—you thought it was one thing, but it’s not.” (Viking has gifted us with much loved books that include The Snowy Day and the Madeline books.)
  • “Allow the narrator to do some heavy lifting,” says Brett Duquette speaking on Voice. “Dialogue is only 20% of the book.” Mr. Duquette is an editor with Sterling Publishing, owned by Barnes and Noble.
  • Last, but frequently coming up first, is illustrator/author Peter Brown, 2013 winner of the Caldecott Medal for Creepy Carrots. He cited diverse influences on his art including “Ren and Stimpy” cartoons and his grandfather, “Grumps.” Research for Creepy Carrots included old episodes of  The Twilight Zone and the video on his website is delightfully creepy—a short and sweet must-see. (Click here.)
  • Personally, being a blogger focused on aging and intergenerational attitudes, Peter Brown really touched my heart when he said, “Someday I want to be a really old guy making art.”
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