Tuesday, August 19, 2014

SCBWI Summer Conference in Review

It seems like the conference was just last week, but in reality I’ve been back from Los Angeles for two weeks. The time flew by. My day job helped with that. It’s been crazy busy, but I’ve also been inspired to finish my YA realistic fiction. I’m happy to say I’m well on my way, but I’ve put off sharing some of the highlights from the conference long enough. So, without further procrastination…

I flew down with my good friends and writing buddies, Kym Brunner and Katie Sparks. 

Our first stop -- the Pink Taco for lunch. 

Katie Sparks, Kym Brunner, and me
Katie and me

The conference officially started Friday. 1,235 people gathered this year. 630 were published authors or illustrators from nineteen countries, plus the USA. The energy in the ballroom was incredible.

If you want our children to be intelligent, read your children fairy tales. If you want them to be even more smart, read them more fairy tales. –Einstein

Award winning author, Meg Rosoff, shared that Einstein quote at the beginning of her inspiring keynote. She reminded us that faults are important and that we should treasure them. Enjoy your good qualities, but when the going gets tough, fall back on your faults. As should your characters.

I like that little tidbit of advice.

Speaking of advice, seven editors shared their do’s and don’ts during the editor panel.

It was no surprise that the editors look for stories with a strong voice that is fresh and age appropriate. They also want to be hooked on the first page. This is something writers hear over and over. So what are some of the turn-offs? Here’s what they had to say, in no particular order:

  • Don’t overwhelm the reader with all the details on the first page.
  • Don’t try to mimic another writer’s voice. (Suggestion on this one: write in your own voice.)
  • Don’t try to teach.
  • Pay attention to the end. You want it to go right into the heart.
  • Don’t tell with long descriptions. (Show.)
  • When submitting, don’t be weird by accompanying your submission with odd items.

Are any of these don'ts in your writing? If you answered yes, no worries. That’s why we revise.

And good news for all picture book writers, they’re continuing their come back. Middle grade is also growing.

Stephen Chbosky, author of Perks of Being a Wallflower, broke down the secrets of writing your timeless classic, or die trying. He makes it sound so simple. Find a great idea. Find the right genre and age level. Find the right POV. Come up with a great title. Easy right?

Okay, that won’t guarantee an instant classic, but I imagine that’s where the die trying comes in. And, really, every great classic started with an idea. Speaking of the classics, study them. Stephen’s advice: pick your genre and look at every truly outstanding novel in that genre, and then look at what they have in common.

Me with Maggie Stiefvater
A big time highlight of the conference for me was meeting Maggie Stiefvater. I discovered her first novel, Lament, at the library and really enjoyed her twist on fairy lore. This was long before Shiver was published.  If you haven’t read Lament, I highly recommend it.

In Maggie’s breakout session she talked about building characters. Her rules for characters started with the narrator, who should be the character who shifts the plot the most—the character who changes the most. I happily agree with her. 

There were so many inspiring keynotes and breakout session—like the interview with Tommie Depaola and Judy Blume’s keynote. Unfortunately, it’s impossible for me to talk about all of the great sessions without making this post too long, but you can read about them on SCBWI’s conference blog. Team Blog did an amazing job of keeping the blog posts coming throughout the conference. Hop on over to peruse the site at your leisure.

A few of last quotes before I end this post…

Writing is the art of choosing detail.  – Bruce Coville

Write what you know the essence of.  – Maggie Stiefvater

When diversity is done well, readers emphasize with the characters.  – Adriana Dominguez

A big thanks to Lin Oliver, Stephen Mooser and the rest of the SCBWI staff for putting together yet another amazing conference. I hope to see you next year!


  1. Look at the common denominator of the popular books in your genre - smart advice.
    Looks like you had a great time and learned a lot!

  2. Yay to PBs and MG going strong! Thank you for sharing what looks like a fun filled (plus buddies to boot) weekend.

  3. Hi Cherie,
    I also attended the conference, and I too went to Pink Taco once. That, and the food court, and BJ's. It was a great conference, even though my first-line-reject joke was never picked, LOL. =)

    Did you stay for the Monday intensives?

    1. Hi Cynthia. The food court and BJ's are great places, too. I didn't stay for the intensives this year. Did you?

    2. I just saw your blog post. If we're both there next year we will have to look for each other. =)

  4. You made the experience sound fun and educational. :-)

    Anna from Shout with Emaginette

    1. It is. There's something for everyone, from newbie to published. Plus, I like catching up with friends I only see in LA.

  5. Oh, so cool that you got to meet Maggie! She's amazing. Thanks for sharing some of these tips and tricks!

    1. She is amazing. I've love to sit and talk with her.

  6. Glad you had a good time at the conference. Turns out I'll be attending my very first writing conference (workshop, really) in October. I'm looking forward to it.

    1. Very cool, Ken. I look forward to hearing about it.

  7. I was there! Probably not far from you in the Maggie S. line. LOVED the horse she drew on the white board for her session. Too bad we couldn't have said hello! It was a super conference. I came home with a notebook full of golden nuggets.

    1. Leslie, I'm sorry I missed you. Next time I go (which I hope is next year) I'll have to find out which of my cyber friends are going too.

  8. What a great conference! Love the quote and wrote it down: "...the character who shifts the plot the most—the character who changes the most."

  9. You got some great quotes from what looks like a great conference--thanks for sharing!