Sunday, January 29, 2012

Farewell! See you in LA

Team Blog hard at work
It's been another fantastic weekend for SCBWI Team Blog. Our fingertips are sore and our wrists swollen but we loved bringing every bit of this conference to those of you near and far. 

We really hope to see you in person at the upcoming 41st annual SCBWI Summer Conference in Los Angles, August 3rd-6th, 2012. Mark your calendar, start saving your pennies, so we can all soak up more SCBWI wonder. 

As Jane Yolen said to us all today, "The best thing you can do for your career is join SCBWI."

SCBWI Team Blog Members: Suzanne Young, Lee Wind, Martha Brockenbrough, Jaime Temairik, & Jolie Stekly

The Autograph Party

The SCBWI autograph party is a great place to meet your favorite authors and get your books signed! What a fantastic lineup!

Chris Crutcher
Dan Santat

Cheryl Klein

Peter Brown
Dan Yaccarino
John Rocco
Jane Yolen

Lin Oliver and Theo Baker

Cassandra Clare
And then just because Cassie's awesome:

Hope you all had a great time!

My Experience At The Conference: Helaine Becker

Thanks, Helaine!

My Experience At The Conference: Stephen Macquignon

Thanks Stephen!

My Experience At The Conference: Mahtab Narsimhan

Thanks, Mahtab!

My Experience At The Conference: Daniel Gundlach

Thanks, Daniel!

Kathryn Erskine: Keynote - Keep Your F.O.C.U.S.

Kathryn Erskine is the author of MOCKINGBIRD, which in 2010 won a National Book Award and a Golden Kite. She also wrote QUAKING and THE ABSOLUTE VALUE OF MIKE, which was a 2012 ALA Top Ten Quick Pick for reluctant readers.

She talked about we as writers can keep our focus (which she turned into a clever little acronym).
  • Freedom: "You owe yourself the freedom to create." 
You have to sketch and write in cracks of time. You can record your thoughts using a voice app or recorder, or just scribble them on a napkin or your hand. "No time is wasted. Even if you're not physically writing or creating, we're artists. These ideas come to us. These ideas come to us. You can't escape it." 

But more practically, when you're creating, block everything else out

"You have to create a little waiting room in your mind, and [your distractions] will have to take a seat for now." 

Kathryn likes to gather her focus by doing some Sudoku. Transition rituals can also help. "It's a sign to your body and your mind that this is a time when you're supposed to be creative." 

Also: "Free yourself from the guilt that you're taking time from other people. Don't those people out there want you to be happy?"

And don't give up: "If you ever think about hanging it up, think about the one kid out there who needs you." 
  • Organization: 
"I don't think it's all that unusual for artistic types to be lacking in the organization department. But it's important to get organized because it saves a lot of times." 

In her office, she keeps a drawer of all the stuff--books, maps, brochures--that go with a certain writing project. Plus, she can close all the other drawers and not be distracted. She also has inboxes just for "the business"--marketing, website, tax info--as well as another box for teaching, schools, and library visits. 
  • Creativity: Do what you need and ask yourself "what if?" 
Don't forget to take care of your body, too. It will take care of your mind. But a few vices--like candy and coffee--are OK. 

She needs solitude to write. You have to know what you need. If your muse gets stuck, you know how to get it unstuck. Cook, sing, do something physical like run. That really does help the other creative parts of your brain. 

She also listens to playlists that relate to her work-in-progress when she's driving.
    • Understanding: Understand where you're going and what you're trying to say
    Who are your characters, and what motivates them? If you need an expert to explain something, find an expert. If you want to know what a Scotsman wears under his kilt, find one who's willing to show you.
    • Sharing: Prepare your baby for the world
    Vett your manuscript with a critique group, in class, at conferences before you send it out. It took Kathryn 10 years from the time she started for her first book to come out. Start reaching out to potential readers before you even sell a book, perhaps by linking your blog to your Facebook account and automatically send posts there. 

    Short book trailers are fun, too. Her son made a book trailer for Quaking.

    On bookstore signings: "Bring a friend or sign with someone. Otherwise, you're sitting alone like Typhoid Mary."

    She sent us all home with candles and inspiration, and in three months, she'll post a reminder on her blog to keep focusing.

    Chris Richman: the Current Market for Your Work

    Hi! I'm Chris Richman!
    Chris Richman is an agent at Upstart Crow Literary. He represents middle grade and young adult works, and he's especially interested in books for boys, books with unforgettable characters, and high-concept material.

    "I'm across the board," he says. But no picture books. (Sorry!)

    You can find him on Twitter: @chrisrichman

    Upstart Crow is a boutique agency--there are only four agents, and Chris is one of two there who are accepting submissions. The agency is editorial, which means they work on manuscripts with their authors. Chris says he's never sent out a manuscript without working on it first, and looks for clients who are open to that.

    What's the current marketplace look like? 
    "It can get disheartening sometimes," Chris says. "It's not so much I love this book and I need it to be published. That doesn't go far enough now. Sales has to love it, marketing has to love it, my boss has to love it, Barnes & Noble has to love it. But everyone's still looking. Books still sell and kids still read. There can be surprise hits that come out of nowhere. I do agree it's becoming more of a bestseller mentality."

    To think about the audience for your book, it doesn't have to appeal to everyone. Instead, focus it. For example: "Teen girls who are thirsty for romance will like this book."

    When a manuscript comes across your desk, what would you like to see? 
    He loves writing and voice, of course. Sometimes there's serendipity, as when as an editor has a specific interest, like hiking. But in general, the hook really matters: "If someone says to me in a query letter and they've summed up the book in one sentence and it's not something I've heard ... it can grab me so easily," he says.

    "If you write Twilight in space, I'll hate it. But if you're a fantastic writer and pull it off, I'll still read it."

    Chris reads a bit of the query letter, but after a sentence or two goes straight to the writing. "You can tell in 250 words if someone can write."

    What trend now is indicative of the publishing market? 
    Once you realize a trend is happening, it's dead. Another agent at Upstart Crow was pitching a dystopian dog series in Bologna and had to change the pitch because the market there was tired of dystopians.

    He looks for stuff that has more of a classic feel. "Trends can be sexy and get pushed to the front of the shelf, but in 10 years, if you've read every vampire book ... I just like a classic book," he says. "A book about sons of Greek gods is going to be cool in 20 years."

    What do you see as the key factors in building a career in children's books? 
    Things are changing quickly. At conferences even two years ago, he would advise against self publishing. "It's good, career-wise to be on top of changes and seeking out new opportunities. The more attractive you can make yourself as a writer and as an author ... the more interested we'll be in working with you."

    One of Chris's clients, Jacqueline West (THE BOOKS OF ELSEWHERE), is shy and not involved in social media. But she likes connecting to kids and her publisher loves her writing. It's working out well.

    Another client, Matt Myklusch (JACK BLANK'S IMAGINE NATION), worked for MTV and is charismatic. He's looking to promote things in a different way.

    "Choose what you're comfortable with, what suits your personality. If you try to force it, it comes off like you're forcing it."

    Some quick advice

    • Do your homework before you submit. "The easiest way for me to reject something without an ounce of guilt is if it's something I don't represent." 
    • "You're part of a community. Don't be shy about networking, sharing query pages. Find friends who are really brutal. If they're just going to be nice, you're not going to grow." 

    Ginger Knowlton: The Current Market For Your Work

    Ginger Knowlton is the Executive Vice President of Curtis Brown Ltd. and represents many writers and illustrators of children's books.

    Ginger's been at Curtis Brown since 1986, starting her work with Marilyn Marlow.

    Agents are looking for commercial, bestselling work, but Ginger is always looking for good storytelling, books that are engaging from the start.

    "Storytelling is key. Take me away to a new place and I will be happy to represent you."

    Comment on how you would describe the current marketplace: 

    Interesting times. Exciting, exhilarating, and exhausting.

    When a manuscript comes across your desk, what would you like to see that would tell you that it has a place in the market? (other than a good voice)

    You need a hook; something that she can incapsulate in two sentences.

    Ginger gets right to the writing. The letter isn't what she's looking at. It's all about the writing.

    Can you comment on a general trend you see in the marketplace that you feel is representative of publishing now?

    THE FAULT IN OUR STARS by John Green is a great new book,  mixing tragic with comic.

    Ginger predicts a blurring of the genres, and that transmedia is probably going to be more prevalent.

    Regina Brooks: The Current Market For Your Books

    Regina Brooks
    Regina Brooks is the founder and President of Serendipity Literary Agency.

    She shares her background (she was an engineer, later an editor, and feels that being an agent is the perfect mix of left and right brain for her.)  She started her agency 12 years ago, and has four agents that work for her.  She feels her agency is further distinguished from the field by also having a social media strategist, and says they help their authors build their platforms and even with their publicity.

    Regina encourages we authors to think about what's our book's hook, as well as saying that she's looking for authors who are bringing something new.

    She also runs an annual contest for YA writers - asking them to share the first 250 words of their manuscript and explains there is so much she and the editor judges can get from that - the quality of the writing, a sense of where the story is going...

    Her taste?

    She represents titles across the board, from the poetry of Marilyn Nelson (a three time finalist for the National Book Award) to "Putting Makeup On The Fat Boy" by Bil Wright, which just won the ALA's Stonewall Mike Morgan & Larry Romans Children’s and Young Adult Literature Award.

    "A Global Reach"

    Regina says that when she speaks to publishers they want to look at books that have a global reach, that aren't too domestic or locked into the U.S.A.  If your book has a global reach, it's easier for her to sell.  She posits this may be the reason for the success and popularity of fantasy, as

    "fantasy isn't locked into the U.S. or domestic marketplace."

    State of the Union of Children's Publishing?

    Regina rattles off five new YA imprints that have just formed, and feels this is a sign of robustness.  There are opportunities beyond the big six publishers.

    Quotable Moment:

    "Middle Grade is the new Y.A."

    (Which means publishers are asking her for Middle Grade.)

    Ken Wright: The Current Market for Your Work

    Agent Ken Wright covers a wide range of writers and illustrators. He originally joined Writers House to establish the non-fiction section in children’s books.

    Ken felt there were many great writers unrepresented or underrepresented. His client Steve Sheinkin won the 2012 YALSA award for excellence in non-fiction.

    Ken also wanted to start a YA literary fiction list at Writers House. Although the agency is well known for their commercial fiction, they have been putting more focus on literary works. For example, BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY by Ruta Sepetys has done well, and John Corey Whaley's WHERE THINGS COME BACK just won both the Morris and the Printz award this year. (YAY!)

    Ken is always looking for the next best thing.

    Ken thinks the children's book market is very robust. What we see now is a big difference from ten years ago. Editors and publishers are asking, "Where is this book going to go?" They’re really focusing their list and can no longer just acquire a book because they like it. It has to be clear where it fits into the market. That’s the big difference he’s seen. It’s a hit business. But don't worry, those best sellers open up resources for publishers to acquire great midlist books.

    If the writing is great, the story extraordinary, Ken starts making a list of editors he thinks will be perfect for it. He listens to what editors are looking for. So it comes down to the writing and the editor’s perception of what they’re looking for.

    The Agents Panel Begins!

    Lin Oliver introduces, from left to right: Ginger Knowlton, Regina Brooks, Chris Richman and Ken Wright.

    Team Blog will be doing individual posts to focus on what each agent is sharing... look for those soon!

    Book Maker's Dozen Panel moderated by Laurent Linn

    Simon and Schuster art director Laurent Linn introduces the wildly awesome group that is the Book Maker's Dozen!
    I'm going to share ONE comment from each person, but boy, are we lucky to have all these amazing illustrators on one stage. I hope there are no stray meteors over Manhattan this morning.

    Laurent: WHO ARE YOU? 

    John Rocco: Originally the idea for the Book Maker's Dozen came out of a show that John Bemelmans Marciano put together for the Brooklyn library called Drawn in Brooklyn, which featured 36 Brooklyn illustrators. We had so much fun, we wanted to keep things going.

    Laurent: Do you use it as a critique group? Or more like an artist commune?

    Rocco: Yes, we all live together in a one-bedroom on the Lower East Side. No, it's more about having strength in numbers for events, things like that.

    Yaccarino: It's more like the mafia, really.

    Laurent: Tell me how you deal with rejection?

    Ruzzier: In 4th grade I really liked this little girl named, Valentina, but I was too shy, it didn't work out. Now I can take any rejection. What do you do? What does anybody do? You cry a little for a few days, and then you try to get the project rejected by the next person.

    Laurent: When you're thinking about projects to create on your own, or promotional//marketing materials how do you find inspiration for those?

    Alko: I love to browse bookstores, like Books of Wonder. As far as trends, I do occasionally like to look at Facebook and blog reviews to see what sorts of books are getting mentioned. I do like to get out of the studio to gather information and get inspired.

    Laurent: When you are coming up with new ideas or have a manuscript to illustrate, how much do you think about the market viability vs. just wanting to do the project?

    Brown: I want to make books that people will read, so I do think some on market viability. If you want to be in this business for a long time, you kind of have to be an idea factory, you can't invest everything in just one idea, or that's the only book you'll make. But by the time you recognize a market trend, it's too late, like my next book, ROBOVAMPIRES DESTROY THE EARTH.

    Laurent: What's your process for creating characters?

    Leijten: I sketch and sketch, sometimes I make a little 3D character out of wood putty or fabric, it's important to see how a character stands and what sort of emotions you can see in a little model's body language.

    Helquist: I use a lot of reference for drawing costume and architecture, but draw the characters from my head.

    Laurent: What if you have to do accurate drawings, for nonfiction, how do you do prepare art for those types of books?

    Floca: I didn't mean to do books that needed accurate, researched drawings, but the more research you do, the more things you learn and questions you ask and you want to learn how things work, so researching gets increasingly more complex and time consuming.

    "I'm trying to finish my latest book now without learning ANYTHING ELSE."

    Laurent: How do you find a style or styles to work in?

    Qualls: When you're starting out, trying to be an artist, the impulse is to take an academic approach. Now I try to do what comes naturally. But somewhere along the way you start to do what comes naturally. Every book I try to try out new things, or do subtle changes to the way I work. I hope to take my work a little further in terms of style and direction, it's important to be excited about your work and process.

    Laurent: Do you have different mind sets or approaches when writing and illustrating a picture book vs. just illustrating?

    Yaccarino: It's a very different experience. When you are writing AND illustrating, you're doing all the heavy lifting. Only illustrating is a more relaxed feeling, I can lavish 100% attention on the art alone.

    Laurent: A book is a collaboration, what is it like to be art directed and edited?

    Dave Gordon: It's something you get used to. If I feel I'm being over-edited in the writing, I focus on what I love and what's working as an illustrator.

    Laurent: Some of you have different creative outlets besides books. Illustrating and writing is your passion and focus, but what else do you do? 

    Sophie Blackall: I like to do everything at the same time, there's not a whole lot of sleep. As much as illustrating children's books is my first love, there are increasingly more things you can't put in a picture book like cigar smoke, taxidermy, blood... And sometimes it's fun to do something without any art directions (that's where Missed Connections comes in.)

    Laurent: Tell us about juggling family life, a job, and your illustration career. How do you achieve balance?

    John Bemelmans Marciano: As far as organizing the day, it's a daily struggle. I've always worked at home, but after having a child, it was impossible! Unless you have a metal door that you can shut and lock. I finally have an outside studio, the downtime alone on the walk to or from the studio is inspiring.

    All thank John Rocco for organizing this group. John says he was just desperate for friends.

    The Bookmaker's Dozen Panel: An Illustrator's View

    Thanks, Jess Yeomans!

    Illustration Award Winners Announced!

    It's always incredibly exciting to find out who won the various illustrator awards given at each conference.

    Sarah Baker just announced this year's winners, starting with the Tomie DePaola award, named after the beloved illustrator who also serves as the contest judge. Three hundred people applied this year, creating illustrations inspired by Chicken Licken.

    Runner up: Laurie Eslick
    Tomie loved the painterly style of her illustration, and he challenged her to take it further.
    Laurie Eslick

    The winner: Yvette Piette Herrera
    Tomie loved her style and found the round composition a unique take on the round robin story.

    Yvette Piette Herrera

    Student illustrator scholarship Two fulltime illustration students, Davin Choi and Eunhye Seo, won conference tuition for their work. Both are students at Rhode Island School of Design, coincidentally. A panel of industry professionals judged.

    And the big one: the portfolio showcase ...
    One-hundred and eighty-five illustrators competed, and 350 of the top professionals in the industry reviewed them during a cocktail party on Friday night.

    "We were all really proud of the illustrators who presented their portfolios," Sarah Baker said. The judges looked carefully and took away a lot of promotional postcards. "I'm sure a lot of connections were made Friday night." 

    Runners up

    Wook Jim Jung
    Wook Jim Jung
    Lori Nichols

    And the winner...

    Mike Curato! 

    Mike Curato

    Jane Yolen Announces A New Grant For Mid-List Authors... And the 2012 Winners!

    Congratulations to Mary K. Whittington for winning this year's inaugural Jane Yolen Mid-List Author grant!  A published author who hasn't had a new book come out in a while, Mary recently had a stroke, and is halfway through writing a new novel using voice recognition software.  Jane calls Mary her hero, and hopes the grant helps her get that novel finished and out into the world.

    And our cheers as well to Ann Whitford Paul and Barbara Diamond Golden for their honor grants.

    More information about the Jane Yolen Mid-List Author Grant (and how to nominate a mid-list author you know for next year) will be forthcoming on, where you'll find information on all the author and illustrator Grants and Awards.

    A Shout Out to the team behind #NY12SCBWI

    The SCBWI Staff

    Lin Oliver introduces to the packed room, from left to right: Brandon Clarke, Liz Brown, Gee Cee Addison, Kim Turrisi, Jeff Miller, Chelsea Mooser, Sarah Baker and Sara Rutenberg.

    Thanks to you all for making SCBWI and this conference run so well!

    Saturday, January 28, 2012

    Illustrator Social

    Lots of fun last night in the Illustrator Social's packed conference room. Here's the first minute or so of the social with Cecilia Yung telling us about some SCBWI success stories:

    Here's Debbie Ridpath Ohi talking about her SCBWI success story. Cecilia Yung holds up a copy of the fruits of that success story, I'M BORED, out soon!

    Here's Fred Koehler talking about his SCBWI success story and a snapshot of his forthcoming DAD'S BAD DAY.

    Here's some bloke named Peter Brown looking amazed at all the great illustrators in the room and the fact that someone had brought a giant bottle of vodka to share.

    Let's have more of these! Thanks to all the illustrators for attending and thanks to the Illustrator Committee for making it happen.

    International Attendees Social

    There are 32 regional chapters outside the United States, and this year's conference brought in attendees from 20 countries. Saturday night's International Attendees Social gave those attendees a chance to meet and mingle. 

    Christopher Chang 
    Christopher Chang, who is a regional advisor for Australia/New Zealand, an SCBWI board member, and a former member-of-the-year welcomed the group. He shared information about their regional chapters. The group also shared good news coming from the international members. Good news all sounds so much more exciting with accents. 

    Germany's Regional Advisors: Donna Weidner & Kirsten Carlson 

    You've got to love that the regional advisors from Germany came in traditional costume.