Friday, July 31, 2015

Nonfiction social

Introductions before the discussion of nonfiction and historical fiction for children. Pictured is only half of the group, the social continued to grow over the next hour!

Yoga for Conference Attendees with writer Lori Snyder

Following a long day of conference keynotes and breakout sessions, there's nothing quite like relaxing with meditation and downward facing dog pose. And that's just what some conference goers did. Each year at the summer conference, writer Lori Snyder has offered a daily yoga session. Below she writes about how writers and illustrators can benefit from the practice.

Guest post by Lori Snyder

One of the extraordinary things a yoga practice can do, and has done for me, is make it easier to show our deepest, truest face to the world. To be unabashedly ourselves. To stand up for what we believe. How that translates to writing or art of any kind is the same way it translates to life—it frees up the courage we need to create writing or art that is meaningful to us, and that only we can create. And it helps us to do it without fear.

For all of us, time is an issue. We live in a culture of overwhelm and busy. What’s important to know is that you don’t actually need a 90 minute class, or a 60 minute class…or even 10 minutes. You can take two minutes and practice a single yoga pose or some breathing, and that alone will start to change things. Even two minutes will help free up the psychic space needed to create anything that matters.

#LA15SCBWI getting their triangle pose on!

Two tips for beginning a yoga practice. 

1. If you can be kind to people, breathe deeply, and focus your awareness, you’re already practicing some of the most important aspects of yoga. So don’t be intimidated to start! 
2. There are a multitude of yoga styles, and within those styles every teacher is also completely different from each other. Keep trying until you find one you like. If anyone tells you that theirs is the only way, run. It took me 10 classes I didn’t like AT ALL to find the right teacher. Keep going. 

What do you need to get started.

Some comfy clothing, a yoga studio or teacher or book or DVD, and the willingness to learn something new that might be one of your greatest tools throughout your life. More important is what you DO NOT need: flexibility. Seriously. You don’t have to start out with any at all. You don’t even have to end up with any at all. 

Paul O. Zelinsky draws the #LA15SCBWI Success Story Panel

Paul's view of our #LA15SCBWI success story panel" with (l to r on top) Martha Brockenbrough, Mike Curato, Stacy Lee, Lori Nichols, Anna Shinoda & Lee Wind moderating.

And for the record, I didn't notice the woman holding a sort of turtle shell with push-buttons on her lap sitting right in front of the stage. I guess I was distracted.

Thanks, Paul!

Success Story Panel: Mike Curato

SCBWI was a huge part of Mike Curato's success, the author-illustrator  proclaimed today on a Success Story Panel. In 2012, Curato submitted his artwork to the SCBWI Portfolio Showcase and won. "After that, everything seemed to happen all at once," he said. Since that time, he has gone on to write and illustrate several award-winning picture books, including Little Elliott, Big City and Little Elliott, Big Family. Here are a few tips he offered on success:

• Enjoyful the process. Bring the joy to your work.

• Create the kinds of books that you wish existed. Don’t worry about fads or what’s hip, worry about what you like. 

• Celebrate small successes along the way. For example, “Hey, I drew an awesome hand today, it doesn’t look like a bag of hotdogs,” Curato joked. "Break things down into small wins."

• Do your homework. Learn how the industry works. General knowledge about the business will take you a long way.

Martha Brockenbrough & Stacey Lee: Success Story Panel

Martha Brockenbrough is the author of YA novels THE GAME OF LOVE AND DEATH and DEVINE INTERVENTION, and THE DINOSAUR TOOTH FAIRY,  a picture book with much more to come.

Martha wanted to write books her whole life. She had a couple transformative moments: 1) The decision to attend this conference in 2008. 2) A class she took with Linda Sue Park that turned on a lightbulb for her (on revising scenes).

The "if I could just" thought can be dangerous (If I could just get an agent... If I could just get published...). "What's really satisfying is building meaningful relationships."

Martha thinks resistance makes you strong. It means it takes effort. We all have to get stronger in order to progress.

Martha reminds us the first draft of a novel is not going to great. There can be great moments in it, but you can't let those moments become your enemy. As Martha struggled with her only draft, Anne Ursu advised: Just finish the draft. Martha, tell us, don't stop as you go.

Martha reminds us all: The work is the reward. The work is the joy.

Stacey Lee is the author of UNDER A PAINTED SKY, her debut young adult novel.

For Stacey it was writing for many years and then taking a risk. Stacey attended a local SCBWI conference that she nearly talked herself out of attending because of fear. There, her work was recognized as the most promising manuscript and things started rolling from there for her.

Stacey wrote 5 books before breaking in with UNDER A PAINTED SKY. You have to cut your teeth working on other projects to grow as a writer.

Stacey remind us that conflict makes us keep turning pages. We need to give our characters pain to make the payoff better.

Stacey shares, success is not what defines you.

Lori Nichols: Success Story Panel

Isn't Lori cute? And so is whoever
is photobombing her.
Lori Nichols, author/illustrator, is asked what was it that broke her through to the other (published) side:

"If I had to break it down to two things, it would definitely be SCBWI, I went to my first conference in 2002, I left two small children at home with the flu and drove five hours to a regional conference (where I then got the flu) but I learned so much. I met my agent at a SCBWI conference, and she's the other thing that's broken me through,  my amazing agent Joanna Volpe."

Lee asks Lori about some craft tips: Lori quotes Kelly Light, "Writing is like punching myself in the face."

Lori says, "That quote really spoke to me, for me, I have to show up every day, and sometimes what I write is going to stink. It's the showing up every day and not waiting for perfection. I think part of what makes a beautiful book are the imperfections, maybe a line is too scratchy, so what! Show up to your paper, your easel, your computer, and stay there, do it daily. Study other writers and illustrators, too."

Molly Idle: How to Create Movement in Your Characters and Compositions

Molly Idle is the creator of the Caldecott Honor-winning, wordless picture book, Flora and the Flamingo. In her session, Idle's enthusiastic personality was a total joy—a good humor that is apparent in the books she illustrates.

In her session, Idle offered a special treat: she drew. Mostly lines and stick figures, but they were very cool, animated lines and stick figures—that moved! In addition, she shared a few of her favorite tools for making illustrations that zing with movement. Here are a few:

Basic shapes—circles, triangles, squares—can be used to create dynamic compositions. For instance, a triangle is a stable shape with opportunities to create three points of interest. (Show example of Rex). Circles are great compositional shapes too. For examples of compositions using concentric circles, Idle suggested seeing The Spider and the Fly, illustrated by Tony DiTerlizzi.

The use of directional compositions move a reader across the page, from left to right and back. Most times, she suggested, an illustrator will direct the reader to move with the page turn. However, there will be times to pull your reader backward, to really get their attention.

Sequence. Old school art instructors will advise to never use the same character more than once on a page. However, Idle suggsts breaking that rule. "The use of a character sequentially is a useful tool for creating animated movement on a page," she says, offering Marla Frazee's Mrs. Biddlebox a wonderful example. 

Other advice:

•  Study anatomy. Learn how the joints in the human body move

• Avoid total semitry, or twinning. The body is not perfectly semetric, it's a system of counter balances.

• Get your reader in on the action. Idle suggested using flaps that open and close and allow the reader to interact with the book, as used in Flora and the Penguin and Flora and the Flamingo.

Rotem Moscovich: The Road to Acquisitions

Rotem shares a few acquisition stories, here is one:

She reads us To the Sea by Cale Atkinson. It's important to be able for an author/illustrator to describe their story in a nutshell because Rotem does the same thing when she's doing a presentation for acquistions.

She asks us how we would position To the Sea, what its key note would be, the audience throws out:

  • friendship story
  • problem solving
  • summer
  • adorable characters
  • bold illustrations with limited palette
  • being seen

From that we get this nutshell: "A touching friendship story with stunning art about finding someone who really sees you."

Rotem then helps the audience hone their nutshells!

At Hyperion, marketing approval is integral to an acquisition. If Rotem thinks marketing might not "get" a potential book, she will do rounds of work on something before it goes to acquisition (that's a big deal given her time demands at work are for acquired books, which means Rotem does this additional

Rotem talks a little bit about the profit and loss statement, the P&L. Which is roughly: The quantity that they think they can sell in the first year + what they think they should pay the author + what the royalties look like ÷ if the book can go into board book eventually and/or ebooks x how other comparable books are doing in the market + the square root of π...

If Rotem is bringing a manuscript to an acquisition meeting, she will also bring her choices for who will illustrate to help the meeting attendees envision the project more fully.

Patti Ann Harris: Playing with Page Turns

Patti encourages both authors and illustrators to think of their picture books in terms of music and cinema, there should be flow and rhythm to the book, and you can play with easing the readers along with repetition and then surprising them with something wholly different.

Patti shares Me... Jane which has a very steady rhythm of illustration on one side of a page spread and text on the other, so when we get to a climactic moment in the book, we also see something different on the page—an actual photograph of Jane Goodall out in the wild.

When Patti works on a book, she understands the author/illustrator is focused on the tiny details of every page, but she tries very hard to see things globally and offer guidance there. She encourages the audience to take a step back and get allll of your pages on one page so you can see how everything is working together. She likes CALDECOTT MEDAL WINNER Dan Santat's practice of storyboarding out something successfully cinematic like a Hitchcock movie to understand storyboarding better.

Barry Goldblatt: the Difference between Being a Writer & Being an Author

Barry Goldblatt has been an agent since 2000. His agency focuses mostly on children's literature, but has expanded to include some adult fiction as well.

His client list is sterling: Christopher Barzak, Holly Black, Angela Johnson, Jo Knowles, Lauren Myracle, Genevieve Valentine, Colleen AF Venable, Ed Vere, Charles Vess, and Stephanie Yue.

He talked to us about being a writer, being an author, and how the two are sometimes distinct and sometimes overlap.

A writer is being creative. An author is doing business. The two can feed each other.  If you're doing research, you're not putting words on the page, but you're writing. If you go to a conference, it's a mix of writing and being an author. Your task is to know what you're doing so you can best work out how to do it.

Some key bits of advice:  

Part of the process is figuring out the things that click for you individually. There's no one size fits all solution. But strategies to consider:

Be disciplined. The Freedom app, which turns off the Internet, can help. But you can't do it when you're reading. So, maybe setting goals and designing your day is a good strategy. Discipline your brain to know not to deal with dishes/laundry/day job. It's writing time.

Train your family. One of his clients works on the basement. Her six (six!) kids know that if the door is closed, they're not suppose to enter it unless their heads have fallen off.

Make goals. For some, having a 1,000-word daily goal is effective. For some, that's daunting. For picture book writers, that's two-and-a-half books.

Reward yourself. "We are monkeys. The best way to make something happen is to reward yourself." If you meet your writing goals, you get to eat the ice cream sundae. Or watch TV. Whatever goals make you want to work better--this is you figuring out what works for you.

Make attainable goals that suit you. You're not going to write a novel in a day. You can also change goals--2,000 words a day might not work for you, and failing and failing will put you in a bad mind space. So find goals that work for you.

(Barry likes Habit RPG, a role-playing game that rewards you for achieving goals.)

What don't authors need?

A social media presence. Do it if you're good at it. You do need an updated website.

Cassandra Clare is good at it, on both Twitter and Tumblr.

What do you need to do? 

Whatever works for you that stretches your work's availability and visibility.

Barry Goldblatt Literary
Follow Barry Goldblatt on Twitter

Alison Weiss: Ten Things You're Doing Wrong in MG

Alison Weiss is an editor at Sky Pony Press. She was previously at Egmont for 6 and half years.

Missing the Middle Grade Mark: Common Mistakes to Avoid

  • Your character is too young or to too old.
  • Your voice isn't authentic. 
  • Your dialogue doesn't sound natural or natural to your characters. 
  • Your vocabulary is too sophisticated. 
  • You're putting characters in situations that don't make sense.
  • You're writing what you think is a middle grade experience, not what's actually a middle grade experience. 
  • Your book lacks conflict.
  • Your making choices that will date your book.
  • Your book is too long.
  • You don't know the market.
  • Sex, drugs, and rock and roll.
  • You aren't asking your questions when you have the chance.

Adam Rex: How I Make Picture Books

Adam Rex illustrates.

He writes.

He writes AND illustrates.

He does Board Books,

He does Picture Books,

He Does Chapter books,

He Does Novels,

He even made his own bio laugh-out loud funny:

Adam Rex wrote and/or illustrated all the books you like including the New York Times best-selling Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich, the New York Times best-selling Chu’s Day, and also a number of titles about which the New York Times has been strangely coy. His first novel, The True Meaning of Smekday, was adapted this past spring into the DreamWorks feature film “Home.” Having your book get turned into a movie is like that section in L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz where the woodsman systematically chops off all his body parts one by one and replaces them with tin. But in a good way? Like maybe with the heart still intact? This isn’t one of Adam Rex’s better metaphors. Visit

We're in for a treat!

Adam starts by sharing how it took him ten years of re-writing his "Moonday" story until he got it to work. From setting out to write something that made him feel the way a dream did to the book that was just published.

How he told a joke at a gathering about a school being afraid of its first day of children, and telling his agent the next morning. And having his agent insist that would be his next picture book. And Adam wrote that in an afternoon. (Here he riffs on the old Picasso quote: 20 years of learning and working and failing most of the time and succeeding more and more and eventually sitting down on one afternoon to write the book. So one afternoon plus twenty years.) "School's First Day of School" which he's written and was illustrated by Christian Robinson.

He talks about the combinations of images with text, and how we've imagined that less pictures means something is more for adults.

"In a mature society... we would have picture books for every age. ...It's not really a form that someone should grow out of."

He shares one of the best books he wrote that he says will never be published, "The Robot That Moe Bought." And tells us how doing that book dummy and one finished spread led to his being hired to illustrate his first picture book.

Adam shares his process for a number of his picture books, even showing us the sculptures he created to be able to draw the same characters, settings, and set pieces numerous times.

"My drawings are always better if I have something real to look at."

So if he doesn't have the ability to photograph a character (like he didn't for Frankenstein) then he sculpts it!

It's a fascinating window into what's similar about his process across books (breaking down the text, figuring out what's going where, thumbnails where he solves problems, sketching where he figures out the characters) and then what's different. And a lot is different – Adam changes styles and mediums seemingly for every book, trying to figure out the perfect way to tell each story.

The slides and Adam's repartee give us a behind-the-scenes look into how it all comes together, and it's so cool.

He finishes with a rap song, having us all snap along.

Great stuff!

Meg Wolitzer Keynote - Switching Hats: Writing for Adults and Young Adults

Meg Wolitzer has written novels that blow the minds of adult and young readers alike. Her adult work includes The Interestings, The Ten Year Nap, The Position, and The Wife.

Her YA novel is Belzhar, and for middle grade readers she has The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman.

She talked to us about writing for both adults and younger readers.

She started by describing a horrible question people ask writers at parties: "Would I have heard of you?"

The right answer ... "In a more just world, yes."

Her world involves going back and forth from one literary world to another.

"Being a writer is really about freedom," she said. "All of you should have the freedom to say I want to write the next Hunger Games. Then switch and say I want to write the AARP games. A scary tale."

Meg had a secret weapon in the fight to become a writer: her mother, an 85-year-old writer who is still publishing books.

"My mother was the only writer in town, and the exciting thing for me was that the checkout person would let us take out as many books as we wanted."

People often ask what's going to happen to books, but Meg feels encouraged. It's natural to see narrative all around in the world (including in one-celled amoebas). And the stories we tell are very reflective of us.

"A novel is a sort of concentrated version of who a person is," she said, "a boullion cube of concentrated sensibility."

She gave us great advice about how we should approach our writing.

"Be who you are, but much more so on the page. That's how a book starts to take shape. That's how a writer develops," she said. "Write what obsesses you." 

Another way to do this is to write the book you would have loved to read as a teen. She once had a book taken from her because it was for older kids, and it suddenly became irresistibly alluring.

She also had the help of others when she first started writing stories, which she'd dictate. One was about truckers, and included the dialogue, "Get on the rig, Mac." 

Meg's mother also wrote for adults and for children, and began her work around the time the women's movement started. Meg also became a feminist. (One of her mother's first published stories was titled "Today a Women Went Mad in the Supermarket.") 

Writing tortured Meg's mother, who typed on a quivering Smith Corona. But it showed Meg writing was something you could do. She did have to get over the sex scene her mother wrote in her first book—something she was teased for by the neighborhood toughs, who went into the store and bought something from the literary fiction section, which makes her laugh now. 

She encouraged us not to be afraid of what we write, and not to avoid something that makes us feel uncomfortable. When she writes her adult novels, she doesn't think about audience, except that she's the ideal reader for her kind of books. She doesn't have to worry about any of the content or emotional complexity. All her adult editor wants is to know that the book is meeting the expectations Meg had when she set out. 

When you write, you should be able to do it freely without fear of being judged or found lacking. And in one sense, she writes adult work for herself today, and kid lit for the person she used to be. She is mindful of making her work have a rhythm that will work for her readers. 

With "Belzhar," she was looking to create what obsessed 15-year-old Meg, not just the arty summer camp girl, but someone who was waking up to an emotional world for the first time. It's inspired by Sylvia Plath's "The Bell Jar," which struck her hard when she read it. 

It's about a girl who was sent to a school for emotionally fragile, highly intelligent teenagers. The students there are all reunited with the things they've lost, taking the short view of their sorrows. The characters she creates are filtered through her own humanness. It's taking them and making them us. We're all different, and every novel has lots of ways in. Points of view can vary. 

But we should only write about what's important to us, she said.

Switching hats means we have a lot of roles. The one we occupy among our friends and family. The one you wear when you write autobiographically. The one you wear when you're writing about about growing up in the 12th century.

"Write about what obsesses you because that is the one that people will identify with," she said, "and that will be one I definitely want to read. 

Dan Santat: Don't Draw Better, Design Smarter

In a breakout session with author and illustrator, Dan Santat, illustrators did a lot of laughing. And squinting. Yes, squinting. We'll get to that later.

For illustrators seeking to perfect their style, Santat offered this advice: "Don't try to find a style. To be a better illustrator, you have to be a better designer." 

Sure, easy for Santat to say, huh, but he broke it down a bit more by explaining how an illustrator's interpretation of design equals their style. "Good communication is understanding the symbology of things."

Santat also spoke about "the curse of photo reference." For many illustrators, photo reference is a crutch—and a rickety one at that, because photos can cause rigidity, which "sucks the life out of a drawing." If drawing a train, he explained, use a photo to understand it's components, and then "draw the train that is in your mind." Don't copy a photo, use it as reference.

Now, about "The Power of Squinting." Santat explained that squinting at a painting creates contrast that allows an illustrator to see the blocks of shapes that come forward or receed, something that he learned from studying the artwork of Bill Joyce. Contrast creates depth of field and seperation of forms.

It was a great session, one that covered more than style but color theroy and composition and limiting your color palette, which will "make amazing colors that harmonize with each other."

His art school training came through

Was both artistically academic. Took us back basics of art school. 

Lunch time chat: Let’s talk diversity

We need diverse books—of course we do! So during a lunch time chat,  a group of #LA15SCBWI conference goers discussed that topic. We Need Diverse Books™ team members, Miranda PaulJim Averbeck, and Don Tate led group discussions. 

Pictured below, writers discuss why it is important for children to see themselves in books.

From left to right:

A. E. Marling spoke to the importance of all people from every background seeing themselves included in fantasy, which is why he includes characters of color in his stories. "Books can portray that everyone has a place," Marling says.

Judy Goldman spoke about how seeing yourself in a book generates self respect, and she lamented the fact that most of the  people seen in books are white and surbarban. "If you don’t recognize youself in a book, you won’t identify. You won't know that you are important." 

Cassie Gustafson writes books for teenage adolescent girls. "The more you know about someone else, the less they are other," she says.

Michelle deBaroncelli spoke about the importance of white readers seeing diverse characters in books, "to help remove seperation and otherness."

Far right, writer Liz Pratt was a bit quiet. Totally understandable. Expressing youself on the topic of diversity is not an easy, especially when you are in the minority. 
Miranda Paul discusses the We Need Diverse Books initiative and goals.

Jim Averbeck leads an enthusiastic discussion 

Small Presses: Though They Be Small They Be Fierce (Emma Dryden Interviews Rana DiOrio and Alison Weiss)

The room filling up to hear Emma Dryden (right) talk with Rana DiOrio (center) and Alison Weiss (left)

Legendary editor Emma Dryden is the founder of drydenbks, a premier children’s editorial and publishing consultancy firm. Calling herself a "big advocate of exploring your publishing options," she introduces Rana DiOrio, the publisher of Little Pickle Press and Alison Weiss, an editor at Sky Pony Press.

Some highlights of the session

On success,

Alison cites a fascinating perception difference: If a book is expected to sell 100,000 copies but only sells 20,000 copies, versus a book that's expected to sell 10,000 copies and sells 20,000. Both books sold the same number of copies, but the perception of success is completely different.

Emma asks Alison and Rana what arguments they'd use to convince an author whose work might be being considered by both their small press and a major house.

For Alison, the benefits of a smaller house include:

• The degree of accessibility. Being able to reach and talk to almost anyone at the small press, versus how at big houses you often don't even know who's touching your book.

• She cautions how at a big house, if you're very very lucky, your book is chosen as the big book they're going to feature and push. But, sometimes (most of the time) your book won't be chosen. A book can sort of get lost... At a smaller house, it's a lot easier to stand out and shine.

• Smaller presses have "a lot more room for experimentation."

For Rana, the argument for Little Pickle starts with:

• "Together, the author and Little Pickle become parents of your child, your work. It's that important. The success of your book is so important to us." She describes it as "intimate."

• Rana cites the process being much more collaborative than at a major house. For example, picture book authors get to weigh in on who the illustrator is, and get input on the art direction. "It's an amazing process and you're being a participant."

• "We work much more quickly." A picture book can happen in a year. (Versus three years at a big press.)

• Opportunity to serve a social mission - not just Little Pickle's, but yours. (They have a lot of cause marketing relationships.)

• Flexibility in business models, where contracted relationships can look more like joint ventures. She sites one of her authors whose deal was no advance and 30% of revenue, versus a traditional publishing deal of an advance with a royalty rate of between 5-7%.

Additionally, both Alison and Rana describe the acquisitions process at their small presses. They discuss marketing, trade shows, publicity and marketing, their business models (advances, royalties, profit sharing versus revenue sharing) and so much more.

The last ten minutes of the session Emma opens the floor to questions from the attendees (some of whom didn't get a chair and are sitting on the floor and standing against the back wall!)

Visit their websites at these links to find out more about Little Pickle Press and Sky Pony Press.

Varian Johnson: Using Extended Metaphor to Layer Your Novel

Varian Johnson is the author of both middle grade and young adult novels, including THE GREAT GREEN HEIST, an ALA Notable Children's Selection.

Varian mentions that we often times don't even know we are using metaphor, it's ingrained into our psyche.

In writing, the tone of the metaphor must fit the style of the work. You can't use a metaphor that either the reader of the book or the character in the book couldn't understand.  For example, a medieval character couldn't reference something contemporary.

Some rules for extended metaphor:

1. The metaphor should be established early.

2. The metaphor should build upon itself.

3. It should make sense in both tenor (the original idea of the metaphor) and vehicle (the borrowed idea of the metaphor).

4. It should carry through the entire piece.

Varian shared several examples of books that use extended metaphor.

In Marcus Zusak's GETTING THE GIRL, Zusak uses words to create an implied metaphor, comparing man to the sea, that he carries through the book.

In Laurie Halse Anderson's SPEAK, a tree metaphor is established and carried throughout. Varian also notes that nothing should be unintentional in a novel, including the names of the characters. The names in speak are a great example of this.

In EVERY TIME A RAINBOW DIES, Rita Williams Garcia uses a skirt to represent Ysa.

Advice: Don't feel so overwhelmed to get all the symbolism down in the first draft, even second and third.

Julie Strauss-Gabel: Editors' Panel

Julie Strauss-Gabel is the vice president and publisher of Dutton Children's Books, a boutique imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group specializing in middle grade and young adult novels.

What makes a compelling hook?

It comes down to voice for Julie. It's the only thing that's going to push her forward from page to page. She's looking to be surprised, and for something that she never thought possible but then a writer pulls off beautifully.

Have you ever been hooked by a voice but there's not a lot of plot going on?

There's a difference between a plot that's not working and a plot that doesn't exist. If there's something about the plot that's not working, it's a problem Julie can work on with the writer. If there's voice but nothing else, she'll likely pass but still be interested in seeing more from the writer.

What is your dream submission (the qualities)?

Julie only works on middle grade and young adult books.

A sense of subversive humor will often keep Julie reading, especially if the story is personal and difficult. She also can't resist a book that she can't help but think and talk about.

Is there a book that hooked you on page one and it all ended well?

Julie says she admires when she sees someone taking a risk on the page, and even if it's not working, it often makes her want to work with them in order to make it work.

"Ambition and risk in a project are going to always invest me in being a better editor..."

When Julie is considering a manuscript she also looks at the books on her shelf, and asks herself it belongs on the shelf. Does live up to the titles? Does it add to them?

What's one of your most recent acquisitions that you are excited about?

Aaron Starmer's latest is his debut into young adult, and it's a book that Julie wanted nothing more than to get it. It's a book that's blackly funny with the true essence of being at that last point before everything changes in your life.

Jordan Brown and Sara Sargent: Editors' Panel

What Hooks Jordan and Sara?

Jordan Brown is an executive editor with the imprints Walden Pond Press and Balzer + Bray at HarperCollins Children’s Books

Highlights from Jordan:

He asks himself, "What kind of books do kids need?" and "What kinds of things are desperately important to kids growing up today?"

Jordan is looking for books that "expand a kid's capacity for empathy." Characters who aren't all white, cis-gendered, characters who are different from readers.

Questions to ask ourselves as writers: "What does our character lack? What's their wound?"

He advises that "plot is intrinsically tied to character."

And he's looking for a narrator telling him a story, "a story that needs to get out."

Jordan also explains how the decision process works for him, and much more...

Sara Sargent is an executive editor at HarperCollins Children’s Books, where she acquires picture book, middle grade, and young adult fiction.

Highlights from Sara:

Sara edits books for the same reason she reads them: "escapism"

She's excited about re-imagined fairy tales, is really into fantasy and likes stories that are


fantastical, and


She's looking, for even on the first page, a "feeling of being well taken care of." That the author has a mastery of language. An atmosphere that immediately envelopes her in the world.

Sara also speaks of the challenge of not editing something into the familiar, allowing projects to keep the unique thing about them that captured her in the first place.

Alison Weiss: Editors' Panel

Alison Weiss of Sky Pony Press
Alison Weiss is an editor at Sky Pony Press (and was for six-and-a-half years before that was an editor at Egmont). She focuses on chapter books through YA. Her authors include Jessica Verday, the bestselling author of Of Monsters and Madness; Agatha Award winner Penny Warner; YALSA-award-winner Sarah Cross; Micol Ostow, and many more wonderful authors.

A fun fact about Alison: She comes from Sleepy Hollow (for real!).

Voice is essential to projects she takes on, but it's easier to sell a book if it has a killer plot.

What would be your dream submission?

She's looking for books that change her perspective on the world. It can be big or it can be small and subtle. This is the kind of book that has a long-lasting impact of readers.

What she admires: 

The best writing is effortless. It looks like it's so simple, and you can't see all of the hard work that's behind it all. She wants to be sucked into a world and feel lost in it.

What tips the balance on submissions: 

Editors get a lot of submissions. When she sees a problem and knows how she would fix it, that's more likely to be a project she'll take to acquisitions. If she loves it and sees problems that baffle her, it's less likely to go through.

The relationship between writers and editors is vital, and writers shouldn't fear talking to their editor to work through manuscript challenges.

The book she wishes she'd published:

Ruta Sepetys's Out of the Easy.

Follow her on twitter at @alioop7. 

Allyn Johnston: Editors Panel—What Hooks Me

Following Mem Fox's charming and entertaining keynote, #LA15SCBWI offered a dazzling editors panel, which included Allyn Johnston of Beach Lane Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. 

Johnston's passion for compelling picture books shines through clearly as she speaks. For her, a compelling picture book is one that she will want to read again and over again when finished—"a fresh voice with an irrestible readaloud quality."

If you want to capture her attention, send a manuscript with a fresh take on a universal theme—something that will give her goosebumps, cause an emotional reaction. And be sure to leave room for a lot of illustrations. "Most manuscipts that I receive don't do that," Johnston says.

Almost choked up, Johnston recalled receiving an amazing manuscript from Liz Garton ScanlonALL THE WORLD. The book stopped Johnston in her tracks, and she immediately called upon illustrator Marla Frazee

Manuscripts that turn her off, "books that are so-what, ho-hum." 

The World's Most Wonderful Rotem Moscovich: Editors Panel

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Rotem is a senior editor at Disney Hyperion and the bee's knees.

Her answer to the question, what makes a compelling book is: "Emotional connection, whether picture book or novel. And how is this book different? A new voice, or point of view? Does it impress me?

Dream project? Rotem says: Really want to find a middle grade novel that makes you cry... and is happy, like Anne of Green Gables. For picture books it has to be AWESOME.

Wendy asks if there was a book that hooked you from the beginning and went on to do well in the market/critically?

Hook's Revenge by Heidi Schulz is the book that comes to mind first for Rotem, and she's happy to announce the sequel will be out in September.

What's the difference to you in a project where you acquire it, but it needs a lot of work, vs. a project you don't accept?

"It's having the vision of how to help the author make a book sing. The book has to go to the right editor and the right house, it's an alchemy."

A book you wish you could have worked on? Rotem says, Dory Fantasmagory, it's hilarious.