Monday, February 1, 2010

SCBWI 11th Annual Winter Conference

Day 1

The Writers' Intensives

It all started with a bagel. Toasted with cream cheese if you must know. And a coffee. Throw in roughly 300 writers and you've got a hallway full of mingle. The first writer I met was from London and the next from Las Vegas. That's SCBWI, baby. The real deal.

It continued with a panel of three editors (Courtney Bongiolatti from Simon and Schuster, Nancy Conescue from Little Brown and Michelle Nagler from Bloomsbury) discussing how to give and accept critique as well as answering questions from the SCBWI moderator, Aaron Hartzler.

Here's a breakdown of some important points:

Aaron: Every draft you send to an editor is a first draft

Courtney: Every editor and agent is different with different opinions.

Aaron: Once your book is acquired is when the real work begins.

Michelle: We are absolutely looking at the author's attitude and how they receive feedback. Sometimes, we are tough on the things we like the most because we want it to be great because the writer is so close.

Michelle: On revising, welcome to the big leagues. You have to be willing to get rid of a lot of what you write.


My first intensive was with Eddie Gamarra from The Gotham Group, located in Los Angeles. I sat with seven other writers, some YA, some picture book, it was an interesting mix of thinkers and opinions. Eddie provided clear critiques and sound advice. He made a point that is sticking with me. I'll paraphrase: Hollywood is fast paced and you must be able to narrow your book down to one sentence...an enticing soundbite that would catch the attention of a producer.

He also said something interesting about picture books. If the book is about a trauma, it doesn't have that "read it over again, Mommy" factor to it and probably won't get picked up simply because of the missing repeated-readability-factor, which translates to long shelf life and positive word of mouth. Think about it, what books do you remember your children wanting to read over and over and over again. Chances are, they weren't about the dog dying or losing a loved one. However, he also said that those books need to be written too, but would most likely get published at the smaller presses.

At the end he has us go around and say which manuscript would stay with us after we leave and why. He didn't pick mine, but two writers did. I am going to hold on to that.

My second intensive was with Courtney Bongiolatti from Simon and Schuster. She is also a straight shooter and I appreciate that. She gave her very clear critique with a touch of kindness, but never over-flowered anyone. The point that keeps sticking out from her is: The most important thing is to capture a child's voice when writing for children. A writer from this group made it a point to speak to me in the hall and tell me how much she liked my first 500 words. I am going to hold on to that.

Turns out an agent who has had one of my books was a table moderator for the second round of critiques. Said agent and I have corresponded via email for months now. I decided to introduce myself in a quiet moment. Quiet moments are nearly impossible when you are in the Grand Hyatt's main ballroom lobby with hundreds of other writers. But I found one. The exchange was as expected...sincere and kind.

I was in bed by 9:00 p.m. with a sore brain. It was as the title indicates, INTENSE. But it was a great experience, and I'd do it again in a heartbeat. Why? Because you have over an hour to sit with an industry insider, a big wig, and let them hear your writing. The moments to make personal connections or create opportunities for yourself are endless and oh-so-exciting.