Saturday, January 29, 2011

SCBWI's Winter Conference - Day 1

Let me start out with last night's Kid Lit Night. It's this informal gathering of agents, editors and writers all smooshed together in a pub, drinking, laughing, and connecting. There were A LOT of people in that pub, some I hung out with: Christina, Weronika, Shana, Frankie, Donna & Sarah and some I simply recognized from "blogworld" or other conferences: Sara Crowe, Mary Kole, Edward Necarsulmer, Jennifer Laughran, & writer Kim Sabatini. It was just great to talk face-to-face with so many interesting people from the publishing industry.

Now onto SCBWI Day 1:

A.M. keynote, the one, the only, Lois Lowry. Her speech was moving and real as well as hysterically funny at times. She shared that she lost her older sister soon after she herself was married and came across this quote: Give sorrow words. Which she did when she wrote A SUMMER TO DIE. She challenged the writers in the room to give happiness words...and fear...and jealousy. Give life to emotions.

She also said, "When writing, what works best are the things that surprise you as a writer." Go for it.

Then, believe it or not, came Jane Yolen in a picture book panel discussion. She made many excellent points in her talk but I think my favorite was when she pointed out that picture books must have a lyricism to them. A lyric sensibility. A rhythmic sensibility. Because they will be read aloud to a listening child. She advised reading your picture book manuscript aloud - and often - to check for that lyrical flow.

Next on the panel came illustrator Mark Teague who said good illustrations are really there to service the story and must be worthy of the text as well as extend it beyond just the written word. No small task, eh? But very sound advice.

Finally, last on the panel was editor Patricia Lee Gauch who beautifully shared in a very poetic way her thoughts on picture books. She urged writers to be storytellers and constantly go deep into "the well" (who you are as a person, the child in you). She said its crucial to drive the story. She was very clear and said. And my favorite part of her talk was when she said, "Don't squeeze an idea too hard or the idea will put its tail between its legs and run away."

Then we were all off - all 1200+ of us - off to the breakout sessions. First up for me was agent Ginger Clark. She was witty, genuine and very smart. She stated a few times that publishing is a for profit business and its always looking for the big hit. She shared the results of an informal survey she conducted with some editors she knows - asking them what they're currently looking for in MG/YA:
- Dystopia
- More Middle Grade
- Harder SF (more technical)
- Mind bending psycho thrillers
- YA based on the Tudors

Second breakout session was with senior editor from Simon & Schuster, Alexandra Cooper. She made it clear that it is a really big decision for a publisher to take on a manuscript because it is a commitment on their part. In the submission process she said books need to have a hook as well as really good writing. It can't be just one or the other in today's crowded market.

And that's my day in a nutshell. SCBWI is a stellar organization and this conference runs like a top.