SCBWI 45th Annual Summer Conference

Today we have a special treat — notes from Sue Poduska about the just-concluded national conference in Los Angeles. Take it away, Sue!

LA Rocks!

By Sue Poduska, Co-Regional Advisor

Here are my notes from the LA conference. They’re a little choppy, but I hope they’re coherent enough to be of help. Of course, there’s nothing like being there, so I hope everyone is able to attend at some point.

Friday, July 29, 2016

SCBWI’s 2016 LA conference was held in a “new” location – the Biltmore Millennium in downtown. The Century Plaza cancelled our contract just last fall, leaving Lin Oliver scrambling for a venue. Unfortunately, the Biltmore’s rooms are smaller than we’re used to, so the search continues for next year.

Of the 952 attendees, there were ZERO from South Dakota, Vermont, Delaware, and West Virginia. How embarrassing.

Drew Daywalt

Drew Daywalt

The first keynote was Drew Daywalt. Very funny and entertaining, which are both plusses in an opening keynote. He’s only been in children’s publishing for six years. He has some great stories about working on film sets and being a personal assistant.

Pam Muñoz Ryan was sensational and informative. Her Echo won a Newbery Honor. She was not an overnight success. Censorship, in all forms, is still surprising. Among her many confessions: she does not journal, she does not believe in writer’s block, she does not count her drafts, she does not have a muse, and she does not write every day. She says her one goal is to propel the story forward. She still does get hurt by bad reviews. (BAD reviewer!) And the writing never gets any easier.

Lunchtime was spent with a couple of members from our region who attended the conference. Always great to meet members!

The editors’ panel focused on books the editors loved publishing and why. The answers varied widely.

Justin Chanda

Justin Chanda

Justin Chanda spoke of the state of the industry, which he says is very strong. His advice is to write what you love and forget about trends. They kill authenticity.

In a breakout, Arthur A. Levine spoke about translating life into fiction. When you know the story well, you lose sight of what you know versus what your reader knows. Even when telling friends a story, they usually know a lot of the background. The same is true of the setting. Remember to fill the knowledge gap adequately.

Ellen Hopkins

Ellen Hopkins

On working together, Emma Dryden and Ellen Hopkins talked a lot about recognizing each others’ needs.

After the Golden Kite Awards presentation and dinner, I attended a discussion on the state of the children’s literature and the LGBTQ community. It was a great discussion. Long day.


Saturday, July 30, 2016

Jon Klassen

Jon Klassen

The second day began with a keynote by Jon Klassen. What an amazing talk! His advice: Don’t even think about touching your style. You are the machine that generates the work, so take care of the machine. Treat the project as something outside yourself. Think of Ziggy Stardust, not David Bowie. And ask yourself what you’re capable of.


Marie Lu

Marie Lu

Marie Lu spoke next. She was at Tiananmen Square and grew up in New Orleans. Though she has so much yet to learn, she recognizes that each writer must proceed at their own pace in their own way. Keep writing. You can’t perfect something that doesn’t exist. Rejection comes for all of us. Learn to embrace it. Accepting criticism is the key to growth.

Nancy Castaldo, Golden Kite winner and regional advisor, was next. Again, very inspiring.

Carole Boston Weatherford

Carole Boston Weatherford

After lunch, Carole Boston Weatherford spoke on the Power of Premise. Premise is the promise that your manuscript will deliver. Sometimes called pitch, this should be 25 to 30 words, maximum. Once she figures out her premise, she can finish the manuscript.

The picture book panel was lively. Ask the questions: What if? Then what? So what? Don’t start with the hook. Remember to relate to the child’s life. Writers should keep art notes to a bare minimum. The editor will probably remove them anyway. Have a strong intention. Start with fresh eyes each time, then follow your heart.

Neal Shusterman

Neal Shusterman

Neal Shusterman shared what he calls the Seven Facile Fallacies of Writing. (1) This is how you must do it. (2) Focus on your strengths. (3) Writer’s block is real. (4) If you build it, they will come. (5) Never ask for feedback from someone you feed. (6) If traditional publishers won’t publish you, then e-publish. (7) You must have your writing space. Just remember why we write.

The Red Carpet Ball was fabulous! Wish you were there.


Sunday, July 31, 2016

The last day began with the agents panel. Again, the answers to questions varied widely. Ginger Clark, Curtis Brown, seems to be all business. She’s looking for the voice. She’s concerned about Brexit. Erica Silverman, Stimola, looks for a sense of purpose. She loves personalized queries, but those that stop short of being creepy. Tina Wexler, ICM, asks if she loves it, then can she sell it. She thinks books are just wonderful now. The writing and illustrating are excellent. Victoria Arms, Victoria Wells Arms, looks for depth – who the author is as a human being. She’s seen the rise of a lot of independents. She wants more informational books, even if they’re technically fiction. She wants more art. Brooks Sherman, Bent, also looks for voice and whether he loves it. He likes to see professional queries. He’s seeing a lot more diversity. Kirsten Hall, Catbird, loves picture books. She’s looking for heart. She loves humor, even in a query letter. She leaves most of the editing to the editors. She also wants more informational books.

Awards were presented for the illustrators’ showcase. Oge Mora won both the student scholarship and the grand prize for the showcase.

Sophie Blackall

Sophie Blackall

Sophie Blackall, Caldecott winner, spoke about foraging for stories. She says nothing is too small for what the writer may make out of it. She loves museums, and her fingers tingle when she wants to collect what she sees. A missed connection on the subway once led her to the Congo and Bhutan. Making books is like yoga, pushing the limits.

I attended Caroline Arnold’s session on creating eye-catching nonfiction for the very young. She took the attendees through her process. Her background is as an illustrator, though she’s done the text for many books. With her, the story comes first.

After lunch, I attended Kate Sullivan’s, Little Brown, session on how she builds her list. The publisher requires balance at all levels. She tries not to compete with her own books. She went through the acquisition process. Rules for comps (at least in the acquisition meeting), published in last five years, not Harry Potter or some other exceptional text.

I was unable to attend the last two keynotes because I was helping prepare for the autograph party. Jon Klassen and Drew Daywalt were the big draws there.
I did not attend the intensives on Monday, but I hear they were all stellar.

SCBWI volunteers

SCBWI volunteers

Thanks, Sue! Anyone wishing to see more photos of Sue’s trip should check out her Facebook page. It seems she had an all-around fabulous time!

About susandilldetwiler

Freelance illustrator living in Baltimore
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7 Responses to SCBWI 45th Annual Summer Conference

  1. Jess Stork says:

    Thanks for the notes! It was great to hear a run down for those of us who couldn’t be there.

  2. Wow, thanks for the recap, Sue! Any chance you can explain what you mean by “don’t start with the hook” from the picture book panel?

  3. ellenramsey says:

    Thanks so much for the conference summary, Sue–the presentations sound fascinating.

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