What a great conference! I am still B.I.C. (butt in chair) because of it. Inspired and greatly excited about my dream of being an author, the conference pushed me further. And here’s why: THE SPEAKERS. The group of established writers, illustrators, agents, publishers and editors spoke to me.
And a special thanks to the SCBWI volunteers who kept the conference running smoothly under Margaret Speaker Yuan, Regional Advisor and Colette Weil Parrinello, Assistant Regional Advisor.
Joe Cepeda (Illustrator) - quote of the event - “As quick as you run to style is as quick as you run away from yourself.” Think about that. Everyone wants their own style, but searching for it, manipulating it to come, chasing after it only destroys your style. How do you get style then? Practice, practice, practice - BIC. If you’re a writer, write. If you’re an illustrator, illustrate. That’s it. That’s the answer. Relax, breath, your style will come. It will show through your work, but you must practice.
Other great quotes from Joe: “There is a moment in every painting where I think this is the worst thing I’ve ever done.” Even the great question themselves and for good reason. Stay humble. Always do your best work. Slack none. Push yourself.
Joe spoke about illustrating someone else’s words: “Your words should be beautiful in themselves because I’m doing something else.” Meaning, he brings another choice or outlook to your work. Let him be the artist, you be the writer. And, “When your baby is dropped off at my door, I’m raising it now.” I agree. Writers must let go. Once you send your baby out into the world, that’s it. Move on to your next great piece. Let go of your baby. Trust the artist, publisher, agent to do their best work next.
Ammi-Joan Paguette (Agent/Erin Murphy Agency/Writer) - quote of the event - “We need more fun stories.” Such a great statement. With the news pouring out our dirty laundry all over the television, children need hope. They need fun. They need to escape. They need strong characters to hold onto, to relate to, to love. They need more fun stories!
Ms. Paquette became an agent once she was a published author. She’s a bit of a whiz with it too. Selling over 12 manuscripts within her first year on the job. She balances family, writing and a new career very well! When she is reading a manuscript she thinks, “How did this book feel to me? What worked? What didn’t?” She wants to feel passionate and fall in love with the book and characters....don’t we all. The five elements she looks for are: Hook - Voice - Plot - Theme - Characters
Pam Turner & Ginger Wadsworth (Writers) - quotes of the event - Ginger “B.I.C. butt in chair - start and go all the way to the end. Allow your first draft to be really, really bad.” She started off like many of us, writing, then rewriting, then rewriting again, but never finishing anything. Now she starts and even if she hates what she wrote, she keeps on going. You have to finish something to know where to start the beginning. She also thinks, “What would Rachel Carson do?” She worries about the environment and this shows through her writing.
Pam “Stuff happens, be flexible.” She travels into the field for her work and sometimes things don’t exactly work out. So be flexible, roll with the punches. Use what is happening in your writing. Take the picture you can take. Keep moving forward.
Caryn Wiseman (Agent/Andrea Brown) - quote of the event - “Do not query me with your erotic adult book idea. I am a children’s agent.” She said this with a smile and joking tone, but it’s so true. Before you query any agent/publisher be sure they would be interested in your work. If you send Caryn an adult novel you are wasting your time and hers and making a bad name for yourself in the process. Do your research first!
She is looking for funny, high-concept. And please be sure your work is complete before sending it off to her! She also said that trends trickle down from the adult books, so look at those trends. Here’s what she thinks when she is reading a manuscript: Who? What? When? Where? Why should I care?
Lisa Yoskowitz (Agent/Moving to Hyperion soon from Penguin)
quote of the event - “Today we will talk about picture book guideline....I’ll do most of the talking.” Lisa had a funny wit to her. I like listening to her speak. She also said, “First impressions are very important in life.” And I agree. As I looked around the room of writers and illustrators only a few stood out. Most dressed very relaxed for the event.
To me, this was a business meeting. I would potentially meet my new agent. And I would be meeting writers in my field, illustrators who might one day bring art to my words. I wanted to make a great impression on them. The first one you make is what you look like and how you’re dressed. It’s the truth, the facts people. The next time you go to a conference, think, this is a business meeting.
As writers/illustrators we are loners. We lock ourselves up in our offices, coffee shops, and cars, drawing, tying and ignoring the mirror. But agents and publishers live in the real world. They are from New York, San Francisco, LA and other style conscience cities. So dress to your business sense part of your mind when you meet them, save your creative, relaxed looks for your cave.
Bruce Hale (Writer) quote of the event - “The suspense must be there on the first page!” Absolutely Bruce! And he knows suspense, well at least his geco detective does. Suspense gets the reader to want to know what’s going to happen on the next page. If they don’t care, then your book won’t sell.
Bruce said that most stories begin in the third chapter. So writers, write your first chapters, then ask: Does the reader really need to know this? Was I writing this for myself to get to know my characters? Will the reader care about these first few chapters? Do they move the story forward? If not....toss them aside.
Bruce asks himself: What does the character want? What prevents the character from getting it? What traits does the character have that will trip her/him up?
“Give your character a buried secret.” Bruce said secrets will fester, trying to come to the surface. Secrets can create suspense. Use them wisely. The “Uh-oh factor” - the more danger the better is how Bruce creates characters with character.
But be appropriate, he adds. “The brutal murder of little rabbit fu-fu probably won’t made a great picture book.”
Kaylan Adair (Associate Editor/Candlewick Press) - quote of the event - “I chose to talk about Candlewick because it is near and dear to my heart.” Candlewick is independent, owned by its employees. Her enthusiasm toward her company shined as she smiled while showing pictures of the publisher’s new digs.
The picture book is their backbone and Kaylan loves them. She edits everything from PB’s to YA’s. She looks for strong literary writing, strong confident voice with emotional pull.
Tim Myers (Writer) - quote of the event - “Should I be tweeting while I’m talking?” He often wonders how much is too much when it comes to self promotion these days. There’s so much to choose from, facebook, myspace, twitter, and of course having your own website and joining writer/illustrator sites. How do you know how much you should be doing? You don’t. Try them on and see what fits. If blogging is for you, do it. If not, then don’t. It’s very personal.
He posed the question, “What does literacy do?” And answered: Gives a sense of wonder, promotes spirituality and that we are significant, develops who you are, makes you better armed to decipher the world you live in, and creates great conversation.
He quoted a young man who had made wrong choices in life, landing himself in jail. When they met, the man said, “I need a story to make a path for me.” Wow. That resonated inside of me. Children, especially those going through abuse or abandonment, need a story to follow, to guide them to a better place.
The conference ended with a story told out loud by Tim. He held everyones attention. And I felt as a kid again listening to a great storyteller. And I did come home feeling, “despair that I’ll ever get published, yet giddy to get started!” Thanks for that Tim and the rest of the inspiring speakers at the Mill’s College Conference.