Back when I was mulling over a career in writing, I had been advised to join the SCBWI, Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. I joined because I trusted the person who gave me that tip. Unfortunately at that time, all I did was read the newsletter they sent out. Though the cost to join was not high, I didn’t get anything out of it. After a year, I dropped it. I had not taken the time to seek out what value SCBWI could bring to me.
Now that I have entrenched myself in this endeavor, I have rejoined and am making a concerted effort to make use of the networking advantages as well as workshops and conferences. A few weekends back, I attended my first SCBWI conference. The conference, “2015 Spring Spirit,” was put on by the California North/Central region of SCBWI. It was fantastic!
Being that this was my first SCBWI conference, I had no idea what to expect. I went into it with my “growth mindset” and sought to learn as much as I could and hoped to make some new friends who also wrote children’s books.
I chose to attend the following sessions:
- Hand in Hand: How an Author and Editor Work Together to Birth a Book
- Rhythm, Rhyme and Reason
- There’s More to Writing Good Dialogue Than Just Writing Good Dialogue
- Killer Robots, Time Portals & Wizards — Oh my
Sounds like quite an eclectic group of workshops, eh? I’m happy to say that I got something out of each workshop and would like to share a few of the tips and tidbits I learned.
Hand in Hand: How an Author and Editor Work Together to Birth a Book
There were 2 speakers in this workshop, author Tracy Clark and her editor Karen Grove of Entangle Publishing. It was wonderful to have 2 different perspectives of what it’s like to have a book in the process of being published. Here are some things I learned:
- Having a literary agent really is advantageous (and worth the 15%) because your manuscript will go straight to the editor’s desk. Literary agents work hard to develop relationships with editors at publishing houses. So, if your agent has a good rapport with an editor, it is highly likely your manuscript will get bumped up in priority and read earlier rather than later.
- Before jumping on board with an editor, find out some of the things they want to change. It’s entirely possible the editor would like to remove things from your book that you feel are instrumental to the story. Don’t be afraid to have a conversation with your editor to make sure you both are on a similar trajectory.
- The work that goes on between an editor and author is a give & take process. Don’t be afraid to push back.
Rhythm, Rhyme and Reason
This session was hosted by author Erin Dealey. She has published several rhyming picture books: “Little Bo Peep Can’t Get to Sleep,” “Goldilocks has Chicken Pox,” and more! Like me, when Erin writes, her creativity comes out in rhyme. Yet, despite the ease and naturalness of the process, we must still take care to avoid certain missteps:
- Don’t rhyme for the sake of rhyming. Make sure your rhyming enhances the story.
- Watch the cadence or meter of your rhyme. Make sure it flows easily off your tongue. Have others read it out loud so you can see if there are any verses that someone might stumble on.
- Do not use too many “near” rhymes. For example, ‘explained’ rhymes with ‘complained’ and kind of rhymes with ‘became.’
Thankfully, despite not knowing the rules, with both of my stories, I avoided most of the missteps.
Killer Robots, Time Portals & Wizards — Oh my
This was my favorite of all the sessions I attended. Editor, Carter Hasegawa, discussed how you can create authentic and relatable characters and build worlds that your readers will love. This was a hands-on session, where we actually got to write. We paired up with someone that we sat next to and each pairing got an assignment. Ours was to sketch out an idea for the following: There are creatures living in the bay. And they want to communicate with you. How does this work? What are they? What do they want? Why you?
For the first 5 minutes we sketched out our thoughts. Then each of us got 5 minutes to present our idea to our partner so he/she could ask thoughtful questions that would allow us to expand on our idea. I had a lot of fun doing this and surprised myself by quickly coming up with an idea that I really like. I volunteered to share my idea with the audience. This gave the speaker the opportunity to ask thought provoking and probing questions so that I could really work out the details of the idea/characters. The questions he asked went into far more detail than I would have for a picture book, but I totally see the value in really honing in on the minutia so that you can cultivate a strong and intriguing story.
Since the conference, this story keeps creeping into my thoughts. As a result, I’ve spent more time flushing out the idea and refining the details of the characters. Actually, I can see turning this workshop idea into a children’s picture book!
My initial membership with SCBWI was completely lackluster because of my lack of effort. The adage, “you get out what you put in” was so true. I put in nothing and got out nothing.
Belonging to an association affiliated with your trade can bring many benefits as long as you are willing to be an active participant. There is power in being connected to others in your line of work. Many people think that joining the organization is enough, but to capitalize on the return on your investment you need to be engaged and take part in the workshops and conferences. I went into the conference with a goal to learn. Not only did I learn a lot, but I met a lot of really great people. I think I even found a great critique partner!
Oh, and the bonus is that the editors and literary agents who presented at this conference are accepting submissions from conference participants. Channels that are normally only open to literary agents are open to conference authors/illustrators for a short time. Woohoo!