One Word – SCBWI

On day 1 of the SCBWI LA Conference, the conference faculty came on stage and did quick introductions. Quick, because there were a lot of them. And quick, because they each got to say their name and one word to describe them.

I caught several of these one words as they came across. It was impossible to get each one but these are enough to help form your own writing word. Think of that as you read these, and let me know what your word is. I’ll let you know mine at the end.

  • Josh Adams (agent) – timeless
  • Tracey Adams (agent) – hope
  • Jill S. Alexander (author) – twang
  • M.T. Anderson (author) – speechless
  • Bonnie Bader (editor) – start
  • Marion Dane Bauer (author) – wildcard
  • Susan Campbell Bartoletti (author) – revision
  • Ashley Bryan (illustrator) – freedom
  • Priscilla Burris (illustrator) – portfolios
  • Ginger Clark (agent) – compartmentalize
  • Tina Nichols Curry (author) – original
  • Pat Cummings (author/teacher) – share
  • David Diaz (illustrator) – deliciousness
  • Kathleen Duey (author) – stretch
  • Julia Durango (author) – layers
  • Bruce Hale (author) – love
  • Deborah Halverson (author) – mold
  • Deborah Heiligman (author) – nosy
  • Ellen Hopkins (one of my fave authors!) – banned
  • Arthur A. Levine (editor) – choreography
  • William Low (illustrator) – dream
  • Stephanie Owens Lurie (editor) – entertainment
  • Krista Marino (editor) – loyalty
  • Mac McCool (illustrator) – adventures
  • Brenda Murray (editor) – zombies
  • Alexis O’Neill (author / teacher) – gigs
  • Greg Pincus (social media consultant) – connections
  • Alice Pope (SCBWI blogger) – friend (as a verb)
  • Jennifer Rees (editor) – vision
  • Michael Reisman (author) – awake
  • Lauren Rille (designer) – charm
  • Francesco Sedita (publisher) – cocktails
  • Erica Silverman (author) – Save the Library (it’s 3 words but I’ll give it a pass as it’s about the wonderful LA Public Library and the effort to keep it from ongoing budget and staff cuts!)
  • Ken Wright (agent) – thrilled

So what’s my word? It was touched on briefly by Erica Silverman, but no one used it as their sole word.


Why did I choose this one? It’s where I got my first taste into the vast world of books, and it’s stayed with me ever since. Yeah, take that FOX Chicago, people still do go to libraries and they are a great use of our tax dollars.

A little on my history with libraries:

Youth – started going to our small, small, small town library, which was attached to City Hall. Spent many an hour playing Oregon Trail and Family Feud on floppy disks in my elementary school library. Wanted to stay there forever.

High School – worked as an assistant in our high school library. Wanted to stay there forever.

College – worked all 4 years as a student assistant in the University of Kentucky main library. We switched from the Margaret I. King Library to the William T. Young Library my senior year. My focus was on interlibrary loan. Did the most extensive research on all my papers due to always being in the library. Was told by several professors that no student had ever done the amount of research I had for papers. Wanted to immerse myself in research forever.

Career (eleven years ago) – started my career with my current company in their Library & Research Center. Decided to pursue it further by getting  a master’s degree in library science.

Grad School – worked full time and got an MLS from the Florida State University.

Career (today) – stayed with the same company instead of going into public library work. Now work in Public Affairs but use my library & research skills nearly every day. Am the research nerd in my department; if anyone needs to find anything out about anything, they know who to go to.

Life (today) – Volunteer and serve on the Board of Directors for the Huntington Beach Public Library Literacy Volunteers. Teach new immigrants and others without vital reading / writing skills basic English. Frequently check out more than I can read just because I love having the books around.

So LIBRARY it is. My word of the day, but also of my life. What’s your word and your story?


Amy Goldman Koss – SCBWI Presentation

Amy Goldman Koss – SCBWI Presentation

I knew I would like Amy Goldman Koss by her name. I mean, she’s an Amy. Ironically, it was in her presentation that I met a new writing buddy at…and she is also an Amy. What can I say, I have an affinity for the name. I was never one of those kids who wished my parents had chosen differently, I loved my Amy-ness and still do.

Amy Goldman Koss gave a great breakout presentation on writing age. And her advice is really, REALLY simple: Remember what it was like to be the age of your reader. Think of your character’s reactions as yourself at that age.

Writing for young adults? Remember the crappiness of high school and describe it in all its glory. Writing picture books for young children? Remember the simplicity and joy of learning something new and exciting every day. And writing for middle grade? Well remember that boy who said you had buck teeth and looked like a beaver and have your character spit a loogie on him. Yeah…that’s a little personal regression there.

Here are some writing prompts she gave us:

  • Remember where you read when you were the age of your reader
  • Look in a mirror and describe yourself when you were the age of your reader

I first heard this in Amy’s session, but heard it repeated again by Rachel Vail in another session. You need to know EVERYTHING about your character.

  • Do they eat oatmeal or Cream of Wheat?
  • Do they wear boxers or briefs?
  • Are they a vegetarian or do they eat meat?

Every random detail you can think of, make a note of it. It doesn’t necessarily have to go in the manuscript, but you need to know this about them to write them true.

I asked her about writing across gender. Her fantastic response: “It’s the same shit.” The minor differences: Boys talk less, boy characters don’t like to stand genital to genital (it’s shoulder to shoulder), and boys need to have something to do in a scene.

Stuff to keep in mind when writing for kids:

Everybody’s insecure

Your enemy is so clear if you’re the picked on kid. If you are popular it gets dicier.

Take the characters that you love and treat them like dirt.

If you find a character you are writing is getting stale, do a find and replace and change their name. You may find that a “Casey” acts differently than a “Rhonda.”

Teenagers are not and are never altruistic – they are only thinking about themselves. They may be thinking “how do I make myself look more altruistic” but that is not real altruism.

And when I met Amy around in the hotel later that night, after buying a copy of her book “The Girls,” she signed it to “One of the Amy Crowd.”


SCBWI – Stephanie Owens Lurie, How to Think Like a Publisher

I’m back from the SCBWI conference with about 100 pages of notes! It was an amazing experience and I thoroughly enjoyed everything about it. I got to hear great speakers from inside the industry (writers, agents, editors, and publishers), meet fellow writers, and learn. Those who know me well know what a huge learning nerd I am. School is my happy place.

The first breakout session I attended was with Stephanie Owens Lurie, an editorial director at Disney-Hyperion Publishing. Disney-Hyperion is the branch of Disney Publishing charged with creating non-Disney content, and not tie-ins to existing content at theme parks, movies, or television. Stephanie has been in publishing for 30 years and at Disney-Hyperion for 2 years. The woman knows her stuff.

She talked the process of publishing a book from query to publication.

Here are my notes, in raw form.

IMPORTANT: a book is judged not only on its own merits but whether or not it fits with a publisher’s list. When sending out your work, keep in mind a particular company’s strengths and needs.

The Publisher’s List

Publisher’s Goal: fill a hole in the list as soon as possible

Author’s way to support:

  • Know the standard formats
  • Research the publisher’s list
  • Don’t send what they already have (this means vampires)
  • Don’t send a category of book that they don’t publish (this shows lack of research)
  • Make sure the manuscript is polished (revise, revise, revise)
  • Be flexible about the publication date (they are not on your schedule, you are on theirs)

The Pitch

The Publisher’s Goal: To have a compelling sales handle (to sell stuff)

Author’s way to support:

  • Have an elevator pitch (FORMULA: name of character is so exaggerated personality trait that the following happens) – if you can’t do this your story isn’t focused enough.

The Franchise (intellectual property that can be leveraged beyond one book and used in different media)

The Publisher’s Goal: To grow revenue year over year

Author’s way to support:

  • Once the manuscript is complete, think bigger: is this a series, does it have global potential, can I as an author crank out additional manuscripts on a tight schedule?
  • Show that you have ideas and are open to feedback and collaboration
  • Don’t be afraid to share your ideas in your query, but don’t be overwhelming

The Deal

The Publisher’s Goal: To secure top talent that can be grown over time

Author’s way to support:

If you receive multiple offers, take the following under consideration: the money being offered, the marketing plan, what else will be in the sales bag, and the chemistry.

The Media

*once the book is done and sent to the printer the job is only half done!

The Publisher’s Goal:  To have a promotable author with a fascinating back story

Author’s way to support:

  • Think about what inspired the book
  • Do you have relevant credentials?
  • Do you have any media contacts?
  • Do you enjoy meeting new people / schmoozing?
  • Are you willing to promote your book online?
  • Can you develop and give a presentation?
  • Would your book lend itself to a discussion guide?
  • You can share all of these ideas with your editor, but … trust your  marketing and publicity departments too.

The Gatekeepers: The Bookseller & The Consumer

*Booksellers will bring in books that they respond to on a personal level, but also know what will sell.

The Publisher’s Goal:  To partner with the bookseller in order to achieve the highest possible sell-in

Author’s way to support:

  • Give careful thought to mature content
  • Remember most children’s books are purchased by adults (the majority by mothers and grandmothers) – for picture book through middle grade, but most teenagers but their own books

The End Users

The publisher and the author should have the same goals: to deliver high quality entertainment to young people, to change a child’s perspective, to grow readers

But authors, keep in mind:

  • Write for kids, not for ego gratification
  • Know your target audience
  • Respect your readers
  • Never condescend of ridicule your target reader
  • Writing is not just an art form, but a form of communication

The Future

The Publisher’s Goal: To remain competitive, innovative, profitable

Author’s way to support:

  • Embrace technology, because your audience has
  • Find out what different publishers are doing in the digital arena (and good news…l’ll be posting some of that information coming soon)
  • Realize that the rights landscape is changing

What is the difference between an author and a publisher?

  • The Author: TELL the story
  • The Publisher: SELL the story

The ideal author is:

  • Talented
  • Dedicated
  • Reliable
  • Strategic
  • Collaborative
  • Appreciative

And, if you’ve kept reading until this point, I would also add patient. As you can see, Stephanie gave a great presentation. My hand hurt from writing after it, and it’s hurting again now after typing. Now time for sleep!

SCBWI Day 1 – The Afternoon

First afternoon panel – What makes me want to choose your book? Featuring editors Nick Eliopolis, Claudia Gabel, Brenda Murray, and Jennifer Rees.

I felt an immediate connection to Jennifer Rees. When providing her biography, she mentioned she began her book career working as a bookseller for a Joseph Beth bookstore in Ohio. When in college in Lexington, Kentucky, I spent many a weekend at our local Joseph Beth. It’s a great store and glad to hear it getting some props at a national conference.

Some of the questions posed by the moderator:

Which is more important, voice or plot?

  • Jen – voice
  • Nick – plot
  • Claudia – voice, because it comes organically through the manuscript, but plot can be worked on together between an author and editor

Name two books you wish you were a part of in the last 10 years

  • Brenda – the big foot biography (think it was called “In Me Own Words”); the biography of Claudette Colvin
  • Nick – The Hungry Games, anything by Jon Green or Scott Westerfeld
  • Claudia – What I Saw & How I Lied
  • Jen – A Great & Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray; Speak by Laurie Hals Anderson

What are you looking for right now?

  • Nick – guy high concept
  • Brenda – something that teaches me information I didn’t know before (historical, modern, pop culture, scientific, any areas)
  • Jen – asks herself if it has commercial potential; will it have a wide audience?
  • Claudia – beautiful prose but also an author who can write fast; tween and teen mysteries

What are your pet peeves in submissions?

  • Jen – receiving a submission package that is not professional; cover letter is lacking, not a clear synopsis, all of these pieces are indicative of who you are as a writer
  • Brenda – not doing your research ahead of time. Why is your book different? What other books are out like it? What other authors write about this topic? What other publishing houses carry this type of work? You have to be as knowledgeable as possible.
  • Claudia – not seeing the author clearly in the cover letter/query letter. You need to put all of yourself into your work. The relationship is such a big part of the job and this is a chance to build it.

And the thing they probably wish they hadn’t told us but they did anyway.

They do (or do have their interns) read their slush. Brenda even mentioned that one of her first published titles came from the slush pile.

And your interesting fact for the day…a lot of the slush pile comes from prison!

Afternoon breakout panel – Writing Age with the extremely talented, personable, funny, and perfectly named Amy Goldman Koss.

I have lots of notes from this one too, so will do a separate post about it. But it was fantastic and I enjoyed her talk so much I bought one of her books and had her sign it at the wine & cheese reception later that night.

Day 1 –

New people met – between lunch and the sessions, about 8

Sessions attended – 4 keynotes and 2 breakouts

Books bought – 4

Ellen Hopkins burned

April Halprin Wayland girl coming in for a landing

Ann Haywood Leal Also known as Harper

Amy Goldman Koss The Girls

SCBWI Conference Day 1 – The Morning

It’s somewhat ironic that I started day 1 of a children’s writing conference by doing something I haven’t done since I was a teenager. I cut my leg shaving. And not just a small nick, no, this was full on large loss of blood massive bandaged cut. Even now, nearly 12 hours after the incident, I just took the bandage off and had to clean the wound again. It was right on my knee, so it’s a tad painful too. But enough about my grooming habits, and on to the conference!

It was my first SCBWI conference, and as I entered the Hyatt Century Plaza in West Hollywood and saw how many attendees were there, I felt a tad intimated and out of place. But after having the chance to meet some of those people and hear them speak throughout the day, I no longer have that feeling and even felt more prepared than some people I ran into.

Some of the highlights of the day and speakers I saw, met or heard:

Opening speaker – Jon Scieszka, author of the super cute picture book Robot Zot.

His tips for becoming a successful writer:

  1. Read every book possible in your genre. If you are a picture book writer, read the entire School Library Journal listing of 100 top picture books.
  2. You should also read some of the worst books in your chosen genre. A good place to start? Celebrity books.
  3. Do read children’s trade publications – School Library Journal, kid lit blogs, The Horn, Publisher’s Weekly.
  4. If you are writing a picture book, figure out what your word count is. Then cut it in half.
  5. No rhyming!
  6. No underwear fart books!
  7. No vampires!
  8. No alphabet books!
  9. No princesses!
  10. And no rhyming farting princesses teaching you the alphabet in their underwear while being chased by a vampire.

Second keynote speaker – M.T. Anderson, the only person to make Delaware sound interesting.

Per his introduction, he creates books for thinking kids. He says his craft is to interpose the landscape of fantasy on the American landscape, in a regular place such as say, Delaware.

Some of his other key points:

  1. Books take us away from home so we can actually see home.
  2. Through estrangement we are forced to see what we know in a new way.
  3. Literature restores the sense of the unknown in what we already know.
  4. He sang his version of the Delaware state song. Nuff said.

First breakout session – How to Think Like a Publisher with Stephanie Owens Lurie from Disney-Hyperion.

I have a LOT of notes from this session, so check back later for a post dedicated specifically to this topic.

 That was the morning, afternoon notes to follow!

Books as Life

Thought for today’s post I would go into some of my back story of why I love books so much. I wrote this last year when I was home for an extended period of time. It brought a lot of introspection my way, hence the “Books as Life” piece.


Books as Life

My old childhood friends have come to seek me again in adulthood.

Escapism into a good book.
The words of another created to envelope you and bring out their own take of your life situation.

The book, whether fiction, classical, non-fiction, poetry, or favorite childhood picture book, will grab on to a certain piece of you and tattoo what they have seen of you and you of them. Like a tattoo, the experience grows with you, and leaves an ever changing stretch mark on your internal skin. You should never leave a book unscathed; to do so means either you or the author has not given the experience the full sensory overload it demands.

The book not only knows if you have a Mr. Darcy, it knows if you want one, need one, or have been misguided away from one. It is felt through the way you race through certain scenes, the way you sigh, or perhaps the way you roll your eyes. It is up to you, the reader, to make your own story with this information; your book has with no pre-conceived notion of you. Are you a loveless Lolita, taken advantage of before setting your own, if not ideal, path for yourself? Or are you a Daisy (and there are two Daisys from which to choose). Both Daisys expects you to choose a love that would ultimately lead to someone else’s downfall (nay, death). Do you choose your own or that of the man you love? For you know in these tales, there is no happily ever after.

As a reader, do you understand what is expected of you? Books are not just paper, they are not to be read and discarded or dismissed. If you have not let at least one character into your life of friends, you have not read at all. Reading is not the act of viewing words and making sounds out of them, but rather escaping into another world and leaving with cherished friends and sometimes even hated foes. If you do only the former, you have seen words and you have moved on. Does Rebecca not haunt your thoughts; do you not often wonder “what if” in regards to Gatsby’s death? And do you ever think of the multiple victims of Humbert’s – not just Lolita but also her mother Charlotte and Claire Quilty, so easily dismissed though brutally murdered. A true reader sees all of these as characters, and not just names or words on a piece of paper.

Who are your characters? Have you felt the pain of Tennessee Williams’ Laura and her awkward quest for a “gentlemen suitor” or have you looked at the bottom of a glass of an empty drink across the sea with Jacob Barnes? If you are you, then can you also be a different version of you created decades, maybe centuries before. It is not to see you as a direct representation of Jay Gatsby or Daisy Miller or Jacob Barnes, but to understand that these characters are more than just a figment of someone’s imagination. They are your own imagination, and they are manifestations of all of us who study them, learn them, and understand them.

These are the ways books touch our lives, not only as a refuge, but also as mirror.


Liking the Main Character

Writing question of the day: Do you need to like the main character to care about the book?

I don’t believe that liking a character is an essential part of a story’s success. However, you need to care about the character, whether they be flawed or not.

In adult books, many times the opposite it true – the more you dislike a character, the more you may end up being engaged in the story. Vladimir Nabokov’s brilliant Lolita has no likeable characters, but they are memorable. The lead male is a leech, the mother character is a needy person willing to sell out her daughter for her betterment, and even the daughter, Lola, is a spoiled brat. But wow, did those character’s flaws stick with you because of the story.

In children’s writing, I find that the need for a character to be likeable fits with a child’s age. For the youngest readers, characters need to be the most likeable. “Goodnight Moon” is not the place for villains. As the readers increase in age, you might find auxiliary characters who are not likeable, but not the main character. Those non likeable characters are usually placed as the main opponent to the main character – perhaps an obnoxious sibling, a boy who picks on them at school, a mean teacher, or a parent who just doesn’t get it.

As you increase in age to young adult books, you may find that readers attach themselves to the likeable character as much as they do the unlikeable character. There are many fans of Draco Malfoy from the Harry Potter series. Probably not as many as Harry, Ron and Hermione, but passionate about that character just the same.

In any case, likeable or not, the character just has to make the reader feel some emotion about them. If we, as readers, don’t care one way or the other about the character, we probably don’t care about the story either. That is the task that we, as writers, have to make come across in our writing.


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