Here today as cub reporters are NYT best seller Dianna Love of the Belador urban fantasy series and award winning Romantic Suspense author Mary Buckham. Mary and Dianna originally teamed up to produce Break Into Fiction™, the book that has helped thousands of writers around the world. Now they’re entering the young adult market, which is why they were at the Hyatt next to Grand Central Station in New York City to attend the 2012 International SCBWI Conference.
SCBWI stands for Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Key figures in the children’s book writing industry gathered this weekend to share insights on one of the largest divisions in publishing – children’s books, from picture books to middle grade literature to the massive young adult novel industry. The conference sold out weeks ago, boasting 1,148 attendees from 19 countries.
Lin Oliver and Stephen Mooser founded this Los Angeles based organization in 1971. Stephen and Lin set the tone for the conference with their fun chiding and warm welcome then got down to business quickly with an opening panel that reads like the who’s who in children’s publishing – Jean Feiwel, Senior VP and publishing director of MacMillan, Barbara Marcus, Strategic Innovating Advisor with Penguin, Nancy Paulsen, President & Publisher of Nancy Paulsen Books (Penguin) and agent Rubin Pfeffer with the East West Literary Agency. They all have extensive experience in the industry and represent a gold list of children’s book authors. The general consensus of this panel was that children’s publishing is robust and looking up.
Author Chris Crutcher stepped up on the stage next to talk about how you have to write the story in the correct language for the reader to believe the words. He wasn’t talking about a native tongue, but how words are what has made him the most banned author in the country, even as those same words touch teens in a way that watered down text never will. As someone who has counseled children and families about abuse and neglect for 25 years, it’s immediately obvious that he knows what he’s talking about. He explained how you can take a painful subject to its emotional peak if you balance it with humor, and Chris is one funny guy. He shared a true story about a five-year-old patient that broke your heart one minute, had you laughing in the next, then ended with message of hope. No wonder his books resonate with kids and adults, too.
Panels and keynote addresses were given to the entire conference in the ballroom all weekend. Additionally, attendees could choose three of fourteen outstanding one-hour workshops. Each of the fourteen programs was presented three times on Saturday so you didn’t have to choose between two favorites in the same time slot. This was not a conference for learning how to craft a query letter or synopsis that you can learn on your own. This was a conference for professionals wanting information on a specific area of the publishing industry, which meant every minute was packed with information you can’t get anywhere else.
SURPRISE! Lin Oliver took the stage again before we were released from the ballroom to head for our Saturday workshops. She had teased us earlier that a special “surprise” guest was stopping by. Not a soul moved from their seat as Lin introduced her co-writer on a new middle-school series – Henry Winkler. The room went wild as he strolled up to the stage, beaming a big grin that we all know and love so well. Henry told us how he came to write with Lin. Many remember him as the amazing Fonzi from Happy Days and even later as a producer, but that doesn’t tell you about the genuine and gracious man who is now a children’s book writer. More than a celebrity author, Henry Winkler has a deep appreciation for what it takes to be a writer and a great affection for his collaborative partner, Lin Oliver, on their Hank Zipzer series.
The sessions that followed were presented by the top in the publishing field. Executive editor, Cheryl Klein of Arthur A. Levine Books (Scholastic) spoke on revising for the children’s market. Agent Sara Davies of Greenhouse Literary Agency addressed writing for the children’s thriller market. Executive Art Director Martha Rago of Harper Collins explaining how to make your picture book stand out. Agent Ken Wright of Writer’s House shared insights on publishing nonfiction children’s literature. Executive editor Tara Weikum of Harper Collins walked everyone through the extensive world of young adult publishing. The distinguished list of speakers didn’t stop there. Details of this conference are still available at www.SCBWI.org.
After lunch NYT best seller Cassandra Clare of the Mortal Instruments series gave a ballroom packed presentation on the “love triangle” and what works – or does not – in young adult fiction.
Saturday wrapped up with cocktail party with wonderful food stations where attendees could mingle and meet up with others from their regional chapters. When you join the national organization, you’re automatically registered with your regional chapter. Justin Jones and Dennis Jolley are two English teachers from Georgia and pre-published authors of children fiction, attending the conference for the first time. Christopher Cheng hails from Australia and is on the board for SCBWI, which shows you just how international this organization is.
Sunday was just as busy with an award ceremony. The Tomie dePaola Award is given to the illustrator who shows the most promise and the recipient is chose by Tomie himself. This year’s winner is Yvette Piette Herrera. Mike Curato won the prestigious Portfolio Showcase competition.
We had more great panels on Sunday then wrapped up with a book signing where attendees could spend extra time some of the stars in this business. This is one of the most inspirational and informative conferences in the publishing business. They manage to put on an event that is warm and welcoming with a high level of professionalism. Definitely worth every penny to attend.
Bottom Line: “Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.” ~ Emilie Buchwald