Wednesday, February 13, 2013

NY 2013 SCBWI Conference - Part 2: Main Conference Notes

The NY SCBWI 2013 conference was inspiring and informative, and it was great to see old friends and meet new ones too. Note: speakers are paraphrased unless there are quotes – I couldn’t scribble fast enough to keep up. Also, I don’t have notes for all the speakers. Sometimes I listened without taking notes. Here are some highlights from Saturday and Sunday:

Molly O’Neil (Editor at Katherine Teagan Books/HarperCollins):

- Questions she asks when evaluating a ms submission: Do I love it as a reader? Am I fascinated by it as an editor? Can I see others having a similar reaction? Who is this book for and who is going to love it first? Do I have a specific vision for this book? Can I publish this successfully? Is the timing for this book right?
- Some books have great questions or concepts, but other aspects aren’t as strong. The whole book has to live up to the concept.
- Loves beautiful writing, but story, plot, and characters need to be there too.
- The story needs to be respectful of the key moments of being that age (whatever age the book is for).
- An agent is an advocate for the writer. An Editor is an advocate for the reader.
- Need to find a balance between the universal and specific. Readers are looking for themselves in the story.
- Resonance connects the story to readers so it lives and stays with them. Even if they don’t remember the details, they remember how it made them feel. It has to feel true to the reader.
- Write what you know emotionally. True emotions you have known, no matter the type of story or setting.
- Plotting advice: Take a book you think does what you want to do and outline it to see skeleton of what you think works.

Jennifer Besser (publisher at G.P. Putnam's Sons):

- Emotional investment on the part of the author comes through in the writing.
- If you’re bored, we’re bored (the reader).
- If you’re not invested, we’re not invested (the reader).
- The power of observation: it’s the small details about the character that say so much. (Example of small details: Ramona’s parents tell her to leave for school at “quarter after eight” so she won’t be late. Ramona doesn’t know what “quarter after eight” means. She reasons that a quarter is twenty-five cents, so “quarter after eight” must mean eight twenty-five. She is late for school.)
- The first book she signed up as a children’s book editor was Percy Jackson.
- Penguin doesn’t have an acquisitions meeting. People still have to sign off on books, but editors are allowed to build their own lists.

Margaret Peterson Haddix: One of her latest books is GAME CHANGER, which she talked about and sounds really interesting. I haven’t had a chance to read her books yet, but after hearing her speak, I can’t wait.

- It’s the story itself that matters, not the device that children read it on.
- She made a list, when starting out, of the things she wanted her books to have: 1. Adventure that’s out of the ordinary. 2. Cliffhanger chapter endings. 3. Spunky characters (not necessarily fearless, because that’s not real). 4. Characters she could think of as friends.
- Recommends making your own list of what you want your books to be like. (Note: This was one of my favorite pieces of advice from the conference, and something I intend to do!)
- She pictures her audience as kids who don’t/won’t read and say they don’t like it. She asks questions that make that reader want to read her books.
- Fail big if you have to, but go down trying! You have to take risks with writing and publishing.

Mo Willems: I love Mo’s books and sense of humor. He was the perfect person to end the conference and to follow Julie Andrews and Emma Walton Hamilton. They were very positive message people, which was great, but Mo brought humor and a dash of reality to end the conference. His latest picture book, GOLDILOCKS AND THE THREE DINOSAURS, is a clever twist on an old classic.

- The glass is half full of poison. (I really love this! Will blog on Friday about it.)
- My job is to make incomprehensible books for illiterates. (Text and art in PBs doesn’t make sense alone. Need them both for PBs to work.)
- He’s trying to make stories that are going to be read, “a million-bazilliony times.” Craft needs to be strong to withstand multiple readings.
- How to Write in 4 Easy Steps, 4 Kinda Harder Steps, and 1 Pretty Much Impossible Step … click here to see the list on his blog .
- Have better dreams because you will never reach your dreams. The goal that makes him work harder is: “I dream that everything I write will change the world for better.”
- The writing works when the writer is invisible.
- Read the very best books of the type you want to write, then find the flaws. The flaws are where you can make your story better. (Example: In FROG AND TOAD, which on is Frog? Which on is Toad? Nobody will confuse Elephant and Piggie from his books.)
- The character is what makes the story, not the hook.
- No one knows what’s funny. Funny people only know what’s not funny. Take away what’s not funny. What’s left is funny. If it’s not, start over.
- Starts art in the middle of the book so the beginning and ending have the best drawings. (Note: This was really interesting and made sense to me. Going to have to try it!)
- Your job is to be some child’s best friend (you might be their only friend – some kids don’t have good childhoods).