Monday, August 5, 2013

SCBWI Los Angeles 2013

My Top Ten Take-Aways From SCBWI 2013
(Still don’t know how I chose only ten)
(Please excuse all of my mistakes. Conference-groggy.)

10. Trend-wise: picture books still going strong, middle-grade is a sweet-spot (but editors are turning away more than they’d like because they’re very selective; ms has to hit middle-grade sensibility), YA is still thriving, but so much competition it’s hard to stand out. Editors are currently buying a ton of contemporary realistic fiction, and while readers are still fans of paranormal and dystopian, they’re a little tired of it so it needs to be really fresh to catch someone’s eye. Overall, sales across the board are good. NA is looking promising.

9.  Don’t write to trends. Lauri Halse Anderson kept spitting when she said it. Not sure if she faked it or if there are loogies in the ballroom. I was too far away to see. There were over a thousand attendees. She also commanded everyone to sit by a campfire with people you care about and tell stories sometime in the next month.

8. See yourself as a brand. Figure out who you are/what you have to add to the conversation, and also where you are comfortable building your brand (social media platforms you like, etc.) Take the long-view, and work to your strengths.

7. Mike Jung played the ukulele and sang to settle his nerves in that reallyawkward time when people are sitting and staring at the speaker before the session time starts. Arthur Levine then hopped up out of the audience and they sang a duet about how everyone should buy Jung’s book. What a great way to turn a dead time into an opportunity to be unforgettable.

6. There is a lot of opportunity to make money by filling the needs of readers who don’t want the book to end. The properties may be marketed into apps, video games, etc. Many books are coming out of other mediums, like apps.

5.  Slow your roll. Matthew De La Pena seemed to be echoing the recent popular article of Palahnuk’s talking about too much telling and not enough fresh specific showing. He said that writers should only tell when information would surprise the reader. Not sure I fully agree; as a reader I love the dance between interiority and specific action (and my favorite parts of books are always the interiority), but since it’s a hot topic of conversation I assume there’s a deluge of bad and not judiciously cut interiority. I’m going home to “treasure hunt” where mine is (I’m sure there’s still way too much).

4. Carolyn Mackler played the song a Canadian rock star wrote for her about how there is no one like her. She says she plays it for her when scraping goop off her counters. She wants us to all keep playing similar theme songs in our heads reminding us that there is no one like us.

3. Richard Peck laid down the law in a fantastic speech/rant where he cautioned us that anyone who isn’t deeply and actively troubled by the fact that the government can track what we’re reading hasn’t spent enough time studying the history of the past century. (Love him).

2.  In case you haven’t heard Judy Blume’s classic advice to begin the story on the first day something changes, hear it now. It was repeated several times in the sessions I attended.

1. Lin Oliver (founder SCBWI), Stephen Mooser (founder SCBWI), and Andrea Davis Pinkney (Jump at the Sun) are my heroes. Not only are they fantastic writers, but they’ve all also all looked at the landscape of children's literature, found gaps people might fall through, and built significant bridges. Tonight, I can’t stop thinking about them. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.


  1. Another great conference post. Thank you. Looks like so much fun too. Question though - what were the gaps and bridges in children's literature you mentioned in #1?

  2. So use the lull to promote your books? Or dress up? Any other gimmicks? I could use them.

  3. Karen: Lin & Steve created SCBWI to help writers & illustrators mentor each other. Andrea Pinkney formed an imprint at Scholastic so black kids could read books that had children who looked like them.

    Anonymous: For book promotion some of the ideas from the conference I remember are classroom visits via Skype, make a book trailer, lots and lots of social media (follow your brand; post things that would appeal to your audience, write back to them, that sort of thing, call bookstores to see if they'll let you do signings in places where you know you can get people to come...

  4. Time to read children's books.

  5. I liked your point number 5. Not too long ago telling was okay, if not the norm, and now it is frowned upon. Blame it on short attention spans.

  6. So jealous you got to go! Great post - thanks for sharing your key takeaways!

  7. Anonymous re: number 5. I know. I'm having a tough time with some of the telling backlash, though. I understand that there is a lot of bad telling out there, but when I read literature I find a ton of great telling. As a writer, fine. No telling. I get it. But, as a reader I'm worried that my favorite parts of books are going to be pounded out of writers. I can get everything else (sensory detail, physical reactions, sharp dialogue,...) from a great movie, but how a person phrases their thoughts/feelings/interior's one of life's great mysteries and the ONLY place I can be that fully voyeuristic is in books. It's their advantage over every other medium. I'm worried it'll disappear and one of my key pleasures in reading will have vanished. Sad that I spend so much time obsessively worrying like this.

    1. Everything comes back around and so too will telling.

    2. Thanks Anon. Don't really want that, either. Just good writing. Lots of great showing, some great telling. I like the interplay between the two when both are really well done. Mary Kole has some great posts on Kidlit with tips on how to do that.