SCBWI Winter Conference follow-up

Because I am not in possession of a Time Turner like Hermione, I couldn’t attend all of the sessions of SCBWI during the weekend, but fortunately – yet another silver lining of virtual conferences! – the recordings of all of the sessions are available to attendees for the next month. Here are my notes on the three keynotes and panels that I didn’t cover last weekend (and here are my notes on the sessions I attended last weekend).

Genre Breakout Sessions: Two Editors Discuss What’s Hot, What’s Not, What They’re Acquiring and the Rules of the Road . Picture Books: Elizabeth (Liz) Bicknell (editorial director at Candlewick), Joanna Cárdenas (senior editor at Kokila, imprint of Penguin Young Readers) and Andrea Welch (executive editor at Beach Lane Books, S&S)

I Want My Hat Back

  • Liz Bicknell is drawn to stories about (in)justice, nature, and stories that show human foibles in a humorous way. “In all of these subject areas, I hope that the storytelling and the art will be compelling and arresting so that the underlying messages will be absorbed…I hope that readers will grow up to love the world and to embrace all those who inhabit it.”
    • Fun fact: Liz said that she was the only editor who didn’t want to change the ending of Jon Klassen’s I Want My Hat Back, which she acquired for Candlewick. Can you imagine it with a different ending?! And that is why you need the right editor for the right book.
  • Joanna Cárdenas said that Kokila’s mission is “centering stories from the margins” to “more accurately reflect the world that we live in and we add depth to the way that readers see the world and their place in it.” They publish “Books that make an impact…Books for children and teens across genres and formats… [Books that] entertain and inspire. [Books that] push against harmful, entrenched narratives.”
  • Andrea Welch is looking for books that “help children of all backgrounds see the world in new and exciting ways.” She said, “When I’m reading new projects, I always pay attention to my gut reaction primarily.” She asks, Am I intrigued by a story or a concept or a topic? Does the manuscript feel different or unusual in some way? Does the writing/voice capture me? Do I find myself wanting to read the story aloud? Do I feel excited to sit down and share the work with a child? Are artist/illustration possibilities popping into my head? Then, does market/audience exist for this book? Can I get the rest of my team excited about it?
  • Andrea said that in her role as an editor, “Those conversations [with author/illustrators] move a project forward. I have a vision for each book, but ultimately my job as an editor is to help author/illustrator tell the story they set out to tell in the most impactful way.”
  • Joanna said, “Great picture books are entire worlds captured in 32 or 40 pages…really good picture books help a young reader orient themselves in space…and in time.”
  • Joanna also said that rather than try to identify or follow trends (it takes so long to make a picture book that trends aren’t as much of a thing in that format), “What is helpful is for creators to read current picture books. Read every year things that are coming out… Be aware of what’s coming out, who are your contemporaries… Understand how your work might fit somewhere in there. Read, read, read, read, read.”
  • For illustrators, Joanna is looking for someone who can tell a whole story in one picture. “Something that makes me ask questions not because I’m confused but because I’m intrigued.”
  • For authors, Andrea is looking for that feeling of “the author has taken my hand and led me into the story, the story is executed in such a way that I’m on board and in from the beginning.” It can be a strong voice, an unusual topic – that feeling of being swept up by a manuscript. What doesn’t work is “when I feel like I’m just dropped into action right away,” there’s dialogue between characters I don’t know yet. “I like to be led and not just thrown in.”
  • Joanna’s advice: “Creating stories for young readers is a huge responsibility. Picture books are an introduction to the world, to interpersonal relationships, and how things work.”
  • Liz’s advice for writers: “Take some picture books that you really admire and reverse-engineer them – type up the text of that picture book.” You’ll get a sense of length, pacing, page turns, and what illustration brings to the story that isn’t in the text.

Keynote Address: Looking Back to Move Forward, Tami Charles

  • “Life is like an arrow: sometimes you get pulled back only to get launched into something beautiful.” (Quote unattributed)Tami Charles author photo
  • Growing up, “I never really saw myself, my friends, or my community” reflected in literature. Now, we have Jacqueline Woodson, Carole Boston Weatherford, Meg Medina, and many more – “I would have loved to have had their books as a child….REPRESENTATION IS EVERYTHING….I wanted to add my voice.”
  • Over the years, “My writing grew stronger, and my rejections grew nicer.”
  • “The word ‘no’ has empowered me, broken me, and put me back together again. The word ‘no’ holds power, but on the flip side, the word ‘yes’ holds beauty. And somewhere in the middle of that, there exists hope. And it’s that hope that keeps us going…”
  • “Collectively, this work that we do is bigger than us.”
  • “Celebrate the yeses, learn from the nos. Allow them both to launch you…”
  • Re: writer’s block after rejection: “There’s a beauty in pausing. If you’re not writing, there’s a reason for that. And the reason is probably that you need to be reading, you need to be studying.” Especially read the genre that you want to write in. “I write as widely as I read. And I read a lot.”
  • “Don’t give up on the stories that you shelve.” May be wrong format or wrong time.
  • “In this journey…success is going to look different….Your path is your own. Don’t look at what someone else is doing to compare how you’re doing in your own journey.”

Mock Acquisition Meeting: Wendy Loggia and Delacorte Publishing Team

Delacorte is an imprint of Random House Children’s, with a focus on MG and YA fiction (“where commercial + literary intersect”). There are nine members on the Delacorte editorial team; four of them, including Wendy Loggia, were on the panel (Hannah Hill, associate editor; Ali Romig, editorial assistant; and Lydia Gregovic, editorial assistant), along with Kelly McGauleyfrom marketing, Adrienne Weintraub from school and library marketing, Jillian Vandall from publicity, and Kim Wrubel from subsidiary (sub) rights. Delacorte is invested in their authors in the long term; “we’re acquiring authors, not books.” Looking for books that reflect our (editors’) personal taste and that have hungry readers in the marketplace. Wendy said, “Every acquisition is unique” – editors discuss, and loop in other departments as necessary. In this mock meeting, they discussed five titles, and revealed whether they acquired them or not, and why. It was a fascinating fly-on-the-wall experience, hearing about appeal factors and other considerations, like summer reading, audiobook rights, school library and classroom potential, and the Scholastic book fair.

  • Reasons to say YES to a manuscript: authentic emotions, relatable, discussion-worthy themes, strong commercial voice, good hook(s), fresh, emotionally resonant, standout quality/breakout potential.
  • Reasons to say YES to an author: positive, clear communicator, engaged in their community, familiar with genre tropes, flexible and open to change, social media presence.
  • Reasons to say NO to an author/manuscript: not strong or unique enough, a glut of that type of book in the marketplace, point of sale (POS) numbers on previous similar titles not encouraging; if the author had an opportunity to revise and the revision isn’t as strong as the editors had hoped. (It’s hard to break someone out if they’re writing the same kind of book for a different publisher; “Maybe consider writing something completely different and give yourself a fresh start.”) If an editor decides not to make an offer, in most cases, “We give feedback to the agent/author, information about what worked for us and what didn’t.”

Did you attend SCBWI Winter Conference? What were your most important takeaways?

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