Tuesday’s Tips: Best of a Writer’s Conference

ImageSo I thought I’d share what I remembered the best of the tips from Springmingle 2013, the Southern Breeze sponsored SCBWI conference where I chilled at the bar and chatted networked and studied the craft of children’s writing this past weekend.

Now, honestly, I’m not the best when it comes to taking notes. I have great intentions, and I listen really, really hard. But after five minutes a half hour, my brain tends to wander. I soldiered on, though, scribbling away as fast as my fingers could go, so that the Beneficent Mr. Hall wouldn’t complain about the money I’d spent I would become the best writer I could possibly be. On to the tips.

1. From wonderful poet/authoress Nikki Grimes, I learned the value of patience in writing. Sadly, there is a truth out there for many of us. Namely, that we want it all. We want it now. But classic writing takes time. (So fine. I’ll give it another month or two couple of years.)

2. From Dianne Hess, Editor, Scholastic Books, I learned that non-fiction in children’s writing is getting bigger every day because of the Common Core State Standards. If you like research, and can get your facts straight, you can give kids a better understanding of the world through great non-fiction.

3. From super agent, Jill Corcoran, I learned that before you write a word of your manuscript, you’d better look long and hard at your concept. Brainstorm the concept and the pitch. Because the best writing in the world won’t sell a been-there, done-that concept. But a superlative concept can sell so-so writing. (You know what? Just read her blog. Everything you need to know about writing–and didn’t even think to ask–is there.)

4. From Katherine Jacobs, Editor at Roaring Book Press, I learned that if you’re struggling to write a basic paragraph that tells what your book is about (ie. something that could be used as the back flap copy on a book), then your book might be unfocused. (I’m just going to jump to the chase here and say there’s no “might” be. It is. I speak from the depths of utter gloom and abject failure experience.)

So there you have it. Four really great tips from a great conference. And you didn’t even have to choke down the chicken.

Editor Katherine Jacobs Answers Your Writing Questions

7526163ec544a115faeb352335de435cI know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, oh, I hope she picks my question. And now you’re thinking, wait a sec. I didn’t send any questions for editor Katherine Jacobs.

But I sent a couple questions about books, and publishing, and writing. I was lucky enough to pick Katherine from the hat of professionals who’ll be presenting at the upcoming SCBWI-Southern Breeze hosted Springmingle conference here in Atlanta (February 22-24th). So you’ll get answers to your questions. Or at least the five questions I asked.

1. What are a couple of your favorite reads from childhood? And do they influence what you look for in a manuscript today?

One of the most influential books of my childhood was The Giver. It was the first science fiction or dystopian story I had ever read and it made a big impression. I think that it taught me the power and art of an ambiguous ending. I still prefer when complicated novels leave something open ended or up for interpretation rather than tying it all up in a neat bow.

I also really loved prairie stories when I was a kid: Little House on the Prairie, Sarah, Plain and Tall, and the American Girl, Kirsten. I believe these stories taught me that you can take ordinary slices of life and make them extraordinary through the telling.

2. What is the ONE aspect of a manuscript that will grab you immediately and make you say, “Yes. This is the story I want to edit.”

The number one thing I’m looking for when I’m reading manuscripts is an emotional connection to the work. I expect stories to make me feel something whether it’s joy or sorrow, horror or delight. Usually, I think that’s achieved through a character I love or relate to or recognize.

3. What, if any, trends do you see in children’s publishing? Do you like what you see, or NOT like what you see coming along?

I’m very enthusiastic about the future of children’s publishing. I think it’s a growing genre that every year attracts more respect from the literary establishment and attention from the general market. One trend that I like in particular is the emphasis on the interaction between text and illustration, whether that’s in picture books, middle-grade fiction, nonfiction, or the growing graphic novel category.

4. I know all those writers attending Springmingle 2013 will want to know the answer to this question (BEFORE we send our manuscripts!): What’s your biggest pet peeve in a manuscript?

I don’t like manuscripts that talk down to the child reader. I think that kids are a diverse and smart bunch, and I like submissions that respect them and realize they are capable of great emotional and psychological maturity.

5. And finally, can you give us a little peek at what you’ll be speaking on at Springmingle? Inquiring writers want to know!

I’ll be speaking about myself, Roaring Brook Press, the in-house acquisition process, and I’m hoping to have a new talk about character ready for the Springmingle conference.

So there you have it. The answers to all your burning writing questions. Didn’t I tell you I knew what you were thinking?


77a9521da74d2374a25df2e5733c39e4It’s not too late to sign up for this wonderful conference! You’ll see Katherine Jacobs and all these other wonderful authors, illustrators and an agent, too, who are visiting blogs to answer even more questions:

Jan. 21: Will Terry, illustrator, at Elizabeth O. Dulemba’s blog

Jan. 22: Beck McDowell, author, at Bonnie Herold’s “Tenacious Teller of Tales”

Jan. 23: Nikki Grimes, author, at Gail Handler’s “Write From the Soul”

Jan. 24: Jill Corcoran, agent, at Donny Seagraves’ blog

Jan. 25: Chad Beckerman, creative director, at Laura Golden’s blog

Jan. 28: Katherine Jacobs, editor, at Cathy C. Hall’s blog

Jan. 29: Mark Braught, illustrator, at Vicky Alvear Shecter’s “History with a Twist”

Jan. 30: Carmen Agra Deedy, author, at Ramey Channell’s “The Moonlight Ridge Series”


Oh! I almost forgot. You’ll see me at Springmingle 2013, too. So please join us for a weekend of fun and writing. You and I both know you want to come.