Matt de la Peña, All-Around Swell Author

I just got back from Wik’13, the SCBWI conference in Birmingham, and as always had such a delightful time. But I’m sort of kicking myself for not signing up for Matt de la Peña’s intensive on dialogue. I know it would’ve been swell.

He was the keynote speaker–I laughed, I cried, I learned. (I might not have actually cried, unless it was from laughing. But seriously, he’s an engaging speaker. If he’s ever in your area, go see him. And take your boy readers.)

So I bought one of his books,

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and it’s a great read. But more than that, it’s a good template for wanna-be published authors like me (and maybe you, too). It’s a well-crafted story, with layered characters and terrific pacing and plotting. And I’m not just saying that because Matt very graciously agreed to have his picture taken with Cathy-on-a-Stick.

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Or wrote such a sweet note when he signed his book.

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Friday’s Fun Find: WIK’13 and an Agent Interview!

Southern Breeze SCBWI Writing and Illustrating for Kids is right around the corner (October 12th, since you asked), and I’m pretty darn excited about the faculty and workshops they’re offering!

ImageAnd I’m pretty darn excited that agent Jennifer Rofé, from Andrea Brown Literary Agency, is here today to share writing insights, wisdom, tips—well, it’s just a smorgasbord of writing stuff. Not all her writing stuff—you’ll have to join us at the swell conference for that—but I’ll bet it’s enough to hook you!

Jennifer, I see where you’re open to projects from picture books to Young Adult, but that Middle Grade is your soft spot. What is it about Middle Grade that especially hooks you?

Aside from the expected hurdles, I mostly enjoyed my middle school years; I recall having a pretty fun time. I later went on to teach 8th grade for a handful of years in my 20s. I haven’t yet bothered to pinpoint why this is, but there’s something about this time in life that I understand and connect with. As for what specifically hooks me — that twilight moment of the pre-teen and early teen years; being just on the verge of self-realizations and life-truths. Also, there’s more room in middle grade for outrageous and funny and zany. I like that.

Check out the speaker bio here (and Jennifer’s agency bio here) to find out more about what in a manuscript is a wow! for her. And now we have to know what makes Jennifer wince. What, in a query and/or a manuscript, just makes you cringe?

Here are some query faux-pas that make me cringe:

* Misspelling or not including my name.

* Queries for materials that, per my bio (and online interviews), I am not interested in.

* Beginning a query with a question, like “Have you ever wondered…?” or “What would you do if….?”

And the biggest cringe for me:

* Writers “educating” agents on the current market. For instance, “Books about bullying are currently popular” or “The market for paranormal romance has cooled off.” It’s not necessary to do this in a query.

I always include that I’m a member of SCBWI when I query. Do you think that makes a difference to an agent? And if so, why?

It does make a difference to me because, namely, it shows that you’re invested in the industry that you want to be a part of. Also, members have typically attended conferences, so they generally have more knowledge about the industry than those who aren’t members or don’t attend industry conferences.

Are you a member of SCBWI, too? And what has the experience meant to you?

I am a member, yes. I don’t know how to say more other than I love SCBWI. I love the community it creates, I love the educational opportunities it offers to writers and illustrators, I love the connections it encourages and fosters between writers/illustrators and industry professionals, and I love the children’s lit family I have because of SCBWI. Our community is blessed to have this organization.

Jennifer will be presenting two, two-part workshops at WIK: The “So What” Factor, examining plots of successful books, and “Ten Things Nobody Tells You About Publishing” (and thanks so much for telling us!). So maybe you could give us a peek at one of those things we should know? Or maybe share a “So What?” insight?

I’m not sure where in the #1-10 spectrum this one will fall – it might even be #11 – but how about this:

Your second contracted book — it might be one of the hardest ones you ever write. Try not to sweat the angst too much; you are in good company.

Thanks, Jennifer! And thanks so much for stopping by! I can’t wait to see you at WIK—and hear more about those ten things I absolutely need to know. Unless you want to expound a little bit more now? Maybe? No?



WIK is a great place to get inspired, get tips on your craft, and learn about the business of children’s publishing. It’s also an opportunity to meet editors, agents, and an incredibly supportive network of working writers and artists. This annual conference is hosted by the Southern Breeze region of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). To find out more or to register, visit

 And for interviews from more presenters at WIK’13, check out the schedule I posted here. But honestly, I think it’s MUCH more fun to check out the presenters up close and personal! (Early registration continues through September 10th, and it’s not too late to register for a manuscript critique as well! Hope to see you at WIK’13!)