Lucky13 SCBWI Writer’s Conference….A Newbie’s Recap

Last Saturday, I got up at 4:30 in the morning, slipped out the door without waking the kiddos, and drove into the sunrise to the Bishop Claggett Center for my very first SCBWI writer’s conference. I left with a huge to-do list and to-read list, plus lots of encouragement and inspiration.

I had no idea to expect. Will everyone be so incredibly talented and quirky-cool that I will feel as lost as I did on my first day of high school?  Will I find out I’m crazy for calling myself a writer? I was pleasantly surprised to find lots of wonderful, friendly, helpful people, some of whom were already published, some of whom were there for the first time like me. It was such a great experience, and I will be chewing on everything I learned for a good long time and keeping in touch with the great friends I made, too! However, next time I will stay overnight instead of driving home in rain and fog on 95 for three hours! Bleh.

Here is a little recap.

First up for the morning was Audrey Couloumbis, who spoke on the topic of “Writing to the Heart Without Tears.” It was a great presentation filled with tons of examples ranging from Lois Lowry to What About Bob. She showed us over and over again how to convey emotion to readers subtly, powerfully, and without making our characters horribly overwrought/gushing tears. “Take your readers by the heart,” she said, “and they’ll follow you anywhere.” Great advice that I will be applying to my YA projects!

Next, I attended part of an agent’s breakout session, but I had to leave early for my MANUSCRIPT CRITIQUE. I was….scared. However…

The lovely Edie Hemingway was so encouraging and kind, she made me feel instantly at ease. She gave me one editing suggestion (which I took), and some suggestions for where to submit my manuscript. She assured me I have a strong submission that will find a home. Thanks, Edie!

The two breakout sessions that followed were so informative, they really stocked my to-do list! Laura Whitaker from Bloomsbury Kids and Jessica Garrison from Dial Books for Young Readers gave presentations on how they acquire picture book manuscripts, and what they’re looking for. I learned how to create a solid hook, what to include in my cover letters, how to define unique selling points, the importance of social media platforms (my blog is born!), and so much more. After the conference, they invited attendees to submit work to them – a unique opportunity to do so without first having to acquire an agent.

After lunch, Floyd Cooper gave us an amazing art demonstration. Explaining his process of reduction using an eraser to lift paint off of paper, then adding color, he created a fantastic face right before our eyes in about 5 minutes. He is so talented and kept us laughing and engaged the whole time. .

Finally, Chris Crutcher gave a talk about banned books to kick off banned book week. He talked about his work as a family therapist, the heartbreaking stories he’s heard firsthand, and how he’s turned them into published (banned) stories. It was very moving to hear the ways that his stories have touched troubled teens who had previously felt entirely alone and isolated. While I don’t agree with all of his viewpoints, I found him to be such a compassionate person who is passionate about helping hurt children. I laughed…I cried…I learned.

Well, when I got home I was so tired I told my husband I would give my brain the week off. The next day, he laughed, “Well, that lasted 45 minutes.” haha. 45 minutes was enough. Back to work!


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