There is no better home for an author of children’s literature than the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), and I was reminded of that at the recent Florida regional conference, @SCBWIFlorida. As a middle-grade and young adult fiction author, it was wonderful to meet members of my tribe—those who share a passion for telling stories for young readers. Founded in 1971 by a group of Los Angeles-based children’s writers, namely the terrific Lin Oliver, who shared her wisdom with us, the non-profit SCBWI is the only professional organization specifically for those writing and illustrating for children and young adults in the fields of children’s literature, magazines, film, television and multimedia.
The SCBWI acts as a network for the exchange of knowledge between writers, illustrators, editors, publishers, agents, librarians, educators, booksellers and others involved with literature for young people. There are currently more than 22,000 members worldwide, in over 70 regional chapters writing and illustrating in all genres for young readers, making it the largest children’s writing organization in the world. The Florida chapter is particularly active, with some 43 events planned for 2018 alone. It wasn’t difficult to attract several terrific editors and agents to the conference in Miami this past weekend. The professionalism of SCBWI members is always a draw for industry people, but I’m sure Miami’s weather in January was enticing, too.
Having attended several years ago the huge (and exciting) national SCBWI conference in New York, held every February, the smaller regional conference was far more intimate, allowing for one-on-one conversations with agents and editors (I literally made my elevator pitch at an elevator in the hotel, and it went well) as well as with other writers. Everyone I met was warm, welcoming, and eager to share what they had learned about the writing and publishing journey with the rest of us. Competition was strikingly absent; camaraderie reigned. In fact, I was encouraged to attend the conference, after a chance meeting last October, by the generous and talented Debbie Reid Fischer, author of This is Not the Abby Show (which I recommend highly for its humor and its heart.) Debbie is already an unflagging cheerleader for my work and she was right when she said I’d find my family at the conference this month.
In upcoming blogs, here and on my author website, I will share in detail some of the incredible advice and wisdom from the conference. Among the highlights: the generous and moving counsel of the award-winning author @SaraPennypacker, author of National Book Award Longlist winner Pax, on “The Ten Things I Learned From Being a Children’s Writer”(my favorite: “Creation is a river; the river will take us and we will take others with us”); the funny, charming picture book author and illustrator Judy Schachner, (who encouraged us to “arm children with the truth”) and the editor and agent panels, sharing golden nuggets of wisdom with us, and further drilling down during workshops on the last day of the conference. Nicole Resciniti, @NicLitagent, president of The Seymour Agency, gave an in-depth look at structure, GMC (Goal, Motivation, and Conflict), and tips for honing your voice, reminding us “Don’t give up. I don’t care where in your journey you are, you will get there, with enough hard work.” Editor Amy Fitzgerald of Carolrhoda Books of The Lerner Publishing Group, talked about “Building flesh and blood (and sweat and tears) novel characters,” listing The Seven Deadly Deal Breakers of Personality Building in children’s and teen fiction (#1: Characters act, think and talk like adults”) urging us to “dig deeper; figure out the specific ways your character embodies and expresses their personality”), @Amy_Ariel_Fitz.
Especially encouraging to me was a First Books Panel, highlighting authors who after years of improving their craft, enduring rejection and getting out there again—published their first books: A shout out to Jonathan Rosen, @houseofrosen, Julie Shepard, @JulieShepardYA, Zebo Ludvicek, @zebostudio, Melody Dean Dimick, @MelodyDeanDimick, and Larissa Hardesty, @lchardesty, for their success. Go and buy their books!
One day, soon, I hope to be among them.