I'm rewinding my brain to Saturday so I can share some thoughts about this year's NESCBWI Conference in Nashua, NH. I'm not making any direct quotes here. Keep in mind this is from memory, chicken scratch notes, abbreviated, and ad libbed.
Morning Keynote: Bruce Coville
Bruce was an energetic and direct speaker, just what you need to kick off a long conference day. He offered more thoughts, tips, and insights than I care to type but I wanted to share some practical advice/suggestions from him:
1. If you want to write picture books, read 100, choose your favorite 10 and rewrite them by hand. This way you will learn the rhythm.
2. Divide a sheet into 6 sections and label 1 through 6. These represent grades in school. For each, recall your teacher's name, describe the classroom, and any memorable moments. Once you start writing, you will presumably tap into buried memories and find some inspiration for writing.
3. Character is the most important thing. You can build the best dramatic situation but if the reader does not care about or connect with the character it is worth little.
Workshop#1: Yolanda Leroy, Charlesbridge, Finding the right publisher for you (sorry I don't remember the exact title).
Yolanda shared some broad guidelines and a few specific tips. She also mentioned the mistakes people make when submitting a manuscript. The biggest one seemed to be 'rushing' to send an MS out. She suggested to really wait and make sure it was great. Read it aloud. Read it to children. Get feedback from critique groups. Basic advice but worth repeating. I had to leave early to catch my portfolio review but heard from a friend that I didn't miss much. I was disappointed that this workshop was more of a speech, and drifted too far into pitching Charlesbridge alone (great publisher, don't get me wrong!) rather than sharing insights about different houses. The content didn't seem to match the description.
Portfolio Review: I really recommend that everyone does this at least once every other year. It had been awhile since I had a review at the conference and while I felt good about my work, it was a chance to get some face-time with an industry professional. The best part for me was feeling like I should pursue editorial work also. This is known in my career path as PHASE3 and I don't know when I can make time for it but it was great food for thought.
Workshop#2: Alexis O'Neill, Getting published without an Agent.
Alexis was a great presenter! She was bold, direct, and came prepared with handouts, I LOVE handouts. She gave us practical advice peppered with just the right amount of antecdotes to keep it fun. One of the best tips from her was to pick up the Publisher's Weekly Children's Book publication. It comes out in February and July. It's a great way to see all publisher's catalogs for that season at a glance. It also is great to check out the marketing of books via advertisements. You want a publisher that can market and sell your book well and a well placed and designed ad will give you greater faith in them to take care of your book.
Workshop#3: Mark Peter Hughes, Creating Characters that Leap off the Page.
Excellent workshop! And it really was a workshop despite the large group (about 90-100). Mark handled the unexpectedly large group with ease. He shared key passages from his and other author's books and had us do very short exercises in building characters. His handout was great and his presentation effective. I have taken VERY few writing workshops and nothing beyond a one-hour session. The biggest point I took away from this was to REALLY know your character. Know his/her age, weight, height, clothing, bedroom, home, likes/dislikes. Develop all the details that make characters memorable to the reader. Make the character real.
Afternoon Keynote: Sid Fleischmann
I had to read one of Sid's books before the conference since sadly I knew nothing of his books beforehand. I read one of the McBroom series. It was a funny and light read. Unfortunately, Sid was not the best fit for such a large space, a poor microphone, and a sleepy crowd desperate for a boisterous afternoon keynote to rouse them. He's had an amazingly long career that has run through so many types of books. He was a humble man, often downplaying his successes throughout life. Next year, I hope they get an illustrator or author/illustrator to do one of the keynotes. I was feeling a bit like they forgot about the I in SCBWI for this conference as a whole.
If you get a chance to participate in a First Look session, do it! And be sure to submit early. Sadly, they ran out of time and many samples did not get shown. I think this could have been avoided if the moderator kept things moving quickly. I frankly also wish the panel would be a bit sharper with their criticism. If someone doesn't seem to have a grasp of technical painting issues, say it! I know it is very hard with the artists sitting anonymously to hear but ultimately it will help them improve as illustrators. My piece was very well received but frankly it falls a little flatter when everyone gets a modicum of praise. Am I being a nasty human being? No! I was an art director and I suspect when the panel is really alone they might be a big harsher. They might just toss your sample in the trash and that's the honest truth. I hope they keep doing this event, it's a great idea.
My last comments are regarding the facility. Lunch was much improved this year with a seated/plated deal. My only complaint is that those with food allergies need some way of getting help. I don't love having to bring snacks to get through the day and paying money for a lunch I can't eat doesn't thrill me. This space has seemed WAY too crowded for years. It's a struggle to get where you need to go, get there on time, and get a proper seat. People shouldn't have to stand in a workshop. Force us to pick ahead of time and not change our minds last minute, please! Give us a poster/art display area again! It's all about marketing! Give us one less keynote and make the one we have a great one! Make JL Bell do more than just hand out prizes at the end. He's always a pleasure to have at the podium. He's entertaining, informed, and has a great voice for a big room. And give the illustrator's more and quality workshop choices! My favorite illustrator based workshop was a roundtable portfolio review group with Maryann Cocca-Leffler.