SCBWI NYC Winter Conference: Notes and more Thoughts

So now that I've digested the conference a bit more I thought I would share some of my notes (and opinions!). If you also attended and would like to share in return, please comment or send me an email. I'm giving my detailed notes on the two breakout sessions, and little comments from just the illustrator's intensive on Friday. It's a long post! I definitely walked away with a better understanding of publicity and marketing, a few 'trends' in PBs, and the feeling that perhaps I need an agent or art rep to sort through all this for me. Enjoy!

Breakout Session #1 with David Gale: VP and Editorial Dir. at Simon & Schuster BFYR

He acquires books from PB (picture book) through Teen. His list is tighter (76 books) than in the past (90+ books), and will be so for the foreseeable future. It's a hardcover, retail driven imprint. PBs address informational topics, and are mostly fiction. They put out few/no graphic novels. He said that he has a reputation for being brutally honest which I believe! His taste in PBs: quirky; kid-friendly - not things really intended for adults; no idealized kids; there should be a real story with a beginning, middle, and end; Fewer words - 1-2 lines per page; and he despises rhyme! He also prefers that submissions do NOT go to him directly, but to the 'submissions department'. Many people grumbled at this but he feels like junior editors deserve a chance to find great books too. As far as illustration goes, he looks for: technical expertise; variety in composition,angles,distances,framing; interesting page turns. They do not work with 1st time illustrators. They will pair a more experience illustrator with a new writer and vice-versa to help drive the book's sales. This view makes it harder for a first time writer/illustrator to get a deal.

Breakout Session #2 with Nancy Siscoe: Associate Publishing Director and Executive Editor at Knopf & Crown BFYR (Random House)
She works in a department of 10. They publish 60 hardcovers/year. "Upscale Literary" is a succinct way to describe her imprint. She personally handles 12-15. She wants to work with authors and illustrators on a long-term basis. She looks for PBs and MG (middle grade) books. She's a big mystery fan. She wants PB characters that could go on for several books. She wants good stories and she likes a good adventure. Don't talk down to the audience. She says the trend with PBs is shorter text, 1-2 lines per page. I asked what she liked or looked for in an illustration style and she said minimal, with Mo Willems' Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus as an example. She also said the art doesn't have to be beautiful.

Thoughts from the Illustrator's Intensive
-We started with an inspiring speech from the renowned illustrator Jerry Pinkney.

-Followed by a nice speech by Holly McGhee of Pippin Properties about working 'out of your comfort zone'. This included great stories of her own mixed with those from artists she represents.

-Next up, a panel on the art of publicity and marketing. There was play-acting to show the sequence of events 18 months and onward, prior to publication of any trade book. In the past year, blogging and blog tours have gone from being a nice bonus to almost an essential part of the process. Anything extra an author/illustrator can do to promote their book is great, just check with the publisher before doing it! They explained why book tours aren't always the right way to go, how timing in promotion is VERY important, and how extra interests, alumni groups, and associations can help to publicize your book.

-This was followed by a panel about Picture Books - the panel included Arthur A. Levine (editor of his own imprint at Scholastic), Kate McLellend (librarian of honor and well-known reviewer for Kirkus and SLJ, board member for Caldecott), and Bob Brown (Owner of Books Bytes and Beyond - a bookseller). To summarize, these people feel like the picture book market is strong (a hot topic of the conference) with sophisticated wordless books, graphic novels and board books all playing a part. Regarding illustration, they like a diversity in style (rather than pointing out a trend) and are only tired of BAD art. Kate said kids really like 'beautiful' artwork while Bob said that relatively simple art styles have done VERY well, partially due to the shorter text. Part of the 'short text' trend is coming from parents feeling like they can't keep their child's attention (and their own) through long readings. Bob mentioned 'new baby joining family' as a theme missing and requested at his store. Kate felt that folktales are missing and also ill parents/parents at work/special needs - as part of the story but not the main theme. Arthur wanted to see authentic creative stories including diversity - perhaps if it's a birthday party one set of parents could be 2 dads even if not indicated by the text, so all groups are represented out there.

-Save that Sketch was about archiving your materials, presented by Terri Goldich from UConn's Thomas J. Dodd research center. Helpful handouts were presented, and it was interesting to hear about the amazing collection of art in her center but I didn't get much out of this session other than remembering I need to get archival boxes for my artwork at some point.

-Copyright for Illustrators was presented by an actual lawyer from the copyright office, Robin Galender. I learned a few new things about copyright, including some 'mythbusters' about infringement. At this point in the day I desperately needed some fun and inspiration -

-Enter Tomie dePaola! Because Harry Bliss, scheduled to talk earlier, was delayed by weather Tomie filled in and really woke us all up. He was just reviewing the portfolio exhibit in the next room and shared some of his thoughts (positive and negative, how refreshing!). He felt like there was a lot of work that looked 'the same', meaning not something he hadn't seen before. He also pointed out his shock at the people who didn't follow the size requirements for portfolios. This disturbed me as well, especially b/c the room for the exhibit was far too small and when I picked mine up that night, I noticed it wasn't even oriented properly b/c it got squeezed out for space. Quite frankly, I was surprised they let people with big portfolios enter, I honestly thought rule breakers would have been banned.

-And out of the snow of Vermont came Harry Bliss. I absolutely loved his candor, wit, AND his work. It was the first time I heard someone at an event like this say that 'there's a lot of crap out there'. You know we all think it from time to time... His work is fantastic, and I'm itching to pick up his 'Diary of a Worm', 'Diary of a Spider', 'Diary of a Fly' series. Harry claims he's done with picture books after his current project is complete but I'm hoping it's just a long break to enjoy life and family before jumping back in again. It also makes me really curious to see what this last project looks like if it was so draining. Thank you Harry for making my day a little brighter with your sarcasm!

-Really one the best parts of the day was sitting down with other illustrators to share our portfolios. It was so nice to meet Jannie, Jen, Kelly, Kim, Mercedes, Courtney, Jesse, Diana, Leeza, Alicia and several others. And of course Joey Chappelle who was my buddy for the whole show - once he gets a website/blog I'll post and share!