2011 Austin SCBWI Conference Highlights

Wow!   That’s pretty much how everyone summed up the 2011 Austin SCBWI conference. My only regret was that I couldn’t clone myself, allowing me to attend every session with our amazing presenters. Unfortunately, this post will only address the sessions I was able to attend.

Featured presenter, Arthur Levine, head of his own Scholastic imprint and author of a brand new picture book himself, summed up the quality of presentations enjoyed by the 200+ attendeees in his own blog post titled, COMMUNITY,  “…it was, in miniature, what the National Conference is writ large.”

During a presentation about the unique relationships between authors and illustrators, Arthur Levine (L) and Julian Hector discuss the inspiration for and process behind their newly released book, Monday is One Day.
Arthur Levine (L) and illustrator, Julian Hector

Arthur later led a small group intensive titled “Emotional Connection” that offered a peek into elements that attract an editor to a manuscript. He brought several examples with him, including Jonah Winter’s picture book biography, THE FABULOUS FEUD OF GILBERT & SULLIVAN, and the wordless picture book, ARRIVAL, by Shaun Tan, and THE END by David LaRochelle.

HIGHLIGHTS from Arthur Levine
         *An editor must fall head over heels in love with a manuscript, to the point that they can’t imagine not buying it. Ultimately, it’s a gut feeling.
         * What does he look for in manuscripts?
                      *Books with appealing, convincing voice
                      *Books that make him laugh  (ie: Lisa Yee’s MILLICENT MIN, GIRL GENIUS)
                       *Emotional fearlessness (ie: PLAIN KATE by Erin Bow)
                       *Books that show inventiveness (ie: HARRY POTTER by J.K. Rowling

Stephen Roxburgh, editor at Namelos, and founder and former President and Publisher of Front Street Books

Stephen Roxburgh gave an inspiring presentation about the ways e-book publishing is changing the landscape.

HIGHLIGHTS from Stephen Roxburgh
                *Amazon posted 70% of all Ebook sales
                * Our old distribution model is collapsing – we must change with it.
                * Libraries are screwed – recommended Eli Neiberger’s speech titled “Libraries at the Tipping Point.
                * Encourages authors to think of content over form. Story is more important than format.
                * Currently, the traditional codex book is becoming outmoded.
                * Publishers have overhead. Ebook publishers have almost none.
                * A $19.95 book has an actual cost of around $2. The other $17.75 is paid to everyone in
                * People attach to other people and to things so we are more attached to physical books.
                * Ultimately, this is the best of times for authors and illustrators.
                * Our reach should always outreach our goals.
                * Publishers are embracing e-books. Authors and illustrators must embrace them, too.

Elizabeth Law, VP and Publisher of Egmont USA gave editorial advice

 HIGHLIGHTS from Elizabeth Law
                 * Children’s and YA publishing are still considered growth areas.
                 * “Don’t let people discourage you.”
             Helpful Tips and what the publisher considers
                 * What will the author do for the book? Online presence? Does h/she have specific contacts?
                         belong to organizations? part of social networks?
                 * What age group is the book for? How old is your intended audience? Age of intended
                         audience is more important than age of protagonist, when determining MG vs. YA.
                 * If you can honestly say your book is similar in characteristics to other recent titles or
                         popular characters, do say so. For example, Addams family meets Cheaper by the Doz.
                 * What is your hook? Your unique selling point? Why will a child read your book?
                 * Why is your book a good fit for the particular publisher?
                 * “The book you’re writing is the ball game. They’ll figure it all out.”
                 * Don’t be afraid to ask questions of your editor or agent.
                 * “Forget the market. Just write from your heart.”
             What do publishers wish they had more of right now?
                 * Boy books
                 * Believe it or not, treatment of religion or spirituality in MG & YA

David Diaz and Cynthia Leitich Smith

Caldecott winning illustrator David Diaz spoke about “Keeping it Real” and “Perfecting your Portfolio.”
He borrowed the first page of Carmen Oliver’s manuscript to show the illustration process, beginning with a color washed door. As Carmen read, her characters took shape. He finished the scene later. (see image at left with David Diaz and Cynthia Leitich Smith in a giggly pose with the completed art.)

HIGHLIGHTS from David Diaz
                      * re: the e-book transition- “Whenever there’s upheaval, there’s opportunity.”
                      * Everyone’s afraid of losing the actual form of the book.”
                      * Compared the book format transition to music. Recordings began long before the vinyl 
                              album and over time switched to the 8-track, cassette tapes, CDs, and now MP3s
                      * “A fabulous story will translate into any medium.”
                      *  “Embrace this new way of thinking about your story. Think more visually.”

A Q and A panel ended the day. From Left: Carmen Oliver (at podium,) social media expert Greg Pincus, Stephen Roxburgh, agent Emily Van Beek, Julie Lake (moderating), editor Michelle Poploff, Elizabeth Law, Arthur Levine

BRAVO! The organizers for this remarkable event were Debbie Gonzales, Regional Advisor for Austin SCBWI, Carmen Oliver, Assistant Regional Advisor, and Mark G. Mitchell, illustrator chair. But, a whole team of volunteers worked behind the scenes on conference day. We timed critiques, registered attendees, coordinated a silent auction and portfolio review, acted as gophers, and generally pitched in wherever needed. I appreciate the village required to pull off such a successful conference.

Check out P.J. Hoover’s conference recap and Amy Rose Capetta’s very cool “three word” photo project to see what a few attendees thought of the day.

6 Responses to “2011 Austin SCBWI Conference Highlights”

  1. Donna

    Thank you, Linds.

    I wish I could have been in ALL of the sessions.

    As tribute to your own three word picture, consider yourself cyber-hugged.