This was me last year at the 2019 Northern Ohio SCBWI conference. It was 2 days, live and in person. I was so glad to be back, to see so many friends, and to find my book at the conference. All systems were GO!
This is what I looked like when I attended this year’s conference. I was in my PJ’s, on my couch, watching a video. This year’s theme – ‘Friends in Rectangles,’ like on a computer screen. It is 2020, the year of covid, social distancing, and zoom meetings.
I don’t like watching classes live – I get distracted by the chat window. I’d rather focus on the speaker so I watch the replays. The best part – I fit them around my schedule. It’s lovely!
I waited for the conference email with its list of sessions and links. I got it on the 4th, and I had till the 19th to watch everything I wanted to see. I only missed two sessions, one about mysteries and another on portfolios. I don’t write mysteries, and there’s no way I would ever illustrate a book. EVER!
Meet Sarah Jane Abbott! She’s an associate editor for Paula Wiseman Boooks and Beach Lane Books at Simon & Schuster.
Her first talk was Have a ‘Heart’: Writing Picture Books with a Message in Mind. Her ‘heart’ reminded me to craft my manuscripts for my audience. She said don’t talk down to kids. I agree - they are so sharp! Give them a good story, and make sure they have fun reading it.
Her second, If At First You Don’t Succeed, Revise, Revise Again. That resonated with me! I love revision, and I already do two of her suggestions. I read my words aloud, and every time I listen to them, I search for better ones.
Sarah shared an exercise that I’m dying to try. She took a manuscript and flattened it. I want to try enriching it first. Then I’ll read what the author wrote. She’s incredible, and kids love her books. I hope I can learn from her how to make my own magic! It’s always in the revision!
Sarah’s advice to writers/illustrators:
“Read as many recent books in the category you write (picture books, middle grade, etc.) as you can, paying special attention to the books that have been most successful in the market. Don’t give up! It’s a tough industry and persistence is key.”
Meet Jess Harold! She’s an editor at Scholastic, who works on picture books, graphic novels, and novels that center marginalized voices.
Her first talk was all about Picture Perfect Books! The books kids love. The ones they want to hear every night. There wasn’t anything new, but it’s great to hear I’m on the right track. That I’m working on those things that will make my manuscripts better.
Her second, How to Market Yourself! was another review, another confirmation that I’m on the right track. I post on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. I’ve written query letters and pitches, but I’d never thought of including my social media numbers on them.
Jess reminded me to keep my comp titles current. Comp titles help agents and editors get a feel for a manuscript. Her last tip – to have 3 high resolution photos, of me, ready to use. I have a little updating to do!
Jess’ advice to writers/illustrators:
Don’t put all your focus into one project; make sure your portfolio is wide-reaching and eclectic!
Meet Allison Remcheck! She’s an Associate Agent at Stimola Literary Studio who says it’s a bit like a treasure hunt to find the books that speak to her most easily.
Crafting a Mysterious Mystery, had 2 parts. I finished the first half, but didn’t get to the second. I don’t write mysteries, but the first half resonated with me. It reminded me of the things books should have.
Stakes – something your main character will lose, if they fail.
Character Arc – the growth your main character makes because of their 3 tries to win the goal. Each try must become a little harder.
Theme – the central idea that’s at the heart of your story.
Take-Away – what your reader will learn or experience after finishing your book.
Allison’s advice to writers/illustrators:
It sounds really cliché, but the best advice I could give an author or an illustrator, is to really love the project you are working on, to write what pleases you, and don’t worry about trying to follow trends, or pushing yourself to conform to a popular genre or style. If your work is genuine, it will stand out. Be the trend-setter, worry about what you do well, not what you think will sell well.
Meet Weslie Turner! She is a Senior Editor at the Versify imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Weslie has edited books for all ages,
Her first talk, Character Creation: What Dice and Dungeon Masters Taught Me About Storytelling. I’ve created characters before like Neil in NEIL ARMSTRONG’S WIND TUNNEL DREAM, or Zoe in LAKE FUN FOR YOU AND ME, but I’ve never done it like this before . . . with Dungeons and Dragons.
Weslie’s version involves writing about your new character and the things they do. The next step - to write a conversation between characters. I could have a new character talk to an old one. I could also have them write or talk to a character another author created. We’d both gain from the experience.
Her second talk, Revolutionary Books: Publishing Stories That Create Change. There was nothing new in this talk, but it was nice to take a trip down memory lane, and look at some of my favorite books.
THE SNOWY DAY was one of them. I didn’t realize it was ground breaking when I got it in 2nd grade. Peter was the first black main character in a picture book. The important thing to me, and to other kids - I knew I loved his story! I still do!
I think every writer wants to write that story, the one that gives a kid a new perspective. Fingers crossed, someday, I write that story!
Wesley’s advice to writers/illustrators:
Seek out and listen to conversations about diversity, representation, and equity happening in the industry. Listen to people asking for more / better representation, listen more than you talk, and then when you think you have something to say, listen more.
Meet The Mazza Museum! I wish I could introduce you to Ben Sapp, the Director of the Museum, but I couldn’t find any photos. Ben has been with the museum for 25 year, and he knows it in – and out.
The Mazza Museum has grown over the years to include over 13,000 pieces of art, all of them illustrations from children’s books.
You’ll never see all 13,000 pieces on display at once. Only 3% is shown in the 6 galleries at one time. That’s about 390 illustrations.
The rest – stored away in their special climate-controlled vault. I copied 3 rows of illustrations, the work of 12 illustrators, from Mazza’s website, to give you an idea of the incredible riches stored away at the University of Findlay’s Mazza Museum. You can visit online, or in person.
Cheryl Harness Chris Raschka Dave Szalay Deborah Freedman
E.B. Lewis Gianna Marino Lindsay Ward Matt Faulkner
Pamela Johnson Paul Owen Lewis Rebecca Gibbon Wendell Minor
This is the cover of one of Mazza’s favorite author/illustrators, Patricia Palacco. I was lucky – I heard her speak at Mazza. I got to see the real Keeping Quilt, to hear her talk about it. She donated it to the museum, not to her grandchildren. They’ll get a copy they can enjoy, and play with, like Patricia did.
It’s an incredible gift, to an incredible institution. Did you know there was a time when children’s illustrators were not considered ‘real artists?’
Maybe that’s why Mazza has such a special place in the heart of so many famous illustrators. It was on my bucket list to have a book at Mazza, not as an illustrator – I draw stick people!
I was there for their last Funday Sunday before Covid. The next event was cancelled . BUT, if you click on this link, you can see what’s going on at Mazza right now
Here’s the link to their home page . . . https://www.mazzamuseum.org/ . . .
Click, and you can learn more about Mazza and what they can do for you. If you visit the Buckeye state, check out Mazza, and then head over to Dietz’s ice cream/chocolate. They’re two great reasons to visit Findlay!
Meet Nichole de las Heras! She is a Senior Art Director at Random House Children’s Books, where she oversees board books, picture books, and early chapter books.
Her first talk was Picture Book Making 101 for the Illustrator. Nichole took you step-by-step through the nuts and bolts of making a picture book. From when the illustrator receives the manuscript and creates initial sketches, to publication.
It’s an incredible process. I worked with Cole Roberts to do 6 black and white illustrations, then the cover. We started with thumbnails and worked our way up. We went through 3 different phases. It was amazing to watch him create the images you see in our book.
Her other talk, What Makes a Good Portfolio? was about what Nichole, as an art director looks for when she looks through an artist’s work to decide if she wants to hire him.
Nichole’s advice to writers/illustrators:
Work to develop your own personal style/voice—your uniqueness will set you apart. Also, think quality over quantity for pieces in your portfolio.
When I write, I can only have one voice in my head, mine. A little noise is fine. But too much, or worse yet, WORDS, and I must change rooms or pull out headphones. Then I can write on!