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1. Thank You, and We'll See You in New York February 10-12, 2017

hard at work

From all of us on SCBWI Team Blog, thanks for joining us for the 2016 SCBWI Summer Conference.

We hope to see you in New York City, February 10-12, 2017, for #NY17SCBWI. The 2017 SCBWI Winter Conference will include full-day intensives for both writers & illustrators, a juried portfolio showcase with a grand prize, workshops, keynotes, the opportunity to network with top editors, art directors, agents and publishers, and so much more!

From left to right, your SCBWI Team Blog: Don Tate, Jolie Stekly, Martha Brockenbrough, Jaime Temairik, and Lee Wind

Thanks to Kim Turrisi and Linda Sue Park for the pictures!

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2. Ellen Hopkins: Keep Your Eyes on the Real Prize

Ellen Hopkins

Ellen Hopkins is a poet and the award-winning author of eleven New York Times best-selling young adult novels-in-verse and three adult novels. Her twelfth YA is Traffik (McElderry Books, November, 2015) and her third adult novel, Tangled, was released spring 2015. She is a current an SCBWI Board member. http://www.ellenhopkins.com

Ellen shares that 15 years ago, she was sitting in the audience like we are. She'd written and published 20 nonfiction titles, and tells us the drive behind writing CRANK, her novel in verse that broke out and made her career.

Maybe as a way to give meaning to her pain, and maybe as a way to prevent others from experiencing the same pain.

She wanted to reach readers, not get awards.

When Crank was published by Simon & Schuster in 2004 (with a very modest advance) Ellen had to figure out how to get the book into people's hands. She responded to every email and message she received from readers -- and still does. She plugged into the community on Myspace (the social media platform at the time), and when her 3rd YA novel in verse was publicized on their home page, it took off. It became a New York Times bestseller, which then led to the first two becoming best sellers as well.

She's telling us about how her journey has progressed, with success and travel and family and through it all, working on her books. Touring with great authors. Books doing well. Book challenges. Author challenges, too. writing, revising, copy edits, short stories, social media 2 hours of every day. Readers taking senior photos with her books and tattooing her words on their bodies.

And when things got really tough in her life, one of the things that got her through was the readers who kept contacting her and telling her how much her writing meant to them.

She challenges us to consider our current goals - is it awards, bestseller lists, or is it relationships with readers, teachers, librarians, editorial teams, and publishing houses.

If we can make a living from our art, that is living the dream.

But we need to remember our readers: they are why we are here.

Keep your eyes on the real prize. Making a positive difference in kids' lives with our books.

The audience gives Ellen a standing ovation!

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3. Children’s Book Awards: How Judging Happens: Linda Sue Park

This afternoon, Linda Sue Park spoke about children’s book awards and the process of picking winners. The audience was captivated. 

In addition to being an award-winning author herself (she’s won more than 100 awards and counting), she has served on various award committees, including SCBWI grants, Golden Kite, Kirkus Prize, and the National Book Award. 

Park delivered her talk with no visuals or props. Her vibrant personality and wonderful storytelling was the only thing needed to capture her audience’s attention. She explained the very complex process of reading and culling several hundred books, and balancing committees (race, sex, geography). She broke down some of the criteria of various awards.  

Park is a true champion of good books. She fought hard for books she believed should win. But sometimes her choices did not. She spoke about some of Monday morning quarterbacking that always follows the announcement of an award. Why didn’t this book win? Or why didn’t that book win? “Kibitzing is a good thing, though,” she said, “but no one out out there goes over these books like the awards committees do.” 

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4. Deborah Halverson: Up-to-the-Minute Market Report

Deborah Halverson is the award-winning author of Writing New Adult Fiction and Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies as well as teen novels Big Mouth and Honk if You Hate Me, the picture book Letters to Santa, and three books in the Remix series for struggling readers. Formerly an editor at Harcourt Children's Books and now a freelancer specializing in Young Adult/Middle Grade fiction.

Children's book revenues have stayed relatively the same from last year to this year. YA has declined slightly. Nonfiction sales rose greatly. Note: Adult coloring books were included in that category. Board books, paper backs, picture books all saw a rise in sales. E-books stayed steady but print books were on the rise. People are consumers of both print and digital. Audio books have livened and revenues increased, and more titles were produced.

The number of indie bookstores increased by 60 new stores last year.

Opportunities in this market place:

If you are a member of SCBWI you have access to the THE BOOK. It has up-to-date information on publishers and submissions.

The picture book performance is vigorous, so there is healthy acquisition but high competition. Creativity is being rewarded in the market place.

The opportunity with chapter books lies with getting in with a publisher to write a chapter book series. This is a challenging area.

Graphic novels within middle grade is an area that's getting a lot of attention right now. It's been rising steadily.

Middle grade fiction is a great place to be. Editors are asking agents for it. Broad opportunities here.

There's a lot of YA out there right now. It's very saturated, especially in contemporary realism.

Consistent feeling that children's publishing is a good place.

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5. Member Book Sale

Just a few of the tables filled with proud members with their books….

r to l: Kat Yeh, Robin Yardi, Ann Whitford Paul, and Dianne White
l to r: Anna Shinoda, Linda Joy Singleton, Sharon Skinner, and David Case (writing as Jax Spenser)

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6. Molly B. Burnham: The Anatomy of a Banana (Writing, Humor, and All Its Mushiness)

Molly B. Burnham

Molly B. Burnham is the author of the Teddy Mars series and this year’s winner of the Sid Fleishman Humor Award. At one time she studied theater but gave it up to write. She holds a Masters in Elementary Ed., and an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults. She has taught emotionally challenged high school students, as well as kindergartners and third graders. Before that she walked dogs, scooped ice cream, and worked at a number of record stores and bookstores. At various times during the day, she can be found eating pie at The Florence Pie Bar, which is just around the corner from where she lives. Visit: www.mollybburnham.com

Molly's session is jam packed with info, exercises, and attendees. Some highlights:

"writing is a joy, and a privilege"

Humor must be grounded in your character; their voice, actions, experience and P.O.V. all have to have a veil of humor to them.

She reviews the academic side of humor (there are three main themes: relief, superiority and incongruity) and walks us through some examples, including how in her Teddy Mars: Almost a World Record Breaker, at one point the kids try to break the world record of breaking walnuts upon against their own heads. The idea is funny, but if the kid gets a concussion while trying this, it's not funny.

If a character only sees the sad and miserable side of everything, it's not funny.

She talks about POWER, and how if your character is powerless, it's not funny.

Molly covers additional elements of writing humor (including enthusiasm, opinions, and following the logic of scene.) She also walks us through some of her favorite exercises for writing comedy.

An excellent session!

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7. Krista Marino: After the Contract; What You Can Do To Make Your Book A Success

Krista Marino

Krista Marino is an Executive Editor at Delacorte Press (Random House Children's Books) where she acquires and edits young adult and middle grade fiction. Some of the books on her list include the Maze Runner series by James Dashner, the Reckoners series by Brandon Sanderson, and the Nightmares! series by Jason Segel and Kirsten Miller. Other books she’s published include The Mark of the Dragonfly by Jaleigh Johnson, These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly, The Darkest Corners by Kara Thomas, and the young adult works of Matt de la Peña. Krista is always looking for strong new voices, innovative concepts, and great stories for her list. @KristaMarino on Twitter.

Along with a robust handout and an overflow crowd (they had to bring in extra rows of chairs), Krista's session is packed with information and tips. She talks about timelines (what to do before publication and after), the importance of agents, and how being published early isn't always what's best for your book.

Some highlights...

On blurbs:

you want it on the galley or ARC, and the best way to get one is author to author.

On social media:

"the biggest part right now of putting yourself ahead of the pack."

She also shared three authors who do twitter really well: Nicola Yoon, Melissa Grey, and James Dashner.

On school visits:

And how she's seen them play such an important role in careers, like for Matt de la Pena, Chris Gravenstein and James Dashner.

And there's so much more shared in this invaluable breakout session!

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8. Pam Muñoz Ryan: Getting Un-stuck: Creativity as a Mind-set

Pam Muñoz Ryan is the author of New York Times best-seller ECHO, a 2016 Newbery Honor book and winner of the Kirkus Prize. She has written over 40 books for young readers.

Pam approaches writing with the idea that the story already exists and that it's her job to find it.

Pam shares many ideas on getting unstuck:

Consider approaching your writing in a new way. Try writing something outside your comfort zone (poetry, screenplay, etc.) to push your limits and boundaries. You might find that it seeps into your stories, giving it some freshness.

Consider going on writing retreats.  Get away and it might help you see things differently.

Things that help Pam when writing in her office:

Playing games with herself, like writing until the dryer goes off.

Pam likes to have music playing. It helps to keep her in the zone.

Pam uses a daruma doll (also referred to as a goal doll) for each of her projects to encourage her to finish.

Pam has friends who like to work out of the office occasionally. That doesn't work for her, but it might for you.

If you can't see your characters in your mind or imagine them, consider going online to find them. Google to find an image that might represent your character and help you see him or her better.

If you ever get stuck, write from another POV or character. It's a useful exercise.

In ECHO Pam created an original fairy tale for the story. A fairy tale is all telling, not showing. This was hard for her because it felt like she was writing against all she had learned. Pam recommends using it as an exercise: write your story as a fairy tale synopsis. It might help you create a format for your story.

Be careful about using never and always and can't when you think of your writing and process. Those words can become self-fulfilling prophecies.

Silence welcomes ideas.

Write with wild abandon. Release, not control.

If you get stuck, write small, not big.

Know that all writers get trapped or stuck.

Stop thinking and start feeling. The mechanics of it can get in your way.

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9. Melissa Manlove: Facts Meets Feelings - Narrative Nonfiction

Kate Messner (L) and Melissa Manlove (R)
Melissa Manlove is an editor at the legendary Chronicle Books in San Francisco. She acquires nonfiction for all age groups, and fiction for ages 0-8—mostly visual books.

Often nonfiction writers want to portray a clear view of the world with logic. The problem is that human beings respond to the world with their emotions.

Good nonfiction speaks to the heart and to the head.

We need to learn to jump from fact to feeling. As soon as your gut recognizes something that's important, the brain remembers it. "As humans we are very different from each other in the facts of our lives. But we are alike in our feelings."

"Narrative arc is about the journey from one state to another. It is about transformation." Sometimes it's about the character, and sometimes it's about the narrator who's transformed by information.

She gave us a few examples of how this works in books.

"Fear comes from knowing something terrible is happening but not seeing all of it," she said. That's dread—so that's how you'd make something scary. (See Katherine Roy's NEIGHBORHOOD SHARKS for a glorious example of moving from fear to wonder.)

Don Brown's DROWNED CITY, about New Orleans, takes us from dread to frustration to resolve.

JOSEPHINE by Patricia Hruby Powell and Christian Robinson, takes us on Josephine's transformation from fear and anger to hope and pride and triumph. There is a universality in her reaction as well as a uniqueness.

OVER AND UNDER THE SNOW by Kate Messner and Chris Silas Neal explores the isolation of being on top of snow and builds connection to creatures keeping safe in pockets beneath it.

Nonfiction helps us understand ourselves and the world around us—and can change the world. "Humans are good at thinking," she said. "The thing we're even better at is caring."

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10. Caroline Arnold: Creating Eye-Catching Nonfiction for the Very Young

Caroline Arnold, author and illustrator of more than 100 books for children, shared insights to her book-making process. She began her session by recalling warm memories of her long history with the SCBW (there was no “I” when she joined). 

Arnold has illustrated many of her books with photographs. But some things are difficult to photograph and present lighting issues, she explained. For that reason, she started illustrating her books with drawings, which, she felt, made storytelling more interesting.

In her breakout session, Arnold spoke about the various types of nonfiction and informational books that she’s illustrated, and shared some things bookmakers might consider when creating stories for young readers:

A Journey from A to B
Zoom and telephoto (pulling out and zooming in to demonstrate size)

Variation on a theme

Reflect tradition from day to night.


Learn to research with a camera; your camera is a research tool!

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Jenni Holm is here today to tell us that currently, children's graphic novel/comics publishing is a veritable Wild Wild West, the processes of acquisition and production are different for all publishing houses, but the ones that ARE making kids comics are behind them whole hog, which is great to hear!

She recommends you read the Comics Making Bible, aka Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud. (I'd add the New Testaments of Comics Making are Jessica Abel and Matt Madden's Drawing Words & Writing Pictures plus the follow up, Mastering Comics.)

She briefly tells us how comics were written, and shows us how the actual script pages compare: the old standard Stan Lee Method, the exhaustive/OCD Alan Moore method, and the classic, screenwriting style of script like a Joss Whedon would use. Jenni recommends using a screenplay format or her storyboard format as mentioned below, but probably NOT the Marvel Comic or Alan Moore format, which most traditional children's book editors might not be familiar with.

All do in some way separate out visually in the script the dialogue vs. action vs. narration. How do you use each part in your graphic novel script?

Dialogue: Same as prose, only now in speech bubbles!

Narration: More complicated, primarily used for scene transitions, major backgroun set-up, or increasingly internal monologue, occasionally even as a character, like the snarky narrator in BABYMOUSE.

Action: Stage directions/everything else that happens.

Jenni shares with us the various ways you rough out a comic, different types of storyboards, some of which are artist driven (sketches are fairly fleshed out and laid out and basic composition is done), some that are author driven.


Jenni and Matt's graphic novels always start with story first. Jenni and Matt come up with a log line, and then Jenni starts planning the story with this sort of storyboard:

Jenni already knows that the final published BABYMOUSE is going to be 96 pages, which equals about 56 pages of this storyboard.

After Jenni writes it all out, it goes to Matt, and then the editor, and when everybody loves it, it goes back to Matt for thumbnailing.

Those thumbnails get laid out page by page and are then sent to the art director who double checks it for clarity and printing guidelines.

After that it goes back to Matt to do the final art and color spotting!


Jenni lists the children's publishers doing kid's comics today:

GRAPHIX (probably biggest commercial titles publisher via Scholastic)
First Second (all ages/arty)
Random House (younger/elementary school)
ABRAMS (Nathan Hale and Cece Bell, Wimpy Kid)
TOON BOOKS (via Candlewick, super young end of spectrum)
DC and MARVEL (may want to start YA)
BOOM STUDIOS (Lumberjanes)

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12. How to Create a Book Series: Matt Ringler

Matt Ringer rocking theBabysitters Club hat.
Matt Ringler is an Executive Editor at Scholastic, specializing in chapter books, middle grade, and YA fiction.

Benefits of series;

  • With series, you know what you're going to get out of it. Often this helps to keep kids reading. 
  • Any new book in a series sells the books that came before it.
  • There's also a physical element in the bookstore. A series takes up more space, each book helping the other be recognized/noticed.

With series you have to stick with what works while it's working, but also be adaptable when that stops.

The Puppy Place series has almost reached 50 books. Ellen Miles has figured out a format that works. Each book is basically a stand alone, but it will be familiar to the reader each time. This consistency is important for young readers. In each Puppy Place book, a puppy will have an issue, go to a foster family, by the end someone adopts the dog, and it all feels good .

These books don't win awards but they teach kids to read.

Sometimes a book finds a great deal of success but wasn't intended to be series, but then is asked to be one. This can be challenging.

There are many ways to do a series.  It's about finding something that works.

There's nothing that doesn't have series potential for Matt. Another editor who primarily works with stand alone books may not look at a book's series potential in the same way.

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13. Neal Shusterman: Lessons in World Building

Neal Shusterman won both the National Book Award and Golden Kite for CHALLENGER DEEP, his novel about mental illness.

"What I know about world building doesn't come from books, unless you count the books I've written. I was a bad world-builder when I first started."

World building is the hardest thing we can do as writers. We sometimes learn this the hard way. He's come up with 10 rules of world building (a few of which we'll share here).

  1. There are no rules except for the ones you make. 
  2. Be prepared to live by the rules you make. 
  3. Logic, logic, logic. Story must follow logic and characters must act accordingly. 

When you're writing realistic fiction, you get to play god. When you're creating worlds, you're not just playing god, you're being god. There is increased responsibility. With world building, everything is up for grabs (including gravity).

You have to live by the rules that you've created.

You can't just throw something out there and not follow through the ramifications of that. So, if everyone disappears, that means planes that were in the air crash. How does that affect your story?

For example, what are five real-world implications of reading other people's minds?

  1. You'd automatically know guilt or innocence
  2. Everyone's head would be filled with noise
  3. Romantic relationships would go upside down
  4. We'd all know who you're really voting for
  5. There would be no surprise
OK. What are two ramifications of knowing people's guilt or innocence? 
  1. There is no need for a justice system. 
  2. You'd change who you spent time with. 
So, you go through implications and their ramifications, and this is how you create a world bit by bit. Start with the simplest thing and look at all of the ramifications. Keep building on those ramifications and you will end up with a world that is extremely believable. 

"We need to approach the world from the inside out." 

When you create the world, the world becomes a character and you have to deal with that. When you're building a universe, the smallest changes have big effects. You have to be careful with that. 

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14. KEYNOTER SOPHIE BLACKALLLLLLL!!!! Foraging for Stories

Sophie at the Gates Foundation with her artwork for the Measles and Rubella Initiative because she's so effing amazing. http://measlesrubellainitiative.org/sophie-blackall/
While there is nothing like hearing Sophie Blackall speak in person — and seeing the treasure trove of images that make up her slideshows — you can get a bit of a taste of this morning's speech by reading her Caldecott acceptance speech so kindly available online at The Horn Book.

Sophie also shares some photos of the installation of her collections she put together for Brooklyn Public Library, an installation that is as wild and fascinating as anything you'd find at the Natural Museum of History (both Sophie's installation and the American Museum of Natural History have penguins, but Sophie's wears a top hat).

REALLY, if you're not here today to hear Sophie, the best thing you can do is go buy all of Sophie's thirty or so books, immediately.

And also read her excellent blog, which tells in depth the making-of stories behind many of her books, including Finding Winnie as well as posts about her time in places like Rwanda or the DRC, where she was lucky enough to meet amazing kids and families.

Sophie ends with an Annie Dillard quote:

One of the things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.

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Congratulations to Jackie Dorothy and Judy Allen Dodson, 2015 SCBWI On-The-Verge Emerging Voices Award winners! Here's a quick Q&A with these talented new voices:

Why do you write for children?

Jackie Dorothy (JD): I'm at kid at heart and my most fun reading adventures have been with kid lit so it was a natural fit for me to write what I love to read! And they are a fun audience.

Judy Allen Dobson (JAD): My passion is to write for children so that they understand the rich history that African Americans have contributed to our great country. Children need to see book characters that look like them which can give them the hope and courage they need to achieve in life.

What does it mean to you to win the
Emerging Voices Award?

JD: I'm so honored to win this award. For me, winning this award has provided a platform to introduce the Arapaho people to the world! Woo3onoheinoo henee heeteinon'eino'! (I'm writing about the Arapaho people.)

JAD: The Emerging Voices award has given me a platform to have my voice be heard. This award has not only given me the courage I needed to take my writing to the next level but it has also validated the need for diversity in literary market.

How do you hope this recognition will help you further your career goals?

JD: When I won the award, my secret came out - I'm a writer! The local paper ran the story and I lost count of the surprised reactions that were all positive. It has already opened some doors for me and led to some great opportunities.

JAD: Being an Emerging Voices winner has allowed me to connect with other writers, editors, agents, and publishers at a higher level. I'm taken more seriously now by others as a writer which means they know I've put in the work and are willing to hear what I have to say. This is the best feeling in the world to have people look at your writing and go "Yep, I see great potential so let me help you."

What is your best advice for other emerging voices?

JD:  Keep writing! Don't stop! My winning entry, Wind Rider, a middle grade magical adventure, is still looking for a home. While I shopped that out, I worked on a second project which has sold! A publisher has picked up my picture book about the Cottonwood Star Legend. So the lesson here is to never stop writing and never stop trying.

JAD: I want to say thank you to Lin Oliver, Stephen Mooser, and Sue and Martin Schmitt for believing that diversity in literature matters to children of the world. Without all of them the On-the-Verge New Voices award would not exist at SCBWI. So my advice to the writers of color who want to be the next Emerging Voices winner is to put in the work, believe in yourself, and be the change you want to see in the world today.

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16. Portfolio Award Winners

This year the portfolio showcase award winner its Oge Mora, who is the first-ever Student Illustrator Scholarship winner as well. That's a first for the SCBWI. She wins a trip to NYC and meetings with art directors there. 

Honors went to these talented artists.

Andy Musser:

Amy Hevron

Allison Farrell

The SCBWI also awarded mentorships to Susie Ghahremani, Katie Carberry, Shahrzad Maydani, Sansu Joh, Liz Wong and Alison Farrell. The award is meant to help promising artists achieve a new level of success.

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17. Agent Panel: Erica Rand Silverman

Erica Rand Silverman is an agent at Stimola Literary Studio primarily interested in books for and about children. Prior to being an agent she was a high school teacher, working with at-risk kids. Stimola Literary is a small, boutique agency with a passionate team and a family feel. They are very selective, representing picture books through young adult.

How you decide to take on a new client:

Erica is very picky about what's she's looking for. She wants to work with clients who have a true sense of purpose in their work. She wants to fall in love with their work, and to connect with the people she chooses to work with. Erica wants to clients who know who they are trying to reach, what they are trying to say, and why.

What is it in a query that makes you want to see the work?

Be professional. Don't send out blanket queries. Erica appreciates it when people are personal in their queries, and coming to her for a reason. People can focus too much on the query, but it really all comes down to the work. Erica has to love it.

How editorial are you?

Erica loves the process of talking to an author about something that's not working and figuring out together. There's magic in that.

How would you characterize the climate for sales?

It's great to see independent book stores coming back to life. It's wonderful to see small, independent  publishers being recognized for their work.

Anything we should know about?

The Common Core has created a need for more informational books. It's creating more narrative nonfiction and the mash-up between nonfiction and fiction. It's all new, causing bookstores, etc. are trying to figure out where they fit and where to shelve them.

What is one common question that you hear from people and what's the answer to it?

Are you accepting queries?

Have you read my query yet?
Since Erica is new to Stimola Literary, she has a lot of queries. She will read all of them. If she hasn't gotten to it yet, she will.

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18. Agent Panel: Ginger Clark


On taking on a new client:
Responds strongly to voice—how the character sounds. And most important, has to feel strongly that she can sell your book. Even if she loves the voice in a manuscript, she has to be able to sell it, or must pass on representation.

On querying:
Keep your query straightforward and professional. Don’t query in the voice of your character. No gimmicks. Don't get too personal. No jokes. And, oh, don’t flirt.

On being an editorial agent:
Agents have to be these days.

On contracts:

Consider agencies who belong to the Association of Authors' Representatives—sorta like looking for that Good Housekeeping symbol. 

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19. LA Portfolio Showcase 2016!

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20. Happy Hour Hangouts

A new opportunity at the SCBWI Summer Conference, these informal conversations with faculty members including agents and artist reps (Ginger Clark, Erica Rand Silverman, Tina Wexler, Kirsten Hall and Brooks Sherman) and editors and publishers (Krista Marino, Neal Porter, Sara Sargent, Melissa Manlove, Stacey Barney, Kat Brzozowski, and Reka Simonsen) are a big hit!

Attendees with agent Ginger Clark

Attendees with Publisher Neal Porter

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21. It's the Agent Panel!

Moderated by Lin Oliver (standing, far left), the agent panelists are, left to right: Victoria Wells Arms (Victoria Wells Arms Agency), Ginger Clark (Curtis Brown, Ltd.), Kirsten Hall (her own agency, Catbird), Brooks Sherman (The Bent Agency), Erica Ran Silverman (Stimola Literary Studio), and Tina Wexler (ICM Partners.)

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22. Photos From the Red Carpet Ball!

Glamour! Fun! Kid Lit Creativity! The Red Carpet Ball had it all…

Allow me to be your Red Carpet blog host...

Front and Back, some artistic carpets!

Now THAT'S a hat!
Glamour and a great message
Storybook realness

Maurice Sendak realness (with their own security force!)
Watch out! It's the Fashion Police - and they were writing people up!  (I got a 'fine," which seemed like a nice compliment…)
And then they were off!
And the dance floor was hopping all night long…


Whooping it up!

And there! On the Dance Floor… Lin and Steve having a ball at the ball!
What an evening - Thank you, and good night!

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23. Agent Panel: Brooks Sherman

Brooks Sherman is an agent at the Bent Agency. He took a more roundabout path to publishing. He studied theater, went to work for a talent agency, and then joined the Peace Corps after being a Hollywood agent.

There are nine agents at his agency, and he represents authors and illustrators picture books, and middle grade, and YA (and would love to do adult books as well). He remains a theater geek, and the new Netflix show "Stranger Things" is the sort of thing that lights him up and reminds him of his childhood.

"I have the arrogance of assuming that if I love something, other people are going to love it too." He does make a distinction between loving a project and recognizing its excellence—and realizing it's not for him. For example, he was completely unimpressed with Twilight when it came out, and everyone was walking about it. "It was a nice ego check. Just because I don't like something doesn't mean it doesn't have cultural relevance."

If he does get something and loves it, he has to try selling it.

The first thing he looks for is voice. It's not just about liking the story, it's about liking how the story is told, because he's going to spend a lot of time with those characters.

He wants to represent careers, and likes to know what other ideas potential clients have in mind. He also wants to make sure potential clients agree with his notes and can have a conversation about these things. Shared vision is important. "I don't want to impose my own [vision] over it."

In a query, Brooks likes to get a sense of you, your idea, your professional demeanor, and your writing chops. "Based on those things, I'm going to look at your pages and see if I connect to the voice."

The marketplace is crowded and competitive, so he is editorial with his clients. "A project has to be that close to perfect before an editor is going to get the go-ahead from the rest of their team to acquire it." He also loves that blend of creative professional.

That agents are more editorial doesn't mean you should send work you haven't made as good as you can get it. "At every step in the way, you think it's perfect, and the next person in the process takes it that much further."

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24. Acquisitions Today – Agent Panel – Tina Wexler

Fabulous Tina Wexler of ICM Partners tells us a little bit of her Super Agent Origin Story. ICM is one of the oldest agencies around with offices all over the place, Tina works at the NY office. She started there as an assistant 13 years ago and loves the brain trust that is her extended family of agents and staff.

Her list is mostly MG and YA, she's not really looking for picture books. She's excited for nonfiction YA essay collections and she also wants to represent diverse books.

TINA IS A CAT PERSON. She says that's probably all we need to know.
Lin asks what does a manuscript need for Tina to acquire it?

Tina says it's two parts, and very simple: Do I love it? Can I sell it?

As she's reading it and falling in love, can Tina start to think of names of editors she can sell it to? If she can't think of those names, Tina will pass on it in the hopes it is picked up by another great agent who can polish/position it in the way the manuscript needs to be to get that great sale and success.

Lin asks if Tina is an editorial agent: Tina agrees with the majority of the panel that she does (and most agents today do) tend to edit an acquired manuscript to be its very best before it goes out to editors (who will then revise even more). But Tina wants to point out that the author MUST first revise enough on their own until they are sure what they are submitting to an agent is at its absolute best. Don't be sending your work out in the hopes an agent will edit it into shape, you do that on your own.

Something Tina says we need to take much more seriously than we do are our buying practices:


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25. Agent Panel: Victoria Wells Arms and Kirsten Hall

Agent Victoria Wells Arms

Victoria Wells Arms started as an editor at Dial Books for Young Readers, and then Putnam. One day, she spotted an ad for an editorial director at Bloomsbury and was chosen to set up Bloomsbury USA’s children’s division. Starting with three people (and a dog), Bloomsbury grew quickly, soon hitting the bestseller lists and acquiring major awards. In 2013, Victoria opened her own agency, Wells Arms Literary, where she represents authors and illustrators for the full range of children’s books, from board books to young adult, as well as some nonfiction. Visit: www.wellsarms.com and follow her on Twitter: @VWArms and @WALiterary

Victoria shares that in addition to being sure that asking "do I love it?" and "can I sell it?" that she wants to know who a potential client is as a human being. She says

"I want to know there's depth to what you're doing, and that you're in it for the long hall." 

explaining that she doesn't represent single project, but people, for their careers.

She adds, "It feels like every one of my clients is a friend" and she wants to sign someone she wants to be friends with. No divas or those wrapped up in their egos.

Victoria says that she is an editorial agent, "I always work with them [her clients] on making it better." If she can help her clients make it better, it's that much easier for editors to take it on.

"I think it's a great time. It IS really competitive. ...But I think editors are wanting to find interesting books."

Victoria reps artists and writers.

Agent Kirsten Hall

Kirsten Hall is President of Catbird, a boutique children’s literary and illustration agency. She has brokered many hundreds of children’s book deals between authors, illustrators, and all of the major American publishers. She is also the author of many books for kids. Her first trade picture book, The Jacket, was a 2014 New York Times Notable). Kirsten opened Catbird's wings in March 2014, and she likens her agency to a creative playground. Her focus is debut talent, and she works intimately with her clients to create and develop original story pitches—especially picture books. According to Publishers Marketplace, Kirsten reported more new picture book deals in 2015 than any other agent. Visit: www.catbirdagency.com

Kirsten tells us about how she specializes in picture books.

"I can look at something and very quickly know… if it speaks to me."

She keeps it small, curated, and everyone on her team does something different.

As to queries, Kirsten loves jokes and personal and human and hates standard query letters.

How editorial is Kirsten? "I'm not." If I see something, and that there's something completely golden about it, "I present them (editors) with something they should do their job on."

Kirsten also spoke about the new hybrid titles that are merging fiction and nonfiction, called "informational" books.

"Publishing, at least in picture book land…I feel like everyone's upping their game." There's so much out there already that's good, so we authors and illustrators have to mine what's unique about what we're offering.

"That's the only way your light's going to shine in this pretty bright room."

Kirsten reps artists and writers.

"I'm really heart-based. I rely on my instincts, I think they're sharp." 

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