Posted by: Kathy Temean | February 1, 2012


I am just getting back in the swing of things after the SCBWI Winter Conference this past weekend. I didn’t get any sleep, so I really needed to catch up. The conference in NYC is exactly like the city – rush, rush, fast, fast, and exciting. The big conferences are fun, because you get to see old SCBWI friends, provides opportunity to meet new SCBWI friends, and leaves you inspired to get back on track with your writing and illustrating.

The picture below is of the Illustrator Portfolio Showcase that was on display for the invitation only Editor/Agent/ Regional Advsior cocktail party on Friday night. I always love going through all the illustrator’s portfolios and came home with a pile of postcards that I can use to contact illustrators for Illustrator Saturday. Lots of talent in that room.

The next night there was a cocktail party for the attendees, where I asked Susan Brody if she would write up something about the conference. You will find the write-up below the picture. If anyone else would like me to post something about the conference, please send it. And if you have pictures, I love posting pictures.

Here is Susan Brody:

As someone who has not attended one of these national events for at least 5 years, the conference was REALLY big. Twelve hundred attendees, from 49 states and, I think, 11 foreign countries.

Saturday began with a very funny keynote speech by Chris Crutcher, focusing on the many highly creative ways his older brother found to torture him while they were growing up, including convincing him to serve as a live target for BB gun practice (it did not end well), and the fact that young Chris somehow never learned that when his brother proposed, “Wanna do something neat?”, the only self-protective response would have been to run in the other direction.

As a footnote, Chris added that he finally confronted his brother, now a respectable accountant, at a family dinner a few years ago, and his brother denied everything: “He’s a fiction writer, for God’s sake!” So much for all of our credibility!

The next event was a thoroughly depressing publishers’ panel, consisting of the thoughts of some very knowledgeable and experienced professionals about the current state of the children’s book market. The gist of it can be summed up with one quote: “This is a bestseller business. Make no mistake about that.”

From there, we moved on to breakout sessions, interrupted by lunch on your own, then followed by another two workshops. The day ended with a cocktail party, a few specialized mixers, and, in my case, a jolly New Jersey group dinner at a nice Italian restaurant.

On Sunday, the remarkable Jane Yolen gave a profoundly humble speech in which she identified herself as a “midlist author” and revealed that she currently has about 30 unsold books and that half her published books are out of print.

“Yes,” she said, “I still get rejections, and yes, they still hurt.” In honor of those who toil in the midlist, whom she called the “warhorses” of the industry, who “write steadily and well” but have found themselves struggling in recent years to get their books out, Jane announced that she is establishing the Jane Yolen Midlist Author Grant. In future years authors may apply or be nominated for the grant, but this year Jane has decided to award her two smaller grants to Ann Whitford Paul and Barbara Diamond Goldin, and her larger grant to Mary Whittington, a writer Jane called her “hero.”

I attended the agents’ panel, and found them to be a more optimistic and encouraging bunch, compared to the publishers’ panel. That being said, the consensus seems to be that in order to sell these days, a book needs to have a clearly defined “hook.” As Ken Wright of Writers House observed, an agent can no longer “acquire a book just because you like it. You need to know where it will fit in the marketplace.”

Regina Brooks, founder of Serendipity Agency, told us that in submitting our work, authors now need to give thought to how it might be “positioned”: who is our niche audience? If the book has a “global reach,” so much the better. We also (as if we didn’t know) need to have a social media presence; Regina sees “so much pressure” in that direction, both on authors and on agents. On a bright note, however, Regina is possessed of the mystical belief that for all of us in the trenches, there is an agent out there who is our “soul mate,” and we just need to do the work to find him/her.

Ken Wright might or might not believe in soul mates, but described himself as “the more literary guy;” for him, the key is good writing, combined with what he knows particular editors are looking for. Ken advised writers to do their homework before approaching agents, and to show that they’ve done their homework. No agent wants a submission that’s not appropriate for him, and, Ken said, “I don’t want to be your book’s first reader.”

Chris Richman from Upstart Crow Literary advised writers to form critique groups and to have their manuscripts read not by their friends, but by their enemies, who won’t pull punches.

The subject of the closing keynote, delivered by Kathryn Erskine, was “focus”, which can be divided into five components.

Freedom: believe in yourself; put all your daily tasks and other distractions into a waiting room, and tell them you’ll get to them when you’re done working; “think about that one kid out there that needs you.”

Organization (again with the tech stuff!): make electronic folders for each aspect of your work: business, marketing, works in progress, etc.

Creativity: take care of yourself; daydream; if you get stuck, try techniques like sitting down and interviewing your character, or eavesdrop on him/her.

Understanding: what is it you’re trying to say with your book? Get out and do research. As much as you can, literally experience your story. Do the things your characters do, and go where they go.

Sharing: let your baby out into the world, but make sure it’s well-prepared when you do. And start connecting to your readers before you send your baby out. Make a book trailer to generate excitement. Do school visits, book signings.

Kathryn’s ultimate message: grit is what leads to success. We need talent PLUS determination. DON’T GIVE UP!!!

In sum, it was a good conference, but it also made me appreciate even more how fortunate we at NJSCBWI are to have Kathy Temean as our guardian angel. At our annual conference, unlike the national one, not only are the editors and agents encouraged to get out there and mingle with us, including sharing meals with us; they also open themselves up to submissions from conference attendees, and individually tell us exactly how to do it. These are invaluable tools for us who are still trying to meet our “soul mate” agents and get our babies out of the nest and into the world!

Thank you Susan. I shortened the article, but everyone can read the full report by going to Susan’s Blog

Talk tomorrow,



  1. I followed the SCBWI official conference blog, but Susan Brody’s notes gave me a real flavor of the tone and the emotional highlights (and lowlights). Thank you for sharing!


  2. Kathy, I am so glad I am a follower! I wanted to let you know that I presented you with the Versatile Blogger Award as your posts have help me to grow as a writer! You can find my post here ( Thanks for all you do for new writers like myself!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: