Friday, February 10, 2012

SCBWI Winter Conference Recap Part 3: The Breakouts

Well, today I conclude my SCBWI Winter Conference Recap with a look at the Breakout Sessions that I attended.  I should start by saying, however, that the Breakout Sessions were based mostly on Genre at this conference.  One could choose to go to Thrillers or Fantasy or Fiction or eBooks and Apps.  For someone who was looking to learn more about a certain genre to see if they were interested in trying their own hand at it it was a nice offering.  Personally, I was a little disappointed.  As a "picture book only" writer (at least at this time in my life), I felt like the offerings left a little to be desired.  But more on that later.

Here are some basic notes from the 3 sessions I attended:

Breakout #1 ~ Making Your Picture Book Stand Out (presented by Martha Rago, Executive Art Director, Harper Collins)

Martha Rago focused on her "4 Tent Poles of a Successful Picture Book)

1)  Characterization
  • emotional connection between character and reader
  • character needs to be likeable and appealing
  • character must seem real and relevant
2)  The Narrative
  • each image is a simple dynamic scene and sometimes tell more than text
  • attention paid to pacing and Point of View
  • page turns are thoughtfully considered
  • rhythmic
  • reader is "moved along"
3)  Voice
  • fresh
  • unique
  • solid and stylistic
  • this comes from trusting and loving your own work
4)  Skill
  • whatever you write, do it well
  • write with objectivity and discipline
Rago also added that in addition to these 4 Tent Poles, one should consider humor, universal appeal/resonance and form.  Bottomline, she said, was to be honest and "create from the heart"!

Breakout #2 ~ Picture Books (presented by Samantha McFerrin, Editor at Harcourt)

Samantha McFerrin focused mainly on what a writer needs to know in order to make their pb viable in today's market.  She said writers need to know a) their audience, b) competition and c) the current pb market. 

In addition, she spent time talking about what an editor looks for...mainly, promotability of the book.  In doing so, she says that editors ask themselves 4 questions.
1)  Do I love it?
2)  Is it fresh?
3)  Will I want to keep reading over and over again?
4)  Does this story need to be told?

Breakout Session #3 ~ Narrative Fiction (presented by Alvina Ling, Editorial Director at Little Brown)

Alvina Ling chose to base her talk on Narrative Fiction by focusing on a work's voice, structure and plot.  What was perhaps the most interesting here was the time spent on Structure. 

When talking about Structure, Ms. Ling told those present to be adventurous!  Be creative!  So many examples in today's market take structure to a whole new level and break away from the conventional novel format. 
  • "ttyl" by Lauren Myracle which is told completely in instant text messaging lingo.
  • "Falling for Hamlet" by Michelle Ray which is partially told in a tv talk show format.
  • "Chopsticks" by Jessica Anthony and Rodrigo Corral which is told in photographs, pictures, words and even a link.
It was refreshing to see how many alternate ways stories are being told in today's market.  We are artists.  So let's not limit ourselves to the conventional way.


As I said at the start, I don't think these sessions were anymore than an overview of the business through genre.  Perhaps nothing earth-shatteringly new was shared.  But it is always good to refresh the basics. 

All in all, the conference was a win for me.  The people I met, the connections that were made, the inspiration garnered, the time spent being treated as a was ALL PRICELESS!

Therefore, continue to join me on Fridays as we look at conferences worldwide and how to get YOU there!  Stay tuned.

Have a wonderful weekend.  And as always, Happy Writing!


  1. WOW! thank you so much for your breakout report/review! love it! it's going in my PiBoIdMo book! ;-)

    1. Of course, Louise! :) Hope to see you at a conference this year!

  2. Great recap, Marcie! I enjoyed the peek at the sessions I wasn't able to attend. One of the absolutely best parts of the conference? Meeting YOU! :)

    1. You are such a sweetheart! Glad I sat behind you and stalked you. :) Next time I will get my copy of DRAGON signed.

  3. This is a nice break down of the sessions at the conference. Thanks for sharing these editors' insights. Sorry to hear there weren't that many sessions for picture book writers this time.

  4. Thank you for your recaps! Very generous of you to take the time to share.