The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators held its virtual winter 2022 conference over the weekend, with more than 2,000 registrants listening to panels and keynotes. ASL interpreters accompanied each Zoom session, ensuring accessibility for members.
Newly elected executive director Sarah Baker welcomed attendees on Saturday, opening the sessions with an acknowledgment from the land and a “special thank you to Lin Oliver,” the co-founder of SCBWI who retired Jan. 31. “Lin is looking home, rooting for you to do a great job in children’s literature,” Baker told the gathering.
Baker previewed the changes coming to SCBWI, promising a live announcement of the organization’s 2022 Golden Kite Awards. Ain’t burnt all the shine Author Jason Reynolds will be the featured speaker at the March 15 gala, which honors children’s books published by PAL (Published and Listed) publishers SCBWI. On Monday, SCBWI released a short list of 35 finalists in seven categories, including YA/middle grade fiction, YA fiction, nonfiction texts for younger readers, nonfiction texts for older readers , picture book text, picture book illustration and illustration for older readers. Each winner will receive $2,500, plus $1,000 to donate to a nonprofit organization; honors winners each receive $500 plus an additional $250 in donation.
Baker also followed up on a letter to SCBWI members, in which she prioritized “empowering staff, improving customer service, streamlining processes and leveraging strategic partnerships” in her role of executive director. Effective immediately, SCBWI staff members Kim Turrisi, Tammy Brown, Sarah Diamond, Avery Silverberg and Laurie Miller are being promoted to expanded roles, and Chelsea Hall has been hired as an administrative assistant to support the team.
Speakers at the winter conference included Brian Selznick, who gave a public lecture on Friday. Keynotes, by registration only, included Caraval series author Stephanie Garber, Front Desk series author Kelly Yang, 2021 Boston Globe-Horn Book non-fiction winner Paula Yoo (From a whisper to a rallying cry) and Vanessa Brantley-Newton (Become Vanessa), who shared a life story of adversity and closed her speech with a cathartic rendition of “Feeling Good” that sparked appreciation from the audience.
In addition to speakers, three SCBWI “Recipe for Success” panels featured professional advice from publishers, art directors and agents. Yoo also reinforced the theme of the recipe in his keynote: a slide of his cats wearing homemade chef’s hats reminded readers to consider “ingredients” for serious historical research and diverse representation in children’s books. .
Cynthia Leitich Smith (HarperCollins/Heartdrum) moderated the editors’ panel, asking questions about the qualities that take a manuscript from strong to amazing, the importance of social media, and the acquisition process. Farrin Jacobs (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers) loves “a sad story told by funny people,” and Atlanta-based Denene Millner (Simon & Schuster/Denene Millner Books), which publishes African-American authors and illustrators, said, “Boy, I like the idea of expanding outside of New York and outside of the Northeast. These stories kind of get lost. Abrams’ Emma Ledbetter wants authors to search for categories: “Every age group, genre, format that interests you, you should approach it with the same passion. Focus on understanding these readers and what is published in this category.
Michelle Frey (Knopf Books for Young Readers) said that while social media “can take you away from your actual writing, it can be an amazing tool.” She points to the success of Erika L. Sánchez (I’m not your perfect Mexican girl), who had thousands of Twitter followers even before her groundbreaking books: “No one knew who she was yet, but she was so funny.” Millner “saw huge pre-orders” for Ebon Wings after author J. Elle formed a social media team called Rue’s Crew. Millner called the move “genius! She got this whole frame to get support for the book.
Five agents presented advice on strong queries and publishing routes. Samantha Fabien (Root Literary) echoed the class exams by reminding everyone to “keep your eyes on your own paper!” Glancing at someone else’s six-figure lead will always make you feel worse, but there’s no one path to success. Jemiscoe Chambers-Black (Andrea Brown Literary Agency) instructed the authors to “come up with 20 new ideas a month – I know that sounds like a lot, but just log the lines. Once you have 80 to 100, there will be five to 10 ideas that are good. Write blurbs for the shortlist, she said, and narrow it down to the best. Chad Beckerman (the CAT agency) asked the illustrators to refine a cohesive visual style and try a John Hendrix exercise drawing is magic: “Make a list of 100 things you like to draw.”
Above all, agents and editors advised, writers benefit from approaching the submissions process with a spirit of collaboration. Leitich Smith explained that when an editor asks for substantial revisions, it’s “not a place to go diva. If nothing else, you might end up with a better draft. Frey confirmed, “I will only give real feedback on a project if I’m interested in seeing it again.” Jacobs agreed that it was “not fun to bump into a project”, and Millner – the only editor on the panel accepting unsolicited manuscripts – reminded listeners that the editors themselves “had been through the wringer ” and shared honest feedback to improve a manuscript.
James McGowan (BookEnds Literary Agency) recommended “patience and perseverance,” adding that agents and publishers are “backed up right now,” prioritizing their clients and newly fluid publishing schedules on their lineups. waiting for pending submissions.
Armed with insider tips, SCBWI attendees can get to work on their recipes for success. Maybe the main ingredient is not so secret. “Publishing is a long scam,” admitted Thao Le (Sandra Dijkstra literary agency). “Honestly, the best way to be successful in publishing is to just keep writing.”