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Friday 12 June 2020

2020 SCBWI Winter Conference in New York City

This week guest author Verity Croker shares a prestigious writers’ event that fell before the pandemic closed international borders and cancelled conferences and events. Find out what happens when the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators gather together.

The SCBWI winter conference at the Grand Hyatt in New York City, 7-9 February 2020, was a truly inspirational professional development opportunity. 

Verity & Remy Lai

The first official event was the Golden Kite Awards Presentation Gala evening, where we were all encouraged to wear gold. The winners of the awards delivered very thoughtful and emotional speeches. The highlight was watching Remy Lai from Queensland win the Sid Fleischman Humour Award for Pie in the Sky, presented by Chris Grabenstein. It was a privilege to witness the atmosphere in the room when she was presented with this, and I felt very proud to be a fellow Australian. Congratulations Remy! After the Awards presentations, the attendees sipped bubbles and nibbled on chocolate-dipped strawberries, as we networked and perused the talented work in the Illustrators’ Portfolio Showcase.

On the Saturday, we had a full day, starting with the Welcome and Introduction by Lin Oliver, Executive Director of SCBWI, who told us there were 840 attendees from 17 different countries. Next was the opening keynote by author Kate Messner who describes herself as ‘passionately curious’. My main takeaway was to consider: What do you wonder about? Does any of that scare you? Get close to the thing that frightens you, and write about it.

Intensive breakout sessions were next. I attended ‘Marketing your book: What to do, what’s effective, and what’s not’ led by Chrissy Noh, senior marketing director at Simon & Schuster. She suggests asking your publishers to share their marketing plan with you, and discuss with them how you can best supplement what they are doing to promote your book. She also stressed that with school visits, always indicate how your book fits in with their curriculum.

'Adapting your work for film, television, and media’ led by Lin Oliver and Ellen Goldsmith-Vein (founder and CEO of The Gotham Group), was my chosen afternoon session. Ellen explained that you have to realise you are selling your work, and therefore in most cases you will not have meaningful creative input into the project, as distributors and producers want to make it their own. During this session we had the fabulous opportunity to present a one-minute elevator pitch with feedback from Ellen. Listening to her responses to everyone’s pitch proved a valuable insight into her world.

After the formal part of the day ended with a keynote from multi-award winning illustrator Jerry Pickney, we readied ourselves for the Networking Buffet Dinner, in which we were divided into regions so we could mingle with colleagues. Ours was an eclectic bunch with attendees from Australia, New Zealand, and Canada amongst others. Some connections made there continue.

The following day, the first event was an awards presentation for the Portfolio Showcase Awards, Narrative Art Award, Jane Yolen Midlist Author Award, Student Illustrator & Writer Scholarships, and the IPOC Women’s Scholarship. The first keynote was an agent and editor panel with Patrice Caldwell, Susan Dobinick, Connie Hsu, Kirby Kim, Alvina Ling, and Marietta Zacker, moderated by Lin Oliver. There was some agreement that graphic novels are wanted, as is non-fiction. It was recommended to read the last five years of published work, to follow your own compass, know your own ‘wheelhouse’, and don’t compare your journey with those of others.

My final intensive breakout session was ‘Voice, what is it?’ led by Nick Thomas, senior editor at Levine Querido, an independent children’s book publisher. Nick very generously offered us the opportunity to send him five pages of our works-in-progress before the conference, and provided us with very useful feedback. He also encouraged us to edit our work, keeping in mind his suggestions, and to submit to him over the next twelve months. What a fabulous opportunity! He said voice is what it’s like to be with you on the page, including the way you write, the way your character thinks and talks, how you show action, and how you describe setting and atmosphere. He said you must read widely, be authentic, and put in the work, always asking yourself ‘Why do I want to write this story?’.

The closing keynote was delivered by Derrick Barnes, whose book Crown is my favourite new discovery from the conference. This book and his other titles demonstrate the importance of authentic diverse books. His journey was encouraging, as at one point, even though he already had several books published, he entered a period of several years when he wrote twenty to thirty books that nobody wanted. Now, he is very successful. He asks himself, ‘What legacy do I want to leave?’, a key question for us all.

Verity Croker is the author of two young adult novels, Jilda’s Ark and May Day Mine, published by Harmony Ink Press, US, plus two middle grade chapter books, Cyclone Christmas and Block City published by Sunshine Books, NZ. Grammar Worksheet Workout, published by Knowledge Books and Software, is for school students, and Hot Pot is her debut novel for adults.

Verity Croker

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