Sunday, February 4, 2018

See you at the 2018 SCBWI Summer Conference!

Save the Dates:

August 3 - 6, 2018

In Los Angeles, CA

And thanks for following along from us, the members of SCBWI Team Blog who blogged this #NY18SCBWI 2018 Winter Conference, (at the blogging table, from right to left): Jaime Temairik, Martha Brockenbrough, Jolie Stekly, and Lee Wind.

The Autography Party!

Children's book creators are also children's book fans, and readers!*

The happy room

Scenes from the fun:

Pat Cummings signs
Linda Sue Park signs (with Paul O. Zelinsky catching the camera's eye)
Carolyn Crimi signs
Peter Brown signs
Dan Santat signs
Eric Velasquez signs (a completely staged 'candid' shot)
Lin Oliver signs (and mugs for the camera!)

*Teen books, too, of course!

Angie Thomas keynote: How I Became a Writer

Angie Thomas is the reigning queen of the New York Times bestseller list for her spectacular YA debut novel, The Hate U Give, about a black girl who witnesses a horrific crime and has to decide how to navigate her own survival and response.

Published by Balzer + Bray, the book earned eight stars, has been optioned by Hollywood, and has become required reading for every teen in America and their families as well.

“It’s relevant, it’s beautifully written, it’s powerful, and it’s unflinching,” Lin Oliver said.

“Today,” Angie said, “I am her to beg you to change our world.... I’m here to tell you that it’s possible to change the world, and has writers and illustrators, you have the power to do just that.”

Growing up, Angie was a shy kid. She didn’t know she had a voice, or that it mattered. And her neighborhood was a hard one to grow up in. It was the kind where there was sometimes gunfire at night, and she didn’t see her story in books—though she saw it on the nightly news. 

“When I was a kid, publishing failed me. As a teen, I did not read.” The two books that were big when she was that age were Twilight and the Hunger Games, books she did not relate to. “I rarely saw myself as the hero in books. Kids like me were usually the sassy sidekicks. Sometimes we were just there for the jokes.” 

Hip hop music was her introduction to seeing herself in art and activism. The songs felt like they were about her; books didn’t do that. “Activism is messy. It’s hard. It challenges. It makes people uncomfortable. It makes governments uncomfortable.” 

When she decided to become an author, she said, “I wanted to write the way that rappers do.” 

She wants us to do that too—meaning, make things messy. Make people uncomfortable.

She talked about the way people write off kids and teens, calling them dramatic. But she wasn’t a teen all that long ago, and she remembers how hard it was. When she was a teenager and middle-grade kid, it never seemed like anyone cared about what she had to say. 

“Our readers have value. Their voices and their opinions are some of the most valuable in the world.”  Teens drive trends. They affect language. They feed ideas into the fashion industry “just by being themselves. So why not write for them?”

“The most important thing for you to do is examine why you do it. And that might help you understand how.” 

When Angie was in first grade, she overheard her teacher wonder why she was wasting her time teaching little black kids who’d just end up on the streets. Her third grade teacher, on the other hand, told Angie and her black classmates that they could do whatever they wanted when they grew up, even if it was going to be a little harder. 

When you respect your readers, it affects how you write and illustrate for them, she said. So how can that affect how you do what you do?

Well, one thing she doesn’t want us to do: “Diversity is not a trend. Don’t think if you make your character black or Latino it will sell. I’m here to tell you the honest truth. That’s dehumanizing.” 

“If you want to write marginalized characters who are not like you, OK, fine. I will beg you if you’re going to write a character who does not share your marginalization, please put in the work.” 

Kids who are like your characters should not be harmed by the representation in your books. 

The best part of her publishing experience has been the feedback she’s gotten from readers. Even the children of white supremacists have reached out and told her they have been changed as a result. Black kids see themselves in the text and on the cover.

Creating empathy and understanding: “That, my friends, is how you change the world.” 

Agent Panel: Molly O'Neill

Molly O'Neill is an agent with Root Literary (founded last year by veteran agent Holly Root). She's been in the publishing industry for the past fifteen years in various roles like marketing and editing. She represents authors and illustrators from picture book to YA. The Root agency is very future focused as a new agency and excited to build longterm careers for their clients.

Lin asks the panel, "How's business?' Are they noticing any changes or do they want the audience to be aware of anything? For Molly, business is booming. She's got a lot of debut clients and is at the early point of their careers. YA is a bit tricky, it may be going into a new incarnation, what's the next Hunger Games, that isn't the Hunger games at all but something groundbreaking and new.

Molly's assistant Captain von Smooch
There's probably a lot less trilogies happening as deals right now, publishers are being more cautious across the business.

Middle grade is a tremendously exciting place right now. WONDER for example is still doing amazing things. These are books that aren't just in library markets, but finding their way into bestseller lists and movies. Maybe not the same crossover to adults as YA, but bigger audiences than previously for the markets. The interplay of text and art in middle grade is a big thing. Innovative picture book formats and styles, too, are things publishers are interested in.

Teenagers are comfortable being in a place of grappling with hard questions in a way that earlier generations had more black and white/right and wrong ideals in their lives and in the books available to them. Molly reminds us of those tv afterschool specials. Readers today are looking to recognize the same questions they are struggling with in a book they want to read, and seeing how a character does or does not deal with that question. They don't want to be told what to think, they want to be respected, so portray sensitive social issues in your books authentically.

To see Molly's submission policy, see her website here.

Agent Panel: Marietta Zacker and Brooks Sherman

Marietta Zacker is the owner of Gallt & Zacker Literary Agency. She is a literary agent who has worked with books, authors, and illustrators throughout her career – studying, creating, editing, marketing, teaching, and selling. She supports independent bookselling, believes in libraries, and takes pride in her work as a Latina in the world of publishing. She is always on the lookout for visual and narrative stories that reflect the world we live in, not the bubbles in which we put ourselves. She loves books that make readers feel and shies away from those that set out to teach the reader a lesson. Whether she is reading a young adult novel, a middle grade novel, or a picture book, Marietta looks for a book in which young readers can identify with the actions and reactions of the characters, not the perspectives of the author or illustrator. She aims to shine the spotlight on soulful, insightful, well-crafted, literary or commercial projects aimed at any age group. Some of the books she is championing during 2018 include This Is It by Daria Peoples-Riley, Sometimes You Fly illustrated by Jennifer Black Reinhardt, Trace by Pat Cummings, It Wasn’t Me by Dana Alison Levy, and the Narwhal & Jelly series by Ben Clanton.

Brooks Sherman is a literary agent with Janklow & Nesbit Associates. He client list includes #1 New York Times best seller Angie Thomas (The Hate U Give), New York Times best seller Adam Silvera (They Both Die at the End), Morris Award winner Becky Albertalli (Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda), acclaimed author/illustrator Sam Garton (I Am Otter), and many more. Brooks is currently on the lookout for middle grade fiction of all genres (especially fantasy and contemporary), young adult fiction of all genres except paranormal romance, and character-driven picture books with an emphasis on humor. Across all categories, he seeks projects that balance strong voice with gripping plot–ones that make him laugh earn extra points! He is particularly drawn to stories that elevate marginalized voices and where contemporary social issues are either prominently centered or woven into the worldbuilding; he prefers nuanced narratives over “issue books.” You can find him sharing publishing perspectives and horrible puns on Twitter at @byobrooks.


The panel opens with a joking challenge Brooks puts down, about how he's sure he has the "most random path to publishing." He shares his very circuitous path that includes the Peace Corps – and then Marietta takes the challenge with one sentence, "I was a math major in college."

Brooks speaks about the "absence of trends in the YA space" and how that's a good thing from his perspective, as it allows the focus to be on each story individually, He worries, with the new focus on diversity and #ownvoices, if publishers are starting to emphasize diverse author's identities over their stories.

Marietta also touches on the opportunity the lack of a current YA trend creates, telling us there's now space for all of us to tell our own stories. "Give yourself permission to write your own story" in the way only you can, and how that leaves room for everyone to speak... and how that also means that sometimes, you have to ceed the floor.

The panel talks more about books being relevant to today's issues versus being ever-green, diversity, the line children's and teen books walk between protecting innocence versus telling the truth, and much more!

Agent Panel: Kirsten Hall

Kirsten Hall is the one and only agent at Catbird Agency, Kirsten grew up in publishing and feels like she was born to do this. Catbird mostly focuses on artists and picture books. Kirsten is also an author herself.

Kirsten see trends in picture books being a better representation for marginalized voices as well as picture book biographies. In regards to the way picture books are going on to effect other genres, picture books readers are growing up to read middle grade and enjoying illustrations with those books, too. Kirsten sees Catbird reaching into that realm.

A lot of books that come out of Catbird are reactionary about what's going on in the world today, but they're also balanced by books that are pure entertainment.

Technology and social media impact Kirsten's work in a a lot of ways. She spends a great deal of time there. There are a lot of ideas and inspirations to be found on social media. It's also important to stay aware of the conversations happening there. It's a rich place, but also a super complicated place. 

Kirsten believes there could be a little bit more kindness on social media. Rejection comes at writers and illustrators a lot and it would be nice to not be rejected by peers. Kirsten hopes we can all champion each other. 

Agent Panel: Erin Murphy

Erin Murphy is the founder of the legendary Erin Murphy Literary Association.

She started her career as an editor at a small publishing house, where she learned to navigate contracts, and in eighteen years, she’s risen to one of the top agents in the business. The agency represents authors, illustrators, and author/illustrators.  The agency has four agents, including Erin, Ammi Joan Paquette, Tricia Lawrence, and Tara Gonzalez. The agency is currently closed to submissions unless you are a conference attendee. There is no end date to this; Erin wants you to query when you’re ready.

Agency clients include Mike Jung, Kevan Atteberry, K.A. Holt, Janet Fox, and many, many more beloved creators.

Erin talked about what’s happening in the market these days. Children’s books are a bright spot in publishing and have been for several years—which has put us in a position of respect in publishing (even if grudging).

“I feel like it’s generally robust,” she said. That said, the last year has been hard on many people creatively, and it’s delayed some writers and editors. “It felt creatively stagnant on all sides of the table last year.”

But now she’s feeling great about things. One important thing is that we are redefining what it means to be “evergreen.” There are a lot of stories that haven’t been told before and are now being told; these will be tomorrow’s evergreens.

She told us about a book out on submission by an established, trusted author that includes a shocking death and deals with grief. Many editors think it’s too hard of a subject for middle grade readers, which surprises her. (And I know which book she’s talking about. I’ve heard parts of it; it’s breathtaking and beautiful.)

One of Erin’s books is The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater, a nonfiction book about a crime told from the points of view of participants, an important and complex work informed by the author’s journalistic background.

Tha Agent Panel Begins!

Lin Oliver (far left, at podium) moderates the agent panel, with (from left to right): Erin Murphy, Molly O'Neill, Kirsten Hall, Brooks Sherman, and Marietta Zacker.

Student Illustrator & Writer Scholarship Winners

Each year the SCBWI gives scholarships, for the NY and LA conferences, to both student writers and illustrators. This year's awards went to:

For undergraduate writing: 
Aisha Rupasingha

For graduate writing: 
Renee McCormick

And for illustration:
Yihui Yuen
Katie McLoughlin


Jane Yolen on Revising / Re-Visioning Your Writing Life

Jane gives us "a peppy talk" about revising and re-visioning our creative lives as writers and illustrators.

"Every year, create something new.

Don't settle in your art.

Even if the selling slows down (and we all have those times) try something new.

You are a creator. So create. Re-create.

Try something new."

She offers us some tips she uses, including how reading "everything" inspired three new book ideas for her, and how at least once a year, she goes back through her files; "Nothing an author or illustrator does is never lost. ...A creative person's garbage can does not take in garbage - it's a compost heap."

With brilliance and heart, Jane Yolen mentors every one of us in the audience.

Her final gift to us are these words:
"Make wings. And fly somewhere new."

Portfolio Showcase Awards


Winner of the 2018 Winter Portfolio Showcase 

Networking Buffet Dinner

It was all more lively and exciting than the title sounds: A packed house; regional meet-ups; and mash-po-tinis. What could be better?

The PJ Library Jewish Stories Award

One of the SCBWI’s many awards for exceptional work is the PJ Library Jewish Stories Award. The PJ Library provides free books for Jewish children and their families.

This year, the winner is Audrey Ades, author of Judah Touro Didn’t Want to be Famous. Honorable mention went to Joy Melkins Wieder.

Mazel tov to all!

Bologna Illustration Gallery Award

Chris Cheng RA from Australia presents the winner out of (400+!) entries


Toshiki Nakamura from Canada West

Felia Hanakata from Indonesia


Winner is.....

Alex Rowe from Arkansas

Narrative Art Award (formerly Tomie de Paola Award)

The winner of full tuition to the conference and their work on display for the 2018 Conference (the contest was to do a three-panel mystery in honor of the Sherlock Holmes 100th anniversary) is


See the full gallery and application instructions here and remember to try for it next year!

The LGBTQ + Allies Social

An intimate circle, the group included conference faculty guests Laurent Linn, Emma Dryden, Ellen Hopkins, Jane Yolen, Heidi Stemple, Jeffrey West, Arthur Levine, and Erika Turner.

We went around the circle, everyone introducing themselves and sharing what they're working on that has LGBTQ characters and themes, sparking lots of discussion.

Standout moments:

Ellen Hopkins on why she includes LGBTQ characters in her novels: "I write the teen landscape." And how the current political and cultural climate makes it "more important than ever" that we're here talking about LGBTQ characters and themes in books for young people.

Emma Dryden on how agents are telling her that they're looking for manuscripts in which gay is incidental...

Which lead to a broad discussion on how we need all kinds of books on the LGBTQ experience, books that star the LGBTQ character and books where they're part of the ensemble, books where it's about the LGBTQ experience, and books where it's about something else entirely and the characters' identity is incidental.

Laurent Lin spoke about visiting schools via the Lambda Literary Foundations Authors in Schools program,

The conversation covered controversy and backlash, the responsibility we have to our readers, and so much more!

Jane Yolen speaking with attendee David Daniel after the circle opened to more informal discussion 

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Editors' Panel: Caitlyn Dlouhy

Caitlyn Dlouhy is the VP/Editorial Director of Caitlyn Dlouhy Books at Atheneum/Simon and Schuster. Some of the books she’s edited or acquired include:

She’s been at S and S long enough (15 years) that they know when she’s going to implode if she doesn’t get a YES on a project right away. The other side of the coin is getting every department in on the ground floor of the project from Day One, so everyone has seen it prior to the acquisition meeting. Sometimes this can mean 10 to 15 comments that evolve into a variety of talks (maybe arguments!) about the manuscript. Caitlyn never thinks of it as acquiring by committee, but more as lots of great discussion meant to make a project better and more unique. That said, if the comments aren’t positive, Caitlyn won’t let go of something she believes in and will keep arguing to her publisher on the project's behalf:

“I don’t just give up quickly, ever.”

Caitlyn gets more and more nervous NOT happy/excited when reading a manuscript with the fear that a story that starts out well might fall flat in the middle or end in a way that she can't fix or help an author fix. If she remains nervous to the end without the story losing steam, then she's thrilled and knows this is a project she wants to acquire or put work in on to get it up to snuff for the acquisition process.

Caitlyn weighs in on the revision process. Knowing you can work with someone on revision is the most important part of the editor author relationship. You need to know you've developed enough trust with someone that you can go through the revision process many times (like maybe seven times). Revision takes a book to new heights that you didn't dream were possible in the original draft. If the author can't embrace the revision process, the novel doesn't reach its potential and the publisher can feel stuck and discouraged with the book and the may question working with the author again.

Emma asks about manuscripts that are rejected and the idea that that means they are bad, which is not true. Caitlyn says she's written rejection letters while crying, "I won't publish well for you if I don't have the right space for you, if my publisher doesn't have the right space for you, if I know other houses are doing a similar book at a similar time..."

"Many many things are very very good but there are other factors that can keep me from saying yes to them."

Editors' Panel:Tiffany Liao

Tiffany Liao is an editor at Henry Holt Books for Young Readers.

"What I love most as an editor is discovering stories that I would have loved as a kid and stories I wish I would have had."

In terms of acquisitions, Tiffany has a "subway test." If she's on the subway and misses her stop, or if she's waiting for her train and misses it, it's a book she has to try to acquire.

When reading manuscripts, Tiffany is looking for a transformative experience. She reads to escape. Sometimes it's a great voice that creates that escape. Tiffany has a term for it: a velcro voice, because it sticks to you.

If a manuscript is close but not ready, Tiffany will often ask for a "revise and resubmit." It doesn't happen often. It requires a leap of faith from both sides. There's no guarantee that the agent/writer won't take the manuscript elsewhere, or that the writer will receive an offer.

Even though editors say no, it doesn't mean a book is bad. Tiffany uses a dating analogy. If one is looking to date and a particular person ticks off all the boxes, it still requires sitting down with that person and having that right feeling for it to work.

It takes a lot of time to create an author/editor mind-meld, and as an editor, Tiffany says she doesn't want to lose that. The relationship is important.

Editor Panel: Daniel Nayeri

Daniel on the big screen

Daniel Nayeri is the publisher of a new imprint at Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group. Previously, he was publisher at Workman Publishing Company, where he oversaw a team of designers, editors, and inventors in the pursuit of creating “art objects for great and terrible children.” Before that, he was digital editorial director at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, editor at Clarion Books, and before that, a professional pastry chef. Daniel was born in Iran and spent a couple of years as a refugee before immigrating to Oklahoma at age eight with his family. He is the author of several books for young readers, including The Most Dangerous Book; Straw House, Wood House, Brick House, Blow: Four Novellas; and How to Tell a Story.

Daniel starts by explaining how his still-to-be-named imprint as Macmillan Children's Publishing Group is a design-first group. They're focused on nonfiction with an interactive element or gift package. Four-color, substantive, and long. "Four to five times more expensive than a regular book." Which raises the acquisitions stakes...

He speaks next about fear: fear of making a bad acquisition, fear of missing out, fear of not having a big book this season,,, and what that fear does to every acquiring editor: they read "looking for the no." But if there's something they love about the work that demands to be on their list, they'll work with an author to fix everything else.

There's much more, including a discussion of how rejection doesn't mean your book is bad, wisdom and hope shared, and how the "mind-meld" as Tiffany Liao put it, of an editor working with an author is so important to them that they want to continue working with that author long into the future.

A fascinating panel!

Editors’ panel: Jill Santopolo

Jill Santopolo is the editorial director of Philomel Books, where she has published such titles as A Tangle of Knots by Lisa Graff, The Secret Sky by Aria Abawi, and It’s Your World: Get Informed, Get Inspired & Get Going by Chelsea Clinton.

She loves to help writers share their stories and open young readers’ minds to possibilities “they might not know are out there.” 

She spoke on a panel called “How I Get to Yes,” explaining what inspires an agent to acquire a book for publication. 

The Philomel acquisition process doesn’t go by committee. If an editor is interested in a project, they send it to Jill. If reads is and thinks it belongs on their list, she brings it with the acquiring editor to the publisher, Michael Green. Then they do a projected profit-and-loss statement based on production costs, return rates, and other factors. They figure out financials, take it to their head of finance and the head of the children’s division. If everyone signs off, it results in an offer. 

Sometimes editors acquire books that they love, but still need a lot of work. When this happens, Jill looks for a book with beautiful writing. She can fix a plot. She can fix a character. But she can’t help someone “change the way they write.” 

“The other thing for me in that situation: I need to be able to see the book. I need to see what potential it has and what it can turn into.” 

Even if she thinks it’s going to take a while to get there, if she can see what it could be at the end, and if she and the author have aligned visions, then she’ll take on a book that requires a lot of work. “That’s when I know what this book could be.” 

Sometimes she does ask for an R&R—a revise and resubmit. This was to see if the author could take notes and make the work one step better. “Can you take in what I’ve given you? Can you translate that into revision? Can I see that work on the paper?” That’s what reassures her that your partnership will endure. 

“Editors are looking for particular things for them. Just because your book isn’t [X] doesn’t mean it’s bad or it’s wrong. It’s just not what that editor is looking for.” 

“Everyone in a publishing house loves books. That’s why we’re there. We all WANT to love books. We want to fall in love with a book.” 

Follow her on Twitter at @JillSantopolo.