Monday, May 10, 2010

Monday Conference Round-Up by Natalie Aguirre

Here's another summary of a writer's conference we'd like to share with you. It's from one of our fantastic followers, so please give her a warm welcome. And if you have attended, or plan to attend a conference, please let us know. We'd love you to guest blog for us!

When Martina asked me to write a guest post on the Michigan SCBWI Spring Conference I attended on May 1, I have to admit I was a little nervous. It was going to be my first blog post ever. But here goes.

The presenters included Jay Asher, who wrote Thirteen Reasons Why, Beth Fleisher, an agent with Barry Goldblatt Literary, Ruta Rima, assistant editor at HarperCollins Children’s Books, and Lisa Yoskowitz, assistant editor at Dutton Children’s Books. Much of the day was spent in breakout sessions with the presenters, so I didn’t get to hear everyone. I’ll share a bit of what I learned at the conference.

Jay Asher is a very entertaining, inspiring speaker.

His journey to publication took twelve years which included many “good” rejection letters for many of his picture book submissions and winning the Work-In-Progress SCBWI grant to write his breakout novel.

He was going to quit, but his wife convinced him to write this one last book. It not only got published, but has been on the New York Times bestseller list.

He advised us to follow our dreams and sit tight. Seeing Jay stick with it and finally reach his dream inspired me to continue on.

Beth Fleisher gave practical tips on querying and I had a critique with her.

She’s looking for books for boys, adventure, thrillers, mysteries, science fiction and fantasy for middle grade and YA, and nonfiction in science, history, and natural science. She doesn’t want any YA paranormal romances. She likes fantasies, but doesn’t want ones using names that are unusual or hard to pronounce.

TIP: Publishers and agents are really looking for middle grade right now.

She just wants a cover letter with a two sentence description of your story, the first five pages, and a synopsis pasted into the body of the e-mail. She thinks that too much emphasis and time is placed on the query. She got a round of applause for that piece of advice.

No, I didn’t land an agent through my critique. Sigh. But Beth gave me some helpful things to consider to improve my manuscript as well as told me what she thought were its strengths. My expectations for critiques have changed over the years from hoping to sell my book to hoping to obtain advice to make my story better. I found I had a little thicker skin this time around, which is essential for querying.

Ruta Rima presented a workshop on what makes characters great.

She had us do a series of exercises to develop inner conflict and character growth. Here’s a few of them:

To add dimension, list your character’s main characteristic and then write a short piece as if the character had the opposite trait.
  • Define what your character wants most and write a piece as if the character wants the exact opposite. 
  • Consider what your character would never do, think, or say? Write a short piece having your character do this.
Try this and you may discover new ways to develop the character, deepen the inner conflict, perhaps change the plot in exciting ways, and up the stakes.

The importance of social networking.

I don’t see most members of SCBWI more than once or twice a year, but follow some on Facebook. I found I was more willing to talk to people I know through Facebook. I’m definitely going to friend more SCBWI members.

Our Fall conference is a weekend one. I can’t wait. What great things have you learned from the conferences you’ve attended?

Natalie Aguirre is an aspiring middle grade fantasy writer who is almost finished with her manuscript, The Third Tower, after seven years. She works full time and writes whenever she can squeeze it in. She’s been a member of SCBWI for six years. 


  1. Great summary! Thank you, I would have never known it was your first post. I'm from MI so I was curious about the conference. Sounds like SCBWI is great everywhere.

    Martina - don't forget to check my blog. He he he.

  2. Natalie, great summary. I was especially happy to hear agents are looking for middle grade. YAY!

  3. Lisa, thanks for the compliment. You're giving me courage to start my own blog.

    Buffy, I say the same thing about middle grade books.

  4. Natalie, that was fantastic! Write more posts! Start a blog! You can do it!

  5. Great summary, Natalie! Thanks for taking the time to write it up. : )

  6. Great summary! One of these days I'd like to attend a conference - sounds like a lot of fun and a lot of learning.

  7. That was SUPER Natalie! I really enjoyed what you said about how your expectations have changed with each conference.

    Thanks for informing us about this.
    Thanks for joining me as a friend on facebook.
    Thanks for being so honest about your experiences, especially about your fear of starting your own blog....I can certainly relate to that!

    Thanks Marissa and Martina!

  8. Natalie, this was such a great post! We're all eager to hear what's coming out of conferences. Since we can't be everywhere at once, blogs are the perfect place to spread the news. Your willingness to share insight with everyone demonstrates your generosity!

    Thanks for guest blogging :)


  9. Thanks Ann Marie, Jodie, Jemi, Ara & Marissa & Martina for your support. Ara, I really recommend you go to a conference. You'll make friends and find new places to submit your manuscript.

    Thanks Marissa & Martina for inviting me to guest post.

  10. Thanks, Natalie, for your fantastic post and for keeping up with the comments. We are so grateful for the help and insight. Also thanks to all of you for helping Natalie get the confidence she needs to start her blog. Natalie, we'll be looking forward to seeing that up on the blogosphere very soon!

  11. Natalie--great insight into your experience at the conference--thanks for taking the time to share!

  12. Natalie, thanks for your presentation! I definitely wish I could have been there. Hopefully I'll see you there next year and we can have profound discussions about writing and UofM.

  13. Good report, Natalie.

    I enjoyed the entry about it taking Jay Asher 12 years. Writers need to understand that it does take time. There are some who become successful in a shorter period, but many, many more take at least 10 years. By the end of this year, I'll have 9 books published. I began writing at the end of 2001.

    Max Elliot Anderson - Books For Boys Blog -


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