Monday, June 14, 2010

15 Conference Round-Up: New Jersey Annual Conference

The New Jersey chapter of SCBWI recently held their Annual June Conference. Writer and SCBWI member Liz Corba attended this fantastic event and has kindly offered to share it with us. If you have attended, or plan to attend a conference, please let us know. We'd love you to guest blog for us! 
The 2010 NJ SCBWI Conference was held on June 4/5 at the Hyatt Regency Princeton. Here are a few of the conference stats that were shared by Kathy Temean, NJ SCBWI’s Regional Advisor and Laurie Wallmark, NJ SCBWI’s Assistant Regional Advisor at breakfast on Saturday:

-263 attendees
-The faculty - 13 editors, 7 agents, 2 art directors, 1 consultant and over 1 dozen published authors (Click here for a list of names and affiliations)
-261 critiques/portfolio reviews
-136 first page reviews
-104 agent pitches
-63 pre-conference intensives attendees (illustrators, poetry/free verse, historical fiction, picture book)
-15 States and Puerto Rico were represented

It was an amazing weekend!

Following Morning Intensives Workshops, the Friday Keynote was given by David L. Harrison, the Poet Laureate of Drury University, a recipient of the Christopher Award and the author of 79 original titles. (And if that isn’t enough, there is even an elementary school named after him in MO!) Mr. Harrison shared many of his poems and his writing advice. He reminded his listeners that writing is a small business that requires many hats. One must be an editor, a promoter, a “legal eagle”, a networker, a public speaker, a teacher and a student. One must write what one knows and write whenever one can.

Mr. Harrison concluded his keynote by introducing one of his young fans to the Conference participants. She and her Mom had traveled some fifty miles to meet the “real author” she had met online. Mr. Harrison read one of the poems his young friend had previously submitted to him via his website “Word of the Month” competition. Needless to say, the fourth grader lit up the room with the joy she expressed as writers, agents and editors clapped in appreciation of her poem. This small act reminded all of us about the people we write for, why we write and the ability our work can have to influence young lives.

Saturday’s Keynote was given by Catherine Gilbert Murdock, the author of the Dairy Queen trilogy and Princess Ben. Ms. Murdock is the winner of Border’s Original Voices Award, the 2007 Midwest Booksellers Choice Award, and the 2007 Great Lakes Booksellers Children’s Literature Award.

Ms. Murdock gave an inspirational talk, outlining her journey as a writer. Her success did not come easily. She admitted to writing screen plays for many years and never finding success in this genre. The skills she learned as a screen writer, however, greatly influence and enhance her novel writing.

Ms. Murdock concluded her presentation by stating that as a writer, she is often disappointed in her final product, that there is always room for improvement, but that she continues to write in an attempt to “craft a sentence that fills (her) with joy.”

In addition to the Keynotes, the NJ Conference offered 37 writing workshops, time for critiques with agents, editors and published writers, and agent pitch sessions. I was able to attend 8 workshops. The following is a small portion of the information I was able to gather.

Master Class by Catherine Murdock
-Writers may benefit by becoming familiar with such sites as and
-Join writing groups, read scripts and then take a class in writing
-The arc of every children’s book – the child grows up
-Establish a character that you care about
-The main character must have a flaw that only a journey will resolve
-Delete. 120,000 words can easily become 60,000
-Write the first chapter, and then take it out
-Write for the senses – feel, smell, taste as well as see and hear
-Counterbalance resolution with despair
-Use dialogue to drive the story
-When writing dialogue, consider writing what is said in one column and what is the real meaning behind what is being said in another column. (Example: “Where’s Dad?” means “I need a father.” “You two should get a life.” means “I hate fighting.”)
-After writing, do a word search for “is” – find a more powerful verb
-Do a word search for words ending in “ly” – put in a verb, one that is as strong as possible

Learn to Love Synopses by Anita Nolan, Executive Editor of Sprouts, the NJ SCBWI magazine
-Ms. Nolan gave an amazingly detailed and organized step-by-step way to build a synopsis. One suggestion I found particularly helpful was to consider a one-paragraph synopsis as something similar to a back cover blurb. One format to consider: “name of character has problem, but when problem happens, they realize what they learn.”
-You can learn more at and

Picture Book Checklist and How to Use It by Simone Kaplan
-Simone Kaplan has over 20 years of experience as an editor of children’s books and magazines. Ms. Kaplan began her workshop by stating that during her editing career she often regretted that there wasn’t time to give an author constructive input if her manuscript was not accepted. Picture Book People was created to “de-mystify the process of writing dynamic picture books.” PB writers can visit the site and download free pointers about their craft.

Sure It’s Cute, But Will It Sell? by Steve Meltzer, Assoc. Publisher/Exec. Managing Editor, Dutton Children’s Books/Dial BFYR
-Mr. Meltzer reminded authors that they have much to compete with – toys, videos, computers, and the classics
-The PB market has been in a slump but it is expected to pick up in 2012
-Writers must know the market and determine where their work may fit in
-Think Independent Book Sellers ,Chain Book Sellers, Institutions (schools, libraries), Mass Market (Wal-mart, Target), Book Fairs
-A strong character is important in a picture book; one that is “slightly off” and one that kids can see themselves in
-Know what is being published now
-To sell a book, you must have a one sentence sales pitch
-Be able to compare your manuscript to something successful
-Give five reasons why your book will sell

Nonfiction by Carolyn Yoder, Editor, Calkins Creek Books; Senior Editor, History, Highlights
-Ms. Yoder pointed out that writers must use primary and secondary sources in their research, as well as talk to experts in the field
-In biographies, it is important to “get at the private truth behind the public persona.”
-Non-fiction writers need to keep in mind the cost involved in permissions, such as pictures they may want to include with their text.
-Ms. Yoder stated that she is looking for manuscripts that touch on the Diversity of America, Immigration, Cultural Life and events Post WWII – 1970’s.
-Writers can learn more about submission guidelines at

Creative Pick Me Up by Leeza Hernandez, winner of the Tomie de Paola Portfolio Award at the 2009 SCBWI Winter Conference in NYC and a published author and illustrator
- In this workshop, participants listened to music and viewed a succession of PowerPoint images to “get the right brain going.” Surprisingly, after being asked to recall “five things,” stories began to take shape throughout the room. Workshop participants also listened to various sound effects and were asked to make up a story that went with them. They were also asked to write down some of their childhood memories, find the “essence” of these memories and build on them
-This workshop made it clear that inspiration for writing and illustrating ideas is all around us. We must simply relax and pay attention!

Picture Books – What Works by Sudipta Bardhan, the author of 13 picture books and 17 nonfiction books for children
-Ms. Bardhan gave an A to Z lecture on the many components involved in picture book writing. A few of her many points -
-Picture Books must have a story arc
-Wordplay is important
-650 words maximum
-There must be a marketing hook
-Page turn must be written into text
-Book must end with a twist

Academic Standards by Jane Kirkland
-Ms. Kirkland has written a series of Take A Walk Books, which are recommended by the National Science Teachers Association
-Ms. Kirkland writes with Academic Standards in mind and so it better able to market her books to schools
-Academic Standards drive what teachers do in their classes and there is often a need for supplemental material.
-Interested writers can find Academic Standards in the Dept. of Education websites of their respective states
-Ms. Kirkland also gave some suggestions about marketing to schools. She stated that word of mouth is important and that writers should always ask schools for recommendations. Writers should attend teacher conferences and conventions and also develop relationships with the PTA.

The NJ Conference also included a Book Fair, Silent Auctions of manuscript critiques with agents, editors and authors and Silent Auctions for summer Networking Dinners with agents and editors. There was also a Chance Auction of over fifty items (books, gift certificates, critiques, art work) donated by NJSCBWI members to support the NJSCBWI Scholarship Fund.

Each year, it seems, the NJSCBWI June Conference grows bigger and better. If you haven’t already joined us, we hope that you will in 2011. All are welcome!
Liz Korba aspires to write Children’s Poetry and Picture Books. She has VERY recently joined the Social Media World and her still-very-much-in-development website can be found at


  1. Wow! I didn't realize this was open to people form other states. For some silly reason, I thought we should only attend our local branch events.
    I may have to make a trip to NJ for one of these.
    Thanks for the info!

  2. This conference was really amazing. I recommend that everyone (who can) tries to get there next year!

  3. Hi L.J.
    I hope you and others will be able to attend next year's conference. It is always great to see new faces. And I agree with Corey, the New Jersey Conference is always "really amazing."

  4. wow. awesome recap! thanks for all the info!! :D

  5. This sounds like a completely amazing conference. I can't believe how many editors, agents, and authors you could bring to the conference and there were so many opportunities for critiques. I wish I lived closer to New Jersey.

  6. Wow! Awesome wrap-up!!! Thanks for posting it. Your blog has such great info! : )

  7. Hi Tahereh and Ara and Natalie,

    Glad you liked the recap. Here's hoping you'll be able to visit us in New Jersey someday.


  8. Thanks for the mention! It was a great conference.

  9. You are keeping my mouse busy! Thanks for all the links, I'll be checking them out.

  10. Liz, thanks for a terrific recap of this conference. We're all truly jealous you were able to attend. But we are thankful that you could bring us back such wonderful, detailed notes! Thanks for guest blogging for us!

    Martina & Marissa

  11. Wonderful summary! I've posted it to the official Fans of SCBWI Facebook page, which I administer at:

  12. Wow - thanks for all the info. I'll be writing up a synopsis in the next few months so that one will be especially helpful for me - thanks again! :)

  13. Hi Martina and Marissa,

    This is a great blog. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to be a small part of it.

    All the best to you - and all the writers out there!


  14. Wow, what a conference. Thanks so much for sharing this excellent breakdown, studded with ever-helpful links. You gals are the best!

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

  15. Haha, just noticed how old this is. That's what I get for following a search in google, lol.


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