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Joyce Wan, talented author/illustrator of “Greetings from Kiwi and Pear,” stops by the blog today to recap the recent NJ-SCBWI annual conference. I couldn’t attend this year so Joyce offered to share the juicy details. (Get it? Kiwi and pear…juicy? Ugh, stick to humor in picture books, Tara.)

Take it away, Joyce!

It was my first time attending the New Jersey SCBWI Annual Conference and it was such a blast! There were intensives, workshops, lunches with editors/agents/art directors, a book fair, a juried art show, a raffle, auctions, one-on-one critiques, agent pitch sessions and portfolio reviews galore. A whopping 22 publishing houses/agents were represented. A round of applause to Kathy Temean (NJ-SCBWI RA), Laurie Wallmark (Assistant RA) and all the volunteers for coordinating such an amazing and well-organized event. The conference was informational yet inspiring and I left Princeton feeling excited and energized!

Highlights from two of the workshops I attended which stood out in my mind:

Sure it’s Cute, But Will it Sell?
Steve Meltzer
Associate Publisher/Executive Managing Editor
Dial, Dutton, & Celebra

He provided us with information on the business side of the industry and a snapshot of the current picture book market. The market is made up of four types of buyers:

  1. Independent Retailers
  2. Mass Market Retailers
  3. Institutional (Libraries and Schools)
  4. Book Clubs/Fairs

You want to write a book that hits ALL markets. Examples of current books that are hitting all markets:

  • Skippyjon Jones
  • Fancy Nancy
  • Ladybug Girl
  • Llama Llama Red Pajama

As mentioned in the recent #pblitchat on Twitter, Meltzer is looking for character-driven stories: stories with quirky characters that are unusual and original but realistic. Character stories invite sequels, branding, and licensing opportunities.

Finally, he suggested that writers should be able to pitch their story in one sentence. Compare it to something successful but then tell him how it’s different (ex. Like Skippyjon Jones but with whales).

Picture Books – What Works
Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen
Author of 13 picture books and seven non-fiction books

Picture books should be 650 words or less. Story should consist of a character that has a conflict and makes three failed attempts to solve the problem and then has a successful attempt on the fourth try. The end of the book must surprise the reader (a twist), extending the story beyond the story, which makes the book re-readable. Although she did mention that there are no hard and fast rules to picture book writing–and that these are just what, in her experience, has worked for her–I do think it’s a handy little formula to follow for those of us beginning our journey in the world of picture books! Another little trick that can help add tension to any story is to add a ticking clock of some sort: the character has to reach the goal by a certain time (ex. by bedtime, by sundown, etc.).

In addition to the workshops, there were two really inspiring keynote presentations at the lunches given on the first day by David L. Harrison, author of 80 children’s books, and on the second day by Catherine Gilbert Murdock, author of Dairy Queen and other books. David Harrison reminded us all why we do what we do, which is to create literature for young people. Catherine Gilbert Murdock charmed us all with her self-deprecating humor and shared with us how her journey to becoming a successful author started in a not-so-successful career in screenwriting.

There was also a juried art show organized by Leeza Hernandez, which was a first for the NJ SCBWI conference. You can read about the winners of the art show and view some of their beautiful artwork on Kathy Temean’s blog.

I submitted this piece for the art show which is a scene from my picture book that came out last year called Greetings from Kiwi and Pear.

I had fun being part of such a visual part of the conference and even had a fellow attendee email me after the show saying how much she loved my work and what a bummer it was that we didn’t get to chat during the conference.

One of the best parts of the conference was the one-on-one critique with the editor/agent. I thought the one-on-ones alone were worth the price of the conference. The editor I had my critique with gave me very insightful feedback and ideas. I showed her the picture book dummy that went with the manuscript I submitted for the critique along with my picture book that came out last year and even my Wanart catalog so that she could get a better sense of my illustration style. She liked my picture book dummy so much she actually asked to keep it along with my catalog–how exciting!

One fun side note is that there was a High School prom at the hotel the first night of the conference. I got quite nostalgic at dinner watching all the kids in their tuxedos and glittering gowns make their grand appearances in the hotel lobby–it was quite a spectacle and felt like dinner theater!

Overall, the conference was fantastic in every way from the top notch venue (there were koi ponds in the atrium!) to the high calibur faculty. I’m already looking forward to next year!

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