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I bumped into Peter Harren on Etsy where I discovered his adorable illustrations. We had a few convos and I encouraged him to join SCBWI. Peter and I got in touch again a couple weeks ago as he was gearing up for the SCBWI mid-winter conference. So I asked him to blog about it as a first-timer. Take it away, Peter!

The co-founder of SCBWI Lin Oliver is hilarious. Part of her first day welcome address (at 7:30 am or some ridiculous turd hour like that) was this quote from the famous body builder Ronnie Coleman:

“Everybody wants to be a bodybuilder, but nobody wants to lift no heavy-ass weights.”

Of course the conference was going to be awesome, but Lin knew that it had a shadow for some people. The days were packed with activity starting at the wee hours and there was going to be a serious amount of information whipping past our heads. As Lin said, it was going to be work. And for people like me and my fiance Kayla Skogh (kick-ass children’s book writer and illustrator), one other shadow, one big shadow, was the socializing.

We’re introverts, and peppered throughout the info package for the conference and people’s advice for us was some scary stuff— “you gotta network”, “introduce yourself”, “mingle”  and “talk to people”. We spent 5 years of our lives in New York City squashed up against people and still, the mention of a Saturday night Gala for networking and “fun” made our mouths dry.

The good news for us was children’s book people are really sweet. There were so many warm smiles and rosy cheeks. I think there were over 1000 people, and something like 70% of them were ladies. With 700 children’s book ladies in there you could really feel the nurturing energy. There were lots of hugs. When I remember the Ballroom I see a peach colored glow coming from the room.  And as for the structure of the weekend, it went beautifully. It was really well organized and there were some nice breaks and awesome lemon poppy seed bread.

Now, on to the juice. I’ll share the words of wisdom from all the children’s book world royalty that I deemed worthy of note taking. I guess that’s called ‘noteworthy’. And before I start I should mention that everyone felt the children’s book industry is strong and steady. One guy even said it was robust!

Unfortunately, I didn’t write down who said what, but it’s safe to assume they’re a serious-ass children’s book professional of some sort.  Also, all these quotes are in reference to picture books. So, here’s some quotes:

  • “The keys to a good picture book are: character driven, brief, witty, light on text, and very young.”
  • “Great children’s books have clear ideas, an emotional arc, simplicity, and compositional variety.”
  • “Keep the story moving, don’t waste pages.”
  • “Illustrations need to be narrative on their own.”
  • “Make sure the left to right action is strong and promotes page turns.”
  • “Character Driven!”

After writing those quotes I’m realizing that they don’t feel as huge as they did when I first wrote them down. I guess that’s evidence of a real benefit to the conference; being there. The conference was hugely inspiring and motivating. And the main reason I went was the portfolio review. My portfolio and book dummy were viewed by over a hundred editors, agents, art directors and book professionals.

If you want an in depth view of the conference you can go to and find tons of information and videos of the conference. They had a whole team of people blogging the crap out of it.

And just for the fun of it, I added one of my pages of notes.

The bird’s lyrics are from Devendra Banhart’s song “Be Kind” which was in my head all weekend. In stressful situations I try to remember to be nice to myself and avoid judging myself for being anxious. This song shows up a lot when I need it.

Peter Harren is an aspiring author/illustrator. Track his progress at

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