Friday, February 6, 2009

SPEAKERS & GUESTS: Highlights from the 2009 SCBWI Winter Conference

Yes, I made it to New York, attended the grand daddy of conferences, and I’m back here to tell you all about it! SCBWI President and co-founder, Stephen Mooser, introduced fellow founder and Executive Director, Lin Oliver. If any of you have never been fortunate enough to hear Lin speak, you’ve really miss out. She is hilarious! And best of all, she is very down-to-earth and approachable. During her career Lin has done almost everything. She is probably most known as a writer for her Hank Zipzer Books which she co-authors with Henry Winkler of HAPPY DAYS fame.

According to Lin, the 2009 SCBWI Winter Conference in New York City was attended by 1,056 people from all over the world and forty six states. Some of the countries represented were Austria, Canada, Denmark, France, Albania and the UK. Unbelievable!

She started off by posting a joke-writing challenge. We were to make believe a literary character was doing a tell-all on The Oprah Winfrey Show and write the show-stopping highlight. Here are a few examples Lin shared:

Captain Underpants confesses he stole from Victoria’s Secret!

Nancy Drew reveals her secret night with the Hardy Boys!

The prize was a $15.00 gift certificate to the conference book store. I was lucky enough to receive one with my winning entry:

The Cat in the Hat is the actual designer of Aretha Franklin’s inauguration hat!

After Lin’s challenge, Author/illustrator, Jarrett Krosocyka (sounds like Krisoska) spoke about the children’s book industry and his upcoming graphic novel series, LUNCH LADY. Jarrett showed us a film he made on writer’s block starring children’s lit greats Jane Yolen, Mo Willems, Tomie dePaola, Jon Scezka and more. It was seriously funny and well worth the laugh. Here is the link if you care to have a gander:

During lunch, we were entertained by Jay Asher, author of the new book THIRTEEN REASONS WHY. His speech was titled, HOW TO SELL A BOOK IN 12 YEARS OR LESS. Obviously, this business is tough on everyone. Jay’s new book was all the buzz at the conference and sold out quickly at the bookstore. It makes one wonder why it took him 12 years to finally get published. It makes one wonder how so many great works get overlooked. It makes one wonder when it will be one’s own turn. But most of all, Jay’s speech gave hope. As most of us already know, perseverance is key.

After lunch, an absolutely outrageous announcement was made. Agent, Scot Treimel, graciously offered to listen to pitches in the lobby. As you can imagine, Mr. Treimel was swamped as folks lined up around the room just to get a chance to chew his ear in hopes of finding representation. From what I was witness to, he listened tirelessly to proposals from around 2:30 in the afternoon to at least 6:00 that night. I have decided that Mr. Treimel is absolutely crazy or just EXREMELY tolerant of us desperate-to-find-an-agent writers. My hat goes off to him!

The one and only Tomie dePaola was supposed to attend the conference, but was recovering from an illness. Thankfully, he seems to be doing much better and actually addressed the crowd over conference call after the illustrator award, named in his honor and often paid by him personally, was announced. Lin Oliver surprised Mr. dePaola with a surprise tribute only SCBWI could deliver. The Tomie dePaola Award will now be a permanent fixture at the New York Conference and funded by SCBWI.

Another honored guest was publishing giant, Richard Jackson. Mr. Jackson was quick to point out that he is “happy to be retired from publishing but not from literature.” Mr. Jackson, during his long career in children’s publishing has discovered legendary authors such as Judy Blume, Virginia Hamilton, Chris Raschka and many more. He is also the co-founder of the Bradbury Press, Orchard, DK and even his own imprint with Simon & Schuster.

To discuss the art of writing for Middle Graders, author, Bruce Hale jumped in with his own brand of entertainment including a snappy musical number. I instantly felt like I’d met him before, but I think it’s because he reminded me of a white Damon Wayans and spoke very much like fellow author, Bruce Coville.

Mr. Hale gave us his eight best tips for writing a middle grade novel. Here they are:

1. Grab them from the get go.
2. Remind them of beauty.
3. Make them laugh.
4. Hold up the mirror.
5. Make them squirm.
6. Tell them the truth.
7. Go the extra mile.
8. Write what you love.

To quote the insightful Mr. Hale, “We are creating the readers of tomorrow, and readers are leaders.”

That wraps up the speakers and guests of the 2009 SCBWI Winter Conference. Keep watching for my summation of the agent’s panel and few secrets from the editors. I’m sorry to say I don’t have any door prizes to offer, nor can I brag about winning any. Either way, I consider myself a winner by having been fortunate enough to attend. Cheers!

-Niki Schoenfeldt


  1. I invite you to visit my blog. you can find my last works of art at:

    yours Claudio Tomassini

  2. You were DEFINITELY fortunate to be able to attend! I look forward to hearing more.


  3. wowowowow!~ This is great stuff, Niki! I enjoyed reading about it. And you had one of the winning entries? That's sooo cool! Put THAT in your scrapbook. That's just wonderful!

  4. How is it that I didn't even realize you'd gone? Have I been under a rock? Speaking of rocks, your site rocks! Way to go!
    Beth Miles


Thanks for joining in and posting your comments. I hope that by networking together we'll become better at our craft.