2016 Writers & Illustrators Working Conference Highlights

Austin SCBWI 20th anniversary cake

Austin SCBWI 20th anniversary cake

Celebrating its 20th anniversary, Austin SCBWI held its 2016 Writers & Illustrators Working Conference on May 14-15, a bigger conference than in past years to an almost sold out crowd. Held at the Crowne Plaza Austin, the annual conference had more than 200 people networking, learning and inspiring.

Seventeen faculty members, three keynotes, 12 breakouts, six intensives, 144 critiques and portfolio reviews, 43 pitches, 33 portfolios in the portfolio showcase… plus networking throughout the weekend and a silent auction with amazing items.

Faculty members (l. to r.) Peter Knapp, Claudia Gabel, Stephanie Pitts and Marietta B. Zacker

Faculty members (l. to r.) Peter Knapp, Claudia Gabel, Stephanie Pitts and Marietta B. Zacker

Saturday began a little differently than usual. Instead of kicking off the conference with a keynote, the chapter celebrated just a few of its authors that have had books published in the last year. Faculty members Jessica Lee Anderson, Donna Janell Bowman, Paige Britt, Kari Anne Holt, Nikki Loftin, Carmen Oliver, Liz Garton Scanlon and Jennifer Ziegler discussed their differing book launches, from debuts to multiple launches, and gave attendees some advice, like the people they'll meet at conferences like this one could have the biggest impacts on their careers.

National Book Award winner William Alexander explored the writing life through the narrative structure in folktales in his keynote "The Shape of Stories" in the morning, and Caldecott Honor author/illustrator Molly Idle kicked off the afternoon with a keynote about the skills that inspire great artistic work, in "Yes, AND… Setting the Stage for Crazy Good Creative Development."

Moderated by author Jessica Lee Anderson, editors Claudia Gabel (Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins) and Stephanie Pitts (Schwartz & Wade/Penguin Random House), literary agents Peter Knapp (New Leaf Literary) and Marietta B. Zacker (Nancy Gallt Literary) and art director Kristen Nobles (Candlewick Press) answered questions and talked about the publishing industry and their individual jobs. And agent Peter Knapp discussed why books matter in his general session to close out the Saturday.

Throughout the Saturday, attendees also separated for three breakout times, with two writing choices, a professional development track and an illustrating track.

Illustrators started their breakout track with a conversation between Austin SCBWI Illustrator Coordinator Amy Farrier and Molly Idle, talking about Molly's art, story and picture book process. Later, art director Kristen Nobles discussed how publishing houses match the right illustrator with the manuscript, and illustrator Marsha Riti gave tips on how illustrators can "Stay Sane in a Torrent of Work."

In the writing breakouts, agent Marietta B. Zacker discussed voice, Peter Knapp looked at plotting novels, author Nikki Loftin talked about unforgettable settings, editor Stephanie Pitts worked out picture book plot structures, author Jennifer Ziegler layed out outlining and planning tips and techniques and authors Liz Garton Scanlon and Kari Anne Holt swapped ideas for writing "Poetry From Picture Books to Young Adult."

The professional development track began with a discussion about how to get and navigate "Work for Hire" assignments with author Carmen Oliver moderating a panel including authors Jessica Lee Anderson, Donna Janell Bowman and Jennifer Ziegler and illustrator Marsha Riti. Later agent Marietta B. Zacker, her client author Paige Britt and authors Kari Anne Holt, Carmen Oliver and Cynthia Leitich Smith talked about "Working With an Agent" with moderator Becka Oliver, former agent and Writers League of Texas executive director. The professional development track closed out with editor and author Claudia Gabel exposing the hows, whys and what to dos with editorial letters.

Austin SCBWI 2016 Betty X Davis Young Writers of Merit winners with Betty (2nd from l.)

Austin SCBWI 2016 Betty X Davis Young Writers of Merit winners with Betty (2nd from l.). Photo: Sam Bond

The packed Saturday also included a slideshow of our published attendees' books at lunch, the debut of our Austin SCBWI 20th anniversary "Best Advice" video, readings by the amazing young winners of Austin SCBWI's 2016 Betty X Davis Young Writers of Merit Awards (named for our 100-years-young member whose speech had attendees laughing and in tears and got a standing ovation) and the announcements of the chapter's other awards and mentorships:

Meredith Davis Volunteer of the Year: Critique Coordinator Bradley Wilson

Portfolio Showcase winner: illustrator Vanessa Roeder (runners up: Rivkah LaFille and Lauri Johnston)

Emerging Voice Illustrator Mentor Award winner (getting a year's mentorship with Marsha Riti): Kristin Wauson (Read about why Marsha chose Kristin's work.)

Cynthia Leitich Smith Writing Mentor Award finalists: Salima Alikhan, Jeff Anderson, Donna Janell Bowman, Gogi Hale, Heather Helene, Kris Kuykendell, Eileen Manes, Amy Reynolds, Karen Santhanam and Aimee Thomas and winner Christine Alderman (nominees chosen by the critiquing faculty and winner chosen by 2016 mentor Liz Garton Scanlon). Read more about this year's award.

The 2016 Betty X Davis Young Writers of Merit winners are, for high school, Gabrielle Lewis from Meridian World School; for middle school, Keelin Bell from Dailey Middle School; and for elementary school, Maya McNeil Lopez from Ridgetop Elementary.

The learning continued on Sunday with an expanded and longer three tracks of craft intensives for picture books, novels and illustrators. Three-hour morning intensives were taught by William Alexander (novels) on creating characters with techniques from theater; Liz Garton Scanlon (picture books) on going "From Big Idea to Beautiful Book;" and Kristen Nobles (illustrator) on "Creating Memorable Artwork."

After lunch, each track had a two-hour intensive to close out the conference, with Claudia Gabel (novels) analyzing first pages and how to make them shine; Stephanie Pitts (picture books) on writing irresistible characters; and Molly Idle (illustrators) on incorporating cinematic ideas and storytelling techniques into illustrations.

See more photos on our Facebook page.

Check out Ariane Felix's vlog of day 1 of our conference and day 2.

We're already looking forward to our 2017 conference, which will be held on May 20-21. See you then!