The 2014 Austin SCBWI Writers and Illustrators Working Conference gave attendees a unique opportunity to hone both their craft and professionalism with the best and brightest in the field.
Award-winning author Matt de la Peña and award-winning illustrator Kelly Murhpy inspired attendees with the morning and afternoon keynotes about writing for working class and multi-cultural characters and finding your artistic voice. For the first time, the Austin SCBWI conference had an all-day illustrator track and a professional development track, as well as two general writing breakouts. (See the full schedule and faculty bios)
During Saturday’s illustrator breakout sessions, award-winning illustrator Kelly Murphy and Simon & Schuster Art Director Laurent Linn provided an inside look at the collaboration between art director and illustrator: from early sketches to final art, and the phases in-between. Attendees got to see how the two worked together, as well as art from other projects each had worked on.
Red Fox Literary agent Abigail Samoun's afternoon presentation underscored the need for illustrators to create a rich world around the characters they draw. She gave us seven questions to ask when designing a character and its surroundings. Identifying things like tone, the audience, and the character's roles inform pencils and paint brushes as we determine all elements of the story. She encouraged us to think past the basic facets of the character and plot into the visual depths of the tale.
Laurent Linn's "Rules for Being an Illustrator" was an overview of the practical sides of the industry. He gave us advice on how we should use electronic media — portfolio websites and social media — as well as more traditional methods of getting our work in front of publishers. Postcards are still the number one way, he said, to be remembered. He then delved into medium, taking us through a series of "Pop Quiz" slides asking, "Traditional, digital, or a combination of both?" The exercise illustrated a variety of tools and techniques can be used to achieve the same results, and how often today, one cannot tell what was used to create a drawing.
On the writing side, Candlewick Press Executive Editor Sarah Ketchersid led picture book writers through the process of making a book dummy. She reminded us that everything in a picture book – including the jokes – has to work visually. Sarah notes that the goal of your first lines should be to get the reader turning pages.
Abigail Simoun gave writers the tools to keep their plot engines purring: tension, structure, pacing, motivation, and conflict. Abigail told us to be mean to our characters, especially to our likable ones. Let readers anticipate a coming conflict, then make them wait for it!
Award-winning local author Liz Garton Scanlon gave an excellent tutorial on how to create rhyming picture books that editors want to see. She reminded us about rhyme scheme and meter, and advised us to let the story be the queen; let the rhyme be the pawn. As for her own, seemingly effortless poetry? She may rewrite a verse forty times before she arrives at the perfect words.
All our agents (Abigail Samoun and Eden Street Literary's Liza Pulitzer Voges) and editors (Bloomsbury Childrens Books Associate Editor Laura Whitaker, Sarah Ketchersid and CBAY Books Publisher Madeline Smoot) gathered to answer questions on the Agents/Editor Panel, moderated by author Lindsey Scheibe. They talked about the importance of having some kind of web presence, among other topics.
In the Professional Development track, Laura Whitaker's "Dating 101: What Makes YOU Desirable to an Editor" session, she suggested writers combine a personal approach, including their interests, hopes and dreams with practical marketing information, such as media connections, in their queries.
The Professional Development track also featured with a panel with local authors P.J. Hoover, Liz Garton Scanlon, Nikki Loftin and Don Tate and the nitty gritty of school visits. Led by moderator/author Cory Putman Oakes, the panel touched on such topics as what to wear, what to bring, technology issues, how to keep kids focused, how to handle book sales, and fees. Many thanks to these lovely and talented authors for sharing their wisdom with us!
Rounding out the Professional Development track was a session on pitching and staying calm by author and writing mentor Bethany Hegedus. This breakout helped get attendees ready to pitch the editors and agents at the conference in Sunday sessions, another new addition for 2014.
The craft intensives on Sunday offered writers and illustrators the opportunity to dig deeper with our excellent faculty.
Matt de la Peña encouraged writers to get out of the reader’s way, using narrative sparingly so that it packs a punch. He advised writers to let readers enter a scene so they become engaged, and shared how dialogue can be used creatively as a tool to tell story more effectively, both through alternative punctuation and strong rhythm.
Sarah Ketchersid talked about the importance of raising the stakes for our readers by escalating tension and having a well-defined goal for our main character. The personal stakes need to be important and specific to a particular character, so that when we ask ourselves “so what?” we’ll know that our characters have been on a journey worth taking.
Kelly Murphy kicked off the Sunday Illustrator Intensive with her lively session on Creating Emotive Characters, leading attendees through a series of drawing exercises that helped develop unique and purposeful characters and challenged everyone out of their sketching comfort zone in a fun way. In the afternoon, Laurent Linn gave a thoughtful and thorough critique to each attendee who brought in double-page illustration assignment based on a provided picture book manuscript. The assignments attendees brought in were fantastic and reflected the same wonderful variation in style and voice as the portfolios in the Showcase.
A number of awards were given out at the conference, including the annual Portfolio Showcase Contest. This year's illustrator Portfolio Showcase was filled with wonderful work in a wide range of styles, and judges and attendees alike were impressed with the level of talent in the room. The Grand Prize went to Marsha Riti for her beautiful work, which, as the judges said, showed both consistency of style and growth as an artist. C.S. Jennings and Melinda Beavers took the Honor spots with their amazing portfolios. Thanks to everyone who participated!
The second annual Betty X. Davis Young Writers of Merit awards went to three amazing young writers, two of which appeared at the conference and read an exerpt of their work. Their words were inspiring. The two honor winners were Parker DeLaune, 5th grader at Maplewood Elementary for his chapter book, The Life of Petronella Von Schweetz, and Erika De Los Santos, senior at Bowie High School for her prose piece, "Great Escape." The grand prize went to Vivienne Miller, senior at Garza High School for her short story An Introspective Look: Beauty. On hand to honor the winners, Bett X. Davis got a standing ovation from the conference attendees.
Austin SCBWI also announced the finalists for the inaugural Cynthia Leitich Smith Writing Mentor Award. Chosen by the conference critique faculty, the finalists were: Jayme Allen, Miranda Koerner, Laney Neilsen, Carmen Oliver, Melinda Payne, Gayleen Rabakkuk, Ramona Siddoway and Charles Trevino. The winner will be chosen by New York Times best-selling author Cynthia Leitich Smith and announced on this website soon.
And finally the Austin SCBWI regional leadership team — Regional Advisor Samantha Clark, Assistant Regional Advisor Shelley Ann Jackson and Illustrator Coordinator Amy Farrier — awarded the annual Meredith Davis Volunteer of the Year Award to C.S. Jennings, who person behind the chapter's Twitter and Facebook presences as well as much more.
The 2014 conference also offered beautiful items in the Silent Auction, including a typewriter cake by Tomie de Paolo Award winner Akiko White, gorgeous artwork from Kelly Murphy, a full manuscript critique with Laura Whitaker, a consultation with Liza Pulitzer Voges, a Kindle, a Kobo ereader, beautiful painted nesting dolls and more.
Samantha, Shelley and Amy give a huge thank you to all the volunteers who worked so hard behind the scenes. The conference couldn't have been a success without them.
See you in 2015!