Society of
Children's Book Writers
and Illustrators

Focus at 2014 SCBWI Summer Conference

SCBWI’s Summer Conference in Los Angeles Aug. 1-4 was all about focus, focusing on character, story and creating the best books possible. Among the amazing speakers were authors Meg Rosoff, Maggie Stiefvater and Judy Blume, illustrators Tomie de Paolo and Aaren Becker, plus editors and agents who packed the long weekend with inspiration and business.

The sold out conference had about 1,235 attendees from 19 countries around the world. Close to 50% of attendees were published.

Here are some highlights from the conference:

Author Meg Rosoff

The start of every good story is a person asking a question. Then we must use our imagination to answer it.

Don’t be afraid to engage with the difficult parts of yourself or your writing.

Take risks. Write a story you think no one will ever buy, as long as it’s the story you want to tell.

Imagination can change the world.

Author Sharon Flake

Allow yourself to be vulnerable.

Rest. Your creativity is not a genie in a bottle that you can pull out whenever you want it.

Remember that it’s in you to make it through. Sometimes you need to let go.

Author Judy Blume

Have the courage to create and imagine. She wasn’t brave as a child, but she was always brave in writing.

Do not let anyone discourage you. If they try, get angry, not depressed. They don’t know what you’re capable of.

You need determination.

Stop thinking, who’s going to read this book. Stop your critic and just create.

Simon & Schuster editor Justin Chandra

It is your job to write the book you are inspired to write. That is it. The minute you write to a trend is the minute you lose your voice, and your voice is your most valuable asset.

There’s growth in middle grade and picture books, but teen is still leading the way. Middle grade action adventure books are doing well, but also ones about true experience, like Wonder. And there’s a rise in gender-neutral middle grade books.

Picture books that sell best have humor, adult appeal and strong, identifiable characters. Sales are rising, but we’ll never see the 2006 levels again because there’s not enough shelf space in stores.

Bells and whistles won’t ever make up for bad stories.

Diversity in books is needed, and it’s the responsibility of all of us, to write them, illustrate them, publish them, promote them, etc. The children’s book industry is on the forefront of this. We are all in this together.

Editors panel

Looking for in submissions…



A beginning that contains the seeds of the end and invites readers in and are fit for their imprint. To check which books editors have worked on, look at the Edited By document in the Resources section of

Good sentence breaks and chapter breaks, show confidence in how the writer wants the story to read

Writing that a reader can relax into

Stories that have to be shared

Ends that contain the heart of the story, especially with picture books

Negatives for submissions…

Boring manuscript

Picture books that are more than 1,000 words

No page numbers

Being weird in contact, i.e. sending gifts

Too much description

Telling instead of showing


Overwhelming the reader at the beginning of the manuscript

The editors said that 99% of the picture book manuscripts they get are early drafts. So don’t send too early. Take your time, learn your craft before you submit. That’s how good books get published.

Agents panel

What agents want in their submissions:

* Books that make readers feel

* Authenticity

Classic feel

Writers who work hard

Taking well known ideas and making them your own

Sense of where you are in your career from your cover letter

Sense of voice and person in the cover letter

Pages that deliver on the promise of the query.

Market Report

There’s a 54% rise in children ages 2-10 reading eBooks, but young adult is still biggest in digital.

Middle grade is coming into its own, but the voice and humor have to be spot on. Editors aren’t publishing more because they’re not finding more that are right. The bar is high. Adventure and fantasy are strong.

YA readers continue to buy the genre, even when they’re older.

In short, children’s books are thriving.

For more from the conference, including the 2014 Golden Kite winners and words from authors Maggie Steifvater and Linda Sue Park and illustrators Aaron Becker and Tomie de Paolo, check out the Official SCBWI Conference blog.