Perseverence seemed to be the buzz word at the 2017 SCBWI Summer Conference in Los Angeles July 7-9. From debut authors Stephanie Garber, who wrote the New York Times bestselling novel CARAVAL, and Kim Turrisi, who wrote the YA novel JUST A NORMAL TUESDAY, to the brilliant illustrator VANESSA BRANTLEY NEWTON, to the amazing kidlit author and supporter Judy Blume, their message was clear: To succeed in this business, to make great art, you have to be determined.
In her keynote, Stephanie Garber talked about her "overnight success," which consisted of over 100 rejections for her first novel, more rejected novels after that, then finally, with CARAVAL, offers from multiple agents and an eight-editor auction plus movie rights sold the same day.
Kim Turrisi participated in the "Transforming Life Into Art" panel along with authors Alex Gino, Aisha Saeed and Ruta Sepetys. She revealed how she began to think she wasn't supposed to be a writer before an agent asked her about life and pointed her to the story of her heart.
Singing during her keynote, Vanessa Brantley Newton talked about overcoming adversity, which she knows a lot about. Even when she was born, her parents were told she wouldn't survive. All her life she has struggled with stuttering among other issues. She always drew, but didn't think she could do art for a living. She became a nurse and helped others, until finally she found her voice in her art and discovered that with pictures, she could help the world. (Note: Vanessa is doing a webinar for us on "My Journey to Diversity" on Sept. 26.)
And Judy Blume told us that, "If you write, you face rejection," and that you can have all the talent in the world, but without determination, you won't make it.
Here are other highlights from the conference:
In the editors panel, Bethany Buck said "Be true to yourself and be true to what you write." Kendra Levin called a book "a map," saying kids can learn through characters making mistakes and taking risks.
In his keynote, Sean Qualls found his voice as an artist when he stopped showing art he did for others but instead focused on the art he did for himself. Have face in your art even when others don't, he said. Keep showing up. Keep growing.
Author Ruta Sepetys told creators to "amplify the hope in the hardships" in their kidlit stories. Attendees were treated to a sneak peek of the movie adaptation of her book BENEATH SHADES OF GRAY, which will be called ASHES IN THE SNOW in the movies.
Author Alex Gino said marginalized people get to have happy stories too, and writing about difficult topics, "Kids are ready to take stuff on. Go with it."
Executive art director Cecilia Yung said, "Art doesn't have to be cute to be child-friendly. Child-friendly art evokes a sense of wonder."
Author Marvin Terban told attendees to not be afraid to write about a heavy subject with a light touch, saying it's almost essential to. "Humor is a vital life skill," he said.
Crystal Kite-winning author Kat Yeh talked about sharing our secrets in our writing, not the details, but the emotional truth, and how the dark part of your life can be a bright light for a child. "Don't write safe."
Illustrator LeUyen Pham said, "Creating a picture book is the closest you can come to whispering in a child's ear," and that picture books are our opportunity to mold a child's world.
Author Tammi Sauer told writers to create characters that are ARF: Active, Relatable, Flawed—then give them dinosaur-sized problems.
Newbery Medal winner Kelly Barnhill said that when we give a child a story with darkness and joy, we give them tools, a map, a mirror and a lantern.
And SCBWI Houston author Joy Preble gave published attendees insights and tips from her dual life as a bookseller.
A big shout out to Houston SCBWI Illustrator Coordinator Diandra Mae whose portfolio won a mentor award. Congratulations!
Hope to see you at the at the SCBWI Summer Conference next year!
For more about the conference, read the official blog.