Tuesday, June 9, 2009

8 Highlights from the NJ-SCBWI Conference

Eileen and I are back from the 2009 NJ-SCBWI Conference, held Friday and Saturday, June 5th and 6th, in Princeton. Apparently, the word is out about this terrific conference—-it’s getting bigger by the year. Kathy Temean, the R.A. who organizes the conference, announced there were around 240 attendees this year, up 30 or so from last year. Many of them crossed state lines to attend too. With this year’s faculty of over 20 top agents, editors, and art directors, even famous authors like Richard Peck (pictured), who can blame them?

Here are just a few of Eileen’s and my conference highlights.

1. The conference was extremely well-organized: Participants received personal folders containing their daily schedules for pitch sessions, one-on-one critiques, and lunch table assignments as well as detailed information on events and panels. Volunteers, who were identified by name tags, gave directions and monitored pitch sessions. All were courteous and cheerful and guided the buzz of conference excitement. (Eileen)

2. A house that bucks a frustrating submission trend got a round of applause: Saturday morning kicked off with a faculty panel consisting of agents, editors, and art directors, each of whom gave a short pitch about their houses or agencies, including what types of manuscripts they're looking for, how to query them, and their response policies. As per the trend, most editors and agents said they only respond to queries if they're interested. So when one panelist stood up and announced that her house responds to all queries, whether or not they're interested, attendees applauded. (J.L.)

3. Pitch sessions were longer this year: In prior years, an attendee had one or two minutes to give his or her pitch to not one but three editors in quick succession. This year, pitch sessions were five minutes long with only one editor. The new setup provided breathing space and afforded time for a little dialog. Thanks to roving monitors, my pitch session was controlled and the experience went off well. (Eileen)

4. Richard Peck’s master class: Not only is Richard Peck a wonderful writer, he’s an electric speaker who gave so many great writing tips, I don’t know where to start. Among them: “Let the change of seasons help shape your story.” “When I get a page exactly the way I want it, I take out 20 words.” “Take your first chapter and throw it away.” (Because the story really begins with the second chapter. The first chapter is usually just warm-up.) “Always write your dialog standing up, it improves the pace.” (J.L.)

5. Kathy Temean’s marketing workshop: She gave the latest and greatest tips on creating web sites, blogging, and twittering. Kathy’s bottom line: Keep your name out there! (Eileen)

6. Steve Meltzer’s workshop on novel rewrites: Lest you think your manuscript is “done” once you land the sale, Dutton’s associate publisher/executive editor showed us some revision letters he sent his writers, which ranged from a few paragraphs to 15 pages long. Said Meltzer: “It’s not about writing the first draft, it’s about whether you can rewrite.” (J.L.)

7. Carolyn Yoder's historical writing workshop: She gave helpful suggestions on how to write historical fiction and nonfiction for contemporary children and present the past to them in an exciting way. She also talked about doing the necessary research and reference record-keeping that good history storytelling demands. (Eileen)

8. Miscellaneous faculty comments: Margery Cuyler, publisher, Marshall Cavendish, said a whopping 10 percent of her list is published from the slush pile and that her house is interested in launching new talent. And agent Scott Treimel, when asked what he’s seeing a lot of manuscript-wise, said that lots of paranormal stories, zombies and werewolves were hitting his desk. “And stay away from pirates,” he added. (J.L.)

In all, it was a first-rate conference, with far too many highlights to fit in one post.

So tell us, what are your highlights from this or prior years’ conferences?


  1. Sounds like a great conference! Sorry I couldn't make it up there for it.

    On of the most memorable speakers for me at a NJ conference was Mark Mc Veigh. What still remains with me to this day is when he spoke about how there are many reasons why a manuscript might be turned down. On the days I get a rejection and think "Sheesh my writing must s*ck" I remember that there could be a myriad of other reasons (even if the real reason was that my writing, does in fact s*ck!) and then I keep at it. He was very no nonsense, "this is a tough business to crack but we're looking for new talent" and that really spoke to me.

  2. I like what he said too, Robin. And I'd love to know some of the other reasons he gave for rejections. If you happen to remember any, please let me know.

  3. Thanks for the great summary and especially for the Richard Peck writing tips.

    I'm surprised (& happy) to hear there's still a house that responds to all queries. I've become used to rejection in the form of silence.

  4. Janice,

    What a great review of a very good conference. My favorite tip from Richard Peck is when you think you're good to go on a page, cut twenty more words! Am attempting to do that on my current historical non-fiction manuscript!

  5. Thanks for the conference review. I'm glad to hear that it ran smoothly and was productive.

  6. Sounds like the conference was exciting and crammed with good info. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Very imformative. Thanks for the breakdown of your time!

  8. Thanks for the recap. I wish I could have attended this year. I felt strange all day.

    I'm looking forward to hearing about your individual critiques...

  9. Thanks for spreading the word about the conference. Remember you have the ID and password for the conference information. Most of the sessions are up there, so if you missed a workshop, you will at least be able to get the handouts.

    I will make sure I provide a link on my blog to you, so people can see your review.

    Still working on finishing up the conference and today I started things rolling for next year.

    Hope to see during the year.


  10. Susan: I'm glad you liked Richard Peck's tips. If you ever get the chance to hear him speak (if you haven't already), go! And I agree, non-response rejections feel worse than written ones.

    Kathy: Thanks for stopping by. Can't wait for next year's conference.

    Everyone else: I enjoyed your comments. Thanks.