Monday, October 29, 2007

Report from the Registrar, er, Attendee

What a day! My alarm rang at 5:45 a.m. Saturday. As registrar, I needed to get to the Mid-Atlantic SCBWI Fall Conference early!


Sorry, I started that story at the wrong place, according to Australian author Jen McVeity, whose talk on "Five Minute Fast Starts" showed how jump-starting your book with an action scene (and not with your main character getting out of bed) can pull the reader into the story right away.

So, let me try again...

"Ha! Waah! Yikes!"

Keynote Speaker Bruce Coville advised attendees at the Mid-Atlantic SCBWI Fall Conference to make sure their stories contain one of each of these three key ingredients. The "ha" is a belly laugh. The "waah" is a tear. And the "yikes" is a moment of shock.

Better? Better. I hope Jen would be proud.

Now, since I have no idea how to continue my "story" analogy for this report, I am going to switch instead to a bulleted list of conference highlights. BTW, once again, I left my camera at home. Sigh. Please imagine lots of beautiful, smiling faces as you read this.

  • Editor Bonnie Bader's handouts. She provided the first drafts of some of Grosset & Dunlap's best-known books, along with the resulting editorial letters, revisions and final versions. Can't wait to go through them with a fine-tooth comb and learn everything I can from the mistakes of some writers who are much more talented than I! One thing I took away from that session: The words, "This is a great start" in an editorial letter actually mean, "We've got some work to do!"
  • The aforementioned Jen McVeity's writing exercises. Jen put us to work. Our assignments: (1) Write intriguing first sentences, and (2) Incorporate body language and description into our dialogue tags. My takeaway: In stressful situations, 87 percent of communication is via body language and tone of voice.
  • Author Bruce Coville's presentation. Yes, the entire presentation. The man is an actor and clearly loves to talk about writing for kids. These two facts combine to create a pretty wonderful speech. My favorite part (aside from "Ha! Waah! Yikes!"): Coville posited that Harry Potter had so many fans because of J.K. Rowling's "CTPP Index," the number of Cool Things Per Page. Especially in fantasy, the more you can load up on cool stuff, the more fun your story will be.
  • The honest look at the realities of publishing explored during the first-time authors and editors panel. A few notable insights: (1) Sometimes a story can be well written and compelling but will not be acquired because the editor and/or the house simply do not think it is sufficiently marketable. Depressing, but true. (2) Houses don't pay that much attention to bad reviews, because (with the possible exception of the School Library Journal), they don't tend to have much effect on sales. And (3) Editors are just as nervous about writing and sending revision letters as authors are about receiving them. Who knew?
  • Agent Alyssa Eisner Henken's refreshing honesty regarding how much she enjoys TV. I love people who proudly admit to watching a lot of TV! Anyway, to make this relevant to writing ... Alyssa compared the query letter to the fashionable but conservative business suits often recommended by Stacy and Clinton on "What Not to Wear." Don't try to get fancy or cute. Just write a straight query and let your writing and your story idea speak for themselves.
  • My manuscript critique. The wonderful Laura Arnold of HarperCollins Children's was most encouraging and had some exciting (albeit frightening) suggestions for taking my mystery to the next level.
  • The book sale and signing. At last I got to meet the lovely and talented Sara Lewis Holmes, who signed my copy of Letters from Rapunzel. Sara worked with Laura Arnold on the book, and the two of them created something truly special.
  • Working at the registration desk. I put this last, but it was a real highlight for me as it gave me an opportunity to meet so many wonderful writers and illustrators. A terrific group dedicated to bringing messages of compassion, concern, joy and hope to kids.


Lauren said...

I really should join SCBWI. I wouldn't have been able to make this conference because I was busy this weekend, but I think it's a valuable resource either way. So, is it worth the money to join?

LindaBudz said...

Hi, Lauren! Yes, I think so ... it's a great organization. MD is not part of the Mid-Atlantic chapter (don't ask me why), but you would have the best of all worlds because you could go to your chapter's events and also come to our chapter's events. We had lots of folks from MD Saturday.

Anne Marie said...

I know you worked VERY hard as the registrar, Linda! Thanks!

So good to see you, even as briefly as it was!

Sheri said...

Linda~ I am enjoying a peek at what others took from this conference. It was such a great day.

LindaBudz said...

Hi, Anne Marie and Sheri!

It was fun seeing you both there. And I enjoyed your post-conference coverage as well! (With pictures! Grrr!)

It was a great day, indeed.

Sara said...

Linda...loved meeting you!

Thanks for posting, because I missed some of this, being out of the room for critiques. I love Stacy and Clinton! I wish I had Alyssa's talk on tape.

And "exciting" but "frightening" feedback from an editor is absolutely the best kind. Take some deep breaths and go for it.

LindaBudz said...

Hi, Sara! Loved your post on Jen's talk. So you've taken a swing [groan] at trapeze, eh? Brave, brave woman. Talk about "exciting" but "frightening"!

J said...

Hi Linda,

This post is very exciting. I attend the conference on the west coast, but I have to admit I haven't been in a few years. Sounds like I'd better get back there.

Thanks for all the helpful and useful information

Colorado Writer said...

Sounds like a great time! Thanks for sharing the info.

LindaBudz said...

Hi, J and Stephanie! These conferences are such a great way to be reminded of some of the things we already know but (in my case, anyway) tend to conveniently forget when actually writing!

Manic Mom said...

Hi Nut! Oops, I mean Linda!

Thanks for stopping by my Blog. I'm guessing you're a pal of Dorky's huh? Hee hee! SHe is a fun gal, through and through. Just so sorry to know that Brad is really pining for me!

: )

LindaBudz said...

Yes, she's an Internet "pal." I'm more of a geek than a dork myself.

Re: BP, I'm pretty sure that whole scene ends with me walking by and him turning to watch where I'm headed. And then the next scene opens with ... well, this is a family-friendly blog, so I'll just stop there. But suffice to say, neither you nor DBG make another appearance until the epilogue.

[VOICE OVER: MM went on to raise three lovely children, though for some reason she insisted on not only chaperoning every single one of their senior proms but also embarrassing them on the dance floor. DBG went on to open a fuzzy-sock store.]

Manic Mom said...

LINDA!!!! Do you know MM well enough to KNOW ABOUT HER ISSUES WITH PROM!?!?!?!?!?!?

Do a search on the blog: the words "prom" and "sister" and you'll know!

You hit this one right on the head!!!!


LindaBudz said...

Um, well, you haven't exactly kept it a secret.