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Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Conference report

Hi everyone! I am YA author B A Binns , writer of contemporary and realistic fiction for teens. My tagline tells you what I am about - Stories of Real Boys Growing Into Real Men - and the people who love them. 

Conference Tales

I'm so sorry my post is a little late  this month, but that's because I spent a week at the 46th annual summer SCBWI conference for children;s book authors and illustrators in Los Angeles. I am bringing you back some of the highlights, 

Diversity was a major theme of this year's conference. The first keynote speaker, Vanessa Brantley
Newton, gave a talk entitled Diversity Designed by Adversity. The author of Mary Had A Little Glam told us:

"We can let adversity ruin us, or we can 'shake if off and pack it under.'" She grew up with dyslexia, severe stuttering and synesthesia. She was also the only "chocolate chip" in her otherwise white class, and faced teachers who made her status as unwanted very obvious. Although she realized that reality sucked big time, she learned to celebrate the differences and similarities between people. She defeated her stuttering through singing, and treated us to a rendition of "Children will listen" to remind us of the importance of what we write to our readers.

Laurie Halse Anderson gave the closing keynote address. She reminded us that:

Remember, there is nothing easier to do than not create. So attendees hustled forth to be creators.


In between the opening and closing we had dozens of workshops to select from, some meant for beginners, others for long-time professionals. Workshops that included:

Linda Sue Park discussing marketing for those of us who hate marketing. One major piece of advice I took from her talk is to not be discouraged by tiny turnouts at book tours (although her family once presented her with an awesome crowd). She shared some advice from her publisher: the goal of book tours is not to sell books to individuals who attend, that's just a plus.The real goal is to build relationships with individual booksellers so be sure to spend time schmoozing with them. You want the book sellers to like and remember you. That leaves them carrying your books, looking for new books, and hand-selling them to future customers. It's all about making connections with other people, the thing that shy me is least good at.

Kat Yeh gave advice to novel drafting to both plotters and pantsers (who she lovingly called "discovery writers"). She called that all important first draft the "hot mess" version. This is the loose, untamed, writing based on instinct and emotion and the ability to not care if you get something wrong. She likened writing the first draft to navigating through uncharted water. When stuck, she recommended we:

  • Think of"what ifs"
  • Jump around to different scenes
  • Think of a scene to show an essential character trait
  • Consider something you want/need/wish your reader to know
Big take-away - that hot mess will need editing and re-writing, so attempts to make the first draft perfect are often exercises in futility. Laurie Halse Anderson echoed that at the end of the conference - we must lower our standards to the basics for that first draft and give ourselves permission to suck. The hardest thing to do is to get started. There is nothing easier to do in the world than not create.

Newberry Award winning author Kwame Alexander, settled in for an "intimate" chat with the thousand plus attendees about his long journey to success. 

He also taught a workshop on Business Tips for writers and answered many of our questions.

Panel discussions

There were panels and more panels discussing the publishing industry of today.

Agent Panel
We were treated to commentary by a panel of Editors on Friday, and one of Agents on Saturday. They all told us that diverse voices was no fad. Several publishing houses spoke at length on the subject of sensitivity readers, and both panels discusses some of the issues the still largely white, cis-normal, able-bodied publishing world has in finding authenticity in stories about other groups.

One thing was unanimous. They want manuscripts that surprise them. If you make them laugh, cry and be intrigued by a character who flies off the page, they will want your manuscript.

In addition, we had a special panel of editors from Arthur A. Levine Books who spoke on Celebrating Diversity, Tradition and Change. Mr. Levine and three of his editors spoke about that publisher's long-standing commitment to seeking out and publishing diverse content.

The end?

Then it was time to go home, one of the most fearsome journeys I had ever undertaken. Not that the traffic was so bad. Our driver insisted on splitting his attention between watching the traffic,and watching the video on his phone.


Anticlimax moment - I made it to the airport alive, and now I am home and struggling to recoup and digest all I learned.  There was much more to the conference, including a diversity social hosted by WNDB, a silver linings gala on Saturday night that...well, you had to be there and see to believe, and a sneak preview of a best selling book coming to the big screen in the near future.

That major announcement included clips from the movie, and a panel discussion with the author, and members of the production staff. The story is set in the 1940's when the Soviet Secret police deported large numbers of Lithuanians to Siberia. With the men separated from the women, Stalin's idea of population control) fight to survive and maintain their humanity. I admit I had not heard of this book or the events it details until I saw the top secret movie excerpts they showed us and listened to them discuss the labor of love that went into making this movie. The movie title will be Ashes in the Snow and I am going to line up to see it when it comes out in the fall.


Allan Woodrow said...

Great post. Thanks for sharing so much valuable information.

Lynn Lovegreen said...

Awesome post, B.A., very inspirational!

Judith Ashley said...

Oh my, B.A., that drive to the airport was a bit much. I love your sharing the highlights of this conference. Certainly well worth the trip even the drive back to the airport.

Suzanne Slade said...

Thanks so much for the great post Barbara! I really enjoyed all the information you shared.