What I learned at the SCBWI Conference

The first thing I learned was how very, very similar we all are! There are so many of us out there, taking the same journey. It was an incredible amount of fun to make new friends and meet old ones.

I stayed with my critique partner Janice Foy while in Atlanta.

A few more of the amazing people I met. Unfortunately, none of these ladies are bloggers! Get on it girls! :)

I also had the privileged of meeting Jaye and Mary Ann. It was crazy meeting people I blog and tweet with. It’s such a small world! (Hope you don’t mind I stole your picture, Jaye :)

From Kirby Larson, I learned: Don’t be afraid to take big risks. There is a certain amount of uncertainty we all must have when we’re writing and we can’t be afraid of where that might take us. Kirby was an amazing keynote speaker and this message stuck with me through the entire weekend

From picture books, I learned (from Mary Kole): -Cut what doesn’t fit in the heart of your book. This was stated for picture books since the word count is so low, but I’m finding it completely applicable for my own 80k MS. Cut what doesn’t fit.
-Never strike the reader over the head with the moral. I heard this and immediately went to cut a few paragraphs that had been bothering me. I finally figured out, they were bothering me because I was far too blunt. Delete. Delete.
-Have a rich emotional arch, emotions are the glue that hold plot together.

On Dialogue (from Kristin Daly Rens): -Edit out anything that isn’t essential to the plot. Don’t use dialogue as a crutch for info dumping, to lengthen a scene or say instead of show.
-Dialogue always needs to move the story forward in some way. It can contribute to characterization, be used as a plot device, or to set a scene, but it always must be significant.
-Don’t overuse dialogue tags (woops. Another delete. Delete. moment for me)

On the Slush Pile (from Mary Kole): -Query 10-20 agents in the 1st round. Fix anything that needs fixing and send out to another 10-20 in the second.
-Be sure to follow agencies guidelines
-Ask yourself these questions when doing your agent search: What is important to you for your relationship? Don’t just pick the first agent that offers, be sure they are the right fit for you.
-The goal of the query is to get an agent to take notice. The manuscript is infinitely more important- the query cannot break you. Use the query to get the agent to your (hopefully perfected) MS.
a)isolate your hook- it’s your selling point
b)who is your audience? Find the right comparitive titles
c) be brief and professional, have a short bio but mostly focus on the project
d)a good idea and good execution is enough
-Make the agent care
a)who is your character?
b)what is the inciting incident
c)who/what do they want most?
d)who/what is in their way? The Obstacle
e)What is at stake?

On Writing a Thriller (from Greg Ferguson): (Yep, I’m totally going to write a thriller after listening to this ;)
-Must have non-stop action, dangerous situations where the protagonist is in grave danger, hair-raising suspense and a heroic character

On the First Page: On Saturday night, Mary Kole, Greg Ferguson and Krisin Daly Rens read multiple first pages and gave their insights on if the first page worked, or not. Here’s what I learned:
-The first page must be grounded in the world
-It must have specific cues as to the world it’s in and the main character
-Do you have your opening line or a opening line?

On Plots (from Kristin Daly Rens): -The opening must grab the reader and must not let go. It must make a promise that is kept through to the end.
-Don’t do too much in the beginning. All you need is the hook to lead on.
-Introduce the MC, central conflict and know what is to come ->make that promise
-Your reader should be able to begin reading and understand what’s going on without dropping back story on them.
-Begin with action that moves the story forward with momentum and tension, but do not have action that confuses your reader.
-As you continue with your story, make every word, scene, dialogue count. Continuously up the ante. Test scenes with the question, “What purpose does this serve?”
-Make sure you keep the promise you made in the beginning scenes. Again, test each chapter and scene to see if tension is increased? How have things changed for your MC? Be ruthless :)

Massive TBR List (only titles, I haven’t looked up the authors)
I Heart Killers
Spanking Shakespeare
All Alone in the Universe
The Disenchantements
The Madman’s Daughter
Fat Vampire
Through to You
13 Reasons Why
Bad Girls Don’t Die
Blood on my Hands
The Butterfly Clues
Dark Divine

p.s. I’m sorry this post took a week to get posted. It was a lot to soak in and I hope I’ve been able to pass on at least a little to you!

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23 thoughts about "What I learned at the SCBWI Conference"

  • Wow! I’m envious of your TBR list. I may steal a couple of titles from it. : )
    I’m glad you have a great time, Juliana!

  • Great notes! I especially like “On Dialogue” and “On the Slush Pile.” I think I’ll put this in my Link Blitz, because it’s great info!

    Glad you had fun!

  • Lora Rivera says:

    This is AWESOME stuff! I’m bookmarking this page for later – totally agree with Charlie – link blitz worthy!

    It sounds like you had a fantastic time. Thanks for posting your takeaway for the rest of us :)

  • Juliana says:

    Yay! I’m glad you guys are finding my notes helpful!

  • Kelley Lynn says:

    Ooo, lots of good learnings here. Thanks for sharing!

  • Sophia Chang says:

    Thanks to these notes I have an idea of how to fix up my WIP now…I wonder if I’m going to pull another “don’t read it let me fix it first!” on you :P

    And omg I knew it – you’re tall aren’t you?

  • Jaye says:

    Great write-up Juliana. I’m excited to see Madman’s Daughter on your list. The author is a former writing class buddy of mine.

  • Looks like it was a lot of fun and a lot of help. I wish I could have gone too, but maybe I’ll make it to the fall conference.

  • WOW! Fantastic, awesome, and thank you! So much great info. I was interested in your list of books – I’ll have to look them up. I’ve only read 13 Reasons Why and if the others are as good, they are must-reads!

  • Wow, sounds like you had an amazing experience. Thanks so much for passing on all this advice. I never have that many agents in my submission list, where are they all. Did anyone say that if you change your ms enough you can send it back to semi-interested agents after a little while has passed?

  • Thanks for the info. A lot of good stuff there.

  • Janice says:

    Excellent write up, Juliana, your notes are so much better than mine. I’m already looking forward to next year.

  • Shelly Brown says:

    Great notes and some of those TBR’s are on my TBR list. It’s probably time to start R’ing them. ;)

  • Jack says:

    Love your notes, Juliana! The On Plots (from Kristin Daly Rens) is the most helpful to me, as I know how important an opening page is when grabbing the attention of the reader and of a potential agent.

  • AMAZING advice Juliana! Thanks! I am so bad at that dialogue thing as I’m finding out from my beta readers. Hopefully by the time it gets to you it won’t be so horrendous:)

  • ChemistKen says:

    That’s a lot of good info there. Did it feel like your head was going to explode before the conference was over?

    When I get that much information all at once, I can’t shake the feeling that I’m going to lose all of it before I have a chance to assimilate it.

  • Ladonna says:

    Great post. The notes were very helpful.

  • Hi! I meant to comment on this weeks ago and forgot! lol! Thank you so much for sharing your notes and insights on this great information. :))

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