Saturday was that time of year again, time for the annual Oklahoma SCBWI Spring Conference. When did time start to rush so?
This conference was one of the best I've ever attended. Despite the downturn in the economy. Despite the massive lay-offs within the publishing industry. And in our case, despite the weather, the conference reached a new level of professional amazingness (is that a word???).
The speakers brought with them the gambit of writing and publishing. We brought the weather.
Will Rogers once said he loved living in Oklahoma because you could experience all four seasons within a week. This last weekend, the state really outdid herself. We had all four seasons within 48 hours. I think the visiting speakers were duly impressed. Even I, who has lived here long enough to have seen it all, was impressed.
We started out Friday with muggy temps in the hi 60s and rain. Saturday morning was briskly colder. It was still raining. I was on deck for picking up our speakers and bringing them to the OSU-Tulsa campus where the conference would take place. At 6 the next morning, hail started. I left the house with drizzle. In the few moments it took me to go into the hotel to get the speakers and then walk back out, the drizzle had turned to snow. Huge, wet, heavy, snowman flakes.
It only got more interesting from there. The snow came down in massive amounts. We ended up getting about 5 inches that day. However, we also got thunder, hail, rain, and a short power outage. Oh yes, we got it all.
The indoor program was no less amazing. It began with Laurent Linn, art director at Simon and Schuster, talking about "The Anatomy of a Picture Book." I love getting inside the head of an art director. I cannot draw all that well, so each gander through the thought processes that go into the visual creation of a picture book are not only illuminating but just a lot of fun.
Mary Kate Castellani of Walker Books for Young Readers talked about "The Five Elements that Make or Break a Manuscript." She talked about style and voice, and was very upbeat and approachable, something all of our speakers were this year. Each year brings out a different constellation, but this one was steallar - very open, approachable, ready to share and interact. Maybe it was the weather. There are no strangers in the middle of a snowstorm, but I think it was probably far more their distinct personalities that alighted ever so serendipitously at the conference. The stars aligned.
Kristin Daly of HarperCollins spoke about the work horses of the book industry - Chapter Books and Easy to Reads. She did a great job of really explaining how these books fit into that nebulous spot between picture books and middle grade. It takes a special writer to create stories that are simple in wording and yet entertaining enough to pull a young reader from the first page through to the end. Her talk was incredibly illuminating, both for me as a writer, and for the room. During her talk, the electricity went out.
After lunch the OK SCBWI had its first ever Business of Writing lecture by royalty consultant and CPA, Gail Gross. I have to admit, my dad is a CPA so I've been inundated with this side of the business, but it was interesting to listen to Gail discuss the ins and outs of contract negotiations and what to make sure is included or removed from your contract so that you can indeed check that royalty payments are fulfilled. It's information an author really needs to familiarize herself with, especially before going into contract negotiations. As much as we all love to write, it's the business part of books that keeps us afloat.
Abigail Samoun with Tricycle Press had a great presentation on picture books and working with her company. We got to see the evolution of "The Day We Danced in Underpants." I mean, who couldn't love a book with that title? It was interesting to review the edits that the text underwent and why. Always, insight into an editor's mind is like finding gold. One begins to understand the art of writing so much better.
The day ended with Elana Roth, agent with Caren Johnson Literary Agency. Elana compared the Author-Agent relationship to dating - marriage - divorce, discussing what an author should look for in an agent, what an agent looks for, how to keep the relationship healthy and what to do "if things aren't working out anymore." Her wry, witty sense of humor carried the talk through the nitty gritty of "the ones that never call back" through the glory of "finding the right one" and even across the rocky "things are working out" possibilities. She's my new relationship guru. If only I can convince her to be my agent.
Despite the wealth of information these presenters brought to the conference, it was their candidness that really made this conference. They were great sports about answering questions, regardless of how delicate the issue. They were upbeat, informative, and yet realistic. I've had my moments this last year, wondering about the effectiveness of conferences of this nature, but this group of panelists really restored my faith. Attending was more than worth the time and cost.
And on Sunday, the sun came out and temperatures climbed into the upper 60s. All four seasons, the gambit of publishing, and intense, lively, uplifting conversations about life, all within 48 hours. Way to go Oklahoma SCBWI Spring Conference. My shout out's to you!