critique group, RMC-SCBWI, writing conference, Writing Picture Books

RMC-SCBWI Letters & Lines 2016

One of my favorite times of year—the Letters & Lines Conference through the Rocky Mountain Chapter of SCBWI! The rooms are packed wall-to-wall with picture book writers, illustrators, agents, and editors from the field, eloquently presenting steps and tips on how to break into the picture book market.

I sit fascinated by the knowledge and excitement of the keynote speakers during their kick off presentations. Lin Oliver and Stephen Mooser, the co-founders of SCBWI, chuck out funny stories about how the organization began. Hopeful writers, published writers, and those on the brink of a contract listen and feel grateful for the opportunity these two had back in the ‘70s. If it wasn’t for them launching this amazing organization, who would it have been?

One day in and I’m learning so much already. Each conference provides new and important information on the market trends, word count, proposals, first page sessions, critiques, and so much more. My knowledge of the industry continues to grow each year, and I immediately apply the information to my current project: polishing, removing words, improving my pitch/hook, and developing character(s).

The networking opportunities are also remarkable. It’s exhilarating to brush shoulders with agents and editors, sit with them during lunch, or casually talk about their picture book desires. I’m always so impressed with their professionalism and also human-ness (they seem so distant on their website or in the Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market). Knowing they drink coffee and walk with one foot in front of the other, just like me, gives me a little relief … just a little.
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I always pay for the extra manuscript critique, so I can sit with an agent one-on-one and discuss ideas or suggestions for my project. The feedback is invaluable and perhaps one of my favorite parts of the conference. There is always an energy from the agent that helps me launch either into a new direction or gives me energy to edit certain scenes in my project.

Outside of the presentations, roundtable discussions, and information on the industry, the best part is meeting and talking with fellow writers. One panelist said the word “pre-published” and after hearing that, I feel closer to the publishing world than ever before. I’m a writer, a pre-published writer. That sounds better than “I’m not yet published.” Being a writer is a lot of work, but thanks to my colleagues, the energy and inspiration I feel after a conference keeps me writing. Just as my characters keep me writing, and the scenes I create keep me writing.

I’m so grateful for my critique group, the PBJs, too. It is great to be able to bounce ideas off of each other during and after the conference. Discussing our takeaways from different sessions is invaluable!

So until the 2017 Letters & Lines conference, I will rewrite, update, create new characters and stories, dabble in different scenes, and submit to various agents and editors accessible through the conference. This is indeed a wonderful resource for all children’s book writers and illustrators. Thanks again Lin & Steve for being our pioneers! Happy 40th SCBWI!

critique group, query letter, Writing Picture Books

The PBJs

peanut-butter-and-jelly-ftrWriting is tough. The words all have to be spelled correctly. Sentences have to be structured. Verbs have to be in the correct tense. Don’t end in a preposition. Make sure you have a story arc. Make sure you’ve developed your characters well. Single or double spaced? “Said” or “explained“? It’s enough to make your head spin! But alas, it’s what I love doing.

I’m not an English major so there are many reasons why I need a critique group. I’m not published. I don’t have an agent. I’ve just started this journey and I’m 2 years in! There is so much to know, so much to learn.

After attending the Society of Children’s Book Writer’s and Illustrators (SCBWI) writing conference in Golden, Colorado last year, I realized I knew very little about the industry. And many of the attendees were in the same boat. We were floundering, wondering how this all works, and all working hard to become authors. Writing for children is probably the toughest book market, at least that’s what we’re all hearing. Every word counts. Every sentence counts. Most importantly, we’re learning that 500 words or less is what publishers are looking for. Really? That’s all I get to tell a story?

So this brings me to my wonderful and amazing group of writers called the PBJs! The Picture Book Junkies. We brainstormed our name and wanted something catchy and kid-like. It works for us. And every other week we gather in a small conference room, filled with excitement and energy for each other and our stories. Two stories are critiqued and we come up with creative ideas for each other, provide edits, kudos, and things to consider. We write a pitch that could be used in a query letter and overall have a really nice time together. I’m super thankful that I found the PBJs. They provide a great deal of enthusiasm to my writing, and I can’t wait to read more exciting stories from this very creative bunch.