Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Denver SCBWI Conference Offers Tips for All Writers

By Stacy S. Jensen

What came first: children reading at a higher-grade level or books aimed at that market?

I never figured out the answer to this question, but know from my attendance at the Society of Children’s Book Writer’s & Illustrators regional Letters & Lines Fall conference in September the market is changing.

Editors, authors and agents all repeated the comment that parents are pushing their children to read at an earlier age. As a result, picture books are geared toward a younger market as older children are reading chapter books, middle grades and young adult novels sooner.

The Rocky Mountain Area region conference brought men and women, writers and illustrators, from Colorado and Wyoming to Denver to learn more about the craft and today’s publishing market.

Women outnumbered the men at the Rocky Mountain Area Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators regional conference, so the bathrooms near the workshop rooms were changed to accommodate the attendees.

This is the first conference I’ve attended that had a specific policy outlining blogging and recording policies. My thoughts comply with this line in the policy: “While we think it’s great when bloggers share thoughts about their overall experience, offer a personal anecdote, and/or briefly talk about something that resonated with them, it is equally important that bloggers not give away that which is not theirs to give.”

In a spirit of not pirating anyone’s material (and utilizing those starred notes from the workshops I attended), I’m sharing a few observations that apply to many writers — not just children’s writers.

  • Author Todd Mitchell gave the banquet keynote with a fun Power Point. Two key thoughts: “No one else can tell your story” and “If you can be talked out of writing, then why are you doing it?”
  • Author Denise Vega: “You always need to be working on a new project.” She also emphasized in her Publishing 101 session: “It’s a business.”
  • In response to a picture book writer saying editors don’t like her story, Holiday House Editor Sylvie Frank said, “It’s not that we don’t like them. We can’t sell them.”
  • Author Chris Crutcher said real life stories can be turned into fiction. He used an iPad as he read from his books. His print books were sold in the conference bookstore.
  • Illustrator turned author Leslie Ann Clark shared her baby — her manuscript wrapped in a blanket. The power of a strong character was evident in her publication story. She created her Peepsqueak character first and then landed a contract to write her story.
  • Illustrator and self-published author Will Terry shared how he created his first picture book application and published some children’s ebooks. On the topic of self-publication, he said there’s no substitute to being early to market due to different ebook publisher ranking methods. During the discussion on children’s storybook apps, he said books face the problem of going out of print while ebook or storybook apps can face the dilemma of being nonfunctional as readers and tablet technology changes.
  • Illustrator and Designer Megan Halsey spoke about her personal creative umbrella — how she expanded into different markets and how her personal artwork feeds into her design and illustration work. She encouraged attendees to listen to her inner voice and ask, “Where’s my joy?” to help navigate the publishing and creative world.
  • For those working on book covers or any art, Will Terry shared in another session the importance of using a thumbnail size of your drawing/photo to work out the shape, design and values of lights and darks.
  • Author Jean Reidy shared her picture book revision process. A noteworthy reminder: “The publisher is your first customer.”

The regional SCBWI conference offered a variety of craft and motivational workshops for those interested in writing or illustrating for children. My favorite part of any conference is hanging out with other writers. I met several online writing friends from the 12 x 12 in 2012 picture book writing challenge, several PPW friends and met a few new folks from Colorado Springs.

What’s the best advice you’ve heard at a writer’s conference?  

About the Author: Stacy S. Jensen worked as a newspaper reporter and editor for two decades. Today, she writes picture books and revises a memoir manuscript. She lives in Colorado Springs with her husband and toddler.  You can find her at her blog: and on Twitter: @StacySJensen.


  1. Great report from the conference, Stacy! It was really fun to see you there.


  2. SO glad you went and took that time for yourself and your work. :)

  3. Fantastic summary of the conference Stacy. Such a thrill to finally meet you in person!

  4. Thanks for sharing your high lights of the conference. I missed our mid atlantic conference due to the death of my brother. I know I missed a great opportunity to learn and discover but the family came first and no doubt I wouldn't have been able to concentrate. There's always another conference next year. And it is nice to read your review of one. :)


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