Monday, September 17, 2012

Conference Faculty Submission Info

The information for submitting your work to the conference faculty will be emailed to conference attendees in a personal email instead of being posted on this blog. Watch for this email in your inbox later this week.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Artist Promo Screening with Martha and Martha (Mihalick and Rago that is)

Since the Midsouth started offering this as a breakout 5 years ago, this session has never failed to be helpful. This year was no exception. Each attending illustrator was invited to bring a few promotional mailers for the editor / art director team to evaluate as if they were getting them in their in-box. Both Marthas went carefully through each submission explaining why they would choose to keep a piece on their bulletin board... or what they felt could be stronger about the mailer so that is DOES get a piece of that coveted real estate. Also, while both Mihalick and Rago are at Harper Collins, each has a different departmental process for finding and selecting illustrators for projects. It was immensely helpful to hear the differences between the smaller Greenwillow imprint and the larger Harper Collins art department.

Know the rules, then break them with Victoria Rock

Are they rules or are they challenges? Victoria Rock led us through a thought provoking discussion of the common themes most writers are advised to stay away from. There are rules, but there are more challenges: structures, themes, and plot issues that you don't necessarily have to stay away from - but if you choose these challenges then you've got to do them well. Along with this discussion, Victoria gave us a fascinating reading list. Some highlights published by Chronicle were:

• Press Here by Herve Tullet

• Good Night, Good Night Construction Site by Sherri Dusky Rinker

• Little Pea by Amy Krouse Rosenthal

• Wave by Suzy Lee

Newcomer's Dinner Saturday Night

The second annual Newcomer's dinner was a great success! Designed for those either new to the conference or new to publishing who had a lot of questions, it was almost twice as big as last year! Six teams of author illustrators went to four different restaurants to network, learn, and decompress after 9 hours of soaking our brains in the publishing world. I was the coordinator and didn't think to take a single picture, so if anyone DID take pictures during your dinners please send them to me. I'd love to see! As for my group, Team Willems, we stayed at our table for two and half hours, yakking and drinking multiple toasts to SCBWI.

Illustrator's Intensive with Martha Rago

After giving the registered illustrators an assignment 8 weeks ago, the attendees met with Martha Rago on Friday afternoon to critique our finals and discuss the changes we had made from her comments at the sketch stage. She took time to look at each of our finished pieces individually. Some of the high points from her discussion were:

• Remember to create something to find later to the pictures

• Even if it has a fantastical element it has to feel like it could happen

• Composition counts, remember the gutter and place for type.... it should be dynamic even with these technical elements.

• Always always read ABOUT books - read reviews, read histories of books such as Dear Genius and Writing with Pictures

Overall it was a fun afternoon with an intimate group of artists talking about art and book making.

Editor/Art Director/Agent Panel

Sarah Davies of Greenhouse Literary Agency, Stephen Fraser of Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency, Martha Mihalick editor at Greenwillow (an imprint of Harper Collins), Martha Rago associate creative director for HarperCollin's Children's Books, Victoria Rock editor at Chronicle Books, Liz Scalbla editor-in-chief of Feiwel and Friends (an imprint of Macmillan Children's Publishing Group) discussed their thoughts of the following questions 

How do you recognize extraordinary work?
Would you agree that writing something that's true to you will be true emotionally for others? 
What is the value of an agent? 
What content could an unpublished author include on the internet to interest editors and agents? 
What are your feelings about self-publishing?

Interested in any of these questions? Attend the annual Midsouth SCBWI for all sorts of interesting information! 

Pictures from the SCBWI Midsouth Conference

Scroll down to check out some highlights from the SCBWI Midsouth Conference!

ARAs, new and former - Courtney Stevens Potter Patsi Trollinger

Kristin Tubb takes the RA torch from Genetta Adair

Conference Committee:  Genetta Adair, Sharon Cameron, Susan Eaddy, and Courtney Stevens Potter

Tracy Barrett speaks to writers.

The Midsouth honors Genetta Adair for her service as an RA.

Genetta displays a kite given as a symbol of gratitude for her service to the Midsouth.

Thanks for a wonderful, successful book drive!

Susan keeps up with sessions with an iPad.
Julie and Jessica smile for the camera!
Authors and attendees at the book signing!

Meet Your Friendly Neighborhood Bloggers

Rae Ann Parker is a clinical social worker using her relationship skills on fictional characters. She writes YA fiction and Middle Grade mysteries.Visit her website at and follow her on twitter at

Bethany Griffin is the author of Masque of the Red Death, a post-apocalyptic re-imagining of Poe's short story.  She teaches high school English outside of Louisville, Kentucky.  Follow her on Twitter @_bethanygriffin and visit her online at

Amanda Morgan is a writer living in Nashville, TN.  Follow her on Twitter @amandaKmorgan and visit her online at

Mary Reaves Uhles has worked for over a decade doing illustration for children. Her pieces have been featured in books and magazines around the world. Prior to beginning her career as a freelance illustrator, Mary worked as an animator on projects for Warner Brothers and Fisher-Price Interactive. To this day her work features a cinematic quality essential to bringing characters to life. Her illustrations have been featured in multiple publishing showcases in the South and she was a featured illustrator on the National SCBWI website as well as showcased on the blog, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. A PAL member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, Mary lives with her family in Nashville, Tennessee.  Visit her online at and and follow her on Twitter at @maryuhles.

Stephen Fraser: Midwiving Your Book

Stephen is using this session to spoil attendees with a little bit of encouragement.

A state of joyous wonder helps the book on its way to rightful placement.  You may call this midwiving your book.

Cultivate time every day to be truly still.  Don't let your ego speak; just listen.  Love this creative space within you.  Let this joy spread to all of those you come in contact with.  Don't worry about publishing; delight in what is.  This joyous sense will carry you along; the results will be sure, strong, and continuous.

Get yourself out of the way and let it happen.

Being an agent is like being a GPS system; I have to find not only the right publisher but the right editor.

If an agent or editor asks for a revision, be willing to participate. Be willing to be part of a joint effort to take your manuscript to the next level.

One of the most important things a writer can do is be appreciative and respectful.  Don't burn bridges.

Tell your agent and/or editor thank you.  Show your appreciation.  It says a lot about you.  Think about building long term careers.

There is a lot you can do to promote your own book.  If you show publishers you are willing to do your part, they will grab your hand and run with you.

Don't rush to say yes; think through your options.

Be aware that a corporate way of looking at things has crept in.  Keep this in mind.

Sometimes the concerns of commerce override the concerns or art.  We need both.

What's In, What's Out, and Why? Liz Szalba

If you aren't up on the basics when you pitch your book, it's going to show. No matter how great your book need some understanding.

If you aren't spending time in your local bookstores, you're missing out on your best avenue for market research. Seep yourself in retail.

Some questions to ask a children't bookseller

1. What titles are you hand-selling?
2. What debut titles are most exciting to the staff?
3. What book do you wish you had, but you don't?

A great session with a focus on things that aspiring authors can do right now.

Congratulations to our Winners!

Ruta Sepetys was honored with the prestigious Crystal Kite for BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY.

Winners of the PB Manuscript contest (left to right):
Winner:  Josh Bledsoe for NO DOG FOR DAPHNE DOODLE
Honorable Mention: Amanda Driscoll for A BEDTIME STORY BY MADDIE - AND JACK

Winners of the MG Manuscript Contest (left to right):
Honorable Mention:  Erica Rodgers for BREAKING BEDLAM
Honorable Mention: Gail Nall for DON'T FALL DOWN
Honorable Mention: Susan Burdorf for BATTLE OF THE TEMPEST

Winners of the YA Manuscript contest (left to right):
Winner: Lisa Crawford for SCIENCE FIGHT
Honorable Mention:  Carmela Martino for THE SECOND SALVINI SISTER
Honorable Mention:  Helene Dunbar for IN CASE OF EMERGENCY

Winners of the illustration contest
Winner: Cheryl Mendenhall for illustration TOUGH TOM
Honorable Mention: Doug Jones for illustration BANJO PIG

Revision as Reconstructive Surgery by Liz Szabla & Kristin O’Donnell Tubb

SCBWI Midsouth member, Kristin O’Donnell Tubb and her editor, Liz Szabla of Feiwel and Friends (MacMillan) presented the workshop, Revision as Reconstructive Surgery:  Five Essential Tips on Rebuilding after the First Draft. Kristin and Liz discussed their work on Kristin’s upcoming novel, The 13th Sign.

Kristin’s agent sold the book based on 3 chapters and a synopsis.

Kristin said, “I had never sold on partial before. It’s a very different concept because we (Liz & I) were building this book. It was very much a collaborative project.”

Liz said, “It’s very rare for me to buy a project based on 3 chapters and a synopsis, but I had worked with Kristin. The reason it went so smoothly is that I knew who I was working with.”

Think of your book as a one-way street. Any scenes that don’t push your book down the street, eliminate them.  Liz said, “Make it count or let it go.”

Liz said, “Pacing can be especially tricky when you’re writing entirely in present tense.” Avoid describing every action.

There were 4 complete rounds of revision for The 13th Sign between Kristin & Liz.
They emailed brainstorming ideas as Kristin worked on the story.

Liz said, “Kristin was always asking herself why and I wanted to ask myself why? This was our chance to put everything into it.”

Saturday, September 15, 2012

What Writers Can Learn from TV

Editor Martha Mihalick discusses What Writers Can Learn From TV-

What can writers learn from television?

Martha discussed structure, raising the stakes, characterization, setting, and voice using examples from popular television shows.

Sarah Davies: How to Write a Great Thriller (and any really exciting story!)

What are the ingredients for a great thriller?

1) A fabulous premise - must have a great hook to leave reader "slack-jawed with interest."

 Put your character into some intrinsically frightening situation.  This can be pointed out by a strong sense of place, however it is not enough to carry an entire story.

Start with impossible conundrum.  What might have credibly have happened to have you arrive at that part?  

Credibility in this kind of story is vital, especially where you have to dream big.  Everything unfolding from initial premise has to be logical.  

"The difference between fiction and reality is that fiction has to make sense." - Tom Clancy

2) An exceptional protagonist

Character is how you draw in your reader.  Don't skip on characterization because your story is plot-heavy.  See your protagonist on some kind of mission.

"I try to create sympathy for my characters and then I turn the monsters loose."  - Stephen King

Make your idea fresh.   In fiction unmitigated happiness and virtue are just not interesting.  Give your protagonist a past.

3) A high-stakes plot

Your goal is to take your highly motivated set of complex characters and pit them together in a high-stakes contest.  To write a great thriller multiply by ten everything you ever knew about plotting.  You have to create a complex and zig-zaggy story.

Create peaks and troughs in your story.  Treat it like a roller coaster - let the reader feel the tension.
Build in major surprises.Throw your reader off the scent.  Keep the reader guessing as long as possible.  Throw in red herrings and cast suspicions.  Consider building in cliffhangers.  Aim for a good suspenseful chapter end.
Plan an amazing climax.
4) Tight and Pacey writing

For more, attend a conference! 

How A Book Goes from Acquisition to Publication

Martha Mihalick, editor at Greenwillow books (HarperCollins) introduced the audience to Greenwillow and the books they publish.

She discussed what it takes for her to love a book.

Strong writing and a sense of authenticity.

She gave examples of each of these characteristics.

Then she gave a detailed discussion of the acquisitions process, as well as examples of process for books that she has acquired, including Mistwood by Leah Cypress.

Entwined by Heather Dixon

The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson

Masque of the Red Death by Bethany Griffin 

And Breathe by Sarah Crossan 

She ended with this quote

"Don't ask yourself what the world regards: ask yourself what makes you come alive, and then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive."
Howard Thurman 

Author-Illustrator Panels

These responses are summaries.  Not all responses are included.

Social Networking:

Tracy:  If there is something that makes you uncomfortable, don't do it because it will show.

Heather Henson: Ditto.

Dan Yaccarino:  I have a Facebook fan page.  I do interviews for other blogs but I spend most of my time working.  Consult with your editor to make sure it is okay for you to release little bits of material.  How effective is it?

Kristin Tubb:  I can't answer this because I live on Facebook and Twitter.  I think Tracy is correct in saying do what you are comfortable with.  I like Facebook and I like Twitter.

As an unpublished author/illustrator, what can we place on blogs to gain attention?

Heather:  There are a lot of authors who write and your blog gets a lot of followers.  There is a whole different world now of what to do and expect.

Kristin:  My friend Jessica was a blogger and mentioned that she had a horse book and was looking for an agent.  She had a blog and a following, and mentioned that she was looking for an agent.  That's how the Canterwood Crest series came to be.

Dan:  An author/illustrator friend used Facebook to eventually get a book deal.  He tagged editors in each image.  Very cleverly used the format of Facebook to get that book published.

Unusual promotional strategies that work:

Kristin:  I ran a cover reveal contest on my blog.  I had a lot of entries.  The cover was gorgeous and had all sorts of zodiac signs.  I gave away prize packages based on how many zodiac signs readers could find on the cover.  Cynthea did a book drive for a local school and every book that she sold she got another book donated for that school. Those things people feel excited about helping with but people retweet it and facebook it.

Dan:  It's not unusual but I have done a few book trailers.  It isn't unusual but those are usually shared.

What kind of timeline should one think about in terms of promoting a book?

Kristin:  I do postcards to booksellers.  Six months is when it really starts ramping up.

What shouldn't you do in promoting your books?

Heather:  Don't think your book is going to be published and be everywhere.

Tracy:  Don't sell yourself short.  Don't present yourself as needy as desperate.  Present yourself as someone who has something to offer.

Want more?  Make sure to attend the Midsouth Conference next year!  Stay tuned!

Creating an Effective Elevator Pitch

In this workshop style session, Midsouth SCBWI members created and shared short pitches of their work with advice and feedback from agent Stephen Fraser of the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency.

Writers shared pitches in an informal and informative setting. Great session!

Liz Szabla: How to Keep an Editor Reading Beyond Chapter One

Liz Szabla is the Editor-in-Chief of Feiwel and Friends (a MacMillan imprint). Liz talked about what’s it like to read submissions as an editor. She said the key to a manuscript grabbing her attention is voice, character, and plot.

“VOICE is what will make your work memorable & keep readers engaged. Strong voices don’t always mean loud voices.”

Liz said quirky snarky characters without substance will not engage your reader (or an editor). Characters must have a reason in their life or background to be snarky.

“Plot focuses your story and brings order to your book. Plot doesn’t work when the story is predictable.”

Liz published the book CINDER by Marissa Meyer this year. She read the manuscript draft of in one evening and knew she wanted to acquire it.

Say Yes: Dan Yaccarino - Keynote

Dan Yaccarino kicked off the 2012 SCBWI Midsouth Conference by honoring us with an excellent keynote.

"There is nothing I would rather be doing than writing and illustrating picture books," said Yaccarino.

He has written and illustrated over 50 books as well as created games, toys and puzzles. He also works on television shows.  He has worked in the industry over 25 years.

What helps him face challenges and gets him to the next level of my career is the word YES.

Dan didn't have formal art training or art education growing up.  He did go to art school and left himself with no net whatsoever.  It was being backed up against a wall and fear that allowed him to produce things on demand.  When he graduated, he began to pound the pavement; he put together two portfolios because he wanted to be an editorial illustrator and begin to drop them off.  He did this for 2-3 years.  Within a few months he was working reguarly for the New York Times Book review and Business Week, etc.  He was able to move into Manhattan.

A friend had published picture books and she suggested he work with picture books. He hadn't considered working with picture books, but when asked if he had ideas, he said yes.  He soon had book contracts.  He enjoyed the medium and it opened up a lot for him creatively.

He wrote his own books and worked with other authors; he also worked in advertising.  He was asked to direct storyboards and do the thirty second spots.  He said yes and created spots for Garden Burger.  This got him thinking about television.  He pitched his first television show and was asked to produce the pilot, which was Oswald.

He also worked with little Golden Books on Mother Goose.  He illustrated Mother Goose and a Little Boy with a Big Horn. He also did a fully-illustrated chapter book called Where the Four Winds Blow.

Other books include Good Night, Mr. Night, The Birthday Fish, Every Friday, Go Go America, etc.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Conference Sneak Preview: The Editor-Author Relationship

By Courtney C. Stevens


Did your mind automatically fill in the blank above with a C? If so, you might say that writer (me) and reader (you) collaborated to make a word or a title. On a different level, this is what happens when an editor and author work on a novel: they collaborate to fill in the blank spaces together. Writer Kristin O’Donnell Tubb and her editor Liz Szabla will speak on this aspect of craft during our upcoming fall conference. As a tiny preview of that talk, Liz says: “Since we’re talking about collaboration, what better way than for two of us, an author and her editor, to collaborate on this presentation. Kristin and I aren’t soft-pedaling any of this, and we hope writers will come away with a clear picture of the revision process. Because it is a PROCESS.”

Kristin adds: “A good editor is an engineer, able to identify a story structure’s strengths and weaknesses. She or he also is able to communicate those issues to a writer in a way that allows the writer to explore the best ways to bolster the story. I feel very lucky to have an editor/engineer like Liz Szabla inspecting my stories. She can pinpoint what needs work but allows me loads of flexibility in strengthening those sections.”

In a different way, the Midsouth Fall Conference will also host another dynamic author/editor duo this year. Instead of this author being on faculty with her editor, though, she will be a conference attendee. Her editor will be discussing her book in her presentations. Martha Mihalick and Bethany Griffin combined their creative powers to produce Bethany’s novel, Masque of the Red Death. Bethany says, “I think the great thing about working with Martha is that she loved the book as much as I do. But her love for the book didn’t blind her to its flaws, and she worked nonstop to make it better. I feel as if every suggestion she made helped to improve the book. Something unique is that she wrote notes directly on the manuscript and drew little hearts all around the love scenes. When the revisions became hard, I’d go back and look at those scenes for encouragement!”

There are words all authors can learn from in the collaborative effort: love, listen, explore, process, and my favorite, trust, which Martha speaks to below.

“The author/editor relationship is all about collaboration and trust. And it’s a conversation. Both sides have to talk and to listen, and consider what the other’s saying. Bethany’s so receptive, and I always trust that she thinks about every point I bring up and why I’ve brought it up. Then she goes and works her magic and each revision comes back stronger—often in ways I couldn’t have imagined. That surprise is the best, because it means the story is becoming more and more fully realized.”

The two author-editor teams represent the future teams all authors hope to join one day. Ha_py Wr_ting to you al_.

Courtney C. Stevens, who contributed this piece, is one of the coordinators of the 2012 Midsouth Fall Conference. She recently received a contract from HarperCollins for her debut novel, Faking Normal.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Friday Night's Autograph & Dessert Party

The SCBWI Midsouth conference kicks off Friday evening, September 14th with a Dessert and Autograph Party on the 9th floor of the Hilton Garden Inn.

The Booksigning is from 7:30 – 8:30. SCBWI Midsouth bookstore liaison, Jessica Young, says, "Bring a friend – the book-signing portion is open to the public!"

The following authors & author/illustrators will be signing their books Friday night:

Tracy Barrett
Sharon Cameron
Angela Cerrito
Kelly Creagh
Bethany Griffin
Katie McGarry
Judith L. Roth
Ruta Sepetys
Martha Bennett Stiles
Patsi Trollinger
Kristin O’Donnell Tubb
Kristi Valiant
Dan Yaccarino

The dessert party is available only to conference attendees. You can pick up your registration packet and name badge at the party from 7:30 – 9:30.

See you there!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Second Giveaway: $10 Gift Certificate

Hi again, Midsouth attendees!

We're giving away yet another $10 gift card to the conference bookstore!

The rules are the same as the last contest; just comment on this post.  We'll draw the winner randomly and announce said winner at the conference on September 15.  You must be present to win, so this drawing is open to conference attendees only!

Spread the word to your friends and leave a comment below to enter!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

SCBWI Midsouth Book Drive

In the midst of registering and planning for the Midsouth Fall Conference this year, I wanted to remind everyone about the all important Book Drive! This year’s recipient of our books will be a nonprofit organization out of Nashville called Book ‘Em. Founded in 1989, Book ‘Em has distributed more than a million books to underprivileged children of Metro Nashville and surrounding areas. Their mission is founded on the idea that every child in Nashville should be given an equal opportunity to experience the joy of owning and reading books. As a community, the SCBWI stands for many things, but what could be more important than getting books into the hands of those who need them most?


Please bring your new or *gently* used books (all genres and ages from PB to YA accepted) to the SCBWI Fall Conference, look for the Book ‘Em drop off bins, and pay forward your love of books!

(Textbooks, reference books, and overly worn books cannot be accepted.)