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True Story Blog


This past weekend, I attended my first NESCBWI conference. This is the kind of event that could easily overwhelm me—a sea of information, opinions, tips, and name tags. (And I was only there for the Saturday session!) Thankfully, it was a group of friendly people. And fortunately, I had a simple strategy: let all the presentations wash over me and see what lingered. There was a lot! But a few things—from technical to inspirational—are still on my mind today. You could call this little list tasty nuggets, pearls of wisdom, or ideas for the writer's toolkit. But I just call it Some Stuff that Stuck:

I'll Buy That! with Editor Julia Maguire: The Knopf editor discussed what it is that editors want to see in manuscripts. Be authentic and respect the readers were two big takeaways along with an interesting tip—try shuffling your manuscript pages for a random-page edit.

Fireside Chat with Melissa Sweet: There was no fireplace but it was cozy. The Caldecott Honor author/illustrator answered questions and shared stories about how she creates her books. I learned that Ms. Sweet LOVES the minutiae of bookmaking. Perhaps it is that love that fuels her success. She made me want to pay more attention to the smallest details . . . ones that could be overlooked but might make all the difference.

Lying About History with Jeannine Atkins, Burleigh Muten, Jane Yolen and Heidi Stemple: I wish this had been a dinner party with a big, round table and lots of time. These amazing writers shared some wonderful stories about their historical works and I wanted to hear more. (And Ms. Stemple was a hilarious host!) Jane Yolen's "Recycle your research" advice stayed with me. I wrote two nonfiction manuscripts that were ready for submission when I learned that more established writers got there first. Ugh. Now I'm rethinking those manuscripts and how they might be worked into a different genre or maybe a magazine article.

Seven Revision Tips to Take Your PB from WAAH to WOW! with Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen: All seven of these tips are interesting. (A scientist-turned-kidlit-writer, Ms. Bardhan-Quallen has a specific method wrapped in a fun presentation!) The one that I'm going to tackle first in my PB manuscripts—instead of using adverbs and adjectives, use stronger nouns and verbs. I think that might be a game changer.

Writing the Rainbow: Creating LGBTQ+ Characters and Stories: A powerful presentation by Lisa Bunker, Mary E. Cronin, Kevin L. Lewis, and agent Linda Camacho! I was particularly struck by Kevin L. Lewis when he spoke about children who are not connected to their community and made to feel like outsiders. In their isolation, they stand out as prey. This is why we need more books with characters who are LGBTQ+ kids—to bring them into the group and keep them safe.

If you would like to learn about SCBWI (Society of Children Book Writers and Illustrators) events near you, visit https://www.scbwi.org/annual-conferences/
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