Perspective 2019

Perceptions, perspective, and hope guide my life. Participating and attending the 2019 NY SCBWI Conference greatly enriched my internal and external lives. I gained the perspective that far more time is spent in our life NOT having a book release or a book birthday, than having it. If I am in this business for 60 years I may have 378 books written (like Jane Yolen) but most of my writing will have had rejection slips and bumpy journeys to being printed. Some work will be put aside to percolate for a while, or stay silent. Whether author or illustrator, this could be true.

My journey may result in one, or many published books. Exploring bookstores in NYC strengthened my perceptions and perspective. There were entire stores of only children’s books, with shelves up to the ceiling of children’s books, ladders needed to reach them all. No wonder we need to research, and research some more; we need to revise, revise, and revise some more in order to stand out, to create our best work. Then we’ll search & search until we get a great match with an agent and publisher.

No one benefits from a mismatch. No one: no author, agent, editor, nor illustrator takes up a project hoping it fails or never sees the light of day. At 2019 NY SCBWI I listened to agents and editors all weekend share what life in the publishing world is like for them. How their hopes and dreams connected with your book (author and illustrator) flounder or die when others decline it being published. They’ve felt tingles or a spark about this project, they’ve asked difficult questions and committed to at least a year or more of living with this project. But it isn’t to be. AND they have to now tell the agent or illustrator or author, and their entire team that this one didn’t get picked.

We’ve heard of the 100’s and 1000’s of letters that cross agents and editors desks weekly, monthly, annually. No wonder so many more books are written than published, whether self published, traditionally published, or somewhere in between.

May you have a firm foundation for your life. May you explore, see and live so you have perspective and hopes. May your perceptions, preparations, perspiration, and plans be what they need to be for your hopes and dreams to be fulfilled. May you have grace, support, and hope to go on when projects are declined. May you have perspective to listen when you are told your project is good or great, but a mismatch. May you listen with your heart, mind and spirit when suggestions are given that will carry the project along to your vision for it. May you have the strength and energy to explore the suggestions to see what that end result looks and feels like. Then you, the artist, decides if that is your story or you stick with the original work.

Dreams and hopes are fluid. Mismatches happen. Not everything we create is destined for others to see. If your hope falters or deserts you, please reach out and tell someone. Ask for support. To use a friends’ wonderful analogy: sitting on the curb a while is fine. Feel, be, and breathe. Rest a while. If you find yourself slipping into the gutter or being carried down to the sewers, reach out. Others can help. We are a village. It takes a village to raise, nurture, grow, and to support an artist.


We’re at SCBWI NY Winter 2019. This is my fourth & final blog on this topic. Please also see my guest blog at Wisconsin SCBWI.

Sunday morning we’re back in the main ballroom. Lin Oliver is moderator for a panel of editors and agents. Again, we hear the heart and soul editors and agents put into their work. Their commitment for the writers and illustrators they work with is eye-opening. No matter the genre, they have hopes and dreams as well. They have disappointments, intimidating conference rooms and meetings to get through as well. Each of us is a part of a larger whole. We are encouraged to write because we love to write. Exceedingly few people get rich in the children’s publishing arena. Our definitions of success, our goals and dreams need to be based in reality. We can do this, together!

I wait on tenterhooks for my Sunday morning session. Writing a Series is presented by Matt Ringler, an editor who has many successful book series. Key words for this session are feelings and fresh, delving deep, character development, reality check, and celebrate frequently.

Mr. Ringler leads us through great exercises exploring ourselves, character development, plot, and many other topics. He explores the word success and encourages us to develop our own definition. He helps us understand the process for creating a book series. The people involved, their preparation, sweat, ideas, and tears.

He helps us understand and explore expectation management. It is interesting to hear an example of a small print run of 10,000 books, with a need for a reprint. It can be seen as a huge success! However, if you take the 20,000 that sold as a small print run & reprint. . .if 100,000 were printed but the market fell out and 80-90% are returned, different perspective. There is no magical number=success. It’s all dependent upon the situation.

The “give comparative titles, or not give comp titles” question is answered. Comparative titles are crucial to editors, they need it for their sales pitch to the entire publishing team. (I realize this may vary per publishing house, but this helps my understanding.)

This weekend has been mind blowing, as well as mind opening. Key words for this conference seem to be. . .Perspective. Perceptions. Understanding. Teamwork. Strength and hope (needed from within, and from without). Heart and soul. It takes a village to raise a writer. Perhaps many villages. We can do this. Keep writing!


Matt Ringler is a senior editor at Scholastic specializing in chapter book, middle grade, and YA fiction. He works on the Goosebumps series by R.L. Stine, The Puppy Place series by Ellen Miles, and the Two Dogs in a Trench Coat series by Julie Falatko. His YA list include New York Times best-selling author Goldy Moldavsky’s Kill the Boy Band and No Good Deed, plus It’s Not Me, It’s You and The Date to Save by Stephanie Kate Strohm.

Journey Through Workshops

New York 2019 Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Conference

What do I share about two days of workshops and presentations, when I’ve agreed to the SCBWI policy ‘to not share what isn’t mine to share’?

Wonder and passion are excellent descriptors of my experience in my first session. Title: The Picture Book: It’s Not Writing. It’s Not Illustrating. It’s Riveting Emotional Theater! Presenters: Marla Frazee – illustrator, author and teacher; Allyn Johnston – VP and publisher, Beach Lane Books/Simon and Schuster; Ruben Pfeffer – agent and founder of Rubin Pfeffer Content. We hear how an agent and editor feel when they first read THE script. The script that gives them tingles. The script they read over and over again. The script that stops what they were going to do next. They take care of this first by putting the next steps in motion for THE script.

I hear the awe and respect in their voices as these presenters read picture books that excite them, and that they’ve read over and over, for years. I hear their passion as they point out all that touches them about this book. All that excels and rockets this over most other picture books. This changes my perceptions and perspective, changes my understanding.

I hear the wonder and passion Marla Frazee shares while she discusses her process for a few projects, start to finish. She shares her love and interpretation of the text. She shares the direction and misdirection of her thoughts while sketching thumbnails and larger images. She starts over in one example, to better match the expressiveness and direction of the text.

We hear the passion these people share with the writer. We hear best practices to work as a team. What they share is eye-opening and affirming. We hear the commitment needed from every member involved with a book.

Takeaways I can share, we’ve heard them many times from excellent kidlit people. At the very least, take 8 sheets of paper and fold them in half. 1) Create a picture book dummy for your picture books. 2) Read your book aloud at least 10 times. Why? How many times is a parent, teacher, older sibling or other person going to be reading aloud a favorite picture book? Like many of you, I record most later drafts. When I listen to the recording, I usually find many things to improve. I listen to someone else read it aloud. Hint, I do this with everything I write, no matter the genre.

Commitment, excitement, and exploration describe the afternoon session. Writing for Young Readers: Chapter Books and Young Middle Grade Novels is presented by Alyson Heller, senior editor Aladdin/Simon & Schuster; and Tricia Lin, assistant editor Aladdin/Sime & Schuster. They share examples and definitions of chapter books, young middle grade novels, older novels, and early readers. We hear the commitment and excitement they bring to their work and to the team involved with a book. We hear about the commitment writers need to have for writing, and for creating the end product with a team.

We explore voice, character, and themes in chapter books and mid grade novels. We work with writing prompts that help us find motivations, and develop characters. Writing exercises help us explore a good fit for our talents, tendencies, and skills.

We feel excitement as we brainstorm, work on exercises to explore concepts, and have group discussions. We work in small groups with people from around the country and world, and an editor joins us for a short time. We network and explore ideas. We exchange business cards and say farewell until next time!

Journey in New York 2019, Second Blog

Please see my guest blog at SCBWI WI for more information.

Charlene Avery at Golden Kite Gala NY SCBWI 2019

We’ve arrived at the Grand Hyatt (next to Grand Central Station) in New York City for SCBWI’s Golden Kite Awards. Are you wearing your golden high tops? Golden gown, top, vest, necklace, a tie or gold t-shirt? Welcome!

The stage has tables displaying the Golden Kite winning books and trophies, between beautiful bouquets of flowers. A few of us Midwest authors and illustrators take seats in the front row. Lin Oliver introduces Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Justice Sotomayor captivates us with many topics, while using no notes. She’s presented a gift by illustrator John Parra. He illustrated her words for the children’s book We Are The Change.

Introductions are made for each Golden Kite Award winning person and book. There is much variety but every book contains part of the author and illustrator. Each book required many drafts, research, passion, skill, more research, plus the heart and soul of the contributors.

Hey look, it’s Meg Medina. She’s introducing Angela Dominguez who wrote Golden Kite winning Stella Diaz Has Something to Say. Thank you Meg for gracing Wisconsin’s SCBWI Fall Retreat in 2018. Congratulations again on your Newberry Award, and so many other well-deserved awards and honors.

Jessie Oliveros and her posse after winning the Golden Kite award for The Remember Balloons.

Jessie Oliveros and her Posse

Cheers to Brianna Capra from Wisconsin for showcasing her illustrations here! Bravery and much thought went into choosing what to display. A few others are also displaying here at the Illustrator Showcase at NY SCBWI 2019.

Illustrator’s Showcase

Ahhh, the autograph signing for Golden Kite Winners! There are lengthy lines as expected for Jane Yolen, also for Jessie Oliveros and others. I wonder . . . is there a line or not for the next author? What’s different and why was it difficult to distinguish? Ahhh, Justice Sotomayor is there with the seated author. The oddly shaped line is comprised of the U.S. Marshals doing their job and having space around them. The seated author needs a few moments before she resumes, no problem! Whew, what an experience. Thank you U.S. Marshals for doing your jobs well!

Tonight we frequently heard about perspective and planning, perspiration and research, perseverance and teamwork. I’m still synthesizing all the information. Thanks for joining me, there will be at least two more blogs regarding the sessions I attended at NY SCBWI 2019. Good luck with your journey!

Journey from Wisconsin to New York SCBWI 2019 and beyond!

Please see my guest blog at SCBWI WI for more information.

Wisconsin winter weather closes 133 schools. Malls, restaurants and other venues are closed. The airport runway closes multiple times . . .thankfully once we take off, the flight is relatively uneventful. New Jersey welcomes us with warmer temperatures and no precipitation.

Navigating the trains and subway with our luggage goes well thanks to my husband Aaron’s planning, and we arrive at our hotel in New York City before rush hour. Looking out our 36th floor window we see water towers atop buildings, and a foggy Central Park a few blocks away. We brave the good weather to go out for New York-style wood-fired pizza, yuuuumm! We discuss what do we want to do tomorrow. Bookstores and explore win unanimously!

The astonishing Books of Wonder on 84th street is our first endeavor. Their entire stock is Children’s Literature related. Artfully displayed, thousands of books clamor for your attention. As you enter the store Nonfiction picture books line the right wall, early readers are along the entry wall. New releases and discounted books occupy the short shelves ahead of us. As we make our way through the rest of the store, we discover chapter books, middle grade novels and young adult novels on shelves soaring up toward the ceiling. These books are fairly easy to see and distinguish. We spot Meena Meets Her Match by Wisconsin author Karla Manternach and snap a picture. Meena is easy to spot and nicely displayed facing outward. Then picture book land opens up to us. The picture books are mostly arranged alphabetically by illustrator, others by categories.

Meena Meets Her Match (2nd shelf, 3rd book from left) in Books of Wonder NYC

We spend a few hours here getting a tour and exploring this new realm. We hunt for friend’s books & share their photos on Facebook. It feels bigger than any library of children’s books. When we search further we find rare and antique books kept behind glass. We ask for other books we can’t find but they don’t have every book. Thank goodness, we’re seeing and gaining understanding enough as it is.

I see a few books on one topic but their approaches are different. The variety of art and fonts, the approach and style of writing, the point of view. . . zoinks! I feel like I’m visiting the Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC) on steroids. Are there really that many chapter books and graphic novels? I see many biography picture books, and there need to be more! They have shelves for 10+ year olds to delineate heavier subjects that are handled more directly. Seeing covers and descriptions for hundreds of middle grade and chapter books side by side allows me to see differences in approach, target audience, skills, and topics, as well as point of view.

Onward with our journey. Lunch at a fanciful French Mediterranean restaurant. We’re kept company by sunflowers and umbrellas of lights around support beams. We enjoy a tiny table between booths and other tables. No reservations in NYC? That’s what we get. Cool!

New York City Grocery Store aisle

We make brief stops at The Children’s Museum of Manhattan. The paper tiger in the lobby is an incredible feat! Spy Scape is New York’s Spy Center with interactive exhibits to help you determine which role in the spy world you are best suited to. What has ladders and reaches floor to ceiling in truly narrow aisles? New York Grocery stores.

Gosh, out of blog! More on the conference next time!