2003 SCBWI Los Angeles

Conference Notes by Verla Kay

One of the highlights of the conference for me personally happened "outside" the conference. LOL! While having breakfast on Monday morning with Linda's editor, Megan, in the hotel restaurant, we started talking to two ladies at the next table. Turned out they were there for another conference that was just starting. It was the Archivist's conference. Of course, I had to ask what that was. It was exactly what it sounded like. One lady was from the Smithsonian, and the other from the Library of Congress. So... I said, "Hey! Maybe you can tell me where I can find some information. I've been trying (without any success) to discover the origin of the phrase, "Playing Hooky," for a book I'm working on. One of the ladies, Danna Bell-Russell, from the LOC, gave me three websites to hunt for it on.




She also said to check out Cindyslist.com from the Research Center of LOC. I was VERY pleased and got her name so I can give her credit in the author's dedications if I do find the info I need.


Here's what Dan Greenburg (author with 57 books, including the Zack File and Maximum Boy series') had to say:

Formula for writing non-fiction: Tell em what you're gonna tell them. Then tell them. Then tell them what you told them.

Formula for writing fiction: Start with character, then stress, then a worthwhile goal.

Write short.

Be funny only if you are funny.

Use lots of dialogue.

The funniest word for kids is underpants.

Don't talk down to kids.

"Make the first paragraph intriguing as hell."

How to find a publisher if you don't have an agent: 2003 CWIM. Writer's & Illustrator's Guide to Children's Publishers & Agents by Evelyn Gualardo <sp?>

Query/Cover letters: NEVER longer than one page. He sent queries to 100 publishers, got responses from 3, one bought his story.

Overcome Writer's Block: Writing ability is not like car keys - you can't lose it (unless you never had it to begin with.) Give yourself permission to write crap - then revise over and over again until it's good.

Promoting your book on radio or TV: Prepare 5 self-serving book promoting anecdotes - whatever you are asked in an interview, respond with one of them. They'll never know the difference.

<I wasn't sure about using this tip! I don't think it would work for me.>


Kelly-Milner Halls and Roxyanne Young told us you can automatically set your domain registration to renew, so you don't ever lose your domain name to pirates. She gave two websites to do this...



I was pleased to learn about this!

I wrote down this URL, but don't have a clue why.... www.booksense.com

My good friend, Gail Martini, told me this about them:

Book Sense is the organization of independent book stores, and to compete with the chains, they have books that they collectively promote so they can get the same deep discounts that the chains get. They are still doing it, so it must work for them.

I guess that's why I wrote that URL down. :-)


Judith Greenburg (Dan's wife, an author of her own and former science writer and editor for almost 20 years) talked about how to show teachers how they can use your books in their classrooms - even if your books aren't curriculum-based. Connect your book into the curriculum in a VERY simple way: writing, history, math, science, geography, English, etc.

If you have a girl sharing a candy bar with a friend in the book, work up a math lesson on fractions using it as the base. Does the main character go on a trip somewhere? Work up a geography lesson to go along with the book. Does the main character have a problem learning a specific subject in school? Work out a simple lesson in that subject for your readers.

DO NOT start your project with the idea that you're going to "teach" kids something - plan FUN projects.

Create a website page to augment/expand on your books. Connect your books to active website pages.

Develop material: Check out other websites with authors who have books similar to yours (for ideas - don't pirate, of course.)

Provide activities to go with each book. Word search puzzles, crossword puzzles, simple games <I personally like the idea of a BINGO game for books....>

NEVER PUT YOUR FEE ONTO THE WEBSITE. Have them email you and ask for it.

Some websites to check out:


www.educationplanet.com (this one costs $9.95 per year to access)


Talk to librarians of schools.

Try to get an old, used copy of Patterson's Elementary Education (it's over $100 new, but a used one from an earlier year can often be found for around $25.) It lists ALL schools, parochial as well as secular in the USA. 800 357-6183

Websites to look at for presentation ideas:




Think about what you can do to make a teacher's life a little easier.

To make connections with teachers:

Contact a local teacher's college

Attend conferences, like the Oct. 23 - 26 one in Kansas City, put on by the American Library Association conference

For content in your teacher guides, go to www.clipart.com ($99 per year allows you to use any/all of their clip art) <I personally thought that expensive>

Use PDF files on your website so teachers can access/use your materials.

Make activities for different age levels for your books.

www.aesock.com <Don't remember why I wrote this down. Guess I'll find out when I have time to visit the website. GRIN>

email Gretchen re the school's link. Hmmm... maybe you go to that aesock website page to get Gretchen's email address? I think maybe that's it.

Do a minimum of 3 or 4 activities per book. Make your activities a "buffet" for your teachers.

Go to www.abcdbooks.org to see examples of teacher's guides, etc. Also see Mary Pearson's website pages.

Ask librarians and/or book distributors when book fairs are scheduled. Email and ask for source of book distributors.

Two great books are: Story Stretchers and its' sequel (More Story Stretchers?) They apparently have great examples of activities.


From Editor-in-Chief Mary M. Rodgers from Lerner Publishing Group on Acquisition and Editor Process for Series Non-Fiction:

Find out what the current curriculum standards' needs are and plan to fill it. Know what the current market needs are. Study publisher's websites. What's appropriate for the age group? Different editors will work on different books in the same series. Revision process can be "severe." Authors sometimes write photo captions. Average time given to authors to complete a book is about 6 months. (Sometimes longer, sometimes shorter.) They pay flat fee for about 20% of their acquisitions, the rest are advance with royalty contracts. They carry their backlist for YEARS. She said they still have many books on their backlist from the 1980's.

They publish K-1 First Steps books with one sentence per page and Pull Aheads for second graders that has fire trucks etc. in it. About 2% of their unsoliciteds get into their author pool. They publisher K-12 SERIES books. They have word count levels, topic lists, and series guidelines. They accept submissions ONLY in March and October. All others are returned unopened. Submissions editor of nonfiction for children is Jennifer Zimian. Submissions editor for fiction is Zelda Wagner. (Fiction should be curriculum-based/friendly.) Visit their website at www.lernerbooks.com or write for a catalog. Address catalog requests to CATALOG REQUEST and send a 9x12 SASE with $3.85 postage on it.

Note: They do NOT publish textbooks, workbooks, songbooks, puzzles, plays, or religious material.

Nonfiction topics they publish cover: social issues, history, biography, science and technology, geography, the environment, sports, entertainment, the arts, and crafts and activities. They also publish "some" fiction.

They are looking for manuscripts that are well-researched, well organized, written clearly and simply with fresh, engaging language.

She suggested sending a sample of your writing along with any writing/educational "credits." They are looking for new series ideas. Send a couple of sample chapters along with your series idea.


Editorial Director Allyn Johnston with Harcourt in San Diego said:

For illustrators - send ONE style, not a whole bunch of different styles. She wants to see your special style - your "voice."

Writers, send a query letter and a couple of sample chapters. She likes books with little-known real facts in them. They do publish Easy Readers, but they are almost all series and this is a very "hard" market to break into today. Send your query letters/manuscripts to a newer editor - they are "hungry" for authors. send PB's to Samantha McFrerrin.


From Agent Liza Pullitzer-Voges:

Likes an author to have two or three houses. Each one works differently and publishes in a different way. Successes with one house can create "encouragement" from the others to do more/better with the author.

The phrase, "freelance," came from mid-evil days when a knight would hire himself out as a swordsman to fight for another knight's honor in his place.


Jean Marzollo, author of over 100 books, including the I Spy books said about school visits:

To get kids to settle down, READ them a story.

Make your school visits "fit YOU." (She only does two presentations per day, in the morning. She doesn't autograph with kids there. She doesn't "do" school author luncheons.)

To "Test" a manuscript in a school, first become a volunteer, THEN ask if you can test a manuscript on the kids. Ask the kids, Were you bored? When? Did you not understand parts of the story? Where? Etc. Put a pencil X on the problem places.

Check out fee ranges on the Scholastic's Website. Go to Author Visits. Normally $500 to $1500 per day. (She gets $1000 per half-day for her two morning visits.)

The most important thing about doing older kids is to NEVER show you are nervous/afraid!

Don't think of yourself- think of your audience.

SCBWI has a sample author appearances contract available in their white "guidebook" (which you get when joining and can get a new copy of each year for just a SASE.)

Scholastic has an "author kit" available.

Sue Alexander sends a sheet to the school ahead of time to make SURE they know what she expects before she gets there. (#1 in importance to her is that the children have read her book/s before she arrives. If not, she doesn't come!)

Another attendee mentioned that May is the best time of year to contact schools about setting up visits for the upcoming year.


Leonard Marcus, judge and reviewer, said about What Gets Reviewed:

He likes to review nonfiction biographies.

Reviews books in Parenting Magazine.

He recommends that YOU write book reviews because: You'll meet editors. You'll hone your craft. They're fast to write (for morale and income.)

Between 5000 and 8000 children's books are published each year.

Find out who publicists are for your publisher and request them to send out review copies to magazines, reviewers that you discover that would be interested in your book.

Go to BEA and ALA.

Parenting magazine has a 5 month lead time for reviews. They only want to review books before they come out.

Quote good reviews on your website, on business cards, etc. - over and over again!

When you get really big, reviewers sometimes like to take "pot shots" at you.

Good reviews in School Library Journal and Booklist will result in the biggest increase in sales for you.

CBC, Children's Book Council, website has a list of ALL awards available to children's authors.


Henry Winkler (the FONZ! from Happy Days) said to never put a "period" on the end of a negative thought - or it will grow into a paragraph and take over your entire life. Empower yourself with positive endings. If you "will it", it is not a dream. We have to make the most of ourselves, because we only have one chance in this life. We have to give to others. We have to give to children because they are our future.


It was a great conference! I'm SO glad I "sprang" for it even though I really shouldn't have spent the money. I feel it was well worth the cost, overall.

And now you all have a snippet of what I got from it.


Verla Kay