Sunday, November 22, 2009

Conference Notes

By Suzanne Gwinner

My first SCWW conference was a blast! Not quite knowing what to expect, I left home with an open mind. After meeting writers who traveled from Missouri, Michigan, Illinois, Mississippi, and Arkansas to be there, I realized that this was a bigger deal than I had imagined. I asked one of them why she chose this conference, and she simply said, “It’s one of the best.” When I overheard some agents discussing how they’d like to come back next year, I realized this was a top notch conference.

On Sunday afternoon, after two and a half days of thinking about nothing but writing – no school work, no household chores – I drove home, satiated, feeling a little like one does after Thanksgiving dinner, full and thankful, recharged and blessed. Thanks to all of our members who produced this event.


Deciding which session to attend proved to be a dilemma at times. I listened to talks on Query Letters (Janet Reid, agent), Editing Essentials (Karen Syed, publisher), Point of View (Nikki Poppen, author, editor), Panel – Do I Need An Agent (Ahearn, Berry, and Nintzel), Panel – Young Adult and Children’s Market (Bailey and Root), Synopses (Stampfel-Volpe, agent). I found all sessions to be helpful, and as might be expected, some were more informative than others.

Personally I found it interesting to hear from the agents. It seems to me that they set the agenda for the market, but their words of wisdom – write for yourselves, not the market – were sincere. The highlight of the conference for me was when Janet Reid expressed interest in my “Ripley” story. Since she does not handle children’s literature, she referred me to Joanna Stampfel-Volpe. At this point Joanna is not looking for picture books, but she read the manuscript and suggested some revisions before I start submitting it. I was thrilled to have feedback from real agents!

An author/editor session that I found helpful was Nikki Poppen’s talk on point of view. Her tips for helping the reader identify point of view change were:
• use the new character’s name more frequently
• use the name in dialogue tags
• refer to the character’s actions, thoughts, feelings
• use spacers
• switch sparingly
• switch only twice per chapter

Critiques and pitch:

Jim Casada critiqued my essay “Pa’s Gun.” He was warm and friendly while reviewing his editorial comments, and I appreciated his professional, thorough critique of my work. I know this piece is difficult to pigeonhole, but he gave me some suggestions as to where I might send it when it is polished.

Rochelle Baily of Quake (the young adult division of Echelon Press) was scheduled to critique Jackie Writes, Ripley Writes. I learned in the session just prior to our appointment that she is not interested in picture books, but we still discussed the idea and she liked it. She suggested another southern publisher.

I can hardly wait until next year’s conference. Now that I know what to expect, I’m even more anxious to attend!

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