Perhaps because Stacey Barney was formerly an English teacher, her presentation seemed to flow from a lesson plan on successful novel writing at the Tuesday night SCBWI Metro NY Professional Series.
Ms. Barney says there are only seven stories she’s been told – Overcoming the Monster; Rags to Riches; The Quest; Voyage and Return; Comedy; Tragedy and Rebirth – and the writer’s challenge is to make these stories feel fresh. Her advice on how to do that is, “Voice is always the first place to start. If the voice isn’t working, nothing else is. Establish the voice right away. Voice is paramount and character is a close second. Character and voice go hand in hand.” There are many things she can help with as an editor, but “I can’t give an author a voice.”
“Author Platform” is a phrase that is often heard but seldom understood. It generates an unlimited number of questions for all writers. Luckily for the crowd at the SCBWI Metro NY Professional Series, Pixels to Platform, Gabriela Pereira was on hand to answer those questions and demystify the core tenants of any successful author platform.
Gabriela Pereira is an MFA graduate from the New School and the founder of diymfa.com, a website that provides authors of all stages a place to delve deeper into the “how to” of writing and “gain knowledge without the college””. While undercover as a graduate student, she learned the inside scoop on MFA programs, invented a slew of writing tools all her own, and developed a new, more effective way for writers to learn their craft.
On Tuesday, Gabriela shared her knowledge and showed the crowd the building blocks of a strong and successful platform. She shared with us the basic purpose of a platform as well the ABCs of creating one. Per Gabriela, the platform is a marketing structure meant to the connect the author with the readers and the fan base.
“Voice” is one of those elements of writing that gets talked about—or at least mentioned—frequently, but often the discussion doesn’t seem to go much further than noting that it’s important. What do we mean by voice? How do you create it, much less improve it?
Luckily for us, NY Metro SCBWI’s January Professional Series event featured Kat Brzozowski, an editor at Macmillan’s Swoon Reads/Feiwel & Friends imprints, who gave us the opportunity to analyze the choices that affect voice and to experiment with them in our own writing. The atmosphere was more like a writing seminar than a lecture, as audience members sat in a circle and engaged in a back-and-forth discussion of voice, both in well-known works and in scenes that attendees created on the spot.
The SCBWI Tuesday Night Professional Series wrapped up 2016 with Nicole de las Heras and Maria Mondugno speaking to an enthusiastic audience about what makes a good portfolio.
Nicole de las Heras loves pairing the right artist with the right manuscript and collaborating with artist and editor. She has lots of opportunities to do this as an Art Director at Random House Children’s Books, where she oversees board books, picture books, leveled readers, and early chapter books. Emily Winfield Martin, LeUyen Pham, Brigette Barrager, Josie Portillo, Ruth Sanderson, and Mike Boldt are among the artists she has worked with. Another thing she loves about her job is finding new talent.
As soon as she could write her name, Maria Modugno got her first library card. A lifelong reader, she worked at a number of publishers before joining Random House in 2012 to specialize in picture books. The books she has edited include The Napping House and stories about Toot and Puddle, Pinkalicious, and Splat the Cat. She avoids acquiring too-long picture books and tests potential acquisitions with an egg timer.
For the third consecutive year, SCBWI Metro NY and The New School’s Writing for Children MFA program co-hosted an agents panel held at The New School. Linda Camacho of Prospect Agency, LLC, Susan Hawk of The Bent Agency and Andrea Somberg of Harvey Klinger Inc. were the featured agents. Adria Quiñones, a 2015 winner of SCBWI’s Emerging Voices Award, was the moderator.
The panel discussion began with what each agent is looking for. Linda Camacho said she doesn’t want to rule out any category but picture book representation is limited. Andrea Somberg also expressed a preference for MG and YA and emphasized that “diversity is a key word.” Susan Hawk is very open, joking that “you never know when you’ll read that amazing sports book.” She represents all categories of books for children and is “drawn to writing that is emotional.”
Heather Flaherty, a Literary Agent at the Bent Agency, and Maggie Lehrman, a Senior Editor at Abrams Books for Young Readers, (as well as a YA novelist) addressed a rapt crowd at the Huntington Public Library on October 16, 2016 as part of SCBWI Metro NY’s On-the-Road series. Rapidly making their way through a pile of first pages, ranging from picture books to YA fiction, they were in remarkable accord, zeroing in on what made (or detracted from) an opening that worked. Published writers and beginners benefited from their expertise.
Jennifer Baker, panel organizer for We Need Diverse Books (WNDB) and 2013 winner of the SCBWI On-the-Verge Emerging Voices Award, led a panel discussion on craft and world-building. She asked whether outlining played a role in establishing the rules of the world and fantastical elements. Do you outline or not?
Heidi Heilig, author of The Girl from Everywhere, said she outlined a little, then wrote, then outlined again, going back and forth. She shared that her musical theater background provided training in setting rules that it’s okay to have singing in a scene. She had to have rules for her novel to put restrictions on characters’ powers, otherwise all powerful characters would be boring. “It’s good to know where the boundaries are and to play with them.”