Monday, April 27, 2009

Speakers at the Spring SCBWI-Dakotas Conference

I promised to write specifically about the speakers I heard at the Spring SCBWI-Dakotas conference, and I apologize for the delay. Life seems to be getting in my way lately.

As I indicated prior, the conference was wonderful and the speakers very enlightening. For me personally, Tim Gillner was fantastic. He is the Art Director at Boyds Mills Press and spoke to the creative process involved in taking a PB ms from conception to birth. It was very interesting to hear how the process goes once it leaves the writer's hands. For those of you out there who write PBs, I thought I'd share what Tim said about the sheer volume of submissions at Boyds Mills Press. Out of the 500 or so manuscripts received per month, 20 or so make the first cut through the initial readers to the editor. Out of those 20, the editor may consider purchasing one. Once the editor, in this case Larry, has five manuscipts, he takes them to the publisher who may buy one of the five. Pretty scary when you think about it but how wonderful to be that one! The one thing Tim said that really stuck with me and spoke to the morals of Boyds Mills Press is, "We publish from the gut and the heart. The bottom line isn't the dollar bill; it's is it a worthwhile project." I hope to be one of those worthwhile projects one day. For more information about Boyds Mills Press and it's imprints, visit

Martyn Beeny, South Dakota State Historical Society Press, spoke about their submission policies and list. He really opened our eyes about the fact that history happens on many levels. If any of you out there are interested in the heritage of SD and the surrounding Great Plains, the website for the SDSHS Press is Emails can be directed to

Mary Scarbrough, an author living in Brookings, SD, spoke about the nuts & bolts and great ways to get your foot in the door. Mary gave concrete, hands-on advice about writing. Some of her suggestions included the following: make a small investment in at least one market guide, join SCBWI as you will benefit from both a craft and marketing standpoint, and find a good critique group. Mary also suggested that the quickest route to publication is nonfiction as the biggest chunk of magazines is nonfiction, and the how-to is a big part of it. Mary also suggested that some of the most important pitfalls of beginners include a weak beginning, too much back story, conflict and control (e.g., force your character to take action). Mary summarized her speech as follows: "Ensure a strong beginning, jump into the middle of the action, use strong conflict and put your main character in control." To learn more about Mary Scarbrough, visit

Author Susan Thompson Underdahl spoke of her journey as a new author from patients to plotlines. She is a clinical neuropsychologist and author of two young adult novels, The Other Sister (Flux, 2007) and Remember This (Flux, 2008). Susan was so inspiring and really gave voice to the importance of persistence. Susan talked of writing on her lunch hours as it was the only time available between her work and family. She definitely showed me what is possible with even minimal time. I know I for one sometimes just abandon what I had planned for the day if something gets in the way, thinking I don't have much time. Now, after listening to Susan, I know I will utilize whatever little bits of time I can grab far more often than I did prior. For more information on S.T. Underdahl or her books, visit You can find submission guidelines and information about Flux at Submissions should be directed to

I hope you all have access to a conference in your area soon. They are definitely valuable, and the time and money is well spent.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

ICL Children's Writers eNews

I was reading the Institute of Children's Literature newsletter today and thought I would share this very interesting information from Jan Fields, web editor for the ICL, regarding children's non-fiction. I found it very helpful and hope you do as well.

9. Magazine Nonfiction for the Youngest Readers

If you see yourself as a writer for the very young, you may automatically omit nonfiction from your mind -- after all, how can you do nonfiction for preschoolers when they don't even read yet? And yet, nonfiction for preschoolers is not only published, it's popular. To prime your mental pump, I dug through my collection of sample preschool magazines and read the nonfiction written just for them. It was enlightening, so I thought I would share an annotated list of the published preschool nonfiction I ran across.


Highlights tries to publish one nonfiction piece for preschoolers in ever issue. They never get enough appropriate submissions - so let's look at what they've run in eleven old issues of Highlights. One of the keys to Highlights young nonfiction is that even though it is simple and lively - it includes information that is interesting to older children as well. So the articles are usually very focused, highly visual, and include unusual information.

[June 2003] "Getting Betty Ready" by Susan Lee. This article shows the steps a rider takes to groom, saddle, etc. a horse before riding and clean up after the ride. The piece includes photos and an illustration of a young rider. Clearly a preschooler couldn't do everything in the piece (making it appropriate for older kids too) but she could certainly understand everything and all the illustrations make the piece bright and lively.

[July 2003] "A Chipmunk's Home" by Janice Marie Scully. This article was about how a chipmunk's burrow caused a brick sidewalk to cave in. Although it was about a familiar animal - it was very focused and it included clear photos.

[August 2003] "A Mooving Experience" by Judy Wolfman. Although the "kid" in the article is a teen telling about his life on a dairy farm, he recounts incidents from when he was younger and he explains things simply. Most of the article has the focus on cow babies. The article also has many photos.

[September 2003] "Pose Like the Animals" by Thia Luby. The articles encourages young children to stretch by introducing exercises that make them "look" like different animals - an elephant, a flamingo, and a seal.

[October 2003] "Down a Wombat Hole" by Douglas McInnis. This article is a profile of a scientist who is studying wombats. The scientist tells interesting stories about her experiences and the article includes lots of photos. It's more of an adventure (the adventure of studying Wombats in the wild) as it is a "facts about wombats" article.

[November 2003] "Japanese Children Celebrate Shichi-go-san" by Ann Marie Collins. An article about a festival honoring children. The article tells about the past and present of the festival and includes many bright photos.

[December 2004] "Why Does a Woodpecker Peck" by Jodi Forschmiedt. Bright lively writing for the three reasons woodpeckers peck. The tone is bright and simple but not cute.

[January 2004] "Follow that Horse" by Shannon Teper. Article on miniature horses as service animals. Focuses on one specific miniature horse - the first one to guide a blind owner -- and includes photos. Includes brief lively quotes from the owner.

[February 2004] "Sap's Running" by Stephen R. Swinburne. The article focuses on brothers who tap maple trees for sap for the family tradition of making maple syrup. The main article is about the actual process with two sidebars - one with a legend about how people began making syrup and another about why maple syrup will run at certain times of year.

[March 2004] "Time to Change Clothes" by Marilyn Kratz. An article on molting and why it happens.

[May 2004] "Tales from the Shore" by Lori Johnson. A Nature walk along a very specific shore and specific things found there - with photos. A piece like this depends on specificity - not just any walk but a specific walk at a specific time in a specific place and the actual things spotted.

[April 2001] Little Chick. An action rhyme that looks at the process of growing inside an egg, hatching, and being protected by the mother hen. The "facts" are very simple and presented in rhyme with movements for the child to make while "hearing" the piece. Not cute - very clear facts - chicks in eggs must be warm, chicks in eggs breathe, chicks spend weeks inside the egg, etc.

This issue also includes a back page picture puzzle that invited readers to match the correct eggs to the correct mother animal - Ladybug nonfiction is usually this sort of back-page activity.

CLICK [Technically, CLICK doesn't accept submissions and only takes resumes from writers who already have experience writing nonfiction for young children, but their approach to it is still interesting because it represents a serious look at nonfiction for the preschool audience.]

[August 1998] "The Meadow" - Many of the pieces in Click are photo essays. Photos with brief factual material that related to it. This piece mixes photos and torn paper illustrations with very brief text to present the food chain as it takes place in a meadow. Wildflowers bloom, a specific insect eats them, a specific frog eats him, a specific snake eats the frog, a hawk brings the snake to her chicks ...and the writer reminds us that all this eating began with the plants.

[September 2003] "New School for Hopperville" - Again, bright illustrations show the exact steps for building a school and the big trucks used to do it, and the different jobs associated with it. Each step gets only a sentence or two.

"They Build Their House with Straw" - A photo essay showing the process of building a house using bales of straw.

"Build It High, Long, Strong" This piece shows several bridges and talks about how they are made safe and strong - suspension bridges, an arch-supported bridge that spans a deep gorge, and very long bridges.

So what things to all these have in common? Very tight focus. Specific detail. Few words (often around 100). Lively verbs. And a pleasant read-aloud sound. What does your preschool nonfiction sound like?

If you are interested in reading the newsletter in full or learning more about the Institute, you can find it at:

Monday, April 6, 2009

Third Annual SCBWI-Dakotas Spring Conference

The third annual SCBWI--Dakotas Spring Conference held this past weekend in Sioux Falls, SD, was a huge hit! "Books, Art, and Beyond" offered many options for writers and illustrators alike. Our regional advisor, author Jean Patrick, did an amazing job setting up a conference that benefitted us all and, despite a raging South Dakota blizzard, a great time was had by all.

Sessions and speakers were as follows: Welcome by Jean L.S. Patrick, SCBWI Regional Advisor; Nuts & Bolts (and Great Ways to Get Your Foot in the Door) by Mary Scarbrough, Author; A Picture Book: From Conception to Birth by Tim Gillner, Art Director at Boyds Mills Press; Behind the Scenes by Martyn Beeny, SDSHS Press; Dr. Writer: A New Author's Journey from Patients to Plotlines by Susan Thompson Underdahl, Author; and First-Page Critiques by Tim Gillner, Jean Patrick and Mary Scarbrough. For the first time, our conference has grown enough to warrant breakout sessions during the afternoon which allowed conference participants to hone their areas of expertise: Illustrators Q & A with Tim Gillner; Making Book Trailers with Mark Geary; Pitch Session with Martyn Beeny; Private Critiques with Faculty; and Individual work time. There was also a Faculty Q & A panel to wrap up the conference.

I promise to blog on the speakers I sat in on soon!