Picture of Fox Hiking on path with signs that say Your Story Start To Finish
May 14, 2021

SCBWI Michigan Conference

By Jamie Bills

Your Story Start To Finish

April 23-25, 2021 Michigan SCBWI hosted a virtual conference “Your Story Start To Finish”. It was a high-quality conference full of valuable content (I wrote about 60 pages of notes!). Over the past couple of weeks, I have tried to apply some of the tips to my writing and it has been very helpful.

In a similar format to my summary of the things I learned at the SCBWI Summer Spectacular last year, I am going to share my top five takeaways.

#1- Listen To Criticism

Barb Rosensock said, “If you want a traditionally published book, you must WELCOME critiques and LISTEN.”

Share your work with your critique group or trusted readers outside your family and friends. She advised picking people who are kind and challenging. LISTEN to their critiques. Don’t defend or explain. This doesn’t mean you have to do everything they say, but listen and consider their feedback.

Quote by Barb Rosenstock. "It is not personal, it is a business."

She reminded us that we need criticism to make our stories better. We are trying to put out a good product because in the end, publishing books is a business.

#2- Write for Kids

Jonah Heller, editor at Peachtree Publishing, reminded us over and over again to WRITE FOR KIDS. He said #1 importance for him is that a manuscript is CHILD-CENTRIC.

Quote from Jonah Heller, "Don't forget who your audience is."

This seems obvious, right? Well, we are adults and it is REALLY easy to forget. In fact, I just wrote a manuscript a couple of weeks ago that my critique partner took one look at and said, “Why would a kid care about this”? Good question. They probably won’t. It was a picture book for adults.

#3- Three Reasons You Receive a Rejection

Barb Rosenstock's reasons you get rejections.

Barb broke down the reasons we are rejected into three simple categories.

#1- Marketability: Back to her earlier point of writing being a business, your book needs a place in the marketplace, it needs to be fresh and new.

#2- Quality issues: Not well written, No emotional heft behind the story “So What?”, Not enough action, Not a compelling voice, Doesn’t make sense, bad rhyme, etc.

#3- Subjectivity: This comes down to personal taste. If the agent/publisher likes your work. She said, “Once work meets quality & marketability standards, there will be someone who wants your work.”

#4- Comedic Rule of 3

Comedic Rule of Three from Cate Berry. Introduce, Validate, Violate.

One way Cate Berry suggested to add humor to a manuscript is through the comedic rule of three. You introduce a joke. Then you validate it. Then you violate it. This was one of her many great tips on writing funnier manuscripts.

#5- Illustrators are Cool

Quote from Barb Rosenstock, "Illustrators are cooler than us, don't insult them ever."

Pretty sure I already knew they were cooler, but it is always a good reminder. Don’t put in art notes if you can avoid it, leave illustrators half the story to tell, and always be grateful and acknowledge their work and contributions.

Keep Writing

I continue to work on my picture book manuscripts. Soon I will be submitting to a few agents and small publishing companies. Wish me luck!

If you are on your own writing journey, best wishes from me to you!

Jamie Bills