Society of
Children's Book Writers
and Illustrators

2019 Spring Spirit Conference Schedule

Spring Spirit 2019


Conference Schedule and Workshop Descriptions


Note: The “Pass or Play” Panel after lunch has special directions for submitting first pages. Please see the Manuscript Submission Guidelines link here for more information.

8:15-8:45- Doors Open, Conference Check-in, Coffee/Tea/Breakfast Items Available

8:45-9:10- Welcome, Team Introductions, and Faculty Introductions: CoRegional Advisor, Nikki Shannon Smith

9:25-10:25- Session One (Choose One)

Tim McCanna: Rhyming in Picture Books

Have you ever been told not to rhyme or that editors hate rhyming picture books? Don’t believe it! In this lively discussion, rhyming picture book author Tim McCanna (Bitty BotWatersongBarnyard BoogieJack B. Ninja) pinpoints what makes a strong rhyming manuscript that will have agents, editors, and readers begging for more. We’ll analyze works by a few of the rhyming greats, and turn the spotlight on frequent missteps such as forced rhyme and slant rhyme. Tim will also offer tips, tricks, and tools for getting your next rhyming picture book off on the right foot. Great for beginners or advanced writers looking to expand their work.

Aida Salazar: The Wonder of Words – Writing Verse Novels

Have you ever been curious about how to write a novel in verse? The craft of writing verse novels is more than writing prose with line breaks. Verse novels are hybrids that tell narratives through the art of poetry.  Come explore how to balance the core elements in novel writing — POV, character development, plot, setting, theme, etc. — with the unique elements in poetry — efficiency, imagery, metaphor, rhythm, form, white space, etc.— that truly bring a novel in verse to life.

Tiffany Liao: Mirrors, Windows & Doors: Writing & Thinking Cross-Culturally 

If you’re supposed to “write what you know,” how can you create convincingly and respectfully from a perspective outside of your own? Tiffany will offer insights and craft-based advice from her experience editing and reading cross-culturally.

Natascha Morris: Branding Yourself

It’s not enough to be an author anymore. In today’s publishing landscape, you are a brand. But how do you present that brand? What does that mean? In this session, we’ll talk about how your website and social media all play a part in presenting a face to your readers and how you the author become a role you play.

10:40-11:40- Session Two (Choose One)

Julie Gassman: All about Early Chapter Books

What’s the trickiest writing assignment in children’s literature? According to a July, 2018 article in Publisher’s Weekly, it’s the “humble chapter book”. In this session, we’ll take a look at just what makes this category so tricky and discuss what publishers are looking for in these confidence-building books.

Aida Salazar: Tackling Taboo Topics in Middle Grade

Middle school readers have an innate curiosity about the world outside and inside their bodies. This is arguably the time when those changes are most pronounced. Come explore how we can write books based on real-life feelings and events not common in middle grade. How can we use literature to help middle grade readers navigate the complexities and sometimes harsh realities of life? How do we incorporate taboo topics into our books while keeping young readers engaged and censors at bay?

Kristen Schwartz: Illustrating Picture Books: From Start to Finish
You want to illustrate picture books, and you have art skills and a portfolio—but is that enough? Becoming proficient at illustrating picture books takes a lot of work and developing a solid workflow will also improve your illustration skills. In this session for illustrators at all levels, Kristen will take you through the picture book process step by step, giving you tips for strengthening your weaknesses and developing or improving your workflow. You’ll leave with suggestions for working smarter, tech tips for building dummies, thumbnail templates, and more!

Natascha Morris: Querying/Working with an Agent

Most authors will tell you they know what happens before getting an agent and what happens when they publish a book, but what about that weird shadowy area in-between? This session will attempt to shed some light on what happens when you get an agent, but haven’t sold, and addresses some of the expectations once you have an agent.

11:40-12:20- Lunch Break (See Conference Menu Link)

12:20-1:00- “Pass or Play” First Pages Panel: As lunch ends, our agents and editors (Julie Gassman, Natalie Lakosil, Tiffany Liao, and Natascha Morris) will take the stage in the Community Hall. First pages will be reviewed in a pass or play format. The first page will be read aloud, the industry professionals will tell us if they would pass or “play” (read on/consider the sample), and will give a brief reason for their decision. To submit your first page (free!), please follow the directions on the Manuscript Submission Guidelines page under “Pass or Play” First Pages Panel, HERE. Please note that not all pages will be used for the panel, due to time constraints.

1:15-2:15- Session Three (Choose One)

Tim McCanna: The Art of the Picture Book Trailer

Your book is about to publish and you need a video to drum up excitement and awareness! The good news is, you probably have many of the tools you need to create a memorable book trailer already on your laptop. Picture book author Tim McCanna will guide you through the nuts and bolts of video production for a successful YouTube video launch—from importing your book’s illustrations to iMovie, to creating original background music in Garageband. We’ll also watch a few examples of successful book trailers and leave plenty of time for Q&A at the end. (Note: Tim will be using and recommending Apple products, but can offer software options for PC users.)

Natalie Lakosil: Re-Envision: Tips and Tricks for Revising Your Novel

This session will move through tips and advice for novel revision, covering character, voice, plot, pacing, conflict, and inside agent tips.

Chad Hunter: Strengthen Your Compositions (for Illustrators)

You may have perspective, gesture, anatomy, light, and shadow all nailed down, but if you’re overlooking composition, you’re missing one of the most effective devices in your tool box. Compositions communicate and convey mood. Chad will show some classic compositions and discuss why they’re proven classics. He’ll analyze compositions from the Golden Age of Illustration and from today. He’ll also give you methods you can use to build formal and informal compositions as well as how to strengthen your compositions.

Julie Gassman: Make Writing-for-Hire “Write” for You

Pursuing work-for-hire writing projects is an awesome way to gain publishing exposure, make personal contacts with editors, and see your work in libraries and bookstores. We’ll talk about the range of work-for-hire projects available, publisher expectations of work-for-hire authors, and how use your work-for-hire experience as promotion for your passion projects.

2:30-3:30- Session Four (Choose One)

Natalie Lakosil: Writing and Revising Your Picture Book

This session is all about writing and revising picture books. Topics covered will include getting started with writing, thinking about market, audience, hook, the mechanics of story development and how to re-shape a great idea into a narrative, thinking visually, rhythm and rhyme, page-turn and read-aloud.

Tiffany Liao: The Heart Wants What It Wants: How to Make Readers Fall in Love With Your Characters

With every book Tiffany edits, she always starts with one big question: What does the character want? Your character motivation is the heart of the story and will inform every element in your book including voice, plot, pacing, and world-building. Tiffany will show you how to dig deep into your character to establish a motivation that is compelling, believable, and urgently drives the story forward from page to page.

Chad Hunter and Kristen Schwartz: Figuring Out Feedback (for Illustrators)

So you had a critique! Brave of you! Now what? In this session for illustrators at all stages of their careers (with or without a portfolio/critique), we will examine what to do post critique. You’ll have an opportunity to evaluate feedback you’ve received, ask and answer questions, and reflect upon your own work and progress. Depending on class size, this session may include time for small-group discussions. You’ll leave prepared to take actionable steps that address the comments, create an end goal with milestones, and… get another critique.

Patricia Newman: Using Twitter as a Building Block for Your Author/Illustrator Platform

Any time we as authors and illustrators take on a new social media portal, the learning curve can be daunting. Twitter can feel like the cool kids chatting in the lunch room while you sit alone at a nearby table, but it’s not. On Twitter, we’re all cool. Granted, some tweets are so abbreviated, they’re impossible to understand. And what’s a hashtag anyway? In this session, we’ll go over the basics, discuss how Twitter can help you hone your message for kidlit consumers, and find out how to use Twitter in conjunction with other social media, i.e. Pinterest, mailing lists, Facebook, your website, etc. For optional pre-conference homework from Patricia, look HERE.

3:45-4:00- Afternoon Sweets and Special Announcements! CoRegional Advisors, Kristen Schwartz and Nikki Shannon Smith

4:00-4:20- CLOSING KEYNOTE: Tim McCanna

4:20-4:30- Farewell and Critique Pick-Up