Tag Archives: writing conference

So You Want to Write or Illustrate a Children’s Book?

      You can!  But you will have much more luck getting it published if you add some preparation to that natural talent.
      Technology has made it easier than ever for folks to try their hand at writing words or creating illustrations—so the sheer volume of competition is overwhelming.  You may get tons of “likes” if you share your work on Facebook, but your fame may fizzle in a matter of days. Maybe that’s enough for you.  I, however, seem drawn to write something with…longevity.  I dream that my books will continue to have meaning and usefulness long after I’m gone.  
       The people who do their homework, play the waiting game, and pursue more traditional courses of publishing are most likely to have staying power.  It’s seriously worth the time investment to learn about the publishing industry before you waste a lot of time making mistakes, annoying editors, and burning book bridges.  


Myself with Leonard Marcus, children’s book historian and author.  

      Getting published is a lot like creating a resume and interviewing for a job—you will get farther if you’ve had training that makes your resume worth considering.  Unless you have an arts degree, one of the few educational opportunities for writers and illustrators is to join a reputable organization that offers workshops, trade journals, online trainings and networking opportunities.  
       Attending “author talks” is my personal favorite form of learning, as I enjoy listening to other writers about their journey.  I always take away a nugget that helps me move forward.  But truly, editors and agents are at the pulse of the ever-evolving book industry.  Hearing what they say is like sitting at the feet of a master—because they hold the most industry power.  Professional organizations provide great opportunities for meeting these people first hand.  
      I have personally selected the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators as my professional organization of choice, although others exist.  For several years, I’ve attended SCBWI conferences in my state, where editors, agents, and art directors from publishing houses give presentations, answer questions, and will even review writing and illustration samples.
      For me, networking with other writers is also invaluable—as writing can be a lonely business.  I am greatly encouraged by talking to folks who understand what it’s like to spend a ridiculous hour rewriting one sentence or to have a fiction character put words into my mouth.
       Sometimes writing is like having homework every day of my adult life, even when I’m doing it “for fun.”  Other writers and illustrators understand my indescribable need to create….and yet, my strange tendency to procrastinate finishing a book or article for fear it won’t live up to my own personal standard. 
       Creating the masterpiece is just the first step in the process for anyone who is serious about seeing their name on a book cover.  Next, a publisher has to see your genius and commit to it—which will never happen if your precious art remains on a computer drive or buried in a drawer.  For this reason, I reiterate that if you want to write or illustrate a children’s book, it’s worth the time to get involved with a professional organization that can guide your path toward publication. 
       The following Richard Bach quote has been taped to my bathroom mirror for many years, “The professional writer is the amateur who didn’t quit.” 
       Before I started getting paid for my work, this quote inspired me to keep going.  Now that I really am a professional writer (a fact which still sometimes surprises me), I’m reminded that the journey is never-ending. After writing several books and hundreds of articles, you’d think I’d feel satisfied, but I’m not.  Everything I write and everything I continue to learn takes me one step closer to the professional level for which I strive.  
       I still have stories to tell, and I still have to conform to the publishing industry’s ever-changing standards. Staying current with the publishing industry is for veterans and beginners alike.  So don’t quit!  Join a professional organization and learn how you can share (or continue to share) your natural talent with the world.
I’ll be at this conference on April 16, 2016.  Non-Oklahomans welcome, too!
Sara Sargent, Editor 
is an Executive Editor at HarperCollins Children’s Books, where she focuses on fiction and nonfiction in the picture book, middle grade, and young adult categories.
Sara Sargent
Carter Hasegawa, Editor
Associate editor at Candlewick Press, came to children’s publishing in a roundabout way. Basically anything that has a great voice, is a good story, and is “unputdownable.”
Carter Hasegawa
Karl Jones, Editor 
Associate Editor, Grosset & Dunlap/Price Stern Sloan/Cartoon Network Books, Penguin Young Readers. Karl works on a variety of licensed and original middle grade and activity books, as well as some early YA projects.
Karl Jones
Jodell Sadler, Agent
hosts workshops and presents on pacing, which includes Picture Book Pacing, Editing, and Avoiding Burnout tutorials and Webinars with Writer’s Digest.
Jodell Sadler
Vicki Selvaggio, Agent 
With her most recent publication in the 2015 Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market, Vicki’s passion for honing the craft carried over into reading manuscripts for the agency.   
Vicki Selvaggio
Jason Henry, Art Director
has over 15 years professional experience designing books for young readers. He has won awards for his designs from the Book Industry Guild of New York, designed numerous New York Times best selling books, such as Brad Meltzer’s Ordinary People Change The World series.
Jason Henry

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Filed under Inspiration for Writers, My Philosophy on Writing

Words of Wisdom from Best Selling Authors

Keep writing and keep rewriting was the unintentional theme expressed by multiple published authors at the Rose State Short Course on Writing, hosted by William Bernhardt on September 15-16, 2012. Here are few highlights (along with the fact that I won an award for my young adult manuscript, The Wedding Thief):

Phillip Margolin is a former crime attorney who has 16 New York Times bestselling legal thrillers. He said that empathetic characters and surprising plots are the two reasons a story works. Full outlining assures that he has a thorough plan for his book before he begins writing—but no Roman numerals, just writing notes about what will happen next. During his final read-through, he “reads it as if he’d paid money for it.”

Mel Odom is the author of 150+ novels, including tie-in novels for Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Tomb Raider. In his humorous style, Odom shares that “funerals are the best place to go for entertainment and story ideas.” On a serious note, he said that the greatest gift from a writer to a reader is to let them know they are not alone and that all hurts have been experienced before.

Jim Tharp’s young adult novel, The Spectacular Now, was a finalist for the 2008 National Book Award and is currently being filmed as a movie. Tharp shared his philosophy that “writers are scouts that make a trip into the unknown” and bring that information back to the reader; whether traveling into history, into the future, or into the intricacies of the heart.

Michael Wallis, a three-time Pulitzer nominee, is known as the historian of the American West. His 15 books include the topics of Route 66, Billy the Kid, and David Crockett. His distinctive voice is heard as the sheriff in the animal film Cars. He shared his childhood story of winning an essay contest about being the crossing guard. He won a dugout seat at a St. Louis Cardinals game—which led him to decide, “This writing is not a bad thing.”

Lauren Zuniga is a nationally touring poet. One line from her performance that spoke to me was, “cover the earth with your purpose.”

J. Madison Davis writes fiction and non-fiction novels, and is the president of the International Association of Crime Writers. He said that all books must fulfill the promise to shock you or change you. Unfortunately, real history doesn’t always tie together nicely with a good lesson in the end, therefore, “fiction is much more moral than history.”

William Bernhardt is the bestselling author of 29 books and founder of HAWK Publishing Group. He specializes in writing workshops, in which his skill and encouragement have resulted in many published authors. It is his belief that people read the newspaper for reality; they read novels to escape reality. Novels are “life-like,” but they have a storyline and closure.

Bernhardt offered suggestions to make characters likeable, such as an undeserved handicap or the ability to be kind to children, pets or elderly people. Of course, not all characters are likeable, but they are really good at what they do (example: Sherlock Holmes had many bad habits, but a genius for crime solving). In his closing remarks, Bernhardt reminded authors that writing is hard work that only succeeds with commitment: put in the time, expect rejection, take care of your health, and write an outline!


I was honored to interview Bernhardt at the release of his 2009 Novel, Nemesis William Bernhardt: Lawyer, Author, Crimesolver,  (Distinctly Oklahoma Magazine/May 2009)

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Filed under Inspiration for Writers, Resources for Writers