Posts Tagged ‘San Diego SCBWI’

I had the pleasure, delight, absolute joy of hearing author-illustrator, Richard Jesse Watson speak on Saturday during a special event hosted by the San Diego Chapter of SCBWI.

Oh me, oh my.

Let me first say, if you are planning any kind of writer’s conference, retreat, event, and want to invite someone special, I highly recommend him. He is a passionate, funny, thoughtful and inspiring speaker.

Everyone was a-buzz and glowing after listening to him speak. I usually doodle during lectures and presentations. This helps me to listen and focus. Well, during Richard’s presentation, I made a few of my usual sketchadoodley doodles, but mostly I wrote doodle words. I kept hearing the most delightful phrases that I had to jot down. Ironic, as his illustrations are utterly amazing.

I am in awe of the lengths he goes in order to get his art right. When he illustrated Tom Thumb, he designed costumes for his son to wear so he could see how the fabric would fold as he moved. He makes models of things – for instance the sleigh in his version of The Night Before Christmas – to be sure he gets light and shadows exactly right. Gorgeous results! I’d love to see his studio.

I’d like to pass on a bit of his advice… These are not direct quotes, BTW, but the essence of what I grasped. I think his talk was the kind of talk where each person found something they needed, even if no one else heard it the same way.

Some of what I heard:

  • Figure out your (emotional) baggage, your strengths, and your weaknesses – writing related and not – and use those things to write the stories only you can write.
  • Tap into your passion and neuroses.
  • Take life’s irritations and flip them – see them as gifts instead.

A creativity prompt he led was fascinating. He had us each either draw a quick picture of one of our characters or to write a brief introduction of him/her. Then we passed it to two different people who added and changed, aka “messed with” what we’d started with. Interesting results all around me! It’s a lovely way to jump-start thinking outside your own thinks. I will remember this one for classrooms and groups.

He made feel so privileged to be on this journey, to be working and celebrating the art of writing books for children.

Sarah Wones Tomp


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My Super Blog Buddy Sarah likes to say that the true beginning of the year begins in September not January. If you have children, September marks the beginning of a new school year with new teachers, new classes and new schedules to adjust to. If you are a member of the SCBWI here in San Diego, September also marks the beginning of a new season of speakers.

On Saturday we began the new season with author Erin Dealey and her agent Deborah Warren. Erin is a K-12 Language Arts/ theater teacher, Co-Regional Advisor for SCBWI California North/Central, and the author of –Goldie Locks Has Chicken Pox and Little Bo Peep Can’t Get to Sleep (Atheneum/Simon & Schuster). Deborah is the founder of East/West Literary and has over 30 years of experience in the publishing industry, she represents children’s authors of all genres, as well as illustrators, and author/illustrators. Her clients include NYT best-selling, award-winning, and crossover talent such as: Marion Dane Bauer, Anna Dewdney, David Diaz-picture book collaborators Eric Litwin and James Dean–Patricia MacLachlan, Judy Sierra and Belle Yang.

With the topic of –From A-Z and East to West –Erin and Deborah demonstrated how the agent-author relationship works. Beginning with the tips, tricks, and publishing terms that began with the letter A and working through to the letter Z, Erin and Deborah talked shop, as well as the pitfalls and gains in the publishing world today.

Here is a glimpse of some of the information shared:

On the increased popularity of ebooks:

“Think of yourself as content creators rather than book authors”

On query letters:

“Sell me don’t tell me”

On revision:

“Weeding a garden is a great metaphor for revision, it’s a lot of work and your back may hurt and muscles ache, but in the end it’s worth it.”

On rejection:

“It’s not about your talent, it’s about the vision that the publishing house wants to create.”

On writing:

“You need three things: patience, persistence , professionalism. Talent is not what’s going to get you published.”

It was a truly informative meeting and I am looking forward to next month when Deborah Halverson is scheduled to talk about her new book Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies.

If you are interested in the upcoming speakers for SCBWI San Diego be sure to check out the website for more details.

Happy Writing,

Suzanne Santillan

Writing on the Sidewalk

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On Saturday Super Blog Buddy Sarah and I attended the One-Day Conference sponsored by our local San Diego SCBWI. This day-long event was filled with great speakers and several panel discussions filled with useful tips and information. I thought I would share with you a very brief overview of the day.

Here is a list of the speakers and panels:

Voice: The Elusive Element that Sets Your Writing Apart
Kim T. Griswell, Senior Editor, Highlights, Inc.

Using examples from some fabulous books, Kim shared that “voice”  has the ability to illuminate the ordinary and that a writer must use the following to bring out more in their writing:

  • Place- use events in your childhood, the city where you grew up
  • Personal Experience- reveal yourself and write with emotional truth
  • Use all 5 senses- allow your readers to smell, hear, taste, touch and see what your character is experiencing.

The View from Inside HarperCollins Books for Children
Sarah Dotts-Barley, Associate Editor, HarperCollins Books for Children

Sharing examples from the lives of E.B. White and Ursula Nordstrom, Sarah explained how the following are needed in a good story:

  • Emotional Truth
  • Unforgettable Voice
  • Plot

The “Meet the Agents”panel included:

Chris Richman, Literary Agent, Upstart Crow Literary Agency
Jill Corcoran, Literary Agent, Herman Agency
Natalie M. Fischer, Literary Agent, Sandra Dijkstra/Bradford Literary Agency

A variety of topics were discussed including:

  • What elements to include in a good query letter;  how your story fits in the market, any hooks, and a true synopsis of the story
  • Branding
  • Rights- standard, digital, etc…
  • Marketing Trends
  • Pitching your story

The View from Inside Kane Miller Books: A Publisher’s Perspective

Kira Lynn, Publisher, Kane Miller Books, a Division of EDC Publishing

Using examples from the current Kane Miller list, Kira shared what her publishing house was seeking and what makes a book stand out:

  • Good Stories
  • Meaningful Plots
  • Humor
  • Good Story Arc
  • Common Experiences
  • The ability to reach readers

Expanding Technology: Implications for the Future of Children’s Books
David Diaz, Illustrator, acclaimed artist, graphic designer, Caldecott Medalist

David explained that the book industry is changing. Using examples from the music industry, David reminded us that while things are changing the essence of what we do is still the same. We may be feeling like we are in “The Wild West” but in the next few years things will settle down and a new reality will emerge.

In addition to these topics we also had a “First Pages” panel where the first page of a manuscript was read and a “Log Line” panel where a brief synopsis (similar to something that would be in a query) of a story was read. The panelists shared their opinions on the strength and weaknesses of the submissions.

Natalie Fischer has posted her overview of the day on her blog as well. Natalie was able to touch on more great information that I couldn’t fit on this page so be sure to check it out.

Thanks to the lovely ladies at the San Diego SCBWI for a great day.

Suzanne Santillan

Writing on the Sidewalk

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New Year’s Eve is my least favorite holiday. Too much hype and pressure and no particular traditions to get me through. And it’s really a bottom of the bucket holiday for parents of teens.

But here it is. And so I say to 2010: So long, farewell, adios!

It’s also the end of a decade – the decade where I became a writer… still got a ways to go. Besides relationships, there are very few things I’ve done for ten years.

One of my bits of advice to the teens in my life regarding New Year’s celebrations is to remember that it is a holiday of looking ahead – to the future. (As in don’t screw up your future tonight.)

Here are a few San Diego writer-related type things to look forward to…

And check out your horoscope. This is the one Yahoo gave me in my email and I like its plans for me so I’m not looking anywhere else.

See you next year!

Sarah Wones Tomp



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My very first SCBWI meeting was some time in the year 2000. I managed to sneak away from my three babies – feeling terrified the entire time I drove around looking for USD, looking for parking, looking for the right building, then the right classroom until I finally snuck in the back at least a half hour late.

And was completely blown away by Jean Ferris.

The whole experience was exhausting, humbling – and inspiring!

The San Diego chapter of SCBWI is a busy one. They have monthly meetings – a point of pride since many other chapters are not able to provide such a consistent source of support and information. These meetings are packed! And in a much bigger classroom than the one I visited so long ago.

My Super Blog Buddy and I presented our “lessons learned” at Saturday’s meeting – Sue has already posted our tidbits of info regarding our WIP, this blog. The lineup of speakers is a prime example of how the powers that be for our local chapter (most prominently Janice Yuwiler, Patricia Buckley and Debra Schmidt) manage to draw on the varied experiences of local authors.

During the short but informative presentations we heard about:

For all the aspiring authors in the room looking to get published, Edith had a magical card that summed up the key to success: PERSISTENCE.

And really, in their own way with their own particular focus, that was the same lesson everyone shared. Thanks to Edith for making it crystal clear.

My own writing journey has been a long roller coaster – but SCBWI has helped in oh so many ways.

San Diego SCBWI is hosting a conference in February. Check out the lineup! Wow.

Sarah Wones Tomp


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Each year in December the San Diego chapter of the SCBWI opens the floor to the recently published authors to share their experiences, they call this segment “Lessons Learned.” This year my Super Blog Buddy Sarah and I are going to speak about a subject near and dear to our hearts- blogs.

Many authors run into the dilemma Blog or Website? Which one to choose? One? Both?

This topic was recently discussed with a group from the Los Angeles SCBWI and the best answer came from Greg Pincus social networking genius, here are some of the highlights from his response:

Website Pros and Cons-

  • Establishes a web presence
  • You control the content
  • Doesn’t require constant updating
  • Your site will only be found if people are actively looking for you

Blog Pros and Cons-

  • Gives the author a chance to showcase talent
  • Opportunity to connect with others in the industry
  • Can help you establish a following even before your first  writing deal
  • Gives editors/agents the opportunity to view your work and see that you are involved in the writing community
  • Requires consistent updates (this is my own tip)

I think every author published or not should have a website. For those who are willing to put in the work for a blog it is a valuable tool that can help writers establish themselves.

Here is an important point to remember whether you decide to do a blog or website, it is your manuscript that will gain you the representation or the sale and NOT your presence on the internet.

I will be posting the notes for our talk tomorrow which goes into a little more detail about blogs.

Happy writing,

Suzanne Santillan

Writing on the Sidewalk

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Author/Illustrator Bob Staake was the guest at our local San Diego SCBWI meeting. Since I was out of town, I asked fellow author and “Writer Mama” Denise Harbison to do a guest post. Denise is the author of “Solving the Violin Mystery” (Highlights Magazine) and just recently graduated from the MFA program at Hamline University.

If you want to be a picture book writer, it only makes sense get to know an illustrator or two.
After all, they do half the work, right?

Here’s your guy: Bob Staake. Speaking to both writers and illustrators at the San Diego chapter of SCBWI, he managed to dish out good advice to all.

He demonstrated how his work changed during the development phase, while working with the publisher. Conceptions, such as “white covers don’t sell,” affect the final outcome, which in one case meant agreeing on a book cover that wasn’t his first choice. But he advises to “trust your gut.” He had noeditorial input on his book THE RED LEMON before it was complete, allowing him to fully realize his vision without the interruption of judgment or critique. It is now the book for which he is best known.

He also uses instinct in deciding what stories to work on. Often he begins with an appealing image, adding details that build into a book. Admittedly, he wants his children’s books to appeal to adults, too, because they are the buyers. He enjoys inventing and adding funny written details into the pictures, such as a pig reading a book titled “Gone with the Swine”—which is cheered by reviewers. The hard part, he says, is knowing when to stop adding more details, to quit “when enough is enough.” From a writer’s viewpoint, these little quips and funny details demonstrate character and give the story energy.

Hearing Bob speak about the balance between text and picture made this writer think more like an illustrator—to understand how words can better interact and complete the pictures. Ultimately, though, to write and illustrate a great book, you have to understand the reader. To that he says he puts himself in the reader’s shoes.

“To inspire a child…to have them want to engage in books…there’s nothing more amazing than hearing from parents that your book changed a child’s life.”


Thanks Denise, it’s sounds like a great presentation.

Suzanne Santillan

Writing on the Sidewalk

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Last night I had my third book signing and while I can say my second book signing was a family affair, my third book signing was all about friends.

Deena from Readers Inc. made me feel more than welcome and (with a little departure from the normal Thursday night signings) had a lovely table set up in the back of the air conditioned store that included a display of my books and an Edible Arrangement of fruit.  This was truly appreciated since summer had decided to finally arrive here in San Diego and I had visions of standing in the sun and melting. My loving husband even threw our big golf umbrella in the car just before we left just to make sure that I wouldn’t be bombarded by the heat.

It was a fun evening with visits from several of my friends including a group of women from the San Diego SCBWI who decided to eat at a local Italian restaurant first and then stop by and visit the book signing.

The lovely ladies of the San Diego-SCBWI straight from their Italian dinner.

More wonderful friends from the San Diego- SCBWI (I’m not sure where they ate)

I am pleased to say that we sold out of books and I learned a valuable lesson: Always bring extra copies of your book to a signing event.

I have another signing scheduled in September at the Borders in Mission Valley and I will be sure to carry extra copies in my car (just in case).

All in all I came away with a great sense of friendship and appreciation for every one at Readers Inc. and all of my friends who turned out to make my first book signing here in San Diego a fun event. I also came away with a great edible arrangement of fruit.

Thanks everyone,

Suzanne Santillan

Writing on the Sidewalk

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I’m the type of person who always has a witty comeback for a situation. Unfortunately for me, the witty comeback usually hits me about an hour after I truly need it, leaving me with a typical response of stunned silence or the classic “Oh Yeah?”  Neither response is very effective and makes me feel very uncomfortable.

I first heard about the elevator pitch at our December meeting for the San Diego chapter of SCBWI. Author Barrie Summy shared that having her elevator pitch prepared and ready to go led to the publishing of her book,  “I So Don’t Do Mysteries.”

I was intrigued. What was an elevator pitch? I was sure I didn’t have one. Did I need one?

After a little research I found out that the elevator pitch has been used as a business tool for quite a while. According to author Nina Amir the elevator pitch is:

“…a short speech you have ready for that opportune moment – or less than a moment – when you can market yourself or your product to someone that might buy it. That speech, however, has to include all the pertinent information and be interesting, clever, thought provoking, or in some way leading so the person becomes inclined to ask you for more details.”

The name reflects the fact that an elevator pitch should be possible to deliver in the time span of an elevator ride, meaning in a maximum of 30 seconds and in 130 words or fewer. Some even suggest that you should be able to describe your manuscript in 25 words or less.

What a great concept. This is something I can prepare ahead of time, so that if I get a chance to promote my manuscript to an agent or publisher I am ready and I don’t run the risk of staring at them mutely or more likely ramble on until they run for the hills.

This same concept can be used to promote yourself. Nancy Ancowitz has written a great book titled- “Self-Promotion for Introverts“, she suggests that you prepare an elevator pitch for those times you get questioned about what you do, or what type of books you write. This preparation is a helpful tip for those of us who don’t always think as quickly on our feet as we would like.

The last and most important step for an elevator pitch is: practice, practice, practice.

Here are more tips from Nina Amir:

“… For a pitch to be really effective, it has to flow off your tongue as easily as words off a pen and onto your paper or off a keyboard onto your computer screen.  Have it memorized. Know it by rote, but deliver it with passion and conviction. And be prepared to offer at least three talking points when, indeed, you are asked for more information.

Writing pitches isn’t easy. Although sometimes they just come to you, like those magical words that arrive on your manuscript pages, and you wonder how they arrived. But the perfect pitch is miraculous in its own right. While it might not sell your book or land you that agent, it will at least get an agent or an acquisitions editor to listen long enough and become interested enough to say, “Tell me more.” And that’s your opening to offer your three more points…and then three more…And you never know where that might lead.”

Suzanne Santillan

Writing on the Sidewalk

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I am very excited to be heading off on a writing retreat today. It’s sponsored by the amazing San Diego SCBWI. As usual the ladies in charge have out done themselves.

Despite all the rain we’ve been having in southern California, we’ll be in a beautiful location enjoying a delicious-sounding menu, building community, and best of all… WRITING.

I am feeling




Sarah Wones Tomp


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