Monday, September 28, 2009

Winners for Fiction manuscript and Illustrator Contest

A HUGE congrats to all of the winners! :)

YA Winner: Cheryl Mendenhall

MG Winner: Janice Erbach

PB Winner: Karen Akins

The winner of the illustrator contest (for two years in a row!): Kristi Valiant

Honorable Mentions:

Jessica Young

Darcy Cleaver Maloney

Wanda Collins Johnson

Shellie Braeuner

Kurt Hampe

Mary Hartmann

Kathryn Knight

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Safe Haven Totals

The Midsouth region added a charitable aspect to this year's conference:  a book basket, where attendees could donate new and gently used children's books.  Also, a full novel critique by Michael Stearns of Upstart Crow Literary was raffled off.  (Thank you, Mr. Stearns!)  Our collection totals were:

-318 books collected
-$785 raised

Fantastic!  The books and money will go to Safe Haven, a nonprofit organization assisting homeless families in Middle TN.  

Our End-of-conference Faculty Panel

Faculty Panel includes Caroline Cooney, Chris Richman, Kaylan Adair, Cheryl Klein, Shelli-Johannes Wells, Patrick Collins, and Marietta Zacker.

Q: What makes a mss stand out?

Marietta B. Zacker:  Really, really good stuff!  It really is about that stuff that makes my spine tingle…stuff that I can’t put down.  Read your novel out loud, and not to your husband or spouse or children, but read it out loud and see if that’s how it makes you feel.  Get out of your head and be a real critical voice.  I respond to queries and things that have been written in a really fresh voice.

Cheryl Klein:  Specific markets that haven’t been reached before, subjects that haven’t been done before….

Chris Richman:  Books that speak to me, resonate with me emotionally.  I look for quality writing across the board.  The best stuff combines…fabulous writing, fabulous concept, fabulous execution. 

Kaylan Adair:  hat I’m looking for personally is voice.  I’m waiting for the thing that crosses my desk that makes my spine tingle.  The subject matter is not as important, but I want to love this character and be invested in his journey. 

Patrick Collins:  I’m looking for great art and a great style.  I’m looking for something that really speaks to me emotionally and gives me a connection to the character in your sample.


Q:  What makes a good book great?

Caroline Cooney:  My editor wants a great character with whom she can fall in love and for whom she can root or she wants a terrific plot and a great concept….

Kaylan Adair:  Voice…what I think is a great book might not be what people sitting next to me think is a great book. 

Chris Richman:  If all of a sudden I care, I know it’s special.

Cheryl Klein:  You can’t fix character and you can’t fix voice.  You can teach plot…what distinguishes great characters and great voices is realism.

Shelli Johannes-Wells:  You have to know your target audience and how it will sell.

Marietta B. Zacker:  Ditto


Q:  How do you feel about stories tied to specific current events?

Chris Richman:  Remember that if it hinges on the current event, chances are you’re going to date your book.  For inspiration, sure. 


Q: For middle grade fiction, is there a preference for first or third person?

Cheryl Klein:  No.


Q.  What is your all-time favorite book and why:

PC:  The Fur Families.  It’s cozy.  I love it for the emotional aspect. 

SJW:  Tummy Girl.  I choke up every time I read the last line.

CK:  From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.  The Westing Game.  It’s one of the best plots I’ve ever read.  The Gardener:  David Small and Sara Stuart.  It’s about making beautiful things. Dodo Gets Married:  Unique

CR:  The Twits. It was gross and funny and I wanted to see the monkeys to win. Also, Maniac McGee. 

KA:  Dooley and the Snort-Snoop.  It’s hilarious.  Follow My Leader.  About a boy who had a seeing-eye dog. 

CC:  The Lost Queen of Egypt.  I checked it out so many times, the library gave it to me.

MZ:  Esperanza Rising.  Talk about voice!


Q:  Should authors mention marketing ideas in query letters?

MZ:  If it’s pertinent.  You shouldn’t have to say, “By the way I think we should do X,Y, and Z for marketing.”  Your work is to write.  Your work is to sell yourself.

SJW:  No, but I think it’s important for every author to have a platform. 

CK:  Don’t mention that you’re willing to help promote your book – you’re expected to do that.  It would be nice to know if you’ve been a teacher or librarian.

CR:  Yes, include if you have a platform, like you’re a volunteer firefighter and your book is about firefighters. 


Q.  What makes your publishing house unique?

KA:  Candlewick is independent, and it’s very editorially driven. 

CR:  Upstart Crow is new, we’re hungry, and we love great books.

CK:  AA Levine is high on literary quality. 

PC:  Henry Holt still feels like a small publisher. 

MZ:  (Nancy Galt Agency) It’s a very personal business for us and we treat it as such. 






Karen Akins: Conference Comments

“This was my first SCBWI conference. It was more than I expected. I got to meet so many talented writers and illustrators. It was incredible. The speakers’ willingness to impart their knowledge was helpful and inspiring.”

Hannah Dills: Conference Comments

“My favorite part of the conference is spending time with my writer friends and meeting new ones. Genetta, Sharon & Susan have provided a great forum for this conference. The faculty have been excellent.”
photo: Kristin Tubb & Hannah Dills

Mary Ann Rodman: Conference Comments

“I learned how to write more efficiently from Caroline Cooney. It’s always great to be with the friendliest bunch of writers ever.”

Cheryl Klein: Principles of Plot


1. The story of the book is what happens in the book. The plot of the book is the deep structure of those events.

2. We can identify a plot by a change. If you don’t have a change, you don’t have a plot.

3. The protagonist is the person to whom the change happens and in whom the change occurs. Who changes in your plot?

4. Two dimensions of the plot are the Action Plot and the Emotional Plot. Some authors call them External Plot and Internal Plot.

5. Your story will begin when one of these changes does.

6. And while the entertainment of a book may come from its Action Plot, the deeper emotional effect and meaning of the book comes from its Emotional Plot.

The key structures of this speech are in a post on Cheryl’s blog.

Kaylan Adair: How to Get an Editor to Notice You (for all the right reasons)!

Guide to Etiquette Publishing: How to Get an Editor to Notice You for All the Right Reasons

How to behave at a conference: come talk to us! Saying hello does not make you a crazy stalker.

What sort of things is it appropriate to talk about? Ask about our tastes! Ask about our publishing house or agency and general questions about the publishing process. Mention that you’ve been submitted if you have, but don’t expect us to remember you.

DON’T Pitch your manuscript in a one-on-one casual meeting.

Don’t give an editor a manuscript to take back with them.

Don’t ask what publishers pay for advances.

Don’t ask what we really think of Harry Potter or Twilight, etc.

Submission etiquette:

The basics:

Cover letter: one page business letter that introduces you/includes short summary of work and genre

Query letter: letter you send asking permission to send manuscript

Summary: depends on publishing; check specific guidelines

Notification postcard: sent with the manuscript and we’re meant to send them back so you know it arrived safe and sound.

Submissions: what NOT to do

Don’t print on special paper. That means no colors or perfumes, peeps.

Don’t include anything extra with your submission. No photos of your dog, pictures, glitter, or food.

Don’t use the envelopes that are filled with newspaper.

Don’t include a detailed marketing/merchandising plan.

Don’t compare your book to mega bestsellers!

Don’t submit to us twice. We’ll tell you if we want to see more.

Don’t waste money on special shipping

Don’t worry about copyrighting. We aren’t going to steal your idea. Really.

Don’t get your lawyer brother-in-law to submit your book. Trust us—we know.

Don’t submit to multiple editors at the same house/multiple agents at the same agency

Don’t use a weird font. It makes it hard for us to read.

Double space your manuscript. Number your pages.

Personalize your cover letter, even if you haven’t met the editor/agent.
If you did meet us at a conference or in some other fashion, mention this right away.

Include a self-addressed stamp envelope even if you don’t want it back.
Use a professional tone.

Follow the submission guidelines!

Don’t include illustrations if you aren’t a professional illustrator.

Don’t write in rhyme unless you think of yourself as the poet. Forced rhyme is the worst!

Know the market!

Don’t submit to someone who doesn’t rep your genre.

Don’t pitch an entire series! Publishers won’t want to commit to five books at once right now.

Know your character through and through. TEENS ARE THE MOST DISCRIMINATING READERS.
Make sure you’re reading what is current.

The waiting game:

DON’T call us to follow up.

Wait three months before sending a polite status query.

Continue to submit your manuscript to others!

Start work on another project.

Patrick Collins - Creative Director, Henry Holt

Sending in your Art Samples:

See Henry Holt’s website for current submissions policy.
Patrick said artists can mail postcards or art samples to him. He prefers postcards. They are easy to take to a meeting and show other team members.

Patrick also sees drop off portfolios on Mondays, you don’t need an appointment. Artists can drop a portfolio off at the Henry Holt office and pick it up the next day. He also does in-person portfolio reviews by appointment.

Henry Holt accepts unsolicited manuscripts. The Henry Holt editors rotate each week to read unsolicited manuscripts. They only respond to submissions (both art & manuscripts) if they are interested.

First Pages with Cheryl Klein and Chris Richman

Cheryl Klein and Chris Richman read and react to first pages submitted by conference attendees.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

FREE copy of HANDCUFFS by the fabulous Bethany Griffin

We're giving away a free autographed copy of HANDCUFFS by Bethany Griffin.

The first one to come ask for it at the blog table wins!

Meet the Bloggers

Meet Team Blog for the SCBWI Midsouth 2009!

Kristin O'Donnell Tubb is the author of Autumn Winifred Oliver Does Things Different (Delacorte 2008) and the upcoming Selling Hope (Feiwel & Friends 2010). Please visit her website ( or her blog (

Rae Ann Parker is looking for representation for her latest middle grade novel, The Devil's Backbone. Please visit her blog at

Amanda K. Morgan lives in Nashville, TN. Visit her online at or

Cheryl Klein, "The Whole Shebang"

Ms. Klein discussed five books she has worked on, and what she’d like writers to learn from them:

1.  Timothy and the Strong Pajamas – Viviane Schwarz.  Timothy has pajamas that make him super-strong, but what happens when they rip?  The pictures and text work together to tell the story.  The vast majority should be in the images, like a silent film.   It should also touch on a common childhood emotion.  This book touches on a child’s desire for strength.  Great children’s books model a way for children to deal with their emotions.

Exercise:  What are some key childhood emotions when you are 6? 10? 15? 

2.  The Light of the World – Katherine Patterson.  The key here is to speak the child’s language. 

Exercise:  How would you describe the Office of the President?  The concept of love?

3.  Millicent Min, Girl Genius – Lisa Yee.  This book came to A.A. Levine through SCBWI.  Began as a manuscript written entirely in emails.  Great first line: very specific, contains conflict, and it’s funny.  A great children’s book has believable characters you can sympathize with. 

Exercise: Do a character study.

4.  The Harry Potter Series – J.K. Rowling.  Harry’s narrative voice is unique.  Excellent showing (not telling) details.  We experience what Harry experiences.  Be alert to the word “felt.”  Good fiction “mainlines emotion.”  In reality, both showing and telling have their place in fiction.  Think topic sentences. 

Exercise:  Rewrite the following:  “Zombies walked up West End Avenue.  Susie felt terrified.  William was hyper.” 

5.  A Curse Dark as Gold – Elizabeth Bunce.  A good example of character change/growth.  Ms. Bunce has both an internal and external plot, weaved together.  Don’t teach lessons. 

Exercise:  Use a triangle to map out your story – your story gets bigger and bigger and bigger to the climax, the breaking point.  

Use exercises such as these to make your story stronger!

Behind the Scenes at Candlewick with Associate Editor Kaylan Adair

Candlewick Press was named the fastest growing publisher by Publisher’s Weekly. They do board books, picture books (the backbone of Candlewick’s list), brand new readers (books for someone just learning to read), early readers (for children beginning to read on their own), chapter books (5-7 short chapters), middle grade fiction, nonfiction (picture books through anthologies for older readers), young adult fiction. Genres run the gamut. They are looking for strong writing.

Kaylan showed a photo of the Candlewick library where they keep multiple copies of all books currently in print. They have a separate library full of archived copies of out-of-print books.

The Candlewick Meetings:
No acquisitions meeting: The editors are given the freedom to acquire projects.
Production Meeting: Weekly meetings to discuss the status & titles on current and future lists
Picture Book Meeting: discussing picture book submissions
Illustrator Search Meeting: editor meets with designers to discuss potential illustrators for a picture book
Sketches Arrive: editor & designer look at sketches and make suggestions
Final Art Arrives: artwork is scanned and designer puts everything into layout
Covers Meeting: evaluating cover designs. All departments work together on this one.

Kaylan showed an example of the cover selection process for the book, Swim the Fly. There were 25 steps to finding the right cover!

Kaylan Adair has worked on more than 100 titles. She acquires everything from picture books to upper YA. She is looking for well-written stories with interesting characters, strong, unique voice, and lots of heart.

Perfecting Your Pitch

PERFECTING YOUR PITCH: an awesome and interactive workshop led by Genetta Adair, Sharon Cameron, Susan Eaddy, and Patsi Trollinger. Writers were given a step-by-step guide to create a perfect elevator pitch and then tried them out on each other, speed dating style. Writers had a minute and a half to pitch and then receive feedback. When the bell rang, writers had to move on and repeat the pitch to a new partner!

So what is a pitch, anyway?
It’s boiling your story down to its most basic elements.

Some guidelines:

Know what you want to say

Make it short and conversational

Find your hook! What is the most interesting or unusual thing about your writing?

Fill out the PERFECTING YOUR PITCH worksheet: Know your genre, age range, hook, main conflict, and main action to formulate your perfect pitch.
This should be 25 words or less.

Cheryl Klein – Dimentions of Character

Cheryl Klein, Senior Editor with Arthur A. Levine Books (Scholastic imprint) talked about character. Character is important, but must be paired with action.

ESSENCE (who the character is):
1. Facts – age, where they live, gender

2. Internal qualities – personality, ethics, morals, values, degree of self-awareness. A Character can have two internal qualities that conflict with each other.

3. External qualities – factors that show the internal qualities: Appearance, manner of speaking, patterns of behavior.

4. History (backstory). Readers only need to know what’s relevant to plot or to understand the reason behind characters’ actions. It can also be used as emotional context, to make the reader sympathize with the character.

“Let your characters word and actions speak for themselves.”

1. Desire – what the character wants: to get the girl, be the smartest person in the room, etc. Ask yourself: When a character wakes up, what’s the first thing he thinks of.
“The desire often becomes the plot engine of the novel.”

2. Attitude/Energy – content of what character says. Try journaling as the character to see what they say.
“If you wouldn’t want to hang around with a character in person, you wouldn’t want to hang around them in a novel.”

3. Action – what the character does to get what they want.
Desire + Attitude = Action.

Cheryl did an exercise with the audience, building a character using the essence points. She said the more characteristics you add in each category, the more interesting your character will be. Add depth by asking Why to each trait.

Cheryl said both the villain and the main character have motivations.

“Everyone is the hero of his own story.”

Chris Richman: Hooking an Agent

Upstart Crow gets about 400 submissions weekly. So in this competitive industry, how do you make your work stand out?

1. Submit the absolute best book that you can. Note: this is definitely not your first draft. Join a crit group. REVISE.

2. Network! Go to conferences *cough SCBWI Midsouth* Join message boards like Verla Kay. Twitter! (Follow us at #midsouth)

3. Research the agents you are going to be submitting to. Spend time and effort to make sure the agent you are sending your work represents your work! Try

4. PITCH—the dreaded query! What to include: information about the book and information about you. List your relevant writing experiences and a brief bit of personal information. *MOST IMPORTANT PART. Pitching continues in every stage of a book’s life. TWO TYPES OF PITCH: query versus elevator pitch. The elevator pitch is 25 words or less.

5. The waiting game, which includes all the lovely waiting involved in this industry. Be prepared to wait!

*note: Chris currently has seven clients and is looking for more.

More about Chris Richman from the website:

Chris Richman received his undergraduate degree in professional writing from Elizabethtown College, and an MA in Writing from Rowan University. A former playwright, contributor to The Onion, and sketch comedy writer, Chris broke into agenting in 2008 and has quickly made a name for himself by selling several noteworthy projects. Chris is actively building his list, enjoys working with debut writers, and is primarily interested in middle grade and young adult fiction, with a special interest in books for boys, books with unforgettable characters, and fantasy that doesn't take itself too seriously.

Chris Richman of Upstart Crow Literary

Chris Richman of Upstart Crow Literary had great advice on finding the right agent for you.

Questions you should ask yourself before you begin querying agents:

-What kinds of books do you plan on writing throughout your career?  If you’re querying on a picture book, are you also working on a YA?

-Do you want an agent who will work with you on revisions?  If so, how much?  You want an agent who is right for you.  At Upstart Crow, agents prefer to be involved in revisions.

-How experienced is this agent?

-How large is his/her client list?.  If you’re one of 60 clients, you will get 1/60th of his/her attention.  You also have to take into account that the “star” clients do get priority. 


What happens when an agent offers representation:

-Remember this is not the end goal.  It’s a stage to get you published. 

-Ask the agent:  do you revise?  What kinds of revisions do you see for this book?

-Ask if you can speak to some of their other clients.

-Ask: what other genres do you represent?

-Ask: do you know places where this book could go?

-Tell your agent about your research on the market – what editors you’ve met, who has expressed interest, etc.  

"The agent works for you.  Without writers, we wouldn't have jobs."

Kaylan Adair: an introduction to Candlewick

We caught up with the awesome Kaylan Adair, an associate editor at Candlewick Press.

Candlewick Press acquires everything from picture books to upper YA—even non-fiction! It is an independent children’s book publishing company located in Somerville, Massachusetts (formerly Cambridge)

It is Walker Publishing in the UK.

Candlewick was named the fasted growing publishers by Publisher’s Weekly. They are dedicated to publishing the best book for children

Published Guess How Much I Love You, Because of Winn-Dixie, Feed, The Tale of Despereaux, The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Good Masters! Sweet Ladies, Where’s Waldo, My Friend Maisy and more

A week in the life of a Candlewick editor:

Keeps a copy of every Candlewick and Walker book in and out of print

NO acquisitions meetings at Candlewick. They value editorial freedom! If Kaylan falls in love with a project, she only shows it to her editorial director and they sign it up. It does not go to sales or marketing. (Okay, we're officially in love with Candlewick!)

Production meetings: Candlewickers meet every Tuesday in which everyone is kept up to date with what is going on with books

Two teams: Picture book team and Fiction Team but editors are allowed to acquire
anything they are interested in

Illustrator Search Meeting: Who should illustrate?

Covers meeting: When cover is decided for the book, attended by heads of each department, the book’s editor, and designer. Must be approved by buyers--often the covers go through several stages to find the right look.

If you submit to Candlewick and don’t identify an editor, it goes to the intern

Fun info about Kaylan: has a fun chair in her cubicle so she can sit in her cubicle and read

Edited DOWN SAND MOUNTAIN by Steve Watkins, which won the Golden Kite Award this year!

Kaylan was the Maisy editor at Candlewick!

She has worked on over 100 titles

started out on picture book team and moved to fiction team

actively acquires EVERYTHING

work with more than a DOZEN of her own authors and with Liz Bicknell on about 20 of her authors—wow!

Looking for well-written stories with interesting characters, strong, unique voice, and a lot of heart.

Thanks, Kaylan! You rock!

Howard Shirley, Keynote Inspiration

SCBWI-Midsouth member, Howard Shirley says:

"When Caroline Cooney said her first 8 books weren’t published, that said to me, just keep at it. She inspired me."

More Words of Wisdom from Caroline Cooney

Ms. Cooney was a delightful keynote speaker!  Some more favorite quotes from her speech:

-“Most kids yearn to be a hero.” 

-“Research often gives you all the clues you need to write your action.”

-"Who gets published? The writer who writes constantly, and takes criticism well.”  

And one personal favorite, which was met with much laughter:  “My first 8 books were never published.  I’m not going to be a sympathetic shoulder if you tell me your first novel hasn’t sold.”  :-)  

Keynote Address by Caroline Cooney: How to Plot

Keynote address by Caroline Cooney, award-winning author of more than 70 books, 15 million copies sold. The Face on the Milk Carton sold 3 million copies.

Caroline Cooney said the question people, mostly adults, ask her is “Where do you get your ideas?” After getting an idea, Caroline says she chooses the setting next.

“The lead character is what matters to your readers,” she said. “The character can be flawed, but nice works better than not nice.”

The most terrifying plot in YA is a character without friends. She decides whether to give a character friends or not.

Next question after choosing idea, character & setting: “Now What?”
A writer is always looking for ways to increase the tension.
What is the character’s reason for the Now What?

Adults take over the action. Caroline says don’t let them! Keep the grown-ups off stage.

“I like to write a book about good people trying to do the right thing when there is no right thing to do.”

Details are important in YA. How old is your character?

Never have your character be truly alone.

“Half the battle in writing is confidence. It’s just like baseball, you have to go out there and swing that bat.”

The Opening Ceremonies: Welcome!

• Tracey Barrett, who served ten years as regional advisor, passes the torch to Genetta Adair…literally. She also receives a coffee cup and a tee shirt!
• This year, we have over 140 attendees from 15 states!
• Raffle: Win a full manuscript critique with a close edit of the first 30 pages from Michael Stearns of Upstart Crow Literary Agency. The proceeds benefit Safe Haven, a local homeless shelter.
• Conference attendees are also donating books for children at the center.
• Stay tuned to the blog for breakout sessions, giveaways, interviews, and more!

PREVIEW: Amazing breakout sessions from Kaylan Adair, Associate Editor at Candlewick Press, Tracy Barrett, former Regional Advisor and author extraordinaire, Patrick Collins, Creative Director for Henry Holt Books for Young Readers, Caroline B. Cooney, Awesome Author of 75 novels for teens (which have sold over 15,000,000 copies) Chris Richman agent at Upstart Crow Literary, Cheryl Klein, an editor with Arthur A. Levine books, and Shelli Johannes-Wells, a marketing expert who runs the superblog Market My Words! Stay tuned!

Additional faculty for conference critiques: Kathryn Knight, editorial director at Dalmatian Press, Candie Moonshower, author of THE LEGEND OF ZOEY and VIVIAN VANDE VELDE: AUTHOR OF FANTASY FICTION, and Marietta B. Zacker, agent with Nancy Gallt Literary Agency.
Regional Advisor: Genetta Adair
Assistant Regional Advisor: Patsi B. Trollinger
Newsletter Editor: Patricia Wiles
Conference Coordinators: Sharon Cameron, Susan Eaddy
Illustrator Coordinator: Alison Lyne
Manuscript Contest Coordinator: Sharon Cameron
Listserv Moderator: Tracy Barrett
Webmaster: Patricia Wiles
Listserv Critters Coordinator: Holly Folsom
Conference Brochure Designer: Becky Mitchel Ziemer
Book Donation Coordinator: Kristin O’Donnell Tubb

Friday, September 25, 2009

Book Signing & Dessert Party

Scenes from the Book Signing and Dessert Party:

Kristin O'Donnell Tubb

Shellie Braeuner & Mary Ann Rodman

Caroline Cooney and Debra Smith

Genetta Adair, Tracy Barrett

New RA, Genetta Adair presented Tracy Barrett with a gift for 10 years of service to SCBWI-Midsouth as Regional Advisor.

An Interview with RA Genetta Adair

An overview of the conference by SCBWI-Midsouth's Regional Advisor, Genetta Adair. The video is dark, but the content is still great. Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

SCBWI Midsouth Conference: A Few Notes

Hey everyone!

The Midsouth Blog Team is really looking forward to the conference this weekend! Here are a couple of things you should know before it begins:

We won’t only be blogging about each session—Kristin O’Donnell Tubb (@ktubb) and I (@AmandaKMorgan) will be tweeting during the conference as well as blogging. Our hashtag will be #Midsouth2009.

We’ll also be posting pictures from the conference, so if you have any good ones, please email We might also do some mini-interviews, so you just might end up on the blog!

Lastly, even if you’re attending, keep an eye on the blog—we’ll be doing some fun giveaways, too!

See you all on Friday!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


Welcome to the Official Midsouth Fall Conference Blog! We'll have up to the minute live blogging from the upcoming regionial conference in Nashville. Want a preview? Check out the conference brochure here.

The conference starts September 25th and we hope to see you there!

And if you can't make it, but want to participate anyway, follow along on this blog for up to the minute live blogging! We're bringing the conference action straight to you!

See you soon!

UPDATE: The SCBWI fall conference is full, but you can still catch all of the action here!