L.A Writers Day 2018 Recap: How Author Charlotte Offsay “Leveled Up”

By Charlotte Offsay, Author

WD2018-Offsay1My heart skipped a beat as I dashed in from the rain and joined swarms of writers checking in for SCBWI’s annual L.A Writers Day conference at the Skirball Cultural Center on March 3. As I gazed around the beautiful glass foyer, old friends embraced. Before I could wonder where to stand, friendly SCBWI volunteers and two other conference newbies greeted me.

My new writer friends and I made our way into a packed auditorium and looked over our schedules. Each event seemed more exciting than the next: keynote speeches, breakout sessions with agents, editors and authors, a book fair, pitch sessions, contests and prizes. Continue reading


Volunteer Spotlight: 2018 Sue Alexander Service and Encouragement Award Winner


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Each year, the Sue Alexander Service and Encouragement Award is presented to a regional volunteer who has shown exceptional dedication to SCBWI Los Angeles. This year’s winner, Karol Ruth Silverstein, credits her time volunteering as Schmooze/LitMingle Meister with signing with an agent and subsequently selling a book. She’s since moved on to be our Contest Coordinator and is so dedicated, she was just featured in our previous “Volunteer Spotlight” (here). So instead of the usual spotlight fare, I thought we’d do something a little different and ask Karol some fun questions.

SARAH PARKER-LEE: If you could volunteer for anything you wanted to, other than SCBWI, what would you choose? Continue reading

Illustrator Kent Culotta on Animation vs. Illustration, Inspiration, and Leveling-Up Your Skills


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Some of professional illustrator Kent Culotta’s most recent projects include illustrations for D is for Dump Truck, published by Sleeping Bear Press, and The Twelve Days of Christmas in Kentucky, published by Sterling Children’s Books. He’s also collaborated with author Eric Ode and publisher Kane Miller on three books, Dan, The Taxi ManBusy Trucks on the Go, and the recently released Too Many Tomatoes. Kent lives in Southern California, but grew up in a small town in Michigan. When he was five, he covered an entire wall of his parents’ living room with his own gallery, each drawing taped lovingly in place. No blank piece of paper, used envelope, or post-it note have ever been safe from his pencil. And today Kent, a fellow SCBWI member, shares with us his experience along with some tips and tools for leveling-up your own skills.

SARAH PARKER-LEE: Youve worked as an artist in newspapers and on film, including several years in the animation industry working on some pretty memorable Walt Disney movies. How, and why, did you make the transition to childrens book illustrator? Did SCBWI play a role?

KENT CULOTTA: Being a children’s book illustrator was always in the back of my mind when I was working at the big animation studios, and I took a couple of book illustration classes back then at Otis Parsons. I think that I first learned about SCBWI from one of those classes. At the time I was a bit discouraged because publishers then were less open to illustrators whose work showed an animation influence. That has changed a lot. The big transition I went through was when animation rather quickly went from hand-drawn to CG. I worked hard to update my skills and did pretty well, but I soon realized what I really missed was drawing by hand. I joined a group called Drawergeeks that my co-workers participated in. Each week a new subject was set and we all would do an illustration piece on that subject. It helped motivate me and also helped me get out of my own head a little and tackle subjects that I wouldn’t normally think of, a good skill when you’re illustrating other people’s stories. I ended up getting a pretty nice first illustration portfolio from those Drawergeeks illustrations. It was at that point I started regularly attending SCBWI schmoozes/mingles and conferences, which were great motivators as well.

SPL: As an illustrator, youre tasked with interpreting someone elses story while still being true to your artistic identity. Do you have any advice on how to maintain that balance for those just starting out or perhaps feeling a little lost? Continue reading

Giving It Away for Free: Keys to Promoting Your Book at Events


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by Stan Yan, Author and Illustrator

This is the second part in a two-part series where I discuss keys to promoting my bedtime picture book, There’s a Zombie in the Basement, inspired by my 3-year-old son who wouldn’t come down to my basement studio, fearfully pointing at my zombie artwork on the walls. I’ve been promoting my other work at comic and fan conventions since 2001, but I’ve learned a lot about them and applied it specifically to promoting my book. You don’t have to feel overwhelmed by conventions and events! Read on for my keys to standing out and selling your work.

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Failing Before You Start: The Key Steps I Ignored to Crowdfund My Picture Book


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by Stan Yan, Author and Illustrator

This is the first part in a two-part series where I will discuss my “missteps” in crowdfunding my picture book, There’s a Zombie in the Basement, because sometimes you have to risk going against conventional wisdom to bring your book into the world.

In 2013, my primary job was drawing zombie caricatures at conventions. One day, my 3-year-old son wouldn’t come down to my basement studio, fearfully pointing at my zombie artwork on the walls. This inspired my foray into kidlit, which taught me some lessons.

Ignored Step #1: Dont Self-Publish. Continue reading

Scholastic Senior Editor Matt Ringler on the Goosebumps series, his love for revisions, and plot arcs in reality television


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Matt-Ringler-ScholasticSCBWI Los Angeles Writers Day faculty member Matt Ringler is a Senior Editor at Scholastic where he edits chapter books, middle grade, and YA fiction.

He got his start at Scholastic in 2001 as a summer intern during his freshman year of college and, minus a short stint as a freelancer, has been there ever since. He compares the internship to winning the lottery, landing him the opportunities to work with Scholastic Editorial Director and author David Levithan and to witness the height of Harry Potter domination.

His books include the Goosebumps series by R.L. Stine, the Game Changers series by Mike Lupica, the STAT series by Amar’e Stoudemire, and Sharon Robinson’s middle grade novel, The Hero Two Doors Down. His YA list includes Kill the Boy Band by Goldy Moldavsky and Its Not Me, Its You by Stephanie Kate Strohm.

Matt talks to Kite Tales about his work and Writers Day in Los Angeles, taking place March 3.

Erlina Vasconcellos: Your books are so diverse and range from long-running series to debuts. How do you choose the books you edit?

Matt Ringler: A lot of that is a combination of luck and paying careful attention to the books I’m acquiring. With a long-running series, there’s always books to work on. That allows me to be really choosy with [the non-series books]. I always want to do something different from what I’ve just done. When I took over on Goosebumps, I sort of became the middle grade horror person. I like it, but I don’t always want to work on middle grade horror. The same thing happened when I acquired my first YA project—everything agents were sending me suddenly mirrored this one book I bought. But I like to read all age ranges; I read all genres.

EV: What are the elements of a strong series? And how should writers present that series to you? Do you want to see a whole plan?

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#KTChat with Author Danielle Davis: Navigating Your Writing Process and Valuing Your Work


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On Twitter today (Friday, 2/23/18) from 4-5 PM PST, Danielle will be taking your questions and discussing her article on the writing process, how to find value in your work, and ways to keep moving forward, even when you don’t feel like it. Log into your Twitter account during our chat hour and use the hashtag #KTChat or @mention Danielle (@writesinLA) to join the discussion! If you aren’t on Twitter, leave your questions in the comments before the chat begins! Find SCBWI-LA on Twitter: @SCBWISOCALLA

By Danielle Davis, author of Zinnia and the Bees

Process fascinates me, in part because I find it challenging. It’s tempting to focus on other things that start with p: publication, perfection, panic, pretzels (snacks, help, right?) and, of course, the desire to polish off a manuscript and be finished.

Before my debut middle grade novel, Zinnia and the Bees, was published, I always thought that I wouldn’t have that “second book problem” because I had two manuscript drafts I already planned on pursuing.

But then I did have that second book problem. I had it big time. Continue reading

SCBWI Events, Book Festivals, and Conventions Happening in 2018


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Hone your craft and connect with other writers, illustrators, and children’s book industry professionals at this year’s book fests and events. Grab your calendars and mark these dates.

Here are the dates for SCBWI’s biggest events for 2018:

Writers-Illustrators-2017-2March 3
Writers Day
Skirball Cultural Center, Los Angeles
This is a full-day to immerse yourself in expert keynote speakers, manuscript critiques, and agent pitch sessions. This year’s event, themed “Time to Level Up!,” offers writers a choice of three different levels based on experience and goals.
Read PB Rippey’s writer’s perspective on 2017’s event. Last year’s event also included illustrators. Read Lynn Becker’s illustrator’s perspective.

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Author Gary Schmidt: Know Your History, Balance Your Time, and Write the Hard Stuff


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Gary Schmidt is a two-time Newbery award-winning author and professor of English at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He received both a Newbery Honor and a Printz Honor for Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy and a Newbery Honor for The Wednesday Wars. He lives with his family on a 150-year-old farm in Alto, Michigan, where he splits wood, plants gardens, writes, and feeds the wild cats that drop by. He’s trading the Michigan cold for warm L.A. as faculty for this year’s SCBWI-L.A. Writers Day. Today, he’s sharing his experience and advice on writing emotionally heavy subject matter for kids, balancing multiple projects, and the historical fiction we all should be reading.

SARAH PARKER-LEE: Youve shared that you werent a big reader as a kid until one particular teacher not only taught you to read, but taught you that you were capable of reading and understanding, that you werent stupid.How do you try to impart this same encouragement to your young readers?

GARY SCHMIDT: A good question. I think I come to the writing with the assumption that I’m going to ask the reader to do some work — and trust that they will be willing to do that. In Okay for Now, I have a character so emotionally hurt that he won’t articulate what he would like to say — and so many of his sentences end before he gets to the point — and often, he tells the reader that his story is none of their business. Or in What Came from the Stars, the reader is confronted with an alien language and has to figure out meanings — just like the characters. In Orbiting Jupiter the narrator is a naïve twelve-year-old kiddo, but the story he wants to tell is that of a very much older fourteen-year-old kiddo. In all those cases, the reader has a lot of work to do to figure out what is going on, and so has to become invested in doing part of the work of the novel. Succeeding at that involves a kind of competence that is, it seems to me, an article of trust between the reader and the writer that involves encouragement.

SPL: Many of your books arent as lighthearted or full of the typical middle-grade humor we often come to expect for that age group. Any tips on writing about heavier subjects for a middle-grade audience? Continue reading

Agent Fiona Kenshole on Books Becoming Movies, Traditional vs. Self-Publishing, and Pitching an Agent


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Happy Valentine’s Day! Fiona Kenshole wants to be your Valentine. Her love letter to you: this fantastic interview!

Fiona Kenshole loves the midwifery of being an agent, from getting your debut published to doing the movie deal. At Transatlantic, they like to sell your book to publishers all over the world, so Fiona works with co-agents in 28 countries, selling worldwide rights. Before becoming an agent, she was a publisher in the UK where she worked with best-selling names including Michael Bond (Paddington Bear), P.L Travers (Mary Poppins) and the Laureate Michael Morpurgo. She was also the British editor for authors including Beverley Cleary, Lois Lowry, Richard Peck, Bruce Coville, Gary Paulsen and Cynthia Voigt, and was nominated for “Editor of the Year” at the British Book Awards. She was also the Vice President at Laika Inc. when their first three films were all Oscar nominated: The Boxtrolls, Coraline, and Paranorman. And she will be bringing all this experience and insight into kid lit and storytelling when she appears as a faculty member at this year’s SCBWI Los Angeles Writers Day, taking place on March 3rd.

Sarah Parker-Lee: How has working as an editor, filmmaker, and publisher influenced your approach as an agent, both on the client side and on the selling side?

FIONA KENSHOLE: The opportunity to work on so many different sides of the storytelling process just increases my respect for writers. It really is an extraordinary gift, to be able to create people and worlds that can feel more real than our everyday lives. My job, whether as an editor, a film executive or as an agent, is to help that writer in their creative process so that the story they tell is the best it can be. I’m often the first person that a story is entrusted to. I can see the places where the writer is too close to a story to see what is missing, for example, and as a professional with many years’ experience, I offer gentle, supportive practical criticism. I spent several hours this week reviewing a new manuscript I am really excited about, by one of my clients, and she came back to say, “All of the structural weakness of the book that you identified are ones that I already knew were there”.​

​That made me feel good: I am doing my job right!

As for the selling side, without being immodest, I am a brilliant story pitcher! It’s the result of my years of pitching to tough executives [at] Hollywood studios who don’t move a muscle. I went out with a pitch for a debut last month and got 20 requests to read from editors within a day! 

SPL: Should writers be concerned about whether or not their book will make a great movie when they’re writing it? If the ultimate goal is to make a movie, do you need to write the book first?

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