Society of
Children's Book Writers
and Illustrators

Breakout Sessions


Saturday, Session I

A.      Susan Eaddy and Mary Uhles—Writing and Illustrating 101 

What type of story have I written? Do I need an illustrator? Do I need an agent? What is the difference between a query letter and a cover letter, a synopsis and a partial? How do I make my portfolio shine? In this basic overview of the children’s writing and illustrating world, from board books to YA, author Susan Eaddy and illustrator Mary Uhles will answer these questions and explore the dos and don’ts along the path to publication.

B.  PAL Mentor Panel

Authors of the Midsouth Mentorship Program discuss writing community—how it shifts and changes throughout your career, and how it is useful at EVERY stage in the journey.

C. Leslie Zampetti: Middle Grade and Young Adult 101

What makes a book middle grade vs. young adult? Voice, themes, and narrative structure all play a part in how stories for these age groups are categorized. In this session, Leslie will address the differences between both categories, their audiences, and address the gap of “upper middle grade”/”young YA.”

D.  Karina Granda: How To Become Your Art Directors Best Friend  

Have you ever wondered what makes a great collaboration? Sure, you have the talent, but there’s way more to it than just that! Art Director Karina Granda shares tips on how to establish great working relationships with designers and art directors so they want to work with you again and again.


Saturday, Session II

A.  Mary Cummings—Is it Working?

In this session, you’ll learn ways to step back and objectively see your manuscript from different vantage points: an overall view, split into major sections, and finally, from the up-close examination of things such as word choice, sentences, and paragraphs. Bring a copy of a polished draft of a picture book or the opening and closing few pages of a novel or chapter book for an exercise. You may conclude in the end that you want to slightly tweak or significantly revise to get from “is it working?” to “I’ve nailed this!”

B. Leslie Zampetti—Standing Out in a Crowded Market

Leslie will address current trends in the middle grade and young adult markets, discuss how to make your story stand out, and show how to use curriculum to add impact to your submissions.

C.    Brent Taylor—The Author/Agent Relationship

Agent Brent Taylor will discuss the author-agent relationship—what it looks like, tips for creating and maintaining a successful and rewarding partnership, and expectations’ management.

D. Jim McCarthy—Dealing With ‘Almost’: How to Handle Kind Rejections, When to Revise, and What to Look At as You Plan Your Next Move?

The one thing that every single writer deals with universally is also, unfortunately, the hardest. Everyone will be rejected. The strength of your career will rest on how you handle rejection and how you grow from it. We will discuss how agents reject, how to respond to rejection personally and professionally, when to take advantage of doors left open, and how to go back to the same well without exhausting your welcome. Everyone’s in the same boat, so let’s discuss how to handle it.


Saturday, First Pages
First Pages offers conference attendees the unique opportunity to witness an agent’s or editor’s first impression when reading a new manuscript. Anonymous first pages will be chosen at random and read aloud to the group. Then faculty will discuss the ever-important question: Would I read more? They will offer specific suggestions on how to improve the appeal of a story’s opening. (First page submission is not required to attend this session, and not all first pages/materials will be read. Attendees may pre-register for one session only.)

A. Picture Book—with agent Mary Cummings

B. Middle Grade—with agent Jim McCarthy

C. Young Adult—with agent Brent Taylor

To submit a first page, please bring three paper-clipped copies of the first page of one PB, MG, or YA manuscript to Saturday morning registration. First pages must have NO AUTHOR NAME on them, but may include the title. They must be double-spaced in a 12-point font, printed in black ink on white paper, and should not exceed 200 words (excluding the title). Only a selection of properly formatted submissions will be read and discussed.


Saturday, Session III

A. Lori Degman—Writing in Rhyme is Not a Crime—Unless You Butcher it!

Time and again, editors say, “Don’t write in rhyme!” – not because rhyming picture books don’t sell (they do), but because it’s difficult to write them well. Despite these warnings, authors continue to write and submit rhyming picture book manuscripts – so, why not help them do it successfully? This session will address the rules of writing in rhyme and common errors found in rhyming picture book manuscripts, which may lead to rejections. Attendees will learn strategies for writing and editing a winning story with perfect rhyme and meter. These strategies can also be applied to stories written in prose.

B. Adib Khorram—Dismantling Toxic Masculinity Through YA Literature

YA Literature offers great examples to tackle toxic masculinity head-on with a generation of readers looking for how to be better and do better. Participants will look at examples of how authors across different YA genres have used their craft to examine, explain, and dismantle toxic masculinity in their work.

C.   C.J. Redwine—Managing Anxiety and the Creative Life

For many creatives, anxiety can become a damaging partner in the creative process. New York Times best selling author C.J. Redwine draws on research and studies done by qualified therapists to teach you 13 easy-to-use anxiety management techniques that work for the creative life. Come anxious, leave calm and equipped!

D. Dow Phumiruk—Not an Imposter—It’s Time to Call Yourself an Artist!

We’ve all said this at one time or another in our careers: “I will never be good enough” or “I’ll never learn to draw like that artist.” Why do we always feel like imposters when it comes to creating art or stories? Dow Phumiruk will discuss pitfalls of self-sabotage and ways to stay out of the hole of self-doubt. She’ll share creative success stories and optimism to inspire creators to keep learning and growing.


Sunday, Session IV

A. Jiton Sharmayne Davidson—Immersive or Deep POV for Novelists: 

Close the gap between your point-of-view character and the reader by eliminating authorial intrusion, “she said.” Practice immersing your reader in the character’s experience.

B.   Mary Cummings—The Next Big Steps: Reaching Out to Agents 

Whether you write novels, chapter books or picture books, securing an agent will open doors to publication that you can’t open on your own. In this session we’ll focus on the following, plus have time for Q & A:

• How to know when you’re ready to query

• Researching potential agents

• Developing your query and submission list

• Phone calls with potential agents

• Revising based on agent comments

C. Lori Degman—You’ve Sold Your First Manuscript…Now What?

When Lori sold her first picture book manuscript, she thought things would magically fall into place and her book would sell like hot cakes (why do hot cakes sell so well?). Anyway, that’s not exactly what happened.  In this session, Lori will share what she’s learned (sometimes the hard way); things like: working with editors and agents, swag, book launches, school visits, websites, future sales, royalties, and reviews – to name a few. She’ll also share the things her writer and illustrator friends have learned when they first published!

D. Karina Granda—Beyond the Picture Book

No one loves a picture book more than us, but there is a whole WORLD of opportunity in the publishing universe you may be missing. Art Director Karina Granda will discuss the art of novel covers, interiors, graphic novels, maps, hand-lettering and more, sharing tips on how to retool your portfolio to attract even more attention.


Sunday, Session V

A. Jim McCarthy—Eight Ways to Hook Your Reader ASAP

What makes an agent’s interest perk up? How do you capture a reader as quickly as possible? The first pages of a book are the most important to get right, and this session will discuss eight common techniques for hooking your readers as soon as possible using examples from published works. If attendees feel particularly brave, they’re welcome to submit their own first page for group discussion on what they’re doing right and what might still need work. Works considered will be middle grade and young adult fiction.

B.   Brent Taylor—Agent Tips for Navigating the Querying Process

Agent Brent Taylor will discuss query letters and the querying process. He will show examples of successful queries, dissect the elements of an effective query, and discuss best practices of the querying process.

C. Jiton Sharmayne Davidson—Pre and Postnatal Marketing: 

Congratulations! Your beautiful baby is a potential bestseller. What can you (Proud Author) do to help guide your book in pre and post publication marketing?

D. Dow Phumiruk—When There’s an Offer in Your Inbox

YESSS!!! You have an offer. Celebrate! Throw a party! But what’s next? Let’s talk about the course of a project, from offer to completed book. Dow Phumiruk will talk about what it’s like to work on a book alongside your agent and the publishing team using her experience as a basis. Spoiler alert: she wouldn’t recommend buying that vacation home quite yet!