Thursday, August 30, 2018

Listen to SCBWI's Newest Podcast: A Conversation with Peter Brown

Peter Brown has written and illustrated many best-selling and award-winning picture books, including Mr. Tiger Goes Wild, Children Make Terrible Pets, and The Curious Garden. His illustrations for Creepy Carrots, written by Aaron Reynolds, earned him a 2013 Caldecott Honor. His first novel for young people is The Wild Robot.

Peter speaks with Theo Baker about the evolution of his style, his creative process, how he uses technology, and so much more!

Listen to the episode trailer here.

Current SCBWI members can listen to the full episode here (log in first).

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

How Success Can Differ From Book to Book: Wisdom from Carol Hinz (via Twitter)

Carol Hinz is the Editorial Director of Millbrook Press and Carolrhoda Books at Lerner Publishing Group.  This essay (in tweets) is shared here with Carol's kind permission.

Here's the full stream:
I’ve been thinking lately about the meaning of what success means for a book and the fact that there’s no one path to success. In fact, what success looks like can be very different from one book to the next.
Certain books get a lot of buzz ahead of their release. And don’t get me wrong—deal announcements are fun, cover reveals are fun, and starred reviews are fun. But all the buzz in the world doesn’t automatically make a book a success.
Some books that are ultimately very successful don’t get a lot of buzz. Let me share a few examples…
I edited a book that received three starred reviews. It has sold okay.
Two years later, I edited a book from the same author as the book mentioned above. It received two starred reviews. It has sold twice as many copies as the previous book and is still going strong.
I edited a book that received one starred review and was named an honor book for an ALA award. It’s selling well.
I edited a book that received no starred reviews but was named to six different state award lists. It is still in print eight years after its release and has sold nicely.
I edited a book that received one starred review and received no recognition from any ALA committee. Three years after the book’s release, we’ve sold tens of thousands of copies and are reprinting it multiple times a year just to keep it in stock.
I brought a project to acquisitions years ago that wasn’t approved (much to my disappointment). It found a wonderful home with another publisher and multiple follow-up volumes have been published. I feel happy every time I see one of those books.
I brought a project to acquisitions that was approved, but I was outbid by another, bigger house. Yet the interactions I had with the author have opened up the possibility for us to work on a different book together.
Of course we all want each and every book to be a success. The key thing is to make the very best book you can with a team you trust.
Publishing has a lot of ups and downs—and the longer you stay in it, the more ups and downs there seem to be. Enjoy the ups when they come, and know that the downs are only temporary.
Keep working, keep creating, and when your book is finished, get the word out about your book in the ways that work best for you—whether it’s on social media, in a monthly e-newsletter, at bookstore events, at school visits, or all of the above.
And above all, know that the most meaningful success doesn’t come from accolades—it comes from the moment when a reader connects with your book. That sort of success can never be measured, but that doesn’t make it any less important.
Good luck to all the book makers today and every day. May you find your own path to success!
Thank you Carol. It's insight and advice that clearly resonated—hundreds of likes, dozens of comments and re-tweets, and lots of online conversation! 

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Writing a Picture Book? Focus on your character's emotional story - Advice from Jim Averbeck

I interviewed Jim Averbeck about his latest picture book, Trevor, (illustrated by Amy Hevron), and there were so many strong craft insights that it warranted sharing here on SCBWI: The Blog as well.

Trevor by Jim Averbeck, Illustrated by Amy Hevron
Trevor is a lonely yellow canary looking for a friend. He stretches his wings the width of his boring cage and notices the tree outside stretching its branch. And on the end of that branch? Another canary! But he’s so shy and quiet. Trevor knows just how to make him feel comfortable.
Reading Trevor I found myself really moved. Goosebumps, people. Goosebumps. I reached out to the author Jim Averbeck (former RA for SCBWI San Francisco) to find out more about this remarkably resonant combination of his words, Amy's pictures, and every reader's emotions.

Here's our interview:

Lee: One thing I found very moving was that Trevor has the power to open his cage all along, and when he decides to leave his cage he just pecks and the gate pops open. Reading that, as a Gay man, it felt like a powerful coming out metaphor. Was it?

 Jim: That’s very insightful, Lee. I teach a class at Storyteller Academy on writing picture books. One of the things I emphasize above all others is making sure your work has an emotional core. I suggest that there are two components to this core. One is a connection to the emotional world of children. The other is a connection to your own adult feelings. You connect to the child’s world because the story is about and for them. You connect to your adult feelings because they are more immediately memorable and accessible to you and can infuse the story with the authenticity and drive you want it to have. It’s like childhood emotion is the engine and adult emotion is the fuel.

That’s what happened in the case of TREVOR. I set out to write a story about a lonely canary who makes overtures of friendship to a lemon he believes is another bird. I connected it to the child’s world by thinking of Trevor as that socially isolated child on the playground who takes a chance at making a friend. When I went to connect to my adult emotions to fuel the story, I realized the most analogous and recent experience I had to this little bird’s was when I was in the Peace Corps in Cameroon and knew it was time I "came out". I was thousands of miles from my home and my support network, among people I hadn’t known for long, in an environment that was foreign to me. I was desperate to find someone to talk to about what I was feeling. Fortunately, I found many new friends with willing ears and open hearts. So as I developed the story of Trevor, I realized that my experience of coming out was metaphorically showing up in the story. 

When I discussed the emotional underpinning of the story with the book's editor, Neal Porter, I think he was genuinely moved by it and saw the connection immediately. I think the resulting editorial direction made a book that is deeper and more poignant for it. We wondered if the underlying experience that fueled the story should be brought more to the forefront. It was an interesting question because, in the end, the gay experience is both unique and universal. We opted to focus on the universal emotions - loneliness, friendship, trust - but I gave a nod to the unique experience in the wording of the dedication.

Lee: That duality, of a child’s and adult’s emotions, brings up another lovely piece of the story: how even the child reader knows that Trevor’s first, very quiet friend isn’t another canary, but actually a lemon. I imagine it’s one of the things children having the story read to them love best, especially as Trevor is so sweet about it. Their duet, where “"the lemon sang the silences.” is such a lovingly told, charming, and poignant note. Tell us about the decision to have children know more than Trevor.

Jim: I do a lot of school visits and in one of them I teach how to write a suspenseful scene. I put an emphasis on dramatic irony, where the reader knows something that the characters in the scene do not. So I guess it is just one of the tools in my writing toolkit. I never really made an active decision to have the reader know that Trevor’s friend is a lemon when Trevor does not. All the comedy in the story stems from that fact though. I guess the tragedy does too, since the relationship is doomed from the start. I think maybe the one-sided nature of the relationship is what some people identify with and find so moving. We’ve all been there.

Lee: You've packed a lot of emotion into a modest word count. Can you tell us about your writing/revision process for this picture book text?

Jim: At Christmas time, my critique group The Revisionaries, sets aside all the work we have been doing during the year and does something we call “The Assignment.” Basically we take a short, vague phrase and use it as a story prompt. We have two weeks to write the story. TREVOR was the result of this tradition. If this sounds familiar it’s because I’ve had a lot of luck selling stories created during The Assignment. I think this is the fourth one. In the case of TREVOR, the prompt was “sour fruit.” Part of my method for The Assignment is a process I call Inquiry and Synthesis, where I ask questions and look for connections in the answers. In this way I connected lemons to canaries and had the idea for a canary mistaking a lemon for another canary. The story came out pretty much the same as the published story. However, the first draft had a girl character, Trevor’s owner. When the lemon fell from the nest, Trevor followed. The text read “but the lemon had found a new friend.” That new friend was the girl. So the first draft had an element of betrayal to it. The last scene was Trevor flying away with new friends and the girl opening a lemonade stand. Punishment for the lemon's betrayal, I guess. Fortunately I found the true heart of the story and the lemon now enjoys a finer fate.

Lee: You’ve also created picture books where you’ve done both the words and the illustrations. Are there insights from the illustration side of the creative process that you bring to the table on a project like this where you’re the writer and not the illustrator?

Jim: Probably the biggest insight I apply when someone else is illustrating is “the illustrator brings enormous skills to the visual side of the storytelling, so trust them and give them plenty of space to tell their own story.” I try to just stay out of the illustrator’s way. That said, if there are visual aspects that are essential to the story, I am sure to discuss them with the editor. Working with Amy Hevron (the illustrator) and Neal Porter (the editor) was a dream, in this case. There was one essential aspect of the story that I did talk to Neal about: that Trevor was a canary! It isn’t obvious from the text and the initial art sample was a beautiful cobalt budgie that Amy had created at Neal’s request. The blue bird and yellow lemon were such a beautiful combination that I offered to change the text, which contained onomatopoeic canary song, to align with the blue parakeet in the sample art. Neal suddenly understood that Trevor was a canary and took that back to Amy. Turns out Amy is sort of a bird fan and had thought, based on the birdsong in the text, that Trevor was a canary. So she was happy to create a new, yellow character.

Lee: What advice do you have for other writers who are working on their picture book manuscripts?

Jim: Spend most of your time developing the character’s emotional story, rather than on language or rhyme or, god forbid, “teaching a lesson.” Emotion is what will make people love your book. 

Lee: Thanks so much for sharing about this beautiful picture book, Jim! And congratulations.

Jim: Thanks Lee. I am very grateful for this opportunity to talk about an aspect of TREVOR that is likely to be overlooked, but that was so important to me as I wrote it.


Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Looking for a Writing Prompt? Check out Illustrator Portfolios, Part 2

More inspiration from the portfolio show at the 2018 SCBWI Summer Conference, #LA18SCBWI...

Carrie Salazar

Chelsie Su

Jeff Walker

April Zufelt

Amy O'Hanlon

Taia Morley 
Margaux Meganck

Sara Vecchi

H.T. Yao

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Looking for a writing prompt? Check out illustrator portfolios, part 1

Here's the first dozen of inspirational images that resonated for me from the amazing portfolio show at the recent SCBWI 2018 Summer Conference here in Los Angeles.

Shannon McNeill

Maile McCarthy

Zhen Liu 

Kary Lee

J.R. Krause

Chad Hunter

Amanda Ho

Cassandra Federman

Rebecca Evans

Mags DeRoma

Amy Kenney

Courtney Dawson

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

¡El SCBWI tiene recursos en español para los socios hispanohablantes! (The SCBWI has resources in Spanish for Spanish-speaking members!

SCBWI's newest "member of the year" is actually members of the year in 2018...Judy Goldman (RA Mexico) and Malena F Alzu (SLC, Spanish language Coordinator.)

SCBWI's newest members of the year: Melana Alzu (left) and Judy Goldman

Melana and Judy very kindly put together this explanation (in both Spanish and English) of some of SCBWI's Spanish-language resources:

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El SCBWI tiene recursos en español para los socios hispanohablantes. Uno de ellos es el boletín electrónico cuatrimestral, totalmente en español, La cometa, que tiene alrededor de 800 suscriptores alrededor del mundo.

La cometa es editada por Judy Goldman (Regional Advisor de México) y producida por Malena F Alzu (SLC, Spanish Language Coordinator). Entre los suscriptores hay editores, escritores, ilustradores, traductores y gente interesada en el tema de la literatura para niños y jóvenes en español. En el boletín se ofrecen entrevistas a profesionales del sector, noticias de concursos, cursos, premios y conferencias así como artículos de socios sobre temas relacionados con la técnica, con la profesión y crónicas de eventos a los que asisten.

También existe la página de Facebook --SCBWI en español--, donde, de manera regular, se publica información actualizada sobre el sector.

Adicionalmente, se ha formado, recientemente, un grupo de crítica a distancia (critique group) en español.

Si quieres recibir La cometa, apuntarte al grupo de crítica o tienes alguna duda o comentario sobre los recursos del SCBWI en español, mándanos un correo a con tu nombre completo y país de residencia.

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The SCBWI has resources in Spanish for Spanish-speaking members. One is La cometa, an electronic newsletter in Spanish. Published every four months, it’s sent out to about 800 subscribers around the world.

La cometa is edited by Judy Goldman (RA Mexico) and produced by Malena F Alzu (SLC, Spanish language Coordinator). Among its readers are editors, writers, illustrators, translators, and people interested in children’s literature in Spanish. The newsletter includes interviews with sector professionals, news about contests, courses, awards, and conferences as well as articles written by members focused on themes such as technique, the profession, and reports about events they have attended.

Also available is the Facebook page –SCBWI en español—where sector information is published in a timely manner.

Additionally, a critique group writing in Spanish has been formed.

If you would like to receive La cometa, join the critique group or have a question or commentary about Spanish-language resources, send us an email to with your full name and country of residence.

* *

Illustrate and Write On, in English, or español, or your language of choice,

Friday, August 10, 2018

Your Many Author/Illustrator Bios

You'll need a short bio for social media. Another one for your next book. A third version for your website. A byline for articles you write. A profile on your author page on different retail websites. A version that's young-reader friendly. A version that's media-friendly. A version for events (that you provide in advance.)

And sometimes, depending on the marketing/PR opportunity, you'll need a version tailored specifically for that program.

Sometimes you'll get fifteen words, or less. Sometimes, you'll need a loooong version that's many paragraphs.

And you'll need to update your bios as new things happen (new books and accolades!)

Two things that can help:

1) Keep a master document of all the "official" versions of your bio, so it's all in one place. Make note of where you've used which version, and when.

2) Study examples of bios you like. See how the tone of a bio can match a book.

Check out this post from Diana Urban at BookBub, with 20 examples of strong Author Bios, and the reasons the marketing team liked each one.

3) Don't forget to have your bio (especially the version that will be printed in your upcoming book) copy-edited and proofread by a professional who knows their stuff (a.k.a., not you.)

Good luck, and have fun with it!

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Gearing Up For #LA18SCBWI, Whether You'll Be In L.A. or Following Along Virtually

Visit the SCBWI Official Conference Blog here!

It's here! Tomorrow's the start of the 2018 SCBWI Summer Conference here in Los Angeles, and here's how to both contribute and follow along on social media.

The official hashtag:


The easiest way to tap into the stream of inspiration, business tips, craft insights, opportunity, and community is to search with the hashtag on your favorite social media platform and find the people posting/tweeting/snapping about #LA18SCBWI... and then follow them, and join in the conversation yourself!

Your #LA18SCBWI Team Bloggers Are:

Martha Brockenbrough

Martha Brockenbrough is the author of several books for young readers, including Alexander Hamilton, Revolutionary (Feiwel & Friends); The Game of Love and Death; and Love, Santa (both Arthur A. Levine Books). She is a faculty member at Vermont College of Fine Arts Writing for Children & Young Adults program. Forthcoming titles include Unpresidented, a biography of Donald Trump, and Cheerful Chick, a picture book about a resilient bird with a big dream.


Adria Quiñones

Adria Quiñones is a wildly successful technical writer who began writing novels for kids in order to have the experience of writing something that someone actually wanted to read. She is a member of Metro-NYC SCBWI's steering committee, hosts the chapter's Upper West Side write/sketch night, and helped found DIALOGS, the chapter's meet-up for kidlit creators from marginalized communities. Adria is a regular contributor to the Metro-NYC SCBWI‘s blog and was a winner of the SCBWI 2014 Midwinter Conference’s prestigious joke contest. In January 2015, Adria was named one of the winners of SCBWI’s Emerging Voices Award for her middle-grade novel, The Disappeared. She is currently at work on a picture book.


Jolie Stekly

Jolie Stekly is a writer, instructor, and coach. She’s a long-time member of SCBWI and was recognized as SCBWI’s member of the year in 2009. She is a former regional advisor of the SCBWI Western Washington region. Her writing is represented by Rosemary Stimola at Stimola Literary Studio.

Don Tate

Don Tate is an award-winning author and the illustrator of numerous critically acclaimed books for children. He is also one of the founding hosts of the blog, The Brown Bookshelf – a blog designed to push awareness of the myriad of African American voices writing for young readers. Don’s books have won the Ezra Jack Keats Book Award, The Christopher Award, a Texas Institute of Letters Literary Award, a Writers’ League of Texas Book Award, and the SCBWI Crystal Kite Award.

Jaime Temairik

Jaime Temairik is originally from Washington State and has recently moved to Philadelphia, PA, where she enjoys finding soft pretzels and colonial-era privy pits. Visit her online illustration portfolio at to learn more about her books and work (but not her privy pits).


Lee Wind

Lee Wind, M.Ed., (and yes, the author of this blog post) is the official blogger for SCBWI ( and is Captain of SCBWI’s Team Blog. His award-winning personal blog, I’m Here. I’m Queer. What The Hell Do I Read ( has had over 2.5 million page loads and is a Children's Book Council "Great Diversity Blog." A writer of picture books through YA, his debut crowdfunded teen novel, "Queer as a Five-Dollar Bill," publishes October 2, 2018.

Here's to an amazing #LA18SCBWI ahead!