Keep Calm And SCBWI On

Every year the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators – British Isles hosts their annual conference in Winchester.  A city not far from Southampton, this was to be my home-from-home for four days. My sanctuary of writing delights that would keep me chatting into the small hours with like-minded souls as we discussed the busy, yet invigorating day we had just had.

It was difficult to choose from all the events on offer but I made this year’s decisions reflect the ‘oh, I like the sound of that’ voice in my head. I am so glad I listened to that voice as the information I came away with will resonate with me for a long time and was exactly what I need to move forward.

Anyway, here is my journey. Deciphering notes long after the events have actually happened is not an easy task so I apologise in advance for any gaps in information provided and the change in POV depending on the topic.

Please note no planes, trains or auto-mobiles were harmed in the making of this post but were well used to get me from one place to another.

Friday:

The flight was uneventful and quick. I even looked out the window and watched the propellers turn, the thought of them stopping mid-flight only reared its ugly head a few times, which is a new record for me.

Arriving at Southampton airport, we met up with fellow SCBWI members and headed to our hotel in Winchester. I settled into my lovely room and had lunch with old and new SCBWI friends before checking the itinerary and heading out to my first event of the weekend.

Olivia Kernan – Vlogging

My literary weekend had started and I was really excited about this session. As you know, I don’t have many photos or videos on my blog so this was the perfect opportunity for me to embrace technology, not shy away from it. We all listened in awe to her thoughts and ideas about the social media world that awaits us, if we are that way inclined. It seems that Vlogging is a fantastic addition to any blog or web site, designed for a more realistic experience for the viewer and a way to increase your followers. A chance to let the world see you rather than just your words on a post.

Why does Olivia make it look so easy?

Because it turns out it’s not as hard as I thought it would be. It might take a while for me to conquer the technical process behind it all but once I’ve practised a few times, I’m sure I’ll be fine.  I know I now live in a world where for some bizarre reason it’s deemed normal to film yourself opening presents never mind post informative vlogs on the writing process, books and beyond. Olivia opened our eyes to the potential of it all. She made us feel instantly at home and introduced us to her world through the eyes of the internet. Throughout the event, we discussed everything from how to record a video, upload it onto YouTube and insert it onto to your web/blog.

Some words of advice from Olivia & Co: keep calm, speak clearly and make your videos short, sharp and sweet. This makes them more authentic and more likely your viewer will stay longer on your site. It can be nerve-racking to think that my actual voice is out there for the world to hear and my face visible rather than being behind the camera BUT it is a fantastic marketing tool and well worth the effort. If I can embrace everything about the social side of blogs rather than just plugging books, I should reap the rewards. My videos should come from the heart rather than just trying to sell publications.

“It’s like standing on the pitch at Twickenham shouting about writing when everyone just wants to watch the rugby”. Make them stop and watch you instead.

On the Mac:

  • Use Photobooth (an app for your computer), you don’t need all-singing, all-dancing technology that costs a fortune
  • Import onto iMovies
  • cut/edit text as required
  • Fill in the description box to add as much info as possible and reach as many viewers as you can
  • John Green has a Vlog with his brother Hank. They have produced a fantastic video on how to edit videos among others. He has made over 950 videos which have been viewed over 235 million times!

You can also upload your short film onto YouTube (everyone with a g-mail account automatically has a link to YouTube). I don’t use Apple or Microsoft products so I will need to do a bit more research for Ubuntu, the operating system I use, but I know there is always an equivalent. I’ll ask my IHG (In-house geek) for help and let you know how I get on.

You can also add an automatic playlist too – once a viewer clicks on your site to see one of your videos, you can set it to instantly play the next one that has been saved. It keeps the viewer on your site for longer s they become entranced with your work.

A thought to remember: if you get messages on your blog from kids saying how much they love your blog/you/your books and they have included photos of themselves, use your common sense and think about child protection issues before using anything they have sent. If you have any concerns, contact their school. You have no idea if a child is on a safety-register and maybe they feel they have a connection with you through reading your work and they are just reaching out to you for help. The same applies if you are asked by kids to help them with an issue they are having at school or at home. Make them aware that you ‘might not be the best person to speak to about this’ but provide links/phone numbers to trusted services that can help and tell them to speak to a teacher/someone they trust too.

Copyright can also be an issue if you are using music or pictures that don’t belong to you. Copyright free music must be used at all times. Pond 5 can give you free snippets rather than the full song. You can Google free photos but it’s always easier if you take them yourself, less risky that way.

Other apps of interest, I’ve added in some links, please do your research first before purchasing any of these tools. There are a lot of different options out there:

  • Crazy Talk – will let any inanimate object talk. You type in the script and it does the rest. I will definitely be trying this. If you are confident speaking on camera, you could use an object instead. Great fun.
  • Face Rig – licence needs to be paid but it’s cheaper than Crazy Talk but similar app.
  • Vimeo – more for showcasing Illustrations.

Accents can also play havoc with the message you are trying to get across. Take the time to make sure there are no duplication of sounds in the words heard or syllables pronounced – this will put off your viewer.

If you have no idea how to start off what you want to say into the lens, do a pre-amble to get the idea flowing. Perhaps something along the lines of “Today, I’m going to talk about…”. Hook the viewer. Keep it short, maximum of 4 minutes. Or have a rant about whatever it is that’s bothering me, the chances are there will be someone out there that will feel the same as I do. End the film with ” Thanks for watching, look in my description box and subscribe/like/check out my blog etc”.

Apparently, 30% of viewers will do this if you mention it at the end of your Vlog. Using YouTube can make your Vlog stick out on Google search etc. Depending on how you tag it, you could be on the first page of search results.

A genius at work. Thank you Olivia!

The Friday night ended with the Friday Night Critiques – a team of volunteers under the watchful eye of the very talented Clare Bell. I hosted a group of middle grade writers and they were all outstanding. It’s such a wonderful opportunity to be able to lead a group at this event. I would highly recommend joining in the Friday crit groups as it’s a fantastic way to meet other writers who write in the same genre. The observations and insights into my work gained from this meet up are worth handing over a few chapters of my ‘baby’ to SCBWI strangers – they are after all just friends you haven’t met yet. We are all in the same boat and it’s good to get an impartial view of work I have been editing and working on. So, leave your writing cave and sign up for next year when the info comes out. You won’t regret it.

Saturday:

Natascha Biebow – Regional Advisor for SCWBI British Isles

I was up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for the Saturday events. There is a lovely welcoming registration team for newbies and you will find people willing to help if you can’t find the right room or you have no idea where you are meant to be and at what time. Registration can be a busy time as it’s where you pick up your lanyard, your 1-2-1 contact and time of meeting and your SCBWI welcome pack. Raffle tickets, the illustration showcase and much more are all available too so there’s plenty to do and see before Natascha kicks off the proceedings with her introductory speech in the main arena.

Natascha Biebow created Blue Elephant Story Shaping, an editorial service that many SCBWI’s have used and continue to use to progress their stories. She is also the head of SCBWI British Isles and I am in awe of her work ethic and commitment to the SCBWI cause.

Her intro for this year’s conference discussed empathy and sympathy, New Readers Ahoy, Creating Stories to Treasure and everything else that life throws at you when you are an author or illustrator. Sometimes we are unaware there are others sitting alone, plodding through their WIP and they maybe don’t realise there is help and friendship out there if they need it.

Natascha showed us a great example of this. I know many people who sometimes feel lost and alone out there and this video is brilliant for making us see the bigger picture. It confirms the meaning of friendships and I can relate it to many of them I have made since I joined SCBWI in 2013.

Home

Natascha closed with a message of hope –  “..a world of empathy is one that I want for my children..’

Author Keynotes – Sarah MacIntyre and Phillip Reeve

The energy that exudes from these two amazing people had us all laughing, throwing blow-up dice around the stage and climbing the ladder of success as pink and blue pugs. Apparently, a book-shaped swimming pool is what we all need to cement our success.

How do we attract readers? They may have asked us the question but their impromptu master class in how to do an event at a conference full of writers, held me in no doubt that they knew the answer already. Mix everything together, they cried. Put PB, MG and YA in a big writer’s bowl and see what happens. Don’t be afraid to experiment and keep the audience guessing. For example – Pugs In The North was meant to be about a Chihuahua but it was too difficult to spell. Ironically, I had to double-check my spelling too.

When do you find time to eat, we asked them. Did you not notice there is food in every one of Sarah’s books? came their very funny reply. Their costumes, infectious humour and willingness to experiment with prose made me feel genuinely excited to be a writer. They made me realise that this is why I do what I do.

Use colouring pages at events, get the kids creating the next character, there are even knitting patterns on their website so I can create my own version of a seapig, pug or a cake in space! Stand up when you do a reading, it keeps the energy going in the performance and create a unique theme tune. If kid’s TV programmes have a theme tune, then why can’t a book? Genius.

“Kids are afraid of blank sheets of paper. If you can help them create just one shape, then you will grab their attention”.

I left this event with amazing words of wisdom bouncing around in my head and my love for pugs increased ten-fold. I still have the song they both sang in my head too… Eep, eep, eep!

Hooking In The Reader

A panel of experts greeted the throngs of eager attendees at the next event: Dylan Calder – Pop Up Projects, Paula Harrison – children’s author, David Maybury – Scholastic and Joanna Moult – Skylark Literary.

There were a number of stats banded about during the course of this event but the one that stays with me even now, is this – only 2 in 10 schools have author visits. TWO out of TEN! To reiterate this bleak statistic, Paula confirmed that when she was first published, she wrote to every school in her area and offered a FREE visit. 30 letters went out. 1 acceptance came back. Just one. I can’t quite get my head round that.

How important is it to be face-to-face with your readers? Dylan Calder said that it genuinely depends on parents who are interested in literature.Will they take their child to book launches, signings, festivals? Authors need to pull out all the stops now, events are a part of the publishing process and they need to create something more than just a reading to enthuse the readers they visit. Author visits really add valuable insight into books, they also put a name to a face so the author seems more ‘real’ to the reader.

Book fairs are a great way to promote your book and also get kids excited about the occasion, it’s not every day an author gets to visit their school.

From an agents POV – try not to find books that tick boxes. Look for books that will entice the reader in, spark some interest in kids who don’t like to read.

The social media engine is a must when promoting your book. YouTubers are also taken into consideration as toy companies now look to them to help create a buzz for new products out there. Samples are sent out and they record the unveiling on-line. Maybe I could do a YouTube vlog on how excited I feel about nearly finishing my first MG draft!

What is the Next Best Thing? Yetis, penguins, polar bears? David Maybury ensured we were all listening to this part. Animation tests are created as soon as you hand in your draft. The Scholastic wheels start to turn and the creations are sent off to Fisher Price to get the marketing ball rolling. Wow.

Unlocking the process of how a book is made could interest more kids too. Get back to basics and show them the creation of a book from the page formation to illustrations. Fantastic.

How about a prop bag? The intention is to hook the reader, what child wouldn’t want to know what was hiding in the star-covered box by the author’s feet? Kids need to identify with the author before the event itself. Send a link to your site which shows you saying hello and that you are looking forward to seeing them when you come to their school. Use Vine or YouTube, even Instagram, Fling, Yik Yak…the list is endless.

You need to go where the kids are – hint given – they are NOT on Facebook or Twitter. Get yourself out there and keep up to date. Interaction with the masses should be on a regular basis and not just when you’re about to publish. A small reminder that when you do submit your work, every editor Googles you to see what platforms you are on. Make it very easy for them to call you back with good news by having all of this in place before you submit.

The Gatekeepers need to see us reading different genres, commenting on other books out there and instilling a genuine interest in the market place. Find new things that are out there, not just what you liked to read as a child. The world is a very different place from then.

Kids are coding now, they don’t know how to live without the web. They can build whatever they like as they are technically miles ahead of us. It’s time we caught them up and joined in the fun.

Illustrator Keynote – Jonny Duddle

I did not expect to meet a real pirate/sea voyager this weekend but lo and behold indeed I did. Jonny Duddle is in the building everyone! author of The Jolly Rodger series, illustrator of JK Rowling’s Harry Potter covers and animator at Aardman, his talents show no signs of stopping. He wasn’t sure he could top Sarah and Philip’s extravaganza but he was superb.

His book The Pirate Cruncher started off life as The Pirate Muncher until some friends of his had a word with him about the connotations involved. Very funny story.

Unknown to me, Jonny Duddle lived on tall ships for over a year. He astounded me with his fantastic ‘story so far’ and his love for all things pirate. Seeing the illustration layers as the story unfolds confirmed the pain staking detail illustrators use when creating their stories on the page. Absolutely fascinating.

Jonny Duddle Q & A

Pirate costume removed, I joined Jonny Duddle (not just me there were others) for a more relaxed talk about his illustrations and WIP. He very kindly (should have had white gloves with me) let us hold drafts of the Harry Potter covers and leaf through his notebooks that brimmed with his ideas. He confirmed what worked, what didn’t, what JK wanted changed and what she liked/didn’t like about his amazing creations. Star-struck at his talent, I sat and wished I could draw and paint and even doodle as good as the tip of his pinkie could. I might just stick to writing but what an inspirational man he is.

Crystal Kite Award

Next on the agenda was the Crystal Kite Award. Nominations for this prestigious award included our very own Christina Banach from SCBWI South East Scotland. The winner was Clare Furniss and her amazing book The Year of the Rat, congratulations to everyone involved. This event always hits home how lucky I am to be a member of SCBWI, the opportunities awarded to members are second-to-none.

The Hook

Even thinking about this event now I am getting shivers up and down my spine. Think ‘The Voice’ meets ‘X-factor’ in the literary world but with the chairs turned round and an audience of SCBWI members cheering you on. My friend and fellow SCBWI South East Scotland member, Sheila Averbuch, decided not to tell us that she was taking part in this. Hosted by the fantastic Sara Grant, you could hear a pin drop in the room as each contestant gave it all in their 10 minute slot. We were all surprised as Sheila took to the stage but I knew that she would blow us all away with her pitch. Four agents sat and listened to her every word and when she was crowned the winner, we all clapped, cheered and burst into happy tears all at the same time. I am very pleased to say that Sheila now has an agent and I am utterly convinced she will be published and in a book shop near you very soon!

Party and Mass Book Launch

The SCBWI conference is not complete without the Saturday night party. After a busy day soaking up information and being surrounded by those who adorn your book shelves, it is great way to relax and a wonderful opportunity to meet authors, illustrators, agents, publishers and fellow SCBWI members. Pirate themed, we all dressed appropriately for the occasion as we chatted and danced the night away. Another successful evening for the wonderful conference organisers. The Mass Book Launch is a part of the night when we get to celebrate each others success. Every year the newly published books are clasped in hands of SCBWI success. The smiles from the proud owners say it all. Well done everyone.

Sunday:

A lovely breakfast meet up with the South East Scotland members. This was followed by the wonderful acknowledgement of all the hard work the volunteers across the British Isles for SCBWI which yet again nearly had me in tears. If it wasn’t for all these amazing people giving up their time to help co-ordinate it all, we wouldn’t be there. As a volunteer fro SCBWI and St Columba’s Hospice, it is very much appreciated to receive thanks, regardless of how small a contribution I feel that I make.

Writing The Obligatory Scene – Jasmine Richards

I met Jasmine at a Book Bound event I recently attended in Edinburgh. It was so informative and made me look at my work-in-progress in much more detail than I had before. I knew this event was going to be special and it was. I even got a laugh when I read out my blurb for a new idea I am working on. It’s the little things that make my day. From Haikus to 10 word-pitches – a very full-on but incredible event.

Story Structure – Candy Gourlay

I will be doing a separate post on this event as it was, for me anyway, the best event I attended at the conference. I looked in great detail at the nuts and bolts of one of my picture book stories and broke it down into six chunks. Analysing those chunks in a completely different way to what I am used to enabled me to see the large gaping hole in the text I had taken with me. Thank you, Candy!

And then there was coffee, cake and so much more. It’s always sad saying goodbye to friends but I know that I will see them next year.

For those who know me well, procrastination is a part of my DNA. It’s like the little sister I never had that loves me unconditionally but won’t leave me alone. My goal for 2016 is to FINISH AT LEAST ONE OF THE MIDDLE GRADE STORIES I HAVE STARTED. The SCBWI conference has given me so much to help get me there, I can’t wait to get started after Christmas.

If you haven’t been to the conference before, then please consider it for next year.

I will if you will.