Friday, August 21, 2015

SCBWI-MI Conferences: Looking Forward and Back

Registration is now open for the SCBWI-MI Fall Conference - Homegrown Talent on October 3, 2015 in Dexter, MI. The jam-packed day will feature a variety of presentations for writers and illustrators, as well as editorial critiques and portfolio reviews. 

Maybe you've already registered and are looking forward to the event (like me!) or maybe you're questioning if it's worth your time and money. Betsy McKee Williams attended the SCBWI-MI Hook of the Book conference in May, and even though the primary focus was on an amazing illustrator (E.B. Lewis), Betsy took away many lessons as a writer too.

A Writer Learns from Illustrators at Hook of the Book by Betsy McKee Williams

I’m writing middle grade novels and, while I am also interested in writing picture books, I will never be an illustrator. So I debated registering for Hook of the Book. But this conference was so close (only 10 miles from my home) and, thanks to the generosity of Thomson-Shore publishers, so affordable. And I love to learn. So I went.

I am so glad I did.

E.B. suggested that SCBWI might be called the Society of Children's Storytellers, and introduced himself as the one who "writes the pictures." 

He started his talk with a metaphor: Some of us speak English, some French or Italian, and illustrators speak Visual Language. I found this metaphor very apt, because I spent much of the day translating his advice to illustrators into words for novelists, and building conceptual bridges between words and illustrations.

Here are just a few examples.

E.B. spoke of perspective, of the angle from which we view the illustration. Are we at the characters' level? Or do we view the characters from below or from above? How far above? And how does the perspective affect our connection to the characters and to the story?
And I thought about point of view: first person, close third, omniscient...

E.B. told illustrators not to have a character look directly at readers, because doing so "breaks the wall." 
And I thought of avoiding second person point of view.

E.B. told illustrators to keep the light source consistent. He showed us images of outdoor scenes where the light and shadows were not consistent with having one sun in the sky.
And I thought of avoiding "head hopping," and of revising for consistent point of view.

E.B. and Matt Faulkner both discussed technical aspects of how they illustrate, answering questions about the steps they take from sketch or storyboard to finished illustration.
And I thought an analogy for writers might include an outline. (But I wouldn't know... I confess that I don't start with one.)

Both illustrators shared specific ideas for illustrating characters to convey personality and emotion, and for showing setting.
And I thought of much specific advice to writers on writing dialogue and showing character emotion*, and of my struggle to select only the best bits from my extensive (excessive?) research, to show historical setting without subjecting my readers to info-dumps.

Leslie Helakoski's presentation gave me a great overview of qualities to look for in published picture books, and to build into my own texts. And the QA session gave me helpful insight into how illustrators work with authors. (The short version: most work separately.)

E.B. spoke of revision, and of the love of the process. He told us to allow ourselves to make mistakes: "Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which to keep."
Those words certainly apply to writers as well as to illustrators.

At the start E.B. said that, just as we in the western world read words from left to right, we read pictures in the same way. While I think I knew that truth before the conference, I came away a much more sophisticated reader of images. And I learned a great deal about how illustrators compose and arrange images to tell a story and to hook the reader. 

Novelists and illustrators both seek that hook!

Betsy McKee Williams lives in Ann Arbor, where she balances writing for children with a full time job and coordinates local Meet Ups for SCBWI.

The next Ann Arbor Meet Up is August 29th, 10-12:00 at the Ann Arbor District Library. Shutta Crum will speak about adding "extra value" to PB manuscripts. She will also collect new or like-new books to be donated to the Martin Co. library in Kentucky.

Here's everything you need to know about the fall conference:

SCBWI-MI Fall Conference 2015: Homegrown Talent

Learn ​from ​the ​amazing ​talent ​grown ​right ​here ​in ​Michigan! ​ This ​will ​be ​a ​jam-packed ​one ​day ​conference ​held ​at ​ Thompson-Shore ​in ​Dexter, ​Michigan ​on ​Saturday, ​October ​3, ​ 2015. ​Open ​to ​all ​who ​are ​interested ​in ​creating ​literature ​ for ​children, ​it ​includes ​a ​limited ​number ​of ​onsite ​portfolio  ​reviews ​and ​written ​editorial ​critiques. ​It ​is ​going ​to ​be ​ an ​event ​that ​blossoms ​with ​enrichment, ​community, ​and ​fun. ​ Join ​us!
For information regarding the Homegrown Talent Conference access the links below!
Conference will be held at Thomson-Shore: a book publisher, printer, and distributor
7200 Joy Road
DexterMichigan 48130
(Thomson-Shore is a 100% employee owned book publisher, printer, and distributor located in Dexter, Michigan. The venue lies 18 minutes west of the heart of Ann Arbor, an hour and a half east of Kalamazoo, two hours from central Grand Rapids, and five or so from da' UP, eh.)

Coming up on the Mitten blog: Writing a Trilogy, a September back-to-school 3-part series on Voice, and another round of Hugs and Hurrahs. Please send your good news to Patti Richards at 

Have a great weekend!
Kristin Lenz


  1. Excellent post. So smart and what a great way to integrate words and the process of illustration.

  2. Thanks for the memories and the insights, Betsy.

  3. Great post. It's awesome how you were able to draw so many comparisons to the challenges of writing. Thanks for sharing!