Monday, September 21, 2015

Laughter and Learning
at Letters and Lines
SCBWI's Rocky Mountain Chapter's Fall Conference

By Leslie Colin Tribble

This past weekend I had the privilege of attending the Rocky Mountain Chapter's Fall Conference, Letters and Lines. This is my second year at this annual event and I loved every minute of the classes, industry panels and keynote session. Here are a few thoughts about what I learned and some general impressions about the conference. 

First, it's a glorious time to be in Colorado. It's an eight hour drive for me to attend this conference, but it's such a beautiful time of year the drive goes by quickly. The weather is still warm, which is incredibly helpful because everyone kept running outside to stand in the sun after freezing through sessions in the overly air-conditioned rooms. Besides, it's Colorado so you definitely want to be out under that blazing blue sky, enjoying the change of seasons.

Dan Yaccarino was the keynote speaker this year and he did a great job. Dan's speech was funny yet instructive, humble yet inspiring as he spoke of his career in illustration, writing, producing and designing. The theme of his keynote was, "Say Yes." There have been many points in Dan's career where he was asked to do something he'd never done, never even contemplated nor even entertained the remotest thought of doing it, yet he "Said Yes." I was inspired by the intersection of saying yes and as Dan put it, "the ability to work on an even bigger canvas." All of his varied projects have simply been a "bigger way to tell stories." It was especially reassuring to know he still gets plenty of rejections and not all his projects are home runs.

My next session was given by Deborah Warren of East/West Literary Agency and Erin Dealey. It was fun to hear how this agent-author duo sees the publication process and how much they enjoyed each other's presence. For them the agent/author relationship is "all about the connection and making sure the chemistry is there." One tidbit from this session: never submit on a Monday as agents and editors get slammed by submissions after weekends.

I missed part of the session given by Emma Ledbetter, Associate Editor for Atheneum Books for Young Readers. But what I did take home was her recommendation to add pagination to your manuscript submission, making sure you don't start with pages one or two (title, copyright, dedication, etc.) She also told us that Margaret Wise Brown said picture book manuscripts should be whistled to catch the rhythm and cadence.

Erin Dealey, author, had a great class on Strategies for a Long Shelf Life. She suggested asking yourself, what can I do for my local booksellers and librarians to make their job easier? Also, authors are completely worth an honorarium so ask for one or better yet, have it stipulated in the contract you send out to the store, school or library.

Deborah Warren gave a helpful session about marketing your work. She said, "Authors start the food chain of publishing," and "your passion for your book has to go up the whole food chain." Non-fiction writers will be happy to know Deborah doesn't consider NF a trend, it's here to stay since it's filling a need in the market.

The second day of Letters and Lines started with an impulse on my part. Instead of continuing on a picture book tract I sat in a session about writing novels in verse by Melanie Crowder, author. This session absolutely struck a chord with me and I'm excited about giving this new (to me) genre a try. To become familiar with this type of writing, Melanie suggested reading as many verse novels as you can find as well as reading lots of poetry.

Jenny Goebel gave a good talk on "To Plot or Not to Plot." I was pleased to learn that my haphazard way of winging it and then coming back to make sure I have all the plot necessities is really a method.

I also participated in the final picture book intensive which is a great way to get lots of eyes on your manuscript and comments from industry professionals. 

All in all, I thought this year's conference was great. The faculty was stellar and I learned so much. I'm excited to get out the red pen and revise, revise, revise!


  1. Great summary of your conference, Leslie. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Thanks Tina it was a great weekend.

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  4. Thanks for all of the wonderful tidbits, Leslie! I'm glad the conference was worth the long drive. :) Interesting comment from Emma Ledbetter about adding pagination to picture book manuscript submissions. This is par for the course in the UK, but I still feel like it's taboo in the US. To me, it indicates that you've taken the time to look at flow and page turns and how much text falls in each spread. I hope it's a trend!

  5. Thank you for sharing your experience of the SCBWI's Rocky Mountain Chapter's Fall Conference with us, Leslie. The photos of the lovely Autumn colors are an added bonus.

  6. Leslie, appreciations for putting us there at this nourishing conference.
    Great notes & tips!
    You are a top-notch shutterbug, too!