compiled by Kristi Wright

In October, many of our members attended the SCBWI San Francisco North/East Bay Oktoberfest Conference. We came away filled with inspiration. We’ve compiled some nuggets from the conference that we hope will inspire you in your own writing!

Regarding our readers, Martha Brockenbrough and Clelia Gore said,

  • “People read books again and again to FEEL!” (Martha)
  • “Readers want to know they are in good hands. That they are just going along for the ride.” (Clelia)

There were some lovely words of wisdom from Martha, Clelia and author/illustrator, Lee White regarding our development as writers:

  • Martha: “Writing is not a neutral act. Your writing choices reveal your values.” and “Pay attention to LIFE, not just books!” and “Write with your heart, not just your mind.”
  • Clelia: “Become an expert in your genre. Read everything you can. 200 plus books in your genre.” and “Never feel bad about reading instead of writing.”
  • Lee: “To develop your style:
    • Find your tribe (People who have a style that you admire and would like to aspire to.)
    • Learn from your tribe.
    • Add your own flair.”

Some thoughts on character development from Martha Brockenbrough:

  • “The chief influence on a fictional character may appear offstage, in the wings of their life.”
  • “Watch for received gestures–ones found only in books. They often perpetuate stereotypes.”

With regards to plotting, Alvina Ling said: “Structurally, ‘and then’ is boring writing–you should aim for the ‘but’ and ‘therefore/so.’ All future events in a story should happen because of a previous event, not independently. (For example: ‘I had a macaroni for lunch. And then I went home.’ vs. ‘I had macaroni for lunch. But as I was eating, I choked on a noodle! So the school nurse sent me home.’)”

Here are some tips from Andrew Karre about openings in books:

  • “Aim for intrigue in your first chapter, not just information.”
  • “The beginning must be the moment when the story feels inevitable.”

Heather Flaherty had this to say about genre labeling (paraphrased): If your novel crosses genres, be careful not to apply an overly specific label when you pitch, lest you create expectations your manuscript won’t live up to. Better to say it is a YA contemporary with speculative elements than to try to shoehorn it into a label like “realistic contemporary fantasy hybrid.”

With regards to the submission process, Jennifer March Soloway said two things that were particularly encouraging: “Don’t give up!” and “For me, every ‘no’ is a ‘not yet.’”

Here’s a marketing nugget from Annemarie O’Brien’s session on book marketing: “To find your readers, follow authors with similar books on social media. Do the work to earn back your advance. Use your strengths–we’re writers and storytellers!” (NOTE: Annemarie O’Brien did two events a week till she earned back her advance–school visits, Skype visits to book clubs, etc.)

Finally, let’s end with this gem from Jennifer March Soloway:

“CELEBRATE EVERY LITTLE THING!”

Many thanks to our contributors: Brigid Gaffikin, Anne-Marie Strohman, Kate O’Shaughnessy, and Kristi Wright


Kristi Wright (assistant editor) is the Assistant Regional Advisor for the San Francisco/South region of the Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators and a writing mentor for the non-profit Society of Young Inklings. She offers writing workshops at the elementary school level with a focus on point of view and sensory detail. Her indie-published futuristic middle grade adventure series, The Basker Twins in the 31st Century, raises funds and awareness for a rare, childhood-onset disease, Friedreich’s ataxia. Find her at www.kristiwrightauthor.com and on Twitter @KristiWrite.