On Sunday, November 18, I got to attend my favorite professional event of the year: the Jewish Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Conference in New York City. Sponsored by the Jewish Book Council, it was attended by approximately 40 professional authors and illustrators.
The speakers were each excellent and gave dynamic presentations. Unfortunately I missed the first one, (I took a late train in), but here is a quick synopsis of the rest of the day:
- Beverly Horowitz of Random House discussed the importance of good stories, plots, and fully realized characters. She suggested that authors develop detailed back stories for each character they are writing about: when their birthday is, their handwriting style, their favorite color, etc. It’s a great way of getting to know your characters.
- Aileen Grossberg, Chair: Sydney Taylor Manuscript Award Competition and Susan L. Ross, the 2011 winner of the competition. An informative tag team! Aileen explained how the Sydney Taylor awards committee selects its winners each year. Following her, Susan described her winning manuscript Searching for Lottie, a mystery about a teen who searches for of her relative, and gradually learns how Lottie perished in the holocaust. Susan’s story incorporates many details of a contemporary teens’ life, including texting, googling, and e-mail.
- Kar Ben Panel: Joni Sussman, editor at Kar Ben, Ellen Bari author of Jumping Jenny, and Adam Gustavson illustrator of Hannah’s Way.
This panel offered a nice peek into the book-making process. Author Ellen Bari talked about her writing method, and how she revised her manuscript more than 30 times with various endings (including a really fun one that included an entire town jumping on pogo sticks). Adam Gustavson presented his sketches and final artworks for Hannah’s Way. Hearing about the complex and thorough planning he does for each of his illustrations was truly inspiring. Joni Sussman was warm and inviting, and made the entire audience feel that they are welcome to submit their work to Kar-Ben.
- Literary Agent and author Anna Olswanger discussed her top 10 reasons of “Why is it So Difficult to Get My Jewish Children’s Book Published?” Of course I can’t list them all here, but they did include things like “Maybe your manuscript needs to be more specific” and “Are you waiting for an agent? Just do it yourself!”
- Vivian Newman from the PJ library book selection committee informed the crowd that PJ library is looking to reach out to unengaged Jews and make a connection with them through great stories. They also try to select books that give families the ability to add Jewish discussions to their everyday life. (Vivian provided fantastic, detailed handouts, too.)
- Author/ Illustrator Ann Koffsky (AKA—me!) spoke about self-promotion. Her talk focused on strategies that can help promote your work in both real life and virtual life. She was witty, charming, immensely talented and incredibly intelligent.
See how good I am at self promoting?
- Sharon Bruce from the Jewish Book Council, our hosts, spoke about the opportunities available to authors through the Jewish Book Network.
As always, the conference was wonderfully invigorating and gave everyone a chance to visit with old friends and make some new ones.
The only disappointment was seeing how much smaller the conference has become than it has been in the past. For me personally as an illustrator, I also wish that they continued the tradition of inviting an art director to meet with all the attending illustrators for a portfolio review.
It seems appropriate to end this post with Anna Olswanger’s classic message: The best thing you can do to get yourself published might be to help someone else get published. Be generous, help each other, and it might just come back to you.
May next year bring many new Jewish books into the world.
Ann Koffsky is the author and illustrator of more than 20 books for kids. They include Noah’s Swim-A-thon, a PJ library selection, and the forthcoming Thank You God for Me with musician Rick Recht.