Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Our Reflections - 2019 SCBWI Europolitan Conference

It’s been almost two since the SCBWI Europolitan conference. One thing I like about the Europolitan is that each time it is hosted by a different European SCBWI chapter. This year Switzerland hosted and, as usual, offered a variety of workshops, a mix of professional faculty, and time to enjoy being with other writers and illustrators.

Photo by Melanie Rook Welfing ©2019
One thing I liked about this year’s conference in Zurich is that, for the first time, lodging was available right at the conference site (a youth hostel). I was in a room for four and my roommates were awesome. (Tara, Laurel, and Jamie…I hope I didn’t snore too loud.)

As you can see from this photo, I think everyone
at the conference had a blast. There's just something
comforting about being together with like-minded people...
even when just cramming into an elevator.

Tours and activities were set up for travellers arriving the day before the conference. Instead of the attending the Creative Café or the Scrawl Crawl at the Zoo, I chose the walking tour of Zurich. I am glad I did.

Look at all the amazing things I saw. 
Photos by Linda Hofke ©2019

To top it off, our guide took us up to Lindenhof where one can see the city from above.

©2019, Linda Hofke

Later that evening, one of the highlights of my trip was the Verlag (publisher) tour.  The renowned picture book publisher NordSüd (North South Books) was generous enough to open their offices to conference attendees for a behind-the-scenes event. 
©2019, Linda Hofke

What a pleasure it was to speak with the staff and learn more about the publishing industry. It was quite informative and everyone at NordSüd was so kind. They treated us like royalty. They even provided wine and a big spread of delicious snacks.   

I especially enjoying reading some of their most current picture books and perusing their vast selection of published books.

Thank you, NordSüd! 
©2019, Linda Hofke

Then the conference began. The keynotes and panel discussions included a great line up of professionals:

Kathi Appelt (author of over 40 books)
Maria Middleton (Arts Director for Imprints at Candlewick Press and Walker Books US)
Alice Sutherland-Hawes (Rights and Children’s Agent at Madeleine Milburn Ltd)
Andrew Rushton (Associate Publisher – NordSüd Publisher)
Chitra Soundar (author of over 30 books)
Molly O’Neill (literary agent with Root Literary)
Naomi Colthurt (Commissioning Editor at Penguin Random House Children’s, UK).

But that’s not all the faculty. On top of that, the amazing author/illustrator Elizabeth Dulemba offered a hands-on, two-part workshop “How to Get your Picture Book onto the Page, Jay Whistler taught us about humor in children’s book, and the incredible Marcus Pfister shared his creative process. Yes…I said MARCUS PFISTER, author of The Rainbow Fish and over 40 other titles! I am particularly found of his newest book, Wer hat die Walnuss geklaut?    

THANK YOU, SCBWI Switzerland chapter for providing fabulous faculty this year!!

With great faculty and diverse theme for workshops, EVERYONE, no matter where in their writing journey, could learn something. My biggest takeaways from the conference:

Thanks to Kathi Appelt, I know how to make the best of those short writing times. Waiting for your child to finish ballet class? Pull out pen and paper and write. Stuck in the doctor’s waiting room for 10 minutes? Grab your cell phone and write. Take advantage of every window of opportunity to write. When you put all those things together, they will add up quickly and you’ll be on your way to completing your work in progress. No more “not-enough-time-in-the-day-to-write” excuses. Just do it.

©2019, Linda Hofke

As a picture book writer, I sometimes find characterization challenging. With a roughly 500-word text, it’s important to capture the main character’s personality right off the bat. Kathi offered great tips as we explored the core issues of characters by considering motivation, voice, structure, and the stakes of the story. It was Kathi’s hand-on writing activities that made the difference. Thank you, Kathi!

The lovely Chitra Soundar inspired me. I love the poetic wording of her books. I will definitely study her stories and possibly use them as mentor texts. She really understands what makes a great picture book and she is simply charming and has such a positive attitude.

My only regret--I had Marcus Pfister’s new squirrel book along to get signed and didn’t want to bother him during our short break. And then…I didn’t see him again. DRAT! But that disappointment was long forgotten when the portfolio showcase winner was announced. One of our SCBWI Germany & Austria members, Devon, was the winner. I love when good things happen to our chapter members. YAY, DEVON! 

The SCBWI Germany & Austria chapter had a large number of attendees at the conference. Here is our group photo (minus a few members who, unfortunately, missed our photo moment.)
Photo by Catherine Friess ©2019

I asked others what their three best takeaways were and here are their responses:  
I asked others what their three best takeaways were from the conference
and here are their responses.

Lily: Write for 5 minutes every day.
Even when you feel your day is crazy, you can always find 5 minutes, right?
And who knows, maybe these 5 minutes will grow longer.  

Make a heart map for your character. That’s a great tool to get to know your character and build a ear picture of who they are. For those who weren’t in that particular breakout session, here is the heart map I made for my current MC. Here it is!

Zürich is a city like no other: quiet, green, clean.

Katja: The Europolitan Conference in Zurich was the first writing conference I attended - and I am still blown away. The atmosphere, the sessions, and the chats with fellow writers have been a real pleasure. This community has so many lovely people and I had so much fun! My takeaways:

Business-related: Foreign rights. This is so much bigger and more complex than I expected. I was absolutely blown away by Alice's session, the different paths she explained and the general workings of the foreign rights market.

Skill and craft related: First drafts that get taken on by agents and editors alike often through a massive change. I can't even begin to explain how much pressure this information took from my shoulders. I was always comparing my work to published books - and that's neither fair nor necessary. 

Personal progress and work schedule: Chitra's keynote has been a real eye-opener. Small steps, one at a time, setting myself achievable (if possible quantifiable) goals, holding myself accountable to those goals. And persistence. If I keep it up long enough, doors will open and I will eventually succeed. 

Revision and craft related: One can't praise and value critique partners highly enough. I've learned so much from this one initial critique café on Monday morning and have now a new group of writers to support and who support me. 

Nicole:  Though I had been writing since I was 13, I had only joined the SCBWI in January 2019. So, this was my first SCBWI-conference. It took some long bus rides, but it was completely worth it! For the first time, I met other authors and illustrators for more than a few moments. And it inspired me to keep writing and get perspective on where writing can go. I loved the guided city tour through downtown Zurich, especially the Frauenmünster church (with Chagall-windows) and the random sculptures on the buildings. I loved visiting the Nord-Süd publishing house. 
Photo by Nicole Heymann ©2019

Photo by Nicole Heymann ©2019

I loved the workshops and main sessions. And I loved to see that there are other writers and illustrators out there.

My top 3 takeaways: the 5-min writing exercise with Kathi Appelt, the portfolio showcase, and the random conversations with other authors.

Catherine: As a non-illustrator I have never taken part in an illustrator workshop. Elizabeth O’Dulemba’s two part ‘How to Get Your Picture Book onto the Page’ workshop was inspiring. There is a lot more to illustrating a picture book than I realised. If you are a picture book writer and haven’t been to an illustration workshop, I would highly recommend it. It helps you look at your story from a completely different angle.

Making dummy books is an essential part of picture book writing. Even if you can’t draw, planning what goes on each page and where the page turns will be is useful to help you determine the pace of the action and your plot arc. I made several changes to one of my WIPs after making a dummy.

Kathi Appelt has inspired me to find just five minutes each day to write. It’s easier than I thought, I’ve done it while cooking, while waiting for a doctor’s appointment or a bus. Sometimes five minutes has inspired a longer writing session. But I’ve now made that commitment.


What an amazing conference. We are already looking forward to (and planning) the next SCBWI Europolitan in 2021 which will take place in GERMANY or AUSTRIA!!!

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful writeup about the weekend in Zurich, Linda! Thanks!!