Society of
Children's Book Writers
and Illustrators

2023 Regional Conference Breakout Sessions


Breakout Sessions

(More information coming soon!)


Session #1: 

Choose 1

Karen Grencik
You and Your Agent: Finding, Securing and Getting the Most out of Your Client/Agent Relationship
This is a topic with appeal to both newbies and established creators: How does one find the right agent, and how does one get the most out of this crucial professional relationship? Karen will provide a detailed overview of the various steps, along with questions to consider and pitfalls to avoid. The information provided will offer solid grounding for those new to children’s publishing while also giving more experienced creators a refresher on points they may already know, as well as providing new questions to think about.


Janice Hardy

How to Write Characters with Agency

Characters drive a story, but sometimes writers throw them into a tale and tell them what to do. This can lead to plots without purpose, protagonists who are just along for the ride, and a novel that only describes what happens, not a story about a character with a problem. In this workshop, you’ll learn what agency means and how it can help you craft stronger, deeper stories. You’ll discover how to find the reasons your characters do what they do, and why they’re the ones driving the story. You’ll also learn how to craft characters who make their own stories happen, which not only creates better characters, but stronger plots and better pacing.

Note: Attendance limited to PAL and self-published members only.


Kathleen Merz

Finding Your Voice in Nonfiction

 Voice is one of those elements of writing that can feel intangible, hard to describe—and yet it has a huge effect on the reader’s experience. What exactly do we mean when we talk about voice? How can you, as a writer, be intentional about choosing your voice and making sure that it’s the best fit for your subject?

 In this breakout session, we’ll look at the different aspects of voice and how they show up in different types of nonfiction and informational fiction. You’ll learn how the choices you make as an author can work more effectively to hook readers, and you’ll discover how being intentional with voice can help you unlock new ways of approaching your subject.

Though this session is meant primarily for those who want to write nonfiction, thinking about voice can benefit any writer—and fiction writers are very welcome to attend.


Mark Podesta

Topic and description coming soon!




Session #2: 

Choose 1

Winsome Bingham

FIRST WE DO THIS: Crafting your first line, first page, and first spread with intention.

First impressions matter! This workshop will evaluate the first line, page, and spread and what makes them grab the reader. Through this breakout session, writers will learn how to craft their own beginnings with intention and purpose. 


Marcie Colleen

Nuts, Bolts, and Layer Cakes: A Crash Course in Chapter Books

Acclaimed author Marcie Colleen (The Super Happy Party Bears series) will introduce you to the world of chapter books, and take you through the first steps to creating a series that kids will love! This workshop includes some hands-on writing exercises.


Robert Herrick

Creating a Small Beginnings Self-Publishing Plan

From small beginnings, great things grow. This breakout session will present a low-cost plan to start you on your self-publishing journey. We’ll go over creating a self-publishing plan that allows you to decide on the goals for your book(s), understand the costs and time involved in reaching them, and how you can take the time you need to grow your readership and market presence.

We’ll also cover the practical steps of turning your story into a picture book or novel. We’ll cover the steps from story to layout, illustrations, publishing, and distribution. We’ll cover how to keep the rights to your book so that you can use multiple publishing, printing, and distribution services. There will be a Q&A session at the end of the presentation.



Kristen Nobles

Evocative Images: Big Wave Surfing for Illustrators

What makes a promotional postcard or website opening image stand out? How can you be sure your work resonates with an art director, editor, or agent? How do publishing teams make the leap from your portfolio to a book contract? Memorable and evocative images! We’ll look at some of my favorites including visuals that led to first book deals by some very well-known illustrators. (Hints: An old farmhouse…. A stolen hat….)



Session #3:

Choose 1

Matt de la Peña

The Power of Patience and Restraint When Writing for Young Readers

It doesn’t matter if we’re writing a picture book or a young adult novel, our future readers will want to be active participants in our stories. How do we honor the reader’s place in our work? How do we know when to lean forward in a WIP and when to recede into the background? In this session we will examine the use of the narrator in fiction for all ages. We will explore published work and try our hand at generative exercises that will hopefully help us see the way patience and restraint might function in the stories we want to tell.


Leah Henderson

Learn Character, Learn Voice for Novels

Voice is the soul of story. The element that magically pulls us in, often with only a few lines. As writers, we want nothing more than to execute it. But what comes first, creating an unforgettable character? Or crafting an unforgettable voice? By looking at the delicate dance in the relationship between character and voice, we will explore how elements like rhythm, life experience, and word choice play into creating a distinct character voice that becomes the undeniable, unputdownable, and unforgettable soul of our story. 


Debbie Ridpath Ohi

What Picture Book Illustrators Wish Picture Book Authors Knew

Whether you’ve just finished writing your first picture book manuscript or you’re an experienced picture book author looking for a deeper understanding of the illustration process, learning to think like an illustrator will help you write better picture books. Geared toward both picture book writers and illustrators, Debbie Ridpath Ohi’s session will offer insights into how to think about your picture book visually, how to avoid mistakes often made by beginning picture book writers, and practical tips like whether or not to include art notes.


Sera Rivers

Why THIS Book!

Why should your book get plucked out of an agent’s slush pile? What makes your story compelling enough for an agent to want to read it? To represent it? To make an editor want to acquire it? In this workshop, you will learn HOW to make your story stand out from the rest and answer the question industry professionals ask with each submission they receive: Why THIS book?! This workshop includes two writing prompts.




Session #4:

Choose 1

Carter Hasegawa

Finding Your Voice in Picture Books

 Voice is one of the most important skills that separates good writing from great writing. In this workshop, we’re going to learn how you can establish “voice” in the opening lines of your picture book story. Using examples from published works, we’ll look at how authors establish “voice” in varying yet successful ways. Please bring a current work in progress. This will be a hands-on and interactive workshop, so please be prepared to write and discuss. 


Madelyn McZeal

Big Feelings: Exploring Emotional Range for Young Readers

In this breakout session, we’ll be focusing on the big feelings that our characters go through, and reconnecting with our younger selves to understand their experiences. Using discussion, reflection, and writing exercises, authors will practice tackling emotional scenes for their characters. Authors will discuss respecting feelings — even juvenile, or seemingly irrational ones, remembering how big feelings can be, and the role that adults play in a young person’s journey. 


James Mustelier

Let’s Talk about Novel Pacing 

What is pacing and why is it so important? This breakout will teach you how to use structural devices to establish pace,  how to speed up and slow down your novel’s pacing, and how to balance character development and plot progression. We will also discuss how to know when is time to enter and exit a scene in your work-in-progress.


Liz Garton Scanlon

Saying Something New and True: A Workshop in Using Metaphor Well

As writers, we’re lucky to have the tools and strategies of poetry at our disposal, even the most prosaic storytellers among us. Metaphor is one of these. We know metaphor as a figure of speech in which we associate one idea or object to another — a comparison — but its true value is easily underestimated. In this workshop, we’ll look at the psychology and application of metaphor: — how it can deepen understanding, cross communication chasms, and enrich the aesthetics, meaning, and emotional impact of our prose.