Bright USA Attends NY SCBWI 2016 Conference


The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators hosted their annual Winter Conference in NYC this past weekend. The conference is attended by writers, illustrators, agents, editors, art directors and publicists from all over the country. It’s a fantastic way for both those who are established in the publishing industry and those who are just starting out to share ideas and learn from one another.


Bright USA group with illustrator Rob McClurkan, who travelled from Georgia to attend

After a pre-conference celebration hosted by KidLitTV {} on Thursday night celebrating 5 years supporting the kid lit community, the conference kicked off with inspiring presentations from Caldecott-winning Sophie Blackall and Matt de la Pena, winner of the Newbery medal followed by Illustrator Intensives taught by art directors and illustrators.


Sophie Blackall’s art from Finding Winnie, 2016 Caldecott Medal Winner

The Bright USA team was in full attendance for Friday night’s portfolio review. It was fantastic to see familiar faces among the crowd of art directors, editors and agents and make new connections with future clients while looking at over 100 portfolios from talented illustrators.


Friday night’s portfolio review party  

 On Saturday, the conference began with a keynote address from William Joyce,
best-selling illustrator and Academy Award-winning animator. He talked about books and technology, and the difference in crafting each. Some witty gems he shared ~

“Books are like ice-cream sandwiches:
hard stuff is on the outside (cover), the good stuff in the middle (story). “

“You are the ambassador of Planet You.”


Bright US agent, Anne Armstrong with keynote speaker, William Joyce

Joyce’s inspiring keynote was followed by a panel discussion with some of kid lit’s biggest names: Jon Anderson, President and Publisher at Simon & Schuster; Jean Feiwel, Senior VP and Director at Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan; Mallory Loehr, VP and Publishing Director at Random House/Golden Books/Doubleday; Andrea Pappenheimer, Senior VP, Director of Sales, and Associate Publisher at HarperCollins; and Megan Tingley, Executive VP and Publisher at Little Brown, who spoke on the ever-evolving landscape of children’s book publishing.


Panel discussion led by Lin Oliver on “Children’s Publishing: Now and in the Near Future”

They spoke on a wide variety of topics including • discoverability of books • managing author and illustrator’s expectations • knowing the competition • what is being promoted in bookstores • knowing your audience • the untapped potential of social media.

When asked what they predict will be the biggest changes seen in the industry for the future, there was a definite emphasis on flexibility and agility for speed-to-market publishing. Mallory Loehr said her team at Random House already tries to maximize on trends, like coloring books and the popularity of YouTube stars, by developing related projects at an expedited pace. Everyone on the panel also addressed how the marketing process has changed. Jon Anderson said that with the advent of social media, marketing has seen a vast democratization. Others echoed this sentiment by noting just how important it is for authors and illustrators to be marketing their own works on Twitter and Facebook. Social media is extremely inclusive, and therefore it’s a fantastic channel through which to reach parents and readers.


Liz Bicknell, Executive Editorial Director of Candlewick Press, offered her expertise in writing and crafting picture book stories. Her insights regarding picture books she has edited were fascinating, and she highlighted various categories, themes, and forms of picture books in the visual imagery below. Of course, she noted the brilliant “alchemy” of words and images that Jon Klassen creates and the need for simplicity, expression, and intentional pacing.

“Publishing is very relationship based,”

– Liz Bicknell, Executive Editorial Director, Candlewick Press
from  Writing Picture Book Text session

Patrick Collins led a breakout session where he addressed seven important aspects of successful picture book illustrations–characters, setting, action, color, simplicity, humor, and variety. He noted that characters should always be considered first, with the setting, color, and composition used to emphasize plot and highlight the narrative.

Pat Collins, Henry Holt - SCBWI Feb'16 NY

Patrick Collins, Creative Director at Henry Holt/Macmillan BFYR

In another breakout session, Young Adult author Rainbow Rowell spoke with fellow YA author Martha Brockenbrough about creating teen characters. Rainbow, who has created much-beloved minority and LGBTQ characters, said that her favorite characters to write are the ones least like herself. The key to creating any character is to find the “music” in their dialogue. She said everyone has their own song, which is told through their mannerisms and speaking patterns.


YA Authors Martha Brockenbrough and Rainbow Rowell

Giuseppe Castellano, Senior Art Director at Penguin Group US, also presented workshops on creating art for children’s books and shared his expertise on the industry.

“Color is a character. Treat your color like a character.”
Giuseppe Castellano


Giuseppe is a huge supporter and mentor of illustrators. He wrote an informative blog post about the benefits of attending SCBWI events and gives helpful advice here.


Bright’s Rob McClurkan  with his portfolio at the Art Browse event, #NY16SCBWI

Rob prepared for the conference by creating a new portfolio piece expressly for the SCBWI-NY event. He printed this image on matte-stock postcards which were given away to art directors and editors during the portfolio events and when he met new publishing contacts. This is precisely what illustrators need to do: prepare for SCBWI conferences, Bologna, and all book events by creating new fresh art showcasing their talent to catch the eye of publishing professionals.


There are so many benefits to being a member and attending an SCBWI event.
You learn, you connect, you are challenged, stretched, and exposed to all the facets of the children’s book industry. You also make a ton of new friends! It is a great way to enhance your career and remain plugged into the publishing world. Organizations like the SCBWI are here to support children’s book creators. We highly recommend you join and gain from this tremendous creative community!

 You can join SCBWI here.

And check out all the great videos that KidLitTV is producing for book creators here.