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GRETCHEN HAERTSCH ON: THE SCBWI CONFERENCE

October 4, 2010

Last weekend I attended a writing conference. As usual, I returned to my home office reinvigorated from the enthusiasm of my fellow writers and with my creative juices circulating more freely than usual. This was the annual Fall Philly sponsored by the Eastern Pennsylvania chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Editors (SCBWI). I know it’s a mouthful, but it is the organization you need to join if you’re at all serious about writing for children or young adults.

SCBWI was formed in 1971 and is one of the largest existing organizations for writers and illustrators. One of the things I like about being a member is the fantastic Lin Oliver who is Executive Director. I’ve heard her speak at the annual New York City conference and also at this local Philadelphia-area meeting and she never fails to charm. No surprise that she started out as a comedy writer for television. Besides helping with networking and education, being a SCBWI member and attending a conference can gain a writer entrée to publishers who normally won’t look at a non-agented writer. That alone is worth the price of admission.

The presentation that most enticed me to attend last weekend’s conference, both for my own work and my teaching at Arcadia University, was that of Harold Underdown, former editor and now a freelance editorial consultant and creator of The Purple Crayon blog. He spoke on “The New Crop: Children’s Books in Digital Times.” I’m very interested in the future of book publishing in this fast-paced, technology-driven world. Underdown spoke about e-book sales, pointing out that they have been interesting enough to watch for about ten years now, but are just now coming into their own – the bright spot in a down market. That’s largely thanks to Amazon’s Kindle. Amazon has targeted heavy readers with Kindle – not techie geeks. They also kept the price for books on the Kindle artificially low — that is until publishers balked about a year ago, but by then, of course, they had a growing audience.

Underdown believes that e-books and audio books are just another way into books for certain readers. I know I am a complete convert to the audio book format and I wouldn’t have predicted it. Now I understand that a good audio book can make the reading experience even more vivid. By listening to books while I drive, I also get to read lots more books and experience them in a whole new way. I suspect I might feel the same about an e-reader. Though I am usually what is known in technology parlance as a “late adapter,” I am seriously interested in exploring this new way of reading. Lucky that Christmas is just around the corner.

Harold Underdown worked at Macmillan, Orchard, Charlesbridge, and in educational publishing. He’s also the author The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Publishing Children’s Books, now in its third edition.

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