Event Notes

Welcome to our Events Notes page.

Here you will find information of past events held by the SCBWI Long Island chapter.

"Show Me the Money: 8 Lessons from the Publishing P+L and How We Decide to Acquire Your Book" presented by Elizabeth Law / March 24, 2024

"Show Me the Money: 8 Lessons from the Publishing P+L and How We Decide to Acquire Your Book" with Ms. Elizabeth Law, Backlist and Special Projects Editor for Holiday House Books for Young Readers (www.holidayhouse.com). Presented at Huntington Public Library in Huntington, NY, on Sunday, 3/24/24. Notes by Maria Adcock.


Elizabeth Law's presentation covered the financial questions a publisher asks about authors’ books as well as contract questions writers often ask.



·        Margins are tight, so publishers are doing more work-for-hire assignments so they can keep the royalties themselves.

·        Publishers are doing more IP (intellectual property) to control the rights.

·        In picture books, SEL (social emotional learning) themes are still hot.

·        Subtitles are popular with publishers. Very descriptive subtitles are important for meta data which is what Amazon’s algorithm picks up. Example — Get Me out of This Book: Rules and Tools for Being Brave written by Deborah Cholette and Kalli Dakos.


CONTRACTS AND P&Ls (Profit & Loss Statements)

The Contract

·        Contracts protect both the publisher and the author.

·        Current hot topics:

o  Audio Narrator – Audio books are the biggest growth area. They do not cannibalize sales for published books. Publishers typically choose the narrator.

o  Art Approval – Publishers prefer to choose the illustrator and provide art direction.

o  Chat GPT – Many contracts stipulate that authors and illustrators cannot use AI.

o  Marketing/Sales – Publishers typically provide marketing and sales support though author and illustrator support is also encouraged.


The Publishing P&L

·        Elizabeth Law reviewed a sample P&L statement for a middle grade novel.

·        One of the largest expenses is print costs.

·        The P&L included line items such as estimated sales in years 1-3, returns, discounts, author advance, royalties, manufacturing costs, jacket art, marketing, and overhead.

·        When deciding how many copies to print, publishers look at factors such as what similar books have sold and the author’s past book sales.

·        It’s more financially problematic for publishers if popular authors with high advances do not earn out versus less known authors with lower advances.


Elizabeth Law runs a freelance editorial business at www.elawreads.com. Follow her on X (formerly Twitter) at @elawreads.

“Superior Second Pages: Because a Book Is More Than One Page Long” with Debbie Vilardi / December 17, 2023

“Superior Second Pages: Because a Book Is More Than One Page Long” with Debbie Vilardi, SCBWI PAL member and Executive Editor of Kid LIt News. Presented via Zoom on Sunday, 12/17/23. Notes by Maria Adcock.


Debbie Vilardi discussed the elements needed in the first two pages (or spreads) of your work and how to keep the reader engaged from there forward.


Elements Needed in the First Two Pages

·        Fiction – Character, problem, setting, hook, voice, promise to reader.

·        Nonfiction – Hook, format, mood and tone, promise to reader.


Art & Graphics

·        Art and graphics can provide cues for emotions, visual information, relationships, action, and sensory details.

·        Picture Book Fiction – Show, don’t tell. Let the art do its job.

·        Picture Book Nonfiction – Table, graph, or photo can be effective.


Details to Consider

·        Age appropriateness of the elements

·        The opening sets up the book

·        How to make the reader care

·        Relationship between characters and main characters to themselves

·        Setting

·        Appropriateness of the number of words allocated to elements

·        Matching of elements (e.g. pacing, tone, emotions)

·        Elements of the art adding to the story

·        When and where readers need information to understand the story

·        Villain is the hero of their own story or not?

·        Characters must serve unique purposes.


Examples Reviewed

·        "New Kid" by Jerry Craft (graphic novel)  

·        "Pride 123" by Michael Joosten, illustrated by Wednesday Holmes (concept board book)

·        "Tea Party Rules" by Ame Dyckman and illustrated by K.G. Campbell (picture book)

·        "China’s Tianzi Mountain" by Debbie Vilardi (nonfiction picture book)

·        "The Curse of the Were-Hyena" by Bruce Hale (middle grade)

·        "Iron Widow" by Xiran Jay Zhao (young adult)



Participants submitted manuscripts and/or art for review. For each, Debbie focused on one or two elements (e.g. tightening text, rhyming, word choices, emotions, etc.)

“First Pages & Presentation” presented by Sara E. Sargent / November 5, 2023

“First Pages & Presentation” with Sara E. Sargent – Senior Executive Editor at Penguin Random House - www.penguinrandomhouse.com. Presented at Huntington Public Library, Huntington, NY, Sunday, November 5, 2023. Notes by Barbara Senenman.

Senior Executive Editor’s Job: Days include meetings, emails, and connecting with people.

When looking at books to acquire, some questions asked are:

·        How long will it take to be ready?

·        Can it be tied to a particular season?

·        Besides seasons, is there a holiday to tie the books to? Poetry Month, Mental Health Awareness, Teacher Appreciation, Grandparent’s Day, graduation, etc.

Editors oversee the projects. They review marketing and publicity plans and talk with their teams internally to determine how to best position the book.

Sara Sargent’s First Page Feedback– Common Issues

Picture Books

·        Paginate your drafts so you can see illustration potential on each page or spread. Note if it’s too text heavy. Will the illustrations vary?

·        If stories are all dialogue, reader/listener could get confused with who is speaking.

·        Make sure the language in the PB is written for the younger reader.

·        Show don’t tell.

Rhyming stories

·        Don’t alter sentence structure or use unnecessary words to fit the rhyme. 

·        Don’t forget the story. The story needs to have an arc, characters a reader cares about, too.

·        Have someone read the story out loud and listen for places where they stumble.

·        Make sure your meters and beat are consistent throughout story.

Middle Grade and Young Adult

·        Make sure the voice of the characters matches the age of your story.

·        Ground the reader in sense-of-place before you dive into the action or dialogue.

·        Look for large amounts of exposition without breaking for dialogue.

·        Write characters that readers can relate to.

“The Long Haul: Going from Draft to Polished Manuscript” presented by Selene Castrovilla / October 28, 2023

“The Long Haul: Going from Draft to Polished Manuscript” presented by Selene Castrovilla, author and former SCBWI Regional Advisor – https://selenecastrovilla.com. The event was held at Huntington Public Library, Huntington, NY, on Saturday, October 28, 2023. Notes by Barbara Senenman.


Many aspects of writing are non-negotiable. How you execute them is negotiable, with a free-range within each. Know the rules and then adapt them to your unique style and voice.


Non-negotiable: You need tension – It keeps people reading. The problems, or tension, vary according to genre. In a picture book the tension could just be the want of the main character.

Negotiable: How you achieve that tension – There are no rules on how. “Keep rewriting until it sings.” Easier to have more to cut instead of having too little.


Non-negotiable: Make us care.

Negotiable: How you make us care – Plot doesn’t cause tension. Tension comes from character. You want readers to worry along with and about the character. The character(s) are part of the intricate plot. You must care about each character.


Non-negotiable: You need a narrative voice.

Negotiable: Your choice of narrative voice, POV – 2nd person is the most difficult. It’s hard to make people care from a distance. Same for omniscient.


Non-negotiable: Plot – Must have a beginning, middle, and end or else there’s no plot and it’s not a story.

Negotiable: Everything within the plot.

·        Plot comes out of character. Each character reacts to situations differently. They each have a need/want. The reasons they make those choices builds plot. Emotions are important.

·        Setting – How does setting relate to your story? Is it set in past, present, or future?

·        Place – For fantasy, create societal rules of the place. For realistic, rules already in place.

·        Tone (Comedy, tragedy, romance, etc.) – Be consistent with tone. Set up expectations.

·        Each character must have a distinct voice.

·        Rhythm – Story should be rhythmic like a song. Must flow with pauses for character so readers can breathe.


Non-negotiable: Sensory details – You must use them but don’t overuse.

Negotiable: Choose which sensory details to use – Put in between dialogue to cause reader to breathe. First write scene without details after characters pour their hearts out (dialogue). Make a list of every sensory detail that could be in the scene. Add sound, taste, touch, smell. Pick which suits the story best and in a unique way.


Non-negotiable: Precision of language

Negotiable: Which precise words to choose – Use words perfect for that person and situation.


Non-negotiable: Use active language

Negotiable: You pick that active language – Don’t use passive voice with is or was. Show don’t tell. Best specific words are perfect for your manuscript. Best details suit your voice and move story forward.


In nonfiction you still find active words, just as vibrant. Know what details to leave out. Not everything needs to be put in.


Overall Non-negotiable – Have fun with it.

"Evolution of a Book Cover" presented by Chad W. Beckerman/ August 26, 2023

Evolution of a Book Cover was presented by Chad W. Beckerman, agent at The Cat Agency Inc. and book designer, on Saturday, August 26, 2023. Notes were taken by Annina Wildermuth.


For his presentation, Chad W. Beckerman drew on his 13 years of experiences at Abrams as Creative Director. He also offered one-on-one portfolio/book dummy critiques after his presentation.


Basic Advice to Illustrators

•  Be mindful and understand how illustrators get hired.

•  Put subject matter that you are passionate about into your portfolio.


Book Cover Projects Discussion

Chad presented several book cover projects that he directed and how these covers evolved step by step.


•  Diary of a Wimpy Kid Series by Jeff Kinney – Discussed developing a theory of type design and use of color to set different books in a series apart.

•  Questioneers Series by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts – Highlighted the importance of finding that certain look with typography and the decision to use white background cover for all books because of illustrator’s style and eye for details.

•  El Deafo by Cece Bell – This book’s cover was inspired by the cover for Smile by Raina Telgemeier to be simple and eye catching.

•  Attack of the Fluffy Bunnies by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by Dan Santat – Chad discussed his direction to the illustrator: think of old movie posters.

•  The Terrible Two by Jory John and Mac Barnett, illustrated by Kevin Cornell – This was a 3-book series with first and second book covers developed on an unusually tight deadline.

•  Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews, cover art by Koby Chen - Chad noted his art direction for the cover but said it would take at least another hour to go through that one.


In response to a final question: Do you immediately come up with the cover with the illustrator? Chad replied: “The illustrator has been selected who will fit the feeling. I send information about the project but not necessarily notes and ask the illustrator: give me your thoughts. That keeps the creativity alive. Let’s do you first. If it doesn’t work then the director can step in and help.”