Tuesday, September 24, 2013

My recap on A Toolbox Workshop with Award-winning Author Christopher Cheng

The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) is a great organization. When I became a member in 2008, I had no idea of the depth of information or the assortment of wonderful people I would meet at their events or online.

Logo by Jessica Loy
As a member of the SCBWI Eastern New York division, I feel very fortunate to have Nancy Castaldo as Regional Advisor (and Barabra Wells before her). Nancy has brought and continues to bring numerous invaluable and cutting edge programs to our area. There are more events than the ones I will mention but I can only discuss the ones I've gone to. I was able to attend Lights, Camera, Action! Master Class on Plot featuring Award-winning Senior Editor Cheryl Klein last fall. What an intense day of learning! The year before that was the Mid-Hudson Valley Conference "Out of the Box" held in Fishkill. I still remember the Keynote Speech given by author Susan Campbell Bartoletti. Her words made such an impact on me. 

Last month, I was also able to go up to Hudson, NY, to sit in on A Toolbox Workshop with Award-winning Author Christopher Cheng. This is my (late) recap.

Christopher Cheng is an Australian author and board member of the SCBWI. He is overflowing with information and immediately put everyone at ease with his humor. As he opened his presentation with a brief history of his writing career, he told us he was "an overnight sensation." It took him "twenty-five years" to achieve that status. The morning session was spent on learning about marketing ourselves as authors or illustrators. "I spend more time being a business person than a creative person," he said.

While the group of attendees were privy to pictures of Mr. Cheng's creative space at his Australian home, I realized how fortunate I was to be a member of the SCBWI. How/where else could I learn about the ins-and-outs of the publishing business, hear about other people's experiences, and every other tidbit of info I picked up on that August day? The answer is easy: the SCBWI.

 In "Creating Books in the Digital Age" we saw how ebooks, enhanced ebooks, and book apps are here to stay. The publishing industry is "moving very fast" Mr. Cheng told us, while explaining that there is market for both printed and digital books. In order to write children's books we must first think like a kid and then remember that reading has to be fun. Technology is helping with the addition of things like interactive educational activities, sound effects, and narration. But, he stressed throughout the day, "You need a GOOD story FIRST."

Mr. Cheng speaks fast and I had no problem following since I have a habit of talking fast myself. I learned the steps to putting together a book trailer, saw examples of good trailers like Little Chicken's Big Day Out (and a few bad ones as well), and also found out about the author's own experience when one of his own books was made into a (not very good) digital version. "Be creative in the way you get the info out."

Lunch was up to the individual. Mr. Cheng was gracious enough to answer questions during the break. I went out with my friend and had a lobster roll at a barbecue restaurant down the street. The town of Hudson is quaint and is obviously experiencing a renaissance with its eclectic mix of stores, restaurants, galleries and antique shops. Sidewalks were filled with people shopping, going out to eat, or simply enjoying the warm, sunny day.

Back at the workshop, the remainder of the afternoon was spent on author trailers, marketing, websites, blogs, copyright, digital publishing, web hosting, and the importance of making connections and doing school visits. The author graciously answered all questions and reminded us that he is easily accessible via email. "The business side of being an author is getting your product out there," Mr. Cheng told us. After he signed his books for us, I left Hudson with pages of notes. The most important thing I learned that day was no matter how attractive our blogs may be or how cute our trailers are, the bottom line is as an author in today's changing market, we need to not forget the basics: we still "need a good story, well-written."

I thank both Chris Cheng for a memorable day and Nancy Castaldo for her tiredless dedication in continuing to bring SCBWI members affordable, incomparable events to our region. Writing and illustrating may be solitary crafts, but we need to continue learning while connecting with others who share our interests. The SCBWI and its hard working staff around the world enable members to partake of workshops, sessions, conferences and more so we can improve our craft, meet new people, and network. What's next for me? The Falling Leaves Master Class in Novels Weekend Retreat at the beautiful Silver Bay located in Lake George this November.

Chris Cheng signs my copy of his picture book, Python.

SCBWI Eastern New York Regional Advisor Nancy
Castaldo and Chris Cheng. 

Chris Cheng smiles so I can take his picture for
my blog. 

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