This past Saturday I attended a fabulous conference — the annual SCBWI Prairie Writer’s and Illustrator’s Day at Harper College in Palatine, IL. (Okay, I might be slightly biased because I’m on the conference planning committee, but all the attendees I spoke with were thrilled with the event!)

The theme of this inspiring one-day conference was “Opening Doors.” SCBWI Illinois Co-Regional Advisor, Debbie Topolski started off the day in her own exciting way — with clever “Knock-Knocks”, “Ding-Dongs”, and “Slams!”

So I thought I’d open up a door for Picture Book Builders and share a few memorable quotes and tips from some of the fabulous conference presenters.

Faculty Panel

2017 faculty with PWID committee

Joe Cepeda, Author/Illustrator extraordinaire (who started off the day with an inspiring keynote):

“The quicker you run to research, the quicker you run from pure invention. Defer to pure invention first.”

“Are you willing to let go, be free, and let the story sweep you away?”

“Are we willing to listen to what is uncomfortable?”

Joe Cepeda

Caitlyn Dlouhy, Vice President, Editorial Director, Caitlyn Dlouhy Books:

“If something is clunky, not smooth, or forced in your manuscript it usually means you’ve lost your Voice.”

“You don’t have to worry about your character if you have your voice.”

“I’ll get goosebumps if the voice is great,”

Caitlyn Dlouhy

Alex Arnold, editor at Katherine Tegen Books:

“The willingness to revise & a spirit of collaboration is key to a successful book.”

“The magic of reconstruction can only happen if you’re open to it.”

“If the voice has pulled me in from the 1st page, I’m going to want to fight for the book.”

Alex Arnold

Kelly Delaney is an Associate Editor at Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers:

“1st draft is for the writer, 2nd draft is for the editor and the 3rd draft is for the reader.”

“Revision is not an attack on your book.”

“Your hero is only as strong as the villain he/she overcomes.”

Kelly Delaney

Susan Hawk, agent at Upstart Crow

“Make yourself stand out — agents read thousands of queries.”

“There’s the writer part of you and the business part of you…and you have to keep both parts alive.”

“The Universal experience is felt through the specific. Small particular moments.”

Susan Hawk

Tanusri Prasanna, agent at Foundry Literary + Media

“Diversity should matter to everyone.”

“37% of US population are people of color. 11% of Kidlit in last 2 decades features multicultural content.”

“Diversity in children’s books is very personal to me.”

Tanusri Prasanna

Hannah Ehrlich, Director of Marketing and Publicity at Lee & Low Books

“Even when a book is needed, it still takes work to find it’s audience.”

“Someone is out there to advocate for your book. It’s all about getting your book into the right hands.”

“Create a great 1-liner about your book.”

Hannah Ehrlich

AND Hannah also shared one other helpful marketing tip:  Revise/reuse content for different media platforms. So that’s what I did! This post contains some of my favorite quotes from the conference.

Hopefully one (or more) will be just the right key to open a new door for you!

Debbie Topolski, Alex Willan (Illus. Contest winner), and Darcy Zoells

Janet McDonnell and Lisa Bierman











Throughout the day I heard many wonderful comments about two faculty: Merial Cornell, owner and founder of Cornell & Company who represents illustrators and author/illustrators, and Karen Kohn, Senior Art Director for Cricket Magazine. They spent most of their time providing individual feedback to artists on their portfolios. Unfortunately,I didn’t hear their insights to share.

Merial Cornell

Karen Kohn

PS Hope to see you at next year’s Prairie Writer’s & Illustrator’s Day!

Photo Credits: The fabulous Terri Murphy and Anitra Rowe Schulte
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Suzanne Slade

Suzanne Slade is the author of more than 100 books. A mechanical engineer by degree, she enjoys writing about science topics and fascinating historical figures. Recent books include: SWISH! The Slam-Dunking, Alley-Ooping, High-Flying Harlem Globetrotters, A Computer Called Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Helped Put America on the Moon, The Daring Dozen, Countdown: 2979 Days to the Moon, Astronaut Annie, Out of School and Into Nature: The Anna Comstock Story, Dangerous Jane, The Music in George's Head: George Gershwin Creates Rhapsody in Blue, The Inventor’s Secret, and Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks. Coming soon -- MARS IS, JUNE ALMEIDA VIRUS DETECTIVE! THE WOMAN WHO DISCOVERED THE FIRST HUMAN CORONAVIRUS, THE UNIVERSE AND YOU, and TBA titles from Calkins Creek, Peachtree, and Random House. Learn more about Suzanne and her books at:


  1. Thanks for sharing these great quotes and your experience!

  2. Thank you for sharing these wonderful pearls of wisdom with the rest of us. Wish I could have been there!

  3. Thank you! Loved this peek inside the conference and the inspirational quotes!

  4. Love this – your post shines a nice spotlight on this conference with the inspiring quotes!

  5. Sounds like an inspiring conference, Suzanne. Thanks for sharing some of it!

  6. Thank you for sharing such inspiring and wisdom-filled quotes from the conference!

  7. I’ve attended this once. I’d love to go again!

  8. I was fortunate enough to attend this great day! And it was as fabulous as you described!! I learned a ton! Thanks for your great planning!

  9. This is such a beautifully run event with a kick-ass team!! Looks like you did it again. Thanks so much for sharing these nuggets with us!

  10. Thank you for sharing. Great quotes.


  12. That sounds like so much fun! And inspiration! Thanks for including us. 🙂

  13. Wow! Sounds like a fantastic day! Thank you for the synopsis. Hope to join you all there someday.

  14. I was there! And it was wonderful!

  15. Thanks for sharing your conference with all of us, Suzanne. SCBWI conferences rock!!!

  16. Wow! Great job, Suzanne! It looks and sounds like a huge hit!

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