SCBWI Mid-Atlantic 2018 Fall Conference Saturday, October 20, 2018 – Day 2

It’s taken me a little while to digest everything that I have learned at the SCBWI Mid-Atlantic Fall Conference. This was my third regional conference and every year I learn so many new things about the children’s book industry, and every year it seems to be just what I need to know. This year was no different. Here are a few highlights of the day’s speakers:  

The event kicked off with introductions of the speakers and volunteers by our Mid-Atlantic Coordinator, Ellen Braaf. Up first was a panel of literary agents featuring Natalie Lakosil (Bradford Literary Agency), Cari Lamba (Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency), Sara Landis (Sterling Lord Literistic), and Shadra Strickland (Painted Word). This was a Q&A style panel with questions submitted by members before the conference. Sarah Landis had this important advice, “Know your character. I will put a book down if you don’t know your character.” Shadra Strickland suggested writing your story from a different angle if one way isn’t quite working and she stressed, as well, the importance of getting to know your character and knowing your character’s motivation. Why are you telling this story?  What do you want us to know?  Another important statement was “every scene should be vital”. Natalie Lakosil has a blog called Adventures in Agent Land that could be a valuable resource.


Literary Agents Panel

After the panel, we broke out into morning sessions. I attended the Illustrators Session with Shadra Strickland, and moderated by Joan Waites. This was an incredibly helpful and relaxed environment where illustrators could ask very specific questions. Both Joan and Shadra shared some important tips. Shadra suggested staying up to date when drawing characters, especially children. What are they wearing and what are they doing?  Would kids today do that or wear that?  One important and specific thing that I learned as an artist/illustrator was what to send when presenting a book for consideration. It’s best to submit the manuscript and 2 – 3 pages (spreads) of finished art and to have the whole book in line form or sketch form as a dummy ready to show if asked. Another promo piece suggestion is a character sheet showing one character with many different expressions. Shadra also suggested making sure that you are illustrating for the correct age group. For example, younger kids are drawn to large simple pictures. Don’t be afraid to creatively tag your illustrations on social media to get the attention of art directors. And yes, postcards are still a great way to get the attention of publishers!


Illustrator Break-out Session


Pat Cummings, Key Note Speaker

After a nice, filling lunch with lots of socializing and meeting fellow members, our key note speaker, Pat Cummings, gave an inspiring talk. Ms. Cummings is the author and/or illustrator of over 35 books and is a wealth of information. Her funny stories and anecdotes were perfect for us. Her speech was titled “9 Epiphanies: Lessons, Insights and Bumps in the Road…a Crib Sheet to Smooth Your Career Path”. One point that she made, that I loved, was “every story is fair game”.  “You can find stories everywhere in everyday life. “The only limit is your imagination,” she told us. 

The afternoon brought another break-out session. I attended the Picture Book Panel featuring Vashti Harrison, Jacqueline Jules, Ann Marie Stephens, and moderated by Lezlie Evans. The room was full and everyone listened intently to these three illustrators who shared amazing advice and tips. Ann Marie Stephens talked about pacing. “Kids are a great indicator of how a story is paced,” she advised. “Read out loud to yourself and to a kid. If a child is bored, then look at the pacing.” 

A few other pieces of advice that I noted were: 

  • It’s a good idea to make emotional scenes closeup scenes to show facial expression
  • Start with action
  • Give the illustrator space to do their job and to add to the story, there’s no need to be overly descriptive in a  picture book 
  • Make a picture book dummy
  • Do your research before sending out a query
  • When writing a query, be authentic and witty if that’s what you are, and follow direction if given

Editor’s Panel

The day wrapped up with an editor’s panel featuring Kwame Alexander (Versify), Elise Howard (Algonquin), Rachael Stein (Sterling), Mekisha Telfer (Roaring Book Press), and was moderated by Mary Quattlebaum. This year was a little different, as a few brave SCBWI members submitted the first and last pages of their works-in-progress for the panel to give their “yes, no, or maybe” with follow-up explanations. The  stories were read by actor and author, Holly Vagley, who made them incredibly enjoyable!

Another important part of the conference for me was the manuscript review. This is an additional option that costs a little extra but I find it highly useful. It’s an opportunity to hear specific feedback from an industry professional. This year I submitted a picture book that I’ve written and illustrated and that I’ve been seeking to get published.  My reviewer was author and illustrator, Vashti Harrison. We sat down for a 15 minute review, and she gave me some wonderful feedback and suggestions on my book.


Overall, I highly recommend a regional SCBWI Conference (especially our Mid-Atlantic one!) if you’re interested in the children’s book community. It’s a valuable experience and well worth it.

Some other resources I learned about: Literary Rambles, and the Graphic Artists Guild

My homework: Some things that I’ll be exploring over the next few months are Story Arc, Character Voice, and Picture Book Pacing. I’ll also be heading to the library to check books by authors and illustrators that I heard mentioned at the conference.

SCBWI Mid Atlantic Fall Conference – Day 1

Today I attended Day 1 of the Fall Mid Atlantic SCBWI Conference. I had the pleasure of attending an intensive workshop lead by author and illustrator (and so much more!) Pat Cummings. With over 30 children’s book under her belt, she is a wealth of information for those like me who are just starting to navigate the world of kid lit. The main message that I took away from the 3 hour class was don’t be discouraged and do what you’re passionate about; just be you.  While, yes, there are many unspoken “rules” to discover in the industry, sometimes you just have to forge ahead and try to take advice from those who’ve learned these lessons already (like Pat Cummings). I also learned to RESEARCH, RESEARCH, RESEARCH!  Find those publishers and editors that match you and what you believe in. While there are many industry standards, there’s also room for new and exciting ideas, creative superstars and just ordinary people who are passionate about making books for children. All of this can happen but not without plenty of hard work. Below are some resources that Ms. Cummings mentioned today. 

Children’s Book Council:

AAR – Association of Authors Representatives, Inc. (for contract help):

The Authors Guild:

Society of Illustrators:

New Online Store!

Just announced – Looking for artwork that’s not only different and unique, but positive and affordable?  Check out my new online business: Hawk & Vine Design!  Featuring artwork by me, Patricia Kouttab. Hearts, flowers, butterflies and the occasional skeleton, there’s something for everyone. Thank you, fans, for your support!  The link:


Arts Alive! Festival on September 16, 2018

CANCELLED!  – Due to the impeding weather from Hurricane Florence the event has been cancelled. Hopefully it will be rescheduled and if so, I will let you know!

I will be at the annual Arts Alive! festival this year sponsored by the Prince William County Arts Council. Come out to see visual artists like me, theatre, music and more!  I’ll be selling some of my latest paintings as well as all three of my coloring books.

1:00 to 5:00pm on Sunday, Sept. 16 at the Hylton Performing Arts Center, 10960 George Mason Circle, Manassas VA 20110

“The Tall Lillies” by Patricia Kouttab, acrylic on canvas 14″ x 18″



Searching for Publishing Options

I’ll be honest with you, I’ve just begun my search for an agent or publisher for my first children’s picture book and I’m feeling pretty discouraged. I’ve only sent queries to three agents and three publishers in the past 2 months. I’ve been extensively researching each company or agent, as I’ve read you’re supposed to do, but at this rate it will take years just to get any response at all. I know, I know, that’s how the industry is but the entrepreneur in me is kicking and screaming to get the book out to the public. Even if I found an interested publisher, I know the process could take a very long time, years even.ResearchSketchSo, while I continue my search for a publisher or agent, I’ve decided to research the self-publishing industry. I already have three self-published coloring books through Amazon’s CreateSpace. While this works well for black and white books, it’s not cost effective for color. It’s a great way to start if you’re printing black and white and you’re low on funds because it’s a print-on-demand service with no upfront costs. On the down side, there’s no support for marketing or distributing from Amazon and I’m still trying to figure out how to get the books noticed by shoppers on Amazon. I’ll be looking into different options for self-publishing over the next few weeks and I’ll share what I find here with you. 

The Search Begins…

I’ve been wanting to become a children’s book author and illustrator for… well, let’s just say it’s always been in the back of my mind, maybe even subconsciously as a very young person. Now it’s in the front of my mind and has been for the last 3 years.  It’s what I really want to be when I grow up (I’m 41).  I finally have a book that I’ve written and illustrated that the perfectionist in me says, “It’s ready and more than good enough-it’s great!”  Of course, I still have my doubts but I also feel that it’s time. “It’s time, Patricia!” It’s time to get out there and try to get published. I’m going to share my journey with you here, wherever it may lead. I’ve honestly been studying the children’s book industry for the past couple of years. I’m a member of the SCBWI and I’ve attended some wonderful conferences and met amazing writers and illustrators and people just like me who want to succeed. I go to the library and check all the award winning picture books and hot new artists and writers. Now that I’m more familiar with the industry (although I’m pretty sure I’ve just scratched the surface), I’ve started researching agents and publishers. I’m going to send out queries and see what happens. Not all at once!  Because you’re not supposed to do that but to those people or agents who I feel I could connect with and who my book may fit with. If that doesn’t work well, on to the next blog post. My book is called “The Griffin” and here’s a tiny glimpse of it (very tiny). Wish me luck!


Holiday Window Painting

Every year around Christmas I am asked to paint some fun holiday decor on the windows of the restaurant Whitlow’s on Wilson in Arlington, Virginia.  Customers who see me painting are so friendly and intrigued. I love when they stop to talk to me!

I never really know what I’m going to paint ahead of time and luckily Whitlow’s trusts me to come up with something great. This year I painted festive snow people. Local news site, ArlNow, snapped a photo of me while I was painting.

This year I was asked to paint windows on two other local restaurants.  At Ireland’s Four Courts in Courthouse in painted the windows with festive garland and a nutcracker holding an Irish flag. For RedRocks of Old Town Alexandria I painted garland and “Happy Holidays”.  With lights around the inside of the windows it really looked great in the evening.