Saturday, August 31, 2013

2013 SCBWI WIK Fall Conference Blog Tour: Michelle Poploff

I couldn’t be more pleased to host my brilliant editor Michelle Poploff on the blog for the 2013 Writing and Illustrating for Kids (WIK) Conference Blog Tour. Michelle is the Vice President and Executive Editor at Delacorte/Random House Children's Books, and I (along with fellow Southern Breezer Donny Bailey Seagraves) am proof positive that she truly does acquire manuscripts from conference submissions. Michelle bought my recently published historical middle grade EVERY DAY AFTER following an SCBWI conference I attended in Nashville in fall of 2011. She also acquired Donny’s wonderful middle grade novel GONE FROM THESE WOODS after the 2007 Southern Breeze Springmingle Conference in Atlanta.   

Here's a bit about Michelle:

In recent years Michelle has acquired manuscripts from attendees at several SCBWI conferences, and two of those debut books are being published this year (mine and Kit Grindstaff's THE FLAME IN THE MIST)

Among the many award winning books she has edited are the 2011 Newbery Award Winner MOON OVER MANIFEST, Newbery Honor Winner HATTIE BIG SKY, Coretta Scott King New Talent Award Winner BRENDAN BUCKLEY'S UNIVERSE ANDEVERYTHING IN IT, and 2012 Morris Debut Award Finalist PAPER COVERS ROCK. Michelle also works with Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, Stacey Jay, and many other talented writers. She is always on the lookout for top drawer manuscripts with a strong authorial voice in middle grade and YA fiction. 

Welcome, Michelle! Let’s dive right in. You’re a big supporter of the SCBWI and frequently seek out new talent at SCBWI conferences. In your opinion, what makes this organization so special?

The SCBWI is a terrific organization in that it brings together published & aspiring writers, editors, agents, illustrators and more while providing current news about the ever-changing publishing world.  It's a win-win situation for all concerned when publishers get the opportunity to visit state and regional chapters and interact with writers informally and for critique sessions. There's always the chance that we will make a connection that wouldn't have been possible otherwise. I'm always looking to acquire exceptional new writing talent, and the SCBWI conferences provide the potential for making that happen.

You will offer two sessions at the WIK conference this October. Your “Bring it on Birmingham” session will give attendees the chance to pitch their manuscripts on the spot. What makes a successful pitch?

Before a writer makes a verbal pitch, it's a good idea to practice out loud in front of others.  Try to be as succinct as possible, as if you are pitching your story in an elevator and have about 30 seconds to give the main idea.  It's important to include in the overview a sense of the main character, the time, place & setting, as if you're drawing a picture with your words.  At this conference, the writer will also be reading the first page of the manuscript, so I will be hoping to hear the voice of the character that's going to drive the story,  & captured by the sensory appeal of the surroundings. I want to be hooked by the writing in terms of conflict, intriguing details, or something that stands out about the character that will encourage me to keep turning the pages.

Your “The Write Place” workshop will expand on ways authors can mine personal memories and family history for the inspiration they need to write a unique story. You frequently acquire books that have been inspired by the author’s life or family history. In your opinion, what sets this type of book apart from the competition?

Obviously each family has its own unique background and history. I find there's so much heart and beauty in stories when there is a family connection even if it's just a small thread or not a particularly happy circumstance.  For me it's a sincere special ingredient that never feels forced due to the writer's personal connection even if it's generations later. But as in every book, no matter what the subject matter, it's all in the actual telling of the story.

If you’ll allow us a peek behind the doors of an imprint at a Big Six (or is it Big Five now that Random House and Penguin have merged?), what process do your post-conference submissions go through? Must they pass through a first reader or do they go straight to your desk? In general, how far into the evaluation do you get before you know if something is a good fit for you?

For purposes of post conference, the submissions are sent directly to me. I ask for a synopsis and the first 3 chapters to be sent by regular mail. If I'm intrigued, I'll ask to see the rest of the manuscript. I won't make a decision until I have read the manuscript in its entirety.

What are you looking for when evaluating a manuscript? What hooks you?

What hooks me is a combination plate of the character's voice, the details, the setting, the conflicts, and how the main characters grow and change as the story progresses.  There has to be something special that attracts me to the character, something that sort of says "join me on my journey."  I want to believe in the character, who will be flawed to be sure, but there needs to be an ingredient in the writing that pulls me along page by page and hopefully future readers will want to travel along as well. Unfortunately we can't bottle that ingredient as it varies from book to book.

And now, the question I’ve wanted to ask you for oh-so-long. You’ve received two calls notifying you that books you edited had been recognized by the Newbery committee: one call for Hattie Big Sky (2007 Newbery Honor) and the other for Moon Over Manifest (2011 Newbery Medal). Could you talk a bit about where you were and how you reacted when those calls came? Inquiring minds want to know! 

Sometimes I'm at the Midwinter ALA in the early morning when the committees call the publishers, but in the cases of Kirby Larson's HATTIE BIG SKY and Clare Vanderpool's MOON OVER MANIFEST I was in the office when my colleagues called shouting out the sensational news. There was plenty of cheering on both ends and I couldn't wait to call the authors and cheer some more. We watched the press conference online, but Kirby Larson had the incredible opportunity of being at the press conference when HATTIE BIG SKY was announced as the conference took place in her hometown of Seattle that year! Much more happened of course, flurries of emails, phone calls, and celebrations throughout the year.

And now for a Speed Round:

*Favorite book?

It's hard to name one overall favorite, but a standout is COLD SASSY TREE by Olive Ann Burns.

*Place you’ve always dreamt of visiting but haven’t been? 


*Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights?

Jane Eyre

*Chocolate or vanilla?


And that does it. Thank you so much for participating in the WIK blog tour, Michelle! It was such fun interviewing you, and I must give an emphatic “ditto!” to your responses on the last two Speed Round questions. See you in Birmingham come October!

Michelle is just one member of the impressive faculty lined up for this year’s conference on October 12th. WIK is a great place to get inspired, get tips on your craft, and learn about the business of children’s publishing. It’s also an opportunity to meet editors, agents, and an incredibly supportive network of working writers and artists. The Southern Breeze region of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) hosts this wonderful annual conference. I hope you’ll make plans to attend!

To find out more or to register, visit

Want to meet other members of the conference faculty?  Follow the 2013 WIK Blog Tour:

Aug. 28            Author Matt de la Peña at Stephanie Moody’s Moodyviews
                         Editor Lou Anders at F.T. Bradley’s YA Sleuth

Aug. 29           Author Doraine Bennett at Jodi Wheeler-Toppen’s Once Upon a Science Book
                        Author Robyn Hood Black at Donny Seagraves’blog

Aug. 30            MFA program director Amanda Cockrell at ElizabethDulemba’s blog
                        Illustrator Prescott Hill at Gregory Christie’s G.A.S.

Aug. 31           Author Heather Montgomery at Claire Datnow’s Media Mint Publishing blog
                        Editor Michelle Poploff at Laura Golden’s Just Write

Sept. 3             Author Nancy Raines Day at Laurel Snyder’s blog
                        Author Jennifer Echols at Paula Puckett’s Random Thoughts from the Creative Path

Sept. 4             Editor Dianne Hamilton at Ramey Channell’s The Painted Possum
                        Author Janice Hardy at Tracey M. Cox’s A Writer’s Blog

Sept. 5             Author / illustrator Sarah Frances Hardy at Stephanie Moody’s Moodyviews
                        Agent Sally Apokedak at Cheryl Sloan Wray’s Writing with Cheryl

Sept. 6             Agent Jennifer Rofe at Cathy Hall’s blog
                        Author / illustrator Chris Rumble at Cyrus Webb Presents