Society of
Children's Book Writers
and Illustrators

2019 Spring Writer’s Retreat

Our Spring retreat is unfortunately filled and therefore closed! However, we usually get cancellations, so it is worth adding your name to the wait list (last year we got a cancellation a week before the event so be patient and keep the weekend open on your calendar so you can take advantage if there is an opening!).

To add your name to the wait list please click here

2019 Spring Writer’s Retreat

Middle Grade & Young Adult

Tahquitz Pines in Idyllwild

April 12 – 14, 2019

As you write your novel, do you feel lost in the woods? Are you in need of a compass to guide you? Does your story need more adventure? Well strap on your boots and join us for a weekend retreat in the scenic mountains with guidance from professionals and fellow writers. Our “camp leaders” include:

Pam Gruber, Senior Editor Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Erika Turner, Editor- Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Trade

Kari Sutherland, Agent at Bradford Literary Agency

Jennifer Azantian, Agent at Azantian Literary

Deborah Halverson, Published author, freelance editor 

To spruce up our manuscripts, attendees will participate in four critique-group sessions lead by an editor or agent, hear speaker presentations on manuscripts that caught their attention, and mingle with the editor, agent, authors during meals and a happy hour.

This three-day, two-night retreat includes lodging, meals, critique groups, speaker presentations, a sunrise hike, and writing time. Because we want to keep the critique groups cozy, we are restricting the number of attendees to 28. Attendees can also get a professional written critique of up to 10 pages of their manuscript before the conference. You may also sign up for a professional coaching session to discuss burning questions about your novel.

Written Critiques:

You may get a written critique of your work prior to the weekend so you can revise before the retreat. If you sign up for a written critique, please email 10 pages of your manuscript and one-page synopsis to by March 4, 2019. Your manuscript must be saved as Word, double-spaced, Times New Roman, one-inch margins, and must have a header with your name and page numbers. The synopsis may be single-spaced, one-page, one-inch margins. We will email the critique back to you one-week prior to the weekend retreat.

Professional Coaching:

Are you stuck on an aspect of your story? Need to deepen your character? Make your plot more compelling? Create a synopsis or pitch that’s irresistible? You can sign up for a 1:1 15-minute coaching session with Deborah Halverson, published author, former editor, and professional freelance editor. Bring your questions to the private consultation with her.

Faculty Bios

Kari Sutherland, Agent at Bradford Literary Agency

Kari Sutherland joined the Bradford Literary Agency in 2017 after a decade of experience in publishing from the editorial side. Previously a Senior Editor at HarperCollins Children’s Books, she has worked with bestselling and critically acclaimed authors on projects such as the #1 New York Times bestselling Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard and the #1 New York Times bestselling Pretty Little Liars series by Sara Shepard. She graduated from Williams College with a B.A. in English and Psychology, which she considers the perfect combination for working with authors on character and plot development. With her editorial insight and experience with the entire publishing process, Kari is passionate about helping to polish each manuscript and equip her clients for success.

Open to genres from picture books through adult, Kari is most interested in finding stories full of heart; ones that carry readers to faraway places or deep into a character’s mind; action-packed page-turners that surprise her; dark dramas with touches of humor; and, above all, a voice that leaps off the page. She is actively seeking diverse voices across all genres.

In children’s books, Kari is interested in character-driven stories, new twists on classic tales, empowering themes, epic fantasy, fresh voices and experiences, inventive mysteries, humor, and magical realism. She’s interested in nonfiction in picture books and middle grade and graphic novels for children of all ages.

In YA, which is near and dear to her heart, Kari is drawn to compelling voices, tight pacing, and clear world-building regardless of whether it’s a space drama, an underground dystopia, a small town, or a big city contemporary. She is open to any genre within YA.

Kari is interested in adult fiction including general fiction; upmarket women’s fiction; intergenerational tales; magical realism; historical dramas; and light-hearted contemporary fiction.

A firm believer that truth can be stranger than fiction, Kari is seeking nonfiction in the following categories: quirky topics; history and biography; pop science and psychology; humor; and parenting. Most important to her are a concrete platform, an engaging voice, and well-researched material that will broaden readers’ understanding of themselves, the past, and the world around them.

Kari is not seeking: horror, romance, erotica, memoir, adult sci-fi/fantasy, thrillers, cookbooks, business, spiritual/religious, poetry, or screenplays.


Erika Turner, Editorial Project Manager at Versify,

Imprint at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Trade Publishing


Erika Turner works on everything from picture books through young adult; she is especially interested in middle grade and YA. Her tastes include romantic comedies, sweeping fantasies, and thought-provoking science-fiction, especially with unusual or underrepresented protagonists. She has a soft spot for graphic novels. She is the editor of the forthcoming middle grade historical fantasy ANYA AND THE DRAGON by Sofiya Pasternack, out in Fall 2019 from Versify.


Pam Gruber, Senior Editor at Little Brown Books for Young Readers

Pam Gruber started at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers in 2008, and is a graduate of NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study where she created her own major of “imagery in folklore”—a concentration tailor-made for children’s book publishing and one that has inspired a love of graphic novels. Raised by two artists, she brings an inscrutable eye for detail to every book she edits and loves to be swept away by strong voices that have something to say. Over her years with LBYR, she’s had the pleasure to work with bestselling and acclaimed authors across every YA genre, fiction and nonfiction. Highlights include Kass Morgan’s The 100 series, former Paralympian Josh Sundquist’s Love and First Sight, and forthcoming works like Emily Lloyd-Jones’s horror-fairytale The Bone Houses, and Cecil Castellucci and Jim Rugg’s art-centric graphic novel The Plain Janes.


On those rare occasions when she doesn’t have her nose buried in a book, Pam can be found playing board games, experimenting in the kitchen, or exploring the nooks and crannies of Brooklyn.




Deborah Halverson, Published Author and Freelance Editor

Deborah Halverson spent a decade editing books for Harcourt Children’s Books before becoming the award-winning author of Writing Young Adult Fiction for DummiesWriting New Adult Fiction, the teen novels Honk If You Hate Me and Big Mouth, the picture book Letters to Santa, and three books in the Remix series for struggling readers. She has been working with authors—bestsellers, veterans, debut, and aspiring—for twenty years. Deborah is now a freelance editor, founder of the popular writers’ advice site, and advisory board member for the UC San Diego Extension “Children’s Book Writing and Illustrating” certificate program. She lives in San Diego, California, with her husband and triplet sons.

Jennifer Azantian, Agent at Azantian Literary

Jennifer Azantian graduated with a B.S. in clinical and developmental psychology from the University of California, San Diego where she was an executive editor for the Triton Psychology Report. She began her agenting career first as an intern and then as an assistant and associate at the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency. In 2014, she founded Azantian Literary where she focuses primarily on fiction for mg, YA, and adult readers. She is committed to guiding the careers of both new and established voices, particularly those who have been historically underrepresented. Whether a heartwarming contemporary, a speculative mystery, or a grand epic fantasy, she looks for the universal truths in stories that connect us all. You can learn more about her on the agency website: and probably far too much on Twitter: @jenazantian.  

Jennifer’s wishlist:

This is by no means exhaustive. I am always surprised by the stories that steal my heart!

  • Explorations of love, friendship, or familial bonds against fantastic backdrops
  • Obscure retold fairy tales
  • Women and girls in STEM
  • Quirky middle grade
  • Modernized mythologies
  • Psychological horror/thrillers with speculative elements
  • Literary and/or near-future science fiction
  • Historical fantasy
  • Magical realism
  • Internally consistent (preferably non-Medieval European) epic fantasy

Jennifer: Middle Grade

I’d love to find some creepy or spooky stories that are still age-appropriate like CORALINE. Stories that don’t forget how hard it was to be young but told with a whimsy that undercuts those hard times like in a lot of Roald Dahl’s work. Stories that dig into the deeper questions like A WRINKLE IN TIME and THE GIVER. Lyrical stories like THE GIRL WHO DRANK THE MOON. And well-written adventures like GREGOR THE OVERLANDER and HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE. I think the most difficult thing to get right in middle grade is remembering just how complex a time it was. I know a middle grade is hitting the right notes for me when, even if I’m loving the read, I have that subtle fear of never wanting to be twelve-years-old ever again!

Jennifer: Young Adult

The most important thing I’m looking for is a great voice (especially in MG and YA). Though I’m predominantly interested in stories with a speculative element, a recent master-class in incredible voice that is worth mentioning is THE HATE U GIVE. Another book that reminded me of being a teen and also touched on difficult topics, though I wish it went even further, was TURTLES ALL THE WAY DOWN. In SFF, I like well-crafted worlds like in STEELHEART and GRACELING, fresh takes on well-trodden tropes like in THE FIFTH WAVE and LEGEND, and beautiful, heartbreaking stories like THE BOOK THIEF. Young adult is also a prime place to explore those very real, yet heightened teen emotions. I think it may be my favorite age group for a psychological thriller with speculative elements or a good group mystery where something very weird is going on and the setting is viscerally engaging with the characters.