Here are some (hopefully) useful bits from the keynotes at the conference:
Stephen Fraser, a gentleman and a scholar
&emsp * Don't be apologetic in cover letters and queries; be confident. But be humble about your own abilities.
&emsp * Let your reader care about your main character. Don't just assume that they'll care right away -- give them something to ground the reader and make them care about your MC.
&emsp * "Get rid of anything banal." Bonus points from me to Mr. F for use of the word "banal," incidentally. "If it's not furthering your story, if it's not revealing your character, get rid of it."
&emsp * Write an "elevator pitch" for each of your books (2 minutes max.) And I particularly liked this little tidbit: "If you can't do an elevator pitch for your book, your book may lack focus.
Bruce Coville, tinker, tailor, soldier, spy
Or perhaps I should go with "guy who lies to children for money"
&emsp * Careful what advice you take. Everyone lies, and there's no magic bullet or formula for success. "Everyone is looking for the answer, and it doesn't exist."
&emsp * Children will listen to stories. They may not do as they're told, but they will listen.
&emsp * What the world needs now is more empathy -- and one way children learn empathy is by reading, because it allows them to see from another person's point of view.
&emsp * About writing fantasy -- there's a high entry price, because you have to get into the world you're creating. Part of what makes JK Rowling successful is that her "cool things per page" ratio is very high; she's created a world you can get lost in.
&emsp * "Writing is the art of choosing details." Sensory details pull you into the story.
For more writing tips from Bruce, check out his New! Improved! Better than Ever! Bruce Coville web page.
Sid Fleischman, biographer, humorist, writer, magician
&emsp * There is no one right way to write a book. Find a way that works for you.
&emsp * A book needs at least two ideas. A single idea is like having a single stick -- good to play fetch with, but little else. Two ideas, like two sticks, can start a fire.
&emsp * If you're working on a biography, be sure it's of someone you can live with for a good long while. (Having finished a book on Houdini, he briefly considered working on a bio of Poe, but decided having Poe around all the time would make him nuts. Look for his forthcoming biography of Mark Twain instead.)
For more tips on writing from Sid, check out his awesome website.