Sunday, April 24, 2011

3rd Annual Scarlet and Gray Conference

There are three pieces of advice I wish I could give every aspiring children's writer and illustrator.  Piece of advice number one?  Join SCBWI.  Got that?  JOIN SCBWI!  NOW!  You'll be glad you did, trust me.  Piece of advice number two?  Go to conferences!  As many as you can afford, as often as you can.  You never know who you will meet and what you will learn as you bask in the wisdom of publishing gurus.  And last, but certainly not least?  Get involved!  Why?  Well, just keep on reading to find out.    

The 3rd Annual Scarlet and Gray Writers and Illustrator's Conference was last weekend, hosted by my local SCBWI chapter.  I happily volunteered for our Conference Committee back when our event was just a tiny seed of an idea.  Not so long ago, my parents were telling me to "get involved with extra-curriculars," "add those activities to my resume" and "strive to become a leader" for the sake of my college applications.  (Perhaps you are giving your own kids/nieces/neighbors/paperboys/etc. the same advice.)  Well, guess what?  It applies to writing, too!  (So Mom and Dad weren't just nagging all those years...)  

Though the past few months have been A LOT of work, they've been a lot of fun, too, and given me once-in-a-lifetime experiences.  While participating in the orchestration of an astoundingly complex event, I got to meet authors as I procured donations (and some autographs!) for our attendees and get up-close and personal with our conference faculty.  And we had one awesome conference faculty including editors Heather Alexander and Krista Marino, agents Susan Hawk and Mandy Hubbard, author Rhonda Stapleton, illustrator Tim Bowers, and publishing pros Tanya Dean Anderson and Jeffrey Marks.  (Did I mention how awesome they were?)  As part of the Conference Committee, I got to spend extra time getting to know the faculty during our after-event dinners and unplanned after-dinner events.  (I won't go into details, but I will tell you these industry big-wigs can be delightfully goofy...)  I've been to my fair share of conferences over the years, but this is the first time I had the opportunity to get behind-the-scenes and form relationships with pros I would hardly have said two words to if I was in the usual peanut gallery of attendees.  I can tell you the last-minute meetings and trips to "Party City" searching for gift bags and sticky-back nametags was well worth it. :)

 So, have I convinced you to: 1) Join SCBWI! 2) Go to conferences! and 3) Get involved?  If not, here's a smattering of what I learned last weekend to entice you to jump into the pool of writing conferences.  (I would have liked to post these earlier, but with the tax-deadline at my day-job CPA office and the holiday weekend, I got a little sidetracked.  Better late than never!)

Breakout Session 1: Heather Alexander described the day in the life of an editor which includes a lot of work, a lot of stress and a lot of tea drinking.  (Not the relaxing kind, the me-need-more-caffeine-to-function kind.)  It was enlightening to see why our manuscripts sit around in stacks for months while we twiddle our thumbs impatiently, desperate for a response.  It's not that editors don't want to read them (which she assured us they certainly do), they just hardly have enough time in the day to tackle the to-do lists that get them their paychecks.  With all the last-minute meetings, sudden priority changes and slew of deadlines, it's a wonder the poor editors aren't zombies by the end of the day!

Breakout Session 2: Krista Marino spoke about the last books she acquired and why.  Quite a bit goes into the process of taking on a manuscript or project.  Not only does she have to find a manuscript she loves, but she has to make sure it isn't a copycat of something else on the market, determine if it is a book that will sell, and confirm it is not too similar to a book already on their house's list among a million other considerations.  She also talked about how here tastes can change from project to project, which is why she's a never-say-never sort of gal!  (Except when it comes to talking animals.  She said twice those books are NOT for her.  Too bad for me and my talking, four-legged, furry characters...)  Additionally, she spoke about how she acquires manuscripts including agent submissions, author recommendations and even conference critiques.  So don't despair--you're next conference critique could just land you a book deal!

Breakout Session 3: Susan Hawk went over the oh-so-complicated world of Query Letters.  (It is a tangled topic I'm still trying to chop my way through...)  She said the shorter it is, the better since she gets about 100 queries per week.  She recommends including what your story is about, who the main character is, his/her problem and a hook.  She also likes to see a brief bio and blurb about publishing credits.  Lastly, she likes it when authors show their excitement for their project in their query.  I've never heard an agent say that before, but it really hit home for me.  If you're ready to query, it means you've probably been working on your manuscript for quite some time, know it from the inside out, and still believe in it with every inch of your being.  Conveying that enthusiasm in your query letter will make the agent enthusiastic, too, (and want to see more!)  I don't know about you, but I'm still kid-on-Christmas-morning excited about my manuscript and will definitely work on including that enthusiasm in my query revisions!

Breakout Session 4:  Tim Bowers discussed his career as an illustrator and tips for emerging artists.  This was the first illustrator breakout session I've ever attended at a conference; the artist in me was ready to lap up some info after years of neglect.  (More of that re-emerging artist in a later post.)  Tim's art is beautiful and inspiring AND he loves talking animals. (Ah, a kindred spirit!)  He spoke about the process of book illustration from sketches to book dummies to a finished product.  Illustrators work just as hard as writers and must make changes to their art for editors and publishers just like authors must edit their words.  He recommends illustrators get an agent, too, and advised everyone to keep up the contacts they make over the years!  You just never know who will end up influencing your life in unexpected ways...

Am I overloading you on conference goodness yet?  And those were just the four breakout sessions I attended!  I'm not even going to go into the keynote address, my critique, or the wealth of knowledge my peers shared from the breakout sessions they attended!  If you couldn't attend the event, I hope my notes have been helpful and inspired you to attend more conferences (or even your first conference if you are new to the game.)  I may not be published yet, but I truly believe this advice will help you find the path to success.  

No comments:

Post a Comment