I recently attended a regional Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Conference — something I try to do every couple of years at least. While sitting at breakfast, a first-time attendee asked me, “So what do you get out of these conferences?” Uh… great question. Here is the answer I didn’t quite have time to give.
1) INSPIRATION!!! Children’s Book Writers are not like rock stars: you can actually meet your heroes. Most conferences draw nationally acclaimed writers to give keynotes and teach workshops. David Weisner, David Shannon, Christopher Paul Curtis, Nikki Giovanni, Andrea Pinkney, and Brian Pinkney are just a few of the author/illustrators I’ve seen up close at conferences. Along with the greats, many conferences also feature local “success stories” that are equally inspiring. And then there are all the attendees you will meet, all working on interesting things. In fact, there is so much good writer juju in the air at conferences that I often get ideas for new books just by being there.
2) Tips, exercises and insights for my current works-in-progress. Workshops are led by authors as well as editors and agents, and tips come from all directions. I especially like attending workshops on genres outside of my own — like filmmaking or horror-writng — to get fresh ideas for my work. One of the most unique workshops I attended was how to analyze your characters through the Seven Deadly Sins (by writer Roseanne Parry).
3) Agent/Editor Contacts. Most conferences allow you to pay extra for agent/editor “pitches” or critiques. Meeting an editor face-to-face is so much quicker than wading through the slush pile and can lead to future books deals. At the least, presenters often give preferential treatment to submissions from conference attendees.
4) Critique Group Contacts. My illustrator critique group — based in Portland — started after three of us met at a Los Angeles conference. Often you’ll meet writers who work more specifically in your genre to provide good long-distance critique.
I find conferences especially valuable when I’m out of the writing groove, when I’m thinking about a new manuscript (especially in a new genre), and when I’ve finished a manuscript and am ready to market. (And if you are a children’s writer, join your national and local SCBWI chapters at once!)