About ten years ago one of my writing group cohorts gave me sound advice: “If you want your writing to go somewhere, you need to go to writing conferences.” I immediately started listing reasons why I shouldn’t go: time, cost, distance, and of course, intimidation factor. She countered with a shrug. “Find a way.”
And so I did. I budgeted time and money, carpooled, and found solace in attending with my writing group buds. I absorbed, networked, and came away revitalized.
Since that first Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators conference I try to attend a conference of some sort once a year. My favorite one was at Chatauacqua hosted by Highlights magazine. For a week we learned the business of writing from some of the best children’s writers in the business, shared meals together, and received one on one conferencing. I sold a story, “Daddy’s Truck” to Highlights out of that experience. In fact it comes out this month in High Five.
This weekend I attended my seventh (or nearly so) SCBWI conference. Even though it’s closer and costs less than my first one, I’m getting more for money because I’m learning more.
For one, listening to our keynote speakers, two agents and an editor, writing for children is a tough business and a very fulfilling one. As writers for children we encourage, impress, enliven, challenge, motivate, comfort, entertain, and so much more with our words. Our impact remains into adulthood with all of us treasuring at least one favorite title, a favorite author that we will pass on to the next generation.
I also learned that the children’s publishing field is very particular. Agents, editors, and publishers have their preferences and knowing those preferences makes a difference between a manuscript languishing in the slush pile and receiving a contract.
One very important takeaway from this conference is that my polished manuscript, the one I thought the editor I conferenced with would be so impressed she would pull out a contract and sign me up, needs work. Not a discouraging amount, but enough to get me back into revising mode once again.
Maybe in an upcoming conference or two, I’ll be up front at the long table with the authors instead of at the round ones with the hopeful writers. In the meantime I’ll keep attending, keep absorbing, continue revising, and checklist the chicken salad as my lunch preference. It was almost as good as the conference.