Monday, May 6, 2013

Picture Book Workshop #13: Conferences

I was going to write about query letters today, but since I attended the New England Chapter of the SCBWI conference this weekend, I thought I'd sing the praises of conferences and how they can really help you hone your craft and get published.

The first thing - the most obvious thing - is you're going to learn stuff.  Want to learn how to structure your plot?  There's a workshop for that.  What to write meatier characters?  There's a workshop for that.  Want to learn how to make a teacher's guide for your published picture book?  Guess what?  There's a workshop for that!

Natalie Dias Lorenzi doing a workshop on Writing Curriculum Guides.*

There are a ton of workshops at every conference.  Some are going to be better than others - it's reality.  Not everyone gives a FABULOUS workshop - but MANY do.  Over my 10 years of writing, I think I've only been to one truly awful workshop.  The woman kept scolding us because we didn't know some of the authors she was referring to.  "Know your history!" she kept saying.  I wanted to yell back, "That's why we're here!"  It's like scolding prompt people because someone else is late.  Silly.  

But that was ONE workshop - only one.  75% are going to be informative and another 20% are going to knock your socks off.

Now if you're like me, the problem is too much information.  I can't handle 2-3 day conferences.  I have one day of input in me, and the rest is just mush.  So I just went on Sunday.  And I've also learned how to choose workshops that are going to work for me.  I like specifics.  If a subject is too broad, like "Plot," I probably won't get much out of it.  But if it's "How to raise the tension in a middle grade mystery" - that's the ticket!  There's going to be really specific advice in that one.  But some people can handle swimming in a 3-day event no prob.  You just have to learn what works for you.

OK - I could go on and on about the workshops, but that's only one part of a conference.

There's also NETWORKING.

I suck at networking.  I do.  No lie.  I have a hard time with small talk.  I have a hard time caring about what someone says if I don't, in fact, care.  I sometimes wish I could be like one of those people who really finds strangers fascinating and asks all sorts of questions and really cares about the answers.  But what I really wish is that everyone wore a tag with the top 5 things they like to talk about on their neck. 

Then you can find those people and slip into an easy conversation.  That would be awesome, right?! 

But, if one is starting out, it is good to go and try to meet people.  Try to find people who illustrate or write picture books, or have some kind of interest in common and maybe make a connection.  Maybe someone can tell you about a writer's retreat that is very cool, or a new book on craft that is blowing their mind. 

Take business cards if you have them.  You might be handing a few out and collecting some of your own.

Here's the biggest and best thing about conferences if you're pre-published: ONE-ON-ONE's.  Maybe you've signed up for a one-on-one manuscript critique with an agent or maybe you're meeting with an art director to go over your portfolio.   Whatever you're doing, you've signed up ahead of time and have something polished to show.  A professional is going to give you some personal information catered only to you and your work.  That is soooooo worth it, even if they don't like you.  (Which isn't usually the case.)

Here's the Best that can happen: An editor loves your picture book manuscript and wants to take it back to the office to an acquisition meeting.

Here's what's likely to happen:  Someone gives you good, solid feedback about what works about your piece and what doesn't.  Maybe they throw out some ideas as to how to increase the humor or deeped a character's motivation.

Here's the Worst that can happen: An editor has no idea what your story is about and can't give you any good information.

Now, this last one has happened to me, but it wasn't a waste.  It's always good to get your stuff in front of a professional's eyes.  If you get NOTHING else out of the experience, you're still getting the experience.  And it's good to get some rejections.  You need to build up your tolerance, b/c it's rough out there.  

But you know what happened when I was upstairs having an editor ask me what a ninja was?  An agent was downstairs looking at my portfolio.  That agent became my agent.  And that ninja book that the editor didn't like became my first published book, Wink the Ninja Who Wanted to Be Noticed

Conferences are a good way to get out of your shell and say hello to the world of publishing, whether you're a brand new beginner, someone on the verge of publication, or have a few books under your belt. 

*Natalie Dias Lorenzi wrote a lovely middle-grade book, Flying the Dragon, about a Japanese boy who moves to America and has to learn to adapt to this new culture while his Japanese-American cousin has to learn to embrace the Japanese side of herself.  Check it out.


Becky said...

Julie, I have been attending SCBWI conferences for almost 10 years now, and every single one has been extremely beneficial. I am so glad you enjoyed your conference weekend! I love your story of how your agent found you!

Julie_c said...

Thanks so much, Becky. I'm glad you get so much out of the conferences!

KatieC said...

I definitely know what you mean about networking. I stink at it and often envy those who don't! LOL I will be attending my first SCBWI conference (locally) in October. Can't wait!

Natalie Lorenzi said...

Thanks so much for the shout-out, Julie. Having breakfast with you and my fellow Lit Wits was one of the conference highlights for sure. :-)