It hit me today for real: Friday I will be at the SCBWI Western Washington Conference in Redmond, helping to set up and then attending the fiction intensive with Matt de la Peña. KidLit drink night will follow and the next day the conference begins in earnest, two days of listening, note taking, conversation, food and discussion, new books, inspiration and the sure knowledge that everyone in the room – hundreds of people – care about the things I care about: children, words and pictures, and the magic thing that all three can make together.
The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators has an unwieldy name and an awkward acronym but the heart of the organization is startlingly awash in love. This is not a metaphor. SCBWI is the booster club for boosters. You need a team? This is it. You want to take on the impossible? Meat and drink to this bunch. Got a dream? Big? Little? Be prepared to be surrounded by those who believe you can make it happen. Seasoned they may be. Hardened? Maybe a little. These people are making books for children and young adults in a time where the bottom keeps falling out of publishing, and yet suddenly, unaccountably, the genre is experiencing a blossoming of sorts. So there is opportunity but there is also competition. You have to be more than competent, better than good. You have to be ready not only to create the work but to sell it yourself in a marketplace that’s a moving target. This would all be overwhelming if it weren’t for the fact that SCBWI was actually set up for its members to help each other make it through the process of writing, illustrating, placing the work with an agent, publishing, celebrating success and doing all that over and over again. So in coming to this or any other SCBWI conference you are coming home to your people. Right there, if you are new to SCBWI or to this conference, you will know yourself to be in a safe place where you’ll get hard but wise counsel. Also cookies.
Here is my strategy for conference survival, to help you flourish in your experience:
- New to the conference? Come to the main ballroom at 7:30 Saturday for newbie orientation. You’ll be welcomed, meet other newbies and a ton of people whose faces you will recognize over the next few days so you can ask questions or, you know, borrow a cup of sugar.
- Bring a notebook, tablet, laptop or audio recorder to take notes.
- Don’t worry about taking notes if you’re not a note taker.
- Sit at a table of people you don’t yet know at least once. Introduce yourself. Tell your story.
- Take one session that falls outside of your central subject thread for the conference. Everything connects.
- Let yourself take time out if you need to. Only so much room upstairs and there will be a LOT of information coming at you over the two days.
- Consider joining us in the fall for the professional series, once-monthly meetings with craft and professional development lectures.
- Have fun. If you don’t, what’s the point of it all?
- If you didn’t register in time, or couldn’t make it this year, start planning for 2013. That will be a great conference too.