Welcome to Inkygirl: Reading, Writing and Illustrating Children's Books (archive list here) which includes my Creating Picture Books series, Advice For Young Writers and IllustratorsWriter's and Illustrator's Guide To Twitter, interviews, my poetry for young readers, #BookADay, writing/publishing industry surveys, and 250, 500, 1000 Words/Day Writing Challenge. Also see my Inkygirl archives,  and comics for writers (including Keiko and Will Write For Chocolate). Also check out my Print-Ready Archives for Teachers, Librarians, Booksellers and Young Readers.

I tweet about the craft and business of writing and illustrating at @inkyelbows. If you're interested in my art or other projects, please do visit DebbieOhi.com. Thanks for visiting! -- Debbie Ridpath Ohi

Entries in conferences (2)

Tuesday
Jul282015

Tips for SCBWI-LA conference newbies, second-timers, plus a CHALLENGE for the many-timers

(Updated version of a post I made earlier this year before the SCBWI-NYC conference)

I'm leaving this week for the SCBWI Summer Conference! If you haven't yet registered, you're out of luck....the conference is sold out. However, you can follow along virtually via the #LA15SCBWI hashtag on Twitter as well as the SCBWI conference blog.

Here's my updated SCBWI Conference Advice post for first-timers (as well as a challenge for the many-timers):

If you're a conference newbie who is nervous, I encourage you to browse my SCBWI Conference Newbie comics. I created these when I was a nervous newbie as well! So many people think I'm an extrovert, but I'm actually very much an introvert and was terrified (to the point of sweating palms, pounding heart, hating the idea of having go up and introduce myself over and over) about attending my first regular SCBWI conference back in 2009.

(Edit re: above comic: I did end up meeting Jay at the conference and he was really nice! And he didn't mention his Amazon ranking EVEN ONCE! Heh.)

I've posted advice for first-timers before and will post it again at the end of this piece, but now that I've attended other SCBWI annual conferences (and had my career jumpstarted because of the 2010 SCBWI-LA Conference), here is some additional advice I have for those who have attended more than once:

Don't get offended or disheartened if people you've met before don't remember you.

This is something I've learned from both sides. As a 2nd- and 3rd-timer (and so on), I've sometimes gone up to a person or group I've met and had my confidence deflated when it becomes clear they don't remember me at ALL from the previous year. My inner reactions ranged from embarrassment, humiliation, irritation, frustration and even brief anger ("I guess I'm just NOT IMPORTANT enough for xxx to remember!! Hmph.").

Having attended many times now, I've learned the following:

- I'm terrible at remembering people unless I've had multiple conversations or interactions with the same person.

- Even then, especially if I'm tired or am in a noisy crowd (remember what I said earlier about being an introvert?) or have met many new people in a row just before, I may still forget having met someone before.

I still accidentally re-introduce myself to people whom I've met before, sometimes whom I've met EARLIER IN THE CONVENTION. I'm always horribly embarrassed when this happens. 

Make sure your name badge is easily visible.

As Lee Wind points out in his helpful SCBWI blog post, having your name badge visible even at dinner or drinks afterward is an obvious visual clue to others that you're part of the tribe, and helps them remember your name as well. You can stash a few business cards in the back so they're handy.

Also, when I approach someone whom I've met before but with whom I don't have constant contact, I usually try saying something that will help remind them of our mutual context, or remind them of having met at xxx. Until I'm sure they actually do remember me, I try very hard NOT to put them on the spot (e.g. I don't say, "So, what did you think of my most recent post?" etc.).

When someone does this to me (subtly or unsubtly :-) setting the context and helping me remember), I immediately feel more at ease with them and am more likely to want to chat with them in the future.

Another tip: if someone DOES remember you, never assume that they're up-to-date on all your exciting news. I've had the occasional person react badly when they realize I'm not aware of their new book ("?? But I posted it all over Facebook!") I never assume anyone reads all my posts or keeps up with all my news. People have busy lives and different priorities.

Something else I've learned: even so-called Big Name authors, illustrators, editors, art directors and agents can be insecure. I am faaaar from being a Big Name, but having had a bit more experience at conference-going now, I also realize how some of the Big Name types who seemed standoffish to me actually weren't.

Be gracious, be forgiving and try very hard to assume the best about a person rather than the worst.

And I apologize ahead of time if I don't remember your name or re-introduce myself. :-\

And here some tips for first-timers who feel nervous about attending for the first time, or are normally very shy or introverted and dread the idea of having to meet a lot of new people:

1. Be brave and make the first move. You'd be surprised at how many other attendees feel exactly the same way as you do. Introduce yourself to people you sit beside, stand in line with, notice standing alone.

2. TAKE BUSINESS CARDS. Yes, even if you aren't published yet. We're all going to meet a lot of people over the weekend, and taking away a business card from an encounter or introduction will help the people you meet remember you. If you're an illustrator, take postcards to hand out or make sure a sample of illustration style is on your business card. When you receive a business card for someone, try to take a few moments after to write a few words to help remind you of the context.

3. Be sociable. Don't just attend the keynotes and scheduled workshops. Check out the informal activities listed in your program, like Yoga with Lori Snyder, the LGBTQ Q&A, the Illustrator Social, Nonfiction Social, International Member Social, Peer Group Critiques with Jim Averbeck, and Saturday night "Sparkle & Shine" gala. Also keep an eye on conference Twitter chat, where some meetup planning might happen ("Hey, who wants to chat? I'm in the lobby").

4. Have realistic expectations. Don't expect to be "discovered" at the conference. Instead, set achievable goals. These can be as specific as "I'm going to introduce myself to agent xxxx sometime during the weekend" or as vague as "I'm looking for inspiration to get back on track with my book" or even just "To try having some fun at the conference and then see what happens." I think of this type of event as an opportunity for planting seeds. There's no guaranteed outcome, but you never know what might come out of all those seeds you're planting as you meet people, attend talks, watching and listening and chatting. 

My own conference seeds have blossomed, directly or indirectly, into: friendships, inspiration for new projects, invitations to speak at events, book contracts, publishing industry info that helped guide my career decisions, learning about new techniques and tools, helping others get published, and SO much more. I continue to plant seeds, because I want to keep growing as a writer and illustrator, plus I'm also well aware how quickly the industry can change.

5. In my experience, you're much more likely to meet new people if you're alone. If you're always chatting and hanging out with the same person or people, you're not as approachable. I'm not saying that you SHOULDN'T hang out with people you like, of course! Just keep in mind that as a group, you're probably not going to meet as many new people as someone who is by themselves.

6. If you're on Twitter, write your Twitter handle on your name badge somewhere.

But most of all: TRY TO HAVE FUN. 

***** A CHALLENGE TO THE "MANY-TIMERS" OUT THERE ****

Try to remember what it was like when you attended your very first event, or how insecure you felt in the beginning. Then make it a personal challenge to find at least one lost-looking or nervous conference newbie who is sitting or standing alone. Introduce yourself, chat with them, find out what they're working on, perhaps (if appropriate) offer some advice.

Give good karma and it WILL come back to you.

RELATED POSTS AND RESOURCES:

Are You Entering The SCBWI-LA Illustration Portfolio Showcase? Here Are Tips For Before And During The Conference: my post on KidLitArtists.com last month

On SCBWI, Advice For Authors and Illustrators: from art director, Giuseppe Castellano.

Your Conference THRIVE-al Guide: A Dozen Tips For Four Days Made Of Awesome: by Lee Wind, on the SCBWI blog. 

Tips For Attending A Writing Conference: from YA writer, Valerie Lawson.

SCBWI Conference Tips For Newbies: from children's book illustrator, Heather Powers

Surviving Your First SCBWI Conference - by A.J. Cosmo

Tips For First-Time Conference-Goers: Children's Writers Edition: from McIntosh and Otis agent, Christa Heschke.

 

Wednesday
Aug152012

SCBWI-LA Takeaway #1: Don't expect everything to happen at your first conference. Experience breeds opportunity.

First morning of the conference.

Instead of trying to do a long report about the 2012 SCBWI Summer Conference, I'm going to do takeaways; it'll increase the possibility that I'll actually post them. :-)

So here's my first:

SCBWI-LA Takeaway #1: Don't expect everything to happen at your first conference. Experience breeds opportunity. 

At my first SCBWI conference (the first time I decided to start going regularly, that is), I didn't know anyone, or at least not very well. When I made the decision to go in 2009, I was WAY nervous about the possibility of going home feeling like I had wasted all that time and money. And yes, a tiny part of me couldn't help but secretly hope that HEY, maybe I'd be "discovered" and land a book contract.

While I enjoyed that conference, however, I didn't come home with a book contract. My manuscript critique had not gone well, and I couldn't help but wonder whether the editor had even read my mss; she had only made one mark on my submission, and that was to correct a typo in one of the early pages. She never referred to anything in my mss but asked me to summarize my plot on the spot, then critiqued my clumsy and unprepared verbal pitch. No wonder she wasn't impressed.

I felt humiliated and embarrassed, especially since I had gone in with such (unrealistically) high expectations. I was also envious of others I chatted with, who were critiqued by published authors in the program... most had received pages of useful notes and advice from these authors, plus encouragement. Later on, I heard at least one of these turned into a book contract when the critiquing author passed the mss on to their editor. (Side note #1: Don't be disappointed if you get an author critiquing your mss instead of an editor or agent!)

SCBWI Summer Conference in LA 2012

BUT I did enjoy meeting a lot of writers and illustrators, plus was inspired by the keynotes and workshops. I was determined to come back the next year, and would be more prepared.

For the manuscript critique, for example, I wanted to be ready for the possibility that the person critiquing my mss had not had time to read it. The mss might have slipped by the wayside somehow, or the editor might have run out of time. Or maybe she really did just hate my story so much she didn't have any suggestions on how to improve it. :-)

But even in that case, I needed to be able to give my elevator pitch more coherently AND have questions ready, so that I could still get something out of the session. I could have asked more info about the publishing house, her process, opinions on publishing industry topics, and so on.

[Side note #2: I did try the mss critique again at last year's SCBWI conference LA and it went wonderfully. I learned a ton from Jen Rofé's comments at the session and on my brand new YA mss, plus she ended up nominating my mss for the Sue Alexander "Most Promising For Publication" Award! I didn't win, but am still super-inspired. :-)]

If you're an illustrator disappointed about not being "discovered" at the Portfolio Showcase, don't forget that in most cases, art directors and editors and other industry people collect cards at the Showcase for later. I've heard so many stories of artists who got work months (sometimes years) later because of someone seeing their work in a Showcase. Just because you didn't win an award doesn't mean people didn't like your work. Just participating in the Showcase is great exposure -- SO many people are going to be browsing your portfolio. 

Something else I learned since I began going regularly to these conferences: the more you go, the more you'll get out of it. You'll be familiar with a wider network of people in the industry and be able to have deeper conversations. You'll stop feeling like a "newbie trying this out" and will have a better idea of what you hope to achieve at the event.

More experienced types will start to recognize you and see that you're seriously pursuing children's book writing and/or illustration rather than just testing the waters. And if they like you and see potential, they will be more likely to take some time to offer advice or info. DON'T be one of those people who so clearly scan name badges and are only interested in talking with editors, agents and Big Name Authors.

Very, very few conference attendees get a book offer at the conference. Adjust your expectations next time, and look for the many other ways that the event has helped you and could help you in the future in terms of knowledge, inspiration, connections and friendship (the latter two are not exclusive).

SCBWI Summer Conference in LA 2012

So…if you just came back from your first conference disappointed about how it went: instead of being bitter or resentful, try to focus on the positive aspects. What did you learn? What cool people did you meet (and how can you maintain contact with them during the year, even if it's just reading and commenting on their blogs or tweets or FB posts)? What can you do differently next year? Make some notes NOW, while everything is fresh in your mind.

But most of all, remember that this was only your FIRST CONVENTION.

Lee with first-timer Cheryl Chow.
Lee Wind with first-timer Cherryl Chow.

Kudos to you for going in the first place. You've already made an important early step in pursuing what you want; most aspiring writers and illustrators never get that far, so you're already ahead of the game. 

And who knows what might happen next time?

p.s. Note to those who can't afford to go to the SCBWI convention in LA: look for similar opportunities closer to home. Join your local writers' organizations and attend meetings. Or if you can't find one, try starting your own group. Online networking is great but I've found that nothing beats chatting in person.

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You can see my photos from the SCBWI Summer Conference on Flickr: Set 1 - Set 2 - Set 3

SCBWI Summer Conference in LA 2012