I attended my first SCBWI national conference in August, 1995, and since then I’ve been fortunate enough to attend 10 more. These 4-day events all have been interesting, fun, very helpful….and exhausting!
However, my favorite by far was the 1996 conference, which was SCBWI’s 25th Anniversary conference. The organizers truly went all out, both with content and with faculty, gathering many, many talented (and famous) writers and illustrators who extended themselves to provide timely, heart-felt, and often funny presentations. It was especially heady for me to hear, and sometimes meet, authors whom I, and my children, had enjoyed reading over the years and to buy their books and get them autographed. At this particular conference I also met the editor of the magazine, Guideposts for Kids—now, unfortunately, out of print—and made my first sale in the children’s market!
I’ve found that all SCBWI conferences — pricey though they are when you add in the hotel stay, food, etc…and of course, buying all those books — are always worthwhile. The opportunities to find out what editors are looking for, to see how other authors work, to meet writing colleagues and to make new friends, are invaluable.
The only part that gives me pause are the critique sessions. An attendee is given the chance to have a sample of his or her work evaluated a month or so ahead of time by an editor, agent, or other writer. I have done this a number of times. The editors and agents I’ve met have been unfailingly friendly and kind, and they’ve always had positive comments about my work…i.e., “this is a great idea,” “I like your writing style,” “this is what we’re looking for,” etc., and they have always encouraged me to send them the complete book.
Of course, I’d come home and send out the finished manuscript as soon as possible. And, unfortunately, that’s always been the end of it. Anywhere from 3 months to a year later, I’d get my book back, with a form letter saying “not right for our list.” I’ve never figured out quite what’s going on here, but since I’ve been published more than 300 times in books, magazines, and newspapers, I find it hard to believe my writing never measured up. Other writers I’ve talked to have had similar experiences. It’s a puzzle to me to this day.
However, I still recommend that writers attend one or more SCBWI national conferences, if possible. With that one caveat, I think these conferences are outstanding, for beginning and experienced writers alike. Beginners will glean information they will get nowhere else, and more seasoned “pros” will enjoy the networking and fun. All will come home with renewed energy and ready to get to work!