SCBWI WI Fall Conference Recap from a Newbie’s Perspective


As I mentioned in my last post, I attended my first SCBWI conference last weekend. Here are a few highlights and thoughts from the experience.

Folder artwork by David Diaz. Design by Sarah Baker.

Folder artwork by David Diaz. Design by Sarah Baker.

What surprised me

It was a smaller group than I had anticipated. Maybe 100-ish people? It was a very welcoming group, and it seems easier than I expected to get involved and make lasting connections.

What I learned

I learned a ton! I won’t go into great detail as to respect the presenters’ content rights, but it was definitely a worthwhile experience and I learned tons of tidbits on writing and illustrating various levels of kid’s books. It was really helpful to hear from author, illustrator and agent/publisher perspectives. I would definitely recommend this conference to anyone pursuing the craft of children’s books. Connecting with and learning from like-minded individuals was awesome. I look forward to attending again next year!

Two tiny (random) tidbits

Thing 1:
Conference attending 101 – keep business cards in the back of your name tag lanyard. This super basic but super convenient bit of advice was shared at the new conference attendee session lead by Melissa Gorzelanczyk. It allowed me to swiftly swap business cards with a number of people without digging in my bag like an awkward panda.

Thing 2:
“You can’t tinker a novel into working.” These wise words were spoken by Susan Campbell Bartoletti who did an extremely informative presentation geared toward novel writing called “Home Repair Tips for the DIY Writer.” I took a ton of notes, and I think a lot of her methods and recommendations translate into picture book writing as well. You can’t just tinker with the words until the story “works.” You need to make sure the fundamentals of the story are sound before you hone in on making the language just right.

Did I have the guts to use my promo materials?

Confession time. I didn’t work up the nerve to hand out my one-sheet for Run, Cheetah, Run. It just didn’t feel right! I focused more on making connections and swapping business cards vs. promoting. Maybe at a larger conference with more editors and agents it would make sense. I’m still glad I went through the exercise of making it, and I hope to use it in the future.

I’m really glad I brought an illustration portfolio. It was helpful when talking to other illustrators, especially those who also had portfolios. It was really cool to see other people’s work. I met several very talented individuals! In summary, the business cards and the portfolio were great to have.

More on illustration portfolios

I also learned a lot during a session with Martha Rago the Executive Art Director at Harper Collins Publishers. I gleaned helpful tips from her presentation and some quick, in-person feedback on my portfolio. Good news: she likes spiral bound portfolios as it supports a tidy presentation. Yay for doing one thing right! Overall though I need to ditch illustrations that aren’t telling a story and add in more sequences and narrative-building illustrations. This is something I kind of knew, but it was good to hear firsthand as it relates to my specific illustrations.

One last highlight – my manuscript critique

My in-person manuscript critique with JoAnn Early Macken was an immense help. She provided very thorough written feedback that I received the first evening of the conference. I then had 15 minutes with her the next day to discuss and ask questions. I have a lot of great actionable feedback for Run Cheetah Run to tighten and build the story. She also had a lot of positive things today say regarding the language and the premise (yay!).

To sum it up, the Wisconsin SCBWI Fall Conference was a great experience that I would wholeheartedly recommend to kid-lit authors and illustrators alike. Maybe I’ll see you there next year!

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