I leave Thursday for the SCBWI National conference in LA. Inevitably when I tell someone I am going to a Writer’s Conference, they ask “So do you bring your manuscript around and give it to agents and editors?” And when I say “No. In fact that is a sure-fire way not to get published,” the response is usually, “So, why go?”
The first writer’s conference I attended was the 2000 Write on The Sound conference in Edmonds, WA. It wasn’t specifically children’s writing, but it did have sessions on YA and it was in Edmonds, where my sister lives, so it worked for me. Even though several of the sessions I sat in on were about writing I didn't necessarily plan on writing - memoirs, magazines, nonfiction - I learned a wealth of knowledge about the business and even more about the market. But the most significant thing I came away with were contacts - I met so many people, writers like me, that I could stay in touch with via email. This actually shocked me. This networking thing. I had always been (and still am!) the shy one – never speaking to someone until spoken to, afraid of social situations because I didn't know what to say – and yet, there I was talking to people about writing, my writing, and talking to them about their writing. So why go? BUSINESS and MARKET INFORMATION and NETWORKING.
I went the following year to the same conference – this time submitting a manuscript for critique. It was scary. It was one thing to have friends or classmates in workshop read it, but have an actual publishing professional read it and comment on it? YIKES!! The experience was amazing. My writing grew in leaps and bounds just from that one critique. As I started attending more conferences, I made it a point to always submit something; in my opinion, it is a wasted opportunity if you don't. You’ll never make it out there if you don’t let those who work out there read your stuff. So, why attend? CRITIQUES
That next year I also attended my first SCBWI National conference. It was February, 2002. Five months after September 11th; five months after the birth of my third child. I traveled all the way from Alaska, by myself. And it was NEW YORK CITY. It was hard to leave my newborn, hard to go to New York after the terrorists had devastated it, hard to go alone, but I had a completed manuscript I was ready to publish and I wanted to meet editors and agents. So I went. I listened to editors talk about what they liked, what they were looking for, what to do and not to do – and the best part was many of them were handing out “golden tickets” – the opportunity to submit to them as a conference attendee even though they were closed to unagented, and/or unsolicited submissions. So why attend? SUBMISSION OPPORTUNITIES.
Coming back from that New York conference, however, I also realized that despite those golden tickets I held in my hand, my manuscript wasn’t ready to submit, mot yet. I had listened to what those editors were saying about common mistakes and I had committed most of them in my novel. Time to revise.
We moved to Michigan shortly after that and I found A WRITING COMMUNITY, something I hadn’t had in Alaska. (Alaska has a SCBWI, but in case all you in the lower 48 didn't realize, Alaska is a pretty big place. Very spread out. Hard to get together. Although they do try!) I found in the Michigan SCBWI an awesome group of writers who kept in contact through conferences, a very active list serv, summer schmoozes (thanks to Shutta Crum!), and various author support events like book launches. I attended my first Michigan conference, got hooked up with their list serv, and found a critique group – the same group I am with now, six years later. That again moved my writing up volumes.
So, to recap, why go to a writer’s conference if you can’t chase an editor into the elevator and sling your novel at her? For Business & Market Information, Networking, Critiques, Submission Opportunities, a Writing community, and let's not forget FUN!!
I promise to blog about what I took away from this conference, but it won't be until mid-August. The day after I get back from LA I will be heading on a quick vacation with my husband and kids to Cedar Point and Put-In Bay (okay, not sure if that's how you spell it; I can spell Koyukuk and Matanuska and Ninilchik, but not so sure about those Ohio names!)
Hope to see some of you in LA!!