This blog will take you behind the scenes at a SCBWI conference. I learned a lot this year and I want to share. First off, I've been going to writer's retreats, workshops, and conferences for almost eight years. I started going when my first child was born. Reading picture books to him made me realize my passion in life....to write better than the books I read.
I thought it would be easy. Picture books had to be the simplest books to write because of the audience, right? Wrong! But I eagerly wrote my first one, paid for a workshop and critique. When it came back with red ink all over it I knew I needed to learn a thing, two, or one hundred. So I started taking classes and attending as many workshops as I could afford.
Eight years later, I helped to run my first SCBWI conference. The learning continues. As they handed me my staff badge, I remembered my first conference back when I lived in Pittsburgh, PA. I watched the SCBWI staff as they greeted, smiled, spoke, and helped the attendees. I envied them. They looked confident and they all had a manuscript ready to go. I did not.
This year, standing with my SCBWI badge on, greeting people, feeling more confident, and having a manuscript ready to go, I am proud of myself, and what I've learned in the years past. I am going to share my thoughts and observations in bullet format so you can easily find a topic below:
- Signing up for a conference: First, do make sure you can attend on the dates given. Most conferences do not give refunds. They can only afford to book so many rooms. So there is only room for so many warm bodies. Once you take a spot, there is usually no time to replace you.
- Email Accounts: If sign ups happen via paypal - use your account and your email address. Actually use your email address for everything. All communication will go to the email account you signed up with. No one can change that for you once it's put in the system.
- Read: Once you've registered for any workshop, read everything about it. I was the email contact for this conference and so many of the emails I received were questions that were easily answered if the writer read the information that we already sent out. Do not look bad by asking questions that are already answered on a website.
- Dress Code: I know that some conferences will say casual. This does not mean come in sweat pants, cut off shorts, or sleepwear. I have been to dozens of workshops, and never did any of the staff, agents, editors, publishers, or authors, ever dress in less than what they would wear to work. You do not need a suit, but look professional.
- Critiques: Some workshops offer critiques. They usually ask for a fee. You've paid for one. You may not request a specific reviewer. You may not find the reviewer after your critique and hound them for more. If you receive red pen marks all over your ms, be thankful, and learn from it. This means the reviewer took time to really read your work. Do not give up. Revise and move on.
- Manuscripts: Do bring a finished manuscript with you to any conference you attend. Better to have a sample of your work than to be asked for one, and not have anything to show. Do not try to give your ms to any of the agents, editors, publishers, or speakers. This is considered unprofessional, rude behavior.
- Know Your Genre: Please come prepared. Do your research. Know your genre. By that I mean know what age group your manuscript is written for. Know how many words go into a middle-grade, young-adult, or picture book. Know the age your character should be for those genres. Know if you are writing an action-adventure, fantasy, romance, thriller, or drama, or combination of these. If you don't know what you are writing, or who you're audience will be, no one will.
- Introductions: Do introduce yourself to the speakers, the staff, and other writers. Everyone there wants to find the next great manuscript. I know we writer's are a shy bunch, and love to be alone, but when we are at a workshop, it is our work obligation to meet and greet. Do not stand on the sidelines, you will be ignored. Do not pitch to every single person you introduce yourself to, unless they ask what you are working on. Do try to find something in common that you can talk with them about. Do your research about them before you come.
- Q & A: There will always be time for questions from the audience during the conference. Do not ask more than one question. Let others shine. Do choose your question wisely. Be sure they didn't already cover that in a previous class. If you re-ask a question it makes you sound like you do not pay attention. Do take notes so you know what they have already answered.
- Facebook and Twitter: If at a conference the staff offer to everyone to find them on facebook or twitter - go find them! If they do not, you may ask them individually, but do not cyber stalk them. They are people, like you and me, and have private accounts on these sites where they want only their true friends and family.
- Blogs: Before you blog about a conference. Before you post pictures. Before you write a single word....ask. Ask the SCBWI rep if it's okay to blog. Ask if pictures are okay to share. And be sure above all else, you do not negatively blog about your experience. Even if you had a bad critique, or they lost your payment....work that out privately. Agents, editors, and publishers will google the conference they just attended to see what people are saying. You do not want to be cast in a negative light.
- Re-Writes: If you were lucky enough to get a great critique on your work. And if by chance the stars aligned, and an agent actually asked to see your manuscript. FREEZE! Do not go home and email it immediately. Take your time. Revise completely. Reread. You have one chance to wow them. Do not rush it. If you build it, the agent will come. But be sure you have a strong foundation. Rule of thumb, wait at least two months before you send. Put your ms aside when you think it's ready. Work on something else. Then go back to it for a final read. If you still believe it's ready....SEND. And good luck!!
- Business Cards: Do get a professional writer's or illustrator's business card. Do not hand out a card from your day job. No one is going to remember that the card they have in their pockets is a writer if it says realtor on it. If this is the career you want, then be as professional in it as you are in your day job right now. If you are a writer, your card should say WRITER, not teacher, actor, director, illustrator, blah blah blah. That's too much. You don't look focused. I am an actor, a mother, an artist, a tennis player, and swimmer...but when I hand out my cards it says WRITER.
- Goodbyes: When the final word is spoken and the audience stands to leave, be sure you thank at least one staff member, one agent, one editor, one publisher, and one author. I personally like to thank everyone, but that's just me. These people took the time to help you on your journey to publication. Respect that by either thanking them in person, or on their facebook page. Being a positive person will help you reach your goals while making the world a happier place.
- Volunteer: Please help SCBWI. We do need volunteers for all conferences, workshops, and retreats. And you'll get to meet top authors, agents, editors, and publishers in the field you hope to break into. Through volunteering I have met so many great authors, wonderful agents and amazing editors and publishers. It's such a small, welcoming community. So sign up! Help us out and who knows, you might just meet that one person that can help you on your way to the top.
If you ever have any questions, please feel free to email me at angazur(at)mac.com ** Remember to put the real @ sign in - yes, that was one of the questions I answered for a writer at this conference. He couldn't understand why his emails weren't going through. I had to laugh about that one. ~ Angie