This year I was finally able to attend the annual Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) LA International Summer Conference. It’s a gigantic event where people from all aspects of the children’s publishing industry converge in one place for 4 days. If that sounds overwhelming, exhausting, and heavenly, you have exactly the right idea.
The strangest thing about attending this conference for the first time was I didn’t feel like a newbie at all. I have to say this is all because of Twitter. Throughout the entire event I bumped into friends that I’ve made over the years on Twitter. Standing in the lobby of the hotel was like a bizarre real-life version of a Twitter stream. People who I usually only see online were walking right in front of me! There wasn’t a moment where I felt alone or out of place.
An awesome thing that happened was 3/4 of the Simply Messing About crew attended the conference! Renée couldn’t attend in person but she was definitely there in spirit. Her work was mentioned twice during the breakout sessions. Laura, Christina, and I were so proud of her and cheered.
Another unexpected thing that was so rewarding about the conference was it gave me the opportunity to say "thank you" to so many of the people who helped me out over the years. I was able to grow because other people were kind enough to answer my newbie questions, gave me honest critiques, and encouraged me when I was just starting out. There was nothing like being able to express my appreciation in person.
Things that helped make the conference a success for me:
- Have your Twitter/Facebook profile pic on your name card! Having my profile picture on my name card made all the difference in the world. So many of the interactions started with people recognizing my avatar.
- Don’t be shy. Speak up during workshops and ask questions. This is your chance to get information that you will probably never find on the internet from experts/heroes.
- Sit back and enjoy. Don’t stress about getting "discovered". You are there to learn and make friends.
Revelations from the conference:
- It takes a looooong time to come up with ideas.
So many of the books you think just came about overnight lived in sketchbooks for years and years. This was a common theme mentioned by many of the presenters.
- Veteran illustrators go through tons of revisions to get characters just right — it’s not just you!
This particular observation made me feel better. It’s not just me that can’t get a character right on the first try.
- Learn from each other.
It’s easy to forget that you can learn a whole lot from your fellow conference attendees. A whole lot of them are experts too. What I learned just from talking with other attendees is just as valuable as the official workshops.
- I’m part of the right tribe.
I thought I would be exhausted being immersed in the children’s book world day and night for four days! That was not the case for me at all. I loved every minute of it and can’t wait to contribute to this world.
The biggest takeaway for me was that I was SO GLAD that I signed up for this conference. This summer has been nutty with my workload on top of having my son home from school. I was this close to canceling the trip because I thought I couldn’t take the time away. But forcing myself to attend the SCBWI LA Conference ended up giving me the golden opportunity to take a step away from the daily life to be more thoughtful, get feedback, and recharge myself on why I wanted to be an illustrator. And sometimes taking the time away no matter how busy you are is exactly what you need to grow.