Making the Most of Writing Conferences

This weekend is the NESCBWI 2012 conference, and I am psyched. The chance to hang out with awesome children’s/YA writers, artists, editors, agents, and general enthusiasts? Yes, please! Plus one of the keynote speakers is Sara Zarr, who’s one of my favorite YA writers.

Recently I stumbled across a couple of excellent posts about preparing for conferences and what to expect from the experience. One suggestion from agent Rachel Kent:

“When you select whom you’ll request appointments with, research beyond just reading an agent or editor’s brief description on the conference website. Check out websites, tweets, and blogs for those agents and editors. You’ll develop a better idea of who they are, which can help you to narrow down your top choices. Also, make sure that all of the agents and editors you request to meet are actually looking for what you’re writing. If you do have an agent, you should check in with him or her before finalizing your choices because sometimes agents have had discussions about your book with the editors that you aren’t aware of or know, because of recent conversations, what editors are looking for.”

This is obviously a great suggestion for planning what conferences to attend. It can be a major expense, so it’s only worth going if you there are specific reasons to attend–an author you want to hear, an agent you’d like to connect with, etc.

Julie True Kingsley has some great suggestions as well for making the most of your conference experience while you’re there. Some points I especially like:

“Work on good karma.  A lot of writers’ are introverts (not me, obviously), make a point to talk to those people.  Pull them into conversations at lunch, make them feel comfortable.  We are all in this together.  Make sure everyone is included.”

This is one thing I really liked about SCBWI in January. I was the newbie and people were so willing to include me in conversations or to introduce themselves. And for when you’re not socializing:

“Hide in your room.  Look at your work.  Make notes.  Revise.  This is important because you might have some really incredible breakthroughs with all of that creative energy floating around.”

Obviously being surrounded by people who love writing and books is fantastic; that’s part of the reason to go to conferences. But why not take that energy and go over your draft before breakfast? Might as well use up that enthusiasm before Monday rolls around and you’re back to the day job/cleaning your bathroom/running after your kids.

Based on my own experience at SCBWI and AWP, other suggestions I’d add:

  • Have mints/gum to share.
  • Don’t buy more books at the bookfair than you can carry home.
  • Don’t be afraid to say hi to agents or writers. It doesn’t mean you have to take up an hour of their time, but if they said something thoughtful in a lecture, it’s okay to tell them you enjoyed it.
  • Wear comfortable shoes.
  • You’re probably going to be inside most of the day. You don’t need to bring nine potential outfits.
  • Take notes. Being part of an inspiring workshop is great, but two months later you might not remember the details.
  • If you’re into social media, have fun tweeting/sharing pictures (within reason, of course). It can help connect you with other social media-savvy conference attendees.

Share your own conference suggestions/experiences in the comments. Hope to see some of you this weekend!

Links Galore

A few more links to get you through Wednesday:

  • A response to critics who claim Jennifer Lawrence is somehow not skinny enough to play Katniss (while ignoring how her male costars aren’t underfed either).
  • A questionnaire for your characters (or you!), inspired by Proust.
  • A sneak peak at the SCBWI summer conference schedule. Wish LA weren’t so far away!
  • A book awards program where the winners are selected by young readers.

Links Galore

Lots of links to start your week off right:

  • I know this guy! Matt walked across the country, so now he’s walking every street in New York City.
  • “It’s not surprising that writers, historically technophobic and requiring either sequestered mental space for composition or greater proximal awareness for gathering material, would recoil from smartphones.” Has the New York Times seen #yalit?
  • I’d attend “How to Explain to Your Parents That Your Novel is Not Based On Them” and other rejected AWP panels.
  • New thesis topic: cultural myths and literary tropes in pizza delivery menus that I will never throw away.
  • Why can’t scientists write like poets? I know a few who certainly could handle/appreciate that kind of language.
  • Is our personality in our genes? Maybe not.

Links Galore

More links to take you into the weekend:

I’d Go to a Conference to Meet Neil Gaiman

An excellent post by Neil Gaiman about why conferences, workshops, and other writing events aren’t around to get you published. One point:

“We were doing that because we wanted to meet people like us. Because we wanted to attend the panels and learn. Because we were fans of the people who would be at the convention and wanted to listen to them.”

Although conferences and workshops can be very useful tools in developing your craft, they’re also for fostering a sense of community, which is fantastic. And maybe the people you meet will be able to suggest agents to get in touch with or grants to apply for. Maybe you will get published because of someone you met at a conference.

But I think this plays into the overall idea of there being no guarantees in writing. Even if you meet all the right people and have all the right tweets, it doesn’t mean you have earned a spot on a bookshelf somewhere. The best you can do is write your best work. The work that needs to be in some reader’s hands. Even then there are no guarantees, but it makes success a lot more likely in case you do happen to meet that right agent/editor.

Authors Inspiring Authors

At the SCBWI blog, Martha Brockenbrough asked fellow SCBWI members and debut authors what being part of the organization has meant to their careers. My favorite response comes from Kimberly Sabatini, whose novel Touching the Surface will be released this fall:

“The best thing I learned from SCBWI is that I will never cease to be inspired by the authors in my tribe.”

I think this is a huge part of being a member of a writing group of any kind, whether it’s SCBWI or an MFA program or a bunch of friends who get together to workshop stories while drinking wine. There’s something really energizing about being part of a group that shares your goals and passions. Writing in a vacuum can be very draining. At the SCBWI conference in January, everyone I met was so friendly and encouraging. Having a base like that can be really helpful during rough writerly periods, too. You know you’re not the only one experiencing rejections and you know that success can take a lot of hard work. But there’s a built-in cheering section spurring you on. Being a member of a writers group doesn’t mean you’ll automatically get published, but it’s a great base to have.

Links Galore

A few more fun links:

Love, Grief, and Queries: the 2012 SCBWI Conference

Chris Crutcher, probably making us cry tears of sadness or laughter.

When I was in high school, I went to Young Writers Workshop, a summer creative writing program for high schoolers. We had workshops, readings, and general tomfoolery. Although I’d had friends who liked reading and writing, it was the first time I was in a place where that was everyone’s passion. It was exhilarating.

That was the same feeling I got from being at the SCBWI Winter Conference this past weekend.

I’ve been to other conferences or in other workshops before, but none of them have focused entirely on children’s/young adult literature. A room of 1,000+ people who are all deeply invested in the same kind of books I love? Yes, please!

Jane Yolen talks about what it means to be a mid-list author.

This was my first SCBWI conference, and I was initially kind of nervous about going. When I went to AWP, it was always with a group of fellow grad students. I never had to worry about who I’d sit next to in lectures. Fortunately, the SCBWI members are all extremely friendly and genuinely want to help each other. It was easy to strike up conversations with whomever was sitting next to me at a panel or during the cocktail party.

The SCBWI Conference blog posted about all the great speeches and panels, so make sure to check them out for a glimpse into the weekend’s events. They describe the events way better than I could here. A few more thoughts/fun moments/favorite quotes from me:

  • If you ask Chris Crutcher to give a keynote address, everyone will cry. And then laugh. And then cry again.
  • Crutcher, about banned books: “You ban those books, you ban those kids. You tell them their lives aren’t worth it.”
  • Cassandra Clare used Buffy/Angel references to talk about forbidden love. Swoon! A fun quote from her speech: “Never the twain shall meet because one is on at 8 and one is on at 9.”
  • These days, it’s not enough for an editor to love a book. The whole house (marketing, sales, etc.) has to be behind it.
  • Nothing is taboo in YA. You just need to approach the topic with a level of taste.
  • “If there’s a character you love, get them in trouble. Get them in worse trouble.”–Jennifer Laughran
  • “No one can hear you complain and whine about vampires in space.”–Chris Richman
  • “Your success is directly proportionate to your ability to take rejection.”–David Gordon
  • Some editors/agents don’t even look at the query letter and go right to the submission; yet another reason to make sure your opening really shines.
  • Kathryn Eriskine creates writing project playlists, too!
  • Getting books signed by Chris Crutcher (who asked about Queen of the Air and said “Nice title,” swoon!) and Cheryl Klein (who personalized my book with an Annie musical reference).

Kathryn Erksine helps us get FOCUS-ed.

My favorite quote from the conference came from the illustrator panel on Sunday. (I think the quote can be attributed to John Bemelmans Marciano, but I can’t remember exactly. If you remember who said this, please let me know!) The quote:

“Success comes to those who are generous and open.”

I think this really sums up SCBWI and the conference as a whole. We’re all talented writers and illustrators individually, but we’re better when we come together to learn from and support each other. Since a lot of writing can be very solitary, it’s wonderful to take this kind of energy back into the everyday writing life. I’m so glad I went to the conference, and I’m already looking forward to the New England conference in April.

I’m sure I’ll be posting more with references to this conference and what I learned there, since it’s too much to include in one post. Anyone else attend the SCBWI conference? What were your favorite moments?

Links Galore

A little more literary fun for the rest of a rainy day:

  • I was too scared to read R.L. Stine’s books when I was young, but this interview with the Goosebumps author isn’t scary at all. My favorite part: ““People say, ‘What advice do you have for people who want to be writers?’ I say, they don’t really need advice, they know they want to be writers, and they’re gonna do it.”
  • Advice how to avoid making common mistakes at conferences.
  • The children’s publishing world is getting into rock & roll. Parents might enjoy these even more than the kids.
  • A look at horribly miscast literary roles. Alexis Bledel, you’re awesome, but you’re so not Winnie Foster.