Friday, November 07, 2008
An illustrator friend, Dana, just called to ask me to help talk her down from the fence - should she go to the 2009 SCBWI NY Conference or not?
I'll state right up front: my opinion on this is biased, because I can proudly claim to be an SCBWI success story. They gave me a Work-In-Progress Grant, for which I am eternally grateful (I love you, Steve, Lin, Judy, and everybody!). I met my completely awesome agent there this last year - absolutely random, luck of the draw - at the Writer's Intensive event, who turned around and sold my book to his (and my) top pick. SCBWI has been exceedingly good to me in so many other ways, and every conference to which I have gone (two in LA and two in NYC) have more than paid for themselves in connections, opportunity, and ideas.
My first conference (not local) was Los Angeles in 2004. That year, my best friend’s sister had died suddenly. We’d known each other since high school. Then, a few months before the conference, my husband and I lost our daughter, Ezri, at birth. Everything I’d been writing before that suddenly seemed meaningless. It crossed my mind to write about my experience, but then I didn’t want to exploit their lives. Then Justina Chen Headley, who you all know as a readergirlz diva and author but I am incredibly lucky to know as a friend, took me out to lunch at a conference and asked, very kindly, "Are you going to write about Ezri?" I’ll say this a million times - it was like she opened a door and gave me permission. Then we went to Libba Bray’s session on "How to shut off your brain and get to the heart of your writing, " and suddenly
The entire idea was right there in my lap. I started writing notes as fast as I could, and you know the rest. This last time at the LA conference, it was as much about things coming full circle - running into people who knew my story and sharing the happy ending - as it was about the conference itself (Bonus: I came home with a WHOMP idea for a third book!).
Ok, so this is getting long. But I'm thinking, there are two reasons to blow your wad and go to NYC:
#1: If your work isn't ready to sell yet, go to get the lay of the land. Network, find out what's hot, what people are interested in, what you need to do to go back the next time and totally wow the editors/agents/art directors. Get inspired with ideas! Get to know your peers! This is golden.
#2: When your work is so ready, you could kick it out the door. Hopefully you will have already done a lot of #1, and you will have a reasonably accurate assessment of your work as well as a huge dose of belief in yourself.
In either scenario, bring a posse to talk you up (thanks, Chris, Molly, Jolie, Sara, Cathy, Kim, Laurie, Martha, Justina, Kevan, and more than I can count!). Introduce each other. Brag about each other. One of the most valuable things you can have is someone else to say, "This is my friend, Dana, who is the most unbelievably talented illustrator. You should check out her portfolio!" Be ready to talk up your friends and even strangers - one of the super-serendipitous things that happened in LA was that I met Swati Avashti (in the elevator, with me saying, "Oh! Could you help me with my sari for the party??"), who told me the pitch of her novel and I said, "Hey, that sounds like something Rosemary Stimola would like - you should send it to her!", and Rosemary just sold her novel in a two-book auction (woohoo, Swati!).
My agent says I seem to have an astonishing share of serendipity. Maybe, but I think there's plenty to share. So go register already! (PS, he's going to be speaking on the agent panel. I'm so proud!!)