SCBWI Conference Wrap-Up

On Saturday, I went to the SCBWI MD/DE/WV Summer Conference with a bunch of awesome writerly friends! Erin Bowman flew down from New Hampshire while Kathleen Foucart drove up from central Virginia. Along the way, I picked up DC residents Jessica Spotswood and Robin Talley, and we headed to the lovely town of Buckeystown, Maryland. (We saw so many cows on the drive there!)

Erin Bowman, Me, Kathleen Foucart, Jessica Spotswood
Robin Talley, Me, Kathleen Foucart, Jessica Spotswood
I attended the Spring Conference in March, but the organizers decided to mix things up for the summer event. Instead of a generalized conference where everyone sat in the same room and listened to the same lectures, the attendees at this event divided into 25-person workshops based on their chosen genre (YA, MG, PB, non-fiction). All five of us signed up for the YA track, which was led by YA author Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen and Children's Editor Liz Szabla (Feiwel & Friends).

Our track was an interesting mix of craft workshops, Q&A sessions, and general information lectures concerning the author/editor relationship. On Day 2 of the conference, there was also a "First Pages" session where attendees could read their first pages and get feedback from Stephanie and Liz. Since I couldn't attend all of the sessions due to some family stuff, I asked the other participants to offer what they took away from the conference: 

Kathleen: I think my "conference-going" advice would be for people not to be afraid to participate in things like the critiques or first page readings-- only 20 people did the first page but there were about 25 people there that day. It was nice having the wiggle-room time-wise, but I think those people missed out on a good opportunity.

Robin: Order business cards well in advance of the conference and remember to bring them with you! Twice now I have forgotten to do this and both times I super regretted it. It is distressing to meet someone you want to keep talking to and to not have an easy way of doing so. 

Jessica: I think new writers get too caught up in dos and don'ts: word count differences between YA and MG, age of your characters, can we use curse words, how far is too far with regard to sex scenes, can vampire stories or dystopian still sell, etc. It's tempting to want hard-and-fast rules in this business where so much is up in the air--but the thing is, there aren't any. Write the story you need to tell. Make sure your choices serve that story. We heard that again and again from the editor and authors this weekend, and I thought it as great advice.

Erin: I completely agree with Jess. I think that was the main take-away. We heard the same types of questions in Stephanie's original talk, the Q&A with her and Liz, and then even the giant open Q&A in the afternoon. And the answer was always the same: it depends. If it's right for YOUR story, then it's right. Period.

And a few thoughts from me...

1. Getting published is hard---which is why you have to push yourself even harder.

During Stephanie's first talk, she told us how tough it was to get her first YA novel, The Compound, published. (She uses the pen name S.A. Bodeen.) Before she wrote The Compound, she had sent four YA manuscripts to her agent...and he had turned down each one. 

This was very discouraging, of course! Stephanie admitted that she stopped writing for a couple months after hearing her agent's feedback. But then she decided to participate in NaNoWriMo, which led to the first draft of a book that would end up being The Compound. Pretty cool, huh? 

2. During one of the Q&A sessions, a woman raised her hand and asked a question about whether or not she needed an agent and where she could go about looking for one. She also admitted that she was just starting out as a writer and didn't have a rough draft completed yet. 

My first reaction: Good for her for thinking ahead! It's never too early to learn the ropes of the business. 

My second reaction: Don't be afraid to take your time! Right now, the most important thing for this writer to do is to hone her craft and to read, read, read. Of course, she should also educate herself on stuff like agents and queries but that sort of thing will come later. 

All in all, I thought this was a fun conference and I had a great time with a fabulous group of writers!