3 Things I Learned at the SCBWI Summer Conference

“You can’t wait to get better because the only way to get better is [by] making stuff.” — Jon Klassen

Though SCBWI is primarily a professional development conference there was bound to be tons of networking. Publishers, editors, agents, heavy hitters and bigwigs of that sort would be around; Talking to those people can be nerve racking. But with time, practice and help from Krysta Masciale of Big Deal Branding, I have developed a philosophy about networking so I don’t make too much of an ass of myself:

“I’m not here to get a gig, a contract or shmooze. I’m here to make friends and learn.” — Kendra Minadeo

It’s easy to get caught up in pitching how great you are or the amazing project you just wrapped up. But those types of conversations quickly turn into pissing contests and that’s not how you make friends.

So with a basic understanding of ‘how not to screw up talking to people’, here are the Top 3 Things I learned at the SCBWI summer conference:

1. SCBWI and I Have Similar Values

Lin Oliver, the co-founder of SCBWI, has instilled in the organization that friendships are key, and this theme was echoed by almost every keynote speaker and evidenced by the attendees. People were there to connect, and find their tribe; To be among their people, and share and learn from one another. This shared value warms my heart, but it’s true: People want to work with their friends, and friends want one another to do well and succeed. Not that we don’t feel jealous sometimes, and maybe want to punch stupidly talented people in the face a little, but as YA author, Marie Lu, put it “a high tide lifts all boats.”

“A high tide lifts all boats.” — Marie Lu

2. Failure and Rejection are Going to Happen… A LOT

Failure and rejection is a HUGE part of being an author or illustrator in the Children’s Book industry. When author/illustrator, Jessixa Bagley, first got started, she wrote and illustrated five entire children’s books and submitted them to publishers. All of which were rejected. She then spent nine years honing her writing skills, learning the ropes and getting better. All while illustrating books for other authors and working a full time day job.

Finally her debut author/illustrator picture book ‘Boats for Papa’ was published and won the Golden Kite Award for picture book text. Her award acceptance speech was filled with so much love, emotion and tears. After NINE years, her persistence had paid off and her ability to tell stories was being recognized.

Boats for Papa by Jessixa Bagley

As part of author, Kate Hannigan’s, Golden Kite Award acceptance speech she showed her perseverance by laminating her rejection letters into one super long scroll. It was an arresting display of determination and persistence.

Kate Hannigan and her 65 feet of Rejection

3. The Picture Book Process is Not Fast

The whole industry seems to work in the marathon mindset. If you’ve ever run a marathon (I haven’t, I hate running) you know it is a process. There is lots and lots of training, which helps build up your stamina and prepares your body and mind for the big day. You have to eat right, sleep well, prevent injuries, push through injuries, stay motivated, study up on best practices, do the thing and actually finish! Like picture books, there is a lot to think about and consider and it can’t be rushed.

As Saho Fuji, Art Director for Little, Brown Books said “Making picture books is a long process…”

“Making picture books is a long process…” — Saho Fuji

It can take at least a year to go from manuscripts to bound books and often longer: There is copy editing, deciding the trim size, pagination (length 32, 40, 48 pages etc), type of paper, character studies, sketches and color sketches, type samples and galleys (text layout with actual font), rough layout with text and sketches in place, test proofing, final art, jacket design (the jacket, cover and interiors alone can take months to lock down) and finally 2–3 rounds of proofs.

The kids book industry is not fast, nor easy. From becoming good enough to get your work published, to making the right contacts, to finding representation from an agent, to actually creating the books… this industry requires patience, persistence and determination.

Like many careers, you are planting seeds and growing a garden. Things take time to root and flourish: friendships, ideas, skills and opportunities… It was truly uplifting seeing all those illustrators and authors retelling their struggles and successes, meeting so many fabulously talented people and feeling the genuine warmth in the room. And though it’s challenging work, I think it’s worth the time and effort especially with an organization like SCBWI running the show and bringing people together. A conference like this feels like a place to rejoice in the successes of your fellow artists and refuel for the journey ahead. I look forward to coming back next year.

Note: Please excuse my terrible punctuation and grammar. :)