Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Better Know A Conference: SCBWI


This week in Better Know a Conference: the SCBWI (the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators).

The 2011 winter conference just occurred in New York City (January 28th through 30th), but never fear! There's a summer conference being held in Los Angeles August 5th through 8th of this year, and it's never too early to gear up for SCBWI Winter 2012 (to be held January 27th through 29th in New York City).

The Pros

· As mentioned above, there are two SCBWI national conferences per year, which means twice the number of opportunities to attend—regardless of your preferred season or coastal affiliation! (Unless you love fall and are from Kansas, in which case you can pick either one.)

While I think it's probably overkill to attend both conferences in a given year, I think it's a really good idea to switch up your choice from year to year (if you can). You'll likely meet different folks and form a more comprehensive view of the children's book market, which will help you both in terms of networking and developing new projects.

· This conference has an additional audience! Not only do you get to hang out with writers, authors, agents, editors, publishing professionals, &c, but you also get to meet and network with illustrators.

Now: I'm no expert on children's books, but from what I understand, it's the editor—not the author—who ultimately selects the illustrator(s) who will work on any given children's book project. Keep in mind, then, that you're not going to this conference to "pick" an illustrator, but it never hurts to network with them. Not only can you make some new friends, but it can help you immensely to have connections in your field (think recommendations, referrals, opportunities for collaboration, &c &c).

· There are a variety of regional events throughout the year in case you missed the last national conference or can't afford to go to the next one. With dozens of events being held in April alone and over 70 chapters in the United States (there are also international chapters!), there's bound to be something to interest you that's 1.) close to home and 2.) coming up soon.

The Cons

· As is virtually universally the case, national conferences cost a pretty penny. Registration for the winter 2011 conference ranged from $350 – $415 (depending on whether you were a member and whether you registered early), with optional pre-conference programming running an additional $200 – $225. Add to that the cost of travel and three nights' stay in New York City (over $200 per night, even with the SCBWI discounted room rate) and the whole shebang could easily set you back over $1,000.

· As mentioned above, the conference provides a great forum for authors and illustrators to meet and network. As also mentioned above, since editors generally pair authors and illustrators, it's unlikely you'll be able to use the conference as a way to find yourself an illustrator. By all means, if you really hit it off with an author/illustrator and want to pursue a side collaboration, go nuts, but don't expect to be able to sell the project to an agent or editor unless the two of you are already pretty well-known.

While I'm on the topic: for those of you who have experiences in this area, please post in the comments! I don't know as much about children's book publishing as I do about the adult side of the business.

· Because there are two conferences per year, most people will only attend one of them. Moreover, information about the subsequent conference (attending agents/editors, keynote speakers, and so on) probably won't be available while you're planning for the current one, so you'll invariably miss out on some events you'd like to attend/folks you'd like to meet. Again, switching up your venue (East Coast/West Coast) from year to year might be your best option (unless, of course, you've got the time and the cash to attend both each year).

Some DOs and DON'Ts

· DO network. It's why you're there! Don't be afraid to exchange contact information with other authors/illustrators, interested industry professionals, &c, &c.

· DON'T interrupt. Again, if you have a clear shot to briefly chat up an agent or editor, do go ahead, but don't interrupt them while they're engaged with someone else or while they're eating/otherwise occupied. It feels like a missed opportunity, I know, but trust me: it's much better to remain (temporarily) unknown than to make a bad impression.

· DO your homework. Read the SCBWI "Just Getting Started?" page, including their FAQ, as well as their official conference blog, which has invaluable information about past conferences. You can also look up the #NY11SCBWI hashtag on Twitter to review all the comments people made while they were actually in attendance.

· Finally, DON'T worry if you can't make/afford the national conference this year or next—as mentioned above, there are literally hundreds of regional events offered by the SCBWI year-round that you can take advantage of until you can go to nationals.

That's it for this installment, folks—questions and suggestions in the comments!


  1. Yes the national conferences trend toward the expensive side, but I just attended the NY conference and was blown away by the lessons learned and connections I made. The intensives (even though they were additional money) were invaluable. And I didn't even have the kind of experience that some have, where some people connect with agents or editors that request it after the intensive. One could be so lucky, right? But the overall experience I had was wonderful, and I would highly recommend it to anyone considering it.

    Your pros/cons do's/dont's are pretty spot on. I would say ask a lot of questions when you get in front of someone who can answer them, take lots of notes, and don't be afraid to connect with those around you. To a person, everyone I met was so nice.

    And Yes, I am going to LA!

  2. If you write YA or younger, you must join SCBWI. I have met so many wonderful writers and learned so much thanks to my local events, in addition to the conference in LA.

  3. I went to the SCBWI conference in NY and it was great. I attended the Writers Intensive and an editor from Simon and Schuster gave me a great idea for attacking an element of my story. For writers of children's stories, SCBWI is an event that should form the staple of your conference experience. I highly recommend it. I'd love the opportunity to attend the one in LA! This was a super helpful post. Thanks.

  4. SCBWI is great! The NY conference is shorter, 2 days, whereas you get 4 days in LA. They are packed, in either case, with writers, illustrators, editors and agents at the top of their game.

    One key thing to know about conferences (in children's lit world, anyway), is that they are a great way to get your work into the hands of an editor. NOT AT THE CONFERENCE, though. Don't expect to hand your ms. to an editor while in line for coffee. But most editors who speak at a conference (national or regional) will agree to accept manuscripts from conference attendees for a certain period of time following the conference. Because so many houses are closed to unagented submissions, this alone could make it worth the price of admission.

    As Eric implied, you really DON'T choose your own illustrator, so look to the illustrators you meet as peers in the creation of children's books, not someone who's going to take your manuscript home and whip up some paintings.

    I've been to lots of regional SCBWI events and the NY conference several years ago. I'm going to try LA this year. See you there, Christopher! :)

  5. SCBWI is fabulous - not only because of the conferences and the opportunity they open up for unpublished authors to sub to "closed" houses afterwards, but because of the networking opportunities. Just forging those connections and finding the people you click with - agents, editors, writers, illustrators - is so important in this industry. And yes, DEFINITELY go to local events! The smaller attendance usually lends itself to more opportunities for face-time with the editors and agents who are there. (As Megan said, NOT to give them your MS on the spot, but to forge connections that will open doors with them in the months afterward).

  6. Yes, SCBWI is definitely THE org./conference to attend for those interested in children's books! I'd especially recommend the Writers' and Illustrators' intensives, which give in-depth perspectives and attention to your work. This year in NY, the Illustrators' Intensive focused entirely on new media... and even as someone "inside" the industry, I learned a TON about the future of apps and digital content (I recapped it here, for more info).

    And thank you for mentioning that authors do NOT hire their own illustrators when pitching a children's book! Publishers like to have control over the look of their project, and they have more connections and knowledge about who would be the best artist for a story. It's a common "rookie" aspiring-author mistake that, from the illustrator/design perspective, tells me that the author hasn't done their industry research.

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