For only the second time ever, I ventured out of the Maryland/Delaware/West Virginia region to attend an SCBWI event. When I decided to try the New Jersey SCBWI Annual Summer Conference, boy, did I pick a winner!
Over two days (June 13 and 14), the conference provided seemingly nonstop opportunities for writers and illustrators to improve their craft, learn about marketing, and mingle with faculty and fellow SCBWI members. New Jersey is a bigger region than our own, and the conference reflected that, boasting 300 attendees, 46 faculty members, 78 sessions, and an illustrators’ intensive.
In addition to the many craft and marketing presentations, attendees could participate in First Page sessions, Agent Pitch sessions, and Editor/Agent Panels. We also could submit manuscripts and portfolios for one-on-one critiques with agents, editors, and published authors and illustrators. On Saturday evening, attendees who signed up ahead of time met for Peer Group Critiques.
I’m exhausted just writing all that!
A Few of My Favorite Things
After author/illustrator Denise Fleming’s charming and energetic opening keynote, author Kelly Calabrese got my workshop experience off to a great start with her “Agent Search Survival Guide.” She also offered the single most inspiring piece of advice I have ever heard.
If you believe it will happen, it will.
If you don’t believe, eat doughnuts.
Who can argue with a doughnut-based philosophy? Not I.
I have so many great memories from this conference, that it’s impossible to pick a single favorite. Here are three other experiences that made this conference memorable for me.
1. John Cusick, Closing Keynote: “How to Be a Writer without Going Crazy”
When a speaker inspires me while making me laugh and cry, I know I’ve hit keynote-speaker gold. Author/agent John Cusick did that and more. He reminded me why I love to write and why I need my writer friends.
At the heart of his speech, John ended up giving us permission to be crazy. He said, “Writing makes you crazy. . . . Crazy people make things up—and that’s exactly what writers do.” Fortunately, John reassured us that the world has enough well-balanced people. “Don’t worry about being normal because what you do is extraordinary.”
2. Marietta Zacker: “Relationships in Children’s Books”
Doesn’t everything that’s worthwhile in life and literature come down to nurturing relationships? Drawing from recent picture books, middle grade novels, and young adult novels, agent Marietta Zacker shared abundant examples of different types of relationships in children’s literature and how they affect the story’s main character.
At dinnertime on Saturday night, I was fortunate to be seated at Marietta’s table. She invited everyone to introduce himself or herself and encouraged us to ask questions. She was incredibly generous with her time and advice.
3. The Juried Art Show
Illustrators had the opportunity to submit one illustration that embodied the theme “Once Upon a Time.” Conference organizers set up the submissions in the hallway linking the hotel and conference center so everyone had the chance to check them out. I was excited to discover that although the real experts would determine the winners of the top prizes, every attendee could cast a vote for the Members’ Choice Award.
I’m afraid I’m the personification of this old joke: I don’t know anything about art, but I know what I like. I’m ashamed to admit that I don’t often take the time to look at the displayed portfolios at our conferences. But I took my responsibility as a voter very seriously and carefully considered all the entries. I was amazed by the variety of styles and interpretations and gained a new appreciation for the art of illustration.
All’s Well That Ends Well
I traveled to the conference with two other writers from our region: Carol Larese Millward and Kate Szegda. We also chatted with Naomi Milliner and Miriam Chernick and saw a few others from the Maryland/Delaware/West Virginia region as we rushed from session to session.
For me, it was totally worth the trip, and New Jersey isn’t that far away. I came home inspired, energized, and ready to get back to work. I recommend this conference to people who would like to attend a bigger conference but are leery of tackling one of the national conferences.
If you were at the New Jersey SCBWI Conference, let us know in the Comments section. What did you think? What did you like best?