'Houston: We have landed!'
'Houston, we have landed, re-entry slightly bumpy but all is well!'
Do you know that feeling when you have experienced something exciting? Something amazing and soul stirring?
I just did. Then I had to come back to earth and come home, trailing that exuberance and energy behind me. Let me share it with you, in the hope that you are hungry for energy too.
I recently spent a week in Sydney, for me that is the big smoke. I went to attend the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators Australia East/New Zealand Bi-annual Conference.
Yes, that is a mouthful. Here in Australia we shorten it to SCBWI Conference and we use the hash tag #SCBWISyd. I will leave you to work out how to pronounce it but it's a fun word to throw around.
Did I just mention throwing words around? Well, that is precisely what we did.
When you pack one hundred and sixty writers and illustrators, along with numerous agents, publishers, art directors and editors into a conference zone, lots and lots of words get thrown about.
On Sunday evening, we began with a welcome dinner. Much chatting, eating lovely food we didn't have to cook ourselves, touching base with friends we only see on social media and once in person every two years, introducing ourselves to new faces and those who were newbies to the SCBWI Conference scene. Then we launched author Deborah Abela's latest book, The Stupendously Spectacular Spelling Bee (Random House Australia) while we tussled in a very competitive spelling bee of our own, the result....we just can't spell good! Well, some of us could and were presented at the front of the room to represent our teams in a spelling showdown. I wasn't one of them. I can spell reasonably well but I am a spelling doubter, so I constantly change things around until I'm totally confused and hit 'spell check'.
So, the creatives had emerged from their isolated cave dwellings and had come together once again to feed off the energy of all things bookish.
The following two days were spent filling our minds with information regarding the current publishing industry, trends, marketing, marketing yourself, presentation and pitching tips, a pitching opportunity as well as one on one folio and manuscript critiques with publishers. Our hungry minds were fueled with master classes and Skype sessions with famous illustrators from New York and Publishers from New York as well (does everyone live in New York?). The information encouraged, inspired, re-directed and motivated us to step away from the world of buzzing bee spelling author gatherings back into our caves to create with new and invigorated energy.
If you are not a member of SCBWI and you are serious about establishing yourself as a writer or illustrator (or both) then I cannot encourage you enough to join up. No, I don't get any brownie points or benefits or even notches on my belt for bringing you into the fold, other than I will feel great about introducing you to the amazing opportunities and benefits this organisation offers.
SCBWI is an international organisation (that means when you travel, you can look up a group where you are staying and visit them, SCBWI groups love visitors and making new connections). It has chapters in all parts of the world and if you type SCBWI into your search engine, it will take you to the International page which will then connect you to the region you live in.
This was my second conference and it has huge personal benefits for attendees. Aside from networking and making professional and social connections, there are the following opportunities on offer:
The Illustrators Showcase.
This is a great opportunity to present your portfolio to numerous publishers and agents and publishing art directors. For a small fee, you are given a space to place your portfolio along with your business cards and postcards for publishers to take away to remember you by. The publishers are given a two hour uninterrupted slot to view the portfolios without the creators in the room with them. They often look at them together, discussing their needs and learning what else is happening in the market place. Many new illustrators have been picked up at SCBWI conference, this year more than one was offered an illustration contract and another was invited to join an agency. This year there was a competition for the best illustration and also for the best portfolio. Each winner received a one on one session at a publishing house with the publisher and art director.
Once the publishers have had their chance to view the work, delegates are then allowed in to see the work and chat with illustrators. This is also a great opportunity, as occasionally, a publisher will ask an author if they can suggest someone to illustrate their work (I will stress 'occasionally') so knowing who and what is out there is of great benefit.
If you miss out on attending the conference, then you are still able to pay to have your portfolio at the conference. Though it's wonderful for publishers to put a face to someone's work, the old fashioned personal approach signs more contracts that the electronic method.
A Writers Competition.
This opportunity for writers offers the chance to enter a manuscript or sample of your manuscript for a chance to win a critique session with a publisher. This year's winners won a session with a New York Publisher, that is an opportunity no-one wants to miss.
At each conference, delegates are invited to submit, free of charge, to the pitch. If you have a manuscript you feel is polished and ready to go, not sitting in the slush pile in a publishers office and are brave enough to face a panel of publishers on stage in front of an entire conference, then this is for you.
To be honest, I applied for both my conferences. I'm an experienced public speaker and I have, in person, been successful at pitching to publishers, so I stupidly thought it would be easy. Wrong! But the knowledge that everyone is nervous and the publishers are not judging you on your performance skills (we are writers after all), then it all works out okay in the end. If you are selected from the many submissions received.
My first year I wasn't selected. I will admit to feeling disappointed. I had a great manuscript and it was funny and I knew it would be memorable. I can't complain. It was also presented in my portfolio as a dummy book and was signed up regardless. It was a good thing someone else had the opportunity to pitch instead of me.
This year, I was one of the eight delegates selected to pitch. I thought I had it all under control until I started to panic about what I needed to cover in my brief three minutes on the stage. Turns out, the scariest thing about pitching live and in public is receiving the feedback: standing there, vulnerable, after sharing your story concept and listening to them tell you what they think in front of a large audience. There was also terror when two of the panel started to smile and whisper to each other during the pitch itself. It was a serious story I was sharing, nothing humorous, I wondered if my skirt was tucked into my knickers and why no one had told me!!
All was good. Turns out the whispering was plotting. At least two of the pitches were successful this year with ensuing contract offers. Yes, mine was one of them. Heck of a way to get a contract but a brilliant experience and learning opportunity for all.
Very importantly, I need to say a big thank you to the Copy right Agency Career Fund who assisted me with a grant so that I could attend the conference. Once you add travel, accommodation and conference fees together, it can make it difficult for many to be able to attend and flying over from Tasmania can sometimes make it difficult. Go to the Copyright Agency website to check out how they support literary creators, the Career Fund is just one way.
Also, a huge shout out and thank you to all of the organisers and SCBWI Regional Advisors, such a great conference and I know you are all exhausted (but I hope, happy).
'til next time,
keep writing, keep dreaming, keep creating,
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Author, illustrator, sheep herder, frog wrangler, whale caller, chicken keeper, story teller, peace keeper & yarn spinner!