Posted by: Kathy Temean | July 3, 2014

Attacking A Conference

artshowsailer_njscbwi_showcase

This illustration by Eric Sailer was in the NJSCBWI Art Show and was the winner of the Unpublished Illustrator award. Congratulations, Eric! eric.s.sailer@gmail.com

erikaphoto-45Hi there. Jersey Farm Scribe here on…

Attacking A Conference

This past weekend was the NJ SCBWI conference. It was my first. So I thought I’d share some of my thoughts and experiences with you all.

First part of a conference that has to be attacked…

Actually Registering!

You can’t get anything out of a conference, if you don’t go.

Are they cheap? No. They’re not. And to be honest, as a simple farm girl, it wasn’t a small nut for me. But all jobs have their expenses. I buy feed for my piglets. This is feed for my writing. (And remember, even if you’re not published, talk to your accountant about deducting the conference cost, hotel and travel.)

So I was determined to go. A few days after registration opened, I looked at my husband and said, ”I’m going to stop THINKING about registering and just go register.” Then I said, “I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

And three hours later, I had completed registration.

The conference had so many amazing options. On top of choosing which workshops to sign up for, we had the options of which of the amazing list of agents and editors to pitch to, eat with, various opportunities for one-on-ones and even peer critiques.

After researching which agents and editors I thought I was a good match to stalk – I mean be around, I was excited to have registered!

Then, a few days before the conference came the part I didn’t expect:

Feeling like I didn’t deserve to go.

Who do I think I am, going to a “writer’s conference”??? I’m not good enough to be a REAL writer.

To be painfully up front with you all, it’s a good thing it wasn’t something that you paid for at the door, because I may have chickened out.

I have tomatoes to plant anyway, and I have to get that sheep fence fixed!

The excuses were just FLYING out of me. I was nervous and antsy and felt like I had absolutely no business being there.

Putting on my big-girl boots and getting over it.

I got in the car early Saturday morning and told myself… this is one of those times you just have to act braver than you are. MANY writers, published or not, feel like they don’t deserve their acclaim.

But I knew I had to get past that in order to get the most of the weekend.

And walking down the ominous skywalk into the check-in area, I decided to officially leave the frightened, non-deserving part of me completely behind.

And within moments I was swept up into the whirlwind that is the NJ SCBWI conference, with amazingly friendly faces, positive encouragement and more information than you could possibly imagine.

Agent & Editor Interactions

This is my biggest take-away that I feel I can pass on. Here’s the big secret:

They’re people!

Who’d have thunk??

And while I’m not saying not to tell them the concept of your book or the super special twist on your novel, what I am saying is: be able to talk about other things as well.

(I’m not sure what the protocol would be to mention names here, so I’ll just say:) I had a great time chatting with an agent, an editor and a fellow author during a social time Saturday night after the comedian. I wasn’t pitching. And I wasn’t looking for an opportunity to pitch. We were just talking. It wasn’t an agent, an editor and two authors. It was four people.

I’m going to call myself out here:

Before this, I had seen agents and editors as these all-knowing, powerful beings that step in and make exciting things happen, or not happen.

While I’m still in awe of their wealth of knowledge, and grateful for all I learned from them, I think I broke down the mental wall in my mind. They’re people.

And (at least the ones I met) REALLY nice, laid back, fun people. They like books! So we have at least some similar interests.

And they have HARD jobs. A few of them confided in me that they don’t love the level of spotlight attention they’re given at conferences sometimes. But they all handle it with grace. When the editor sat down at our lunch table, people stopped mid-chew and all 14 eyeballs darted up towards her. But she introduced herself (even though we all knew who she was) sat down and seamlessly laughed at the length of the line for food.

I can honestly say that I had a wonderful time getting to know some of the agents and editors at the convention on a personal level. And I truly think that’s important.

But of course, when you are pitching…

Be honest. Be specific. Be READY!

Have the CONCEPT readily pitch-able. I learned a great way to think of concept in Jill Corcoran’s workshop. It’s not just the plot, the story, the characters. It’s why should someone read it? The same way you’d try to convince someone to go see a movie. People say, “what’s it about?” But really, what they mean is, “why do I want to see it?”

Cut the fluff.

Words like “adventurous” “mysterious” or “changes everything” (ALL of which were in my pitch on Saturday morning) don’t hold any real meaning.

I guess what it comes down to is that we need to be showing and not telling in our pitch, just as much as in our manuscript.

Everyone thinks their book is a “page-turner”. So that doesn’t give them any information. Tell them WHY. Use specifics. Use adjectives that matter. “Memorable” doesn’t cut it. Use an adjective that describes why she’s memorable instead.

Be READY!

I don’t just mean be ready to pitch. I mean be ready to hear the feedback, positive AND negative. And embrace them BOTH.

These are high-level professionals. I was very lucky to have their feedback. They’re not pointing out fault for their own sake. It doesn’t matter to them in the least. When they pointed out my faults, they were doing it for my sake, so I could improve.

And improve I did.

I had more “ah-ha!” and “I never thought of that” moments in those two days than I can count.

An example you ask? Well, I learned about the importance of drawling the reader in at the end of every chapter.

So I’ll give you a few examples of some of the most important, tangible things I learned in my next post. 

Erika, another great article, so glad you are on my team!

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Responses

  1. Erika, this was perfect! You addressed so many issues inexperienced (as far as not having attended a conference) writers (and illustrators) have. Your advice to them is EXcellent!

    And I will ALways add this important one: even if you are attending a conference for the first time–in fact, esPEcially if you’re attending for the first time–VOLUNTEER! It can be for simple things. It pulls you into the networking and mingling right away and adds a deeper dimension to the whole experience. It’s also the perfect way, certainly if you’re shy, to break the “ice” which, honestly, isn’t there anyway! Kidlit conferences are very “warm” places🙂

    • OoOh. Good one. I whole heartedly agree. I did a number of volunteer assignments. They were fun, made me feel like I belonged and were a great networking tool!!

  2. That is really helpful information. I’m getting ready to attend my first writer’s conference this month and I’m a little nervous.

    • Anna,

      This is a great first step. It is always hard to attend anything when you don’t know anyone. My first conference was at the SCBWI conference in NYC and I didn’t know anyone, so I found a chat room with other writers and asked if anyone was attending and there were five of us who were going, so we met the night before the conference for dinner. That broke the ice, but still with 1000 people it was hard bumping into each other, so I just made sure I introduced myself to people sitting near me and the nerve were calmed. By the next year, I looked forward to seeing the people I had met the year before. Now I have hundreds of people who I care about and they care about me. I am sure you will have a great time. the first step is always the hardest. Good luck! Have fun!

      Kathy

  3. Erika – this is a wonderful post! It really covers all the emotions and many great details. I’m so glad you had such a great experience. And I just want to add a personal ‘thank you’ for volunteering! The NJ-SCBWI’s June conference Is a fabulous conference and an important facet of that is due to the many attendees like yourself who jump in and volunteer! Can’t wait to read more here on Kathy’s blog and I hope we see you in November at the craft weekend also!

  4. Erika- it was so much fun meeting you. I’m glad you came and I’m especially glad you put “nj farm scribe” on your badge so I recognized you:) you also helped me get in the zone before going to pitch Jill- thank you!!

  5. Erika, It was great to see you at the conference. This is a wonderful introduction for all the new conference attendees. Everyone has to have a “first time”…having it at the NJSCBWI makes it a great start!

  6. Erika, I loved reading this as I’m heading off to my first SCBWI conference next week in Sydney.

    • Kaye,

      That’s exciting. It will be the start of a wonderful journey.

      Kathy


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