I can't believe how fast time has passed. It seems like just the other day I was in Los Angeles attending the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators yearly summer conference. Now I'm getting ready to go back, only this time I'm traveling from Seattle, rather than from somewhat nearby Santa Barbara. I attended my first SCBWI summer conference in August 2012 after my mentor told me she considered SCBWI to be the most important organization for writers and illustrators of children's books, or people who wanted to get into the field. I signed up and she even accompanied me to the conference! I learned so much from the workshops on subjects such as character development, voice, and writing believable dialogue that I signed up the next year. And then I continued to learn about the craft and make more friends and connections in the children's publishing industry.
Aside from improving my writing ability and meeting new people, I love attending this conference because it makes my dream of becoming an author seem possible. Many attendees have already been published or have book deals, have their work on submission or at least have agents. And if they don't, they make the connections that lead to getting representation while at the conference. If you haven't had work published yet, the conference faculty and attendees encourage you to refer to yourself as "pre-published," meaning you will become an author or illustrator one day. ONE DAY!
Last year, I arrived a few minutes late to one of the keynote speeches. More than 2,000 people sat watching the speaker. All the chairs were taken, so I sat on the floor in the very back of the room. I made friends with two people sitting on the floor near me, Lena and Patrick. Lena, a graphic designer and aspiring illustrator of children's books, told me it was her first SCBWI conference. I pointed to a man sitting on the floor a few feet from us.
"Do you know who that is?" I whispered to Lena and pointed to the man, discreetly. She shook her head. I pulled up his Wikipedia page. "That's Jay Asher. He's the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Thirteen Reasons Why. He's faculty for the conference, I think."
Lena nodded, seemingly impressed. I told her about my writing and how excited I am to be working with a literary agent on it. She told me she was still seeking representation. We became "conference buddies" and sat with each other during a few talks. We also met up for the wine and cheese party.
While still sitting on the floor, we introduced ourselves to Patrick. I rattled on and on about me (I really need to work on not doing this! Goal for this conference: Talk less, listen more.) and by the time I asked him what he was working on, he pulled a book out of his bag to show me his debut novel, which was set to be published in just two weeks. I tweeted this, of course, and we became conference buddies, too.
Later, after attending more workshops and making more friends, I attended the poolside party the conference throws every year. While in line for a drink, I saw Carolyn Mackler, another bestselling author, who just-so-happened to co-author The Future of Us with Jay Asher (I really like this book; it's about two teens who discover their future Facebook pages decades before the site was launched and learn about all the ways their lives change, for the good and bad ... and then try to change their futures). I told her I really enjoyed the keynote speech she gave earlier and we chatted for a few minutes. That was really cool! Later, when she signed my book at the autograph party, she wrote how nice it was to meet me. I was quite star struck.
A few months after the conference, Robby and I saw Patrick's book on display at Granada Books in Santa Barbara, and I've seen it in several bookstores since. I had been in touch with Lena and she told me she now has an agent, someone she met at the conference!
Now, I'm packing to leave TOMORROW for the conference, which starts Friday. I'll attend workshops all day for three days and I am sure I will learn a ton. A few friends are meeting me in LA to hang out and I'm staying with my buddy Laura while I'm there, so I know we'll have a blast. I'm also excited to see my mentor, because she's going to attend the poolside party. This year's theme is old Italian. I'm not really sure what that means, so I probably won't dress up. Usually I put on a temporary tattoo and call myself festive but if any of you know what I should wear, please let me know! Maybe this year will be the first year I have a costume.
Speaking of firsts, this is the first time I signed up for a manuscript critique. I sent the first ten pages of my YA science fiction into SCBWI a couple of months ago. During the conference, I'll have a critique session with an editor from a publishing house, or a literary agent, or a professional reviewer. I'm hoping for an editor! Who knows, maybe I'll meet someone at the conference who can help me on my way to becoming an author? I hope so!