The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Conference Junkie

This post is entitled “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Conference Junkie” or Ten Tips for Attending the SCBWI LA Conference (which I have a feeling a good number of you readers are going to be attending). So as a four-year veteran of the Sunny Side of SCBWI, I thought I’d offer the following insight:

1. Out Dress Fancy Nancy – Be yourself! You don’t have to out-dress Fancy Nancy or anyone for that matter. Yes, it’s true professionals will be roaming the hotel and having cocktails at the bar, but that doesn’t mean you have to put on your suit and tie. The conference is a creative and welcoming environment so wear something that makes you feel like the fantastic writer/illustrator that you are! But do take into consideration the fact that you’ll be sitting for many of the events. And note that though it may be a broiling 100+ degrees outside in the California sun, the conference rooms are often arctic cold, so bring a sweater or at least have one up in your hotel room to grab between sessions.

2. Diary of a Wimpy Conference Attendee – Be sure to bring a diary, or a journal, or a notebook, or your own personal bar-napkin filing system. I often treat myself to a special notebook before the event to keep all my notes organized. You’re going to hear lots of great advice and you’ll want to keep track of it all. I organize my notebook by day (Sat, Sun, Mon, etc.) and I’m sure to write down the name of the sessions I attend, and the presenters. As you can tell (from this blog) I’m an avid note taker. But you’ll be surprised how much you forget in a week or two, so it’s great to have a resource to return to.

3. Nick and Nora’s Infinite Research List – It’s a great idea to research the presenters before the conference, but it’s true you can spend hours and hours researching the long list of SCBWI Faculty. Instead, I suggest you narrow down your list. Skim through the faculty bios at the SCBWI website and see who is of interest to you. Who writes/reps/publishes books like yours. Who’s speaking about areas of interest to you – revision, marketing, submissions, etc. Try and read some  interviews or blog posts about those specific faculty members. If you have time, go to the library and pick up some of the key-note speaker’s books. Target your research and if you have extra time expand your list. Don’t forget the plane ride is a great time to read too!

4. The Bathroom Games – If you’re male, then you’ve got a leg up in the bathroom department. Usually the ratio of men to women at the conference is about 70-30. So when the sessions end, the line out the ladies room could resemble an arena where you fight to the death. A few tactics to help avoid the bathroom battlefield include: 1) Try leaving a session a moment or two early so that you’re the first in line. 2) Go up to the next level of the hotel and find a less frequented bathroom. 3) When a break is a little longer than normal head up to your own hotel room where there is no line. 4) Don’t drink anything all day (kidding!).

5. The Very Friendly Caterpillar – One of the most rewarding things about attending an SCBWI conference is the friends you will make. I always feel like I’m headed to camp when I go to the conference. This is because of the amazing friends I’ve made over the years. In fact, I even have an online critique group made of writers I’ve been bold enough to say hello to. So don’t be afraid to turn to your neighbor and strike up a conversation. You may be about to make a life-long friend!

6. Where The Wild Costumes Are – Let the wild rumpus begin! And by rumpus I mean Saturday night costume gala! Yes, it is a costume party!  Think Halloween and get out your finest wig, cape, or princess dress. The party is always color themed so if you’re not in the mood to get out the super-hero spandex you can simply wear a colored tie or scarf, or you can go all out and dress as Marie Antoinette or the newest Space Invader. I saw Jay Asher (author of Thirteen Reasons Why) dressed as Austin Powers last year. Wear as crazy an outfit as you feel comfortable with. But yes, you can go all out!

7. The Little Writer That Could – I think I can! I think I can! Yes, indeed, you can! Everyone’s dream is to be published, but don’t expect miracles from a conference. This is about education and making connections. And the best thing to do (rather than hocking your manuscript) is to bring a professional business card. And when you make friends and acquaintances and they give you their business cards be sure to write down when and where you met them and some important details to help you remember who they are later.

8. Harriet the Portfolio Spy – If you’re participating in the portfolio show it can be really educational to become a spy. Find a place near your portfolio, but far enough away for people to not realize you’re watching them. During the show watch how people react to your book. Are there certain pieces they laugh at, smile at, pull their friends over to show them? What piece makes them lose interest and move on to the next book? You can also follow an editor or art director around as they move through the portfolios. (Remember you’re a spy, so don’t get too close). Watch how they look at portfolios, notice what catches their interest.

9. Harry Potter and the Deathly Manuscript Critique – If you’re getting a manuscript or portfolio critique make sure you keep your cool. Yes, it can be nerve wracking, but take a breath and be prepared to listen. Remember the professionals reviewing your work read and edit books for a living. Don’t defend, but listen. You don’t have to agree with everything they say, but at least consider it. Editors and agents are real people too, just like you and me. Have a discussion, be polite, ask questions. And when it’s all said and done, sleep on it. When you go to revise you need to remember that this is only one persons opinion, and no one knows the voice of your book better than you. So take their comments to heart, but don’t let it overpower your own point of view.

10. If You Give an Editor a Cookie – AWKWARD! Okay, don’t really give an editor a cookie. But after the conference do take the time to send them a thank-you note. Send them to all the presenters, agents, authors, organizers, etc. You won’t get many responses, but it does show your appreciation and makes you a part of the community. I personally have received a few responses from thank-you notes, and even a manuscript request once. So you never know what can happen!

Always have fun!

Hopefully I’ll bump into a few of you at the end of this month! Please come over and say hi!

10 thoughts on “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Conference Junkie

  1. Ingrid–thanks for all the tips. Your blog is great–I love reading it, and I look forward to seeing you at the L.A. conference. I’ll be the one not in costume on Sat. night (not really a costume girl). sigh.

  2. Such great advice presented in a clever way. I’m so bummed I won’t be able to go, but we’re taking our family vacation that week. Plus, my annual conference/workshop budget is kind of tapped out at this point. However, you take such amazing notes, I feel like I’ll still catch all of the important points! Good luck and have a great time.

  3. Really great suggestions, Ingrid. (and fun!) I hope we’ll get a chance to meet.

    Just want to mention to that SCBWI TEAM BLOG has done many pre-conference interviews to help with suggestion number 3. 🙂

    Oh, and the poolside gala this year doesn’t have a color tie (what to do? what to do?)! It’s “Heart and Soul.” I think this one will be a bit more challenging than others in the past. I expect to see many hearts, but I’m excited to see the creativity of those that go all out with their costumes.

  4. @Leah – I look forward to seeing you at the conference too! If I manage to dye my hair blue again before the conference I’ll be easy to spot!

    @Julie – You’ll be missed!

    @Jolie – I hope to meet you too! I thought the color for the Gala this year was Red (and Heart and Soul). Well…I’ll be in red.

  5. Alas, I will not be going to LA, but these are great tips to use for any conference (except maybe the costume party, darn it!). Thanks for the fun write-up.

  6. This is terrific Ingrid–everyone at the SCBWI office has enjoyed your comments. Would you object if we linked this from our site? And we will look forward to seeing you shortly!

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