Saturday, March 7, 2015
What a perfect day for this year's SCBWI Illinois Spring Thaw: the sunny and "warm" weather (the low 40's after months of brutal below-zero windchills is paradise!) put everyone in a good mood and ready to dust off the winter's work to share and critique with others.
Contrary to Prairie Writer's and Illustrator's Day back in November, this conference is much more intimate. Instead of sitting in a big conference room, we were at round tables where we got to interact and get to know people. I enjoyed the format (and the shorter day, and come to think of it, shorter drive) much better!
Some of the highlights:
1. A keynote speech from agent Paul Rodeen of Rodeen Literary Management located right here in Chicago. One of the biggest takeaways from his speech was that when it comes down to it, if you want to get your book published, you need to be a really, really good writer. Duh, right? But, it's very easy to lose sight of that when you're constantly inundated with workshops on finding the right agent, and mastering the query letter. So, it was nice to be reminded what truly matters!
2. Another keynote speech from Kelly Barrales-Saylor, an editor with Albert Whitman & Company of Park Ridge. She was hilarious and personable, and broke publishing into three main feats of human strength (my words, not hers): Do Your Homework & Research; Submit Something Great; and Get Used to Rejection. I really appreciate her last point on rejection, which was that in fact, it's NOT the rejection that's the hardest part. It's learning to work with your editor/agent after being offered a deal on COMPLETELY CHANGING YOUR MANUSCRIPT. I get why that part is difficult, I do. But if I've been offered a book deal by an agent or editor, I promise I will not mind this step. I will do whatever they suggest to make my book the best it can be! But, I do think it's good for authors to go into this knowing that will happen. That even when your work has been "accepted" by the publishing world, it's still going to need some work.
She also gave me a great idea for my blog: interview agents and editors! What better way to hobnob with the target audience, plus get some great advice? Stay tuned for this feature here. Kelly and I both work in Park Ridge...think she'll want to do lunch?
3. Round Table discussions: We were seated according to book format (picture books, middle grade, YA, etc) and had two sessions where table members got to share the first 500 words of their work and get feedback from the group. This was great! It's always so nice to get fresh eyes on your work; particularly fresh eyes belonging to people familiar with the industry. I came away with a couple of good ideas and all kinds of warm fuzzies from my table-mates. I also scored a new e-mail beta reader/critique partner!
4. A 15-minute one-on-one talk with an agent or editor who had read your first ten pages prior to the conference. Invaluable! For us pre-published authors, editors and agents often seem so inaccessible. So to have one read your work and discuss with you is so refreshing. My sit-down was with Paul Rodeen. He gave me a lot to think about, which felt overwhelming at first. I can definitely see the validity of several of his points...I'm just not ready to tackle them yet. I need to let his comments marinate for a while, then examine how I can incorporate them into my piece while still keeping it my piece.
Getting personalized feedback can be so hard, because it's such a subjective industry. For every agent that likes your work and relates to your vision (which is probably only a few), there are hundreds who don't. It doesn't mean you're a bad writer or they're cruel agents, it just means there wasn't that much needed connection. It can feel very discouraging at times, but I relate it to dating, in search of "The One." You kiss a lot of frogs until you find your prince, so they say. Well, you also submit to a lot of frogs until you find your Agent (note: I'm not calling anyone there today a frog.)
5. As with Prairie Writer's Day, the highlight of my experience came in the last 5 minutes, during the Mix & Mingle. I'm really starting to get the hang of these things--and with no cocktails, either! When I first learned Chicago-based Andrea Brown agent Jennifer Mattson would be on the panel, I freaked out. She is at the very tippy top of my dream-agent-list, after having read several interviews with her and about her work. What an opportunity! I patiently waited my turn to introduce myself and my work, and we had a great conversation in which she actually asked me more about my novel after hearing my "elevator pitch!" And THEN she said she'd love to take a look at it! Done! Hooray! She even loved my bookmark business card (thanks again 12 Line Studio).
Now I just need to find a moment to submit to her amidst closing on a new house, moving, and a trip to Hawaii. Should be no problem :)