Educating and Inspiring
By Margaret Terhune
A few weeks ago, I attended the Society of Children’s Book writers and Illustrators’ (SCBWI) annual New England conference. Conferences offer rare opportunities to meet and learn from seasoned authors and editors. I love going to good conferences: being surrounded by so many other writers motivates me to come home and write with renewed passion and hope.
While conferences vary in length and subject matter, the format is usually the same. After registration and coffee, attendees listen to a keynote speaker. At the SCBWI conference, children’s author Patricia Polacco (Pink and Say, Rechenka’s Eggs, The Keeping Quilt ) spoke movingly about writing from the heart. At other conferences, speakers may range from authors and poets to agents and art directors. The speech sets the tone or theme for the day, putting everyone in a literary frame of mind.
After the keynote speech, participants attend smaller seminars. These sessions, led by authors, agents or editors, are invaluable ways to explore topics from beating writer’s block to marketing strategies. In the course of the day, I explored writing historical fiction, learned how to tap into the magazine market and gained an invaluable amount of information on internet research.
One of the best features of the SCBWI conference is the chance to get a personal critique from an editor (or agent). Not all conferences present this opportunity, but it is well worth the extra fee if it’s offered. Most editors appear to be elusive and unreachable in the everyday world of publishing; being able to meet with one is priceless for a serious writer. If you have an editor’s critique, listen – you may not agree with what he or she is saying about your work, but it is an unbiased (and professional) opinion. Don’t bring other writing with you to the critique but focus on the piece in question. After the conference, be sure to follow up on your meeting with a brief note to the editor.
Networking time is built into the day during breaks, lunch and book-signings. Most authors are very approachable. In addition to hearing their own success – and rejection – stories, you may learn about new markets for your own work.
Where are these conferences offered? Most major literary organizations hold an annual conference. Magazines like Writer’s Digest and Poets and Writers often have listings or advertisements for conferences. Locally, check with college English or Creative Writing departments: if they don’t sponsor their own writing conference, they may know of others in the area. Some conferences are genre-specific (such as children’s writing, journalism or poetry) while others address a multitude of writing concerns. These benefit both beginning writers who aren’t sure of their genre and seasoned writers who want to learn about opportunities in other fields of writing.
Some conference advice: come prepared with pens and paper: in addition to taking copious notes, many seminars focus on on-the-spot creative writing. Ask questions! Introduce yourself to other participants and workshop leaders. Ask more questions.