Thursday, August 7, 2008

Impressions of SCBWI Conference

As promised, I'm posting some thoughts about last weekend's conference in LA, hosted by the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. Overall, I thought it was a fantastic event! Mind boggling, in fact, to have the opportunity to hear such a wide range of speakers, including editors, agents, publishers, author and illustrators. It was the most comprehensive writers' conference I've ever been to.

One of the best features of the conference is the chance to hear the most up-to-date information in North America publishing. Every speaker says something different and you come away with a sense of what's working in publishing today and what's not. It's been tough in Canadian publishing the last year or two, and it's easy to blame yourself, but I now understand that it's been tough for a lot of people in a lot of publishing houses across the continent. Many of the editors I heard talked about how the company they'd spent years working for had been bought by a bigger house. They related stories of how they'd been fired and their scramble to find a new place to work. They hadn't lost heart (entirely) but they definitely had been on the front lines. Some were starting their own publishing houses.

Arthur Levine, VP of Scholastic USA, talked about the (perceived) death of the picture book. He said that there's a general sense that picture books can't succeed in the marketplace and that publishers no longer accept many PB manuscripts. On the contrary, he says (and proved it with charts and graphs), in the last decade, the audience for picture books has grown and publishers are publishing as many picture books. The difficulty, he suggests, lies in the fact that there are far fewer independent booksellers left. These are the folks who hand-sold picture books. Today, there's only one PB buyer for Barnes and Noble and if that person doesn't see or like your picture book, it doesn't sell. Arthur suggests the fall of independent booksellers is the key reason for the picture book struggle of today.

Stephen Malk, an agent with Writer's House, gave a presentation called Career Management 101: Strategies for Long-Term Success. (This was part of a PRO-Track component of the conference, with seminars exclusively designed for published writers and illustrators.)  Stephen talked about how we should be planning and focussing our careers and developing a strategy for a long life in publishing. He gave many excellent tips on how to do this.

Alice Pope, editor of Children's Writers and Illustrators Market, spoke about the importance of having a web presence and gave us a long handout of important blogs and websites. Her own blog: lists up-to-date info about publishers and editors and where people are currently working. She suggests that we should all be blogging, as well as having a Facebook or My Space page, in addition to a website. 

There were many more interesting speakers and I will post more about them over the next few days.

Several people have asked me about the cost of getting to the conference and if I feel the content of it justified the expense. My answer is: It is expensive. The tuition was about $450 for 4 jam-packed days of speakers. Then there's the airfare and the hotel costs. (There are a few scholarships available that potential attendees can apply for; you can share a hotel room at a discounted conference rate; and if you have airline points or use the Alaska airlines companion fare, you can reduce the cost of your flight.) But — I think if you can swing it, you should try to go at least once in your career. It gives you an insight and overview to children's publishing that you can't get anywhere else. I will definitely go again if I can manage it.

Alternatively, there are many other regional SCBWI conferences hosted around North America. If you go to the events section of their website at:, you can see when and where they are held. I've been to the 2 day conference in New York, and a similar one in Seattle. Both were excellent. They are less expensive because they're of shorter duration, and the Seattle conference (held each April) is only a few hours drive from my home, so travel costs are reduced. I recommend them all. If you'd like more specific info on any of these, please email me at: and I will answer you directly.

That's all for today. Check back in a few days and I'll post more about the conference. So long for now! 

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