Friday, 25 May 2012


Wow, I've had a terrific response from authors and illustrators offering their tips on how to get the most out of your SCBWI Conference. Now over to them...

When I attended the CBCA conference in Sydney a few years ago, I felt very overwhelmed – not only from the insanely good programme, but from the crowd. I was relatively new to the children’s book industry at the time, and although I knew lots of people by name or in a virtual sense, I had never met them in person, so found myself foundering a little when it came to networking.

In hindsight, I would have spent more time tee-ing up with people, asking them if they were going and if we could meet up at some stage. If you do find yourself immersed in the book-loving fray of a conference without a networking buddy, look for someone in a similar position and introduce yourself.
They may also be relieved to have someone to chat and share their experiences with – and you may even make an amazing new friend.

If you are established and heavily networked and notice someone sitting on the ‘I’m lonely’ bench – reach out and introduced them to people. Feeling included and welcome can mean a much richer conference experience for all delegates.

Unpublished writers:
* Do bring business cards.
* Do think about a story you've been working on so that if a publisher asks you, you can be succinct and enticing.
* Do be prepared to introduce yourself to people.
* Do listen to the stories of others, while realising that experiences can differ markedly
* Don't bring copies of manuscript to give publishers
* Don't go into great detail about your manuscript, unless specifically asked
* Don't apologise for being unpublished.

Published writers (some of the above apply as well):
* Do bring business cards
* Don't bag publishers even if your experience has been negative

LESLEY VAMOS, illustrator:
Don't decide that this will be your big break and subsequent launching pad to your career. Expecting too much from a conference usually leads to putting too much pressure on yourself as well as major disappointment which can mean the small wins aren't counted. 

Relax, be in the moment and enjoy the experience of being around people that share your passion.              

SUE LAWSON, author:
1. Choose food carefully. Balancing a drink and a potentially messy morsel can end in disaster! Those greasy marks are never a good look.

2. Network! All attendees share your passion. Children's book people are incredibly friendly and generous.
3. Keep your pen and notebook or iPad handy - there is always so much brilliant information your brain will struggle to absorb it all unless you take notes.
4. If flying, pack light - I guarantee you'll return home with many new and signed books.

For published authors/illustrators - Say hello to everyone you collide with at the SCBWI Conference. Lifelong friends are made at Children's Book gatherings. 

For pre-published, do the same, you'll just need to be a little braver. I think that often we return from conferences or seminars maybe feeling we should have asked that burning question (but didn't because we were too shy to put up our hand), gone up to that famous author or illustrator and introduced ourselves (instead of being tentative or terrified) or walked up to that table, the one with only a single spare place and asked if we could join the group. 

Only exception is making sure we give publishers and agents the privacy they deserve when they are doing things like eating breakfast or using the bathroom.
I often find that it's after returning home that the benefits jump out and scream at me. I always take notes, all the important bits, and revisit the experience again, working things out as to who fits where and who works for which publishing house. All you need is an email address and you can keep contact with those new acquaintances.
Most of all, drink in the atmosphere and enjoy the experience.

Besides the obvious that I'm sure everyone has said (be professional, regardless of whether you're talking to an industry representative, a presenter or a conference attendee), be prepared and always have a 1-sentence and a 1-minute summary of your manuscript in your head. 

Even if you never get to use it out loud, it's a good writing exercise to be able to reduce your story down to a sentence or paragraph. 

I think it was Darren Groth who gave me this advice years ago and I have always remembered it. (Thanks, Darren!). Other than that, have fun being with a room full of like-minded people - book lovers! (Julie, it was Darren! I remember the occasion and how clever he is at grabbing the essential..Ed.)

• Standing on the edge of a crowded room heaving with bubbly people who all seem to know each other can be intimidating – but people who work in children’s publishing (whether as authors, illustrators, designers, editors or publishers) are some of the nicest and friendliest people on the planet! And you’re all there for the same reason – a love of children’s books. 
Take a deep breath and join the nearest group! Remember, everyone started from the same position you’re in.
• Try to book a room in the hotel if you can. As much schmoozing is done at breakfast or in the hotel lounge or out on the terrace (often into the wee hours) as at the conference itself.
• Try to condense the outline for your latest masterpiece down to one or two sentences, so you can tell people (including interested agents or publishers) about it succinctly when they ask you: So what are you working on at the moment?
• Bring along some business cards or post cards to hand out.
• If you are a sax player or a drummer (with lounge lizard tendencies), please let me know immediately!
• Most importantly, have fun!
This will be Meredith’s fourth international SCBWI conference, and she can’t wait for it to begin!        

I think the most important thing is meeting new people and sharing ideas.  Going to at least one session that is different to what you normally do is another way to make the most of a conference.

TINA MARIE CLARK, author, CYA Conference manager
My only thing to a newbie at a SCBWI conference: Don't go in there thinking you know everything, let your mind be open to all the wonderful talent around you, to the tips from the speakers and listen to what people have to say. Network.
Introduce yourself, don't be afraid to talk to the person sitting next to you. You might never know who they are. Authors, publishers, agents - don't have a tattoo on their foreheads advertising who they are!

If you would like to add your comments or hints, please join the conversation!
Many thanks to everyone who responded to this call out. 
I'm sure your hints and advice will be much appreciated... Sheryl 


  1. This is my fourth A/NZ SCBWI Conference and I've also been to the LA Conference once, a couple of years ago. A few tips for the newbies, especially the unpublished:
    - You are not wannabees. You are goingtobees.
    - There will be a few of you, so band together, exchange details and keep in touch. Watch each other's careers take off.
    - Yes, lots of people get together and renew friendships, this is your opportunity to start that process.
    - Don't be intimidated by sitting next to published authors, especially with ones who have very familiar names. I sat between two at my first conference and they were both amazingly lovely and interested in me, too.
    - Sit near the front.
    - Take advantage of all opportunities that come your way. Don't be a wallflower.
    - It may be overwhelming. At my first conference I felt ill and got a massive headache from information overload and all the new experiences (bring Panadol or there is a pharmacy around the corner).
    - Don't pitch unless someone asks you. Ask others about their projects because everyone likes to talk about their work.
    - Take notes (yes, someone else said that, but it is SOOO important).
    - Try not to be cynical. It can be very hard when your reality doesn't match the promises. There are many paths to publishing, now. Ask around.
    - If you are feeling lonely, find someone else who is looking lonely and chat.
    - Come back again next time.
    - Find me and say hi. :D

    Lynda Calder - First time author (finally)

  2. Thanks for your comments, Lynda . :)

  3. Thanks for all the great advice. I have no doubt that people will be friendly. I've only recently started coming to SCBWI meetings and everyone has been welcoming even though I didn't have any books accepted yet.

    Some of your advice is new to me (I'm too embarrassed to say which bits - haha). The one piece of advice which surprised me is to ask people what they're working on. I asked a couple of SCBWI people what they were working on, and each one said it was secret or something along those lines, so I quickly stopped asking that question. Why are some projects secret?

  4. Penny, I understand the dilemma you refer to.

    Probably lots of people would be happy to talk about their work-in-progress if a publisher or agent asked, but may not be willing to share those type of detailed answers to someone they don't know well - for several reasons ... it is difficult to be concise about something that has taken over one's life, namely a story and most people don't want to hear a great ramble (although I have to admit, I did turn a dinner guest cross-eyed with boredom once, in revenge for some remark he made about children's writers. He'll never make the same mistake again.)

    Some people may be unwilling to share their great idea for a story in case someone 'steals' it. There're probably other reasons too.
    My advice is to ask what area of children's writing or illustrating the other person is working in - a looser question that a stranger can ask without being too indepth, then hopefully that person will also ask you in return. Hope this helps! :)

    Others may want to respond too...