At BYU long ago I took a picture book class from Rick Walton (who has published many books). He mentioned SCBWI (the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) and the annual conferences they hold to help writers and illustrators polish their skills and - best of all - network. Since taking that class, I knew at some point I'd like to join SCBWI and attend their conferences. Because many publishing houses are closed to accepting unsolicited manuscripts and since slush piles for the houses that do are huge, it's so hard to get a foot in the door. The fact that SCBWI's conferences bring in editors and agents who give you the go-ahead to submit your work is the top reason I've kept my eyes on SCBWI.
Last weekend I had the privilege of attending my first conference. The LA and NewYork conferences provide the greatest amount of exposure, but since they're also the priciest I opted for the more affordable Rocky Mountain chapter. My hopes before going were to gain exposure, get validation that I have the talent for children's book writing and illustration, and to gain direction on how to hone what I can do to make it better. My experience gave me exactly what I had hoped for. Well, I suppose if an editor said flat out that I was exactly what they'd been looking for and had a job for me right away, it would have exceeded my dreams. But aside from that, what I learned was what I needed to hear. Here are the highlights of my experience:
1. An editor critiqued a story I've written and illustrated. She feels it has potential, focused on areas where it can be improved upon, and encouraged me to submit it once I've done so. It was an added bonus that she was really kind so that I left feeling inspired instead of overwhelmed.
2. In a different setting, that same editor provided her first impressions of our artwork. The class participants submitted three illustrations she looked at for the first time, giving us an opportunity to see her thought process. When she critiqued my three, she provided the validation I needed that what I have to offer is something that editors are looking for. It was also very helpful to see what others had done and to think about how I can incorporate certain elements (lighting, suspense, humor) into my artwork.
3. Another session took place with an editor and an agent who heard the first pages of our picture books and offered their impressions. It was helpful to hear the various manuscripts (read by someone with an Irish accent) to discover what stood out, and also to get into the mind of these industry professionals. I was lucky enough to have my page (randomly) selected, and the insight from the agent was especially helpful and encouraging.
4. Salina Yoon, author/illustrator of more than 150 books, shared her process with us in submitting novelty book proposals. She has a very creative mind, which inspired me to dig into my creativity (one of my strong points). This week, I've been working my way through an idea that I feel has great potential.
5. My illustration portfolio was reviewed. The illustrator was very impressed with my drawing skills (especially given that I didn't go to art school), and really liked my traditional watercolor paintings. She felt that my digital work needs more contrast and depth, something I hadn't seen until she pointed it out. She was impressed with my babies and children, and encouraged me to think about board and novelty books.
It was wonderful to meet other authors and illustrators (fewer than I'd expected) in the area. One of the opportunities they gave illustrators was for us to decorate a chair in a way to promote ourselves. They gave dimensions for us to work with, and a friend and I brainstormed the idea of an interactive "town" that I planned to slip over the chair. (Either I got the dimensions wrong or they gave the wrong dimensions because it didn't fit over the chair, but it still worked out.) Below are pictures of the box:
I showed consecutive scenes to depict an apartment (left side) and a library (right side):
I used my animal pictures for the museum:
The town included a post office (where people could open to collect samples):
I included a rooftop garden: