The last two weeks have been a whirlwind of ballrooms, panels and keynotes. I attended the Writers League of Texas 2017 Agents & Editors Conference in Austin on June 30 to July 2, then flew to Los Angeles for the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators 2017 Summer Conference on July 7-9. Now I’m filled up with inspiration—and a little exhausted.
Both conferences were amazing and busy. I moderated two panels at the WLT conference, one with authors Owen Egerton (HOLLOW) and Joe Jiménez (BLOODLINE) and their editors Daniel Smetanka of Counterpoint Press and Gabriela Baeza Ventura of Arte Publico Press on the editor/author relationship. The prevalent message from the panelists was trust. For the author/editor relationship to work best, there must be trust. After all, you both want the same thing: The best book possible.
The other panel I moderated was with agents Regina Brooks of Serendipity Literary Agency, Steven Salpeter at Curtis Brown and Alexa Stark from Trident Media on “What Agents Mean When They Say ______.” We went through the common phrases that show up in agent letters, such as “I didn’t connect with (fill in the blank)” or “I didn’t love this as much as I hoped.”As Peter Salpeter stressed to the attendees, “Rejections are opportunities.” With each rejection, we learn a little more and can push farther in our craft toward that “Yes.”
As great as those panels were, one of my favorites parts of the conference was the keynote by Ken Liu (THE GRACE OF KINGS), who spoke about the ups and downs of his publishing journey. Like the time he obsessed with rewriting one story over and over, racking up numerous rejections, until he gave up, thinking he wasn’t supposed to be a writer. But, after he tried other careers, he came back to his love, wrote more stories and found many yes-es. He has now won awards and is a bestseller.
I love stories like that.
Perseverance was the buzz word at the SCBWI conference too. It was the theme of keynoters Vanessa Brantley Newton (THE YOUNGEST MARCHER), Sean Qualls (WHY AM I ME?) and Stephanie Garber (CARAVAL). Illustrator Vanessa Brantley Newton stressed how she’s pushed through adversity to get where she is today. Illustrator Sean Qualls talked about how his success started when he began to trust his own voice. And New York Times best-selling author Stephanie Garber said her “overnight success” came after she’d got more than a hundred rejections for her first novel, wrote a bunch more novels, received even more rejections, but also began to concentrate more on her craft. Then she found a novel idea she was obsessed with, and that one got her multiple offers from agents, an eight-editor auction and a movie deal.
Yes, lots of inspiration.
But the message isn’t just persevere and you shall receive. It’s trust in yourself, trust in your partners, and focus on creating your best work possible. The rest will come.
Then create your best work possible. I look forward to seeing it.