From Writing Conference Attendee, to Volunteer, to Faculty

Next week, I will be faculty at my first Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators writing conference, and it feels like a milestone.

Doing announcements at the 2016 Austin SCBWI conference. Photo: Sam Bond Photography

Me doing announcements at the 2016 Austin SCBWI conference. Photo: Sam Bond Photography

The first SCBWI conference I attended was in 2007. I was living in Los Angeles then, so attended the huge annual Summer Conference organized by SCBWI headquarters. As a wallflower who knew no one, I was so nervous about going. Luckily, I saw a post on the SCBWI Discussion Board from an SCBWI member in Scotland who was flying over. She was staying at a hotel that was just slightly outside of my commute, so I offered to give her a ride every day. She was grateful to not have to take the bus, but I have to admit, my generosity helped me probably more than it helped her. Having that connection with Kirsty meant I knew one person in the sea of more than a thousand attendees. We had the best time—and we’re still friends!

A few years later, my husband and I moved to Houston, and I discovered regional conferences. I felt like I was in heaven. The Houston SCBWI conference was smaller than the main SCBWI Summer one, but it had amazing sessions, critique opportunities with agents and editors, and even though I still felt like a wallflower, it was small enough that I could meet people—and we’re still friends too.

I fell so in love with the regional conferences—the learning, career opportunities, the connections—that I sought out more. Texas has five SCBWI chapters that put on events, and one year I was lucky enough to go to conferences in Houston, Austin, Dallas and College Station. I couldn’t afford to go to the big LA or NY conferences every year, but these regional events were smaller, less expensive and more intimate. I learned so much at these regional conferences, at the sessions and through the critiques with professionals, and slowly, slowly, slowly, I could see my writing craft improving.

When my husband and I moved to Austin in 2010, I immediately went to the first SCBWI chapter meeting I could find. I didn’t know anyone, but everyone was warm and welcoming. In Houston, I had volunteered to run the critique group in my area when its leader moved, and that experience had helped me step away from the wall and make amazing friends. So in Austin, I realized that the fastest way to get to know people was to get involved. I offered to volunteer, and my first year here, I volunteered at the chapter’s annual conference. I’ve been volunteering ever since—and made wonderful friends here too!

Next week, 12 years after attending my first SCBWI conference, I’ll be going to the Austin Writers & Illustrators Working Conference with a new role: Faculty.

Six years ago, I stepped up my volunteering to take on the Regional Advisor role, heading up the Austin chapter. Organizing its conference was a huge, overwhelming, and daunting task, but we had a great team who were very enthusiastic, and we created the conference we wanted to attend. Our team has been doing that ever since. It has given me confidence and taught me to speak freely in front of large crowds, for announcements at least.

But all this time, while I was attending conferences and learning and making friends in the writing community, I was not a published author. I was writing, revising, and polishing. I was submitting, getting rejections, and submitting some more. I thought of giving up many, MANY times. But the friends I’ve made over the years and the support I’ve gotten through SCBWI members and events, helped to keep me afloat on the worst days when I could barely see any hope.

They helped me become the published author I am today.

Next week, 12 years after attending my first SCBWI conference, I’ll be going to the Austin Writers & Illustrators Working Conference with a new role: Faculty.

As the Regional Advisor for the chapter, I’m also still organizing the conference, but my involvement as faculty is thanks to our Assistant Regional Advisor, Gayleen Rabakukk. She suggested we invite my editor, Sarah Jane Abbott at Paula Wiseman Books/Simon & Schuster, because of her wonderful work on picture books and her highly reviewed picture book sessions at other SCBWI conferences. From there, the conference organizing team liked the idea of hearing from Sarah Jane as an editor at two different imprints and working with me as an acquiring editor and authors like Chris Barton as an editorial assistant. It became a unique opportunity to learn about these relationships in publishing.

And like that, I became faculty at an SCBWI conference for the first time.

Twelve years ago, I watched the faculty at my first conference and thought I’d never be where they were, although, I had a twinkle of excitement at the idea that some day, maybe, after a lot of work, I would. Because being up there meant I had achieved my dream and written a book that a publisher wanted to buy.

Funnily enough, I couldn’t have gotten to that position if it wasn’t for those conferences—and all of my involvement within them.

As an attendee, they taught me about craft and prepared me for publishing. As a volunteer, they gave me connection. And as an organizer, they built my confidence, as a person and a speaker.

Being on faculty this year, critiquing manuscripts for attendees, I hope that I can inspire the writers and illustrators in our crowd. Because, if I can get to this point, I know they can too.

Have you attended writing conferences? What are your favorites?


What do you think?