It’s almost that time again—the SCBWI Summer Conference is rapidly approaching. Yippee! An illustrator colleague of mine recently asked me about it, seeing how this will be her first time to attend. Since I’ve been a few times, I thought I’d offer up some tips--in no particular order of importance--just things as they randomly came to mind.
1. Take a sweater or jacket. While the hotel is lovely with the most comfortable hotel beds in the world (they don’t call them “Heavenly” for nothing), the meeting rooms and ballroom can be freezing! Of course, they can be stiflingly warm too. Take a cue from the Boy Scouts. Be prepared.
2. Predetermine your sessions. I like to determine my breakout sessions in advance, highlighting which ones pique my interest, but I also keep my ear out for other people who might have heard the same speakers in other sessions. That way, if I get a sense that the speaker doesn’t offer what I’m looking for I can change plans. I usually have a first and second choice highlighted on my conference flier. I’ve also found that it helps to read the books of the speakers you know you’ll be hearing.
3. Wear comfortable shoes. Even though we’re in the same hotel all day, there are three levels for conferencing, plus the treks to our rooms and dining opportunities. No one wants his or her piggies to be crying at the end of the day.
4. Food: IMHO, there are slim options for eating at the hotel: one nice restaurant—overpriced in my opinion, a poolside café, and the lounge/bar. For lunch, usually there’s a sandwich cart in the hotel lobby (sandwich, chips, soda/water), except on Sunday, due to the Golden Kite Luncheon. Oh, and speaking of the Golden Kite Luncheon (or as it’s affectionately called, “the parade of chicken breasts”), the dessert is always to die for! I’ve never been disappointedJ.
For dinners, my pals and I hoof it down the street to the mall (less than ten-minutes) where there is a variety of eateries at the food court. Saturday night we nosh at the poolside gala (a fun munch and mingle kind of thing—live music and a costume contest).
The only eating issue I’ve had is on Sunday night, but what I’ve found is that room service, while a bit spendy, offers large enough portions to share with my roommate. Plus, I usually take some snacks down with me (fruit, granola bars), so there’s enough to tide me over.
I honestly don’t know much about the breakfasts, other than the muffins, etc. that I’ve seen sold at the lounge/bar. I usually bring some homemade muffins so I don’t have to waste my morning time standing in a line. Coffeemakers are provided in the rooms, plus there’s free coffee in the lobby until around 11:00 or so.
5. Bring a book bag and money--especially you book addicts. Of course, there will be books sold and after hearing all of the fabulous authors, you’ll want to buy their books. Here’s a hot tip: the “cash” line is always shorter than the “credit card” line, so if you’re comfortable with it, bring some spare cash with you (hotel rooms do have safes for locking up your valuables).
Additionally, there are usually freebies (catalogs, posters, writing guidelines from various publishers, promotional materials from authors/illustrators). Now, I have to say that “freebies” doesn’t mean taking an author’s book from the display table. Eh-hem...yes, one year I took a copy of my new joke book to proudly display and by the end of the first day, someone had stolen it. Yep, stolen it! Can you believe that? I like to imagine a child somewhere is enjoying that book, and doesn’t know that how it came to land in his hands.
6. Take care of yourself. This is a personal one, because we’re all different, but I’ve learned to allow some “down time” for myself because four days of listening, learning, schmoozing and just plain hanging out with my writer and illustrator pals is fantastically exhausting. I bring a swimsuit for the Jacuzzi. Some folks participate in the yoga class. If you read my post on getting a good night’s sleep while traveling, you know that I bring a headset with quiet music. In essence, take care of yourself! It’s so very easy to overdo it.
7. Step out of your shell (if you have one). I know this is tough for a lot of people. The second conference I attended I didn’t know a single person. It was quite intimidating. I roomed with complete strangers who also didn’t know another soul in attendance. But I immediately discovered that children’s writers are some of the friendliest people on the planet. Some of those people I met way back then have come to be my closest writing friends.
One way to break the ice with people is to notice where they’re from (it’s on the nametags they give us) and strike up a conversation about that. If you’re waiting for a session to begin, chat with the person next to you. Ask them what kind of writing they do, if they’re published. Heck, you could even ask if they’ve read any good books lately! Remember, we all have a common bond of writing/illustrating for children, so there are a many interesting things to talk about.
8. Parking: If you carpool with a friend, drop the friend and all the luggage off at the hotel front then park the car. It’s a bit of a haul to lug all your bags from the hotel to the parking structure in the back.
9. Etiquette: Please don’t shove your manuscript under a restroom stall at an editor. It makes us all look bad. Manners, manners, manners! And I’m serious.
10. Expectations. Don’t expect to come home with a book contract in hand. That just doesn’t happen. What you will come home with is 1) newfound knowledge and skills, 2) new friends/colleagues, 3) editorial hope. By this, I mean that you will have heard editor’s speak and have the hope that because you better understand their needs, your work might find a place with them. However, this takes time—time for you to go home and re-evaluate your work (now that you have this newfound knowledge), time to further polish it (newfound skills), time to compose a well-thought out cover letter, and time for the editor to read it. That’s your hope ;-)
BTW, I know that other conference vets will be addressing this same topic, so please check them all out to insure that you’ll have a great time. Gregory P. mentioned that he‘d be posting something, and Shrinking Violets Promotions has already posted Conference Survival Tips on their site (June 24, ’07).
Enjoy and happy conferencing!