Tuesday, August 2, 2016

SCBWI LA conference 2016 thoughts


I just got back from the 2016 Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators conference in LA. This was the view from my hotel. I figured I should write down my thoughts while the experience is still fresh in my mind.

The conference took place in the glamorous Millenium Biltmore Hotel, which looked and felt like a time capsule from the 1920's.


The hotel is said to be haunted. In fact, some scenes from the original Ghostbusters were filmed here.


There were about 950 attendees at the conference. As far as I could tell, the attendees were about 90% women. At the beginning and end of each day, we gathered in the big room to hear the keynote speakers and listen to panels.


Then throughout the day, there were multiple "breakout sessions" to choose from. These sessions took place is slightly smaller (but no less impressive) rooms.


The sessions I attended were "How to Create a Picture Book Series" by Matt Ringler, "How to Take Inspiration From Your Influences" by Jon Klassen and his agent Steven Malk, and "Foundations of Picture Book Illustration" by Laurent Linn.


I was really impressed with the conference. SCBWI doesn't mess around. Events started on time. Everything ran smoothly. The speakers were all top-notch, bestselling authors, Caldecott-winning illustrators, editors and art directors from major publishing houses, owners of agencies. At one point I looked to the side and realized that Dan Santat was standing next to me. Some talks were more informative, others more inspirational, but they were all very good.

SCBWI kept us busy from 8:45 in the morning to 9:30 at night. They even fed us a 3-course dinner in the ballroom...


...and threw a fancy party for us the next night.


As an introvert, I loathe big parties. I mostly just showed up, stuffed my face with fancy hors d'ouevers, then went home and watched Ghostbusters.

On Saturday the illustrators turned in their portfolios to the showcase. The staff arranged them on long tables in two rooms. First a jury was allowed to look at the portfolios and choose some winners. Then the attendees were let in and it was crazy.



I looked at as many portfolios as I could, but eventually I just had to get out of there. I wish the attendees had more time to browse the show, so it wouldn't be so crowded.

My lovingly assembled portfolio did not win any awards. However, I saw many beautiful portfolios there that also didn't win, including some artists whose names I recognized as already working in the industry. So I didn't feel too bad about it.


A theme running throughout the talks was that there is no overnight success. Sometimes career paths take a long time to develop. Jon Klassen worked as an animator for 10 years, and claimed he wasn't very good at it. Drew Daywalt, author of the bestselling "The Day the Crayons Quit" scraped by as a writer in Hollywood for over 10 years. Marie Lu received over 600 rejection letters before becoming a bestselling author. Neal Shusterman had the same story: it took hundreds of rejection letters before he got published.

"Rejection comes for us all. Don't fear it," Marie Lu said.


Here is my illustrator promo haul! I met some very lovely people, a few of whom claimed to be blog readers, which was really cool. Then I flew home and slept for 10 hours.

If you're wondering whether to attend an SCBWI conference, here's my opinion. This conference is for those who are really serious about writing and illustrating children's books, including middle-grade and YA. It's not for people who want to write adult novels or comic books, or people who are just kind of curious or casual. It's not a conference for the faint of heart. You don't have to be published professional, but you have to want to be a published professional. You have to come hungry for information, inspiration and the chance to meet people.

If you're an illustration student or a recently grad, I'd highly recommend attending an SCBWI conference. Yes, it is expensive. It's really valuable to get information straight from the industry professionals themselves, not from the internet or your friends or teachers. If you're a student, remember that you can apply for the Student Scholarship. If you're interested in learning more about the conference, SCBWI live-blogged it here in quite a lot of detail.

I hope that I can attend one at least every few years.

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