SCBWI Winter Conference – Notes and Reflections on the Writing, Creating and Marketing Books for Kids

It’s taken a little while for me to get around to this, but I spent the weekend before last in New York at the SCBWI (Society of Book Writers and Illustrators) Winter Conference. This is a conference for children’s book creators, both writers and illustrators. It is a great organization that helps its members find support in creating their books, and also in finding their audience. Of the attendees at the conference, 60% were already published, and 40% were pre-published. It was an interesting group and the writers and illustrators there covered everything from board books designed to be chewed on as much as read, to edgy young adult books, and everything in between. The people I met there were diverse, but they all shared one attribute. Passion. Every person I met was passionate about their craft, and the desire to create great books for children of all ages.

My goal in going to the conference was to find out more about how to market and publicize my book. My novel, Summer on Earth, is coming out this fall from a small publisher, Persnickety Press. There are an awful lot of books out in this world, and more are released every day. And it’s not just books. Kids only have so much time available outside of school and activities, and they can watch TV, play video games or do one hundred other things with their time besides read a new book. I think that it’s every author’s fear that they will write a great book, and no one will find it. I did get some great ideas about how to move forward in introducing my book to the world, (number 1 take away, I should have started this 2 years ago, and I really, really need to learn how to Tweet) but I got  a lot more out of the conference than that. I met a lot of kindred souls and started some new friendships. I got a better feel for what goes into the publication of a new book, and all the people who are involved in this – not only the writers, illustrators, educators and publishers, but also librarians, teachers and other advocates for reading and children in general. Again, a very passionate group. Some of the highlights of the conference for me were:

The keynote address by illustrator/editor Bryan  Collier,  who talked about the impact of first seeing a picture book with a boy that actually look like him (The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats, the first picture books to feature a black boy). He talked about how watching his grandmother make quilts helped him to find his artistic style, and the journey and persistence of finding his place in publishing. Very emotional.

  • Tahereh Mafi talked about how you need a thick skin to survive as a creative, as every time someone rejects your work, it is like they are rejecting you, the power of compassion, and how writers require a deep well of emotion to make their stories ring true. She talked about her personal journey and how she overcame her obstacles and is now a best selling author.
  • For me, the talk by Andrea Beaty, author of Rosie Revere Engineer, Iggy Peck Architect and Ada Twist Scientist, in the author’s forum was a true highlight. Andrea had had minor successes with earlier books, but she kicked it into overdrive with Rosie Revere when she identified and started marketing the books to engineers and those in the science community as a way to get more girls interest in STEM fields. The talk was funny and relatable, and  showed what one author can do to help expand her audience. Very inspirational.
  • The Social Media workshop with Matthew Winner, Travis Jonker and Cynthia Leitich Smith was very informative and a little overwhelming. I’m still trying to figure out how they can manage their blogs, tweets, podcasts and other social platforms and still have time for anything else. It did sound overwhelming, and I realized I should have started this a few years back, but again, they do what they do because they are passionate about books and kids.

Over all it was a great weekend and gave me a lot to think about. It also makes you think of what the real story is behind every book that comes out. It starts with an idea and a lot of hard work by the initial creators, but then it is the collaboration of a lot of different people to get to the finished product.