Every year, over 700 writers, illustrators, agents, and editors converge on Springfield, MA, to meet and learn and talk about their favorite thing: children’s books. If you’re heading to Springfield next month, here’s how to make the most of your conference experience.
First, go read Francine Puckly’s Essential Conference Preparation Checklist.
Your First Conference
About a third of conference attendees are first timers. (You can recognize them by the subtle “First Conference” labels on their badges.) If you are one, be sure to attend the conference orientation on Friday afternoon. You’ll get information and advice that’s even more useful than what you’ll read here, plus you’ll meet the conference coordinators and the New England SCBWI team.
Listen well. Take notes. Participate! Don’t sit in the back—this isn’t high school.
Go into your one-on-one agent/editor meeting with an open mind. No matter how many times you’ve polished your work, no matter how many critique partners have read it, an editor or agent will probably see something that needs improvement. You paid for this advice. You will get your money’s worth by listening.
Visit the critique prep and support room. There will be a moderator and other attendees who can give you an idea of what to expect in your meeting, or help unpack your 15 minutes of advice.
There will be talks by lots of famous authors. Do not miss Jane Yolen’s keynote address. Just trust me on this one. It will be short, sweet, inspiring, and you will finally learn what BIC* means.
Other events include panels, open mic, peer critiques, an interview with Patricia MacLachlan…um, I don’t think the 24Carrot folks have enough space for me to talk about it all. Read your conference schedule!
* Behave like a professional.
SCBWI has recently adopted anti-harassment guidelines for its conferences. Would you like to be a professional writer? Behave in a professional manner. The NESCBWI conference is a place to learn, network, and hang out with fellow writers. It is not a singles bar.
* Meet new people.
Sit down at a table with someone you don’t know at least once. When you meet someone new, tell them your name, age group you write for, genre(s), and current project. Don’t just read each others’ nametags.
* Do not pitch unless requested.
There are 600 people at the conference, and all of them have at least two projects they’re dying to pitch. We could all stand around pitching for the entire conference, and we would not have a single human conversation. That being said, it’s fine to pitch when someone asks you to.
* Treat the agents and editors like the human beings they are.
There’s plenty of time after the conference to send them your manuscript and perfectly polished query letter. Would you rather that query letter started with “Remember me? I’m the one who monopolized your time during the Friday night mixer!” or “I really enjoyed chatting with you about our favorite classic fantasy novels”?
This is an excellent way to get involved, feel like you belong, help the conference to run smoothly, and meet folks. Plus, there’s free food on Saturday night, and you get to learn the secret volunteer handshake.**
Take Care of Yourself
You can always tell the people who don’t get enough food or sleep at a conference. By the last day, they have glazed eyes, are speaking complete gibberish, and have probably introduced themselves to you three times. Don’t stretch yourself so thin that you can’t make a good impression. There are quiet spaces listed in the conference schedule. Use them if you need to decompress or regroup.
And drink plenty of water!
Beware of False Comparisons
At any given NESCBWI conference, about a quarter of attendees are published authors or illustrators. Everyone else is “pre-published.” We’re all here to improve our writing and learn. Comparing yourself to other people will get in the way of that. Embrace your you-ness.
After the conference
A major benefit of attending a conference is that you get a list of agents and editors who will accept your query for a few months after the conference. The list includes people who don’t normally accept unsolicited queries. Follow the directions on the list. Show them how easy you will be to work with. Make sure you submit only a polished manuscript. You’ll learn a lot at this conference. Apply it! And never share the list with non-attendees. You paid for this privilege. And we don’t want to swamp the faculty inboxes.
Approach your conference with a growth mindset. Everyone is there to learn—even the faculty. Even the editors and agents. And especially you. So learn!
Meg Thacher will be attending her eighth NESCBWI conference this April. She teaches astronomy at Smith College and writes nonfiction for Highlights and the Cricket Magazine group. This is her first blog post of any kind.
Find out more about Meg:
Twitter handle: @MegTWrites
2017 meeting stats courtesy of Shirley Pearson (who will remind you to fill out your post-conference evaluation). Thanks, Shirley!
*Nope. Not going to tell you. Listen to Jane.
**There is no secret volunteer handshake. Maybe we should make one up!