Dear First-time Conference Attendee,
Phew! What a weekend! Is your head still spinning with all you heard and everyone you met? Are you finding yourself alternating between euphoric highs, having walked the hallways with legends, and gloomy lows with whispers of “but do I belong?” haunting your dreams?
Let me assure you, I know the feeling. I attended my first NESCBWI conference seven years ago. I was just returning to writing and not sure of anything yet. The inevitable ice-breaker “What do you write?” stumped me all day long. Because I went to the conference to figure that out! As I shared workshops with seemingly confident people who were much more knowledgeable than I was, I felt my voice getting smaller and smaller. By lunch time I was barely a whisper. Somehow, in my oblivion, I ended up at a table with YA and MG writers who were all either published or on the cusp of getting published. They included me, took interest in my work, encouraged me, gave advice, and showed extreme kindness.
I left the conference knowing this:
- Picture books have rules. Yes, even I have to follow them.
- I have to write the YA novel in my heart.
- There are years of unseen work and multiple manuscripts behind what seems like overnight success.
- If this is the kidlit community, I want to be part of it.
So, dear First-timer, here are some post-conference tips for you:
- If you heard the same advice multiple times, from multiple people, believe them. There are correct ways to approach industry professionals and writing picture books. There are genres and sub-genres and word limits. There are steps to be taken when it comes to plotting, character development, revision, and publishing. There are basic, fundamental guidelines you are expected to follow, no matter how unique you think you or your manuscripts are. Listen to what people are telling you regarding your work and the industry. You came to learn.
- If you heard the same encouragement multiple times from multiple people, believe them. You can do this. You have a place here. Your voice is important. Only you can tell your story. Creativity is necessary. Our audience counts. What we do has purpose and meaning. Let these encouragements be your wings.
- Educate yourself regarding every aspect of your craft and the industry. You don’t have to do it all at once, but keep learning.
- Read, read, read in your genre. And outside your genre.
- Keep coming back. Every time you come back, you will recognize more names and faces, get to know people, and become more familiar with the format. After a few years, you will find that you have become the welcoming, generous kidlit person who can help a newby.
- Step out of your comfort zone. When you return to a conference, prepare to do something brave. Volunteer, sign up for a critique, participate in open-mic night. The conference is a place to grow. You can’t grow if you don’t break out of your shell.
- Follow up with a few people you have met after the conference. You might find a writing or critique partner. You might even find a friend. 24 Carrot Writing wouldn’t be a thing if it hadn’t been for a brave soul following up on conference acquaintances.
- Take time to go over your conference notes. You have been inundated with oodles of information. Also, file your notes to be easily accessible for future use. (Francine wrote a helpful blog about that here.)
- Keep writing. Try some of the tools you learned during the workshops. Ride the wave of conference inspiration. Butt in chair, my friend.