Sunday, July 23, 2017

My take homes from the SCBWI LA Conference 2017

I have been blessed to attend many SCBWI conferences in Texas, Oklahoma and both national conferences in NYC & LA. This summer was my third time attending the conference in LA. I've come to realize that so much of what I gain from these conferences is friendship and networking with those who have cracked the code and have made it into the world of children's publishing.

Recently, I was the winner of a new book - not yet released - by Mitzi Tulane and illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi entitled "Preschool Detective: The Secret Ingredient". Debbie emailed me to tell me I had won her contest and then proceeded to email back & forth with loads of encouragement and tips to get my work noticed. What a huge gift that was. I think she is one of the most creative & sweetest gals out there! So, in the spirit of paying it forward, I'm sharing with you what I learned in LA.

Fellow introvert, Kat Yeh
First of all, if you are like me, AKA an introvert, it's okay. Don't worry that a big conference is going to be overwhelming. It might be, but you'll be with a room filled with folks just like you and so it's much easier to handle, I promise. For instance, the adorable & very talented author of The Truth About Twinkie Pie, Kat Yeh, gave a keynote speech in front of the whole room where she told us that at her first conference she was so nervous, worried she wouldn't know anyone, and was sure it would be just like high school where she wouldn't be able to hang out with the cool kids & their cliques. She even ate lunch in her hotel room by herself. She made some friends at the Saturday night gala and BOOM! she felt like she had found her peeps. (I saw her in the elevator later that weekend and told her I could relate to her story and appreciated that she shared it.) You don't have to be the center of attention, be loud and vivacious. It's okay to be quiet. Sometimes extroverts ask me if I'm okay because I'm quiet - that's fine. I figure it's their deal if they're interpreting my quietness as an issue because I am doing great without being super talkative. But that's probably just me - I think understanding the different reactions between introverts & extroverts helps. Just know that SCBWI is like a family reunion - you will find those you love to hang out with and some you might enjoy from afar. The good news is that it's a big event and you can hide in your room when needed.

Speaking of the Saturday night gala. This year was The Silver Lining Gala. Even though I looked like an eccentric, nutty old lady, I had fun getting my glitter on.
My roomie, Rebecca Evans and I at The Silver Linings Gala. I've decided to wear those sparkly glasses when I work on my writing and illustrating from now on. :)

Vanessa Brantley-Newton is the real deal, folks!
Which brings me to the keynote speech that everyone who attended will remember forever. One of THE BEST gems from the whole shebang! The keynote that kicked it all off: Vanessa Brantley Newton! I was too busy being mesmerized by her, laughing, crying and doing the hokey pokey (honest, we did) and didn't get a good photo. (Plus, my iphone seriously takes less than fabulous photos) Here's one of me and Vanessa at her book signing on Sunday.Click on her name above to check out her blog. She is so incredibly talented, but also has a heart of gold. I have been following her on Facebook for a while now and when we finally met on Sunday, she gave me the biggest hug that really touched my soul. During her keynote, she spoke of overcoming adversity and how you need to "Shake it off and pack it under!" Don't let it all drag you down, you just shake it off. You learn from it, grow from it and when it's packed under it will lift you up to where you belong. I thought that was beautiful. Remember that the next time you feel broken. Shake it off and pack it under! You'll get there. :)
North Texas SCBWI members enjoying lunch together in LA

So, honestly, the biggest thing I learned, is that there are so many great people in SCBWI who are more than willing to help you achieve your dreams. Make a point of going to your local chapter and getting to know the folks there . I got to know my group better  while I was at the conference, and I'm so glad I did. What a fun bunch! So encouraging and eager to share their knowledge or help out if they can. Like illustrator, Sean Qualls, who shared his process during a breakout session. He had so many samples of his work and showed us how he works from a book dummy to finals. So very giving of his time and experience. I truly appreciate that.
Sean Qualls book Lullaby and the book dummy he pitched
Sean Qualls, sharing his process

I was also blessed to take part in a peer group portfolio critique by a group of Illustrator Coordinators who are all good friends. Thank you for including me, ladies!!! It was a little intimidating because they are all wildly talented, plus the fact that literary agent, Jennifer Laughran stopped by the table just as they were starting my critique and she stayed for the whole thing . . . whoa. I kid you not when I say that I learned more in those 15 minutes than I have in years. Thankfully, there were some pieces that worked just the way they were (whew), but to get feedback on why something isn't working and suggestions on how to fix it . . . PRICELESS! Honest to goodness constructive criticism!! YAY! So, don't be afraid to put yourself out there.

If you do, you too can meet and chat with your favorite writers & illustrators! Just like fast friends!
Fan girl moment with illustrator Joyce Wan 
One of my favorite funny writers, Bruce Hale

Sean Qualls is so talented & super nice too!

Out of body experience: I met Judy Blume!!
That's right, I grabbed the opportunity to meet Judy Blume. I was told she's super shy and really doesn't enjoy all the hoopla, so I asked nicely if I could have a photo and was very respectful of her personal space. She's an American treasure. Look how nice she is to stand there and smile with me! 

So, here's the deal. If you have the overwhelming desire to work in the field of children's publishing, you NEED to get yourself to an SCBWI meeting. Go to local conferences, and save your pennies to go to a national conference either in NYC or LA or both. THEN, get out there and say hello to people. Don't be afraid to say "Hey, I love your work!" Who doesn't love a compliment?! Most people have moments where they might question whether or not they're good enough, and you might be that uplifting voice they needed to hear. Plus, it's an opening to be able to talk to them which is great if you are like me and are better when someone else makes the first move. Learn all you can from these lovely people and work on your craft. Don't be afraid to put it out into the Universe through social media and conferences. That's the only way you're going to get noticed and find an agent/art director/editor/publisher. Actually, I think that is a huge part of cracking the code! All the work you put in learning, working on your craft, networking, revising, working some more . . . it's all leading up to the day the lock springs open and HELLO, you get the joyful news that someone likes your work so much that they have to publish it! WHOOHOO! Oh how glorious that must be. 

Remember to enjoy the journey. :) And on that note, I'm off to work on some sketches. Thanks for stopping by. Have a great day!


Jeff Tebo said...


We go back so far. Linked by a Green Frog, Pink Pig and a Rainbow Connection!! I have ALWAYS been so impressed with your outlook on things. The way you look through your own style of "Life Glasses" and then convey your thoughts with descriptive, rarely used words that are so very refreshing. I think you're a special gift from GOD above. Loaded with flowing emotion, deep perspective and just the best parts of life itself. Having you as a TRUE friend is like that commercial from the TV and radio when we were kids singing " We love Baseball, Hot Dogs, Apple (gate) Pie and Chevrolet. They need to put Debbie Upton Meyer in that song to make it complete.

Someday soon others will read, admire and cherish your beautiful work and see what a truly special person you are!!

Keep moving that Rubber Tree Plant!!

Your Pal,

Jeff Tebo

Kristine Tague said...

Love this post! Great job Debbie.

Redheaded Stepchild said...

Thanks for sharing, Deb! Hopefully I can join you next time and we can be roomies again!