As you probably know, I spent last weekend in Montreal attending the SCBWI Canada East Conference. And it was amazing. In fact, I think it was my favorite conference yet (although the Niagara Conference and Retreat from two years ago comes a close second).
What made it so great? Well, it was a combination of things.
1. The Speakers – There were three tracks at the conference: a novel intensive, a PB writer track, and an illustrator track. It was a tough call, but I chose the PB writing track, mostly because I wasn’t sure my concussed head could take an intensive workshop (I was right, it wouldn’t have). And I wasn’t disappointed. Lily Malcolm (Art Director, Dial Books) and Heather Alexander (Agent, Pippin Properties) gave a great talk on how a PB goes from a manuscript to a finished book, including tips on how to marry illustrations and prose (which I struggle with). Then Heather talked alone about voice in PBs*.
After that, Kari-Lynn Winters (author of about a bazillion kids’ books) gave two talks – one on PB sins and techniques (I gave myself a migraine jotting down all the amazing info), and another on the performative aspect of PBs. This one blew my mind. I’m not at the point of doing school visits yet, but I always thought an author would just come in, read their book and maybe offer some writing tips (depending on/tailored to the age of the class) but she taught us how to add drama to the presentation and really involve the kids. Coming from a drama background myself, I’m excited to get something published so I can start using some of her techniques.
Then Allyn Johnston (Publisher, Beach Lane Books) illustrated (no pun intended) various PB writing methods and styles by reading aloud from her favorite PBs.
I’m told the Novel Intensive was just as amazing and informative, and I wish I could have split myself in two, and attended both tracks. However, I’m doing the next best thing, and trading notes with someone who did attend the Novel track.
2. The Social Aspect – I rode to Montreal with some other Ottawa writers, and we spent most of the weekend hanging out, going to dinner together, etc. It was nice to not eat alone, to get adult, writerly interactions (although perhaps not quite enough sleep). The next conference is back in Ottawa, and we’ve already planned to go for dinner, and hang out together, even though we’ll be in our own town.
Also, this was my fifth conference with mostly the same people, so I’m starting to recognize (and be recognized by) other attendees, which made me feel more like I was in a room of friends, than a room full of intimidating author-types.
3. Having an Agent – There are two reasons this one made the conference better. One was the lack of stress – I didn’t feel like I had to find a way to introduce myself to the agent, let alone try and sell her on my book. And my one-on-one critique (which I had with agent Heather) was much more relaxed because I wasn’t pinning all my hopes on it. Instead, I can take her criticism and use it to make my book better with no hard feelings.
Having an agent also gave me a feeling of accomplishment and legitimacy. When other writers asked how my journey’s going, I had an answer that wasn’t just “still querying/waiting.” And everyone was so nice! People celebrated for me with genuine excitement, and their lovely comments made me blush more than once. (In case you’re wondering, it’s not like I went around screaming “I have an agent!” – even if I may have been tempted – just that I answered with it when people asked what I’d been up to recently.)
So, that’s what made this conference such a good one.
I also promised to let you in on how my critiques went (based on this post), and I think I mostly made the right decisions. The one-on-one critique of my YA with agent Heather showed me where my ms was getting cliché, and where I need to freshen it up to create a truly unique story. I’ve already got a few ideas buzzing at the back of my mind. She also recommended a number of authors to read, and I’ve added them to my list.
I didn’t end up sending anything in for first pages, and I’m fine with that – not having one of my babies torn apart in front of a room full of people definitely helped keep my stress levels low.
My group critique also went okay. I ended up dragging out and shining up an old PB (one of the first I ever drafted), and in doing so I finally figured out the twist ending the piece was missing. It ended up being a little more polished than I was aiming for, but my critiquers were able to point out the few places that my meter was off – which was a huge help. (I’m pretty good at rhyme, but sometimes I can’t hear when I’ve got the stresses wrong, or I’ve skipped a syllable.) This ms has now gone from my “trunked” file to my “needs revising” file – which makes me very happy.
Basically I came home brimming with fresh ideas and inspiration, which I’m going to let percolate in the background while I deal with more pressing things. Like, getting ready for the Girl’s birthday party this weekend, finishing this draft of my MG Historical Fantasy, starting in on the edits Bri requested for my PB, and critiquing Rae’s query (I haven’t forgotten you, I promise).
*You might notice I’m not giving details about what I learned at the conference – this is because it wouldn’t be fair to all the people who paid to take the workshops, or the presenters who earn money from teaching them.