Two weekends ago, I attended the Northeast SCBWI chapter's annual conference in Springfield, MA, and it was so much fun! Not only was it amazing to spend time with other people in my business, but I got to have a three-day weekend all to myself without the kids! Being a stay-at-home mom who also writes means that I have very little actual free time. Free time? What's that? Usually every minute of every day is jam-packed with an activity of some sort. I even schedule grocery shopping (we leave in one hour for that, actually) otherwise it wouldn't get done and we'd starve (just kidding, there's enough food in my freezer to feed us for a few weeks).
So three days of learning about books, publishing, writing, and all that it takes to keep up in our world was a great time. I attended a ton of workshops and met new authors. I talked to adults all day long! It was fantastic.
But for some reason, every conference I attend teaches me more about human interaction than how to write a better book (though I did learn a lot about that too). Here, let me give you a few tips, if you're considering attending a conference:
- If you have a bunch of works-in-progress and want to talk about EVERY SINGLE ONE, please get yourself a critique group. After three days, I knew all of the plots and characters of every one of Betty's (an alias to protect the lovely woman) books. She dominated every workshop she was in and took away from other authors learning from the instructor. Ask a few questions, sure. But please look around to see if there are people sleeping through your meandering questions about your work.
- Think about your first impression. Approach people with smiles and a nice handshake. Listen and try to remember names (though the beauty of a conference is name tags!)
- Please consider if what you're going to say will sound rude to 90% of the people in the room. For example, when attending a workshop about writing tense and 70% of the people write in present tense, please do not say that writing in present tense sounds “uneducated.” Everyone in the room just memorized your name and promised themselves they would never buy your work.
- Bring lots of snacks and a water bottle. This is from personal experience only.
- Wear comfortable but stylish clothes and shoes. I just talked about what I wear to conferences over on Flickr, but I think it's important to have your own style and make your own impression. You never know… You may meet your future agent or editor at a conference!
So besides observing human behavior, I learned a lot through all of my workshops and panels I attended. My favorite takeaways from the weekend were:
- Every author, even the most successful, has to learn to live with rejection on some level.
- Edgy YA fiction is important and is not just drugs and sex. It can involve anything that teens struggle with.
- A novel's theme is just as important as its plot, setting, or characters. Figuring out the theme of your novel can help you give direction to plot and/or characters and the outcome of the entire story. I thought the theme of my current novel was “Love transcends all obstacles” but really the theme is “You can't let others control you. Only you can make your own decisions.” Enlightening.
- Historical fiction is fascinating! No, really. Sometimes an author can take a particular place or time for their historical fiction or an actual event. It's a fairly wide field you can play in.
- If you write multicultural characters, be sure to get someone in that culture to read your work.
- Once you're published, you still have a lot of work to do to market your book and yourself! I really love giveaways. If I get the chance to be published, I'm sure I'll be doing a lot of them and writing blog guest posts on Japanese traditions and history.
- Crafting the voice of your character is key to keeping your reader engaged. If the voice slips or isn't genuine, the reader will be torn from the story.
My friend, Kim Sabatini, also attended the conference with me and did a great wrap up on the workshops she attended. I really enjoyed my weekend at NESCBWI and I hope I can go back next year.