November 13, 2012

What I Learned at my First SCBWI Workshop

So, awhile ago I made a resolution to attend my first writer's conference within a year, and this past weekend I attended an SCBWI-NJ workshop! Yay! First of all, let me say this moment was very exciting. I felt like attending this workshop was my coming-out party of sorts, wherein I revealed my writerly identity to the world. Sure, I have CPs and a writer's group, and I've written a couple of MSs at this point . . . but this was the first time I showed up as a writer in PUBLIC.

It's a good thing for me that a lot of other people showed up, as well, because I got over those nerves  quickly as I surveyed the room of attendees and realized we were all in the same boat together. Sure, some of the people there had agents or published books, but every single one of us still had some kind of writerly aspiration we were working towards, whether that be getting agented, or published, or re-published. I was among friends.

Why did I go to a Conference?

The event I attended was a single day free workshop offered by SCBWI-NJ. I begged my husband and kids to drive me there through post-Sandy roads, detours, and traffic so that I could get a taste of what a writer's conference would be like. Granted, I've gone to a whole lot of professional design conferences and trade-shows, so I knew what to expect from the conference environment. What I was interested in learning was what really gets discussed at these events, and what I might stand to learn from biting the bullet and paying for a larger conference in the future.

The Scoop on this Workshop

While I listened to the wonderful Leeza Hernandez introduce the industry professionals participating in the day's workshop, I started to take notes, and then thought better of it and started live-tweeting the event. After all, the most important soundbites would surely be under 140 characters, so why not share with my writer buddies as I learned? Read on for my favorite soundbites from the workshop by topic.

State of the Industry

The workshop opened with remarks from a panel of industry professionals including agents Ted Malawer and Rachel Orr, and editors Jenne Abramowitz, Paula Sadler, and Sara Sargent. The remarks spanned common topics of interest from what's trendy, to personal interests, to discussion of the Penguin/Random merger, to some very insightful remarks about publishing and writing on the whole.

Phew! That was a lot of info, right? Great info and good insights into what these agents and editors are looking for, though!

Series Paperbacks with Jenne Abramowitz

Am I particularly interested in writing a paperback series? Not so much. But I am interested in Jenne, because she has SO much experience in the publishing industry, and I just knew she'd have some really interesting remarks to share.

Crit Groups

I also attended a Crit Group Session with Sheri Perl-Oshins, but didn't tweet during the session as it was a real workshopping expercise. Sheri shared a lot of great insights into how to form crit groups and how to run them. The biggest takeaway I had: Set Expectations Up Front. As long as you discuss how swaps will work, schedules, and expectations, you should have an okay crit experience--but remember, not everyone will be a great match. Connect with writers via Twitter and FB and through your local library, or however you need to, because feedback is critical to producing great work!

Q&A with Agents

The final session I attended was a Q&A with Ted Malawer and Rachel Orr. I was really looking forward to this session because these agents are both, well, funny. And genuine. And in general, it was an informative and fun session. But there were a lot of questions that quite frankly could be answered online with a quick trip to their agency websites, or using google. At times I questioned how much agents really enjoy a Q&A. Having been on a pro panel myself as a designer, I can say that nothing sucks the life out of you like mundane questions or self-promoting questioners.

What Did I Learn?

I learned that I would like to go to another writer's conference, but I need to be careful about the focus of the conference I attend. I don't want to throw myself into pitch sessions. I'm not terribly interested in Q&A's. What I really love to talk about is writing. The deep, underlying mechanics of writing. Characterization. Plotting. Settings. Word devices. Sentence Structure. And I also LOVE books. I love authors.

So, perhaps what I need is a writer's conference that's more about writing than publishing. I trust publishing will work itself out with time. That's not what I want to focus on right now. So I'm considering BEA for the love of books, or another SCBWI conference (if it offers more content-oriented sessions). If you know of a great writer's conference, please share! I hope to meet you there one day.

15 comments:

  1. Thanks Melanie for going and sharing your tips-er, their tips for publishing! I'd love to attend one, eventually. It must be very exciting mixing with all those book writers and publishers. I'm going back to read your tweets more thoroughly. And, to think you made it there through the crazy roads of post Sandy, NJ. whew--determination. awesome!

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    1. In a way, going regardless of circumstances was a step towards retaking our normal lives. It's amazing how disrupted you feel after being "displaced" by a natural disaster! We are so fortunate to be back and with electricity now. :)

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  2. I followed some of tweets over the week-end.
    Thank you so much for taking the time to share with us. :)

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  3. This is great! Although I was there, I was in Sara's session and not Jenne's. It's nice to know what she had to say!

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    1. That session was packed! I'd love to know what Sara had to say about "tension" as well :) I wished they had split those two sessions!

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  4. Great to hear you went to a conference, Melanie! I went to my first one over the summer and the experience was tremendous. Thanks for sharing your experience; I think it's so important that we all give conferences a try at some point and then continue to do so through our writing journeys. :) Also, since I continue to enjoy your smart and thoughtful posts, I've nominated you for the Liebster Award. :) Head on over to my site to find out more—and keep up the good work!

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  5. This is such a great summary. Now I really want to go to a conference!! Thanks for sharing the insight and experience!

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  6. Fun to read about your first writers conference; as you know, Backspace was my first and it was great. If you're not up for the whole thing, you should at least attend Donald Maass' workshop on writing--fantastic.

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    1. OOOH! I remember. Have to look up the Backspace dates.

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  7. If you ever get the chance to attend the Big Sur Writing Workshop, put on my Andrea Brown Lit Agency and the Henry Miller library, I'd recommend it. The whole weekend is focused on writing (with a little business here and there). There are repeating crit groups and a nice faculty:student ratio. And you receive immediate feedback from authors/agents/editors.

    I always like going to the summer SCBWI conference in L.A., but it's so overwhelming, and every session is filled with questions like the ones you mentioned -- stuff that's listed right there on the website. It's kind of like panning for gold: most of the stuff you know or can find out, but there are those nuggets that make it worthwhile.

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    1. I so want to attend Big Sur. It's on the list.

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  8. Melanie, Thanks for sharing and for bringing in all of these helpful comments! I have only been to a small, local conference. I'm also a little timid about getting my writing self out there in public. But I guess that's what we need to do! I wish I could go to the Big Sur conference described above- it sounds awesome. Where is Backspace?

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    1. It's in NYC, may 23-25. I linked to Jessica's review from last year at the top of the page. Overall, it seemed like a more it offered a lot more content than a local conference, while maintaining an intimate feel. Also, if anyone wants to sponsor me to Big Sur I'M WILLING :)

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