June 11, 2013

Conference Season, AKA: Talking to People in Real Life

Aaaaand, it's June. WHAT? How did that happen? For me, the time warp through spring was induced by writing like crazy, the school year ending, and most importantly, attending BEA and NJ's SCBWI conference for the first time! Prepare yourself. This is a story best told through pictures.
I ventured into the hallowed halls of BEA for the first time. I only went one day, Saturday, with an affordable Power Reader badge. I recommend it for your first visit (although Friday is the Kidlit day, so there were fewer panels of interest to me on Saturday).

Best part of ANY pub gathering--catching up with friends! Ella Schwartz, Heidi Schulz, Jen Malone, Me, and Rebecca Sutton. Our cool green lanyards were even cooler in person. And seriously, I could have just gabbed with them all day.
But I had to go run around the floor grabbing swag like this Pigeon puppet from the Mo Willems series!
I also had to go take breaks periodically to sort through the sometimes ridiculously thick books I'd been given to decide what I wanted. Tips: There's a bag check downstairs. Use it, but really, who needs more than two bags of books? Try to be picky.
I also roamed around with friends, taking pictures of stuff like this to show my kids (It's a Pokemon. Don't worry, I didn't know either, but I was offered the opportunity to have my picture taken WITH it.)
To cap things off, I sat in stunned silence with a group of equally confused attendees and listened to some earnest yet inexperienced actors quote Shakespeare's Star Wars. And then Leia hula-hooped. It was a glowing LED hula-hoop, naturally. After that I had the opportunity to sit down with my lovely agent Pete Knapp and talk my face off, which was awesome!
Fast forward to NJ-SCBWI a week later in Princeton, NJ. I was lucky enough to receive a tote signed by illustrator/author Peter Brown, who started the conference off with an incredibly well timed, self-deprecating speech dedicated to his Mommy.
Again, the best part was hanging out with my writer buddies, like fellow MG writer Ronni Blaisdell! Awkward selfies are the BESTEST!
Believe it or not, I also learned some things too, instead of coming home with twenty pounds of books as at BEA. One of the best sessions I attended was run by Lexa Hillyer of Paper Lantern Lit (a literary consultant & story architect), wherein she produced this rather special diagram on 3-act plotting. Now, I've studied 3-act structure before, but this was the first time I heard someone outline it so specifically for novels (especially MG/YA novels). Study it. Google 3-act structure. You won't be sorry.
I also attended an incredible workshop run by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen on creating realistic contemporary characters. Besides wowing us with her streamlined and easy-to-digest presentation (Prezi.com), she also took us through all of the techniques for building characters that your readers will connect with, from the character's qualities to their dialogue to their actions, in incredible detail. I'm reserving some of what I learned in this session (as well as Lexa's) for future blog posts.

And then the conference was over, and I drove home in a daze. I absorbed so much information and met so many people in the past week that I don't know quite how seasoned authors do it all the time! I know many of you might be in the position of trying to decide on a conference or event to attend. FYI, BEA is a tradeshow, not a conference. Go there if you love (free)books, and walking around all day, and gabbing in a busy, fast-paced environment. SCBWI conferences, however, are great places to meet other writers, find critique partners, and network with people in the publishing industry. Most regions have their own chapter and conference, and based on my experience, it's a good place to start (especially if you want the opportunity to pitch your work to agents/editors).

Now that I've gone to both, I think I'm on the look out for a craft weekend or retreat that's more focused on writing and less on breaking into the industry. Although I will likely still attend BEA and a regional conference every year--this year, I spent Sunday afternoon lunching with best-selling author Lauren Oliver and chatting with her about craft, and story-telling, and the way of writing. And let's face it, you can't beat that.


  1. You got to lunch with Lauren Oliver?

    1. I DID. And she was so much fun to talk with about writing! She's full of all kinds of different projects (which I can relate to) and she's spent a lot of time thinking about novel craft (especially with her partnership in Paper Lantern Lit). I could have talked to her all day. :)

  2. Yes, the best part of BEA was hanging out with my writer buddies! Next year, count me in for SCBWI-NJ!

  3. Melanie - Sounds like you had a lot of fun! Good input on BEA, since I was away this year and had wanted to attend. Any upcoming conferences that you would recommend? Thanks!

  4. Very fun -- I'm not attending a conference this year but I definitely plan on it next year. They're too fun (and motivating) to miss.

  5. Live and up close--wonderful. How in the world could I have missed BEA --oh, right, I went away form NYC that weekend.
    Love the three act chart flow. I've tried that with the one in Plot Whisperer--but only in my head. I promised myself to get a white board one of these days.
    OK. Goal set--visit a conference in the next year.
    Appreciate that at least YOU did, and you took very good notes. :)

  6. *whew* Sounds like a lot - and a ton of fun. Love that foam glove thingy. I'm not sure what to say to that Star Wars presentation. Huh.
    I'm definitely going to be stalking your blog to find out more about making characters realistic. Glad you enjoyed it all!

    1. I know! I have some great material now--can't wait to blab about the craft stuff I managed to soak up. :)

  7. I like this weblog it’s a master piece! Glad I detected this on google.


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