Tuesday, May 02, 2006
Writers, go forth!
A few words on writers conferences: Writers, go to them. Go!
We're solitary animals who spend hours of every day alone with our minds, lost in "the swirl and swing of words*." Trying to find an agent or publisher is another solitary act: praying over manila envelopes as we drop them into the jaws of a post box. That's it, the life of a writer: wiggling our fingers all day and then, maybe, dropping our words in a box for some stranger to come along and carry to another stranger. What kind of a job is that? It's wonderful and horrible.
I went to my first SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators) conference almost 5 years ago. The national conference is held in a plush hotel in Los Angeles each August and consists of four days, four amazing days that can change your life. I went with that expectation, of course. I would be discovered and come away with a contract to illustrate a book. I put my portfolio on display and waited to hear my name called at the awards ceremony, and I was a little crushed when it wasn't. Over the four days I listened to the discouraging words of the many editors and writers who told us the awful statistics of the slush pile, the great improbability of ever getting published... 2 manuscripts of out 20,000 is a slushpile-to-publication statistic I recently heard. But amidst all those discouraging reality checks was another kind of reality check: everywhere there were published writers. And I'm not talking about the guest speakers. Among the attendees, many many many were published! They proudly showed the galleys of their first picture book, or told their story of how they'd been referred to their agent by a writer in their critique group. Here was overwhelming proof of this great fact: people write books that get published. ALL THE TIME!
I didn't win any awards at that first conference or get any contracts, but I DID see a designer from Chronicle Books linger over my portfolio and take my card, and I DID get the great idea of sending artwork to Ladybug Magazine. I later found out the designer had recommended me for a picture book assignment that ultimately went to someone else, and I have subsequently done numerous illustrations for the art director of Ladybug, so I consider that a successful first conference.
The next time I attended, two years later, I was READY. My portfolio was going to kill, I was sure of it. Again, I waited to hear my name called at the awards ceremony, and again, it wasn't. This time I was much more crushed. But I didn't mope too much. Instead, I talked to people. I pretended to be a self-confident sparkling artist, and I talked to anyone I could get my hooks into, and that pestering led directly to meeting two women who have been hugely important to my creative life. One of them is now my agent, and the other is an editor who nurtured my writing at a tender stage and gave me great hope that has carried me along like a pair of wings.
The other thing that came out of that conference was the writing of my first novel. I attended a workshop on writing series for children taught by Dan Greenburg, and that is where a little sprout of an idea discovered what it needed to do to become a book, and now it is a book (that I will speak more about at a later date). I owe so much to writers conferences, I shudder to think where I would be if I had listened to the nagging voice of financial reason and not gone to them. I encourage all writers to seek out gatherings in their areas, or to pile up their pennies and take themselves away to a big fabulous conference like the LA SCBWI. I'm not sure what groups are out there to nurture other kinds of writing, "grown-up writing." but I did hear a radio piece on a convention for romance writers, and Jim and I sold our comic book The Drowned as a direct result of dogged persistence at the San Diego Comic-Con 3 years in a row. I also met the company that licenses Laini's Ladies at a convention where I put on my sparkling confident artist mask and sallied forth with a thumping heart.
Jim and I went up to Seattle this past weekend to attend the SCBWI Western Washington regional conference, and like every conference I've been to it was a magical day of inspiration, where possibility seeps into you and fills you up, and you find your fingers itching to write, and your mind thrumming with ideas, and where maybe, just maybe, you'll sit next to an editor at lunch and they'll like your idea and ask you to send your manscript (you hear stories like that all the time at conferences!) So writers, artists, go forth! Make your dream come true!
*James Michener: "I love writing. I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotion."
Posted by Laini Taylor at 9:38 AM