This weekend was the Winter Conference for the SCBWI. That’s the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. I was super excited to be invited to participate and was asked to give three one hour sessions on the state of the marketplace, how to get published, and all that jazz.
At the cocktail party on Friday night, I started to try to suss out how other presenters were doing things. After the first person I asked told me that she hadn’t prepared much, “just two or three pages of notes,” I realized I probably needed to get planning. So that night I went home and wrote copious notes about potential speaking points. Notes that I ultimately referred to not a once!
I ran each of my sessions as a q&a and happily had lots of thoughtful questions that allowed me to ramble on which is pretty much my favorite thing to do. My favorite exchange went something like this: “You seem really optimistic about publishing.” “Yup.” “Is that the general feeling in the industry?” “Nope!”
As one of the attendees told me after my session, everyone knows how hard it is to get published. No one needs it crammed down their throats. The fact is, things are challenging for everyone, but great books still sell and still break out. I’ve never thought of myself as a terribly optimistic person, but even in this time of flux, we’ve had some great luck, so it seems crazy to be depressed all the time about changes in the way books are published and sold.
One of the best things about spending the weekend with children’s book authors is that they’re often quick-witted and entertaining. Someone in one of my panels brought up that I say I’m looking for “underrepresented voices,” a phrase that I know trips up a lot of people. To clarify, I said, “Look, I represent a lot of thirty-something white women. And that’s great. I love my clients. But there are other voices out there.” After the panel, someone hung out to talk with me and opened with, “Hi, Jim. I’m brown, and I’m old. Interested yet?” Super cute. Someone else stuck around and told me I was so funny that I should be a stand-up comedian. I told her that flattery will get her everywhere and handed her agency agreements on the spot.
It wasn’t ALL sunshine and happiness. The post-lunch crowd seemed a little less energetic than the first two sessions. As one attendee noted, “It must suck to follow R. L. Stine.” He did not get agency agreements.
And most importantly, I got to hang out with some of my clients, one of whom I met for the first time this weekend! Look at us all—I’m a giant! That’s Suzanne Young being swallowed by my sweater, Jessica Spotswood in royal blue, and Robin Talley with the fancy belt.