This past January, I said to myself that I was now going to be ‘really serious’ with my writing. I’ve been a SCBWI member for a couple of years now but never took advantage of the opportunities this society provided its members. Like many beginner writers, I wrote several stories and quickly sent them off to publishers and agents only to never receive a reply or on occasion, maybe a short but polite ‘no thank you’ letter. What was I doing wrong? Then I realized that I simply didn’t know what I was doing. This industry is big and rooted and to be successful in it, I felt I had to learn as much as I could about it. So when I decided it was time to be serious, I decided to attend conferences. As soon as registration opened up, I quickly signed up to attend SCBWI’s summer conference in Los Angeles. To be surrounded by people who share your passion for books was invigorating. From agents to editors to well known illustrators and authors to newbie writers like myself—everyone was kind, helpful, and smiling was contagious. It was a fast paced conference but thankfully the venue was small enough to navigate from one workshop to another with ease. And the workshops! There were all worthy of attending so you couldn’t go wrong no matter what you chose. I made a point to learn more about the craft of writing a query letter and to attend as many talks about picture books. One aspect of attending the conference that I found very helpful was hearing agents and publishers speak about what they do and what they look for in potential stories and clients. You get a peek at their personalities and you can gauge which you would like to submit to and work with. I signed up for a professional critique and it was a great experience that took my story into a new direction. In between workshops, panels and critique, there were moments spent with new friends including our very own Tammy Yee and Kirsten Carlson, buying books at the book sale, or simply retreating to my hotel room to decompress and re-energize. But the one thing that struck me most during my three days was how this writing community truly cares for each other. The camaraderie was mind blowing. As I sat outside the hotel with a woman I had never met before eating cookies that she had baked, I knew that I was in good hands.
My first SCBWI summer conference was memorable. I came with no experience but just a manuscript and a thirst to learn. I left with hope—like a newbie writer like myself could make it in this business as long as I believe in the story. And that there would be friends to cheer me on if I get a book deal and friends to pick me up and nudge me to keep going if I fail.
Heidi Coryell has been a preschool teacher for over 15 years and a mother for twelve. Her hopes and dreams? To put books in children’s hands that inspire them to dream big, to never lose their sense of wonder, to care for themselves, to care for others, and to care for our world–whether they’re her own books or other wonderful authors.
Follow Heidi on Twitter @onederbooks