After a whirlwind August, I am finally writing about my very first SCBWI conference. The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Summer Conference is a three day event packed with speakers from all areas of the industry. My initial fear was that there would be a lack of illustration content but soon realized it didn’t matter. Everybody had an amazing story and their passion for children’s literature was wholly accepted. Sitting in the crowded ballroom, I remember thinking “this many people love children’s books?” Not a single eye roll or cynical comment, the crowd was completely enrolled.
During the first illustration social, Newbery Honor winning author Eugene Yelchin expressed the significance of the SCBWI. Although he is a member of the DGA and various associations, the SCBWI is the only professional organization that he’s encountered which is this inclusive and supportive. Several speakers and award winners expressed this same sentiment. Illustrator Melissa Sweet in her breakout session shared her own process and encouraged us all to create daily. She concluded with this amazing occurrence amongst the cedar waxwing bird. To me, this summed up the whole conference and I’ve repeated this thought several times.
Cedar waxwings have been observed lined up on a tree branch, passing berries to each other along the row until every bird has its share of berries.
Everywhere I turned, I was blown away by people’s generosity. Not in a “let me buy you lunch” way but in the sense everyone (agents, art directors, published writers, award winning illustrators, book publishers, and the regular joe-schmoes like me) were so giving of their time and encouragement. This “can-do” spirit was infectious and at times seemed too good to be true. If I were in Sweet’s shoes would I show competing illustrators my process? The following day I heard agent Steven Malk’s presentation and he stated:
I take kids books seriously, so should you.
Community and heart don’t come easily and I now see why people cherish the SCBWI. I don’t think Malk is saying you should be serious in your disposition but rather to deeply respect your craft and the passionate people that create books for kids. I am not a published children’s book illustrator and I may never be. After hearing story after story of both writers and illustrators trying for years to reach this goal, it all seems pretty daunting. Just couple months of rejection would make me want to tuck my tail, let alone several years. Maybe this is when the communal berry helps with the hunger pangs.