SCBWI Kansas City is on the books, my tenth SCBWI conference! I worked hard to prepare fresh material in 2017 and it was rewarding to show it off. Through Kansas City and the Iowa SCBWI Fall conference I formed a new online critique group. We now meet over Google Hangouts once a month. I’m grateful to have a network of driven authors/illustrators that help each other succeed. Publishing is an up-hill battle that requires persistence. It takes people alongside you sharing this experience! Beyond all the new connections I made, I was given valuable feedback on my book dummy, writing, and illustrations. I listened to inspiring keynotes from SCBWI members and publishing professionals. SCBWI conferences are kind of like a shot to the arm for my process!

Crushed. That’s how it feels to discover that your 4 years of publishing efforts have culminated in two big fat words. Start. Over. Thick skin, like a whale, is what I’m developing. It’s like 3 feet thick now. You know, thick skin is fine and good… but maybe the best metaphor is the myth of the Phoenix. From ash a new bird of fire arises!

There’s nothing like getting home from one of these things and diving into a brand new endeavor. That’s what I must do! I know that it may or may not turn out. One or two years down the road when I try and sell my new endeavor, it may culminate in those two big fat words once again. Start. Over. I don’t mean to sound macabre, revision is tough but it isn’t torture. It’s meant to create the best work possible. To my surprise, I didn’t write a bestseller the first time I sat down to write… Shocking! It’s a reality that this journey is one of great perseverance. My knowledge of art and writing is only getting stronger with every dummy and illustration I build. Rejection or not, there’s no stopping me! I simply won’t… simply can’t… give up. I love books too much.

As always, the keynotes and workshops were filled with writing techniques and information on how publishing works. I learned more about twisty plots, utilizing critique groups, designing cover artwork (SO many great reminders! I can’t believe how great art directors are at seeing stuff nobody else notices), what editors and agents look for (and what they aren’t) and I loved the advice of Claire Vanderpool, Newberry Award winner, who stated to Pay Attention to what is and what’s happening around you.

Jessixa Bagley, writer/illustrator, killed it at this SCBWI conference. She gave a keynote called “It Takes a Village” where she talked about her journey from isolated efforts to teaming up with others. After 4-5 years of doing it alone, she joined SCBWI, a critique group, and discovered how much she had to learn. I can’t tell you how much I could relate. There’s NOTHING like going to the LA Conference and finding out your work SUCKS. With all respect and love for my work, LA showed me that I had a long way to go. Jessixa’s amazing book, BOATS FOR PAPA, was explored. She shared how the loss of her father inspired the book. As a fellow writer/illustrator, her story’s authenticity helped inspired me to write from the heart.

Kate McKean, a literary agent from Howard Morhaim, gave a great talk on the top mistakes authors make when writing a manuscript. She recommended that we as authors pay attention to the reader, make our main characters sympathetic, be consistent with our point of view/voice, avoid being bogged down with detail, cut back on adjectives, avoid too many adverbs, not worry about being fancy and just write how we talk, let our manuscripts marinate before submitting, and Oh Dear so much more! Too much to list. Fabulous talk from Kate McKean.

Jennifer Soloway literally wrote a book with us. Together we plotted a story about a girl who runs for class president under the flagship of “Shorter Shorts for Girls: Abolish the Dress Code!”. It was interactive and generated a lot of excitement. Her insights on building a plot were specific and applicable. I loved her point about attitude… she talked about looking for the opportunity in a dead-end. Instead of focusing on the negative in a failed manuscript or massive re-write, see it as an opportunity to elevate the work. Say, “Oh it didn’t work, RIGHT ON!” Her positivity and energy was infectious. A fabulous agent from a fabulous agency, Andrea Brown Literary. I loved what she contributed to the group’s SCBWI experience.

Saho Fajii, art director at Little, Brown, facilitated a cover artwork critique in a small group setting. As a famous art director she knows what makes a successful cover design and shared her knowledge. I almost died when she shared that her illustrators are given 4 months to create 16 spreads for a picture book. That’s a full spread per week! She was kind enough to open up submissions to her imprint for those who attended.

The weekend was filled with new connections and wisdom from those who have been down the path I’m on. Here’s my favorite quote from Jessixa Bagley’s talk on authenticity….

“Perseverance is failing 19 times and succeeding the 20th” – Julie Andrews