Wow! What a weekend! I was lucky enough to be one of 788 people from 44 states and 14 countries participating in the 20th Annual Winter Conference of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). Being around so many talented children’s book writers and illustrators was motivational, inspiring….and exhausting.
Over a packed day and a half of intensive, keynote and panel sessions, I heard from agents, editors, authors and illustrators representing multiple facets of the children’s book world. While each presented specific tips and insights from their personal perspectives, I heard some common themes that especially resonated with me as an author on the path to publication:
It’s all about community: In several sessions, agents and editors talked about the importance of building community: online and offline. Community-building activities include interacting with others in the kidlit industry on social media; getting to know writers, librarians and booksellers in your area; supporting other authors when they are in your town by showing up at their book signings and other events. It's the right thing to do...and it makes it more likely that you'll have a supportive network when it's your turn in the spotlight.
Remember who your audience is: This sounds obvious, but the audience for children's books is children. Therefore, it's important for writers to be around kids as much as possible to understand what they like and what's important to them. I heard time and time again that if your book doesn't strike an emotional chord with children, it
Expect and accept rejection: At one point, the legendary Jane Yolen (who at 80 just published her 370th book!) asked if anyone in the keynote session had submitted something and not been rejected. Nobody raised a hand. As I can personally attest, getting published and getting an agent is a path lined with reams of rejections. It's a competitive, subjective business not for the thin-skinned.
One thing I hadn't thought about until this weekend was that agents also experience rejection when the books they try to sell are not purchased. One of the agents who spoke said she often thought of the song with this line, "I get knocked down, but I get up again."
Me, too. And I plan to keep on doing so until I see my name on a book cover.