SCBWI Conference – Oct 12-13, 2013


You weren’t allowed to take photos at the conference to protect the unpublished work of the authors & illustrators. So I had to draw. Here’s Dan Yaccarino, Keynote Speaker, talking about all the stuff kids love. 


I am feeling really good right about now. Because I have accomplished my first major goal on my path to becoming a full-time children’s book illustrator:

Produce a complete portfolio, website, and postcards for the MN SCBWI conference in October.

I did it, folks. This was a goal I set about one year ago, when I took my first Children’s Book Illustration class at MCAD. And it was exhausting.

The conference, not the class. Although the course did have me producing at a rate akin to my college days. The conference was exhausting because of the sheer amount of networking, information , and just being… “on.”  I’ve never been to a conference to hone my professional life in any capacity, and the amount of being “on” almost put me in a state of shock.

Case in point:

Upon arrival at the conference, and after five minutes milling about in the crowd of strangers with only a cup of coffee as companion to my nerves, I fell into a routine of using this icebreaker: “So, are you an illustrator or writer?” The third person I tried my “line” on replied: “Neither. I’m an editor.”

“Really?” I responded. “From where?”

“Harlequin. I flew in from New York.”

What. This is the situation your instructors warn you about. Those instructors whose wise words, once sharp and concise, now melt, dull and fuzzy in your brain. Those instructors who stressed,

“Remember your elevator speech! What are you going to do if you meet an editor from New York and you’re stuck in an elevator for exactly one minute? You need to know exactly what to say! Pitch your book like it’s already a best seller!”

Right. That’s the theory. But listen: It was 8:00 in the morning, and my coffee hadn’t kicked in yet, and I had orange-cranberry muffin crumbs on my nametag already. So basically, I just stared at her.

Then I started talking. Hey. I have a YA manuscript. And it’s Sci-Fi. Do you get a lot of Sci-Fi? No, she replied. There’s not enough Sci-Fi in the YA world, actually. And before I knew it, I got her card. Her card. To send in my manuscript. And then, I was expected to keep talking. Carry on a conversation like a normal person. Like my heart wasn’t in my throat, and my manuscript isn’t even edited, and here’s another person, and they know each other from New York —-

That’s sort of the conference in a nutshell. You’ll just be minding your own business, talking about Photoshop techniques with a fellow newbie (who looks like she’s 16, a deer in the headlights, and hey wait, do I look like that?), when all of a sudden, there’s Dan Yaccarino, the keynote speaker, the guy who created Oswald and the Backyardigan characters and countless picture books you actually read to your kids like on a normal basis, asking you Is This the Cooler Where you Get the Icecream Bars. And you’re like, “Um. Yes.” And you rack your brain for those intelligent questions, some down-to-earth witticism, and maybe you manage something and maybe you don’t.

So basically, I’m still in shock.

But it was good. Really good.

For starters, I have about a million new goals. My portfolio was okay. I had a portfolio critique with an art director that went well (Have you thought about illustrating spots for Middle Grade chapter books? (No, but I will now!)–, but I didn’t exactly score any more business cards during the weekend. I thought the conference would have more professionals, more agents, more art directors…but it was mostly people just like me, beginning illustrators trying to pick up magic tips and hone their craft. Which was good. It was good to actually meet and converse with people who are passionate about illustration, who geek out on things like micron pens and watercolor paper. My new major life goal is now:

Be on a Q & A panel at an illustration conference and answer a cute question from a total Deer-in-the-Headlights newbie.

I’m thinking it will take approximately twenty years to get there.

I did want to share a few of the more colorful quotes from the weekend before I wrap up this post…

  • Will Alexander (keynote speaker, author of Goblin Secrets):
    “An artist in motion tends to stay in motion, unless acted upon by an outside force. An artist at rest tends to stay at rest, unless acted upon by an outside force.”
  • Dan Yaccarino:
    “I love speaking at the SCBWI chapters, because there’s never a line for the men’s room.”
    “Be brave, rip your guts open, and put them on the table.”
  • Barry Goldblatt (Barry Goldblatt Literary), during the “First Pages” critique in which authors submit first pages of their manuscripts for critique in front of the entire group (their bravery! their courage!):
    “Please, please, just use ‘said.’”
    …He said this in regards to using too many “dialogue tags” such as “expressed,” “shouted,” “retorted,” etc…and I completely agree!
    And after “First Pages” was over:
    “You did make sure nobody was armed, right?”

One Response

  1. Marjorie Myers

    Dear Erin,
    I am impressed at all you learned at one conference. Your poised presence had to impress people you met along the way. Was the person you met the one who did indeed end up publishing your book? I am not one bit surprised that you met such impressive people along the way. That’s what happens at conferences. You are just beginning your career and I am ending mine. Thanks for being who you are. You have always attracted people so I am not surprised.