It’s a common enough question. One I’ve asked children countless times… at the end of the day while we waited for dismissal and around the dinner table when the conversation was lagging. I was just asked this question myself at our local SCBWI meeting after my trip to New York for the national winter conference. I answered with a few of the ‘big ideas’ I’d garnered, but here I’d like to share more general observations.
Let me begin by saying this was my first national conference and I was quite awestruck. I had attended several regional conferences before this one, but I quickly learned that a national conference is much more overwhelming than the regional conferences. I did my best to soak in all the combined knowledge and talent surrounding me. I took copious notes, which I highly recommend. You know, you think you’re going to remember every syllable just to walk out the door and be in fan shock over seeing a ‘celebrity’ and completely forget everything you just heard. Not saying that happened to me. (Not saying it didn’t happen, just not saying it did.)
I recommend you attend as many functions as possible. It’s not only beneficial but also economically sound. After all, we paid a lot of money to attend, why not squeeze every ounce of the experience out of the opportunities afforded. This particular conference offered more than 30 workshops and 55 faculty members. (Read all the materials carefully before registering. Diligence is key in making your selections.) In addition to the workshops, there are keynote addresses, panel discussions, and various formal and informal gatherings. Take in as many of these as you can.
Have a plan. Know what you want to get out of this experience. Are there specific questions you’d like to have answered? What contacts do you especially want to make? Is there something new you’d like to try? Knowing what you want will help you focus your energy in the right direction.
Relax (if you can) and enjoy the ambiance. There are superstars all around you! Make connections. You never know who is sitting next to you until you ask. I had lunch right next to Tomie dePaola and across from Jane Yolen. I listened to, and cried with, the multi-award winning illustrator, Bryan Collier and got my picture taken with him. I ran into many Facebook friends and made new friends. No, you won’t get to see and talk to everyone (there were over 1000 participants this weekend), but you will get to meet some very interesting people.
Take advantage of the opportunities to submit your work to agents and/or editors. This is one of the perks of attending a conference. Many of the editors in particular are closed to submissions except for these special circumstances. If you have something ready, do that immediately. The window of opportunity is small, don’t miss out. Be sure to research the recipient’s tastes and wish list before sending it out. Follow their guidelines to the letter. You don’t want to waste your time or theirs.
Enjoy yourself. No matter where you go, take in a local experience. In NYC I didn’t have time to do the typical ‘tourist’ things, but I did ride the train and eat the cheesecake!