Part of being a commercial artist is running a business. While there are aspects of this that I’m horrible at and procrastinate on (accounting, marketing) and parts that I very much enjoy (comic book conventions, book fairs, meeting fans and showcasing my latest books, and art), I still have to do all of them. This series of my process blog will talk about different aspects of the business.
Last week I was at the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Conference (SCBWI), which was held in New York City. The event is at the Hyatt Hotel at Grand Central Station. For those that have never been to New York, the location is quite iconic, with Grand Central Station’s hustle and bustle standing next to towering iconic landmarks such as the Chrysler building. The hotel is quite grand, but not so big that you get lost. The conference itself took place on the ballroom level, conference hall and lobby. It was very well organized and made for a seamless conference.
There were 2 days of keynote speakers for everyone to listen to, mixed with smaller sessions that you could choose ahead of time. These focused meetings were limited to a morning session and afternoon one, and ranged in topic, from getting an agent, to the rules of creating a picture book, to learning the do’s and don’ts of writing a mid-grade level children’s book. My mom and I each took a different session, so that we could get as much information, and then review our notes at the end of the day. My meetings were art focused and she focused on getting an agent and writing.
I also paid for an illustrator’s intensive, which took place on the Friday. This was an all day workshop that had keynote speakers focusing on how to be a writer/illustrator on children’s books. This was what I was particularly excited about, because I was hoping to get a bit more specific information on creating a children’s book. It also allowed for me to meet other illustrators and to actually create a children’s book story, at least in the rough stages.
If you wanted to you could also submit your portfolio, which could be seen by art agents and publishers on the Friday evening, as well as fellow artists. On the Saturday evening there was a gala, where you could schmooze with artists, writers and industry professionals. This was broken up later on into specific groups. I was part of the illustrator’s gala where we could chat with fellow illustrators and learn about their journeys so far. On Sunday there was a book signing after the keynote speeches were given.
Going into this conference, I had very low expectations. I wasn’t expecting to get signed, nor was I thinking I’d get an agent. And that was something that was emphasized. This was an opportunity to ask questions about the industry, to meet fellow artists and writers and to get familiar with agents and publishers. So as much as the temptation was there, it wasn’t appropriate to approach editors and agents about looking at your work. Otherwise they’d be bludgeoned with eager writers and artists, and they were there to teach not pick up clients. However the conference did give you a few opportunities. They gave you a chance to show your portfolio, which could get agents and editors an opportunity to contact you. You could also submit your work to those industry professionals present, within 6 weeks of the conference.
I did have an expectation to be as open as possible about getting information and looking at my fellow creator’s work. We are all in this together, as I had mentioned in a few blogs ago. And to see all of this creativity gave me hope that the world was still a beautiful place, filled with many artists distinctive styles and voices.
I also wanted to make connections with fellow artists and writers in similar places in their lives as I am. Being open to receiving people gave me an opportunity to meet a fellow Canadian who happens to live down the street from me. His enthusiasm and openness made it much more rewarding for me to be there. In fact he had the idea of starting a critique group, which we are going to begin in March. We’ve already gotten a few others from the conference, that live near us, interested and this is something that will directly help me with my art.
They did an amazing job running the show, but there were a few things that could have been improved upon. The illustrator’s intensive was in its first year and there were things that could have been done differently. I wished they would have a part about breaking into the children’s book market, going over how to submit a book as an artist, whether as a writer/artist or just illustrator. This could have also included creating a portfolio as well as what agents and editors are looking for in a website. I got the feeling that the conference assumed we all kind of knew this information, which I didn’t, and it was evident that a lot of my fellow attendees weren’t so sure as well when they asked these types of questions at the end of some of the smaller sessions. The conference also allowed for the artists to show their portfolio again on the Saturday. However it wasn’t made clear when and where we’d be putting our art. It would have been nice to have this information ahead of time, so as not to have had to scramble at the end of the day on Saturday watching the artists trying to find a spot in the ballroom front hall. That was a minor issue, but one that could have been cleared up easily.
Overall the conference was everything I thought it would be. It was informative and answered all of the questions I had about the industry. It was inspirational, and had some amazing keynote speakers who shared their journeys and lessons with us. And it was supportive, in that it nurtured meeting with other fellow artists to create new and hopefully lasting relationships. There are many conferences held by SCBWI all over the world, happening all through out the year. The NYC conference is the biggest, along with the LA one held during the summer. The other conferences are divided by chapters, and are much smaller. I’ve also heard they are less expensive and more intimate, so I plan on looking into one of those this year. Do you need to go to the two big ones every year? I don’t think it’s necessary. But go at least once. It’s worth every penny and what you gain from it is priceless.