Sunday, November 5, 2017

SCBWI 2017 Los Angeles Conference

As a quick update, before digging into the conference, I wanted to mention that we have finally moved and I am starting to work out of my new studio again. We've been in flux since May, and it is nice to sit in my own chair again and get the gears moving slowly. I wish I would have had time to post this sooner, but things are never perfect, so its better late than never right? I'll have a mini post with a link to a timelapse video of my latest illustration and hopefully will have some new prints to show before Thanksgiving. If you haven's signed up for my mailing list, that is the best place to hear about all the latest prints available for sale. (Sign up here => "Newsletter" in right column)

Back to the main topic of this post:

I was fortunate to attend the latest SCBWI conference held in LA this July. This was the first large SCBWI conference I’ve attended and think that it was well worth my time to go, especially as a newbie to the industry. The LA conference, from what I hear, is a more relaxed atmosphere and there is more of a chance to meet your peers. I think it is a great conference to go to, especially if you are just beginning, because you can hear professionals talk about their experiences, attend mini workshops and bond with peers who are in various stages in their careers. I felt like at least half the attendees were close to me, still waiting to publish their first book. I think a lot of the breakout sessions were also geared and very helpful to new author/illustrators, and I got something from each one that I went to. My regret is that I wasn’t able to be in more than one spot at the same time, to listen in on all the great lectures. I took lots of notes, and it’ll take me a while to go through them to sort all the information out.

There were so many highlights at the conference. The first was being able to connect in person with friends I had made on Facebook in my writing groups. I got to know many of them better, as we sat together for panels, lunches and coffee. My two roommates, whom I had met in an online class, became life-long friends, and as a bonus, sharing a room really helped bring the conference cost down. Left: Us roomies all alumni of Arree Chung's (right) Storyteller Academy.

Second, I got to meet Leuyen Pham, author/illustrator. I love her style and humor and went to all three of her events. My favorite was her session “Creating Middle Grade Art”. She has illustrated a wide variety of middle grade books, and her insights on how to choose the subject matter, working with art directors and differences between chapter books for early readers and middle grade novels were eye opening. She also has a very similar way of working to me, which made me identify with her the a lot.

Third, I wanted to highlight the breakout session with Tammy Sauer. Her session was titled “Picture Book Writing Secrets - Revealed!”. Her talk was also very informative, and extremely entertaining and she was a speed talker. I did my best to take notes, but still havent gone over everything and organized it all. She had so many good ideas on how to make stories more funny, interesting, organized, how to escalate events, play with readers expectations, different types of hooks etc. She was the most animated speaker I’ve seen at a conference, and it was fun to be there for the ride, even though my hand hurt from taking notes and my ears were ringing afterwards.

Some of my tips for a new illustrator attending this conference would be, first, to take breaks when you need them. The days were packed with events from 7.30am-10pm, with short breaks for lunch. If I would have done every single thing, I would have been over spent by the end of it. I took some time during a lunch time, over a keynote speaker who I thought would be least interesting, or after the end of the sessions before socials. They weren’t long times to rest, but it was nice to take 10-30 min to kick your feet up and be in a quiet spot for a moment.

portfolio review session
As an introvert, I also recommend, get to know a few folks before the conference if possible. It was nice to have someone to room with, and to sit with at the events. So I didn't spend all my energy trying to talk to strangers.

On the flipside: do talk to strangers. If you looked around, there were plenty of people standing/sitting alone. Ask them if they are an illustrator or a writer and if they were published, and the conversations would usually flow pretty easy from there. I did get the nerve to talk to some of the faculty, but am kicking myself for not saying anything to Peter Brown. I am a big fan and just didn’t know what to say to him aside from blushing. I’ll have to work on that for next time.
Which brings me to the next point, do your research and look the faculty up before you go. It will make it easier and faster to figure out what lectures you want to see, and to come up with conversation points or questions that are helpful for you.

The only thing I was perhaps let down by, was the illustration showcase. The showcase was fairly well organized, but aside from peers looking at your portfolio, I am not sure there were any art directors/editors/publishers to see it. I believe the New York conference has a lot more of editors and art directors around, so if you need to save money, that might be something I’d reconsider for the next LA conference.

so many new friends
To wrap things up: I definitely plan to go to another SCBWI conference. Making connections was wonderful, and I learned a lot. I think for the next one, I’ll try NY, just to see how different it is to LA. If you have any specific questions for me about the conference, I’d be happy to answer. Just send me an email at mirka_hokkanen (at) yahoo com.

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