The answer is yes. Yes, conferences are worth the money and the time it takes to go. Conferences are the place to find out just how much you have to learn as a writer or an illustrator. If you want to grow go to a conference. I’ve been to two this year, and I have a third one in June. Here’s what I’ve learned so far at each conference.
I. The Ashville Christian Writers Conference
This conference was held a the beautiful Billy Graham Cove. I was blown away by the soaring wood-beamed ceilings and house size chandeliers in the dinning room. The food and accommodations were five star and opportunities to find a serene spot to read or write or draw were in abundance.
I learned two things at this conference:
1. How to write a 25 word pitch. This was incredibly helpful and though I am still working on the nuances of my pitches, I am able to clearly articulate each project in a simple, memorable way. If you don’t have a 25 word pitch you need one.
2. Pitching to editors is not scary. I thought I’d be terrified and that editors would scoff at my stories or worse, tell me I should just quit. Yeah, I always think the worst. I pitched to at least five editors and each one was gracious and patient. I felt like a new born puppy trying to open it’s eyes for the first time, but I learned so much. I even had an agent from Hartline Literary agency ask for a proposal. (I’m working on it!)
This is me with my friend Maggie Rowe and then her with a bunch of famous people.
Maggie Rowe and I at The Ashville Christian Writers Conference
II. SCBWI’S Marvelous Midwest Conference
This conference was less than ten minutes from my house in Naperville, IL. This conference was held at a Marriot. The food was a B+. I didn’t stay the night as my own bed is my favorite. The Lobby had soft couches and comfy chairs for chatting with people and lots of sturdy tables for setting up computers or laying out art work.
Here are the top three things I learned at this conference.
1. My 25 word pitch needs work. I went to a session called high concept and discovered my pitch lacked a little luster. In fact, what my pitch really lacked was a strong hook with a unique twist. Honestly, I came home trying to decide if Una the pig could pull off a story line where she is saved from the clutches of the evil farmer by a mafia boss pig named Brutus who trains her to be his right hand pig so together they can burn down the slaughter house, free their families and take over the farm…. NAW! That’s crazy. Hmm..
2. Illustrators have portfolios. Well, you don’t know what you don’t know. That’s why you go to conferences. I have this website with my stuff, but all the illustrators I met at this conference also have a physical portfolio. I went out yesterday and bought a portfolio and am beginning to build it.
I titled this picture: “Courage, dear heart.” After one of my favorite quotes from C.S. Lewis’s Narnia series. It takes courage to begin this process. But I’m certain the outcome will be useful and beautiful.
3. There are Christian editors at the SCBWI conventions. Linda Howard from Tyndale was there. I went to as many of her sessions as I could and gleaned all I could from her talks on what Christian editors are looking for, and how the Christian market is doing. I also loved her talk on marketing your own books. She suggested we need a blog and we should write about “stuff”. Okay, we should write things that reveal who we are as a writer and illustrator. Things other people might want to read.
Here’s the link to SCBWI if you are not a member, you should be. Https://www.scbwi.org/ If you are a member come find me: Joleen Steel
I have one more conference this year. I just hope I can figure out poor Una’s story before I go, she really is too nice of a pig to work for Brutus.
Joleen Steel is a Canadian illustrator and author who lives in Warrenville, IL with her husband Dave and their youngest son Matt. Joleen teaches kindergarten at a classical Christian School and writes for The Old Schoolhouse Magazine. As the Executive Director for Camping Stick Kids (campingstickkids.org), Joleen illustrates and writes the ministry’s books and curriculum. Camping Stick Kids has been featured on Focus on the Family’s Adventures in Odyssey. www.campingstickkids.org