It has a been a week since the SCBWI Winter Conference in NYC, and I am just getting around to unpacking my bag. What an overwhelmingly fantastic experience that was! I mean, most of the time the words “networking” and “socials” give me cold sweats, and I would be lying if I didn’t fess up to hiding in my room for at least one lunch. But that conference paid for itself before I even got there, it was so useful! In fact, I probably learned the most from the process of putting together a print portfolio for the Portfolio Showcase, which I haven’t done for an embarrassingly long time. Posting images on a website creates a really different experience than putting one image per page into a portfolio book. That book made crystal clear where my portfolio was strong and where there were gaping holes. How did I not notice before that so many of the characters in my portfolio images are standing or sitting and staring at stuff? Why are so many of the images from one book? Why is it that the work I am most proud of (my nonfiction picture book on genetics) translates into so few usable portfolio pieces? And why does so little of my humor come through in my portfolio?
I came away determined to fill these holes and strengthen that book with more images where my personality comes through, images that tell richer stories, characters who engage with each other more actively. Somehow I assumed that since all my portfolio images come from books I have illustrated, they would be good examples of storytelling. But now I see the importance of including personal work in my portfolio as well, and creating images specifically for the portfolio.
So, did I spend the past week creating new pieces and getting busy on my book dummy? Aaaaand therein lies the hard part. When I was at the conference (in a hotel connected to Grand Central so I never even had to go outside to get snacks, an eight hour drive away from my family and all the distractions both wonderful and frustrating that come with that) the big task at hand seemed like just making the right kind of work. But once back at home, daily life came flooding back and the big task became keeping a clear head and finding some uninterrupted time to make any kind of work at all. I have a notebook full of ideas that I had for new work on the long bus ride home. But where to begin? I have been flitting around this week, from trying to start using Twitter (rabbit hole) to getting back into posting daily sketches (a week has only one day, right?) to searching for local people to start a critique group (more accountability needed, and if there is the risk of running into group members at the grocery store, so much the better!) all while taking care of kids and remembering to feed them. So, the SCBWI conference didn’t sweep away my time management problems. But it sure did give me an inspiring kick in the pants!
What did I learn once I got to the conference?
1. That there couldn't possibly be another industry out there filled with lovelier humans than the children’s book industry. Seriously, I feel so lucky to be part of this club.
2. All kinds of new digital illustration tools and time savers from a workshop with Dan Santat, Renee Kurilla, and Vashti Harrison. AND that I am more conversant in photoshop already than I gave myself credit for.
3. Really clear ways of thinking about what makes a great picture book story from a workshop with Connie Hsu, senior editor at Roaring Press Books. AND, in applying these measures to the picture book text I brought to revise, that I am on the right track.
4. That illustrators who create picture book biographies love research as much as I do, that everyone falls down the research rabbit hole, and that these are totally my people. Also, that they do a dizzying amount of drawing. I am completely in awe of Barbara McClintock and Eric Velasquez.
5. That I know absolutely nothing about how to use social media effectively or how to market a book. Thanks, Jennifer Swanson, for some great ideas for marketing nonfiction work, thanks, Ioana Hobai, for Twitter pointers, thanks, Jennifer Broedel, for generously offering your know how on writing a good query letter, thanks, Merial Cornell, for your perspective as an agent on working with illustrators. Turns out the "socials" weren't so painful after all :-)
6. A super helpful analogy from editor Jill Santopolo for when rejection strikes, comparing shopping for a bridesmaids dress to an editor evaluating a manuscript.
7. That agents aren't looking for the next trend right now so much as they are for great stories told by all kinds of voices.
8. That my mom is a really fun roommate. Book your tix for next year, mama!