"All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us." —J. R. R. Tolkien

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Thoughts on Conferences

(I'm not sure I've typed this many words since my last novel. And not a single picture to boot.)

Thank you all for the awesome comments on my conference wrap-up from Monday! My post along with seeing all the other posts about the Austin SCBWI conference for some reason really made me remember when I first joined SCBWI.

It was only five years ago though it seems like forever. I joined Austin SCBWI and signed up for the conference which was only a few weeks later. I didn't know a soul. I knew almost nothing about the publishing business. All I had was a completed manuscript and a new-found love of writing kids' books.

So the first thing I did after scouring the Austin SCBWI website for hours on end was decide I needed to join a critique group. Our site has a page with contact information for those interested in critique groups. I cold emailed the first person on the list, Carla Birnberg, who offered to meet me at B&N for a coffee and a chat. I met her, told her all about my book, and she offered to read my first chapter. She wasn't interested in a formal critique group at the time, but she gave me great feedback and has to this day remained one of my very close friends.
So I cold emailed the next person on the list and found someone who also wanted to join a critique group. We decided to form our own group and advertise at the upcoming conference.

So, yay! I now had a critique group contact, and I knew TWO whole people who were going to be at the conference.

Let's skip to that, shall we?

First I saw a call for chairs from the RA at the time, Julie Lake. I sent her an email offering to bring some chairs and felt completely floored when she actually spoke to me. She was a published author which was just amazing in my eyes.
And if that wasn't enough, when Cynthia Leitich Smith entered the conference, and I thought of her in almost a goddess light. She was the queen of Austin. Untouchable. So successful. Would she seriously ever talk to me?

For those of you who actually know Cyn and Julie, you can stop laughing now. I was beyond nervous. I was so green. I was intimidated beyond belief. OMG. But I was there. That was something.

At lunch the two peeps I knew ate elsewhere so I sat at a table and introduced myself to three other people at the table. I emailed all three afterward and two never responded, but the third, Erin Edwards, responded and is a gem. I'm always so thrilled to see Erin and catch up with her. Was she as nervous as I was? I have no idea. I certainly didn't think so at the time, so you'd have to ask her.

Did I talk to an editor or an agent at the conference? Heck no. After all, what would I have said?*

So the conference ended, I now had three people I knew in SCBWI, and a couple more contacted me from the critique group fliers I had at the registration table. I now had a critique group.

Okay, am I the only one who's gone through this kind of conference experience? I can't imagine so.

Let's fast forward a bit, shall we? What's changed?

Well, for starters, I went to the monthly meetings. I introduced myself to people. I randomly mentioned I'd love to go the the National conference. I went (along with someone else from Austin). And there I met my editor.

I went to book signings. I bought the books. I introduced myself to the authors. And here I'll insert for those that don't know Cyn she's about the nicest person in the whole of children's publishing. As soon as I introduced myself at her TANTALIZE book signing, she recommended lunch which of course I took her up on.

I went to workshops. I met the awesome Carmen Oliver who from the very start had the most gorgeous smile. It lit up the room every time I walked into a meeting and saw it.

I went up and talked to Jo Whittemore** who at the time had a fantasy trilogy coming out. She was the bomb as far as I was concerned and I was a total fan girl. (She's now a fellow Texas Sweetheart.) Yikes I was scared, but I made myself go up and talk to her. We chuckled about this at the conference this past weekend.

Okay, so look at any of these things. What if I hadn't sent emails about the critique groups? What if I hadn't introduced myself at book signings? What if I hadn't gone to meetings because I didn't know anyone?

Do you get what I'm trying to say?

Reaching out is huge in becoming a part of any community. This is your responsibility. This is something totally within your power. No one will do it for you. And the best part is there is little to nothing to lose. It's scary but it's huge for helping you and your network grow.


* WAIT - So you're going to a conference and you don't know what to say to authors or agents or editors. Yes, I've been here!!!! Am I still here sometimes? Yes! But here are some strategies to make approaching anyone so much easier.
  • Read their books (or their clients' books or books they've edited). Go up and tell them how much you liked their book. Be sincere. Don't fake it.
  • Ask about the marketing of specific books they've worked on.
  • Talk about the publishing business.
  • Ask what good books they've read recently.
  • Read their blogs and mention specific things from their blog posts.
  • Mention something you both have in common.
The key thing is finding common ground and making the personal connection. After all, everyone is just a person. We all want to form relationships and communicate. It's what life is all about.

** Jo Whittemore is giving away candy on her blog! Just tell her what your favorite candy bar is here.


Tricia J. O'Brien said...

I love this personal journey through conferences. You took the steps and got payoff for your efforts. Thanks for sharing and for the advice.

PJ Hoover said...

Thanks, Tricia! It's really fun for me to think back on all the great people I met.

Miriam S. Forster said...

Reaching out is scary. I'm amazed at how brave you were. My tendency in places where I don't know anyone is to just sit quietly and not initiate conversation. But I'm getting better. :)

Anonymous said...

Awww, I remember those days! So glad we connected over the years. :o)

Caroline Starr Rose said...

I always love a glimpse at other's experiences. There is so much we can do to better our chances. No one else will do it for us. Jump in!

PJ Hoover said...

It's very scary, Miriam. And it feels so awkward to sit and not talk to anyone. You feel like everyone is staring at you. I always try to remind myself other people are feeling the exact same way.

Me, too, Jo! You are still the bomb!

So well said, Caroline! It is up to us to take the steps we need to move forward.

Thanks, guys!

MG Higgins said...

I love your tips about what to say to editors and agents. I am a full-fledged introvert and having a list of topics in my mind would help a lot.

Keri Mikulski said...

Great post.. :) I love the look back at your journeys. :)

Robyn Campbell said...

I'm always so nervous. You are my hero. I am trying to get better about walking up and introducing myself.

Thanks for all your help, advice and just how you reach out to lend a hand. =)

PJ Hoover said...

MG, I think it would have helped me hugely to actually have ideas in my head. It is so hard to approach people sometimes.

Thanks, Keri! VA's almost here!

You are so welcome, Robyn. Some days are much easier than others when it comes to reaching out and introducing yourself, aren't they.

Take care!

Elana Johnson said...

This is a great post. I think so many people forget that the "famous" people (like you!!) were once new too. Thanks PJ!

PJ Hoover said...

LOL, Elana! When I'm famous, you'll know :) But you're sweet for saying so!

T. Anne said...

I live in L.A. there are tons of writers. I should really reach out and touch someone. I'm not sure what is stopping me. Time and money probably. ;)

Becky Levine said...

I'm late to the party--just catching up on blogs, but this is PERFECT. Off to tweet/FB a link--people need to read this! :)

PJ Hoover said...

Time can be a huge constraint, Anne. I've been very lucky my husband is willing to support me and watch the kids when I want to do stuff.

Thanks, Becky! The words kinda just spilled out :)

TerryLynnJohnson said...

Indeed, great to read about famous authors with the same jitters as everyone at conferences. (I'm really enjoying your book - the Emerald Tablet!)

PJ Hoover said...

Not famous and total jitters!
And thank you so much, Terry! I'm glad you're enjoying it!

Natalie Aguirre said...

This is off topic but I thought you'd want to know Navel of the World got a good review at Charlotte's library on 2/2-she has a great blog reviewing fantasy for kids of all ages. Here's the link. http://charlotteslibrary.blogspot.com/

Nikki said...

Oh, this post was wonderful! I loved hearing your story, and laughing at how similar my feelings have been this year. I think Carmen is an angel, and Erin Edwards is terrific. You know, you're not so bad yourself! ;-)
Isn't Austin the most wonderful writing community? I'm so glad I'm in it with you! (warm fuzzy)

PJ Hoover said...

Thanks, Natalie! I was thrilled to see the review. I love her blog!

And you're not so bad yourself either, Nikki! I'm so glad you liked the post. And yes, the Austin writing community rocks!

Marcia said...

# Read their books (or their clients' books or books they've edited). Go up and tell them how much you liked their book. Be sincere. Don't fake it.

# Read their blogs and mention specific things from their blog posts.

These really stand out to me. They seem the most personal and natural. A little advance planning helps so much, instead of trying to wing it.

PJ Hoover said...

You're absolutely right, Marcia. There is more advanced planning this way but it does make everything more natural.

Patty P said...

It'd be a shame to go to a conference and not meet anyone. I've met the nicest people through SCBWI. It makes the often lonely world of writing a very social place!

PJ Hoover said...

Definitely, Patty! But sometimes when the world seems lonely we tend to hole up. Which, you're right, is such a shame.

Lenore said...

Sadly we don't have many events in Germany, but SCBWI has been such a valuable resource!

PJ Hoover said...

Maybe true, Lenore, but Germany has so many other cool things to make up for it! I must get there one day!

Emily said...

I feel so lucky that I knew so many people going into my first conference, and mostly just from being "that girl in the kids section" at the bookstore.

What I can say, though, is how amazing this group of people is. The first time I ever met Cyn, she came in to sign stock at BookPeople. I told her I wrote and she asked me if I as a YA author. I said, well, I'm working on something. I was stunned when she said "Well, then the answer is yes!"

There is so much respect and support in the Austin group (and in the kidlit world in general), and conferences are no different. Tricia, you're so right - reaching out is the best thing you can do, and way easier than people might think!

And what do you mean you're not famous? You get FAN ART. That's fame.

PJ Hoover said...

Emily, you are right - it is easy to reach out if you open yourself to the possibility of doing it. I think so many people view it as so awkward and scary.
And, LOL, I love the fan art :)