Friday, February 3, 2012

Conference Bound (and Back)

As many of you already know, I went to New York this past weekend to attend the SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) Winter Conference. After many weeks of planning and prepping my portfolio, I was off Wednesday morning. After a train ride from Maine to New York, I set sail to the A&E building to meet my friend Ilene Block who is an art director there. We did some brief catching up but I had to let her get back to work so I walked Manhattan for a couple hours. During that time Ilene passed around my portfolio to others in the department. I received lots of good feedback and some thoughts on favorites in my book. It was reassuring to know that I am heading in the right direction with my artwork. After work, Ilene and I headed to Brooklyn to spend the evening. She has such a wonderful family. I always feel at home with them.

The next morning, I took the train with Ilene back into Manhattan where she let me store my stuff until I could check in to the hotel. I decided to head down to the Village since it had been years since my last visit. The moment I arrived at Blecker Street, I could tell that it had changed. Gone are the small, eclectic boutiques and record stores. It was a bit depressing. Since I was down there, I headed over to where CBGBs once stood. My heart simply sank when I saw a clothing store where the iconic club once stood. I went in to see that they at least preserved the walls from the club but still, it was very sad. I did pick up a book on the club while there which is beautifully done. There are lots of photos of the various performers from over the years, including one of my all-time favorites, The Ramones. My other mission while in the Village was to buy a Ramones shirt. Thinking it was New York, I should have not trouble locating one. While to my surprise, it was more difficult than one can imagine. After many hours, I finally tracked one down at Trash & Vaudeville. With my swag in tow, I went back to A&E to pickup my luggage and headed to the hotel to check in. This would be the first time that I met my conference roommates, Fred Koehler and Ward Jenkins. Fred announced to us a two book writing/illustration deal with Dial. We are so excited for him! Congrats Fred and look for Dad's Big Day in 2014! Ward has illustrated such classics as Chicks Run Wild and How to Train With a T.Rex and Win 8 Gold Medals. After settling in, Fred and I went to meet fellow Pixel Shaver Debbie Ohi for dinner. It was so much getting caught up on each others doings and actually to be together for a brief moment. Since the three other members could not be at the conference, we were carrying their heads around to shoot photos during the conference. Fred and I had a nightcap at the bar and then decided it was time to get some rest.  

Friday was registration day and when the Illustrator's Intensive began. The whole day was about marketing yourself as an illustrator. Dan Yaccarino, Dan Santant, John Rocco, Roxie Munro, Sophie Blackall, and many others talked about how to use the social media to your advantage, branding yourself, how to do live presentations, book trailers, and many other ideas and insights. After hearing what they had to say, it made me rethink a few of my approaches and develop a new game plan for getting my work seen. Fred and I met my dear friend Laura for dinner and drinks. Laura and I became good friends from last years conference. She is an excellent writer who will be a household name very soon. Later that evening was a meet up at a local bar for attendees. During the meet up, the SCBWI held a portfolio showcase for the illustrators. I submitted one for viewing. We were allowed 100 postcards or business cards for the reviewers to take. Many of the top publishers, editors, art directors, and agents were there to review the work. This was a closed session to just that group. After 9 pm, we were allowed to go and look at the work. I must say that the quality of the portfolios was staggering. Definitely a lot of talent was on display in that room.

Saturday was the first official day of the conference with a conference with Lin Oliver, who is a laugh out loud riot, and Stephen Mooser. Christ Crutcher writer of such books as Whale Talk, The Sledding Hill, Deadline, and many other outstanding books, gave a beautiful and often very funny keynote speech about turning real life events into fiction. I really need to read his books! After Chris' keynote, there was a panel discussion on the direction of the children's market. Even though Borders is gone, the panel felt that the market is thriving and that ebooks are here to stay. There was a surprised guest before our first breakout session. Henry Winkler stopped by to offer words of encouragement to the attendees. Henry was funny but gave a heart felt boost to the confidence to everyone there. I could have listened to him all day. Afterwards, we were off to a series of three breakout sessions. My first was with Cathy Goldsmith of Random House who talked about developing picture books. Cathy continued to talk to a small group of us after the session. That is when we received a lot of the real detailed information. Those who left early, missed out. A group of us were off to grab some 99 cent pizza at a nearby hole-in-the-wall. A fellow conference attendee told a group of us about the place. We ate there many times during the weekend. After lunch is back to some breakout sessions. One was with Rubin Pfeffer on ebooks and apps. Rubin really dove into the market and direction of this new monkey wrench that has been thrown into the publishing world. He said it is time to embrace and push along the technology BUT that story is still the key. It is all fluff without a solid story foundation. The last session of the day was with Martha Rago from Harpers Collins who talked about how to make your picture book stand out. She told the group that the demand for picture books is at an all time high. Very encouraging indeed!

After Saturday's breakout sessions, SCBWI held a gala for the attendees. They had a lovely spread of food and plenty of drinks. During the gala, we could meet other members in our regions since they had tables sectioned off for each chapter. It was good seeing some familiar faces and meeting a few new ones. From there, SCBWI held an illustrator's meet and greet that was hosted by Cecilia Young, E. B. Lewis, and David Diaz. Illustrators were encouraged to go up and tell their success stories from the past year. A group of us headed to the hotel bar for a nightcap where we ended up hanging out with E. B. and David for a bit. Those two had us in stitches the entire evening.

Sunday was the last day so after grabbing a bagel we headed to our chairs. I was very lucky to sit next to Cecilia Yung who Anna Boll introduced me to right away. Cecilia asked me for a postcard which she seemed to like and said she look at my website. I know she is a tough cookie and would welcome any feedback she may have. The first talk was by the Book Makers Dozen. If you are not familiar with this group of talented illustrators, then click here. I am sure many of you will recognize many of their names. Also during the morning, the portfolio showcase winners were announced. Congrats to Mike Curato for winning! The conference concluded with a panel of agents talking about what they looked for in a story and how to submit to them. After a goodbye from Lin and Stephen, a group of us set out for a quick bite for lunch which included Mike, the portfolio showcase winner. When the meal was over, we all said goodbye since a few had to catch a plane to head home.

I stayed another night and headed to Manhattan to spend the evening with my friend Eric Brown who is an animator. We have known each other since art school. Another art school buddy and roommate, Easton Davy, joined us for dinner. I have not seem Easton in almost 20 years! It was such a fun evening. I really miss those guys. Hopefully they will come up to Maine for a visit very soon.

Monday morning I caught the train back to Maine. Full of ideas and energy, my focus has shifted to getting my story down on paper with the hopes of having a dummy ready in the next few months. This will be last I mention of it until it is completed. I do not want to be labeled as "all talk and no action". 

If anyone has contemplated attending this conference, I urge you to do so. It is not only a wonderful way to network and meet people, you will come back home with the "I can do this" frame of mind. We just need some patience and stay true to ourselves. Cheers to future success!

"Art is not what you see, but what you make others see." ~ Edgar Degas

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