I had so many questions before my first SCBWI New York meeting: what to wear, what to bring, what kind of persona to adopt for the weekend. This was on top of the fundamental writerly insecurity that I packed in an extra roller bag: I’m not established enough, my work is derivative and dull, no one will ever want it. It’s weird that once I packed it in there I opened that bag again. Shoulda left it zipped.
I read a lot but was WAY too intimidated to, you know, ask someone who had actually been there. Those people are real writers. I’m a cross between a hack and a pretender.
This is the same reason that I’d shied away from local SCBWI meetings. In metro Chicago, where I live, there are at least 3 active chapters whose events I’m welcome at. But again… those are the real writers. They might see me for the joke writer I am. And I don’t mean writer of jokes. I mean who does she think she is LOL? writer.
So, finding the concept of several hundred writers less intimate and intimidating than a dozen writers, I made my way to Manhattan. Now that it is over I’m writing up what I wanted to read before I went.
In no way should you substitute this with actually going to the meeting! The meeting was amazing and fun and educational. I haven’t had the chance to go to a local SCBWI meeting in the 2 days since I’ve been home, the ice has been broken, and I’ll make my way to one soon.
The 2018 SCBWI New York meeting was set up differently than past years, so some of my questions were everyone’s questions.
# What to wear: anything, seriously, anything that a normal adult human wears out of the house. I didn’t see much yogawear, but styles ranged from business to business casual to casual, with a heavy trend to casual. Jeans, sweaters, scarves, jackets. The reality is that people will only notice what you are wearing if it’s spectacular. If spectacular is your style, go for it. Otherwise, just be comfortable.
# Business cards: Yes, people do trade cards, so bring them. Some people have restrained professional cards, others a little more whimsical. Remember the name card passages of Little Town on the Prairie? I do, verbatim, and that’s what picking out my writing business cards felt like. Have fun with this. The illustrators have awesome cards, enjoy them.
# The days and nights: I found Saturday and Sunday completely packed full, from breakfast through after dinner (Saturday) or lunch (Sunday). Bring water and a light snack, if you don’t like being hungry or thirsty. Also bring a cardigan or a fleece; the rooms were chilly this year.
# Workshops: in 2018 the workshops were expanded from what they had been to two and a half hours long. This is a really long time. Some presenters worked in bathroom breaks, others put in stretch breaks, and some just went straight through. If you have back, hip, knee or other problems that make it difficult to sit that long, come early and pick your seat so you can move around easily. The workshops were airplane-seating crowded and it was very difficult to get out if you were in a middle seat.
#Will I be awkwardly alone the whole time?: I occasionally need to use “networking skills” in my day job, so I have a modest amount of experience introducing myself to strangers. I am not good at it and don’t enjoy it. But at SCBWI, everyone has the natural icebreaker of “where are you from?” and “do you write or illustrate or do both?”Sitting down in the keynote room next to a stranger and saying “HimynameisKate*smile*” is worth the tiny moment of weirdness. The atmosphere is relaxed and open, and so are the people. If you are really, really worried or bad at this– practice ahead of time, because meeting writers from everywhere is part of the fun!
#Follow up/life planning: Meet your heroes and moderate your expectations. Authors and illustrators are awesome and human; editors don’t love everything; agents won’t love your work more because you showed up to a conference. The focus of the two days is honing our skills and meeting interesting peers rather than finding career success.
Also, door prizes!