OR SCBWI: Art Directors, Agents, and Editors, Oh My!

Like many (if not all) of my peers at Ooligan Press, I want to be a published author. The program provides us with a comprehensive understanding of the publishing industry, but most of us who want to write professionally need to supplement our Ooligan education with critique groups, professional development training, and conferences. My interest lies in picture books, so I’ve been a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI) for the past few years. The Oregon chapter is very active and hosts a number of free events throughout the year that are open to the public. The largest annual event is the Spring Conference (and is, unfortunately, not free). This is my second year attending the conference, and though it’s a bit costly to go, the information presented and the networking opportunities are invaluable.

What can you expect from attending a regional SCBWI conference? Above all else, this event contains the nicest and most supportive group of people you will ever meet. The majority of attendees are female, and you’ll find an above-average amount of teachers and librarians in the group.

Not pictured: men

Not pictured: men

An impressive roster of panelists is flown in from all over the country, and the weekend is filled with workshops, one-on-one critiques, and informal conversations while waiting in line for the restroom. This year, the writing panels cover everything from composing a query letter to creating diverse characters to capturing voice in your writing. Illustrators have sessions on promoting their work, finding a niche in the industry, and examining the art of book jackets.

Artist John Rocco discussing the original Percy Jackson book cover

Artist John Rocco discussing the original Percy Jackson book cover

The second day of the conference is primarily for intensives, which are sessions that often require the attendee to submit something ahead of time in order for it to be critiqued. These “show and tell” panels give authors and illustrators the opportunity to get feedback on their work from a group of agents, editors, and art directors. This exposure is really what makes the annual conference an invaluable experience, because after the conference, attendees are able to submit their work to the agents and editors for consideration.

Attendees perusing portfolios

Attendees perusing portfolios

The conference-going experience is exhausting, exhilarating, and energizing. At the end of it all I am inspired and determined to produce better work for next year. The following are some personal highlights from this year’s event:

Day One:

  • Seeing The Ninth Day by Ruth Tenzer Feldman (an Ooligan Press title) on the slideshow of new books by SCBWI-OR members (author Elizabeth Rusch, with whom I intern, was on the presentation as well)
  • Learning that publishers often have different boilerplate contracts for authors with agents and authors without (and the latter are often slightly exploitive)
  • Viewing the exquisite illustrations and beautiful, wordless story in The Boy and the Airplane by Mark Pett in art director John Rocco talk about the process of creating the Percy Jackson and the Olympians book covers (and half-jokingly complain that he is credited in the books in “the smallest possible font [the publishers] can get away with”)
  • Meeting talented local writer-illustrators like Anne Awh

Anne Awh posing with her art

Anne Awh posing with her art

Day Two:

  • Listening to local SCBWI members, including Barbara Herkert and Amber Keyser, talk about their path to publication
  • Receiving an insightful manuscript review from the stylish and eloquent Martha Brockenbrough
  • Getting advice on what mediums and styles to explore in my artwork from Lucy Ruth Cummins and John Rocco
  • Looking through the papercut portfolio of Liz Goss

Liz Goss and her lovely portfolio

Liz Goss and her lovely portfolio

To close, here are wise words from artist John Rocco: “The page turn is very important…it’s the difference between picture books and a bunch of pictures.” Now please excuse me, it’s time to start preparing for 2015.

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