SCBWI Winter Conference
By Todd Erickson, Teacher
Educators of young children often read and reflect upon children’s literature. Given the vastness of the children’s literature world and, more specifically, its wide range of quality, it is tempting to view the writer’s path to children’s book publishing as an easy and surefire process. In early February 2008, several hundred children’s book writers and illustrators from around the country united at the annual Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Winter Conference in New York City. Over three exciting days, the attendees attended workshops, met authors, editors, illustrators and literary agents, and learned a tremendous amount about the current state of children’s book publishing.
One of the most eye-opening messages about children’s book writing was how difficult it is to convince an editor to publish a book. Editors receive hundreds of submissions each year and choose only a few to publish. The work of the writer, then, is to create a manuscript that is both memorable and meets the specific and ever-changing needs of an editor and his or her publishing house. What first appeared easy and surefire began to resemble catching lightning in a bottle.
The conference participants were able to hear from working authors about their artistic processes and professional struggles and successes. A panel of literary agents shared the challenges and changes occurring in the literary world. Another panel described the entire life of a children’s book, from the original idea to the marketing of the published work. Editors met with small groups to offer insight and suggestions. The weekend offered many opportunities to meet and connect with other writers and illustrators. Infused throughout every aspect of the conference was a sense of possibility and passion for the exploration and elevation of the written word.
While the entire conference was illuminating and inspiring, the two distinctly memorable highlights were separate visits with David Wiesner and Jane Yolen. These successful and highly respected children’s authors, both Caldecott Medal of Honor winners, have entertained, challenged and educated both children and adults, including countless numbers at Bing Nursery School. Conference participants were able to spend one-on-one time with these creative giants, asking specific questions about their writing processes and the path to published work. Their supportiveness, humility and honesty touched many hearts. The experiences they shared will inform both the creative and business aspects of many writing careers.