Turning a large-scale writers’ conference into a remote event has been revelatory for Lin Oliver, outgoing Executive Director of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). “I don’t think we’ll ever go back to having big conferences that are only in person,” she says. “They’ve become so much more available to everyone because they’re virtual. They’re more equitable in terms of making the same information available to everyone, regardless of what people can pay.”
Every year, SCBWI holds two major conferences – a February event in New York City and a July gathering in Los Angeles. The February 2022 conference takes place virtually, and the July conference will be hybrid or remote depending on pandemic statistics.
“New remote platforms are making all kinds of wonderful things available,” Oliver explains. “People can enter and leave virtual rooms at will. They can set up individual booths, and people can visit for breakout sessions or see exhibits the way they would at an in-person conference when we’re viewing these out in the lobby.”
The February and July conferences offer programming designed to meet writers wherever they are in their careers. “Whether you’re a beginner, whether you’ve got five books published or 10 books published, there’s something for everybody,” says Conference Director Kim Turrisi.
What you’ll learn
The February conference features editors, agents, publishers, and art directors providing a window into the publishing industry. “It’s primarily craft- and business-oriented, meaning it’s about acquisitions, it’s about sales, it’s about promotion,” Oliver explains. “We have panels of editors and agents, and they lead intensives, as well.”
Participants attending the intensives may submit chapters of their manuscripts to presenters. “SCBWI has always been about having your work seen by people who can make your dreams come true – small publishers, large publishers, agents and editors who are acquiring,” Oliver says. “It’s our job to put our people in front of them.”
The February conference provides information on how to write a query letter and how to research agents and editors who might be a good fit for your work. “Participants can work virtually with these agents and editors, getting feedback about how they can improve their work,” Turrisi explains. Last year’s February conference also included “Fly On the Wall Acquisition and Design Meetings” during which participants could remotely attend gatherings of children’s book publishers, editors, art directors, designers, and sales/marketing professionals to understand better how a manuscript is acquired.
In 2022, staff will provide several different ways for members to interact with editors and agents and submit work to them. “We have platforms that allow you to get everybody in one virtual room, so that they feel like they’re sitting next to the editor or agent, which is what everybody really wants to do,” Turrisi says.
In 2021, participants took a virtual tour of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing accompanied by art director and author Laurent Linn, who introduced them to Vice President/Publisher Paula Wiseman as well as managing editor Katrina Groover and Senior Production Editor Chava Wolin.
The hosts of 2021 genre breakout sessions during the conference included picture book editors Andrea Welch, Joanna Cardenas, and Elizabeth Bicknell. Other professionals included middle grade editors Tricia Lin and Krista Vitola, young adult editors Stacey Barney and Alexandra Cooper, and nonfiction editors Shelby Lees and Alyssa Mito Pusey.
The July 2022 conference will focus on the craft of writing; speakers are primarily authors and illustrators. Expect big names as in last year’s event, which included Kwame Alexander, Laurie Halse Anderson, Tiffany D. Jackson, Pam Muñoz Ryan, Nikki Giovanni, and Donna Gephart. That event also included a “Pro Day Intensive” for published writers, with workshops including “How to Write Across Genres,” “Writing for the Educational Market,” “Getting Your Book Into Schools and Libraries,” and “Building an Effective Author Platform and Brand.”
Advice for first-time attendees
“I always tell people: Look at our schedule and study what’s out there and what’s best for you,” Turrisi says. “When you go to the classes, be focused, be present, and take notes.” Attendees at the 2022 conferences will have access to sessions for a month following each event. “You can go back and watch them again and again,” she explains. “If you miss your session remotely, you don’t actually miss it!”
Worried about how you’ll find your people at a remote conference? Oliver and Turrisi schedule social hours for identity groups and interest groups. “We have an LGBTQIA+ social, we have one for people who write nonfiction, we have a Spanish-language social for people who are bilingual or writing in Spanish. These are all very important networking events,” Oliver explains. “Our favorite part of the conference happens in the lobby and happens in the bar and happens after hours and happens over brunch, you know, because that’s when people make friends and connections and find critique groups.”
With that in mind, staff are also eager to showcase after-hours virtual experiences. “There is one platform that allows you to gamify so that you can do trivia games,” Oliver explains. “There’s a virtual photo booth where you can come and take selfies, and another has individual booths, and you can rent one to do a book talk and showcase your new book trailer.”
Several fellowships and awards allow participants to attend one of the SCBWI conferences for free. The “On-the-Verge Emerging Voices Award” offers full conference scholarships and manuscript consultations to writers from underrepresented backgrounds. And even if the July event offers in-person sessions, those who don’t wish to travel can attend online. “Then, everybody gets a front-row seat,” Oliver says. “There’s no bad seat in the house.”
Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Conferences at a glance
Dates: Feb. 11-13; July TBA
Scholarships/awards: Yes; see website for details
Contributing editor Melissa Hart is the author of Better with Books: 500 Diverse Books to Ignite Empathy and Encourage Self-Acceptance in Tweens and Teens (Sasquatch, 2019). Twitter/Instagram: @WildMelissaHart