I've published one book so far and have an agent I am v. happy with. I am by no means a big success, and who knows if my agent will be able to sell my new MS? For someone like me, are writers conferences a worthwhile investment of my time/money? I see some wonderful-sounding #kidlit conferences with amazing writers, agents, & editors, but I imagine we're talking $500 for registration/hotel/snacks (OBVIOUSLY). I'd love to be around those talented ppl, but will going help me sell my next book?
Listen (and this is for everyone, not just the OP!) … not all conferences or workshops are created equal – but the good ones are VERY good. And I love a good conference, I really do. Conferences can be great fun, they can be energizing (and exhausting-in-a-good way!) – they can give you insight about craft or the boost you need to persevere – they are certainly a fine place for outgoing people to connect with other likeminded souls in the business, which is nice, since so much of your job as an author is sitting by yourself at your desk! Conferences! Yay!
If you want to go, but you are confused about what you are looking for, I’d suggest first deciding if you want a “workshop” where you are intently working on craft in small groups (ie, Big Sur workshop, Highlights workshop, Kindling Words) – or a traditional conference, generally much larger, where there are speeches, breakout sessions, etc. (OP: Since you already have an agent you love and are on your way, you probably want more of a craft-based workshop rather than a 101-level conference.) Personally, I’d start looking locally before I spent the $$$ on the huge ones you have to travel to -
because if doesn’t turn out to be your cup of tea, you don’t wanna be
far from home and in debt when you find that out! ;-)
Reality: Not everyone LIKES talking to strangers, even very nice ones. Not everyone LIKES to take seminars or workshops or listen to talks. Not everyone is “energized” by groups. Not everyone has the money, or the time, or the not-small amount of emotional and physical wherewithal it takes to spend an immersive weekend working far away from home. And you know what: That’s totally cool, too.
What conferences can be good for: Learning craft, connecting with other authors, feeling “a part of” the industry in some way, hearing more about what agents/editors want, having fun with other book-lovers, eating baked potatoes out of martini glasses, having one too many glasses of white wine and crying in front of a fave author, ETC.
What conferences are NOT good for: Getting an agent. Getting a book contract. If you go to a conference thinking that you will end the weekend with a book deal, you will be gravely disappointed.
I have never (NEVER) signed an author AT a conference. I have never (NEVER) seen a book sold to an editor at a conference. I’m sure it has happened… once or twice, ever. But it is not a regular thing. I have met people who I go on to rep some time later – but I would have probably gone on to rep them whether or not I’d met them at the conference. And they are far from the majority of my clients - even THAT is rare, indeed.
The idea that you somehow have to attend conferences to get an “in” in the business is just false, and it makes me really angry that this is the kind of shit people say to would-be writers. Usually in an effort to get them to spend money on false hope.
You don’t need to go to conferences. You don’t need to meet an agent in order for them to rep you. You don’t get bonus points for schmoozing.
If you want a class but you can’t afford it, or don’t want to attend a class in person – there are online classes. If you want to pal around with authors virtually, there are online message boards, and twitter. If you want in-person camaraderie but you can’t afford or don’t want to schlep across country, get a local crit group - and check out your local SCBWI chapter - there are monthly local meetups that are free all over the place, and one-day conferences regionally that can be significantly less expensive than going to the big NYC/LA ones. If you don’t have such a thing where you live, and you really want it – START ONE!
Artist & Thief (an excerpt from my SCBWI keynote for those who weren't there)
I used to think that my ideal job was to write. To make up stories. To lie for a living. Now that I’m in it, though, now that I’m comfortable in my novelist skin, it doesn’t feel that way at all. I observe for a living. I steal for a living. I stylize for a living. I find things in the real world, I take them for my own, and then I hammer them into a story-shaped thing. Writer? I am a thief and an artist.
One of my loves is mythology and folklore, and one of the earliest folkloric traditions I got into was Celtic fairy lore. Probably I can blame my mother for this. We were Navy brats and moved about all over, and one of the ways she would distract us children on long coast-to-coast moving trips was pointing out the window and saying LOOK! THERE! DID YOU SEE THAT FAIRY? BEHIND THAT TREE? The reasonable response would have been: No, mother, we did not, because we are traveling at 65 miles per hour and that tree is a thing of our now-distant past. But my mother was very persuasive, so instead, we always craned our necks and tried to see the fairies in between the trees or dancing on the lakes or hiding in the fog in the hills, etcetera, etcetera.
Anyway, one of the traditions around fairies is that they live in grand underground worlds, ruled over by the powerful fairy queen. Stories talk about how humans descend to this underground world and are dazzled by the beauty and wonder they see. The most beautiful citizens, the most intricate of architecture, the most delicious of fruits hanging from enchanted trees. But they also talk about how the longer you are underground — the more canny you are — the more you begin to recognize your surroundings. Because the fairy queen, for all her power, can’t create anything from scratch. She can only observe beauty and wonder in the real world, then take it for herself and assemble it in different ways. She is a thief. An artistic thief, but a thief nonetheless.
Increasingly, I’ve realized that I am very rarely creating something entirely from scratch. Instead, I am a thief as well, stealing from everything I see, everything I do, everyone I meet. And then I’m an artist — choosing carefully how to stitch them back together.
For instance, I shall set the scene. A few years ago, I began bringing a sketchbook with me as I toured. I wanted to get better at sketching people in real time, and the only way to get better in just about anything is practice.
Here’s the annoying thing about people who are alive, though, something you, too, may have noticed: they move. They move even more if they get wise to the notion that you’re sketching them. So by this point, I had begun to choose my victims rather carefully. People reading books. People staring at signs. People dozing on their hands. People studying their lunches with distrust. In this case, I was on an airplane, traveling from a tour stop to a tour stop. Normally I didn’t sketch on planes, because all you can see are the backs of people’s heads, or your seatmate, who can definitely spot that you’re sketching them, and will definitely move around, even if he or she is distrustful of his or her lunch.
Also normally I write on airplanes. I very much enjoy writing on planes, but only as long as I am in the window seat with only one flank to protect. This is because of a flight when I was trapped in a middle seat and after I wrote a joke into my novel, the man beside me laughed. I asked him: why did you DO that? And he said SORRY, it was funny. And I told him: YOU HAVE RUINED MY LIFE. From then on, I only wrote in window seats.
On this particular day, I was in an aisle seat, so there would be no writing. The seat in the middle was empty. In my coveted window seat was a young man whom I hated for being in the coveted window seat. Once I got over my resentment that he had stolen my throne, however, I realized that he was an ideal victim for sketching, as he was sitting with his ball cap pulled over his face. He was so still that it was possible he was dead. PERFECT. Dead people rarely move! I would check him for a pulse after I was done.
So I sketched him with delight, and then, a half hour later, I heard a voice. “Is that me?” He had this real soft Southern accent — the sort I’d grown up with back in the Shenandoah Valley — and it was audible because he’d removed his hat from his face and because he was alive. I showed him the drawing. He was pleased. I told him that I couldn’t write because I wasn’t in the window seat, and it was a long plane ride, so he might as well tell me his life story. It wasn’t long enough for his entire life story, but he did tell me how his hand. I had noticed it while I was sketching: it was oddly shaped, and I’d drawn it oddly shaped. When he noticed that I noticed, he told me the tale of how he’d broken it. It turned out that, although he assured me he was a peaceful creature, he’d broken it on someone’s face. He’d been in a minor altercation defending his sister’s honor. As he was telling me this story — which may or may not have been true — I was listening to him with my mind on record. I was getting ready to steal him.
I used to steal the surface of a thing. I would have stolen that story of the barfight, for instance, and all the details around it, wholecloth. I would have recorded it as truthfully as I could imagine and I would’ve been proud of myself for accurately transcribing the human experience. But that’s bad thievery. Shallow thievery. Copying, not artistry.
Now I know that when I’m stealing someone, it’s not their details I need. It’s their soul. I’ve learned to solve for x. To simplify to the essence. It’s not about the punch. It’s about why he threw that punch. No, it’s about why he threw that punch then and never any other time. It’s about how he’s telling me the story. How he includes his sister’s honor in this story of a single, crippling punch, because her honor adds a weight that the mere velocity of the swing does not. He can’t own that punch — that single punch — even to me, a stranger on a plane, without including the backstory of its purpose. It’s about how he wants me to know that he’s not bragging about a casual barroom brawl, this hand — this broken hand — he broke his hand for a reason.
Here’s the thing: he could’ve been lying to me. His story could be completely fabricated, and then, if I stole that story, I’d be telling a lie of a lie. A copy of a copy, each version a bit less like reality. That would be bad stealing on my part.
But here is solving for x, simplifying for the truth, stealing the essence. Here was the truth, sitting beside me, a confession in the knit of his eyebrows and that soft Southern accent. Here was a boy who had lost his temper once, much to his shame, and here was a boy who had had to look at that moment every day since it had happened. Everything else was details. Just noise. But THAT was the soul: and that’s what I stole.
That boy became Adam Parrish from the Raven Cycle.
A boy who made a mistake and has to live with it every day. A boy who carries physical evidence of a moment’s anger.
Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators Partners with We Need Diverse Books’ Internship Program
June 23, 2015 (New York, New York)
- SCBWI, the largest international professional organization for
writers and illustrators, has partnered with WNDB to provide free one
year SCBWI memberships for the five interns selected for the first WNDB
WNDB Internship Program is designed to open up the children’s book
publishing industry to talented job-seekers from diverse backgrounds,
giving them an invaluable opportunity to learn about the industry
through professional guidance and hands-on experience. Membership in
SCBWI will provide these first five interns with broad networking
opportunities within the publishing industry. SCBWI regional, national,
and international conferences bring together a who’s who of publishing
including bestselling and aspiring authors, editors, and agents.
want to support this internship effort wholeheartedly,” said SCBWI
President Lin Oliver. “Anything the SCBWI can do to enhance and promote
diversity in our field, we are glad to do.”
president Ellen Oh said, “SCBWI has given these interns a wonderful
opportunity. We’re thrilled to partner with an organization that has
meant so much to the children’s book community.”
WNDB Internship Program, chaired by award-winning author Linda Sue
Park, recently announced the first five recipients of their inaugural
Internship Grants: Julie Jarema (Simon & Schuster); Feather Flores
(HarperCollins); Kandace Coston (Lee & Low); Esther Cajahuaringa
(Hachette); Yananisai Makuwa (Macmillan).
SCBWI joins the Children’s Book Council as a supporting partner of the Internship Program.
Any advice on how a newbie illustrator builds their online presence?
Building an online presence is a really good plan for any illustrator these days. When I graduated college (back in ye olden days of 2008) I was told not to worry about “online popularity” because it didn’t actually mean anything in the professional world. Well, boy has that changed!
While you shouldn’t base your success as an artist on how many followers you have online, it really is worth it to try and build up a decent online following if you’re trying to get your art out there and find work. Social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram have created a whole new realm of self-marketing opportunities. It’s essentially “free” advertising (I put “free” in quotation marks because it still requires time, and time is money, but to a certain degree it is time worth spending). Social media can lead to jobs. In fact most of my freelance work has come from people simply discovering my work online.
The idea is simple: The more places you put your art online, the higher the chance the right person will stumble across it. The specific sites you should post on will depend on your intended audience, field, type of art, and personal preferences, but as a general rule I highly recommend Twitter and Tumblr because of how easy it is for people to share your work while still including links back to your profile (re-tweeting and re-blogging). Both these sites have great potential for art going viral and audiences for a wide variety of subject matter and style.
Some people use cross-posting tools like Hootsuite or IFTTT, or have one site auto-post to another (such as Twitter to Facebook) to save time, but in most cases, I don’t personally recommend this, as it limits the control you have over how your posts appear on each site. Generally you want to try to tailor your content to each site (I use hashtags on Instagram, shorter posts on Twitter, longer posts on Tumblr, etc). There are a few exceptions. I do like to use Hootsuite to post to Instagram because it allows me to type up Instagram posts on my computer instead of having to do it on my phone, and I will occasionally have Tumblr auto-post to Twitter or Facebook (but usually I edit the summary first). Ultimately, you should do whatever works best for you.
I do recommend scheduling posts. Most social media sites have built-in scheduling features that make it easy to type up a post whenever you want and then pick a time for it to actually post. It can be tempting to post a piece of art the second you finish it, but timing can have a significant impact on the response you get to that piece. If you post something at 2am when few of your followers are online, then it’s far less likely to be seen and shared. Time zones are obviously a factor here as well. The ideal time to post something will differ greatly depending on whether the majority of your audience lives in the United States vs. the United Kingdom. If you’re not already doing it, I recommend using Google Analytics to get an idea of where the bulk of your audience is from (as well as a whole bunch of other useful info). Twitter and Facebook also have their own analytics tools (if you have a Facebook Page, rather than just a personal profile, it’s under the Insights tab).
The best time to post may also vary depending on the site. Here are some articles to get you started but ultimately you may have to experiment to figure out ideal posting times for your own audience:
I don’t schedule all of my posts. If I’m posting a quick doodle or a work-in-progress shot, I may just post it in real-time, but I do try to schedule the majority of my finished art posts.
An important thing to keep in mind is that social media can be a bit unpredictable. I will sometimes post a piece I’ve put a ton of effort into, thinking it’ll really take off, only to find it just doesn’t get much attention at all, while a silly sketch I did in 20 minutes becomes unexpectedly popular. My most popular post on my blog, Dealing with Artistic Burnout, was just something I typed up almost as a venting exercise, to combat all those “You must work until your hands bleed and you die of exhaustion” type posts I see about how to succeed as an artist, but I guess (not surprisingly, in retrospect) it struck a cord with a lot of people who were also fed up with that message and it really took off. And sometimes you just accidentally post something at a bad time and not many people see it. So don’t be discouraged if a piece doesn’t resonate with the public the way you were hoping.
It can be easy to start to let favorites, comments, notes, and reblogs dictate your emotions but that’s a dangerous road to go down. Remember, first and foremost you’re doing art because you love it. Online followers are just an added bonus and a useful piece of gaining traction in the industry. They should never become the sole reason for posting. It’s okay to feel good about people responding well to your work though. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be recognized for what you do.
The most important thing to remember in trying to build an online presence is that it takes time. You’re not going to build a dedicated group of followers overnight. It will probably seem incredibly slow at first. The best thing to do is just keep putting stuff out there and reevaluating your posting strategies until something sticks. You just need one piece to take off and then it tends to have a sort of snowball effect.
One last thing I want to talk about is content. This is obviously a matter of personal opinion and you should do what feels right to you, but it’s really important to keep in mind that these social media posts are the public face you are presenting to potential clients. You have no idea who might be reading them or what their personal views are. I personally try to avoid discussing politics or religion, posting potentially inflammatory opinions, or being extremely negative on my social media sites. A lot of people have causes they like to champion and that’s understandable, but you do need to weigh the pros and cons of discussing certain topics publicly.
I also don’t recommend posting incredibly personal information (such as ranting about friend/significant other drama) or complaining about work/employers (past or current). Basically, conduct yourself under the assumption that potential employers are watching your every move, because they just may well be. Someone who is polite, mature, helpful, and friendly on their social media is more likely to attract work than someone who is extremely negative or constantly ranting about politics or personal drama. Also, try to avoid being self-disparaging. I see this a lot on young artists’ social media. Even if you do feel insecure about your skills as an artist (I think most of us do to some degree), don’t constantly emphasize this on social media. Potential clients/employers are going to wonder why they should be confident in your abilities if you aren’t confident in them yourself. Overall, I try to keep my social media light, positive, and focused mostly on my art with a few other things thrown in now and then.
I hope this helps! If you (or anyone else) have any additional questions feel free to ask!
Last glimpse of home from the Bainbridge Island Ferry, March 30, 1942
I did this illustration for an exhibit at the Washington State Historical Society. It will be on display with other work by SCBWI members November - January.
On March 24, 1942, a Civilian Exclusion Order was issued for all Japanese American residents of Bainbridge Island, Washington. They were given 6 days to prepare for their eviction from the island and were removed to internment camps. Bainbridge Island was the first place in the United States to receive the order to leave, due to its proximity to military bases. In the end, about 120,000 Japanese Americans were interned during the war.
A series of images I completed recently for a class at our regional SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) conference. By the way, if you are an aspiring children’s book writer or illustrator, I highly recommend attending SCBWI conferences. I wouldn’t have a book deal without SCBWI.
There are actually two more images to this sequence, but they aren’t done yet…so maybe someday I will post them.
Do you have any good resources for starting up as a freelance artist? I believe I've got the skill to begin, but getting the ball rolling is certainly a challenge.
I guess it all depends on what field(s) you’re thinking! I know your best bet is to first create an art presence online and build up your audience! Once you’ve done that I’d start looking for art directors and editors to contact! I know this is a bit old fashioned for some, but sending 4″x 6″ mailers of your art and information to people still gets artists gigs! For children’s book, SCBWI has a huge catalog of publishers you can mail things to (with a membership of course)! I’m sure other guilds have these kinds of resources as well. The Art Director List on Illustration Age is a great starting point too :)