By Josh Funk
On the evening of Friday, April 20th, 2012, I walked into the Sheraton Monarch Place in Springfield, Massachusetts without a clue of what I was getting myself into. It had been less than a year since I wrote my first (horrible) rhyming picture book manuscript, and I found myself at the New England Regional SCBWI Conference with over 600 other writers and illustrators. If you told me that precisely 4 years and 9 days later, I would be co-chairing this conference…
You’d have been correct. Alongside Marilyn Salerno and Heather Kelly, I will be co-chairing the 2016 NESCBWI Regional Conference over the weekend of April 29th– May 1st. And despite the fact that it’s almost 11 months away, preparations are in full swing.
A little background on the conference. NESCBWI was the first region within SCBWI. New England prides itself on having the largest regional conference; the only SCBWI conferences with more attendees are the two national ones (NY & LA). During this past spring’s NESCBWI Conference (chaired by Natasha Sass, Marilyn, & Heather) we had:
- 670+ attendees – over 150 of whom were volunteers in some capacity
- 90+ faculty members including:
- dozens of prolific and award-winning authors and illustrators
- 10 literary agents
- 10 editors
- 3 art directors
- and both the 2015 Newbery AND Caldecott Medal recipients (Kwame Alexander & Dan Santat). No, you didn’t read that wrong. And we selected faculty last summer – a full 6 months before ALA handed out those awards. *still patting our backs* (beat that, New Jersey!)
Not to mention the several panels (Agent/Editor, #WeNeedDiverseBooks, Outside the Box Publishing, The Book Doctors’ Pitchapalooza), 60+ workshops, a keynote speech from regional legend Jo Knowles, and all the other evening activities during the two and a half day event (see more details here).
Oh, and most of the Rumpus Writers were in attendance, as well.
When Heather asked me (last spring) to co-chair the 2016 conference with her I said, “no.” But she wouldn’t take it. “I won’t accept a ‘no’ for a week,” she said. Very tricky on her part, because after thinking for a few hours about how important SCBWI, particularly the New England region, has been to me, I changed my mind. Yeah, it would be a ton of work, a two year commitment, blah-blah-blah. But I realized that I might never get this opportunity again. So like Kwame Alexander instructed (again, way before I ever heard him say it), I said, “yes.”
Heather can be very tricky. And very smart. The theme she’s come up with for 2016 is The Power of (RE) INVENTION. I asked her to explain her thought process behind this theme and she said:
Over the last two years of supporting authors and writers at The Writers’ Loft, I’ve studied what makes authors successful and thrive in the publishing industry. Support is one ingredient for success, but another, very important one, is flexibility. The ability for an author or illustrator to change what isn’t working, either in a manuscript, in their brand, or by trying something out of the ordinary. This is why our theme for the 2016 conference is the Power of (RE) INVENTION.”
We have three great keynotes lined up (to be announced at a later date) and we are currently in the process of inviting agents, editors, and art directors. The faculty workshop submission process opened June 1 for NESCBWI PAL members, and opens July 1 for everyone else. It will close August 1 at midnight. If you are interested in submitting, please check out this FAQ document.
No, seriously. Check out the FAQ. Each of the past 2 years, we received over 300 workshop proposal submissions. For ~60 workshop slots. This means we must say no to 80+% of the proposals we receive. Third time’s a charm: read the FAQ.
If you haven’t marked your calendars for 4/29-5/1 (of 2016), do so now! You don’t want to miss out. As noted by Rumpus Writers here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here (and many other times), SCBWI conferences – and in particular, the New England region’s annual conference – have made all the difference in many of our writing lives. It certainly did for me. And I’m looking forward to planning a conference that does the same for you.
Do you attend writing conferences? Why or why not? If you do, what are YOUR favorite conference memories? Start the conversation in the comments!