Saturday, May 17, 2014

NESCBWI 14: 3 Days in Carpeted, Windowless, Kidlit Heaven!

Peter Reynolds and me and NESCBWI 14

For me, the annual New England Society of Children's Books Writers and Illustrators Conference has become synonymous with Spring. The forsythia blooms, and hundreds arrive in Springfield, MA hotels with manuscripts, portfolios and business cards; ready to network, get info, and get inspired.

The following is a list of my Top 10 Experiences from the 2014 NESCBWI Conference:

10. Had energizing conversations with complete strangers (or people I only know online)           
At this conference, you can walk up to almost anyone and start talking and end up in a fun and interesting place. Several people I met I found out I already knew online!  Illustrators Lisa M. Griffin and Greg Matusic and writers Hayley Barrett and Josh Funk were among the many people I connected with at the conference.

9. Attended a workshop about something that’s a little beyond where I am at.
When choosing workshops for the conference back in February, I threw in one about successful school visits with author/illustrator Marty Kelley. Have I published a book yet? No. But I plan on it! So why not sit in on a session that deals with issues beyond where I am currently at in the process? The session was full of great tips gleaned from Marty’s many attempts to corral, entertain and inform large groups of elementary school kids. (Marty's Tip: Showing an animation of a kid making arm farting noises help!)

8. Attended a workshop that’s exactly where I am at.
Workshop highights for me were a dummy workshop with R.W. Alley and a pacing workshop with Deborah Freedman and Frank Dormer. Both workshops addressed the topics I currently need to address: how to use the book format effectively to tell a story, create tension, and keep readers engaged and excited. (Deborah's Tips: USE THE GUTTER! USE THE PAGE TURN!)

7. Sat in on keynotes and panels with publishing industry rockstars

 Photo by Lindsay N. Currie   

Panels can be mini-reality checks for me. While the panelists are answering questions about the state of publishing or what kinds of projects they are likely to accept, I am flooded with the sense that THESE PEOPLE EXIST. Every day, they are looking at imagery and manuscripts from people like me. This awareness is like a ticker tape running along the bottom of the panel experience for me, giving me more information than just what is being said.

6. Took pictures with aforementioned industry rock stars (see photo of Peter Reynolds above)
5. Received portfolio feedback from art directors
This is the second year I have had my portfolio critiqued by art directors from Boston area publishers. Each time and each critique has brought great feedback that pushes me to do things that maybe I thought I should be doing anyway, but needed an extra outside push to do it. (ADD TEXTURE. LEAVE ROOM FOR TEXT. MORE VARIED POINTS OF VIEW. GIVE HIERARCHY TO YOUR LINEWORK.)

4. Received portfolio feedback from fellow illustrators
More feedback that helped focus me on the things I am doing right and the things I really do need to do. 

3. Got to chill with my local critique group peeps 

I spent some quality time (morning/noon/night) with people I usually only see once a month or once every 6 months at critique groups or book readings. Here is a group that had dinner Friday night. (From left: AJ Jerrett, Nancy Goulet, Kirsti Call, Carol Ekster, Paul Czajak, a person I didn't get to meet, and Carrie Charley Brown)

2. Shared my stapler with my workshop neighbor
In the dummy workshop with R.W. Alley, we worked on cutting/taping/sketching story text and drawings. I liked the challenge and push out of my comfort zone to be working alongside fellow author/illustrators, even for an hour or two, sharing ideas verbally and non-verbally about how we approach book-making. This kind of camaraderie felt valuable and energizing.

1. Felt a sense of belonging and purpose.

The conference always gives me a sensation that I am a part of something bigger, that there are lots of people in the same pursuit and struggle. This could, of course, make me feel like ugh, there are SO many great people who are pursuing this, why should I even try? But, at this stage in the process and hopefully forever, I feel inspired. The more I learn, the more I improve, the more I work. It feels like it’s all going someplace good. Back to work! (That's me on the far left by the water pitcher. My tip: Always sit in the front row.)


  1. Hi Diana, what a great conference it was! And you've done a great writeup of it, too. I'm still processing everything I experienced and learned.

    1. Thanks! I really enjoyed the Open Mic event you were a part of -- will definitely do this next year. :)

  2. GREAT post, Diana! I only joined SCBWI in March, & by the time I looked into the conference, it was sold out. :( But have been reading as many posts about it as I can find to see what I missed out on!

    1. Thanks Michele!! I will see you there next year! It comes fast. Also, there is often a couple other smaller events in the fall -- one for illustrators in October.

  3. Great wrap up! And awesome takeaways! I also missed out on meeting 'a person I didn't get to meet' - oh, well. There's always next year!

  4. Thanks, Josh :D It was fun reconciling your mohawk avatar and your real-life presence! See you at a future event (maybe Sherborn!)


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