I can’t believe the NESCBWI 2014 is over. Since being asked by Joyce Johnson at the end of the 2011 NESCBWI in Nashua, New Hampshire, I have been anticipating the weekend of May 2-4, 2014.
There were times, it seemed like it would never arrive. Despite a few unexpected bumps along the way, I can safely say that this year’s conference matched EXACTLY the vision I had for it when we started planning. We all know how often that happens. So the only explanation is that it must have been magic!
In choosing the theme, CREATE BRAVELY: MAKE YOUR MARK, the idea was to encourage and inspire new writers and illustrators, as well as veterans. I’ve talked to enough people to feel like we achieved this goal! I’ve talked to seasoned professionals as well as those brand new to the SCBWI who told me they attended life-changing sessions.
The weekend kicked off with nine concurrent workshops, including a Pitch Practice session and a new incarnation of our mentor roundtables, called #AskAMentor. After a break for dinner, the conference officially kicked off with our opening ceremonies hosted by the incomparable Jane Yolen—who never ceases to inspire.
Pitchapolooza was a huge success, hosted by the Book Doctors, Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry, joined by Kendra Levin of Viking, Alexandra Cooper of Harper Collins, and Sarah Crowe of Harvey Klinger Agency. Random names were drawn to give a one minute pitch of their book. The three winners (Shawn Anderson, Meg Thacher, and Melanie Ellsworth) had all participated in the pitch practice in the afternoon, so they were well-versed on how to give a great pitch! We wish them the best of luck with their books! We were so happy to see how this new program was received by everyone. The weekend started with such a positive energetic feeling. And such bravery!
Saturday opened with a fabulous keynote speech by Peter H. Reynolds, author, illustrator and entrepreneur. Peter motivated us to continue to be brave in our craft, and make our personal marks on the world. He shared his inspiring life story with the group—and left us all pondering ways to Make Our Mark.
Saturday’s workshops totaled thirty, including two industry panels in the ballroom. Ranging from hands-on workshops for illustrators, two hour intensives for advanced writers, craft oriented workshops for new writers, and business-related workshops for all skill levels, Saturday was a full day of information overload.
A special part of Saturday’s formal luncheon was the annual announcement of awards. Awards included Mary Cronin for the Ruth Glass Award, Sarita Rich for the Ann Barrow Award, Tamara Ellis Smith (prepublished) and Dana Meachen Rau (published) for the Peg Davol scholarship, Jen Betton for the Portfolio Showcase, and Kevin Barry and Renee Kurilla for Portfolio Showcase Honorable Mentions, Kevin Barry for the Michelson Prize, Marlo Garnsworthy for the Michelson Prize runner-up, and finally, Jo Knowles for the 2013 Crystal Kite.
Saturday night’s open mic night attracted a large crowd, by now we were all finding our Brave. In addition, for artistic types, we offered a Self Portrait party, opportunities for peer critique, and genre roundtables. It was impossible to go to bed not having learned or sampled or experienced something on Saturday
Sunday’s keynote speaker, middle grade and picture book author Laurel Snyder, told us how to write for our imaginary best friend and first reader. She shared her personal super powers and talked about how, as creators of content, we need to tap into our OWN super powers—and let go of the things that are not our stories to tell. Laurel left us all moved and inspired by her story.
Sunday—typically a day of rest—gave attendees 36 workshop choices, bringing our total workshop offerings to a record 75 for the weekend.
We welcomed two art directors, ten literary agents, and ten editors—all of them worked their magic-- finding time to critique, mentor, serve on panels, be a part of the bravery posse, and be visible and accessible for the weekend.
Sometimes it takes a push, or a nudge, to remember to take a risk and be Brave. Sometimes all it takes is a little encouragement. I want to personally thank the keynoters, the industry faculty, and the workshop faculty for taking the theme to heart—and for encouraging us all to be brave. It worked so well because it was underscored at every turn. We rewarded people for their brave acts, whether asking a question, going first for Pitchapalooza, or approaching an agent with a polite greeting.
The weekend ran with precision because of a number of amazing volunteers, including Joanie Duris with door prizes, Heather Kelly with volunteers, Jean Woodbury with faculty transportation, Val Giogas and Laura Pauling with critiques, Sandy Budiansky and Shirley Pearson with registration, Josh Funk and Alicia Gregoire-Poirier with the Open Mic, Jennifer Malone and Dee Romita with the #AskAMentor roundtables, Trish Leaver with the Pitch Practice session, John Bell for his amazing moderation of panels, Sally Reilly for creating all our signs, Denise Ortakales and Ruth Sanderson for making sure illustrators are taken care of, Susan Garrett with the Bookstore and countless other who worked the event onsite.
Natasha Sass, my fearless co-chair, suffered phone calls from me virtually daily for the last year. Marilyn Salerno was my rock—stepping in when needed, but not micromanaging. Along with 120 other volunteers who took onsite roles, this organization runs on our amazing and tireless volunteer team.
Thank you – all 647 of you – for making this conference magical for me. I’ve had a lot of people thank me—and while I was instrumental in the administrative details, it was truly our energetic, friendly, and brave members who make the New England SCBWI conference a magical experience for everyone involved.