January - ALA Midwinter in Atlanta
February - SCBWI NY Annual
March - SCBWI - MD/DE/WV
July - Hamline MFAC Alumni Weekend
August - SCBWI RedHot Carolinas
September - SCBWI Northern Ohio
October - Picture Book Summit (3 webinars)
Highlights Biography Workshop
It's a shame that so many of the regional conferences are scheduled only in spring and fall, although I understand the reasoning behind that decision. There were months when nothing was available to attend. Then there were months with multiple options. Also, I tried to attend those closest to me just to save some money on travel.
I would start my conference with an intensive by Gary Schmidt: Your Narrator, Your POV, and You.
I've been thinking about voice quite a bit this year, so this optional intensive, provided a day before the official conference begins, is an extra bonus.
Let's keep Gary around to give the opening keynote. He can get a crowd all weepy like nobody's business with his storytelling. Plus, he can draw a crowd. If you want lots of people to register for the conference, I recommend getting a big name like Gary Schmidt.
We'll start our first session with something for picture book writers. Let Them Read Layered Picture Books with Julie Hedlund. She provides an extremely clear explanation of all the things that make a successful picture book. It's a good checklist to consider when looking at your own picture book. Plus she uses really good picture books to demonstrate each concept.
Our next session is Everything You Want to Know About Agents But Were Afraid to Ask with Victoria Marini from Irene Goodman Agency. She provides clear guidelines of Do's and Don't in a query letter, questions a writer should ask a prospective agent, various pitch contests to get your work in front of an agent, and she understands the business and can answer about any question.
Next, we'll move on to First Pages, which are divided by PB, MG, and YA. Each group will have a separate room, allowing more pages to be read and more writers to get feedback. As an aside, Carter Hasegawa, Aubrey Poole, Alison Weiss and Laurent Linn gave awesome comments, even though my page never came up.
Now it's time for lunch and a Midday Address by Linda Sue Park. She can talk about anything and make it inspiring, but I really enjoyed her talk about diversity. She also does an awesome session on revision tips that I found extremely useful. Now I know that it will get very expensive to get both Gary Schmidt and Linda Sue Park at the same conference, but this is my conference and I want them both.
Our next session is for the non-fiction writers. STEAM Power: Bring Nonfiction to Life! with Steve Swinburne is an entertaining look at writing nonfiction and revisions tips.
Next we'll move on to The Hero's Journey with Cynthia Levinson. This is directed toward biographies, but can easily apply to most picture books, middle grade, and young adult books of every genre. She provides a visual she created herself that explains the concept better than any I've seen before. She also has a worksheet that helps identify the specific parts of the story arc of your story.
Next up is a session for YA writers. Sex in YA Fiction with Sheba Karim and Ashley Herring Blake covers sex considerations for all genres. Filled with interesting statistics about teens and sex today, topics range from sexting, to safe sex, to the reality that not all teen sex is good, to publishing barriers.
Our final session of the day is Writing Picture Books with Purpose with Laura Backes. This session is about delivering a message without being preachy.
I am providing two options for the closing keynote. Both Laurent Linn, discussing his journey to becoming a writer, or Adam Rex talking about humor, would end the day on a light note and leave attendees with a smile and a chuckle.
I'd like to also mention other devices I enjoyed that may be added to make the conference more fun and more beneficial (It all depends on the length of the conference):
- A Meet and Greet BINGO game forces attendees to talk to each other during breaks in order to fill out their cards.
- A Family Feud style game between agents/editors and writers makes for fun evening entertainment.
- A Dessert and Autograph Party with a Portfolio Showcase.
- Submission opportunities to editors and agents.
- Group Critiques with pages exchanged ahead of time.
- Written Critiques from an editor - I find this works better than an in-person critique, but both options may be offered, of course.
- A personalized printed schedule that fits in the name tag holder with session and room location.
- It's better to hold the conference in the hotel so there is no time spent traveling back and forth, although if everything is held at the conference location (including lunch) then it is not as much of an inconvenience.
- A webinar or live-streaming where you can stay at home and save travel costs is extremely enticing, especially if you can watch the recording again later.
- Smaller conferences (150 or less) are preferable to larger conferences.