I know an author or two, and I might have been one of them, who thought that there was nothing really new to learn at conferences, that it was all beginning to sound the same. But then I thought about it in this new frame of reference. Conferences are where you meet editors. I have attended only three regional conferences and one annual SCBWI conference in LA two years ago after winning the Karen Cushman award, but again, I was in the wrong frame of mind. I was attending to hear the workshops. I wasn't trying to network. The very idea scared the wits out of me. I wanted to learn more about the craft of writing and I kept mostly to myself. Not saying that's necessarily bad, after all, who couldn't do with learning how to do something better? But if I continue down that path I shouldn't expect different results when I submit to publishers, right?
So here's my new plan and my 2017 goal. I want to attend a lot of conferences specifically to meet and talk with editors. I will attend workshops run by editors and publishing insiders, and I will keep in contact with them so that when the time comes that I have something appropriate to send to them, I will be better able to personalize my cover or query letter, and they will hopefully remember my name.
This month, January 2017, I again attended the ALA Midwinter Conference. I didn't even have to go. I wasn't serving on a committee. Why did I go? I had a particular goal. I wanted to go only to the exhibits. Now normally, for a Children's Librarian, this would mean collecting mountains of ARCs to bring back to the library and gathering tubes of posters to hang on the walls. This time I wanted to visit the publisher's booths and see what types of books they printed, what they saw as trends, and see which might be the best fit for my manuscripts. Also, I attended one cocktail reception that I had been invited to by a big publisher, where I fully intended to meet the editor and anyone else who worked for it.
Was I successful? I would have to say, yes. I brought back a pile of catalogs that I want to study further, I identified a few smaller independent publishers, and I made that personal connection at the publisher reception. The reception also turned out to be fruitful for me as I saw two current publications on display that were very similar to a manuscript I had ready to send out. So....upon returning home, I looked up the submission guidelines for this publisher (luckily they were open to submissions) and crafted a personalized cover letter mentioning the books on display and that I had enjoyed meeting them at the reception. Coming home with one definite lead like that is worth it for me. Time will tell if bit of sleuthing brings any results.
In February I will be attending the SCBWI Annual Conference in NYC for the first time. When it is over and I have a chance to reflect, I will talk more about my new approach for 2017. Stay tuned for part 2.