I attended my second Prairie Writer's Day conference a couple weeks ago. It's the annual day-long conference hosted by the Illinois chapter of SCBWI. This year I was able to carpool with writing group friends, which made it even more fun (despite having a cold and needing to suck on cough drops for most of the day).
All of the editors and agents who were invited to speak at the conference this year were still dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. They'd been living without power for nearly two weeks, yet they still made it to Chicago for the conference. Only one agent was not able to attend, so author Susan Campbell Bartoletti jumped in at the 11th hour to give the keynote address. She talked about what makes a children's book a children's book. It boils down to a story that reflects the physical and emotional landscape of a child. Children are trying (so hard, everyday, all the time) to gain control over a world they have yet to master. Children's books can help them to do that. What a powerful thing. I attended another breakout session later with Susan where she gave really good tips about editing your work. It inspired me to print mine out (yes, on paper) and do a line edit (yes, with a pen). I confess: I love the editing part. Kind of a comfort zone for me, and I'm pleased that I finally have a first draft to edit.
One of my favorite parts of the day was a give-and-take between editor and agent. The editor was Beverly Horowitz with Delacorte Press/Random House, and the agent was Marietta Zacker, with Nancy Gallt Literary Agency. Wow, these ladies were sharp. They told it like it is. Without apology. Which is great. For example, "No one is going to love your baby [your book] as much as you do, but they're going to love it a lot." I think this is something that a writer knows, or should know, but hearing the words out loud is helpful. Sometimes the guests at these conferences can seem a little bit edgy, maybe the difference between New York and Chicago, but they have writers shoving their babies at them all the time. I can't imagine my e-mail inbox being so full as theirs. It makes me crabby just thinking about it. So for them to be so generous with their professional advice and to care and want to help is refreshing. Someone made a point of how with so many people out of work right now, their inboxes are more full than ever. Because everyone can write, right?
I came away from the conference with some solid next steps for my writing and a nice little list of people to whom I can submit. If all goes well, they'll love my baby a lot.