Daily Archives: April 25, 2012

In praise of small conferences by Johanna Harness

SCBWI Regional Conference in Boise

Big conferences provide excellent opportunities for brush-with-greatness stories. Sitting behind that famous agent, saying hello to a dream editor, sharing an elevator and small talk with a big-name author: these are certainly moments to remember.

Small conferences offer more than moments.

In 2009, I attended my first little gathering and ended up having a long chat with Lin Oliver, one of the two founders of the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).  She listened while I awkwardly described my book and then assured me I belonged. Remembering that conversation still brings tears to my eyes.  It would have been a thrill just to hear her speak.  At the local gathering, she changed the trajectory of my career.

The next fall, I traveled to Utah for the SCBWI conference in Salt Lake City.  Not only did I have wonderful conversations with Laurent Linn, Elizabeth Law, and Royce Buckingham, but I also attended my first workshop with Terri Farley, an author I now count among my writing friends.

You’re seeing the pattern, yeah?

At bigger conferences, I’ve been thrilled to see wonderful authors across the room.  At these smaller events, we talk.

A couple years ago I talked with Chris Crutcher at a local conference in Boise.  This last winter he was keynote speaker for the big SCBWI conference in New York.

That same year in Boise, I met Kelly Milner Halls, Jill Corcoran, and Cheryl Klein.

Kate Testerman of KT Literary

Does it seem like I’m name dropping?  Because it should. There may not be a surplus of big names at each conference, but the quality of time spent with each guest and the cumulative effect over time?  Wow.  Just wow.

Last weekend, I attended at my 4th local SCBWI conference and my teenage daughter attended her first.

We learned so much from Alane Ferguson’s workshop and from talks given by Gloria Skurzynski (Alane’s uber-talented mom) and Matthew Kirby (who looks like Alane’s son, but we’re assured the Edgar-nominated author is not). We talked with Kate Kae Myers and Sarah Tregay. We sat at a table with Kate Testerman, Amy Cook, Miriam Forster, and maybe the most important person there:  Neysa Jensen, the new Regional Advisor for the Utah-Idaho Region of SCBWI.  Together with Sydney Salter, Neysa has been instrumental in bringing all these iconic authors, agents, and editors within driving distance of my Idaho home.

Alane Ferguson, Matthew Kirby, and Gloria Skurzynski

Alane Ferguson, Matthew Kirby, and Gloria Skurzynski

If you write for kids or young adults, you owe it to yourself to find out what’s happening in your SCBWI region.  If you write romance, find out what Romance Writers of America has to offer in your region.  If you write mysteries, check out Mystery Writers of America.  Whatever your genre, there’s probably a professional organization that’s right for you—and they just may have a conference coming up in your area. You should go!


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