I've finally thawed out from my trip to New York and I'm already wishing I were back, chiefly because the annual SCBWI Winter Conference was such a good time. I had the good fortune to speak on a panel with Rosemary Stimola and John Cusick, moderated by Wendy Loggia of Delacorte Press (who was so at ease in her role, I wished she could moderate all my conversations, including those with my family). I was also one of the roundtable leaders, spending the day with brave, committed writers who read the first 500 words of their projects to a table of their peers...and me.
To paraphrase E.B. White, "No one should come to New York unless he is willing to be lucky." I was willing, and wow, was I lucky. I was floored by the quality of what I heard. These writers—from all over the U.S., attending the conference at their own expense—were serious about their craft. Many had worked with critique groups and even freelance editors, and it was clear to me that several of them were sharing work that had been through many drafts.
The roundtables got me thinking about the need for every author to be willing to be vulnerable. It took real guts for those writers to share their work with a table full of strangers—not just confidence, but hope, and readiness to expose themselves to criticism. Being open to discussion about your work is virtually a requirement in publishing, particularly in children's publishing. Your agent and editor will have plenty of notes for you even if they fall in love with your manuscript the minute they start reading it.
Facing the sheer number of people at the conference required some courage from the writers as well. I heard there were 1300 registered attendees (and none of them tried to pitch me in the ladies' room—amazing). I think everyone knows the odds of success in this industry are long, but the number of people milling around the lobby of the Grand Hyatt was visible proof. All of these writers knew that, and they showed up anyway. Every single person who attended the roundtables was willing to learn how the industry works and be open to honest feedback about their writing, and I think each of them was also willing to be lucky.
Have you taken part in an intensive critique session at a conference like this? Did you find it useful? Nerve-wracking? Exhilarating? Which conferences would you recommend?