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Kim Tomsic

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

4 Success Stories - How a Children's Book Writing & Illustrating Conference Launched the Careers of Four Authors and Illustrators

Conferences are kingmakers. It’s true! Talk to published authors and illustrators, and you'll discover that more often than not an attendee’s career moved into hyper-drive after taking part in a conference. A conference is where you meet people with a shared passion, and you develop new neural pathways for craft. Ideas bubble to mind, and important connections are made. Many publishing hopefuls met their agent or editor attending breakout sessions, getting critiques, or selecting the right seat at an open-table luncheon. 

Illustration courtesy of Brooke-Boynton Huges
Illustrator Brooke Boynton Hughes attended SCBWI's International conference in California more than a decade ago. She entered her portfolio in the illustrator showcase, didn't win but got noticed. In fact, she signed with agent Marietta Zacker and landed a book deal that same year! Furthermore, Brooke signed up for the one-on-one portfolio review. She received feedback throughout the conference weekend and learned nuanced details about craft. When she returned to the event the following year (2013), she walked away as the Portfolio Showcase Honor Award winner and the Mentorship Award winner! In 2014, she received the Portfolio Honor Award at SCBWI's Winter Conference in New York. 

    Brooke's success didn't come from one conference. She says, 

I think the most important part about attending conferences is the chance to have one-on-one portfolio critiques and the opportunity to learn about your craft.  I attended six or seven international conferences and three or four regional conferences before I was published and before my portfolio was recognized in the showcase."  
Now her illustrations are published in books with Beach Lane, Disney Hyperion, and Random House.Author turned agent Ana Crespo met her editor, Kelly Barrales-Saylor who was then an editor with Albert Whitman and Co. (she is now an editor with Sourcebooks) during the regional Rocky Mountain SCBWI conference. Ana signed up for a manuscript critique and landed a feedback timeslot with Kelly. After listening to Kelly’s edit suggestions and taking ample notes during workshops, Ana was armed with ideas to improve her writing. Ana went home, reworked and edited her story, then queried Kelly who bought and published The Sock Thief. Ana went on to sell four books to Albert Whitman in a series called JP BOOKS, MY EMOTIONS AND ME. During another conference, she met Alvina Ling Executive Editorial Director of Little Brown Books. Alvina later published Hello Tree, illustrated by Dow Phumiruk.


I met my editor, Melissa Manlove of Chronicle Books, at an SCBWI conference, and let’s just say it involved an unofficial scavenger hunt, an Aperol Smash, and a failed pitch. But that failed pitch was part of a connection, and in the end I received a business card and an email address. A year-and-a-half later I worked on the craft points I’d learned at the conference, I worked with my critique group, I read and drafted, and then I sent a query letter about a new manuscript—here’s where I cue the drum roll and build to a frenzy—I got a YES! That’s how I sold the award-winning picture book, THE ELEPHANTS COME HOME

If the above three stories haven't convinced you that conferences are kingmakers, here’s one more. Author Martha Brockenbrough met the editor of her debut picture book The Dinosaur Tooth Fairy at a conference. His name - Arthur Levine of Arthur A. Levin at Scholastic (he is now an editor and founder of Levine Querido). Martha says in an interview with SCBWI, “Truly. Every picture book I’ve ever sold has come directly from my time at an SCBWI conference”. Martha has since sold many picture books and highly-praised novels. Her latest middle grade novel, To Catch a Thief, is out now!


Stacy S. Jensen said...

Great post. Love the examples and shared around! Ready for RMC-SCBWI.

Denise Vega said...

Love these exciting, inspiring stories of connection and success! Can't wait for the conference.

Kim Tomsic said...

Thanks, Stacy!

Kim Tomsic said...

One day I need to interview you, Denise, so we can learn about your path to success!

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