I used to have the idea that literary professionals were rather...unapproachable, shall we say.
I don't anymore.
Lest I forget, let me say right now that the workshops and events on Saturday of the conference were very helpful. I even had a one on one critique of the first 15 pages of my manuscript with Cheryl Klein of Arthur A. Levine. For those of you who don't recognize Cheryl's name, pull out your copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and look at the pages at the very end of the book where credits are listed. You'll see her name as the editor for the American versions of Deathly Hallows. (Number 7 isn't the only one she did, either.)
Yeah. I had part of my manuscript in the hands of JK Rowlings' American editor! Crazy. I seriously cannot believe how much insight I gained about my writing in only 15 minutes with her. And she was so kind. That session alone was worth more than the price of the whole conference.
As good as the classes were, though, they were not the highlight of the weekend. I totally expected to get a lot from the events of the conference, but I was not prepared for the experience I had with the people there. I went into it without much expectation in regards to how the people would be, so I can't say it's not like I thought it would be.
Let me give you just one example of the level of goodness there. As I mentioned earlier, they had a raffle planned. Well, the prizes, which were all donated and were very abundant, ranged from cute note cards, to bottles of wine, all the way up to tons of critiques and consultations - for query letters, unfinished manuscripts, finished manuscripts, you name it. These critiques and consultations were offered by published authors, agents and editors of varying renown. Awesome prizes, these! All the proceeds from the raffle were going to provide need-based scholarships to various SCBWI events and programs for SCBWI members.
The response to the raffle was so great that all the tickets were sold out by Saturday morning. Keep in mind this was a small conference with probably no more than 100 people, including the staff, in attendance. That afternoon when the time came to raffle off the prizes there were a handful of people who had purchased what looked like five to six foot lengths of tickets. After meeting some of them, my guess is that their reasons for buying so many were rooted in their willingness to support the scholarship fund as much as hoping to win some of the valuable prizes.
Anyway, just as they were getting ready to start the drawing of tickets, someone on the staff suggested that a limit of three prizes be placed on those who had gotten so many tickets. Now, those people who had so many tickets had paid a lot of money for them and so desereved to have all those chances to win, but every one of those multi-ticket holders thought this limiting of how much one person could win was a good idea. So agreeable and kind of them.
It gets even better, though. Since the tickets sold out so fast, there were people who wanted to buy tickets, but didn't get the chance and were sitting empty handed during the raffle. It so happened that one of the men who had tons of tickets was the first person who hit the three prize limit. When he pointed out that his most recent win was his third, instead of just removing himself from eligibility, he then offered the rest of his still numerous tickets to those who hadn't had a chance to get any. He just passed them around the room telling the non-ticket holders to take at least two each, then added as an afterthought that if someone won with one of the free tickets they had received they should make a donation to the scholarship fund. I swear I felt more like I was at some small town church bazaar than at a professional literary conference. More than anything else, the caliber of people I met at that conference made me want to join SCBWI as soon as I could. (I am now a member.)
Literary professionals unapproachable? Aloof? Too busy to be bothered with an untrained, wannabe first time authors like myself? I don't think so!