In September, I had the opportunity to attend the Northwest Inland SCBWI conference in Spokane. The best part about SCBWI conferences is the one-on-one critiques with the conference keynote speakers. To some this is a scary proposition. No one likes to hear that the story they have labored over still needs more work. BUT…this is exactly what most unpublished authors need to hear.
I have seen attendees come away from critiques crushed. This usually happens when they go in thinking that the agent, editor, or author will fall head over heels in love with their work, offer them a contract on the spot and they will be set for life! Sorry folks, that’s a dream. It’s a dream that many of us share; however, we’ve learned that it is just a dream and it rarely (if ever!) happens like that.
So, what does happen? SCBWI critique sessions are both encouraging and instructive. The key to making this a positive learning experience is to keep an open mind and realize that taking risks is a necessary part of all learning.
This year, I was lucky enough to nab a session with author/illustrator Jennifer K. Mann. Just a few weeks after the conference, her picture book, Two Speckled Eggs, was named winner of the 2015 Washington Scandiuzzi Children’s Book Award. This lady knows what she’s talking about! Check out her website at jenniferkmann.com. Her presentation about analyzing picture books visually was full of information I’m using to study picture book structure.
For most of us, it takes a few minutes or days for the full impact of a critique session to sink in. Then we are able to relish the positive aspects of the story that were pointed out right in the beginning, and honestly evaluate the places in the story that need more work. I was challenged to look at the plot structure. So, the next week I checked out a number of picture books and looked at them with structure in mind. I’m using Jennifer Mann’s techniques to analyze them which make it much easier to see how the type of revisions she suggested would make my story much stronger.
Critique groups are great, and I learn a lot from mine (see our picture below), but conference critiques give you the opportunity to see your work through the eyes of a professional. So…be brave! Sign up for a critique session at your next conference.
My critique group clowning around at the Inland Northwest SCBWI Regional Conference. It’s probably obvious that the conference had a circus theme!