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By Helena Ku Rhee, Kite Tales Contributor


Lin Oliver, left, and Judy Blume chatting it up during the Golden Kite Luncheon & Awards Presentation.

As in years prior, SCBWI’s annual summer conference was spectacular. We laughed, we cried, and at the end, we were inspired to rush home to create good art. A highlight for me was attending the pro track for the first time. With my debut book coming out in 2018, I knew I could benefit from sessions such as Rubin Pfeffer’s “Be Empowered, Publishing is Your Business” and Linda Sue Park’s marketing overview.

I was amazed to be sitting in the pro sessions with industry veterans. Hello, Laurie Halse Anderson! My first thought was: After publishing 20+ books, don’t these veterans already know everything? And my second thought was: If such luminaries are here, maybe I don’t belong! But later on, I discovered that artists in all phases of their careers were in attendance – from the pre-published to the many-times-published. I have to admit, before I got my first book deal, I didn’t think I was allowed in the pro track so I never even thought to attend. But I admired the forward thinking of the aspirants in the audience.


Linda Sue Park wore a dress featuring books on shelves, during her marketing workshop.

The quality of these sessions is simply top notch, just like the general sessions. One thing that sets them apart, however, is that they’re extremely nuts and bolts, chock full of very specific and practical information. For instance, during Miranda Paul’s session about school visits, she gave a step-by-step overview of how she pitches her talk to schools. Can you believe she’s spoken at hundreds of events, though she was first published only two years ago? She even passed out a sample proposal she’s successfully used. I loved her energy and generosity. And during “Advice from a Bookseller,” Joy Preble not only detailed how to give a successful reading and how to get to know your local bookstore, but she gave golden nuggets of wisdom. For instance, always keep 30 or so copies of your book in your car, in case you’re at a reading and the bookstore is short on copies. Also, “the world owes you nothing, but you owe the world your best work.”


Illustrator Vanessa Brantley Newton, left, is all smiles while speaking with a conference attendee after her keynote.

My big takeaway, though, is a rather depressing one: It never ends. You’d think having a book published would give you contentment so you can kick back to enjoy your lemonade, but there’s always a fresh round of challenges to face. For instance, you will get rejections when you apply to speak at book festivals and conferences. And when you’re a debut author or illustrator, you should assume nobody knows you or your work. To paraphrase Laurie Halse Anderson’s keynote: Self-doubt, anxiety, and the self loathing will always be there. It simply never ends!

And that’s why SCBWI is so valuable. It’s wonderful to be in a community of writers and artists who all face the same trials and triumphs. We’re united by our passions and our desire to create good art. And whether you attend the general sessions or the pro track, the overall feeling is one of community and generosity of spirit.

For more fantastic content, community, events, and other professional development opportunities, become a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators today! Not sure if there is a chapter in your area? Check here.


All photos by Helena Ku Rhee.

Helena Ku Rhee is the author of the upcoming picture book The Turtle Ship (2018). Visit her at helenakrhee.com for more publication news. You can also follow her on Instagram (helenakurhee) and Twitter (@HelenaRhee).