By Charlotte Offsay, Author
My heart skipped a beat as I dashed in from the rain and joined swarms of writers checking in for SCBWI’s annual L.A Writers Day conference at the Skirball Cultural Center on March 3. As I gazed around the beautiful glass foyer, old friends embraced. Before I could wonder where to stand, friendly SCBWI volunteers and two other conference newbies greeted me.
My new writer friends and I made our way into a packed auditorium and looked over our schedules. Each event seemed more exciting than the next: keynote speeches, breakout sessions with agents, editors and authors, a book fair, pitch sessions, contests and prizes.
The fabulous Fiona Kenshole from Transatlantic Literary Agency kicked off the keynotes. She spoke about the importance of writing “the book of your heart.” Her words caused me to reflect on what touched me as a young reader, and to think about what drives my passion for kidlit. The theme of following your heart, continued with advice from charismatic Scholastic Senior Editor Matt Ringler to “define what success means to you.” I left his keynote inspired to “own what I like,” and to write what I love.
Following the morning keynotes, attendees who had selected between one of three levels moved on to two 60-minute breakout sessions. Each level was designed to helped writers “level up” depending on where they are in the writing process.
Since I already have a polished manuscript, and am ready to seek representation, I selected the green level. We were guided through the jungle of social media with the hilarious author/illustrator Bethany Barton and given tips on how to enhance our online platform. Fiona Kenshole walked us through writing the perfect query pitch, and taught us that our pitches should be “a window into the soul of [our] story.” We reflected on what makes our stories special, and why they need to be in the world now.
Included in the green level was an 8-minute agent pitch session. This was my first experience with a face-to-face pitch session, and having now come out the other side, I highly recommend it to anyone who gets the opportunity. I pitched three picture book manuscripts to the incredible Jill Corcoran, the president and founder of the Jill Corcoran Literary Agency. She was kind, easy to talk to, and gave me invaluable advice on marketability, structure, and plot.
I also took advantage of a written faculty critique of my first 10 pages. I received insightful notes on my manuscript from one of the industry’s top agents. The comments were in depth and the agent had clearly been generous with her time.
Newbury-winning author Gary Schmidt concluded the keynotes by reminding us of who we are writing for. His heartfelt words inspired the room to “cherish our children,” and to remember why we do what we do.
I left Writers Day 2018 inspired, armed with new tools to enhance my craft and career, and grateful for the warmth of the SCBWI community. Not only did I laugh, learn and make new friends, but I joined a new critique group. I look forward to greeting friendly faces at the next SCBWI event.
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Charlotte Offsay is an aspiring picture book author. She writes picture books ranging from simple to more complex plot lines, but all aiming to combine heart, a drop of humor, and often a surprise twist. She resides in Los Angeles with her husband and two young children. For more information visit her at charlotteoffsay.com or follow her on Twitter: @COffsay
Photos by Charlotte Offsay. Author photo by Lisa Gilbar Photography.