I had one of the best experiences of my life on April 25 when I attended the first conference sponsored by the African-American Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (AACBWI). Held at the Hilton-Charlotte University Place, the one day conference was inspiring, informative, well-organized, useful and full of warm people. Oh, and the food was delicious, too.
The morning keynote speaker was award-winning author, Eleanora E. Tate, whose books include the recently published Celeste’s Harlem Renaissance (which I’m thoroughly enjoying and nearly finished reading). The afternoon keynote speaker was award-wining illustrator, Don Tate, who’s illustrated more than 25 trade and educational books for children. Don recently wrote his first children’s picture book and has illustrated a book by his aunt, Eleanora.
There were spotlight sessions featuring an editor from Candlewick Press and a former Editor with Scholastic and Harcourt, Eileen Robinson, who has started her own editorial service, F1srt Pages. Workshop choices were:
- Editing Your Manuscript (Christine Taylor Butler)
- Mine Your Life for Story Gold (Kelly Starling Lyons)
- Picture Books: from Idea to Text (Christine Young Robinson)
- How to Land an Agent: Step by Step (Karen Strong)
I learned a lot from the spotlight sessions and workshops. I now know:
- how to improve my query letters to agents,
- how to develop a list of potential agents,
- how to organize the list of agents into groups for soliciting, and
- criteria/characteristics to consider when deciding upon an agent.
This is important because most publishing houses will no longer accept unsolicited manuscripts and require that manuscripts be submitted by agent before they’ll be considered.
I learned how to improve a couple of picture book manuscripts that I’ve been wrestling with. As a result of the editing workshop taught by Christine Young Robinson, I will work on draft # 7 of my middle-school novel with renewed vigor and improve it before I send it out to that agent I’m going to get soon. (Positive thinking and concrete action will make this happen.).
An added bonus at the conference was formal critiques by the aforementioned editors. Unfortunately, I could not take advantage of them because by the time I learned about the conference and sent in my registration, they were closed.
I also appreciated the opportunity to purchase books from a local bookstore.
Attendees came from across the country, As people shared what they were working on, I was once again struck by how many wonderful and creative ideas there are in the world – from someone writing about social justice issues for children, to someone planning to write about firefighters to people who’ve already self-published who are trying to break into “mainstream” publishing. The attendees were overwhelmingly female. There were only two men besides the keynote in attendance, they were welcome.
It was a privilege to attend a first conference with numbers that were small enough to make it manageable and large enough to give it variety and depth. I’ll keep you posted about the next conference and about my progress in getting my children’s work published in book form.
A round of applause and deepest appreciation to Sabra Robinso the founder of AACBWI and to all of the organizers for taking their labor of love to the next level with this conference.
This was one of the best conferences I’ve ever attended and I will be back next year, God-willing.