The Real Importance of Conferences 

I’ve attended a lot of children’s literature conferences over the past couple of decades. I’ve been to the SCBWI International Conference in Los Angeles about a dozen times. I’ve been to regional SCBWI conferences too numerous to count. I always look forward to them with a frantic sense of excitement. Or at least I did initially. I recall, in the beginning, stressing over what to bring to share, wavering between “This is brilliant,” to  “this sucks! I have nothing good enough to show anyone!” I’d chafe over what clothes to pack for the climate as well as for the social element. I’d redesign business cards at the last minute and then decide to go with my old ones. I was an anxious, nervous—but very excited—wreck leading up to a conference.

notes from a conference

A couple pages of conference notes from a recent conference

What made it easier was seeing old friends there. And meeting new friends. And meeting friends that I’d only known online before. As writers and illustrators we typically work alone and conferences are wonderful breaks from that solitary world. Many friends I’ve met at conferences continue to play important roles in my life today. Even beyond kid lit. I remember sitting with friends in a freezing ballroom or a too warm meeting room, taking copious notes during both keynotes and breakout sessions, sharing insights with a glance and a smile, or a roll of the eyes. I have sketchbooks scrawled with words of wisdom delivered by both presenters and pals, and scribbles and sketches from downtimes. When looking at old conference notes and sketches, I can remember pretty clearly who I was sitting with, and what we might have been discussing when I created them. And just about every one of them is from a joyous time. Besides attending sessions, the time at lunch, or over cocktails, or out to dinner with these people became just as valuable and informative, perhaps even more so, than the sessions and keynotes themselves. Shared experiences with peers are helpful and motivational and come with a large serving of encouragement. In an industry that often hums with pessimism and foretells its own demise, motivation and encouragement are pretty precious commodities.

Over the years, as the conferences began adding up, the breakout sessions and keynotes started repeating themselves. Most of the presenters seem to be from a rather select pool of industry stars and most of the session topics I’ve heard before. Deciding whether to attend a conference, or if at a conference whether to attend a session, sometimes becomes less about the topic or the presenter and more about who else is going to be there. I’ve hardly learned all there is to know about this industry, and I know I benefit from taking similar sessions repeated times. But in the end I know the most valuable parts of conferences to me are the other attendees. They make up this terrific community of kid lit. And the conference brings that community to life.

kevan atteberry



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18 responses to “The Real Importance of Conferences 

  1. Hear, hear! Well said, my friend (whom I probably met at a conference). 🙂


  2. Rebecca Van Slyke

    I totally agree! I always look forward to networking with others who are just as passionate about creating fabulous literature for children. What a great thing to look around the room and see so much talent, yet know that they are all rooting for your success as much as you are rooting for theirs!


  3. Lindsey Lane

    Exactly how I feel about conferences!!!


  4. Joann Collings

    Wow, the light bulb went on! I haven’t been to any conferences lately for all you mentioned reasons. You helped me find my way with the fact that networking with other writers may be the thing to get me motivated. I’m signing up for a conference ASAP.


  5. Love this post, Kevan. I had to miss this year’s Seattle conference and it felt sad. Love my book friends!

    Speaking of that, I am new to this site and excited to see so many new books coming out and wondering if any of the EMUs would be willing to write guest posts for the Friend Friday feature on my blog. 300-500 words about the new book, with a writerly slant. Email me: if interested. I’m looking at you, Lindsay Lane. And Laurie Thompson. And the other amazing EMUs I don’t know yet.


  6. Over many years I have attended a lot of conferences- not, I might add the same as yourself. Interior Design conferences have been held all around the world and in fact vary little to the description of the childrens literature conferences you refer to here.
    Each of the conferences I have attended have progressively declined in interest as my experience has increased, yet I still attend when possible. The time at the conference floor level has also reduced markedly and this is because basic product only varies by colour and shape ultimately.
    The actual attraction of the conferences now is the time spent outside the function. The going out to dinner in a top restaurant, the walking in and out of beautiful shops and the interacting with local people wherever the conference be, is where the action really is.
    By spending less time’At’ the conference and more time taking a holiday attitude, my output and freshness of ideas has greatly improved and getting stale and tired trudging around an air-conditioned, is no longer happening.I guess it has made my time more vital.B


  7. Parker Peevyhouse

    I remembering attending a session where Bruce Coville said, “Raise your hand if you’ve come to one of my sessions before,” and then said, “Why did you come back? I’m going to say the same thing as last time!”

    I hadn’t heard him speak before, and I really liked his talk, but it’s true that conferences tend to give you the same thing over and over. I definitely value the networking and friendships more than the actual classes (although I have also really liked some of the classes!).


    • kevanjatt

      There are a few exceptions that I don’t mind sitting through repeats and Bruce Coville is certainly one of those. Always entertaining and inspiring.


  8. There’s nothing like being with a bunch of people who love creating children’s literature!


  9. I’ve had to take a hiatus from conferences since I had my son two years ago (with the exception of the EMLA retreat last year), and I miss them for all the reasons you describe here! And I love what you just wrote in your last comment–“It’s kind of like a vacation with people who love what you love.” Yes!


  10. I haven’t been a conference-goer, but I do want to start checking them out. Even just going out for drinks with all the Seattle Gangos is special. I didn’t realize how nice it would be to sit at a table with so many others who speak the same language.


  11. Well said, Kevan! I couldn’t agree with you more! 🙂


  12. I SO agree with you Kevan – no surprise. Conferences have become like giant slumber parties to me. I mostly go to hang out and have fun with my friends. When I do hear something new and valuable, it’s a bonus rather than the reason I went. And I never regret a moment! 🙂


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