November 9th, 2005

Mindy's head shot

Here's the article that's in the FL SCBWI newsletter

I'm in a hopeful mood because I have a feeling something good is about to happen. Maybe it's because some of my manuscripts have been with editors longer than my typical response time. It could be because I'm happy with the writing and revising I did yesterday. Guess I'll have to wait and see. It's probably nothing....but you never know!

When I attended my first conference in February, I knew my dream of being a children's book writer would come true one day. I had no idea how long a journey it would be. Maybe that's a good thing. By that time, I was hooked - and there was no going back. I used to worry that I would run out of ideas one day, but the opposite has happened. I have so many ideas I'm not sure I'll get around to using them all - especially since they've been rapidly multiplying.

I love attending conferences. It's amazing being around other writers, sharing ideas and information about editors, agents and authors. I have to admit, I was terrified to attend my first conference. There was one in Florida, and I was slightly relieved that my daughter's birthday was that weekend so I couldn't attend. My husband encouraged...gently shoved...okay, practically forced me to attend the SCBWI NY conference this past February. I was terrified - for about three days. Then, I'm not sure what happened - excitement kicked in. I've loved writing ever since I can remember. After getting a degree in elementary education and being surrounded by picture books, I was drawn to writing them. I felt drawn to it even more as my daughters grew up. After attending my first conference, I realized that a picture book I was writing was meant to be a novel, but that's another story. If anyone told me a year ago that I would expand into other children's genres, especially a 45,000 word novel, I would have fallen down on the floor laughing. There's something scary about sitting at a computer, knowing an entire novel has to appear on your screen. It often takes me an hour or so to feel fairly comfortable with the rough draft of a picture book - especially since I tend to sit on my ideas and let them evolve in my mind before I type them. But now,I'm hooked on writing novels and chapter books as well as picture books.

Now, I'm a conference addict. Really, I can't get enough of them! In less than a year, I've attended the NY conference, Poconos Retreat, FL workshop, Rutgers One-on-One Plus and look forward to going to the Florida conference in January. I wish I could go to more. I'm hoping this article will help inspire others to attend their first conference. I had to cut a lot out of the article (I tend to ramble on a little). There were so many wonderful people that I met, I'd love to mention them all. Maybe you'll get a glimpse of them, from time to time, in my blog.

Here's the article:

Journal of a Conference Newbie
By Mindy Alyse Weiss

I notice a listing for the 6th Annual Winter SCBWI Conference in New York. This could be the spark that ignites my career. Dare I go? Who will watch my four and seven year old daughters? I’m scared.

Hubby says he’ll watch our girls. I’m going to New York!
I never realized until this moment that I was a cave writer. I had locked myself in my office, furiously typing. I read the “Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market” and sent my manuscripts everywhere and anywhere that looked like a good home. After countless rejections, I filed my manuscripts and stopped writing. If no one wanted to publish my work, why should I waste my time?
When I saw the conference notice, I realized I wasn’t ready to give up on writing. It’s a part of me, and my dream of having my children’s books published can’t come true if I’m locked in a cave.

I arrive at the Hilton and meet up with five other writers for dinner. After a wonderful meal, everyone says goodnight. I call my husband. He suggests I go to the bar and meet more people. That’s not me…I don’t like to eat alone, not to mention sit at a bar by myself. I almost ignore his suggestion, but grab the conference information and head downstairs. I find a table by the corner, order a glass of wine, and read. A few minutes later, a group of six energetic women sit nearby. One realizes I’m with the conference and asks me to join them. I discover they’re a critique group celebrating the success of one of their members. Coleen Paratore is the first published author I meet. Coleen broke into the business selling multiple books her first year. Her story inspires me to work even harder. I also meet Debbi Michiko Florence, who mentions a few conferences I should attend. They are so supportive of each other. I hope I can find a critique group like them in Florida.
The main conference room is huge. Although there are close to 1,100 people attending, I don’t feel intimidated. My journey toward publication has begun.
Gail Carson Levine speaks, and I nearly have to run for tissues. Breakout sessions are incredible opportunities. For the first time, I’m able to meet editors and discover what they hope to acquire. Even better, I’m allowed to submit manuscripts to several closed houses. Jerry Spinelli displays his stack of rejection letters.
I attend more informative seminars and workshops. The last scheduled speaker is Esmé Codell. Her energy and enthusiasm amaze me.
I check out of the hotel, and head to my first critique group. When I began writing, I was terrified someone would steal my stories. Now I realize that ideas can’t be stolen, and it’s unlikely anyone will steal your manuscript. I submit a picture book I wrote over seven years ago, A Plant Named Fred, and receive positive feedback. I’m relieved. I wasn’t sure what to expect during my first critique. The criticism that makes the most impact on me is that a child wouldn’t be very happy receiving a plant as a gift. I realize that my plant needs flowers to make it more appealing. On the plane ride home, I don’t feel right having a flowered plant named Fred. I revise the story, and A Plant Named Pookie is born. I eagerly mail it to one of the editors I met at the conference.
I return home with more motivation than I ever imagined. Writing children’s books is no longer a hobby for me. It is a career. I vow to dedicate as much time as possible every day in order to turn my dream into a reality.
I still haven’t sold my first book, but believe I’m getting closer to that magical moment. I began writing numerous picture books. I’ve finished several more since my first conference, but have also added three chapter books, a middle grade novel and am currently working on a young adult novel. I’ve joined two online critique groups and one local group. I’ve also received seven paid critiques at conferences. All this experience has definitely helped bring my manuscripts closer to publication. Thanks to wonderful advice, I’ve attended the Poconos Retreat, the Orlando Conference and Rutgers One-on-One Plus Conference. I look forward to attending the Miami Conference on January 13, 2006. I have left my cave, and vow never to return again. For those of you considering a conference or critique group, I hope you’ll follow my lead and leap into the sunlight.


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