Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Tips for introverted children's book illustrators attending the SCBWI Summer Conference for the first time - by Debbie Ridpath Ohi

Who else is hyped about the upcoming SCBWI Summer Conference in LA? (insert hand waving wildly here) I had to miss last year's because I was sick so am EXTRA excited for this year's!

I've been attending regularly since 2009, when I was incredibly nervous about not knowing very many people and being a pre-published author. In 2010, I was chosen for the SCBWI Illustration Mentorship Program as well as winning an Honor Award...and that's also when Simon & Schuster Children's Justin Chanda offered me my very first children's book illustration contract (and why I dedicated my first solo picture book to Justin).

While I am still far from expert, I have learned a few things that I'd like to share here for those attending for the first time. I've shared bits and pieces in various other posts, but have some advice specifically for fellow introverts:

Q. I hate schmoozing! Plus I'm an introvert! Any advice?

First of all, I'd suggest NOT using the word "schmooze." Though not all, many people use this word in a negative context. Using it this way is only going to make you more nervous and more resentful.

Instead of thinking, "I hate schmoozing but it's something I have to learn to do even though it's going to be torture" try "Even though I'm nervous about it, I'm going to try meeting people in the industry. And hey, maybe even make some new friends!"

If you consider yourself an introvert, I strongly recommend you watch this excellent TEDtalk by Susan Cain, "The Power Of Introverts." It really helped me:

I loved the video so much that I ended up buying her book, QUIET: The Power Of Introverts In A World That Can't Stop Talking and just recently discovered (thanks to some of my nErDcamp pals) a version of the book aimed at kids and teens: Quiet Power: The Secret Strengths Of Introverts:

As for meeting people at the convention, try to remember that many of the people probably feel exactly the same way you do.

One thing I found worked for me: instead of aiming to meet as many "important" people as you can, aim to have a few meaningful conversations with like-minded individuals (regardless of whether or not they're an agent, editor or Big Name Author/Illus). If something someone says to me compels me to change the way I approach my craft or business in a positive way that helps my career or mindset (or both) or I meet a potential friend, then the conference is already worth the cost.

A note to those who are experienced and more confident: do remember what it was like to attend your first SCBWI conference, and make it a goal to talk to at least one new person who is looking a wee bit nervous. Always pay it forward.

Q. There are only two weeks left! What kind of prep should I be doing that will make it easier for me at the conference?

Before the event, browse the #LA16SCBWI hashtag on Twitter or other social media to see what people are posting. You can start interacting with people NOW, which will help make it easier for you at the conference. If you see someone say "So who else going to #LA16SCBWI?", speak up! Or talk about how your prep is going, post a photo or two of your postcards or sample from your portfolio (if you post your art, always include your name or URL or other identifying info in your image, in case it gets shared out of context). Make sure you include the hashtag in your tweet. If you need guidance on Twitter, feel free to check out my Twitter Guide For Authors & Illustrators. Also see my "Three Social Media Tips For Children's Book Writer And Illustrators" post.

Research the faculty. If there is anyone you especially want to meet, find out what they're excited about (their social media is a great way to do this), read their books or look through their recent books in the library or bookstore. That way you won't be tongue-tied when you find yourself standing next to them at one of the social events, the elevator or other public venue. Example: Simon & Schuster art director, Laurent Linn, just had his debut YA novel come out recently!

Q. I plan on entering my portfolio in the showcase. Any advice?

There is plenty of specific and practical advice in this blog from portfolio showcase winners like Andrea Offermann, Eliza Wheeler and Juana Martinez-Neale as well as posts in this blog from the Mentees. I also suggest you read this recent post from SCBWI's Insight: "Portfolio Trips From SCBWI Mentorship Winners."

My biggest piece of advice: Think longterm and have realistic expectations. Even if you don't win an award, you will have MANY people in the industry looking through your work. Make sure you have postcards or business cards (I advise postcards because it's easier to include a sample of your art).

DO read over the Portfolio Showcase specifications and rules, to make sure your portfolio won't get rejected. That page also has info about how to sign in, when to drop off your portfolio, etc. The more you research ahead of time, the better prepared you'll feel when you get to the conference.

Q. Any other tips?

Bring business cards and/or postcards, even if you are pre-published. Too often I meet new people and have a great conversation, but they don't have a card with them. SCBWI-LA attendees tend to meet a lot of new people over the conference, so having a card or postcard after the event helps remind them of how wonderful it was for them to meet you. :-) I also sometimes take photos and use social media (adding people to a private "met at xxx conference" list, for example).

And try to have FUN. Sounds clichéd, but it makes all the difference and should be one of your goals. If you're an introvert, I strongly advise you set specific, achievable goals like "I'm going to meet at least one kindred spirit and have a fun conversation with them" than "I'm going to get a book contract!" or "I'm going to get business cards from at least 100 people!"

And if you see me around, please DO come up and say hi!

Debbie Ridpath Ohi wrote and illustrated WHERE ARE MY BOOKS? (Simon & Schuster Children's).  Her illustrations also appear in books by Michael Ian Black, Judy Blume, Lauren McLaughlin and Rob Sanders. Her next book: SEA MONKEY AND BOB written by Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Debbie, coming out from Simon & Schuster in April 2017. She blogs about reading, writing and illustrating books for young people at Inkygirl.com. Twitter: @inkyelbows.


  1. Great advice, Debbie! Thanks for sharing!

  2. Great article, Debbie! Funny to see your photo of me pretending to be an extrovert by striking a fun post instead of staring at the camera like a deer in the headlights, which of course if how I felt inside.