Monday, November 12, 2012

SCBWI Code of Silence

This past Saturday (while most of you were on-line trying to find out about WalMart's plan to phase in their black Friday deals on Thanksgiving starting at 8pm, which gives you an excuse to clear out of the family celebration before Dad falls asleep in front of the TV and starts 'breaking wind,' and you were likewise trying to find out about the intriguing part of WalMart's plan, which is to add more sales at 10pm which they hope will keep customers milling about the store and not stabbing and trampling each other as a way of celebrating Christmas like they do every year, even though just being in a WalMart for an hour makes me want to stab the customer nearest me in the neck) I was attending the SCBWI-ILLINOIS Prairie Writers Day conference at Harper College in Palatine, Illinois.

For those of you not hip to the lingo, SCBWI stands for the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators and it is an organization dedicated to authors and illustrators of children's, middle grade, and young adult books. I joined SCBWI in the hopes of learning the secret hand shakes in the publishing industry and quickly advancing my writing career with the book contract that was sure to come in the mail with my membership card. Still waiting on the contract but in the mean time the conferences share a great deal of information for not only the pre-published authors but also those looking to rekindle their careers.

SCBWI-ILLINOIS did a wonderful job pulling together editors, agents, publishers, and authors to reinforce or introduce key aspects of the business of commercial writing. Indeed anyone can write but to satisfy your ego with popularity or to make money at it you have to invest time in realizing how the business of writing works. The guest speakers at the conference did not disappoint and provided a great deal of useful information for all in attendance.

Unfortunately for me, all was not great. About halfway through the day as I was looking at all of the aspiring authors and illustrators in the conference, it struck me. I was hearing from industry professionals about how and why book publishing works being described as a process that can be repeated with similar results each time. This was the scientific method applied to the creative arts and I became depressed. If creating a successful book was as simple as filling the variables in the equations being presented, certainly one of these other people around me was going to do it first.

I was sure the entire room full of attendees would at the end of the day scramble madly outside, like reporters in a 30's gangster film running for the pay phones, grab their laptops, make three or four corrections to their manuscripts, email them off, and capture all of the book deals for the next umpteen years before I would have a chance to put my coat on. It is hard to pay attention to the debate about the disappearance of traditional publishing in favor of electronic publishing when you feel like creativity and ideas have nothing to do with you reaching out to the reader to share your story. Was this the looking glass I was afraid of falling through, where I see clearly that book sales are manipulated by the parties in charge and not by the wonderful written words of brilliant writers aching to share their vision?

And then it hit me. Creativity, vision, imagination, clarity, emotion, are all things that cannot be taught and that is why they were not a part of the presentation. Instead the seminar dealt with the best ways to present, package, and market those elements. Without the essentials of what an author bleeds for, a book is nothing more than 50 Shades Of Gray by a different name (seriously, it is just a book about submissive sex and everyone agrees it is a very poorly written book).

So what specifically did I learn at the conference that I didn't already know? What has re-inspired me to not take my passion for granted? Well, I would like to tell you but I cannot. Confidentiality is a part of attendance. The speakers who shared their time and information deserve discretion since what they know and shared is invaluable to someone like me just starting out as a writer. Like old Oppenheimer at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory pictured above, what I learned stays where I learned it. Hopefully like the men and women of the Manhattan Project, the results of my involvement will also be explosive.

What an odd coincidence that many agents and publishers are located in Manhattan.