Following is a guest post by member Misha Maynerick Blaise.
One of the most thrilling moments of my life as an artist was when I won the Illustrator’s Portfolio Showcase at the 2015 SCBWI conference in Austin, judged by writer-illustrator Tom Lichtenheld and Chronicle Books editor Kristin Brogno. I had worked hard to enter my strongest work into the contest, but I was also totally new to SCBWI and didn’t really know what was going on. The win came as a complete surprise, and it became an instrumental part of my path towards publishing my new book, This Phenomenal Life, the Amazing Ways We Are Always Connected with Our Universe!
With a new blast of confidence after the conference, I decided to get serious about finding an agent. Although I was already an established artist (painting and designing wall art), I didn’t study illustration in school, and I didn’t have a huge body of work yet. SCBWI in general is a totally supportive community and I think they work hard to be inclusive of everyone’s unique artistic voice. One big thing that the winning the portfolio contest did was legitimize my work in the wider world of illustration. Now I could inform agents that I was “the winner of the 2015 Portfolio Showcase!”
The win also gave me an unexpected boost mentally. Like many artists, I am used to a lot of rejection. I have thought deeply about rejection over the past few years and I believe that it really is an important part of the process. I think there is a place for everyone’s unique voice, but not everyone is going to connect with your work, and that’s fine. For me, all I’ve wanted is to connect with the people who are truly inspired by my work, and I know that I need to have a lot of persistence to keep seeking those people out.
But every once in a while, I think every artist loves to get a message of support from someone besides their mom. The SCBWI win was a huge game-changer for me in that regard. I felt hugely validated that two respected figures in the field of children’s book publishing liked my work. It was just so nice to receive such a compliment.
When I finally found an agent and we began to contact editors with my book idea, my agent was sure to always inform them that I won the SCBWI contest. The win definitely carried a currency in the field, and my agent knew that.
I think that if it wasn’t for SCBWI in general, I wouldn’t have had the same momentum to move into the field of book writing. SCBWI really answered all of my questions of how to get started, how to organize a portfolio, how to reach out to agents, and most importantly, how to focus on developing my own unique voice. Participating in the SCBWI conference forced me to sit down and organize my work under the pressure of a deadline. Sharing art in community forum like SCBWI is a great motivator to create new work and to receive helpful feedback.
Every once in a while, an aspiring writer asks me for advice on children’s book publishing, and I always tell them the same thing, “join SCBWI!” I’m so happy I got involved when I did, and that my book found a path to publication through the support of such an awesome organization.
Registration is currently open for the 2017 Writers & Illustrators Working Conference in Austin. Come join us and be inspired and make wonderful connections with the kid lit writing community.