Go to a conference on kids books? WHY?

Author Dandi Daley Mackall and I at WIFYR (a long time ago)
Why should I pay all that money to go to a conference about writing and illustrating for kids? Why don't I just write a book and send it in. It can't be that hard...it's just a book for little kids. I can write a book a kid would understand. And everyone will want to publish it, because hey, they published that book about poop...they'll publish anything.

Well, here are 10 reasons why you should attend children's book writing and illustrating conferences.

1. Because you don't know what you don't know. - You may think you've read all the books about publishing and talked to a plethora of kids about your book (and they loved it...especially those cute ones who call you mom or dad), so now you're ready to be published. But until you spend time learning from professional writers, illustrators, agents and editors, you really will have no idea what it takes to make a good book.

2. To get information "straight from the horse's mouth." - That phrase actually came about when people bought horses (a valuable asset) back in the day. To determine the age of the horse, rather than relying on the salesman's verbal promise, the buyer could open the animal's mouth and check the teeth. Therefore, you could get your information straight from the horse's mouth...no longer necessary to rely on a third party.
So by attending a conference such as WIFYR, you are able to get your information straight from the sources...the editors, agents and professionals in the industry...and ask them questions.

3. Because a penny saved is a penny earned. - I know that seems like a ludicrous statement when you have to SPEND money to attend a conference, but the idea is really true. I spent years doing self promotions with my illustrations and a lot of money flying out to New York City to meet with publishers and show my portfolio and dummy books. However, I finally learned that spending money to attend a good conference...even if it is $500... was by FAR cheaper than going to New York. It also saved me so much time on research and scouring for information (especially when that information was often outdated). To me time is money and attending conferences like WIFYR is the most efficient use of time (and money).

4. Because it's all about WHO you know - A sad but true fact. Just like in the business world, in the publishing world, networking is very important. If you think about it, wouldn't you rather work with someone you know you can trust, who comes recommended by a trusted professional, or a total stranger? Conferences are the ideal place to meet agents, editors and professionals. The children's book community is actually very small, so meeting one person quickly becomes a domino effect.
At my first conference, I met author Rick Walton who then introduced me to the entire community of professional authors and illustrators in Utah (and there are a TON). I've now illustrated books a few of them have written. At subsequent conferences I met many agents, writers, illustrators and editors who are now even my Facebook friends. And finally, through taking a picture book writing class at WIFYR, I became an author as well as an illustrator. My book "Tickle, Tickle! Itch, Twitch!" was a manuscript I worked on at the conference with a class led by a professional writer. A few months later it was acquired by Marshall Cavendish and published.

5. You've got to be seen to be heard. This is true of your art or your manuscript. If the publishers and agents don't ever see it, they'll never publish it and your work will never be heard by the world. Conferences are ideal for getting your work seen and heard.
WIFYR specifically prides itself on a great track record of placing writers and illustrators with agents and editors (that can be a whole post itself). This conference provides opportunities for illustrators to display their portfolios and for writers to enter merit competitions to get their manuscripts read. And the professional teachers teaching the workshops often take promising manuscripts straight to the visiting editors and agents.

6. To get out of the SLUSH PILE. When you submit your work via mail to an agent or publisher, the sad truth is it probably ends up in what's called a SLUSH PILE (a pile of unsolicited manuscripts) and may never get read. These poor people are so overworked that they just can't get to it all. So too often your manuscript or art gets passed by or even thrown away without a glance. Going to a conference almost always provides the opportunity to submit work with the guarantee that it will be read. The visiting agent and editor give each full-day participant their exclusive contact information and a window in which to submit (usually for 3-6 months after the conference). THIS IS A HUGE ADVANTAGE! It goes back to the being seen to be heard tip.

7. Because actions speak louder than words. There are many people who are talented artists or writers. But just because you can draw and paint a piece to be hung in a gallery doesn't mean you can illustrate a picture book. And just because you can write a great magazine article or short story doesn't mean you can write a good picture book or novel. By attending a conference, you are taking action to LEARN YOUR CRAFT. You need to learn the in and outs and the how and why of your genre of children's book. By attending a conference, you are showing the agents and editors there that you are a SERIOUS writer or illustrator. They deeply respect the action you take to learn and create better work.

8. To find your footing. So maybe you've been part of critique groups, done all the research, wrote a great book...but now what? Where do you go? A conference is a great place to find your footing. It gives you direction and a solid foundation to step off of. Even professionals come to conferences such as WIFYR to inspire them and give them a bouncing off point.

9. To keep up with the times. Admittedly the children's publishing industry is slow to change. However, in this age of technology and digital options, the industry is having to adapt. Going to conferences and listening to the editors and agents (and professionals currently working in the market) keeps you up to date on trends in the industry and opportunities that may be available. For example, some agents may say they are in search of more books in a specific genre or on a topic. Some editors may explain what their company is currently wanting. And professionals share tips on promoting, ebooks, and changes to their craft in relation to the changing market.

10. And last but not least, To clear your head.  Honestly, I sometimes go to conferences just to focus and get away from the demands of life as a wife and mom. Conferences clear my head and allow me to focus on the task I'd love to focus on and forget about the dishes or unwashed laundry. I can finish that book I've been writing or solidify a new idea. It's amazing what an intensive week away can do for my soul.


  1. I was actually planning a trip down already... but it is nice to see a whole awesome list confirming my decision! So, thank you!

    1. Perfect! Hope to see you there. Which class did you sign up for?

    2. Since I took the picture book class last time (they didn't have a separate illustration class three years ago when I went) and combined with the cheaper price it wasn't too hard to choose the illustrator workshop. Even though I do both writing and illustrating. I haven't officially registered yet (waiting on tax returns..), but I will soon. I hope I can see you there too!

    3. Great! I'll be there. YES YES YES totally sign up for Steve's illustration class. It'll be so awesome!

    4. Oh and get others to sign up too. The illustrators out there sometimes don't get the info as easily as the writers so encourage other's to sign up for Steve's class with you.


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I'm a freelance illustrator working in the children's book industry. I love kids and raising my own 4 children. They are the inspiration and the passion behind all I do in art and in life. See my website at JulieOlsonbooks.com

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