I like to joke that I could be a “poster child” for a SCBWI success story . . .
In January of 2012, I attended my first SCBWI International Conference in New York. I wasn’t sure I was ready, but a fellow illustrator friend said, “I’ll go if you go.” So off we went, flying across the country— portfolios in hand. I kept my expectations low, hoping for a little exposure and, at best, a few kind words about my work. As it turned out, one of my cards was picked up at the portfolio show and the next thing I knew I had an agent! A few weeks later, my head still happily spinning, I signed up for our local SCBWI conference here in Western Washington. It was a weekend packed with information and networking, and I started to feel buoyed at the prospect of entering this exciting industry as an author/illustrator. At the very end of the last day of the conference, in what I consider a quintessential SCBWI moment, I had the opportunity to show my story about my quirky little chicken to one of the faculty art directors. Within a few days, and to my utter amazement, my agent informed me I had an offer for my picture book, HENNY! Was this really happening? I felt like the proverbial ingénue on the barstool—suddenly discovered—ready to take the world by storm!
But here’s the punch line—I’m definitely not the ingénue. I have, in fact, both feet firmly planted in my sixth decade of life, and I definitely did not feel ready. What was I thinking, starting a new career now? I felt an odd mix of euphoria and sheer terror. How could I compete with all that young, fresh talent? How could I ever measure up to all those seasoned writers and illustrators? How did I get myself into this? But, contract in hand, I had no choice but to sit down and get the job done.
As I worked, my fears subsided as it became clear to me I really was prepared: I’ve been to college and graduate school. I’ve been an architect, designer, portrait artist, fine artist, and scientific illustrator. I’ve had paid jobs and unpaid jobs, and I’ve raised three kids (the ultimate unpaid job). I realized I’ve been on the path to this moment—albeit a long and somewhat circuitous one—all along.
I also have come to believe that my story could be anyone’s story. We are the sum totals of our experiences and most of us, regardless of whom we are or at what point in our lives we are at, are far more “ready” than we could ever imagine.
Maybe I would have become a published author/illustrator in time, but one thing I am certain of— SCBWI got me in front of the right people, at the right place, at the right time and I will forever be grateful to this wonderful kidlit organization for expediting my trajectory!
So… back to the story: Cue the author/illustrator…dragging her life’s baggage behind her, nest empty, and rarin’ to go. Contracts have been signed, artwork has been delivered, and I’m ready for the happy ending, er… I mean, beginning! Thank you, SCBWI.
Elizabeth is represented by Joanna Volpe of New Leaf Literary & Media in New York. Her first picture book, Henny (Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books), was released last year. Her next book, Peddles (also with Simon & Schuster), released January 2016. She lives in Seattle with her husband, and three Scottish Fold cats. Find her online at www.penspaperstudio.com.