An SCBWI success story: Tracy Clark #LA13SCBWI

 Tracy Clark's debut SCINTILLATE, the first in a trilogy, comes out in January of 2014.

Are you thinking about going to the SCBWI national conference in Los Angeles this summer? Excellent! I hope you can go. I went to my first national conference in 2008 and it changed my life. It's where the person who would become my editor--the great Arthur Levine--and I came up with the idea that turned into my picture book, THE DINOSAUR TOOTH FAIRY. That book comes out in just a few weeks.

That same conference, my friend Holly Cupala, who'd just one an SCBWI Work in Progress Grant, got the news that her first two books had sold at auction. While we were ironing our dresses before the poolside party, she came up with her third novel, which she is working on as I type.

In short, these conferences can be essential investments. Whether you're building relationships with other writers, agents, and editors--or whether you're looking for the right bit of inspiration, that's exactly what you get. Ready to go? Sign up here.

But don't just take my word for it. Here's what Tracy Clark, whose first novel comes out in 2014, has to say about her experience with the SCBWI and particularly at the conferences.

I first heard about the SCBWI six years ago from an agent who judged a writing contest in which I placed as a finalist. I was very green, having only written a few chapters of my first novel. The agent sat me down and said, “Let me tell you why you didn’t win…”

This might sound harsh but it wasn’t. It was straightforward and extremely helpful. I was appreciative for her feedback and her advice, some of which was to keep writing, read heavily in my genre, and to go forth and join SCBWI.

I did join, and didn’t have the knowledge to know at the time how fortunate I was to be part of a chapter with such phenomenal leadership as Ellen Hopkins and Suzanne Morgan Williams. My first SCBWI conference experience was in Carson City, Nevada, where I met our local group and heard about an amazing program they had started called, The Mentor Program. I applied and was lucky enough to work one-on-one with Ellen Hopkins over a six month period on my first book.

It resulted in so much growth for me as a writer that I applied a second time and happily, was accepted again to work with Susan Hart Lindquist. I learned very different things from each of my mentors. I’m so grateful to have had that experience and it’s a program that’s still going strong and benefiting many other artists and illustrators. I also joined our local critique group and continue to learn from the other talented writers I’m fortunate to know. I don’t even want to think of the lonely, long path I’d have climbed if I hadn’t joined SCBWI when I did.

In the summer of 2008, I attended my first SCBWI national conference in Los Angeles. There is nothing like the energy of one of the national conferences to stoke your fire! I met people there that I’m still friends with to this day and left inspired and feeling like I had truly found my tribe. These were people who understood the drive, the coffee stained (and sometimes tear-stained) pages, the all-consuming thing that is creating books for kids.

Winning the 2009 Work in Progress Grant from SCBWI was such a thrill! I’d been working so hard on my second novel, and was plagued by doubts about my abilities; an affliction I’m learning doesn’t actually go away, no matter where you are in the process. The timing couldn’t have been better and was the confidence boost I needed to continue on with that novel. I used the grant money to attend the national conference in New York which turned out to be a very fortuitous choice because that’s where I first met the man who would later become my agent, the incomparable and wonderful Michael Bourret.

The story goes: An editor attending the New York conference, who’d been one of the judges of the Work in Progress Grant, approached me at the Writer’s Intensive, and asked about my progress with the novel. Was I agented? When I told her I was not (namely because I was too chicken to send it out) she recommended I talk to Michael Bourret.

This editor didn’t know it, but Michael was at the very top of my agent dream list and I was intimidated (though I needn’t have been) to approach him at the conference. This, my friends, is where participation in SCBWI and knowing people can really help. I asked my mentor, Ellen Hopkins, if she would kindly make an introduction at some point, maybe later, um… sometime…if, you know, she had time… She literally took me by the elbow right that minute, marched me into a party, and right up to my dream agent for a personal introduction! He was very gracious and warm and I ended up signing with him about five months later.

People are always curious about that book in particular because many of the WIP Grant winners have gone on to great success. That novel is a very personal one and I have hopes it will find its home someday when the timing is right. I’ve learned that timing plays a big part in this business and I’ve learned to trust my agent’s advice about when and what to submit. 

I’m thrilled to say that I am officially soon to be published with a different project! My debut novel, a YA and the first in a trilogy, SCINTILLATE, will be published by Entangled Teen in January of 2014. I’m thrilled to share this story with everyone as it’s full of metaphysical mystery, adventure, and romance!

The good things that have happened so far in my career have depended upon putting myself out there and availing myself of the opportunities that SCBWI has to offer by attending both my local SCBWI events and the national SCBWI conferences. If there is any advice I’d give to someone considering one of the national conferences for the first time, it is not to go with the singular goal of getting “discovered” though that can and does happen.

Go! But go to meet fascinating and passionate people. Go to find out that editors, agents, and published authors are approachable, helpful, and open-hearted. Go to learn more about the business so you can navigate the publishing world more easily. Go to learn more about craft so you can continue to grow as an artist. Go to where they understand you. Go to be inspired! If those are your goals, there is no way to leave disappointed. Any other magic that happens is a bonus!

Tracy Clark