Earlier on the blog we featured several writers who got their start at WIFYR. This week we’ll start off with some stories from some of our resident illustrators, as well as many more from past attendees. We hope you enjoy their inspiring stories!
A few years ago Jed Henry had never been published. He’d been an artist all his life, studying art in college and graduating from a prestigious animation program. But though he enjoyed his schooling, his true aspiration was to become a children’s illustrator. The problem was, he didn’t know where to start. That’s when oneof his friends told him about WIFYR conference. He says, “Attending [WIFYR] was my first step into the world of publishing. Before the conference, I had no idea what I was getting into. But during that week of workshops and classes, I learned a lot. Most importantly, I made connections that lead to other opportunities.”
After the conference, Henry had his hands full. He writes, “I made dozens of illustrations, and wrote manuscript after manuscript. With each piece, I felt myself getting a little better. Finally, I got a lucky break when an illustrator friend introduced me to his agent.” With the help of his agent, Henry illustrated his first book, Pick a Pup. He went on to illustrate Can’t Wait Till Christmas, and Just Say Boo!. He has also written and illustrated two of his own picture books, I Speak Dinosaur! and Cheer Up, Mouse! He has three books due for release in 2013, including Good Night, Mouse!, a sequel to Cheer Up, Mouse! To aspiring writers and illustrators he says, “Honing one’s craft takes time and hard work. You may not get discovered your first year at the conference. But youwill learn a ton, and if you’re serious about writing or illustrating, you’ll do what it takes to make the most of this conference. It’s an amazing opportunity.”
Another illustrator and past WIFYR attendee, Matthew Armstrong, met his agent at the WIFYR conference as well. He has since written and illustrated several books for young readers, including a popular pop-up retelling of the classic Narnia tales. He also won the 2005 Benjamin Franklin Award for his illustrations in The Blacksmith’s Gift.
Illustrators Scott Franson and Sherry Meideell also attended the illustrator workshop at WIFYR conference. It was here that Franson sold his first picture book, the wordless tale Un-brella, published in April 2007. Meidell, meanwhile, made connections with her now-agent Steve Fraser, who will return to the conference this year as one of our special guests. Since then, Meidell has gone on to illustrate nine picture books.
Of course, illustrators aren’t the only ones who make connections at WIFYR conference. Rick Walton, a highly-published author of picture books, chapter books, joke books (and more!) says attending conferences like WIFYR is an essential part of becoming a published author. At conferences, writers and illustrators are able to network, not just with each other, but with agents and editors, too: “Actually,most of my sales have come about through networking, from meeting people at conferences or other events,” he says. “It’s not the only way to get published obviously, but for me it’s the most effective.” The WIFYR conference led directly to at least three picture book sales for Walton.
Ann Dee Ellis, author of This is What I Did and Everything is Fine, feels that the instruction she got as an attendee was as valuable as the contacts she made. She writes, “I attended the conference while I was in graduate school. I had no idea what to expect. I was both surprised and excited after the first day. It was much more hands-on than I had expected. Not only did I get to have a group of peers plus a published and accomplished author read and critique my work, I got to meet editors and an agent from New York. I got to hear what they were looking for, learn what the business of writing entailed and received valuable tips on craft. I left the conference feeling rejuvenated and encouraged.
“The second year I attended, the author that was directing my workshop, Virginia Euwer Wolff, had a specific request from a new agent back in New York to look for writers that he might want to represent. After workshopping my piece, Virginia suggested I send him some of my manuscript. What?! Yay! I sent him the first few pages and, within a few weeks, had an awesome agent, and soon thereafter a contract. I can honestly say that the Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers conference launched my career.” Ellis has since returned to WIFYR several times as an instructor.The conference has also put established authors in touch with editors and agents. Claudia Mills, author of dozens of YA and middle grade novels, first came to the conference as an instructor several years ago. While there, she met the person who would become her agent. She also met the editor to whom her agent would sell a new series. But she didn’tgain just professional contacts; “I met wonderful writers who helped me grow in my craft and whose friendship I will always cherish,” she says.
WIFYR conference has also been useful for beginning writers, and we hope to see several of our past attendees in print soon. Here is a list of past attendees who are now on the road to publication:Taryn Albright, winner of last year’s Annual Writing Contest, received a great deal of feedback from agent Mary Kole, creator of the popular kidlit.com
website. After extensive revisions, Albright later signed with agent Molly Ker Hawn of the Bent Agency. She hopes to have a contract soon.
Courtney Alameda, a longtime WIFYR participant, signed last year with agent John Cusick. Her book, Shutter, will be published by Feiwell & Friends in 2014.
Kate Coursey, 19-year-old YA writer from Salt Lake City, was in a workshop with writer Alane Ferguson. Ferguson introduced Coursey to her agent, Edward Necarsulmer of McIntosh & Otis. Coursey signed with Necarsulmer soon after. Her book is undergoing revisions at Scholastic Press.
We’d love to see your name added to this list, and we know you would too. WIFYR may be just what you need to jump-start your writing/illustrating career. At the conference you will practice your craft, make new connections, and learn important skills to help you get published. Keep checking for more updates from our authors, and go see this year’s lineup at wifyr.com.