I hesitated to write this post and questioned if this was the right way to do it. You're reading it so obviously I I decided this was right. I really hope that I don't offend anyone at SCBWI with my comments.
First let me start out by saying how much I love this organization. I attended my first SCBWI meeting back in 1991 in Utah. It was like a whole new world was opened to me. I was surrounded by like minded people outside my school setting. Professionals, novices, and everything in between. I knew I was in the right place. Since that time I have been a member on and off over the years. Currently I get asked to speak at SCBWI events from time to time - I get to participate in one this November in Missouri and in Atlanta early next year. I love the SCBWI.
Ok - deep breath. I was having lunch today with a friend who I shall not be named. This person has been an SCBWI member for many years and is an extremely competent author/illustrator. This person also told me today that since he/she has been in and around the publishing industry and gone to numerous conferences over the years - the biggest reason for continuing to attend is the ability to get past the firewall at publishing houses.
This is probably the part where I should give a brief explanation of that firewall - you can skip a couple paragraphs if you already know this. Basically most publishers do NOT accept unsolicited manuscripts. In other words an un-agented or un-published author/illustrator cannot simply send in their book proposal to a publisher without having a connection to an editor and essentially having permission to do so. If such an a person did send in their manuscript or book dummy it would be discarded or mailed back un-opened if a SASE was provided.
One of the main advantages conference attendance provides is the magical access given to attendees via the editors that are presenting at the conference. In other words conference attendees are granted contact information for the specific editors who are flown in to speak to the audiences. They even go one step further by providing special stickers that say "conference attendee". The idea being that when the intern is going through the mail they will set aside the parcels that bear this marking. These packages are then opened and read and then issued a response from an editor.
The reason that they lift the ban on unsolicited works for conference goers is that they feel that submission quality goes way up. If someone is willing to spend their time, money, and effort attending writing workshops they will more often than not - write a decent story and follow instructions on submission guidelines. This makes the publisher's job much easier.
Now to the point. My aforementioned friend attended an SCBWI conference last year mainly to get the contact information to submit to the three editors who presented. He/she like I mentioned has been through and around the game for a while so I'm not talking about some kind of rube. The manuscript was well written and printed and packages were carefully prepared and submitted with the required stickers and included SASE. My friend waited...and waited...and waited....and never received ANY kind of response - not even a form rejection letter and it's been well over a year.
Now you might be able to make the case that if he/she had submitted to one house or one editor something might have been misplaced or lost but with three submissions I find this highly unlikely. My friend reported today that he/she will probably not attend future SCBWI conferences since one of the major benefits seems to have turned out to be not much of a benefit at all.
This is tragic and I put this out there in hopes that some of the very dedicated staff at SCBWI will find this link in an email forward. Why do it publicly? Because things tend to get done when more people know about it. I don't know if this happens all the time. I do know that there are many caring editors who take time out of their busy schedules to come and speak to conference attendees and who follow through with their promise. I also feel that some of them might not follow through on their commitments.
My hope is that SCBWI staff take extra pains to communicate to editors that attendees are paying for their flights, meals, hotel, and honorariums and that they need to keep up their end of the bargain - or turn down the gig. I would hate to see us lose such a valuable organization over something like this - if it's happening regularly.