Friday, March 13, 2015

Out of My League

Recently I was given the writing prompt "Back to the Drawing Board" and immediately I thought of my very first SCBWI conference experience in Nashville.  I don't know about other writers and illustrators, but when I went to my first conference I felt way out of my league.  Here is a short piece about my experience.

Out of My League

I sat outside the conference room, leg bobbing up and down nervously as I tried to ignore the relentless ticking of the clock. Tick. Tick. Tick.

I wasn’t ready! My portfolio wasn’t ready! Any minute I would be summoned to sit across the table from Lydia Joyner, the illustrious art director of Peachtree Publishing, to present my pathetic plastic binder which contained my fragile hopes, intimate dreams, and desperate attempt to be noticed in a sea of ridiculously talented children’s book illustrators.

Tick. tick. tick. 2 minutes left. My mind raced back to the day before when I’d first arrived at the convention. I was accosted by fellow illustrators with far more experience and confidence then I. They wanted to see my portfolio.

Was it okay for me to say no? Judging by their expectant looks I decided not. Reluctantly I handed over my work.

“Aww! So sweet!” Said one.
“You have such a cute style.” Said another.

Sweet? Cute? It was as if they patted me on the head and said, “Aww sweetie! It’s really cool that you’re trying and everything, but you will never be able to compete with us. Better luck next year hun.” I was dismissed as a non-threat, a little girl and her doodles trying to play in the big league.

A woman opened the door. “Heather Dent?” She called. I stood up clutching my binder. “Yes?”
“Lydia’s ready for you now.”

I followed the woman as she led me through a large conference room full of editors and agents meeting with scared individuals like myself. Finally we arrived and Lydia Joyner’s table. She looked like Meryl Streep with elegant white hair, stylish glasses, and confident chin. I was terrified.

She didn’t say much as she flipped through the plastic page protectors. Occasionally she’d something like, “What a fun character.” or “I like this one. You should put it at the head of your portfolio.” It took her less than a minute to flip through a year’s worth of work.

Then came the critique.

“There’s not enough action in your illustrations.” She said. “There’s no movement. You need to put more life into your drawings.”

She then went on to make generic suggestions like, “I would recommend that you take art classes.” or “Have you read Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain?” In fact I had already read that book before I even entered high school.

I’d been right. I did not stand out. I was forgettable. I stood up, shook hands with Lydia, and left the table.

Oddly enough, I felt relieved. So I wasn’t an immediate success. So what?! Nobody’s an immediate success right off the bat. It takes time, and sweat, and diligence to get what you want in life. You need more than skill. You need endurance.

I came out of that portfolio critique with renewed determination. It was back to the drawing board for me! Next time my work would not be “cute” or “sweet.” Next time I would not be dismissed as a forgettable amateur. Next time I’d be a force to be reckoned with.

Watch out Picture Book World! I’m coming back with a vengeance! No more fooling around. I’m not the confused, naive girl I used to be. I know my path. I know my competition. I know I’m ready for the big leagues. Ready or not here I come!


  1. Well, I happen to absolutely LOVE your style and all of the books of Lucy I have sold love our book too!!!

    1. Thank you Aunt Linda! That is wonderful to hear.

  2. hat's a great story, Heather. I think I need to read that book. Your illustrations are great!

    1. Thank you for your kind words Catherine! The book is called "Lucy and Friends" but only a few copies were made for family and friends. If you'd like I could send you a few art samples I did for the book!

  3. Good for you, keeping your chin up, renewing your determination and going after what you want! I'm not any kind of an illustrator - stick figures are about it for me - but I know the exact situation you're describing from the writing side, so I know how crushing and disheartening it can be, and how much courage it takes to pick yourself up, believe you have what it takes, and keep forging ahead. Go get 'em, Heather! I love your art! :)

    1. Thank you Susanna! It's hard to imagine that you were ever in a position like this because you are such a wonderful writer and so well established! It's encouraging to hear that you once went through the same struggles. You truly are an inspiration to me.