Six hundred elementary and middle school students participated. Each had written (and in most cases also illustrated) their own books, fiction and nonfiction. Some of their books reminded me of books I made when I was in school—though mine were less slick, written on lined paper with a cover made of wallpaper scrap. Other books I saw at the conference were hardcover, coolly bound by a company in Kansas—I don't believe that option existed when I was a kid!
Thursday evening, I spoke in a gorgeous building they called a chapel but which looked like an auditorium.
The audience was some of the student authors, their parents, and often, their younger siblings (all of whom were quite patient for an evening event not aimed at them). Afterward, one parent came up to me for advice. She had taken a children's book writing course and wants desperately to try to publish—yet she is desperately afraid of rejection. I mean on the verge of tears desperately, with her husband nodding along near her as she emphasized her fear. I asked what she is more afraid of—trying and failing, or never trying and therefore never knowing if she would have succeeded. She is going to try.
The next morning, I spoke twice to groups of 300 each time, then signed a whole lot of books, a fraction of which was on display when I arrived:
Many of the kids asked me to also sign their custom-made books, which I would not do. My name doesn't belong on their hard work! I was happy to sign another sheet of paper (usually the cover of the event program) for them. Besides, they all got a pre-printed bookmark with my signature as well.
Sorry for the creepy blanked-out faces of the children, but you understand.
The event went so well that I volunteered to recommend other writers for the 33rd annual and beyond.