ILLUSTRATION FEATURE The Hook – an Author/Illustrator’s Perspective


The Hook is SCBWI's Conference platform for unpublished writers and illustrators to present their project on stage to a panel of editors and agents. Claire Lewis decided to take the plunge!



Taking the first big step: Entering!


Entering The Hook was the last thing on my mind – it looked way too scary, especially as this was my first conference! But when Zoe Cookson replied to my badge competition entry, asking if I had considered entering it (as they are always keen to get author illustrators involved), I reconsidered.

Zoe was one of the volunteers hosting The Hook, and she sold it to me by making it seem a lot less daunting – the hosts are on stage the whole time to offer help if needed, and she even offered a mentor from one of the previous author illustrator contestants. I didn’t take her up on this in the end, but I did have a look at Paul Morton’s slides from the year before, to give me some idea of what was possible.

So, I decided to just go for it! I got my pitch, my manuscript and some artwork together, took a deep breath… and pressed ‘send’ quickly before I could change my mind.



Preparing


As an author illustrator you have the advantage of using your own artwork in the presentation. I used 23 slides, whereas some contestants only use one – it’s really up to you and what you feel most comfortable with. I used a lot of slides to give me more confidence on stage – it meant that if I lost my thread, I just had to look at the next slide to jog my memory and help me get back on track. In other words, I didn’t have to remember the structure of my pitch, as the slides did that for me.

The slides had to be submitted about ten days before the conference, so I did a rough plan of what I wanted to say, put my artwork into the correct order to support this rough plan, and sent it off. I knew that I could work out the details of what I would say about each slide later.

Powerpoint slides


Live drawing


It occurred to me that I could include live drawing in my presentation, but my internal dialogue went something like this: ‘Don’t be so stupid! The Hook is scary enough without adding in something else that could go horribly wrong in front of all those people! - But what if I could pull it off? It would really add something to my presentation, and I don’t think it’s been done before at The Hook…’.

In the end I got bored with arguing with myself and resorted to my old mantra: just go for it! I was planning to live draw both my main characters, but then decided to keep it simple and just concentrate on one: Ziggi zooming on the zipwire.

Live drawing practice


Practising


I watched a useful YouTube video put together by contestants from previous years. Most of them said that practising your presentation was key, but bizarrely, in the week before the conference, I kept finding excuses not to practise it! I think this was partly because I was so busy preparing other things for the conference (e.g. my portfolio), partly because I am a procrastinator, and partly because I was trying to banish the thought of appearing on stage from my mind!

What I did do, however, was prepare two documents that would help me to practise the day before and on the day itself: 1) thumbnails of my slides on one side and what I wanted to say about each one typed out next to it, and 2) a version with just the slide images and no text, so that I could test myself without the words.



Friday came, and I still hadn’t practised my presentation or timed it to check the length. But I found that practising in the car on the long drive from Devon to Winchester was good, as it forced me to talk without written notes.

I had managed to banish the thought of live drawing from my mind the whole week, telling myself that I would practise the night before (and forgetting that I had signed up for the Friday Fringe evening meal!). Consequently, it wasn’t until about 11pm on Friday night that I finally started to work out how best to do the drawing, so that it would be easy to draw without hesitation and include a bit of a ‘reveal’ at the end.

The Big Day


The Saturday of the conference was a really packed day - this was a very good thing as it meant I didn’t have any time at all to get nervous! I left Speed Pitching early and got to the auditorium with plenty of time before The Hook was due to start. This was invaluable, as it gave me a chance to calm down, compose myself, BREATHE, and then get a feel for the auditorium and familiarise myself with the stage, the microphone and the remote control for the slides. I met the other contestants properly for the first time, practised my live drawing on the flipchart Zoe had organised, and ran through my presentation in my head to reassure myself that it was still in there and I hadn’t forgotten it.

And then it was time! I was contestant number 2. Once I got up there in front of everyone, I just went into autopilot and it all came out with no problems, thank goodness. I consciously made myself slow down, relax, and just talk to everyone as if I was explaining my book to one other person.

Image taken from KidLitTV recording
Image taken from KidLitTV recording

Even the live drawing went well, and I ended up with something recognisable as a dog on a zipwire rather than a shapeless blob. It was great fun to do and I’m glad I decided to go for it!

Image taken from KidLitTV recording

Conclusions


So, to conclude, if you are an unpublished author-illustrator wondering whether to apply for The Hook, I would say GO FOR IT, even if it’s your first conference (in fact, all four contestants this year were conference ‘newbies’). You have nothing to lose and everything to gain!

Sketch of The Hook contestants by Imogen Foxell


Firstly, it’s a fantastic opportunity to hone your pitch and present both your words and your images to four agents (and other industry professionals who might be sitting in the audience). You also get to show them that you would be capable of presenting your book on school visits, should someone decide to publish your book! Secondly, everyone is so supportive, sympathetic and friendly and you feel like everyone really wants you to succeed.

And last but not least, you get some invaluable professional feedback from the four agents on the panel, which might just give you the final impetus to make your book the very best it can be!

Agent Feedback (Image taken from KidLitTV recording)

The KidLitTV recording of The Hook 2019 can be found here.


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Claire Lewis is a Devon-based languages teacher turned picture book author illustrator who joined the SCBWI in 2019 and is very glad she did! Her website is claireflewis.com. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

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