If you've read all the books on illustrating and writing picture books, it all starts to sound cursory and you might find yourself clambering to find the next tier of information. These conferences are the place to get that information. Current trends, the kinds of projects specific editors are currently hungry for, and strategies for moving past their personal slush piles--all this was made readily available.
There were about 100 faculty members giving workshops and personal manuscript and portfolio critiques at this year's conference. Talent on the faculty included E. B. Lewis (who is as super nice as he is talented), Mac McCool, Jon Scieszka, Dan Santat, Bruce Hale, Marion Dane Bauer, and Cincinnati's own Loren Long. Faculty also included industry heavyweights Arthur A. Levine (Harry Potter editor), Cecilia Yung (Art Director and VP at Penguin Young Readers Group, and Justin Chanda (VP and Publisher at Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers). I enjoyed having my portfolio critiqued by Richard Jesse Watson, who's version of The Night Before Christmas was a New York Times Bestseller.
The conference was particularly helpful for illustrators because of the portfolio review. All of the editors, art directors, and agents attending the conference look at all of the portfolios on display. With only 150 or so portfolios on display, it offers a great opportunity to break through the noise.