The first time I attended the SCBWI Summer Conference in Los Angeles back in 2006 or so (I can't quite remember the exact year) I was completely overwhelmed! I had just completed the first draft of my first novel and had decided to dive right in. I had no idea what to expect driving down the freeway early that morning. I had never gone anywhere alone other than the grocery store in the fourteen years since I'd gotten married. So the trek down to L.A. seemed like a big deal. It was a four day conference but that seemed like an awful lot of time to spend away from my kids, so I registered for Friday and Saturday, and I did not make hotel reservations. I would dutifully be home both nights in time to tuck my children into bed.
The Hyatt is huge, and the main banquet room where most of the main conference events and keynotes are held is cavernous. As a new writer who knew no one, walking into to a room filled with 1,000+ total strangers was almost enough to make me turn right around and head for home. But I stayed, taking a seat in the very back corner. I lurked in the breakout sessions, took detailed notes, forced myself to say hello to a few people and then left. I didn't go to the poolside party (that seemed to decadent for me), I didn't go to the luncheon (I hadn't paid for it), and I didn't stay for the big book signing bash at the very end.
My initial experience with SCBWI and the conference was conservative at best, and yet it was magical. Every keynote speaker, every breakout session, every book I purchased made me want to come back. I knew I wanted to be a part of this community of writers, and I wanted to succeed.
I've been back many times since and am going again this August. But now when I go, I do everything! I do the poolside party, I talk to absolutely everyone, I revel in the banquet luncheon, I stay in the hotel and hardly even think about the kids (except when I call home to say good-night), I go to the intensives, I buy tons of books and get them all signed. I do it all and have a total blast!
So, my advice to you is this: If you haven't been to the SCBWI Conference in Los Angeles, seriously consider going. It does cost a pretty penny, but it is money well invested, better than a week in Hawaii. Next, if you do go, do it all. Wear yourself out! Have fun! Make every penny and every minute count. You won't regret it.