When someone says, “I want to write children’s books! Where should I start?” my response is always…
“You need to join SCBWI.”
Usually, they give me a blank stare and stutter. “SCB-what-now?”
SCBWI, or the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, is quite a mouthful whether you abbreviate it or not. But it’s so chock full of value for its members, I promise, it’s worth the lengthy acronym.
So, what exactly is SCBWI and why should you join?
SCBWI is an international professional organization for children’s authors. Now, maybe it’s the teacher in me, but when I hear “international professional organization,” I feel a strong urge to roll my eyes. I picture a bunch of bureaucrats getting rich off my dues and sending out the occasional useless newsletter or cheap ink pen with their logo on it, without providing any real value.
Dear Writer…that is NOT SCBWI!
Membership in SCBWI costs $95 the first year, and only $80 every year after that. And I can assure you, those dues will provide you with truly valuable, up-to-date information, legitimate access to industry professionals, and ongoing support for your author journey.
Here are 5 specific reasons why YOU should join SCBWI:
1. You will learn… a LOT!
There are 70 local chapters of SCBWI in the United States and 27 international chapters around the world. And when you become a member, you get access to webinars and conferences hosted by ALL of them.
The featured speakers at these events aren’t random internet “experts” trying to make a buck. These are best-selling authors, editors, agents, illustrators, and other industry professionals sharing the most up-to-date information about the publishing industry.
Covering topics like specific aspects of the writing craft to marketing and promotion strategies, SCBWI webinars are offered at super affordable rates for members (usually from FREE to $20 or $30 bucks) and in-person conferences are usually just a couple hundred. And many of these events come with exclusive submission opportunities to editors or agents who are normally closed to unsolicited submissions!
If you’d rather have a resource you can read and refer back to, they’ve got that covered too. The Essential Guide to Publishing for Children and The Essential Guide to Self-Publishing a Children’s Book are the Bibles of writing and publishing for children and contain over 400 total pages of expert advice on how to become a published author.
The bottom line is, if you want to learn how to write for children, there is no more affordable way to do it than through SCBWI.
2. It’s a great place to network and find critique partners.
If you are an introvert like me, you might be tempted to scroll right on by this one…but don’t!
Even the least social among us need feedback on our work, and the only thing harder than putting yourself and your story out there is figuring out where to put it. Luckily, each regional chapter of SCBWI has a critique group coordinator who you can contact for help finding critique partners in your region.
Because these fellow writers have chosen to invest in their career via SCBWI membership, you know that they, like you, take writing seriously, and are more likely to give you solid feedback than a random person you met online. (Not that meeting people online is all bad! Check out this post about other places to find critique partners!)
In addition to critique groups, SCBWI webinars, conferences, and other events are great places to rub elbows with industry pros and make friends with other writers. You know that blank stare your spouse gives you when you start talking about your latest manuscript? With SCBWI, you’ll have writer friends to talk to - saving both you and your significant other the struggle.
And truly, the kidlit community is one of the most supportive around.
3. It gives you “street cred” in the writing world.
SCBWI’s website says they are “the preeminent membership organization for children’s book creators,” and it’s true! Everyone in the kidlit industry knows SCBWI!
Because of this, when you submit a story to an agent or publisher and mention your SCBWI membership in the query letter, it lets them know you take yourself seriously as a writer. That you want to learn and improve. That you CARE about the industry professionals and what they think. That you are invested in your own success.
Now, I have had many new authors balk at this idea and scoff, “Why should I have to pay $95 a year to prove I care about my craft? Psh. If an agent or editor cares about such worldly status symbols, I don’t want to work with them anyway! My work should speak for itself!”
Well…okay. Fine. As I said, you don’t HAVE to join.
But as the industry becomes more and more competitive, anything you can do to help your chances is worth doing. And it’s not JUST for show. If you take advantage of all those learning opportunities I mentioned in #1 and regularly get feedback from quality critique partners I mentioned in #2, you WILL become a better writer.
And isn’t that everyone’s goal?
4. It provides lots of opportunities for exposure and promotion.
SCBWI members can:
List their book for sale in the Member Bookstore - an online bookstore exclusive to members.
Submit their book to be featured on a monthly themed Reading List which is sent to thousands of subscribers.
Register in the Speaker’s Bureau so schools can find and invite you to visit.
Enter to win awards and grants exclusively for SCBWI members.
In addition, regional chapters each have their own ways of helping to promote their members. For example, my region features a different author and illustrator each month, posting an interview on their website and Twitter pages.
5. You’ll have your finger on the pulse of the industry.
One of my personal favorite perks of my SCBWI membership is the monthly INSIGHT newsletter.
INSIGHT is emailed to members each month and contains:
updates on industry trends and news,
articles about craft, marketing, and more,
announcements about awards and contests that are open for submission,
and (usually) an interview and exclusive submission opportunity with a kidlit agent or editor.
In addition, some regional chapters have their own newsletters that keep members up to speed on what’s going on in their local area and help them connect with other authors near them.
Need some help with querying? Check out this video:
A note for self-publishers...
You might have noticed that SCBWI and its programs lean a bit toward the traditional publishing world. That's definitely true - the majority of their conferences, webinars, and resources are focused on helping authors secure traditional publishing contracts with established publishers. However, as self-publishing has become more popular, SCBWI has definitely adapted and is actively working to provide support to self-publishers as well.
Recently, they've partnered with ALLi - the Alliance of Independent Authors - to provide access to a directory of vetted service providers and freelancers in the self-publishing world and several new awards have been added specifically for self-publishers.
And remember, as a self-publisher, you are still competing with traditionally published books! So being aware of the industry standards and staying connected will help you be successful.
Ultimately, SCBWI membership is a valuable addition to any author’s writing journey.