SCBWI Member Benefits for the Self-Published Writer

Don’t panic! If you want to self-publish, SCBWI has the info you need.
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Every now and again, I contemplate self-publishing a book. It would have to be just the right project for me to step off into the deep end of independently producing a book. But if I decide to go that route, SCBWI (the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) has made it easier.

I’m not sure why but SCBWI has long had the reputation for being anti-self-publishing. I wouldn’t say that but I would say is that they are going to insist on professionalism. And, let’s face it, a lot of self-published books look slapdash.

Fortunately, SCBWI has a variety of member benefits that will enable members to create slick, polished self-published books. These benefits include:

  • A database of self-publishing service providers that has been vetted by The Alliance of Independent Authors of which SCBWI is an organizational member. Go through this list to find info on publishers, editors, book designers and more. Self-publishing is NOT a short cut and this list will help you find the professionals you need to create a quality book.
  • The Independently Published Book Launch Marketing Grant. There will be two $2,500 grants annually – one that is open to anyone and one for a member of an underepresented community.
  • The Indepdently Published Pre-publication Grant. This grant is also $2,500 and will help a member offset the costs of producing and publishing their book.
  • The annual Spark Award. The winner receives $1000 and stickers to add to their book cover and free tuition to an SCBWI conference.
  • The tri-annual The India Author Magazine, a publication produced by the Alliance of Independent Authors.

As if all of this wasn’t enough, there are also webinars about self-publishing, lists of illustrators willing to work on independent projects and more. I have not self-published a book, but this is something I definitely want to learn more about. If nothing else, 2020 has taught me to never EVER say never.


3 Tips for Drafting a Picture Book

My illustration skills are far
from intimidating.

I love coming home from the library with a stack of picture books. I stretch out on the sofa and read and read and read. When I’m done, I go back and page again through the ones I liked best. Perhaps it is because I read so many that I can tell when a new writer doesn’t understand the form. And that leads me to tip #1.

Know Picture Books

A picture book is a really specific type of book. It isn’t just the words and the pictures. It is also how the book is physically made. There are 32 pages. This number includes the title page, dedication and copyright. Sometimes it includes the end papers.

The very best make use of page turns, locating surprises after the turn of the page. When you do this, the coming of a page turn helps build the reader’s anticipation. They know something is coming.

Plan Your Story Scene by Scene

Because the length is so specific, you need to make certain that you have enough to fill the book but not too much. You also have to make certain that there is something distinct and interesting going on in each spread.

To do this, plan your story scene by scene. Each spread (or scene) is an event. This means that something needs to happen so that the illustrator has something to depict.

But each scene also needs to be unique. This can be a unique action, a new setting, or a change in tone.

Sketch Out Thumbnails

Perhaps the best way to plot your story scene by scene is to sketch out thumbnails. You can find a great thumbnail template by Debbie Ridpath Ohi here. Print it out and you have a storyboard showing the pages in your picture book.

Once you’ve got an idea for your picture book, sit down and draw your story. No really. Don’t write it. Draw it. This was something that Marla Frazee recommended at the recent SCBWI Big 5-0 conference so I decided to give it a try.

This is especially important for those of us who are writers because we tend to consider the words but now how they will be depicted. My drawings are not brilliant. I have a girl with pigtails, a tall boy with glasses, and a neighbor with a garden hat. Am I going to tell the illustrator that she has pigtails, he has glasses and Miss Lin is wearing a hat? No way. This was just so that I could tell my stick figures apart.

But drawing my story made me really look at my pacing. When you are writing text, it is easy to tell yourself that you don’t have too much story here and that really isn’t a thin spot there. But when you draw it, you can’t lie.

I had too many spreads left at the end. So I took another look at my story.

I realized that I had forgotten a key spread early on and I could add to the final climb to the climax. It will definitely be a better story when I sit down to draft it.

Frazee recommended that draw each potential manuscript several times. I wasn’t going to do this but I want to see how things look with my spreads in order. I want to take another look at my page turns.

My drawings are far from brilliant but this plan is going to help my story come together more cleanly when I do sit down to write.


SCBWI Crystal Kite Awards

I voted!  Members are casting ballots in the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Crystal Kites Awards.  The Crystal Kites are voted on by your peers, fellow authors and illustrators.  There is an award for each of the SCBWI regional divisions worldwide. This means that as a member of the Mid-South, I vote for a book authored or illustrated by a fellow Mid-South member.

Yes, Missouri is part of the Mid-South. It doesn’t make a whole lof of sense to me but it doesn’t have to. You don’t even need to know what division you are in because it will automatically load to your profile page.

How do you vote?

  1. Go to the SCBWI site and log in.  You have to be logged in so this step is important.
  2. Once you have logged in and reached your member profile page, scroll to the bottom of the left hand menu and click on “Vote in the Crystal Kite Awards.”
  3. This will automatically take you to the correct region.  You can scroll down the page and click on “More Info” to find out additional information on any of the five books.
  4. Once you have decided which book you want to vote for, click on the “Vote For This Book” button for the book you have chosen.  You will be asked to confirm your vote and then you simply click “yes” or “no.”

I know it sounds tricky but once you make it to the actual ballot, just follow the prompts. It is super easy!

This is Round 2 which started on the 18th. You have until April 30, 2021 at 5 pm to vote. Winners will be announced in May. Good luck to all the authors and illustrators with books on the ballot!


Tropes in Science Fiction

Photo by cottonbro on

I hope some of you attended the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Winter Conferece.  Normally held in NYC, this year it was a virtual event.  Something several speakers mentioned were tropes.  Not using your genre’s tropes is bad.  Using tropes without providing anything new?  Also bad. 

To fully understand this, it helps to know what tropes are. For those of you who may not know the term, a trope is a common story line or story element in a particular genre.  Spy/assassin movies?  Someone is going to be a double or triple agent.  Romance?  The couple end up together.  Science fiction?  

That noise you hear is a cricket.  I’m writing science fiction but I wasn’t 100% certain what the tropes are.  I decided to do a bit of research.

I found ten science fiction tropes:

  1. Light speed travel.  Let’s face it.  Space is big.  It takes a long time to get from point x to point z.  Light speed travel is an accepted given.  You don’t have to explain it.  You can just use it.
  2. Cryosleep.  Same things.
  3. Computers.  Whether it is a hand-held device or the computer that runs the ship when everyone is asleep, computers are a science fiction given.
  4. Robots.  Think of them as really useful, mobile computers.  
  5. Aliens.  Life on other planets, especially a wide variety of life, can create conflict and also diverse, interesting characters.
  6. Alien artifacts/technology.  It may be something aliens left on Earth, that people found drifting around, or even an entire ship.
  7. Dystopian cultures/governments.  Many science fiction stories are critical of the here and now and dystopian stories are a natural extension of this as are . . . 
  8. Post-apocalyptic events.  Things went to fiddle and may or may not be making a comeback.
  9. Mutants/mutations.  These may be natural (as a result evolution) or helped along by radiation, chemicals, etc.
  10. Body modifications. Here I’m talking about the surgical as in enhancements for human vision, computer uplinks, or artificial limbs.  

This means that at least one or two of these need to appear in my story.  (Hint: Look for 2, 3, 4 and 7.)  But I also have to make sure to bring in something new. A story that feels too similar to work that is already out there will bring a “no” no matter how much the editors like my writing. The solution? Reading, reading and more reading in my genre. Lucky for me I just read two Hilo graphic novels and have another waiting for me at the library.


3 Reasons to Apply for an SCBWI Grant

Although I’ve never won a grant, I’m putting together my application for The Ann Whitford Paul—Writer’s Digest Manuscript Award.  Why bother?  For several reasons.


Without a doubt, the number one reason is an opportunity to be recognized for what I do. If you’ve written for any length of time, you know that writing is a fairly solitary occupation.  It would be nice to have someone say, “Hey, this is good!”  And what better way than through a grant.  Because that’s recognition that comes with a check to help you . .  .


The whole purpose for this grand is to give someone the opportunity to hone a top notch manuscript.  Quite often attending conferences, taking classes, and getting critiques takes money.  The award for this grant is $1000 and that would be a huge help.

Naming Yourself

But more important than either of these is that by applying you are naming yourself A Writer.  Why else would you apply for a writing grant?

The Ann Whitford Paul-Writer’s Digest Manuscript Award is for a single picture book manuscript.  To qualify:

  • You must be an SCBWI member.
  • The manuscript must be under 1000 words.
  • The manuscript cannot be under contract.
  • You must not have sold a picture book manuscript in the last five years.

If this sounds like something you would like to enter, submissions are open from February 1, 2021 through April 10, 2020. To find out where to send your work and to review the rules, click through here.

Even if you don’t need the money to work on your craft, you can use it for anything that will help you develop your manuscript.  This could include research fees or a new laptop.

A lot of writers talk themselves out of applying for grants or residency programs.  Don’t think about why you shouldn’t do it.  You’re a writer!  This is for writers.  Why shouldn’t it be for you?


Three Reasons to Take Advantage of the Creating Books for Change Project

Yesterday I took part in a webinar about the Creating Books for Change Project. In the University of Pittsburgh Attentional Teaching Practices course, education undergraduates learn how to use picture books in the early elementary classroom.  In her work with the students, Dr. Shannon Wanless noticed that they often spotted problems – text or an issue with an illustration – that would derail messages of social justice, equality, or anti-racism.

What if these problems could be fixed before picture book manuscripts and dummies become books?  That is the goal of the Creating Books for Change Project through the University and SCBWI Pennsylvania West.  A select group of picture book authors and illustrators will work via Zoom with students to work out any potential problems in theme/wording/illustration that could make their work less effective.

Why should you take part?

Valuable Feedback

Being able to get our work into the schools is a goal for many in children’s publishing.  But a subtle problem, even an unintentional problem, could keep your book from making it into the classroom.  This program is an opportunity to correct any issues before your work goes to an editor or agent.

Learning Opportunity

This is also an opportunity to learn how your work will be received by others.  Learn from teaching students how young readers are likely to respond to your work.

Personal Growth

Everyone has biases.  If you are at a place where you are willing and able to face your own biases and work to remove them from your creative efforts, this program is an opportunity for personal growth.

Starting on August 1st, SCBWI authors and illustrators can visit the SCBWI Pennsylvania West regional website and fill out the application to take part in this project.  You need to have a dummy or picture book manuscript that is polished. Submissions will be accepted for a week.

If you are interested in this program, check out the Pennsylvania West SCBWI site and see if this project is for you.



A Free Webinar

What is it that inspires authors and illustrators to create stories for young readers?  Sometimes they are inspired by positive events.  But other times they are negative experiences like racism.

On Thursday July 16 at 1:00 pm Pacific, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) is bringing together 10 creators of color to share how racism impacts their work. The event is called Sticks and Stones and includes Crystal Allen, Floyd Cooper, Pat Cummings, Lamar Giles, Rafeal Lopez, Meg Medina, Linda Sue Park, Christian Robinson, Shadra Strickland, and Lisa Yee.

I’ve read Meg Medina’s work as well as that of Lisa Yee, Linda Sue Park, Floyd Cooper and Pat Cummings.  I’ve heard both Linda Sue Park and Lisa Yee speak.  This is sure to be a powerful event.

This event is free to members and nonmembers alike.  You can find out more about it here.


The Most Vital Thing to Include In Your Opening Scene

Today I finished watching Randomhouse Editor Sara Sargent’s digital SCBWI workshop on opening scenes.  I watched it in the hopes understanding why the opening scene in my mystery doesn’t quite work.  I’m still not sure but I also know why.  As Sargent said, finish your novel and then revisit the opening.  I haven’t made it to the end yet so I know what the next step needs to be.

But I did come away with a better understanding of what I need to do for an earlier piece of fiction.  Yay!

Something that Sargent said stuck with me throughout the day and has had me thinking about not only my story but the one I am reading.  What is the most important thing for your reader to know about your character?  As it stands, my fantasy opens with a chase scene because later on a chase scene is pivotal.  Winning it is literally a matter of life and death.

That’s how I justified keeping this scene even when readers questioned it. It mirrors what happens later.  Mirroring!  That’s an advanced technique – right?  Right?!  Maybe it is, but only when it works.  And in this case it doesn’t reveal what is most important about my character.

In addition, I set it up so that you think her friends are pursuing her as in “I’m going to get you, my pretty!”  The reader is well into the scene when it is revealed that it is all a game of chase.  I meant that to be clever but it proved to confuse at least some people.

The scene doesn’t show how important her friends are to her.  And because that is the core of the story it really needs to resonate through out my opening scene.   I don’t know yet exactly what I’m going to do but I have a much better understanding of what this scene needs to accomplish.

Thank you, Sara Sargent!


I Voted!

I voted!  Have you?  Ballots are currently being cast for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Crystal Kites Awards.  And there isn’t even any controversy about casting your ballot electronically!

If you are an SCBWI member, it is time to cast your vote in the Crystal Kite Awards.  For those of you who have not voted before, the Crystal Kites are voted on by your peers, fellow authors and illustrators.  There is an award for each of the SCBWI regional divisions worldwide.

This is Round 1 in the voting which will continue through April 27.  Cast your vote for one book.  The winners in this Round will move on to the Second/Final round.

To vote, just follow these simple steps.

  1. Go to the SCBWI site and log in.  You have to be logged in so this step is important.
  2. Once you have logged in and reached your member profile page, scroll to the bottom of the left hand menu and click on “Vote in the Crystal Kite Awards.”
  3. This will automatically take you to the correct region, thankfully.  I’m in Kansas-Missouri which is (in SCBWI-land) part of the Mid-South.  You can scroll down the page and click on “More Info” to find out additional information on any given book.  You can sort the books by Title, Author Name, or Illustrator Name.
  4. Once you have decided which book you want to vote for, click on the “Vote For This Book” button for the book you have chosen.  You will be asked to confirm you vote and then you simply click “yes” or “no.”

That’s all there is to it.   Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go look over 40 or so different books and cast my vote.  It is so exciting to see so many books that I recognize.


Four Reasons You Want to Be a Member of SCBWI

Do you write or illustrate for children?  Then you really should belong to the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).  Here are four reasons why.

  1. They are here to support industry professionals.  Take advantage of their events and you will learn a lot about the industry.  Sure you can learn some of it elsewhere online but being part of the SCBWI community is a great networking opportunity.  I’ve found out about numerous markets that have led to sales through SCBWI.
  2. This support takes many forms.  Normally they offer a wide variety of workshops, meetings and conferences.  Unfortunately, these have largely been cancelled due to COVID-19.  To offer continued support to their membership, they are offering weekly digital workshops.  The first is this Thursday with Kate Messner.
  3. They want this support to be widespread.  SCBWI’s leadership knows that all 22,000 SCBWI members have been impacted.  There is no way they can hold a workshop with 22,000 members but they can record it and make the video available to everyone so that is what they are doing.  I’ve attended workshops live and I’ve also watched videos later.  I have no qualms about paying for a webinar if I’m busy when it will be held.  The videos are convenient since I can rewind if I didn’t hear something, pause and go get a cup of coffee, or whatever.
  4. They are generous.  These weekly events?  Free.  They are the sort of thing that the organization could make money on but right now they know what everyone needs a little something extra and they are willing to be the ones providing it.

So far they have 8 workshops scheduled:

4/2 Big Picture Revision for Middle Grade and Young Adult Novels with Kate Messner

4/9 Outstanding Openers: How to Grab Young Readers from the Start with Sara Sargent, Random House Editor

4/16  How to Write Children’s Books and Why with Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver

4/23 Book Marketing 101: How to Be Your Own Publicist with Jennifer Vassel

4/30  Page by Page: Breaking Down Picture Book Pagination with Scholastic Editor Kate Feldmann

5/7 Two Art Directors Talking with Laurent Linn and Cecilia Yung

5/14 Using Scene to Build Story with Linda Sue Park (squeee!)

5/21 A Creative Look at the State of Children’s/YA books with agent Marietta Zacker

Find out more about these webinars here.  You can only register the week each webinar is held but you can watch the video for an entire month, assuming you are an SCBWI member.