Membership fees: First time annual fee of $95 (US), annual renewal fee is $80 (US)
Mission: “Our mission is to support the creation and availability of quality children’s books in every region of the world.”
For new and emerging authors, entering the world of publishing can be a daunting experience. So many questions can arise. Do I need an agent? How do I find a publisher? How and where do I sell books? Where do I find an illustrator? What does a marketing plan involve? Websites like Kirkus Writers’ Center and other online communities can be an invaluable resource for finding and exchanging information. But there are also organizations—many of which are nonprofit—dedicated to guiding and assisting unpublished, traditionally published, and independent authors. Many of these organizations tend to be centered on a specific genre. If you’ve ever been interested in writing for children, tweens, or young adults, the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI) might be a good place to start.
SCBWI welcomes “anyone with an interest in children’s literature”—including writers, authors, artists, illustrators, librarians, educators, students (who receive a discount on their membership), filmmakers, and more. Whether you’re interested in writing picture books, early readers, chapter books, middle grade, or even young adult books, this organization offers a wealth of resources in guiding you as you plot, write, edit, and eventually publish and sell your book.
“No matter where you are in your career path—whether you’re just beginning to be an author or illustrator, whether you’re a published author or artist—we welcome you to the SCBWI,” says cofounder Lin Oliver in a video posted to the SCBWI site.
Founded over 40 years ago by Oliver and Steve Mooser, SCBWI has grown into a large organization with thousands of members and over 100 local chapters, spanning the United States and stretching around the world, including Mexico, Canada, the UK, Japan, France, South Africa, and more. While the central organization is run by Oliver, Mooser, and a small staff, each of the chapters operates almost entirely by volunteers.
What this organization offers writers
New and emerging authors usually stand to get the most out of SCBWI. Local chapters provide unique opportunities for writers to meet and support (as well as critique) each other through various events, conferences, and speaking engagements. In short, you can gather with others who share your passion and work, creating a personal and professional network (and often friendships) in what can sometimes be a bewildering and solitary career.
SCBWI holds two major international conferences per year. The summer conference is held in Los Angeles, and the winter conference is held in New York. These events feature keynote speakers from the industry, panels, workshops, and critique services. Similar events are also held by local chapters, which are coordinated and managed almost entirely by volunteer staff. These events can be a fantastic way to meet other authors, compare notes, catch up on the latest industry developments, and even meet face-to-face with agents and editors—giving you the opportunity to chat about your book and potentially set your manuscript on the path to being published.
Member-written publications offer information and guidance about writing and publishing books for kids. The organization’s The Essential Guide to Publishing for Children, which includes directories of both book agents and book reviewers, is a fantastic resource for writers preparing to enter the marketplace. There are also opportunities for authors to have their work critiqued (for a fee) by industry professionals.
Authors can also make full use of the tools and resources that are available online and through SCBWI’s newsletters. Along with information from industry pros, SCBWI also offers podcasts and “masterclasses,” a variety of promotional and marketing tools, and the opportunity for schoolteachers and librarians to find you through the organization’s Speaker’s Bureau. They also sponsor a number of awards (including the prestigious Golden Kite Awards) and offer grants to both new and published authors. Their website hosts an online bookstore for members’ books, as well as an illustrator gallery if you happen to be seeking an illustrator.
Getting the most out of your membership
As with all writers’ organizations, the benefits of membership tend to be a “you get what you put into it” kind of deal. Paying your annual dues isn’t going to immediately land you an agent or a publishing deal. Joining an organization like SCBWI creates opportunities—ones that you need to recognize, then pursue on your own steam. For instance, being able to say you’re a member of SCBWI is unlikely to increase your cache if you happen to be shopping for a publisher or editor. That said, some members assert that attending the organization’s events can be an advantage for authors in terms of ensuring their manuscripts are far more polished; the authors also have a better sense of how to effectively pitch and market their book.
One of the most important things an organization like SCBWI can offer, however, is a sense of community. Through conferences, local chapters, online groups, and even their online boards, new authors can create the friends and support networks that can be life- and career-changing. Whether it’s finding someone to offer you feedback on a new chapter or even sharing the everyday frustrations and victories, fostering a sense of community can help develop both your writing and your mental well-being.