Fuse #8

Monday, October 02, 2006

SCBWI - A Debate

I received this e-mail recently and it raised some issues concerning the SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) that were news to me. I'd be interested in what members of the organization have to say on the topic.
I don't know how much interest you and your readers might have in the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. They put on a conference every year in New York, and another in Los Angeles, at which eminent kids' book people give speeches and workshops, and they have many small local chapters across the country, and a website, and a newsletter. They provide some useful services for people who write and/or illustrate kids' books, and for people who are interested in trying to throw their hats into the overcrowded ring. But there is also something about this organization that has always irked me. One would assume, from the name, that it is a professional organization, like the American Medical Association, or the American Library Association -- that is, a non-profit organization that was founded by members of that profession, and answerable to them. But the SCBWI is a private business. It has a "President" and an "Executive Director," titles which suggest a democratic structure. But none of the "members" ever gets to vote for or against these two people (Steve Mooser and Lin Oliver). From what I can determine, they are simply the owners of the business. They seem to me like essentially benevolent people, with a genuine interest in kids' books. But they also, like most of us, are not without their own self-interest, and this leads one to wonder about the motivation for some of their activities. But even if all of the policies of the SCBWI were beyond reproach, it seems to me that there is something essentially deceptive about asking people to pay $60 a year for membership (and another $300 or so to go to one of the conferences) in what sounds like a professional organization, but in fact is closer to being something like Arthur Murray's School of Dance.
They go on to say...
I have been a member of SCBWI for about 15 years. Initially, I didn't think very much about the structure of the organization, but assumed that it was a non-profit organization, presumably with a board elected by the membership. But then, after several years, I realized that I was never asked to vote for anything, and that the "President" and "Executive Director" never seemed to change. There is a "Board of Advisors," but it is not clear if they have any real authority over things like how much the President and Executive director get paid. I suspect that they just give their opinions about more peripheral issues, like the categories for awards, or whether there should be more attention paid to illustrators as opposed to writers, and things of that nature. A few months ago I raised my misgivings about this issue on a listserv of kids' book illustrators to which I belong. Someone else posted in reply that the SCBWI was registered as a for-profit corporation in California. Someone else replied that they had had some dealings with Steve Mooser, the President, and that he was a great guy, and deserved to get paid for his work. I replied that I agreed that the organization did much that was worthwhile, but that I nonetheless had the feeling that there was something deceptive about its self-presentation. This presentation seemed to suggest that it was a conventional professional organization, when in fact, I had come to suspect, it was simply a business. I thought I would try to resolve the question more definitely by writing an email to SCBWI. I said that the exact structure of the organization had become a topic of discussion at a kids' book listserv I belonged to, and I asked them to clarify the issue. Were they, in fact, simply a privately-owned business? How was the compensation of the paid officials decided? Were the financial records available for members to see? My email was never answered. A few weeks later I had occasion to email them again, about a trivial matter of eligibility for some award. The email was answered the following day.

Well, what difference does it really make, I suppose someone could ask. If the website makes useful information available to members, and you can see interesting panel discussions among well-known editors and authors at their conferences, who cares if the thing was organized democratically or is run by people who, although autocratic, seem to know what they are doing? Firstly, I think if an organization is deceptive about one thing, it is likely to be deceptive about other things as well. I also think that, ideally, the SCBWI should exist to represent the interests of writers and illustrators of children's books. But if they are simply a privately-owned company this raises the possibility that an interest in profitability might on occasion come into conflict with an interest in what is best for the membership. In fact, it seems questionable whether you dues make you a "member" in the commonly accepted sense, or just a customer. And lastly, if there is something that someone doesn't want me to know, that makes me want to know it.
Prior to the creation of this blog, I hadn't even heard of SCBWI, let alone had any opinion on their structure. However, I am aware that many of you out there do pay attention to it and may have some opinions on the matter. More interesting to me, however, would be the thoughts of those of you who do NOT belong for one reason or another. How are we to take all of this?


At 7:54 AM , Blogger Kelly said...

Interesting question, Fuse. I'll be interested in the replies.

Most professional organizations I belong to for my day job are non-profit and the boards are elected and officers unpaid. $60 is cheap for professional organization dues. $300 is about average for conference dues, maybe a little bit high.

I've never felt the need to belong to SCWBI. So, you can put their name on the envelope when submitting manuscripts? Though they claim it makes a big difference, I'm skeptical.

At 8:16 AM , Blogger Jennifer Armstrong said...

I used to be a member, but quit after it became clear that the organization wasn't particularly responsive to the needs of its members. It does a good job for newbies, but when I tried to organize events for professional development I was stonewalled. When I realized it just didn't have anything to offer me as an established children's book author I bowed out. My dues got me a newsletter that I didn't need, and the opportunity to attend conferences that had pretty much nothing to offer to a professional. I hasten to say that this was over ten years ago, and they may have changed their offerings by now, but it was obvious to me that 'members' could take what was offered or leave it.

At 9:13 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

My quick glance at the organization confirms Jen Armstrong's view. I thought I might go to a regional conference near me, but if you already have an agent and/or a book contract, there really isn't much you'd get out of it. The organization really seems to be aimed at those who want to pitch ideas and get critiqued by professionals, and that ain't me.

At 9:44 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've heard these criticisms before, and though I've been a member for about four years, I am not sure what to think. I expect there is some validity to most of the points your correspondent has raised, but I don't have enough information to feel certain; of course, that's part of the problem--that the information doesn't seem to be readily available.

I am an active volunteer on the regional level and I find my experience satisfactory in every respect. But I do think it has to do with the fact that my region is very strong; we have a great annual conference as well as smaller craft-oriented workshops. However, if my region weren't so strong, I don't know how I'd feel.

I think in the last few years they've tried to be more responsive to the needs of book-published members but there's room for progress.

The biggest problem I have is that the perception by some who join that SCBWI gives you some sort of "in" -- there's anecdotal evidence that belonging to SCBWI has helped some people sell their manuscripts (through manuscript calls, conference networking, etc.) but it's debatable whether or not those sales would have been made anyway. The cream rises to the top, so I would assume that a good mss would find a home regardless of the writer's membership in SCBWI.

At 10:31 AM , Blogger Elizabeth O Dulemba said...

Hm. Well, I've been a member for about five years now, and I've found it to be very helpful to me. I have heard the argument that it is better for beginners than established authors, and I would tend to agree with that. But there also seem to be levels of participation depending on where you are in your career. For instance, when I was starting, SCBWI was invaluable for teaching me about submitting manuscripts correctly, who to submit to, how the business works, etc.

I'm a little farther along now (published) and give talks and do portfolio reviews at some of my local chapters' conferences (which are more around the $150 range - it's the two biggies that cost more, LA and NY). I've contributed several illustrations and a few articles to the newsletter too. I do feel like it's increased my visibility and opened doors for me, as well as given me good situations to hone my speaking skills (which I use for my book signings and school visits). We'll see how I feel about it after more books. Although, I will always feel like they were a good thing for me and will return the favor with my support.

I think the biggest contribution the organization makes is for editors, though. By educating people, submissions are more professional, making the slush-piles a bit more bearable (I hope). Knowledge is a powerful thing.

I do worry that it encourages people to continue trying to break into an already full market. I know of many people who put a lot on the line to break in even though the odds are enormously against them. The question is, would they be doing it anyway?

Anyhow, in my opinion, I give the SCBWI two thumbs up.

At 11:13 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've been a member of SCBWI for maybe 15 years, feeling ambivalent most of that time. It's not terribly useful for published authors, though some of the bigger chapters (Illinois included) are becoming more vocally aware of that. But it's a supportive environment for new writers, and authors don't have offices near other authors and water-coolers around which we can congregate. We need a way to meet each other.

The more subtle issue that no one has mentioned so far is the extent to which unpolished writers are being encouraged by SCBWI events to submit their manuscripts to editors. In that respect, the slush pile that "e" suggests is being honed by SCBWI may instead be getting slushier because of SCBWI. The regional events are geared heavily toward instruction on how to properly submit manuscripts; but with less attention to craft, that means very green writers are getting the tools to submit before they're ready. This brings up a troubling thought: if you tie together the fact that the programs are most often geared toward very new writers who are eager to be published with the fact that SCBWI is for-profit, there's an incentive to keep re-freshing that market of hopeful green writers by hosting events that encourage them to submit their work.

A laissez-fare economist might say that if the quality of SCBWI authors is bad, the editors will figure that out and stop attending SCBWI conferences. On the other hand, it's the only game in town if you're looking for new writers.

At 12:42 PM , Blogger Esme Raji Codell said...

This article irks me somewhat, simply because it is based on a big assumption. Why did the author assume that it was a not-for-profit? And why did s/he assume it was run a certain way? When I first joined SCBWI a few years back, I figured it was some sort of a private club to which I would pay membership, and I would get some newsletters and opportunities to go to meetings and meet other members, and if it wasn't worth my while, I could stop paying dues. Like a club, the more I would put into it, the more I would get out of it. With those expectations, I was not disappointed. As someone who has run a for-profit literary endeavor myself and doesn't have people voting on the decisions I make, I don't feel that necessarily negates what I am able to contribute to my community, and the same goes for SCBWI. If someone feels a not-for-profit is needed and could surpass SCBWI in serving the novice writing community, I think they should go ahead and start one.

In the end, you don't need to join any organization to get published, and hopefuls should know that, but SCBWI has other things to offer. I am not a big "joiner," but I must say, the Illinois network has been oustanding. The regional newletter has kept me informed about the publishing industry in ways I could not have anticipated, and I look forward to every issue. The SCBWI regional listserv has connected me to a real family of writers and illustrators, published and otherwise, who truly celebrate each other's work and life in general...real friends. Writing can be a very isolating craft, so I don't take this lightly. I learned a lot and met a number of editors at the New York conference, and it was one of the most enjoyable conferences I have ever attended...if it wasn't a professional conference, you sure could have fooled me.

I don't mean to get snotty, and there are some valid points raised, especially about people submitting before they are ready...but is that the fault of Lin and Stephen? I would hope their efforts to bring us together as a group would not be undermined by the fact that some people run with the information before they should have heard the starting gun, or that, G-d forbid, someone in the book business is being paid. I think the e-mail suggests that something deceptive is going on, but there is nothing specific cited (apart from the confusion about what it means to be a professional organization), so it comes off as sort of unnecessarily accusatory (and part of the fun of a privately-owned business is you don't have to deal with accusatory people, which is why the calls might not have been returned). Personally, I don't consider something a rip-off until I feel ripped off, which I do not in the case of SCBWI, and I guess I fall in the "what difference does it make" camp because when I really want to vote in this country in a way that makes a difference, I vote with my dollar and my time, not my raised hand.

At 12:45 PM , Blogger Saints and Spinners said...

I used to belong to my local chapter of SCBWI, but I think I joined because I thought I was supposed to join if I was a serious writer. (As it turned out, I was more of a silly writer than a serious one.)

We had some good speakers come in (David Shannon, Brent Hartinger, Peg Kehret), but the questions in the audience boiled down to, "What's the magic spell I need to know to get my work published?"

Once I dropped out of SCBWI and stopped worrying about having publish-worthy material, I started to enjoy writing again. The whole time I was a member of the SCBWI local chapter, my favorite part of attending the meetings was going out with a friend of mine beforehand to eat Ethiopian food.

At 12:46 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have been a member of SCBWI for six years and I can't say enough about how valuable my membership has been. It was through Illinois SCBWI workshops and contacts that I was able to make a successful career change from teaching to educational publishing. I am now a full time writer and editor, thanks to SCBWI. I would also add that a result of my participation in SCBWI workshops is that I have made fewer submissions to (trade) editors than I would have otherwise, because I am much more careful to polish my work and research the market now than I was before joining SCBWI.

At 12:55 PM , Blogger Sara Z. said...

SCBWI's value for unpublished authors vs. published authors has been a source of internal (among members) debate and complaint for awhile. It seems like some of the regional chapters are doing great things for writers at various stages, but at the national level it's an ongoing issue. My membership is up for renewal now and I'm not sure what to do. On one hand, maybe staying can help change the situation, but maybe I'd be better off putting my membership dues toward the Authors Guild.

I hadn't thought about the structure of the organization in relation to all this...

At 1:24 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think there is also a lot of variance in what the regional chapters do. From other writer friends, I hear wonderful things about the Illinois and New England chapters. Those two seem to offer something to writers and illustrators of all levels; other chapters, not so much (i.e. I think the New York City chapter is geared very much towards new writers and think there are other ways to network in this city since so many editors/agents/publishing types LIVE here, too).

At 1:35 PM , Blogger Don Tate II said...

I've been a member, on and off, for at least 12 years, or more. I guess, I figured it was a professional organization like AIGA (for graphic designers), or Society of Illustrators. Had never even questioned it, but this letter is interesting. I attended a SCBWI conference this summer. Whatever it is, it's some of the best money I've invested in my career. That said, if it is a private business, wish I had thought it up first.

At 2:43 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

As someone who has worked in a variety of children's publishing houses, I can tell you that writing SCBWI on the front of your submission has no impact on how your MS will be reviewed. Publishers know that people become members of SCBWI because they pay dues, not because they have proven themselves to be quality writers or illustrators. Editorial assistants only give preferential treatment to agented manuscripts or work submitted by known authors. Everything else is just slush.

At 2:46 PM , Blogger Kim / POWER OF RUN said...

I have been an SCBWI member for about three years and am on the advisory committe in my state. While the writer makes some valid points, I believe SCBWI is like any other organization--professional, social or spiritual--to which a person may belong: you get out of it what you put into it.

It took some time for me to join SCBWI because my region was relatively inactive when I first started looking into it. I went to a meeting and joined a critique group. Then, I got involved and started making this organization what *I* wanted it to be.

My SCBWI membership has been valuable to me. While I'm still working to become published, I don't anticipate leaving my group behind once I am published.

Of course, not joining is an option. In this case, I prefer another option--become involved and help shape the group so that it is useful to newbies and pros alike!

At 3:14 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi - no time to read and actually comment intelligently right now, but just found you and wanted to say Hi! And hey, I used to work at Central children's Room too! Say hi to John and Leslie for me... (I understand Jeanne has moved on?)


At 10:13 PM , Blogger J. L. Bell said...

I've been a member of SCBWI for well over a decade, a volunteer organizer in New England for [oh, dear] six years.

I agree that SCBWI has more to offer a beginner than a professional. That's because most beginners have the same questions and make the same mistakes while most professionals are facing challenges unique to their own work and careers. I've seen the organization try hard to serve both constituencies. Many professional writers and illustrators find SCBWI useful for the camaraderie, the ongoing contacts, and the chance to help others. But not every group is for every person.

I've heard SCBWI president Steve Mooser speak to assembled conferees of trying to cut down publishers' slush piles. How? By helping people improve their submissions, target the right presses, etc. The root of the slush pile problem is the photocopier, not SCBWI. Some editors will invite submissions from people they meet or speak to at SCBWI conferences; they see that attendance as a sign of commitment, not necessarily talent.

Like other commenters above, I think the initial message to Fuse #8 started with a faulty assumption: that SCBWI is a non-profit organization. Well, it's not. As far as I know, it's not very profitable, either. Someone who wants a non-profit organization for children's-book writers can start one. (Warning: It took 30 years for SCBWI to grow to its present size.) SCBWI now has a non-profit wing, whose primary current use seems to be to collect donations for the Amber Brown fund, named in memory of SCBWI supporter Paula Danziger.

Finally, when I see the initial correspondent write, "if there is something that someone doesn't want me to know, that makes me want to know it," that makes me want to know why these valid issues were raised anonymously.

At 10:46 PM , Blogger Nancy said...

this is an interesting discussion... thanks for starting it

At 11:03 PM , Blogger fusenumber8 said...

I should note that the poster is anonymous due to my wish to list their comments without bringing any undue attention to the person who wrote them. The thoughts are not my own but I felt they were perfectly valid and worth discussing, as you lovely people have done to the hilt. But what on earth is wrong with someone posting such a query anonymously? Is this, to your mind, never a good idea? I don't see the problem and obviously it has set up a lively and interesting debate. It is one thing for someone to post a comment that is offensive to others anonymously. It is another thing entirely to ask a question that has been praying on one's mind and not want the whole of cyberspace knocking at your door.

At 11:22 PM , Blogger tanita✿davis said...

Wow! I see I've come in on this one late. My two cents is that I agree -- writing can be really lonely and isolating, and I have appreciated the people I've met through SCBWI - not that I ever had the nerve to actually open up my mouth and speak to anyone at a Conference, but just knowing that others were struggling as I was was heartening to the extreme. In the early years, I took lots of notes, and listened closely. Now that I am published, I haven't been to a Conference for about three years... I periodically let my membership lapse, etc., based on how broke I am, but it's good to know that they're there as a resource to which I can direct my students and other beginning writers.

Thanks for having this chat! It really has brought up a lot of good points.

At 11:57 PM , Blogger J. L. Bell said...

No one's said there's anything "wrong" in someone using Fuse #8 to air complaints about SCBWI. Nor should there be anything "wrong" in wondering about the reason for that person's anonymity.

I repeat my repetition of the correspondent's own statement: "if there is something that someone doesn't want me to know, that makes me want to know it." Or does that curiosity apply only one way?

I know there are organizations so ruthless and powerful that people who question them need protective anonymity. I just never thought of SCBWI falling into that category. Then again, I never thought of it as "deceptive"; not having made assumptions about its structure that turned out to be wrong, I never felt deceived.

I agree with the original writer that having more information out in the open is better. That's why I stated my links to SCBWI in my first response, and post under my own name. I still can't help seeing irony in a complaint about lack of information that's aired in a way to provide minimal information.

At 12:15 AM , Blogger fusenumber8 said...

Ah! I see what you mean now. Lack o' info = same thing going on here. Gotcha. It originally sounded to me as if you disapproved of the idea of anonymity itself. I was worried that I'd receive criticism for future anonymous postings leading to debates like the one going on right now.

At 12:39 AM , Blogger Greg Pincus said...

Fuse -- I see no problem with anonymity for comments in general, but I do see a problem with starting a conversation from the leaping off point you chose to let this one start with. Particularly since "asking a question" is not solely what the letter writer does -- he or she questions the motivations of specifically named individuals. That's not just a question, is it? I think that's why folks would like a name put to it. (And for all we know, you had that name and chose not to print it, which is actually my guess.)

Anyway, for starters in pointing out how wrong this initial salvo is for a starting point... I've never, ever seen SCBWI advertise as non-profit. Have you? Has anyone? In fact, before I paid my membership the first time, I checked what I was paying for. Novel, I know. Let me ask you, would you start a discussion about the ACLU if I said, "did you know they sometimes support really controversial positions? Why wasn't I informed?" 'Caveat emptor' shouldn't have to be repeated so often, but it obviously remains unlearned. You can be angry with yourself for not researching, but you can't be angry with others for your own ignorance, at least not as as a starting point for an informed conversation.

Second point: smearing people with the innuendo of "conflict of interest" without raising a specific example or even a scenario where it specifically could exist certainly passes for debate in political circles these days, but I think that's a pretty low bar to set for the start of a conversation. Give specifics, and it's a conversation worth having. Without specifics, it's "have you stopped beating your wife?" time.

Third off: it's lovely that the author of the letter thinks the SCBWI should exist for a specific purpose. Again, if the author had done due diligence, s/he'd've found out exactly what the SCBWI exists for, then either chosen to join, chosen not to, or started or found an organization that fulfilled the desired mission. Now, to say that the SCBWI doesn't do their stated mission, backed with facts that show it, is a very different thing. For all I know, that might be the case, but the letter writer surely doesn't offer anything to back the that argument up, instead using his or her own assumptions as the sole ammunition.

I could go on deconstructing the letter, but then that would totally bury the valid issues that have come up in the comments and which underly some of the letter writer's initial questions. In full disclosure, I volunteer within SCBWI, and live in a very active region, full of events for all level writer. But honestly, none of that has anything to do with the points I'm raising in this comment. (Though it will inform any comment when I yakk about other questions that have come up.)

I don't doubt the author's sincerity and good intentions, but as a writer myself, I resent the use of implication, assumption, and suspicion to paint with a broad brush. That's easy stuff, but not debate.

At 9:57 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

"A laissez-fare economist might say that if the quality of SCBWI authors is bad, the editors will figure that out and stop attending SCBWI conferences. On the other hand, it's the only game in town if you're looking for new writers."

Elizabeth, don't editors get paid to attend?

At 10:27 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

(Oops, I misspelled the "faire" in "laissez faire." Je m'excuse!

Yes, editors are paid to attend, but it's a pittance, and always an inconvenience in time and energy. The editors I've spoken with at these events all say they're there to discover new talent. As someone mentioned above, the editors view attendance at these events to be a signal of seriousness on the writers' parts.

I also want to add that the writers who organize and attend SCBWI conferences are to a person genuinely kind, helpful, and supportive. It's a nice way to meet other authors and good human beings. I don't attend many events now, but I have found a core group of writing buddies largely through SCBWI.

Finally, I have always assumed that Lin, Stephen, and the entire LA staff don't have enormous incomes from this endeavor, in spite of the fact that it's for-profit. But the numbers would be kind of fun to know -- just out of curiosity.

At 11:24 AM , Blogger Disco Mermaids said...

To add to the question about editors being paid to be there, yes, they are...but only if they're on the faculty. Every year there are many editors and agents in attendance who are not on the faculty. And that's one of the reasons I love SCBWI. There are so many opportunities to meet people on the inside as long as you're not afraid to use that opportunity.

- Jay

At 11:42 AM , Blogger Meghan McCarthy said...

I joined last year and didn't renew. It is almost USELESS for published members. Most of what they offer is for unpublished folks. It would be great if they would offer more things on marketing, school visits, etc., but they never do. Sure, the 60 bucks is a tax write off but that's about all I got out of it. I tried asking about introducing more stuff for published members on the board but didn't get much of a response. Sigh.

I'm very interested in this post. How much do the head people make? I do think it's crazy that non members can go to the conferences for not that much difference in price. And it's crazy that members have to pay ANOTHER fee to get a manuscript or portfolio reviewed. What are they doing with all the money they make? If they use it to pay the speakers then that makes sense... but is that where all the money goes? The contributors of the newsletter don't get any pay at all (as far as I can recall)


At 11:52 AM , Blogger Meghan McCarthy said...

I should also add that I don't mind that SCBWI is for profit... BUT if it is then I expect MORE! I didn't get it so out I went. I would gladly rejoin if I thought it would be beneficial to me. How about a good health care package?


At 12:43 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have been a member of SCBWI for about 4 years and in that time learned a ton and made some great friends and contacts. I feel I was very fortunate to be part of the Illinois chapter for most of those years -- this is a chapter that I believe should serve as an example of what SCBWI should be to its members. They continually offer a variety of programs thoughout the state many of which I believe would appeal to published authors (including school visits and breaking into new markets, etc). I personally helped man the SCBWI -IL booth at the Illinois Reading Council in Springfield where we prominently displayed the books of published Illinois members, handed out an informational booklet about planning school visits and offered a chance for authors to sign their books at the booth. This was a terrific publicity opportunity since the majority of attendees were teachers from Illinois and surrounding states. There is also a terrific speakers' directory on the Illinois website which helps to promote published authors. It seems to me that this chapter does its best to pay attention to the needs of all of its members, and could spark ideas in those wanting to improve their own chapters.

Luckily, when my family recently moved to Houston, I immediately checked the national website and found a fantastic crit group which welcomed me with open arms. There is also quite a bit of regional programming throughout Texas that seems directed to both craft AND the business side of children's writing and publishing.

My one question about the set-up of the organization is the staggering amount of volunteer hours that need to go into a successful chapter. I have no problem with the fact that this is a for-profit organization, and definitely think that the administators should be paid. I am, however, wondering if there is ever any compensation, especially for the regional advisors. I can think of several people (most of them published authors) who I think deserve HUGE bonuses for volunteer hours served! Maybe they do receive something?? I'm not sure.

Interesting thread -- now back to writing!


At 1:36 PM , Blogger Sara Z. said...

My one question about the set-up of the organization is the staggering amount of volunteer hours that need to go into a successful chapter.

Well, that's the thing. It sounds like a lot of people who are saying they find SCBWI really useful live in an area with a great, active, organized chapter. The regions are totally personed by volunteers. Why can't national, with an actual budget, do more? It's great if I volunteer locally and get some good resources, but then what am I really getting for being a member if it just turns out to be a volunteer organization that I'm paying to belong to? I'm really not dissing - I've been a paying member for years and I support the concept. But these things have been issues for a long time and it seems they are never satisfactorily addressed. I would pay gladly pay higher dues if I saw some change in the right direction.

At 1:41 PM , Blogger Greg Pincus said...

Gloria (I say as I salsa), I would note that at this year's Summer Conference, I went to a session on school visits and another on marketing. So it's not non-existent, though I think it's obviously an area where more can be done (particularly on the local-er level).

But I think, again, this whole conversation goes back to expectations. To me, children's publishing is a business, so I expect certain expenses. The SCBWI Summer Conference, which one can attend whether member or not, is the best investment of money I've ever made in my career. I have learned some craft, sure. I've been entertained, sure. I've heard business stuff, too. But more than anything, I've made relationships... the very lifeblood of any business. It doesn't make a difference to me if my fees are lining someone's pockets -- the Conference delivers exactly what is advertised to me.

So, folks can view SCBWI or any organization strictly by their defined membership benefits, and then run the math as to whether it's worth it. But for me, well, one relationship made (from my very first conference!) led to my deal being with Arthur Levine as opposed to someone else. Other relationships allowed me to get in touch with incredibly established writers and ask advice. And I fully expect other relationships I make now and in the future to lead directly to good things (as defined by ME, not by SCBWI or anyone else). And yes, I already see many relationships that will help me when I am published, in many, many ways. And, I'd note, I've found many ways to give back to the folks who've helped me... including published authors.

So, each year I do the mental math, and I find that my membership in SCBWI is sending money to an organization that facilitates something incredibly useful for me. I also happen to like the community of people who congregate around the kidbook world, so I keep coming back for more. Each person has to decide whether $60 a year is worth it (particularly since, as noted, non-members can enroll in conferences or come to (free) Schmoozes, etc). But I think looking only at the specific, defined benefits or specific panel topics is only part of the equation.

At 3:08 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Could you editors out there weigh in? You can do it anonymously. Pretty please?

At 3:45 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

JOHN HODGMAN, Former Professional Literary Agent once wrote that "the money has never been in authors, I realize now--it's in writers."


At 4:37 PM , Blogger Elizabeth Bunce said...

I'm a member, and I remember well when these issues were first, very thoughtfully, brought up (about 3 years ago). Not much has changed in terms of what information trickles down from the top.

But, I'm intrigued by the complaint that SCBWI doesn't act like other professional organizations. My husband is a member of 3 state Bar Associations, as well as the American Bar Association. He has no choice in this matter--if he wants to practice law in a state, he has to belong. In ten years, we've received NO benefits from any of these organizations (unless we wanted member discounts on car insurance or credit cards). We get (counting...) 5 newsletters and magazines that we don't need. From all evidence I've seen, Bar Associations do not serve their in-house counsel members in any meaningful way. They are geared, universally, toward trial lawyers. So I hardly think SCBWI is alone in its members feeling that their particular interests are not being served.

I've certainly gotten more value out of my (completely optional) SCBWI membership than my husband has out of his Bar Associations. As other posters have said, you do get out of it what you put into it--and I put into it, fully aware of the issues we're discussing. I find the fellowship with other authors to be the real value of the organization--but that can be had with *any* writers' group with a dedicated and active membership. I think that SCBWI succeeds best because of its national/international web presence, which brings writers together for a wider perspective than can be had locally.

I am also on the advisory board of a local writers' organization--and despite all our efforts, we still find that the ONLY CONTENT that gets any response is beginner content. We've tried hosting events for advanced/professional writers, but no one seems to know what this content needs to be.

I also attempted to write an article recently on networking for writers at all stages of their careers. I interviewed several agents, editors, and writers. All had lots to say about what beginners could/should do... but when we got to intermediate and more advanced writers, they ran out of advice.

I understand the exodus of membership as writers begin to achieve success in this field... but I would ask how an organization is to serve professional writers, if those members 1.) Leave and 2.) Don't express what content they need. It's obvious what help newbies need... but for the rest of us, we have to be the ones who make those needs known.

At 5:07 PM , Blogger alvinaling said...

I always recommend that aspiring authors join SCBWI, because, as most everyone has said, it's a great organization for beginners, and members will at least know the nuts and bolts about submitting--the etiquette and little courtesies that make our job reviewing submissions a bit easier. However, I would agree with Anon's post that having "SCBWI" on the outside of the envelope makes absolutely no difference in how we evaluate a manuscript. And an unsolicited ms from an SCBWI member is still unsolicited.

I also enjoy going to conferences to speak, and yes, it does pay (more than a pittance, when you consider an editor's salary!). I've never actually signed up anyone I've met at a conference, however, but I've made great contacts and I'm always open to the possibility that it will happen eventually. I do try to limit myself to two conferences a year, because all of the manuscripts really pile up after I go. The question that Elizabeth raised as to whether SCBWI increases or decreases slush is an interesting one--but I can't really weigh in: since my house is a closed one, it only increases my "slush" when I attend a conference. And if it got to be too much, I'd stop going.

I'd never considered whether it was non-profit or for-profit, and I would have to agree to a certain extent that it doesn't really matter, as long as the organization is not being misleading, and as long as people feel they are getting their money's worth.

I have a question--are the regional advisors being paid?

I guess I've said a lot of nothing here, but thought I'd respond to the request that editors respond since I've been following the discussion with interest.

At 5:27 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi everyone,

This is Lin Oliver and Steve Mooser and we've been following your comments about the SCBWI and thought we should set the record straight. First of all, the SCBWI was founded by us 35 years ago, and for the first 30 years, we ran it as volunteers, contributing all of our time, energy, and often personal resources---at no salary. Several years ago the organization became so large that we were compelled to give up much of the time each of us spent earning a living as writers (and in Lin's case, as a producer of children's TV and film). When that happened, we began to take a salary, but each of us still remains active as writers. Steve published two chapter books last year with Grosset, and Lin writes a best-selling series with Henry Winkler and another series on her own for Simon and Schuster. We also have gradually hired a small staff of devoted employees. We have seven people in the SCBWI executive office, an amazingly slim staff given the volume of work we produce.

Despite our many programs that offer help and support to the children's community, the SCBWI has never been a non-profit organization, nor have we ever represented it to be.

About 35% of our members are published, and we are working very hard to add programs that serve them. Notice, for example, the newly established professional tracks at all our national conferences, the cash awards just recently attached to the Golden Kite, and the regional grants to fund programs for the professional illustrator membership.

We truly believe that our national conferences are professional enough for any published author or illustrator to attend and benefit from. Do you really believe that because you have published,you therefore have nothing to learn from Katherine Paterson or Susan Cooper, two of our New York keynote speakers? Between Steve and me, we have published over 80 children's books, and we look forward to the speakers at every conference, and to the wisdom, both in craft and marketing, that they can convey.

We are always looking for new ways to serve our professional membership, and we welcome your ideas. We answer all emails promptly that are addressed to us. Please let us hear from you directly.

We take great pride in the fact that there are hundreds of writers and illustrators whose careers have been launched by SCBWI. Just at the last LA conference alone, for example, one editor was assigned ten manuscripts to read---and she has already bought two of them and asked to see six others. It really does make a difference to belong to SCBWI, and we know that because editors and art directors who participate in our events tell us how much they appreciate the professional knowledge and attitude that our members bring to their submissions and their careers. For any editor who speaks at our national conferences, it is a requirement that they be open to SCBWI participant submissions for several months after the conference. They all know this and agree to these terms. New editors who are establishing their lists regularly call us to appear at regional conferences around the country. They want to solicit their authors and illustrators from SCBWI members.

We hope we've answered some of your concerns. We are always available by email to hear your thoughts.

Lin Oliver and Steve Mooser

At 6:31 PM , Blogger J. L. Bell said...

As to this question (well, fervent value judgment and question) about critiques: And it's crazy that members have to pay ANOTHER fee to get a manuscript or portfolio reviewed. What are they doing with all the money they make? If they use it to pay the speakers then that makes sense... but is that where all the money goes?

More than half of an SCBWI conference critique fee goes to the editor, art buyer, agent, or other professional who does the critique. The rest goes to the conference to help bring those people in and organize the session.

I once calculated how much a conference took in from critique fees, and it didn't cover the critiquers' hotel rooms, meals, and transportation cost. But many people won't attend conferences without a chance to sit down with an editor or other professional, so we continue to arrange them.

In my eyes (or rather, in a little painful spot right behind them), critiques are the biggest headache in organizing a conference. People are putting their work on the line. They want to be discovered. There's the extra cost. So critiques bring up a lot of emotion.

Overall, the biggest costs for a regional SCBWI conference are the food and the speakers/critiquers. Most of the registration fees go right into one of those buckets. It's like a wedding, with Newbery winners instead of a band.

At 7:56 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love the cliche "pay it forward". I think the meetings and newsletters are a way published authors can help wannabe authors. I think everyone has had a mentor who has been a member. If it feel good, join. Quit when you're done. And restart if you miss it.

At 11:08 PM , Blogger Meghan McCarthy said...

Thank you to those of you in the know who chose to respond. I don't mean to criticize what SCBWI does at all and of course I ALWAYS love hearing authors and illustrators give talks. Perhaps I'm more critical because I'm co president of a small children's book illustrators group and we arrange portfolio reviews once a year and also have regular meetings where we get editors and art directors to talk. The fee per year is 25 dollars (I volunteer to find these speakers/reviewers myself). There are other organizations that offer free lectures if you look for them. I'm not saying that SCBWI should only have volunteers. On the contrary! Such a huge organization needs to pay the people who do the work. But again, I still don't think it offers enough. The conference fee is too high for me to attend and when I have attended, I got nothing out of it. Has SCBWI thought about offering a conference JUST for published authors? No newbie questions allowed? How about getting some publicists to come talk?... workshops that help authors get their work out there... marketing folks also have some good tricks they could share...etc.

Those are my thoughts. I hope no one takes offense!


At 12:08 AM , Blogger fusenumber8 said...

Actually, Meghan, that was something I was wondering about as well. I'm not a member but I'd love to stop by a conference sometime to see how it works. The person who wrote the e-mail to me suggested I do as much. Then I remember that I'm a librarian without much in the way of a disposable income and that little plan ah-flutters out the window. I take it non-writer librarian representation (not including speakers) is paltry at best. Could someone please correct me on this matter?

At 12:42 AM , Blogger Sara Z. said...

I think it's great that the LA conference has a professional track, but to me it would make more sense to have the NY conference have a professional track. I can only afford one of them per year, and I go to the NY one because I can combine it with meeting with my agent and editor. NY is the motherland of publishing, and there are so many wonderful writers and industry people right there who could speak to people on the pro track, and not have to be flown to LA and put up in hotels...it just seems like a no-brainer to me, practically and financially speaking.

Anyway, I appreciate this discussion and all the different perspectives. When I was more active on the SCBWI message boards and we tried to have this conversation, it felt like the people in the "aspiring to" category reacted in the manner of: "Why would you pick on this wonderful organization"..."if you don't like it, leave"..."do you think you're better than us just because you're published?..." etc. I don't know. There's definitely a divide among the members, and the sincere attempts of published members to voice concerns in the member forum were not met with the most productive discussion. That's how I perceived it all, anyway.

Now I'm thinking I should stick around the org and be more vocal about this stuff so I can stop complaining on someone else's blog!

At 4:44 AM , Blogger Laura Atkins said...

Just a few quick things. When I was an editor, while it's true that having SCBWI on the envelope didn't make a difference, I did generally notice a difference in submissions from people in writer's groups. Having others critique one's work and having to self-edit before submitting meant I was reading something at a higher level. So if someone is part of SCBWI and takes advantage of things like that, then I think it is certainly helpful.

And, as someone who runs conferences, I know how very expensive it is (someone else posted about the costs of accommodation, travel, etc.). So what can seem like a high fee to attend is almost always absorbed by the many costs involved. At least in my experience, running children's literature conferences is not a high-profit industry.

I think it's great that SCBWI exists. The British Isles branch run an array of lectures and events which always look impressive (too far for me to attend so far). For-profit or not doesn't really matter to me, as long as they don't present themselves as some sort of charity. And it seems they offer a great deal that is valuable to many people.

At 9:34 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have always thought of SCBWI as a club I choose to buy membership in. Their dues are more than reasonable (actually low by some standards), and the conferences have provided some genuine guidance and inspiration--not the least of which has been getting some insight as to what goes on inside an editor's head.

I always assumed that the group was more or less profitable. It had to be to sponsor such well attended conferences and attract such dynamic speakers. It is true that as a seasoned illustrator the conferences usually offer less for me, but as a new writer they are tremendously valuable.

If they make money, all well and good. That means they will thrive as an organization, and that they'll continue to attract even more wonderful speakers and the services they provide will get even better.

Besides, SCBWI gves me a great excuse to treat myself to a trip to NY at least once a year "for professional reasons."

At 10:24 AM , Blogger Grace Lin said...

This has been really interesting. I'm also a member of SCBWI and fairly seasoned in the industry. I really appreciate SCBWI for bringing together our community --people who are passionate about creating children's books; and this is something that is truly important in our isolated worlds (where most people think a newbery is a fresh fruit).

But I would have to agree with Sara about the SCBWI divide. At one point, I tried to be more a part of the SCBWI boards but when I posted a question the responses I received were inadequate for my needs. I think they are so used to newbies that they think everyone is, so even professional questions are answered that way.

It was at that point I decided to abandon SCBWI as an informational source and to use it simply for comraderie. However, this post is kind of opening my eyes. I'm starting to think maybe it would be better to try to be part of the solution.

At 11:09 AM , Blogger mbpbooks said...

My two cents (or two paisa): I used to walk into SCBWI conferences and feel like a brown, brown, brown island in an ocean of white faces. But it was important for me to be connected with so many others who shared a love of books and a desire to serve kids of all cultures. The weird thing is that after all these years attending an SCBWI conference can actually feel a bit like coming home. They also provide a way for me to invest in younger writers, especially the growing number of members who find themselves in that strange place between cultures. So thanks, SCBWI and our fabulous SCBWI New England Chapter, for drawing me in and not letting me keep on feeling like an outsider.

At 1:13 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Woops, my posting just got gobbled up. I'm such a Blog Noob (dibs on that phrase, Ms. Fuse). I'll try again:

I don't think the regional advisors get paid (someone please correct me if I'm wrong). In Illinois they're the lifeblood of the organization -- energetic and supportive beyond belief. If you don't attend the national conferences, your view of SCBWI will be local events organized by volunteers, with paid speakers.

If my premise is right (that regional advisors aren't paid), I wonder if this local activity is what gives (or gave) people the impression that SCBWI is not-for-profit? And I wonder if it informs the original e-mailer's sense of injustice -- that the larger for-profit organization depends so heavily on volunteer efforts at the local level.

(I'm not making a judgment, I'm making an observation. If the success of SCBWI depends on volunteers, if the volunteers enjoy themselves, and if the customers like the product, it's a fine model. Also, there are other services in Illinois at the local level, like a contact person for forming writers' groups, and a regional web site, and I don't know the extent to which the national SCBWI subsidizes those local services.)

At 2:07 PM , Blogger J. L. Bell said...

SCBWI Regional Advisors and major conference volunteers can get nice perks: free membership, free conference registration, sometimes a travel grant, an honorarium like the speakers', a hotel room before the big day, etc. Occasionally the main office offers a grant for a small piece of home-office equipment that we use on the job. But there's no salary or stipend for the regional organizers.

The small staff at the LA headquarters, who manage the memberships, dues, awards, Bulletin, main website, and two big conferences each year, are full-time, salaried employees.

At 2:55 PM , Blogger Agyw said...

I'm biased. I've benefitted from SCBWI, from members of my critique groups winning grants (and hopefully I will one day), to publishing in the national Bulletin, that I'm sure gave me great exposure (I had friends I'd met through conference and boards and others I didn't know email me). I've had dealings with Stephen and found him to be gracious and self-effacing, and like most people face-to-face has an awful lot to do with how I feel about someone (on the flip side, I'm usually pretty certain, or paranoid, perhaps, that I don't come off that well in person. One of the reasons writing and illustrating usually suit me, I don't worry that much about MY presentation, so much as my work's).

I'm finding this an interesting discussion.

But I've also benefitted from Chautauqua and the online listserves.

For me, it is all about the sense of community. I've solidified contacts. And though I hear the same thing OVER and OVER at conference: there are no silver bullets, create from your own head and heart, respect your readership, being the biggest thrums, I actually NEED to hear that. Sometimes over and over.

The sixty dollars IS a hardship for me, which is one of the reasons I contribute (and am grateful for acceptance) to the Bulletin in exchange,and though the discounts aren't that deep for someone coming from my economic background, it matters. The scholarships have mattered (I'd like to think professionally, as well), I do feel membership is worth it.

Having in another life, organized meetings, but not to the same extent as the size or breadth of this organization, I am skeptical that any of the paid staff are making a killing, much like 90% of those within the industry. I liken it more to a potluck supper, where the membership dues are the chafing dish.

I don't have the benefit of living in NYC or near it. The Society has been beneficial at humanizing a daunting profession (many people treat editors and publishers as otherworldy often, because of their intense desire to be published, don't you think?) But the most invaluable has been to my craft, as well as confidence. I think you can be embraced accordingly, and goodness knows it most definitely is a what you put into it, kind of thing.

THere are so few support systems for this field. There are a few fabulous schools, but most can't afford in time and treasure, or like me being middle aged with a family attendance is untenable. So missions like Chautauqua, SBWI are necessary for those like me that are drawn (get it, get it?!) to this profession. The contests are incentive to keep on and refreshing portfolios, access to the membership, and I'm lucky as I'm near the NESCBWI, so their offerings include not only for those published, as well as some of the craft aspects that have been commented upon.

I would also suppose, though it may not feel that YOU are so far along, that if you're like me, having benefitted from someone noticing my efforts, perhaps some of your mission, as well as addressing the need of the intermediate professional, is to reach back and ensure those that are dedicated rise to the top, and those that are not, are at least asked to consider WHY they are pursuing this to publication. Often times it's that want to have written and the attention, the dream of lazing by the poolside with pina colada in hand, creating yet another bestseller, or leaving something of value for youngsters behind. The purpose identified, it's easier to support or disabuse the notion, especially based upon ability.

I would love to see more inclusion in all things, But one of the posters here had suggested reading Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point, and I would say that it was EDIFYING, to the nth. One of the points made is the SIZE of a group, the lack of intimacy, etc. Perhaps rethinking some of the structure, as well as the offerings may be more beneficial. Truthfully, I've not been able to do anything but look to the group for benefits, I've not given back. When my younger daughter is older, I hope to rectify that. But there are all kinds of way to pay it forward.

And ultimately, you must decide what you need. Perhaps in your life you're far enough along emotionally to not need that safety blanket, or you already have the contacts to make it work, not recognizing that even if you win the Newbery or Caldecott, it's still going to be a struggle. For me, it's worth it.

At 3:49 PM , Blogger Meghan McCarthy said...

See, my problem is that SCBWI shouldn't just be about making contacts, friends, email buddies, etc. I know plenty of editors. I have friends in publishing. I have an agent who sells my work. What do I benefit from listening to an editor who i may already know talk about submissions? What do I get out of a critique talk when I already have editors to crit my work? Nothing.

I think perhaps SCBWI is geared toward the unpublished because their voices are the loudest. But it sure would be super if other children's book industry folks (such as published authors and heck, librarians too) could participate!

Well, I've said my bit. I'm going to go back to painting now. A deadline awaits...


At 4:20 PM , Blogger alvinaling said...

Wow--that gave me a brilliant idea. All you Regional Advisors out there (by the way, I'm glad you get perks for what you do, you deserve that and more!) should invite Fuse#8 to be on the faculty of one of your conferences. Then she would get her wish of seeing what SCBWI was all about, and published and nonpublished alike (and editors, too!) would benefit from hearing the librarian perspective.

At 5:02 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to agree with others on the limited usefulness of SCBWI for published writers at the national level. Locally, I've made great contacts and heard great speakers; but little of national's funds actually goes toward the regional chapters, whose events have to be self-supporting with minimal seed money. I don't think $60 is much to pay in professional dues; but I also don't see that I've gotten much for my $60.

A few years ago, I decided to give a national conference another try. Spent a thousand bucks instead of the couple hundred I'd spend locally to attend the NYC conference. I picked up a few tidbits (who can not learn something listening to David MacCauley speak?), but only a few, and not enough to justify the cost.

And I look at other professional organizations, like Author's Guild and SFWA, who are actually advocates for their members--and SCBWI does so much less. They seem, indeed, afraid and hesitant to even say, "Hey, we've noticed these suspicious practices lately; authors might want to be careful." I rarely see warnings or cautions coming from SCBWI, unlike most other writers organizations.

And then there was the national conference, some years ago, where the organizers had organizers bring posters displaying their works-in-progress, and then bragged after the fact that they invited editors and art directors to view those incognito. They seemed to think this was a service to writers; but I know of no books that sold that way, and the attendees were, well, deprived of a valuable networking opportunity by their not knowing these folks were there.

Unlike, say, RWA, which is also focused on beginners (unlike SFWA and Author's Guild), but still actively works to encourage connections. Having a large numbers of beginner members doesn't mean that one has to hold one's members at arm's length.

And I do feel like SCBWI tries to hold its members at arms length at national conferences. As a professional, making connections with fellow professionals--including, maybe especially, fellow professional writers--is very difficult at national events, if you don't attend with a group of writers you already know.

Again, unlike the local events. Our regional advisors are a treasure, and should be appreciated as such.

What's really needed is a separate organization that's specifically for professionals--but the problem, and the reason I suspect this hasn't happened, is that most professionals are too busy writing to be willing to take on all the work that would be involved. Don't know how to solve that one, honestly.

At 6:08 PM , Blogger fusenumber8 said...

Re: Alvina's post

Would that include a t-shirt? I love me my t-shirts.

Oh, and in regards to a message by Alice 40-some postings ago, John says hello right back atcha. Leslie and Jeanne are both in OCS now. And your mural of children's literary figures was recently updated. You should come by and take a look when you get a chance.

Back to SCBWI schtoof.

At 9:03 PM , Blogger Bkbuds said...

Wow, I go outta town for a coupla weeks and you get into all kinds of mischief. I knew I should've looked you up in New York when I breezed into town. Next time, definitely.

Great post, cool comments. I just joined SCBWI and -- lucky me -- landed in Illinois. Did I know it was the hot chapter? Feeling smug. Oh yeah.

I have nothing else to add to this discussion, except to ask if there's a decent cuppa tea near where you work. This is important, as I do not take people to lunch if I cannot get good tea.

See you eventually.

At 12:03 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I feel compelled to chime in, even though many of my thoughts have been raised by others. I intentionally waited a couple days to respond because I was quite offended by the tone and assumptions of the original commentary. Valid questions were raised, but with an implication that it might be fun to raise a little scandal...

So I pondered, and to me the question of importance was "Could I ask more of SCBWI for my annual dues?" After some reflection, I can now say that I'm as satisfied as I could imagine being... true, I'm also Illinois member, and what we have here is spectacular, I know. But most of the comments have to do with the national level, and while I think it's fair to note that seasoned members are not as well served, keep in mind that they're much harder to serve as a group. The more experienced I have become, the more I have realized that the "holes" in my knowledge, ability to target, career vision etc. have become more and more unique to me--quirky even.

Before I yammer too long, I want to respond to something I felt truly on fire about... the comments about Lin Oliver and Stephen Mooser, and whether an organization like this would be better served by having the leadership rotate to other people. Frankly, if either of them stepped down from doing the jobs they do so passionately, I'll shed tears... or if I'm well-adjusted that week, I'll just be morose for a while. My heartfelt opinion is that they have a "critical mass" of knowledge and vision and practical nuts-and-bolts experience that is key in running the organization, but especially the national conferences. The LA meeting comes off beautifully every year and it absolutely has something for everyone.
Long before this discussion arose, I have said many times that I cannot believe the value I get from attending--both on a personal level and purely in dollars-for-services-rendered.

For those of you seasoned folks who have not been in a while, I can't say enough good about the addition of professional-track workshops. Across ALL the sessions, the caliber of presenters, especially when there are SO MANY of them, is impossibly high.

My previous world/career was marketing research, and I have gained far more professionalism, knowledge and cameraderie in this society than I ever got in professional organizations in my "other life."

And for the published who wish for more, I really have only one suggestion--you get out of it what you put into it. Getting programs of interest to more seasoned people will require the seasoned people to get involved and design what they need.

I've been a member for about 5 years, serve as a local network rep, and have published in magazines. So I have far to go, but I can't imagine working in this industry without enjoying the "society" of my colleagues.

At 10:45 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

while I think it's fair to note that seasoned members are not as well served, keep in mind that they're much harder to serve as a group. The more experienced I have become, the more I have realized that the "holes" in my knowledge, ability to target, career vision etc. have become more and more unique to me--quirky even.

I'm not sure, for professionals, that it's the job of a professional organization to fill in holes in how-to-write-and-market knowledge. It's about advocacy and information. Point up useful tools and resources, help keep us up to date on what's going on in the field, go to bat over or at least point up writer-unfriendly practices.

At 1:31 AM , Blogger The Buried Editor said...

Well, I've enjoyed reading and skimming the 55 comments up to this point, so now I think I'll weigh in as an actual editor.

There is all sorts of mystique concerning the SCBWI and getting published. Do the letters S-C-B-W-I on an envelope or a cover letter guarantee that I"ll personally read the submission? Nope. Am I any more likely to accept a work because it was written by a dues paying SCBWI member? Uh -- no. And since I'm singularly unobservant and notorious for not reading cover letters, I half the time don't even realize that a person is a member. So, no, membership in SCBWI is not a magic key to unlock the various gates that keep your manuscript from the market.

But, there are some similarities between all the SCBWI manuscripts I recieve. They are properly formatted, professional, and lack strange enclosures like pictures of grandkids or the family pet the story is based on. They include chapter summaries and useful things like contact information. And most importantly, they tend to be of a higher quality than the average piece of slush. Yes, I just said they tend to be better. And I hypothesize that the reason for this is that a manuscript from an SCBWI member tends to have been seen by a critique group. In my eyes, after networking, the most important thing the SCBWI offers is the ability for writers, published and unpublished alike, to form critique groups. I think of critique groups as my first line of defense against bad slush. They weed out so much of the unacceptable and keep the strange out of slush piles. In my world of unsolicited manuscripts, the best 10% come from agents, the next 15% from SCBWI members, and the rest from everyone else.

I highly regard the SCBWI and organizations (for-profit, not for-profit, or like-minded people who just meet regularly) similiar in nature and reccommend that people join one. I'm a member of SCBWI, and lots of established writers I respect like Esme, Han Nolan, and Tomie dePaola are as well. (At least, I think they still are. Esme says she is, Han was last time I saw her, and Tomie seems to be at everything, so I assume he is.)

As to the whole published vs. unpublished author amenities, I would like to point out that those are two highly different markets with different needs. I belong to a unique local chapter that is run almost entirely by published authors. All of our meetings, except for the annual conference, are skewed more towards published authors. We've had public speaking, school visits, how to promote your book after your publisher stops, website design and the like. I think that kind of thing varies more on a local level.

Well, that's my 15 cents. Take it for what it's worth.

At 1:49 PM , Blogger Agyw said...

Man, talk about wishy-washy. I agree with 95% of what's posted (if this seems really bad spelling/grammar wise, please forgive my kitten is needling my foot and the dog is bumping my elbow- when I wanted to be fought over by the "boys" this was NOT what I meant). As you can tell, it's all about me! Which is probably one of the things about this particular line of discussion. What am I getting out of this particular group and how does it apply to my writing/illustrating/publishing life?

First, I don't KNOW if having a rotating head of staff would be better for the organization or not. I know that, perhaps if there's more movement, new ideas and changed policies my be implemented sooner. However, that is not necessarily a good or bad thing. And you always run the risk of the life's blood of the group dribbling out. Part of what makes a group successful is it's passion as well as it's dedication to purpose. I think the only concern I would have, at this point of two people being the fearless forever leaders, people are not forever.

As to critique groups, one of mine was formed online (I wrote about in the CWIM 2004, for any that want to read about it. www.Yellapalooza.com). We started with three managers, the relationships solidified by a meeting at NESCBWI. The other, the Hammies, were formed from a couple of critique groups, and a few others looking for a critique group, absolutely having the time of our lives at NESCBWI.

I attended art school in the 70s (boy, does that date me?!) when illustrating was pooh-poohed (Anna Grossnickle Hines had an essay on her old website that nailed it to the wall), but the critical skills were laid then, even if I found my passion in a most circuitous route. I KNEW to form a critique group. But most that come to this field don't know to do that, until they have the benefit of interaction. I can say because I've heard it over and over, people go to conference and often get a fire under their buns or they are overwhelmed. I know of one very talented artist, who's pride got in the way, when asked to revise, simply gave it up, because the editor couldn't understand HER vision.

I still maintain you get what you put in. I ALWAYS got more from teaching than my students. I learned more about my process, about my product and about myself. And there were always at least one or two new things to think about, that I'd not considered. I liken this Society as that.

Part of the problem may be not KNOWING what you want from an organization? Or what your expectations are? I've belonged to very few organizations (the Calligrapher's of Maine, now defunct, that I helped to found, and the Arizona Scribes are the only two that come to mind, before SCBWI and my critique groups), so I don't know what's reasonable to expect by way of membership. I can only quantify what I get from it. Perhaps I'd feel differently (though maybe not, because I STARTED from this point) if I had an agent, an editor or lived in NYC. So I guess my perspective is the great unwashed masses, though I feel pretty durned clean. But Barbara Cooney, Barbara Garrison, Eric Rohmann, Anne Sibley O'Brien, Lois Lowry, to name a few feel they get something from it, to continue their association, so there must be an intrinsic value beyond the beginning-to-be-published stage. And more than likely it IS that hard-to-help intermediary author/illustrator that National needs to address.

And perhaps it's a personality thing. I just happen to be the Sally Field of the children's industry-- every time I receive an affirmation, I knock the cat off my toe, squeeze my Sharpei's head and cry, "They like me! They really, REALLY like me!"

At 1:33 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was in SCBWI initially way back, in a local chapter. I think what I didn't like the most was the constant equating of getting published with success? It didn't matter how actually bad or good the publsihed stuff was; it was just how much money and how many books, quantity but never quality. I found it very stifling, not an atmosphere at all for nurtuing real creative growth for anyone. And I had my personal doubts about a lot of the "stuff" that members were getting published, doubts which later proved, in many cases to be very accurate indeed as book after book went out of print..

I'm so happy with my quilt guild. It has its "problem members" and little glitchies here and there, but we are wholeheartedly nonprofit, eductational, charity organization. Every meeting, we all know what's in the treasurey adn what was spent for what. We elect our officers every year formally. Everyone gets to vote. It's a cream opportutnity for folks wanting to turn profdssional as we get the absolute top designers in the country and sometimes out as well in to speak adn share and teach us. Workshops are so inexpensive, $20 or so. I only pay four hours volunteer work a year and $20, and that gets me a card that gives me enough in discounts to more than pay for the $20. We raise our own money. We have a huge three day quilt show every year..and my FAVORITE PART? The show and tell we have every meeting. It doesn't matter f something gets sold or if a pro or a newbie does it, everybody is keen to see the new quilts by everyone! Oh, I LOVE IT! The positiivty and emotional support for the creativity has just absolutely nurtured my writing as well, as I put words on my quilts as well as write stories and essays and poems and songs.

I don't know if I ever really want to go back to SCBWI. But I would definitely perfer more "bang for my buck" if I did!

At 10:02 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

"And I had my personal doubts about a lot of the 'stuff' that members were getting published, doubts which later proved, in many cases to be very accurate indeed as book after book went out of print"
I know you don't mean this, but it looks like you are saying that if a book goes out of print, it must not be any good.

At 3:12 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm saying, as I would say about my own out-of-print book, that it didn't meet top quality standards, it didn't get to the audience somehow, someway. I'd want mine redone, if it were reprinted, drastically redone--due to the fact that it was never properly edited in teh first place. But I was lucky...the book survived being dumped by one editor, handled by lower editorial staff, slopped hastily through the editorial process. They took my original manuscript, pushed it through, not a cut, not a word changed from the original, NO EDITORIAL WORK WITH ME WHATSOEVER! I finally had to request a few cuts/changes on my own. Even then, the book came out with glaring errors. At least it got published. And the writing got excellent reviews, all around. But I'm not saying it was a top-notch book. It couldn't be--with that kind of sloppy editing. It wasn't put in a format suitble to the story and it was a slop-job, the editing work on it. Designer did a good job. Artist did his best. But. again What can I can I say? It got poor-quality editorial handling all the way around, and I was just terribly lucky the book didn't die in edtiorial process and never get published at all. And yes, most op books get what they deserve basically. They've gotten to all the audience they will ever get. Isn't that what everyone complains about nowadays? The incredible volume of MEDIOCRITY?

At 3:27 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd also like to point out something else about SCBWI that no one else apparently has noticed, and that's surprising, considering how glaringa problem this is. SCBWI advertises itself on the Net as a .org not a .com. A .org or a .net or a .edu domain name MEANS NONPROFIT. So, since SCBWI is NOT a nonprofit, since they ARE profiting, are a commercial site, this is very deceptive sort of way to present themselves on the web. Also from the language they use on the website, you'd think they were a nonprofit. Clearly, they are not. So, why don't they come out and just be who who they are on, online? The same problem exists with Harold Underdown's site. Supposedly advertised as a free "help" to writers, he aggressively promotes financial support of the site through paid adverting programs. Yet the site is a .org. It should be a .com. It isn't. And that, to my mind, is very questionable and deceptive. Makes me question everything else on the site as well.

Most writers and illustrators, BTW, are FAR more pro in their websites. They are almost always .coms. Nice to know that, see that kind of real professionalism still going on among most fellow creators.....

My quilt guild is a .org, and we sure are what we are--NONPROFIT. They UNDERWRITE the costs of our speakers and workshops, all nationally known experts and pros. the speakers are wellpaid, but the members, even the the poorest of us, can well afford to attend the meetings and workshops. The national quilt organization is the same way, educational, huge bang for the buck, for its members, low fees, huge benefits.
I just cannot see why it costs so much for writers, why SCBWI is NOT underwriting more of the costs for its members, why speakers and teachers can't be well-paid but yet members don't have to pay full cost? Looks like poor management of the group to me is in process.

At 9:48 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a published children's author and longtime SCBWI member, I think the problem with the SCBWI is that its leaders want the reputation of being THE professional organization for children's writers and illustrators, but because the vast majority of the SCBWI membership is NOT published, they refuse to offer much that would be helpful to published authors, claiming there is "not enough demand." This leads to published authors giving up on SCBWI, which reinforces SCBWI's reputation as being for neophytes and wannabes, which makes the children's publishing world take SCBWI less seriously.

And, really, who ever heard of a respected professional organization composed primarily of people who are NOT professionals in the field? What would you think of the American Medical Association if 90% of its membership was people who were hoping to be doctors someday?

At 9:54 AM , Blogger Thetoymakers said...

I can't believe I made it to the end of this thread... it took two cups of coffee but I made it.

One of the main themes here seems to be that there are not enough things for published authors or illustrators. Here in OC we have a rockin' group with information swaps going full throttle. Our Illustrators group is rocking the free world!

A couple of weeks ago we put together an entire Saturday at the local college doing a clinic on advanced Photoshop techniques. Layers, color correction, typography, masks, we covered it all! I've also heard great things about the illustrator groups up in Los Angeles (They took most of the awards at the summer LA SCBWI conference.)

I guess I'm saying that if a writer or artist are published/talented/professional then get together with other SCBWI members at your own level and put together a class. Be the change that you want to see in the world.

Draw on!



At 10:19 AM , Blogger Thetoymakers said...

Ps Lin! Steve! I just wanted to add a giant thank you and say keep on doing the awesome things you do!



The lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne.


At 11:55 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a very interesting conversation and I appreciate it. I have heard many wonderful things about the IL chapter, and I wonder if there's a way the chapters can work together to inspire each other. It seems they and NE are good examples for all.

I was disappointed when a friend was invited to speak at her local SCBWI conference, and promptly invited to donate her payment back to the organization. I think an organization devoted to helping writers be professionals needs to treat their professionals as such.

I agree that I'd like to see more services for published authors, and I think doing more at the NY conference is a terrific idea.

At 12:30 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I disagree. True, many beginners attend these events. They are simply the best introduction to the business. I am a professional freelancer now, thanks in large part to SCBWI. I attend events when my schedule allows and share what I have learned. I have to tell you, that many beginners do not believe what I share with them, but, hey that is not my problem. I think that is part of being a beginner. I do think, in any organization, there is a large helping of self-promotion. However, when I give a talk somewhere, I have travel expenses, lodging expenses, and other costs I would not have at home in my office. Speaking of which--there is the time spent in preparation. Can you blame me for a bit of hope that I will sell some books? JMHO

At 2:26 PM , Anonymous Kim Wheedleton said...

So, I am several years late to this party. But after reading this post, and the many comments and opinions offered, I have a thought. I read not only here but elsewhere on the web and in print (I'm writing in Feb 2011) that the Illinois SCBWI chapter gets consistently high praise from its members.

What is it that this chapter does that has so many people - both unpublished and published alike - singing its praises?

A thought: do regional staffs ever get a chance to get together formally, either online or in person? Because it seems to me that such a get-together would help individual chapters get some fresh ideas, share what works and what doesn't, problem-solve a bit. Sort of like a critique group for those running regional chapters.

Perhaps that already happens, and I'm woefully uninformed about such things. But if it doesn't, and the logistics aren't too unwieldy, maybe it should?


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