SCBWI Helps Writers
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It seems these days everybody wants to write for children. Many celebrities are getting their stories published, and more and more young adult novels are being made into movies, like the Twilight and the Harry Potter series. Even picture books are coming to life: The Polar Express and Curious George.
If I had a nickel for every person who has said, “I read all these books to my kids, and I have even better ideas,” I wouldn’t need to play the lottery ever again. But writing for children is not just about having great ideas. Yes, that’s a start, but there’s so much more. Children’s writers work hard while learning and perfecting their craft. The children’s book world is always changing, and sometimes it’s hard to keep up.
I was lucky enough to talk with Esther Hershenhorn, who is a children’s author living in Chicago, IL. She is also a regional advisor of a wonderful organization for children’s writers called SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators).
SCBWI helps writers keep up with the children’s publishing world and offers them a support system. Esther is also a member of their board of advisors. Her books include The Confe$$ion$ and $ecret$ of Howard J. Fingrhut, Fancy That, Chicken Soup by Heart, and There Goes Lowell’s Party!.
WOW: Hello, Esther, thank you for talking with us about children’s writing. I know you are very involved with SCBWI. Why is it a good idea for a children's writer join this organization?
Esther: SCBWI is the only professional international organization for children’s book creators, numbering over 23,000 members around the world. It does everything a good children’s book must do—inform, encourage, inspire and offer hope. Not to mention, SCBWI connectswriters and illustrators within a singular children’s book community.
One need only read an issue of the bimonthly newsletter, The Bulletin, to realize how much SCBWI works to ensure its members are in the know about their craft, their literature, their publishing industry, their careers, and their community.
Benefits include, for starters, membership in local chapters; national, international and local conferences and programming; grants; scholarships; newsletters; resource guides ranging from publishing markets to manuscript preparation to school visits and book contracts; discussions boards and listservs; promotional opportunities and organization awards.
WOW: All of SCBWI’s benefits really show that a writer needs to be very involved and knowledgeable to write and illustrate for children. I recently interviewed two children’s writers, and both said they did a lot more than just write with all the school visits and promotional activities they did. They also both said to join SCBWI! When did you join SCBWI and why?
Esther: I joined SCBWI in 1978, when it was simply SCBW (no I). Lin Oliver and Stephen Mooser had established the organization a few years earlier, looking to find like-passioned writers. The Illinois chapter was quite small. I had just begun pursuing my life-long dream to write a children’s book and SCBW’s ad in The Writer caught my eye. Programming was almost non-existent here in Illinois, but the “Manuscript Exchange” allowed me to learn from some of my very favorite authors, including Bernice Raab. Once I’d become a member, I’d bring out the small blue membership card each time I received a manuscript rejection; I liked that my name was on a card that read “Society of Children’s Book Writers.”
“SCBWI is the only professional international organization for children’s book creators, numbering over 23,000 members around the world.”
WOW: Your reasons for joining in 1978 are still reasons why many writers join today. They want to feel connected to other children’s writers and receive some feedback on their work. You also mentioned that SCBWI holds conferences where writers can meet face-to-face. Should a children's writer attend an SCBWI national conference in Los Angeles or New York, attend a regional conference, or both?
Esther: Professional conferences are life-changing. Sometimes the changes are instantly noticeable: you meet an editor, agent, publisher, writing group, member, bookseller, book reviewer, or fill in the blank. Other times, a shared insight, a book recommendation, an introduction to a new format or publisher or editor or friend works its way into your life. Before you know it, you’re taking those proverbial leaps, fictive or otherwise.
Writers do three things: they write, they read, they connect. Attending any SCBWI conference or program, whether local or regional, can help you do all three.
How ironic, that we, writers, like to write in the privacy of our small writing spaces; yet we’re writing stories for all the world to read.
It takes courage to leave the safety of your writing room, your artist’s studio; but then, it takes courage to tell your story, in words and/or art.
WOW: I really like that you pointed out it takes courage to tell your story and share it with the world, especially when rejections are inevitable. It is also important to remember, as you pointed out, that writers write, of course, but they also must read and connect. It is nice that SCBWI helps writers do all three. Why do you enjoy SCBWI so much?
Esther: I have a dear writing friend who told me when we first met at a writer’s conference: “Children’s book creators are actually long-ago friends from another time and place who have simply and suddenly reconnected.” I agree.
We are a community of folks who learned everything we needed to learn in kindergarten, and we practice those things on a daily basis.
On any and all levels, SCBWI keeps me professional; it keeps me tuned-in and connected; it surrounds me with like-minded, like-passioned people who understand why I do what I do and why I can’t not do it.
“It takes courage to leave the safety of your writing room, your artist’s studio; but then, it takes courage to tell your story in words and/or art.”
WOW: I’m sure several of the writers reading this interview would agree with you completely—we write because we must write. Without writing, we would not be complete. If a writer decides to join SCBWI for the $75 fee for the first year, what are two important benefits they will gain?
Esther: Membership in SCBWI tells the world you take yourself, your work, seriously.
And, I earnestly believe in Six Degrees of Separation. Each of us is but six people away from the person we need to know. SCBWI connects you to all six!
WOW: (laughs) It might even connect us to Kevin Bacon as well. Thank you for your insight into an organization that you have been a part of for thirty years, and one that many children’s writers will be sure to check out if they haven’t already.
Ladies, if you want a writing coach for any of your projects, Esther is the one to turn to. As you can see, she has been active in the children’s writing business for 30 years, and she knows what it takes to get a book published. Check out the information on her website, www.estherhershenhorn.com
Margo L. Dill (margo[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com)is a freelance writer and elementary school teacher, living in Mahomet, Illinois. She is a columnist for WOW! Women On Writing. Her work has appeared in publications such as Grit, Pockets, Missouri Life, ByLine Magazine, and The News-Gazette. Her first book, Finding My Place, a middle-grade historical novel, will be published by White Mane Kids in 2009. She has her own blog for teachers, parents, and librarians called “Read These Books and Use Them” at https://margodill.com/blog/.
When she's not writing, she loves spending time with her husband, stepson, and two dogs—Charlie, a boxer, and Hush Puppy, a basset hound. You can read more about Margo at https://www.margodill.com.