A typical children’s publisher receives 5,000 or more submissions a year and publishes only a handful, according to editors. With so many people dreaming of writing a children’s book, and fewer than one-tenth of one percent of manuscripts making it out of the slush pile, sometimes it seems almost impossible to break into print. The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators is an organization that can help open doors.
On February 4-5, the SCBWI holds its 7th Annual Winter Conference at the Hilton New York Hotel. Conference attendees can find out what art directors and editors are looking for and make all-important industry contacts that can pave the way to publication. One highlight of this year’s conference will be a panel on the state of children’s publishing featuring Chip Gibson, Doug Whiteman, Lisa Holton and Rick Richter, children’s division presidents at Random House, Penguin, Scholastic, and Simon & Schuster.
This will be the first time that these presidents have appeared together on stage. They will discuss “The Present and Future of Children’s Publishing: A View From the Presidents’ Desk,” a forum that will give attendees a rare glimpse inside the minds of top executives. In addition, four keynote speakers will be featured: Michael L. Printz Award-winning novelist David Almond; Emmy Award-winning author-illustrator Marc Brown; Langston Hughes Award-winning poet Nikki Giovanni; and Francine Pascal, whose books have 150 million copies in print.
When the SCBWI was founded by author and film producer Lin Oliver and author Stephen Mooser in 1971, their original idea was to train young writers in the children’s book field. Today the group has grown to 19,860 members worldwide and counts best-selling authors and illustrators Judy Blume, Tomie dePaola, Jerry Pinkney, Walter Dean Myers, and Jane Yolen as active board members. Newbery Medal winner Linda Sue Park (author interview) and Caldecott Medal winner Robert Sabuda are just two of the many members who joined the SCBWI as unpublished authors or illustrators and went on to award-winning careers. The SCBWI strives to create a non-competitive atmosphere, with authors helping authors, illustrators helping illustrators, and all sharing one common bond, the love of children’s literature.
In recent years, the SCBWI has launched international chapters on four continents, making it the largest children’s writing organization in the world. In addition to writers and illustrators, the organization has evolved into a broad-based community of librarians, educators, publishers, students, dramatists, musicians, filmmakers, and others who create and advocate for children’s literature. A unique network of professionals helps to mentor aspiring writers and illustrators while at the same time helping published authors and illustrators develop their careers. The organization’s eighty-four chapters hold conferences, share resources, provide networking opportunities, and help to organize writer’s groups. In addition, the SCBWI holds two annual conferences in the U.S. – in New York in February, and in Los Angeles in August – and a third meeting in Bologna, Italy, in March.
In addition to the President’s Forum and the keynote speeches, attendees at the New York conference will be able to attend breakout sessions led by top literary agents, artists’ reps, and editors and art directors from eight major publishers.
Illustrators can also participate in The New York Showcase, an art exhibition and auction in which people from the industry can view their work. A pre-conference Professional Illustrators Day on Friday, February 3, features workshop sessions led by illustrators Pat Cummings, Tomie dePaola, David Diaz, Robert Sabuda, and Wendell Minor.
The first national SCBWI conference I attended was the 25th Anniversary celebration in Los Angeles–10 years ago! It was a wonderful event, and I highly recommend this conference to those with a serious interest in a career as a children’s/YA author of illustrator.