Monday, 4 October 2021

From Here to There . . . Why SCBWI is Key to Getting YOU There


SCBWI turns 50 this year. It started out when Lin Oliver and Stephen Mooser, two newbie writers, commissioned to write some children’s books, sought to learn more about their craft and the publishing industry. Finding no established organization, they decided to start something. Responding to their advert, Sue Alexander suggested getting in touch with published author Jane Yolen, who was keen to help out.


Lin Oliver, Founder and Executive Director, SCBWI


Stephen Mooser, Founder, SCBWI


At the library, Lin read and researched the children’s book section, then wrote to 10 authors inviting them to a conference. She received 10 replies. Dr Seuss sent an apology in the form of a hand-typed letter: ‘the more I talk as a talking author, the less I write as a writing author’. Steve’s dad licked the mailing labels and Lin’s mum made the potato salad for lunch.

And from there, it grew . . . 


At the SCBWI Big 50 Conference,
Lin shares the letter she received from Dr Seuss

The founding members started a monthly Bulletin at Lin’s kitchen table (it is still published today), and the friends started pouring in: Judy Blume, Uri Shulevitz, Sid Fleishman, Tomie dePaola, Judy Blume, Ezra Jack Keats, Dawn Freeman, Myra Cohn Livingston, Mildred Fitzwalter, James Marshall, Walter Dean Myers, Laurence Yep, Arnold Lobel, Lee Bennett Hopkins, Paula Danziger - the great voices upon which the organization was built, who became friends and colleagues, organizing conferences and meet-ups. 


Acclaimed author Jane Yolen was a founding member of SCBWI.
Bear Outside
is her 400th book.


More friends joined: Jerry Pinkney, Lois Lowry, Arthur Levine, Bruce Coville, Christopher Paul Curtis, Pam Munoz Ryan, Elaine Konigsburg, Linda Sue Park, Karen Cushman, Virginia Hamilton and Dan Santat – the community was formed, and still is, by volunteers.


The Bulletin 1971

The Bulletin, May 2021 artwork by
Maple Lin

Now, 50 years later, the SCBWI is the largest international professional organization for children’s book creators with over 26,400 members in 70 regions around the globe. The British Isles region, founded in 1996 by author Gloria Hatrick and E. Wein, started in a similar way, and now its published members are those to whom new(er) authors and illustrators find inspiration – Candy Gourlay, Chitra Soundar, Jane Clarke, Sara Grant, Mo O’Hara, Kathy Evans, Sarah McIntyre, Bridget Marzo, Jasmine Richards, A M Dassu, Patrice Lawrence, Teri Terry, Sarwat Chadda, James Brown, Loretta Schauer and many others.


SCBWI British Isles Conference Mass Book Launch 2019

Why am I telling you all this? I was inspired by a talk at the SCBWI big 50 summer conference by Dan Santat in which he spoke about his creative journey from the beginning to #1 New York Times bestselling and award-winning author and illustrator. What struck me was that he talked about how when you look back at the creative path you took, and you are in awe of what has transpired in the all the years you’ve been in the business; you look back at your work and you see that there is really no ‘there’ because you continue to grow, find out about yourself and – and, here’s the important bit – you do this with SCBWI as your family.


#1 New York Times bestselling and award-winning author and illustrator
Dan Santat and his picture books

In the words of Lin Oliver: Picasso once said ‘Inspiration is great, but when it comes, it better find you working’. So, we must combine our talents, with our training and our dreams and our passions and then combine it with hard work. But even more than this, we are more if we are part of a supportive community because the path to creation is often a very solitary one.  


When you are part of a community of critique groups, networking connections, friendships and happenstance opportunities such as those you find in SCBWI, standing on the shoulders of the published friends who came before you, innovating and finding new paths then the creative journey as you grow from here to ?there?, the possibilities are infinitely expanded.


The themed Mass Book Launch cake features mini book covers made out of icing

What you get out of the SCBWI isn’t something you can quantify – it’s somehow more than the sum of all its parts. Sure, your membership offers practical things like


• critique groups

• webinars, podcasts and conferences

• mentorships, retreats and masterclasses

• 1-1s with industry professionals

• scholarships, grants & awards

• industry insider newsletters
• marketing & publicity opportunities, training and support

• porfolio showcases

• mass book launches


But did you know that you can . . .

• banter with an agent at a party?

• make like-minded friends – the kind you can ask questions of at all stages of your career?
• make insider connections with industry professionals and super-famous authors & illustrators by organizing an event you’ve always dreamed about?

• raise your profile by writing for and editing for Words & Pictures, the British Isles’ regional magazine, or contributing illustrations?

• get top tips on how to connect with those disruptive kids in your school visit audience?

• buddy up to create promotional opportunities?

• get discovered through the Undiscovered Voices initiative?

• make some art that might land you a 1-1 meeting with an art director in NYC?

get your book cover made out of icing on a Mass Book Launch cake?

• eat pizza with a librarian?


Author Mike Brownlow with his icing cake cover of Ten Little Monsters at the SCBWI Annual Mass Book Launch

These are just some of the priceless gems that you can tap into at whatever stage of your career you find yourself.


Here’s a story about HOW IT'S WORKED FOR ME:


KitLit TV studio recording of the read-aloud
with Julie Gribble in NYC

Some time ago, I was really STUCK with my picture book writing – I needed a new direction. Cue fellow SCBWI member and PB Denner, Juliet Clare Bell, who recommended an online non-fiction writing course with Kristen Fulton. As part of the course, I wrote a new book. Shortly afterwards, I attended an SCBWI conference, where I met author Sandra Nickel, who was a faculty member and whom I knew through SCBWI France/Switzerland. Sandra’s agent, Victoria Wells Arms was also presenting at the conference. At the drinks party after the wrap-up, Sandra invited me to meet her agent. This makes it sound easy, but I was not at all sure I could find the courage to even talk to her. After the conference, I pitched my book to Victoria and she became my agent, too. Encouraged by the advice and success of fellow SCBWI authors Candy Gourlay, Sara Grant and Mo O’Hara who run a fabulous author bootcamp to help empower us to market ourselves successfully, I peeked out from under my rock and decided to apply for an SCBWI Marketing grant. After all, what did I have to lose? Well, I got it! I used more SCBWI Connections to help me organize a mini book tour to launch my book, THE CRAYON MAN, and even film a Read Aloud with KitLit TV (another SCBWI connection!), and so it goes. 


Paula Danziger of Amber Brown fame was an inspiration
to never give up and stay true to your voice.

It was an inspirational talk for the SCBWI British Isles in London in the early 90’s (when it consisted of only a handful of members), by legendary author Paula Daniziger – one of those aforementioned founding members Lin recruited –  that inspired me to join and, soon after, volunteer. Who knew I’d still be volunteering and going ‘there’ on my  picture book craft journey alongside fellow members some 23 years later?! (Psst, it even took me to the Palace to meet Prince Charles, who knew?!)


Truly, a gold mine of friendship, connections, and information about publishing the world over is yours with your SCBWI membership if you make the most of it, even more if you volunteer. Plus, volunteering is meant to be good for your health!


All those moments of SCBWI glitter add up to something precious – a heartfelt THANK YOU to Lin, Steve and all the other authors and illustrators and creatives who have built the treasure that is SCBWI!



Natascha Biebow, MBE, Author, Editor and Mentor

Natascha is the author of the award-winning The Crayon Man: The True Story of the Invention of Crayola Crayons, illustrated by Steven Salerno, winner of the Irma Black Award for Excellence in Children's Books, and selected as a best STEM Book 2020. Editor of numerous prize-winning books, she runs Blue Elephant Storyshaping, an editing, coaching and mentoring service aimed at empowering writers and illustrators to fine-tune their work pre-submission, and is the Editorial Director for Five Quills. She is Co-Regional Advisor (Co-Chair) of SCBWI British Isles. Find her at



Jane Clarke said...

Three cheers for SCBWI and for you, Natascha, for all your hard work and dedication to it.

Unknown said...

Wonderful! Thank you so much for all you do and congratulations on your book, Natascha, I just discovered that you wrote The Crayon Man!

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