By Natasha Yim
No writer’s an island. I discovered this when, after the publication of my first children’s book, my editor at Charlesbridge Publishing suggested I join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). I had never heard of the organization before, nor had I been a member of any writing group. But I joined because it would make my book eligible for one of the prestigious SCBWI awards.
Although I didn’t win, this off-hand subscription to a writing club led to my current status as an 18 year PAL (Published and Listed) member of the SCBWI—and so, so much more. It led to a tribe — a community of writers with whom I have connected with emotionally and creatively over the years. In that 18 year span, I’ve attended numerous conferences, craft intensives, retreats and gatherings, including the large, annual SCBWI conference in Los Angeles, where I met and had books signed by children’s literary superstars, Richard Peck, Jon Scieszka, Laurie Halse Anderson, and Judy Blume. I’ve received insightful manuscript critiques, and networked with industry professionals (editors, agents, other writers, published and pre-published) who have shared generously of their time and expertise to help me improve my craft, and who have been instrumental in molding me into the writer I am today.
Most of all, what a writing organization like SCBWI has given me is the gift of life-long friendship. These literary friends hail from all over California and beyond, many are in the San Francisco Bay Area, but far enough from my hometown of Ukiah that I might see them once a year at a conference or retreat. But when I do, it’s like I just saw them for coffee the week before—there’s an immediate comfortable familiarity, a shared interest in our work, joy at each other’s successes, empathy for experienced challenges and rejections, and a mutual sense of belonging. After all, the latter is the true mission of the SCBWI, or any writing club.
From its humble beginnings in 1971, when SCBWI was originally founded as the Society of Children’s Book Writers (SCBW) by a group of Los Angeles-based writers, including the group’s President Stephen Mooser and Executive Director Lin Oliver, SCBWI has mushroomed into an international writing organization with over 80 regional chapters and 22,000 members worldwide. In 1991, author/illustrator and SCBW Board Member, Tomie dePaola lobbied to include illustrators and the name was changed to the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. It is currently, the largest non-profit organization for writers and illustrators of juvenile literature.
Apart from the SCBWI conferences, retreats, and regional county events which are offered at very reasonable rates, membership benefits include awards and grants (I won a regional grant to attend the Los Angeles conference in 2011), access to agents and editors (many of whom are closed to unsolicited submissions but will allow submissions from participants at a SCBWI event in which they’re presenting), promotional opportunities, and informational resources. To check out the organization or become a member, please visit: http://www.scbwi.org.