If you’ve spent any time in the kidlit writing community you’ve probably seen the acronym ‘SCBWI’ pop up. It stands for Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, a professional organization dedicated to supporting everyone who creates books for kids.
You may be wondering what qualifies a person for membership and what the drawbacks and benefits are. Should you join? Let’s find out!
The short answer is that anyone can join. SCBWI has several tiers of membership, structured around where a person is in their career. There are options for students and “associate members” who are unpublished and “have a general enthusiasm for the field.” “Full Membership” is for those who have their work produced or published, and PAL (Published & Listed) status is for those whose work has been through the editorial process with a traditional publisher. PAL status grants a member access to resources specific to their needs.
Great things about SCBWI
SCBWI has regional chapters across the United States and around the world. Each chapter maintains a sub-site on scbwi.org where they post about their members and local events. Many have free mailing lists and host events that are open to non-members as well, so if you’re considering joining make sure to check out your local chapter’s page!
For those who can’t make it to in-person meetings SCBWI has a thriving online forum where members from all over the world discuss, share, and make connections. Portions of the forums are private to members only, so you will need an active membership to access them, but there are also public areas. Make sure you follow the rules for registration and being a responsible member of the community.
And don’t forget the conferences! SCBWI holds massive national annual conferences in winter and summer, one in New York and one in Los Angeles, and many regions host their own conferences as well. There are lots of benefits of attending a writing conference, including growing your network, learning from experts, and the opportunity to get professional eyes on your work. Attending a conference is an additional expense, but members get a discount.
Support & Recognition
Part of membership includes access to information like The Book, where useful overviews and insights into how the industry works has been compiled for new members. SCBWI also sends out a quarterly newsletter to all members with information about changes in the field, interviews with members, and craft discussions. These can be invaluable resources, especially if you’re just starting out.
Members are also eligible for marketing and promotional opportunities through SCBWI like the online Illustrator Gallery (featuring a different illustrator each month), Recommended Reading List (which is distributed to independent bookstores, libraries, and at conferences), and the Speakers Bureau listing (where teachers and librarians look for speakers to hire for events).
There are over 50 awards and grants available to member writers and illustrators, from the Emerging Voices award for new writers, to conference scholarships, to Work-in-Progress Grants, and awards for exemplary published books. Winning one of these competitive opportunities is a mark of distinction.
SCBWI is also invested in advocating for its members. Like other professional writing organizations it keeps tabs on things like industry trends and legal regulations that impact writers and illustrators. You can keep apprised via the newsletter and forums, and should something require collective action SCBWI can facilitate organization.
Being a member connotes that you take your writing seriously as a career. It can be a nice point in your favor to list your membership on your website or query letter, though it’s unlikely to be a deciding factor. No one is going to give you a book deal based solely on the professional organization you’re part of. But it is a subtle clue that you are involved in the industry and invested in growing your career.
If you do join, make sure you take advantage of all the opportunities to learn and make connections. You’re paying for a service, so don’t let those newsletters sit unread! Log on to the forum, go to a regional chapter meeting, and soak it all up. You may even find yourself volunteering!
Reasons you might not want to join
It’s not free
SCBWI is a professional organization and it takes money to run their programs, so there is an annual fee (currently $95 to start and $80 to renew). The student rate is lower (currently $65 to start and $55 to renew). If your country is designated a UN Developing Nation your annual membership and renewal rate will be lower (currently $50 to start and $50 to renew). Not all, but some, local events may carry an additional fee (discounted for members), and the conferences are not inexpensive.
Each writer/illustrator will have to weigh the potential benefits against the cost. There is no requirement to be a member in order to publish children’s books.
Your local chapter may not be very active
Regional chapters are run by local members, and each chapter may be more or less active depending on who is in the region. You may hear of members who rave about their chapter, but the next chapter over may be largely dormant. If you want an active region, be prepared to get involved and help make it happen.
Similar support may be available elsewhere
There are lots of ways to find community and support for your writing, and SCBWI is just one of many. If SCBWI doesn’t work for you, don’t give up! Keep looking for local and online writing groups that can provide the sort of camaraderie and resources you need.
If you’re considering joining, check out their free options (forums, local mailing lists), and consider attending a local in-person event or two to get to know your regional community. Whether or not you choose to join SCBWI it’s great to know they’re available as a resource.
Bronwen Fleetwood writes fiction for young adults, and nonfiction for writers. Bronwen studied creative writing at Eugene Lang,The New School for Liberal Arts, has acted as leader of the Princeton Writing Group, and as a Municipal Liaison for National Novel Writing Month. Bronwen currently lives on the Whale Coast of South Africa, between the mountains, the sea, and a lake. You can connect with her at bronwenfleetwood.com.