Posted by: Kathy Temean | March 7, 2011

What the SCBWI Is and Is Not

What the SCBWI Is and Is Not
by Susan Heyboer O’Keefe
The Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators — will it be one of the best things to happen to you or a huge disappointment? The answer may depend on what you bring to your membership.

Of course, you’re bringing with you excitement and enthusiasm. But are you also bringing expectations that lie beyond SCBWI’s scope? To get the most out of your membership, it’s helpful to know what the organization is and is not, and what it can and cannot do for you.  

SCBWI is a professional association. In almost every field, joining a professional association indicates your readiness to take your work to the next level.SCBWI is the best known and best respected group of children’s writers and illustrators in the country. It helps present us as a single voice, looking out for our general interests in such matters as contracts, copyrights, and so on. 

SCBWI is a means to educate yourself. The organization offers great how-to articles in its newsletter, as well as other helpful information in its brochures. It runs national conferences, while chapters run smaller conferences and workshops. Your chapter will also help you find a local critique group. All these tools are the grit and polish that can make your work publishable.

SCBWI is a competitive edge. Trying to leap out of the slush pile (or, in this post-anthrax world, just getting into a slush pile), an SCBWI member has the edge over the person who writes something on a whim. Editors know that a manuscript from an SCBWI member is usually correctly formatted, targeted to the right publisher, and competently written; therefore, an SCBWI manuscript receives serious attention. Some editors will look at queries and manuscripts from unagented writers only if they’re SCBWI members. Finally, the print and electronic newsletters provide members with inside market tips long before they become public knowledge.

SCBWI is a way to network. As doors to unagented, unsolicited material close, personal contact becomes the key to getting published. Meeting editors at conferences remains one of the best ways to do this in a professional manner. The SCBWI is a major source of children’s writing conferences. Two national conferences are run each year in Los Angeles and New York, and most state chapters run at least one major event a year. These are your best opportunities to meet and talk to editors from top publishers across the country.

SCBWI is individualized advice. Have a contract clause you’ve never seen before? Correspondence from an editor that confuses you? A question you can’t find answered elsewhere? If the SCBWI doesn’t know the answer, it can refer you to someone who does.

SCBWI is a source of nationally recognized awards. Okay, so you’re not ready to get the Caldecott or Newbery — yet. SCBWI offers awards and grants for writers and illustrators, including those for the unpublished.

SCBWI is a way to have a great time. People in the children’s literature field are the nicest folks around. You’ll find yourself making friends, having fun, and being helped in all sorts of ways by people you wouldn’t have met otherwise.

Clearly, your SCBWI membership is one of the best investments you’ll ever make in yourself and your work. But even the SCBWI has its limits:

SCBWI is not a publisher. It provides booklets and a newsletter for the exclusive use of its members, but it does not publish children’s books itself.

SCBWI is not an agent. It compiles a list of agents who handle children’s works, but the organization itself does not act as an agent for individual members.

SCBWI cannot get you an agent. The organization only points the way toward some, although not all, of the agents who handle children’s works. At that point, researching who handles what type of material, sending queries, and deciding on the best personality/work-style match are all up to you.

SCBWI cannot guarantee you publication. No one can — unless your favorite uncle owns a publishing company. Deal cautiously with any person or group that makes such a claim.

While the SCBWI is not a magic wand, it is a real-life working tool. The professional career growth is real, the camaraderie is real, and the resulting books are real. With apologies to Harry Potter, that’s better than magic any day.

Thank you Susan for the article.  You can meet Author/editor Susan O’Keefe at the NJSCBWI June Conference and have her critique your manuscript.  Here is her website:

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Great post Susan,

    I’ve learned an amazing amount from SCBWI. I joined 2 years ago this month.

    I can’t imagine where my writing would be with it. Susan, don’t start 😉

    The NJ chapter is of course the greatest—but you knew that! Thank you Kathy!


    See you at the June conference in Princeton!


    • Mimi,

      You are one quick learner. I have personally seen the progress you have made. Impressive!



  2. What an excellent summary of the SCBWI!

    I agree with every word, and for sure, attending conferences is probably the best thing any aspiring writers can do for themselves!

    I’m thrilled I’m able to once again attend in June 😀


    • Donna,

      I am thrilled that you can come.



  3. That was a great post from Susan! Can’t wait to see her again this June!


    • Connie,

      Susan is a big chapter asset. I just wish more people realized it.



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