Psst, are you writing a children’s book? Meet SCBWI

SCBWI mass book launch 2012 with Lin Oliver photo by Candy Gourlay

Eight years ago, I wrote a children’s book, but I didn’t get my happy ending. I shopped it around to a few literary agents, had my confidence punctured by two rejections in quick succession, and put away my dreams (and the unfinished sequel) while I got on with family life.

Eight months ago, I jump-started those dreams again: what set me off on my journey was discovering a dusty copy of my novel in my mother’s attic. In the intervening years I’d given birth to my target market, and with a five-year-old and a seven-year-old at home, I had consumed enough modern children’s literature to know that the story I’d written wasn’t so bad — the story, mind you, not the book. I’m learning what a big gulf there is between a good story and a saleable book.

I’ll spare you the details of what else I’m learning, but in sum, it turns out that being a skilled journalist is a lot different from being a skilled fiction writer. And I have so much more to learn about pace, character and voice. But I was lucky enough (thanks to a pointer from artist and writer Debi Gliori) to discover early on the supportive community of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. The organisation is one you must investigate if you’re working on a children’s book (and I’m finding that many people I know are closet novelists with a children’s book at some stage of development). SCBWI will help you: it is overflowing with successful, published professionals who help each other and newcomers navigate the unsettling terrain of a career in children’s books.

I had just one quibble upon joining SCBWI (and it wasn’t the acronymn, which features fewer vowels than most Bosnian villages and which, in the British Isles, is imaginatively pronounced “Scooby”). My complaint is that I didn’t understand how much SCBWI had to offer until I experienced its riches in person at the annual conference near London last autumn. The talent and generosity of both its new and established members, the calibre of teaching in its seminars, the horse’s-mouth insights from publishers and editors…I just didn’t get it until I’d seen it myself.

Words and Pictures shows you what it’s all about

That’s why I’m delighted that the exciting new blogzine for SCBWI British Isles, Words and Pictures, has just launched. You don’t have to be a member to read and enjoy the interviews, articles and video how-to’s (I’m contributing some instructional social media beginner videos, which they’ve let me call Sheila’s Videos). The blogzine’s openness is a super way for SCBWI to showcase what it offers members, and I hope it will encourage more members in the UK and other regions.

When joining, I was surprised to learn the Society is Los Angeles based, co-founded by Lin Oliver (thanks Candy Gourlay for this photo above of Lin and the others, taken at last year’s mass book launch), and there are SCBWI chapters worldwide. The heavy pack of member resources that ker-thumped through my mail slot after I joined, posted all the way from LA, was almost worth the membership fee all on its own.

Take another look at the picture of happy authors above, launching their hard-won books at the SCBWI British Isles annual conference 2012. This has been the best discovery of all for me: children’s book writers aren’t just names on a bookshelf, they’re living, breathing, typing, tea-drinking, cake-eating, dream-dreaming people like me, who want nothing more than to make books that take a kid up, up and away.

You’ll learn a little more about these wonderful folk at the new blogzine. Why are you reading this? Go read Words and Pictures!