On March 9 and 10, I will be participating in the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Writers Days Conference in Los Angeles, CA, where—in my role as literary agent—I will be discussing some of the challenges and opportunities that exist for diverse writers and illustrators in today’s publishing environment, with a particular focus on Latino artists. I’ll also be participating on an “Agents and Editors” panel, and guiding workshops on writing and pitching picture books and children’s novels. If my schedule for these two days seems intense, it’s because it will be! But this is what SCBWI does best as an organization: it immerses writers head first into the writing process, and it provides ample opportunities for learning about, and getting access to the publishing industry.
These are the reasons why I often direct aspiring children’s writers and illustrators to this organization, and why I’ve decided to share this wonderful resource with Mamiverse readers as well, especially for those moms out there who have given some thought to creating children’s books, or who are already in the process of doing so. The resources on the organization’s webpage alone are worth the cost of its yearly membership! As a literary agent, I can honestly say that I always look at submissions from SCBWI members with particular interest, as I know that they usually come from writers and illustrators who are informed about the world of children’s publishing, and fully committed to work hard at becoming a part of it.
Read Related: The Missing Link: Latinos in Books & Publishing
I could think of no better person to share a bit more about this organization and the work it is doing to help diverse artists than Lee Wind. He, along with author Sarah Laurenson, serves as co-Regional Advisor for the SCBWI-Los Angeles chapter that is organizing this upcoming event. Here is what Lee said:
Mamiverse: Can you tell us a little bit about SCBWI, and how children’s book writers and illustrators can benefit from being a part of this organization?
Wind: SCBWI was started by two writers (Lin Oliver and Stephen Mooser) who back in 1971 got hired to write for children, and thought they’d reach out to other writers who had done it already to get some advice. There was no organization doing that, so Lin and Steve created the Society of Children’s Book Writers. The “I” came later, as author/illustrator Tomie dePaola championed a greater voice for illustrators. Today, SCBWI is a vibrant non-profit organization with over 22,000 members worldwide, offering writers and illustrators of works for children and teens craft, business, inspiration, opportunity and community.
And I also want to share that it’s a warm-hearted, welcoming group who cheer for others’ successes and shares the career journey with you, from newbies just starting out, to authors and illustrators who are well-published and mentors in their fields.
Mamiverse: SCBWI seems to be increasing its efforts to promote the work of diverse authors and illustrators, with among other things, the creation of its annual On-the-Verge Emerging Voices Award in 2012. Can you tell us about this award, and how it came about?
Wind: SCBWI is always looking for ways to help authors and illustrators break out and get noticed. In particular, the new On-The-Verge Emerging Voices Award is looking to highlight “writers or illustrators who are from an ethnic and/or cultural background that is traditionally under-represented in children’s literature in America.” Winners get, among other things, an all-expense paid trip to the SCBWI Winter Conference to meet with editors and agents—and this year’s winners are right now getting matched with a mentor for the year!
Mamiverse: Another good example of SCBWI’s efforts in this area is the Los Angeles Chapter’s Writer’s Days 2013 conference’s focus on Diversity. What inspired it, and what do you hope to accomplish at the conference?
Wind: SCBWI has over 100 volunteer-run regions worldwide, and I have the honor and responsibility of being the co-Regional Advisor for SCBWI Los Angeles, a region of over 1,350 members. We run more than 75 events throughout the year, from free “schmoozes,” to creative field trips, and our two-day Writer’s Days conference. This year, we decided to focus our Los Angeles Writer’s Days conference on diversity, mainly because it’s something we want to see more of, and want to encourage our members to think about in their illustrations and writing.
Our world is SO diverse, the world of our children is so full of people who may look different but who share a common humanity with us, and yet, writing and illustrating for children often defaults to everyone being white, wealthy, and heterosexual. We need to challenge that, both for ourselves as artists, and for our industry. You can’t fix what you don’t see, so we’re going to try to look at this with a fresh perspective and empower each other to make the worlds and characters of our work more diverse!
I’ve also had the great good fortune of hosting a running discussion about including LGBTQ characters and themes in works for children and teens at SCBWI’s two annual U.S.-based international conferences since 2009. What comes up again and again are agents and editors who say that the percentage of submissions they receive with either main queer characters or characters of color is dismayingly low. Contrary to the fear of many newer writers, that including diverse characters will make it harder for them to get published, agents and editors seem to be saying that including diversity may actually help writers stand out from the crowd.
We’re very excited to host you here in Los Angeles, and dive into Diversity in Children’s Literature together. Registration for SCBWI Los Angeles Writer’s Days (March 9 and 10, 2013) is still available.
Thank you, Lee and SCBWI, for doing your part to help diverse authors and illustrators get published!