Should You Join the SCBWI? A Look at the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators
If your dream is to make children’s books, you’ve probably come across the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators before. It’s a global organization for writers and illustrators, which aims to connect its members with helpful resources, awards and grants, and with their peers.
But is the SCWBI actually worth joining? In this post, we’ll lay out the great and the not-so-great, to help you make your decision.
A global network of chapters
The SCBWI is a highly localized organization, despite also being an international one. The over 25,000 members represent over 80 different regional chapters consisting of both individual US states as well as countries and regions across the globe. You can find the full list here.
Upon joining, you’ll be automatically enrolled into one of these chapters. This can be both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, you’ll be able to connect with other authors and artists in your local area, both digitally and in person, helping you build your network of professional contacts organically. On the other hand, the activity for these chapters will vary widely, and while some chapters are holding events several times a month, others meet far less frequently.
The region you’re in may be a key factor in your experience of the SCBWI, so it’s worth carefully researching your local group before joining. Thankfully, the SCBWI website has a dedicated page for each chapter where you can check out the group’s leadership, view a calendar of upcoming events — and perhaps even plan to attend any of those events which are available to non-members. This can be a great way to “try before you buy” and get a true feel for your local branch before signing up.
Tiered membership for every stage in your career
There are four main types of membership available at SCWBI, reflecting various stages of an author’s career:
|Associate membership||Unpublished writers and illustrators, as well as those with a general interest in the field.|
|Full membership||Published authors and artists, including self-published, who have work available in the children's market.|
|Published and Listed membership||Those who have been published by a traditional publishing house.|
|Student membership||Those currently enrolled in university or college.|
While these tiers do help to differentiate between members, it’s interesting to note that there are no clear distinctions between the perks available to the different tiers of membership, except for one newsletter: the PRO-INSIDER newsletter.
According to SCBWI, this newsletter “is a digital publication for PAL (Published and Listed) and Full members … filled with information on building and maintaining a successful career as a professional writer or illustrator. [It]features articles about contracts, royalties, marketing, school visits, taxes, and everything a professional writer or illustrator might need to know.” It’s all valuable stuff, but why this information is made available only to published authors remains a little unclear.
Otherwise, the distinction between different types of members seems a little obscure, especially considering the flat pricing structure.
An $80 annual membership fee
No matter which type of membership you have, except for a couple of different concessions, you will be paying a $95 fee to join, and an $80 dollar annual renewal fee. This is reduced to $65 and $55, respectively, for full time students. The SCBWI also mentions that residents of countries designated by the UN as a developing country are eligible for discounted membership.
While certainly not cheap, this pricing is comparable to similar professional bodies like the CIEP and ACES — and the structure of the pricing is refreshingly transparent, compared to others. The main consideration here, then, is whether you personally will get enough bang for your buck to justify the price — or if you’re better off looking for free alternatives.
In-person networking opportunities and conferences
As we’ve already mentioned, the SCBWI coordinates in-person conferences, seminars, workshops and events. While there are organization-wide events, such as their Summer and Winter conferences in New York, the vast majority of these events are regional.
It’s also worth mentioning that many of these events — some of which come with an entry fee — are open to non-members, and some are fee-paying events. So while you may get a discount on your entry as a member, you may want to weigh up if you’ll be in the sweet spot of attending enough of these events at a discounted rate (and if there will be enough events of interest to you in your region) to make that membership fee worth it, or if you should just attend a handful as a non-member.
With that said, sometimes being able to meet up and network in person is worth its weight in gold, especially in a profession that can otherwise get a bit solitary.
Online resources (which you may be able to find elsewhere)
The SCBWI offers a number of digital resources for members, including (but not limited to):
- Two publishing guidebooks (The Essential Guide to Publishing for Children, and The Essential Guide to Self-Publishing a Children’s Book)
- INSIGHT, which they describe as “a monthly digital publication featuring current children’s book news, hot topics, helpful hints, exclusive interviews with industry professionals, and monthly illustration contests”
- Digital Workshops
Having all this information collated in one place is definitely convenient, but the topics they cover and resources they offer are ones which have also been extensively covered elsewhere. The SCBWI’s team are certainly experts on the topic, but you may find the information being shared available for free, elsewhere.
What is definitely more unique to the SCBWI, though, is their publicity and marketing tools for children’s authors.
Marketing and promotional opportunities for members
The SCBWI offers some specifically targeted marketing and promotional tools for its members, including listings in their Speaker’s Bureau, a directory to help find speaking engagements, and their Illustrator Gallery. There are also various opportunities to become part of recommended reading lists and book clubs as a member.
All of the above are designed to get more eyes on your work, but how much they move the needle in terms of generating actual sales is up for debate. The website isn’t going to receive a huge amount of non-member traffic, so the chances of parents and grandparents stumbling across your work on there and going on to buy it are slim. However, these boards and directories may be a little more helpful when it comes to advertising your services and looking for professional work as an illustrator or author.
It’s certainly no substitute for a proper freelancer profile or professional website, but being listed in specialized directories such as these can help ensure that, when people are looking for someone in your niche, you’ll be one of the results. However, for your best chance at freelance success, you'll want to make sure you're also signed up to the major marketplaces. Reedsy is a great place for professionals to find work.
Scholarships and awards for authors and artists
One area where the SCBWI is particularly strong is in its offering of grants and prizes. There are dozens of awards and grants available, from the general to the specific. Awards include funding for BIPOC authors and illustrators, self-publishers, and students. There are also some more niche prizes you may qualify for, such as PJ Library Jewish Stories Award, or the Karen Cushman Late Bloomer Award, for supporting unpublished authors over 50.
If you’re serious about being involved in children’s publishing and need some financial support to make it happen, it’s definitely worth checking out the SCBWI’s offerings and seeing if there’s anything that you may be suitable for.
Extra support for self-publishing authors
Although the SCBWI is available to both traditional and self-publishing authors, there are some dedicated resources for indie authors which may make the prospect of membership more valuable.
These include access to the Alliance of Independent Author’s Watchdog Desk, founded to help independent authors identify potential publishing scams (and freelancer scams), as well as the Alliance’s tri-annual magazine. There are also some specific grants and prizes for self-publishing authors, aiming to recognise excellence in the field and financially support upcoming projects.
If you’re a traditionally published author or illustrator, there are fewer resources tailored directly to your needs. This is worth bearing in mind when signing up, as you may find that a pre-existing relationship with a traditional publishing house may make the resources and networking opportunities available with the SCBWI moot.
Whether membership with SCBWI is worth it will depend on a lot of factors, from your geographical location, to the stage you’re at in your publishing journey, to your own personal goals.
SCBWI do go above and beyond to provide up-to-date and well-researched information, which is handily distilled down into monthly emails. You can feel confident that the information you’re receiving is accurate, but it's also information you could probably find elsewhere for free, with a little bit of digging. For that reason, the educational aspect of the SCBWI is outweighed by its social and professional network.
Before committing to the $95 signup fee, we’d recommend doing a lot of sleuthing around your local chapter, as the vibrancy and activity of your branch will likely be a determining factor in your experience. Reach out to members, attend some open events, and see whether you consider the networking opportunities available to be worth your hard-earned cash. If your city’s branch is a quieter one, you may want to consider giving membership a miss and handpicking a few of the events open to non-members to attend instead.
Overall, SCBWI is a handy home for writers and artists with a passion for children’s books, and doesn’t appear to have any major red flags. Whether it’s worth it for you, personally, will depend on how much you choose to get involved. And if you do sign up, don’t forget to make the most of those discounts and grants!