SUPPORTING YOUR FAR-FLUNG MEMBERS

Bobi Martin  RAE Arizona

Regional Advisors spend a good deal of our “could be writing or drawing” time planning events to help our members. We strive to create interesting programs that support and educate our illustrators, our unpublished members, members who’ve made a couple of sales, and our PAL members. This in itself is a challenge! RAs whose regions encompass a sprawling geographic area (sometimes an entire state!) face another challenge. How to you support those far-flung members who can’t justify traveling hours from home for a half-day event, and can’t afford the expense of an overnight stay for full day events?

Something that worked for me was giving my members the opportunity to propose an event in their area. Members were invited to plan an event and submit it to me for approval. This included who they wanted as speakers, their proposed date, anticipated costs, etc. They had to find a free or low-cost location, and get bids for box lunches or a snack and beverage break. As the RA, I approved proposed expenses, set the cost of the event, and paid the bills, but most of the work was handled by the hosting members. These events were successful on several levels. Members felt connected to our region, more members stepped forward to propose events (taking some of the burden of planning off of me), and we heard wonderful speakers—some of whom waived an honorarium because they were the editor or agent of the members planning the event.

Webinars are another way to host an event that nearly every member in your region can attend. A big plus of webinars is that they involve minimal cost. You don’t need to reserve a space, offer refreshments, or pay travel costs for speakers. Allowing for differences in time zones, you may be able to feature a speaker your region couldn’t afford to bring in person. Not tech savvy? There are a number of webinar hosting sites that will walk you through the process and can even help set up collecting payment.

By mixing the ways we offer programs in our regions we can help even our far-flung members feel connected and supported.

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Bobi Martin was the 1994 Member of the Year. She is the author of 10 nonfiction books, over 100 magazine articles, and has worked in advertising. She has edited over 25 published books for educational and small presses, including Creative Teaching Press. Find more about Bobi here: www.bobimartin.com

KEEPING PAL MEMBERS ENGAGED

Alexis O’Neill, RAE
Alexis@alexisoneill.com

As their careers grow, PAL members often turn to their personal network of published authors and illustrators for advice and support. But what can regions do to keep PALS engaged in SCBWI throughout their careers?

One way is to first recognize that one-size-fits-all PAL programming is insufficient.  Awareness that PALs have changing priorities at different career stages can help us provide more targeted programming and services.

So what do PAL members typically need at different stages in their careers?

“Beginner” PAL:  First book published.

Main concern: Getting the word out and finding an audience for the book. Becoming known as a published author or illustrator. Navigating social media as a professional.

Sweet spot: Securing a contract for a second book.

“Intermediate” PAL: Two to three books published.

Main concern: Earning enough money to continue writing or illustrating as a career. Expanding audiences through conference appearances, paid presentations and book sales.

Continuing concern: Maintaining a social media presence. Landing more book contracts.

Sweet spot: Having a network of PAL members to call upon for advice about craft and the publishing business.

“Advanced” PAL: Four or more books.

Main concern: Continuing to sell books to publishers. Keeping published books in print.

Continuing concern: Staying current on social media. Landing more book contracts. Earning enough money to continue writing or illustrating as a career. Expanding audiences through conference appearances, paid presentations and book sales.

Sweet spot: Sharing professional expertise in a formal capacity in local, national and/or international events.

“Mega-Advanced” PAL: Nationally/internationally recognized book(s). Big-Time award-winner, bestseller, keynote-presenter.

Main concern: Finding time to write the next book.

Continuing concern: Keeping published books in print.

Sweet spot:  Finding a balance between one’s public world and one’s private, creative world. Staying healthy.

What do SCBWI regions and the main headquarters already do to nurture PAL members?  For example . . .

  • headquarters offers the Book Blast, SCBWI Reading List, book sales at the summer conference, and grants.
  • regions offer a variety of opportunities including group bookstore signings, author visit lists, programming with or for teachers and librarians, professional workshops and  invitations to lead workshops, distribution of promotional materials, participation in festival and conference booths.

But take a closer look. At what career levels are your PAL members? Do your offerings provide a balance of activities between entry-level PALs and PALs who are more experienced?  Once you know your demographics, it’s easier to make programming choices.

Are you using your advanced PAL members to their best advantage for your events? One of the tremendous benefits of being in SCBWI is that members have opportunities to interact with experienced PAL members who can share knowledge and advice. But unless ADVANCED PAL members see benefits of remaining in the organization, then access to these valuable mentors will be diminished or lost.

Here’s an action plan: I propose that we create a survey to find out where our PAL members are in terms of their publishing careers – Beginning, Intermediate, Advanced, Mega-Advanced — then find out what kinds of programming and services they think will best keep them connected to the organization that helped to launch their careers.

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Alexis O’Neill, a true Virgo, loves organizing things – which is why she served for 18 years as regional advisor in the California Central-Coastal region. A former elementary school teacher, she also loves connecting authors and illustrators with kids in meaningful ways — which is how she came to write the column, “The Truth About School Visits” since 2006 for the SCBWI Bulletin, maintain a blog at http://www.schoolvisitexperts.com, and engage as a co-researcher in an academic study to find out if author visits make a difference in kids’ lives.  She’s the author of several picture books including The Recess Queen and The Kite That Bridged Two Nations. Visit her at http://www.alexisoneill.com

 

Jumping High for SCBWI

by Anna Myers (RAE Oklahoma)

Never during my school days did I consider trying to be a cheerleader. I had nothing against them, but not in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would become one. Many years later I got involved with SCBWI.  “If you don’t agree to take over this job, we will have to become part of an out-of-state chapter,” I was told by our overworked-and-moving-away RA. I agreed to replace her for three years, giving me time to find someone more suited. I never enjoyed fretting over money or searching for speakers, but miraculously, I loved being a cheerleader. For fourteen years I gladly wore a SCBWI cheerleading outfit and carried a large megaphone.

A cheerleader builds up school spirit, a job that cannot be done if the leader is separate    from the crowd. Don’t keep the podium always between you and them, at least not figuratively. Make sure your eyes and your heart connect with your members. I once observed an RA who actually assigned published writers to surround the conference speakers and herself to keep attendees from getting too close. Thank God, that was many years ago.

In Oklahoma at conference luncheons, we have a speaker or a well-published author at each round table. Attendees are encouraged to be part of the conversation and to ask questions. Lin and Steve often talk about the SCBWI Tribe. That feeling of belonging has to be cultivated in our local chapters.

There are as many ways to connect with people as there are different personalities among our chapter leaders, but each RA should find his or her own way to do backflips and handstands among members.

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Anna Myers is the author of twenty books for young people. She served as Oklahoma RA for fourteen years.

 

SCBWI Into the New Year

by Cheryl Zach (RAE Midsouth and previous RAC)

As the old year passes and the new year begins, it’s hard to ignore SCBWI’s legacy.  We especially remember the many ways the organization has aided us. If anyone should attempt to add up the number of books, artwork, and other types of endeavors published or displayed whose creators were encouraged and guided by SCBWI, I have no doubt the total would be phenomenal.

And as valuable as speakers and workshop leaders on writing and artistic skills, on marketing and other business tools, have been, one of the greatest values SCBWI has given us has been the opportunity to meet, network, and create friendships with our fellow authors and artists. I know that many of my dearest and most enduring friends have come from my years with the society. I often think how different my life would have been if I had never encountered SCBWI. Writers and artists labor most often in private, and even other ‘civilian’ friends and family members don’t always understand our struggles and, often, discouragement. To find others who do, who fight the same uphill battles, exult in the same creative thrills but scramble to find and keep a toehold in a competitive industry, makes an enormous difference.  Beyond a professional group, SCBWI is also family.

As we start a new year, we can draw on the best of SCBWI’s wisdom to guide us. Despite possible obstacles, we owe it to our young readers to give them our best efforts, to offer them books filled with love and strength and verity, to not settle for fake news or gossip or the latest viral Internet innuendo. We need to speak truth and stand up against censorship. We need to continue to encourage and welcome diversity in our membership and to reflect it accurately and with open hearts in our works for children and young adults. We need to show the world as it is, but with hope for better times and better selves. If we do this, I hope we can make 2017 a good year. Creative minds matter.

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Cheryl Byrd Zach has published over 50 books in over a dozen languages around the world, most for young adult or middle grade readers. She has worked with SCBWI for many years, is the Regional Advisor Chairperson Emerita and is a member of the Board of Advisors.

We Are Called to Share

Suzanne Morgan Williams
RAE Nevada

Many of you know that since 2001 I’ve made several trips to the Canadian Arctic. At first I went to do research, but later the trips were to follow up on friendships and my love for the culture. While I was there, I was able to interview Inuit elders about their experiences, their interaction with “southern” culture (read that the majority culture of Canada and the USA), and their hopes for their children. One man, Mariano Apilaujuk, touched me deeply. He taught me to truly listen, perhaps for the first time, and also this:

“If you have something to learn, listen. If you have something that needs to be shared speak. If you don’t understand something, ask.” That seems simple, but I’d bet, you can think of many, many times when instead of listening to others, we create our rebuttal, or think of our own experiences to share instead of hearing what is being shared. If you follow this advice, you will talk less. But there is a corollary.

“If you are an elder, it is your duty to share what you’ve learned. And not only to share it with those younger than you, but to share it at exactly the right time, and tell them exactly what you believe they need to know.” Many of us are now elders in our writing community, in our families, and in our towns and cities. In light of the recent election in the US, I believe the time is right to share this with you:

For those of us who are, say over 50, it is our duty now, to share our stories. Perhaps younger folks don’t remember what the Ku Klux Klan is. Perhaps they didn’t have friends whose parents survived the holocaust. Perhaps they don’t remember the Civil Rights Movement or the Vietnam years. Do they know what it was like to see a friend sneak away to Mexico for an illegal abortion? Or to have a grandparent to die suddenly, because they didn’t have access to medical care? Perhaps they can’t believe people were denied jobs because they were women, black, brown, or gay? Perhaps they don’t know what our soldiers endured in World War II or Korea or Vietnam to ensure that we can speak our minds freely. Please share these stories, face to face, in e-mails, on the phone – however – to the younger folks you know who might not remember, and who might only believe someone they know and trust. We are elders now and it is our responsibility to pass on these stories. They are real and important.

You are the Regional Teams. You do important work helping others to share their truths. Please remember that the next time you are frustrated at the price of coffee per person at your venue or when the website gives you grief. You are helping authors and illustrators to find their voices, to speak, and children to learn – hopefully to be tolerant, kind, compassionate, and sharing. Peace.

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Suzanne Morgan Williams is the author of the middle grade novel Bull Rider and eleven nonfiction books for children. Bull Rider is a Junior Library Guild Selection, is on state award lists in Texas, Nevada, Missouri, Wyoming, and Indiana, and won a Western Heritage Award from the National Cowboy Museum in Oklahoma City. Suzanne’s nonfiction titles include Pinatas and Smiling SkeletonThe Inuit , Made in China, and her latest book, China’s Daughters. Suzanne has presented and taught writing workshops at dozens of schools, professional conferences, and literary events across the US and Canada. Suzanne is RAE from Nevada Region SCBWI and was SCBWI Member of the Year in 2012.

Visit www.suzannemorganwilliams.com and connect with Suzanne.

 

Don’t Burn Out!

Time Management for Regional Advisors
Denise Vega, RAE Rocky Mountain (Colorado/Wyoming)

All of the Regional Advisors I know are dedicated, hardworking and extremely committed to providing their memberships with opportunities and experiences that will enhance their craft and their careers.

And many of them—like me—are perfectionists, wanting to make sure nothing falls through the cracks, that events run smoothly, that everyone has the best experience possible.

This approach makes for incredibly powerful experiences and well-run regions, but it can also lead to burn out and a sense of being underappreciated.

Here are some tips for staying sane and maintaining the fun and joy that probably got you involved in the first place.

  1. Remember you are a volunteer. I know you know this, but it bears repeating: You are a volunteer. There is only so much you can do and so much you really should be doing. If you need to be reminded, just ask other RAs or Lin and Steve, who are adamant about the leadership not letting the role take over their lives.
  2. Delegate. This seems obvious and you may actually believe you are delegating. After all, you have a conference coordinator, a newsletter editor, people who help with the website or small events, webinars, etc. But are there tasks you’re doing or have held on to even as your region’s needs have evolved and changed? Several years ago, my co-RA, Todd Tuell, and I sat down and wrote out all of our tasks, even the smallest ones. Then we took a highlighter and highlighted each task someone else could be doing. There was a lot more yellow than I thought there would be! Why was I still creating the newsletter schedule when the editor could do that? Why was I following up with AV requirements when we had a speaker coordinator? Slowly we identified tasks we could hand off to a more appropriate volunteer, talked to them about it, and got it off our plates.
  3. Have email control. Yes, there will be times—like right before a big event—when you need to be aware of unexpected or last minute needs. But limit the time you spend on email. If possible, set aside a timeframe or two timeframes each day—or less if there is a lull—where you read and respond to RA email. If you are answering at all times of the day and night and on weekends right now, it may take some time for others to get used to your new response time, but they will. You may even want to send out a general email to your volunteers explaining your new policy. This is what I did. People had gotten used to me not only responding at all hours of the day and weekends, but quickly. If they weren’t hearing back from me a few hours after sending an email, they wondered what was up. That was my fault and I had to explain what I was doing and retrain them. Then all was well.
  4. Make time for your creative work. Many RAs comment that they didn’t do much writing or illustrating while they were in the position. I, myself, found that to be true until I reclaimed my time. The abovementioned email policy really helped. I often wrote first, then checked email to ensure that I got something done. And for those who also hold jobs or have others in their lives to care for, this is even more important. Make the time. It may mean you don’t do that third event. Or your region postpones a new program. Or you get another volunteer involved. Just don’t give up the thing you love (your creative life) or you will begin to resent the other thing you love (your region and your role in it.)

Balancing your life, your creative work, and your region is possible. Believe it and then make those decisions that will support that balance.

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Denise Vega (who also wrote the posts: Session Ideas and Becoming Pals with PAL Members) is the award-winning author of six books for kids and teens, including her most recent teen novel, Rock On (Little, Brown), and a picture book coming in 2017 (Knopf). She is RAE for the Rocky Mountain Region (CO/WY) and is on faculty at the Lighthouse Writers Workshop as well as the newly-created Low Residency Mile High MFA in Creative Writing, both in Denver, CO. She lives in Denver with her family, where she eats a lot of French fries and chocolate, but usually not together. You can find Denise here: http://www.denisevega.com

Goodwill Ambassadors

by Anna Levine.
As I follow the recent discussions about the importance of diverse books, I think of the years SCBWI has been working quietly developing and encouraging writers around the world to write good books for young children and young adult readers. I remember when I started SCBWI Israel one of the concerns was, “There’s no US letter-sized paper, will an editor read my work if it doesn’t fit ‘her’ folder? What’ll we do about SASEs with no American postage stamps?” (Yes, who could have foreseen the demise of paper and stamps?)  And always the question from writers who were worried that their work would not be of interest to anyone outside the place they lived. The support I got from going to the SCBWI conferences (LA and NY) and what I brought back to my members was, “Your work is important as a window into new worlds.” Without thinking about having a message or an agenda to promote, writing about nature, customs, traditions, struggles and hopes these books are as universal as they are unique. We write about our worlds to share our experiences with young readers and open their minds to how we are different and what we share.

Recently I was approached by a blogger from Culture Chest (I mention this as a recent experience that prompted thoughts for this piece, not as promotion). She asked to interview me and is interested in finding other children’s book writers (anyone interested?). She reviews the authors and highlights work from world cultures. She asks an important question:

Why do you think exposure to other cultures is important for young children?

Part of my response had to do with the idea that learning at a young age about other cultures promotes a healthy curiosity. The concept of ‘otherness’ becomes interesting, rather than strange or frightening. The individual SCBWI branches work within their own communities, thus the importance of participating in the International conferences cannot be stressed enough as a chance to see multi-culturalism in action.

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Anna Levine’s books, set in Israel, are about nature (All Eyes on Alexandra about the millions of birds that fly over Israel every winter, pub. date 2018), the people, (Running on Eggs NY Public Library’s list of best books for YAs in 2000, about the friendship between two runners on a track team, one Israeli one Palestinian), life (Freefall, Sydney Taylor Award winner) and history (the Jodie Archaeology series see: http://www.jodiebooks.com). Discover more about Anna at http://www.annalevine.org