HOW DO YOU KNOW IT’S TIME TO GO?

Joan Broerman (RAE Southern Breeze)

You’ve loved being an RA. You still do. However, sometimes, when your duties for an upcoming regional event run smack dab into a family vacation or your editor wants an immediate response, you feel s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d. It’s certainly praiseworthy here to note that you will get all the above accomplished. It’s who you are. You raise your hand and respond, “I can do that!” even if you have no idea how—yet.

However, you wonder: “What if I could tackle my RA to-do lists later? Or not at all?”

At our summer conference this year (2017), I asked RAE’s, “How did YOU know? When did you realize it was time to step down?” I promised anonymity so I will not quote but summarize.

As spelled out in the Handbook, an RA is asked to serve a minimum of 3 years. An RA who plans to serve three years with great zest and then step down and back into full time writer shoes has a time frame and an exit plan.

Relocation from one town to another, or another state, or even another country, forces an exit plan.  Happily, SCBWI is like a Welcome Wagon for creators of kids’ books.  Members find each other and fit in. If the new town doesn’t have an SCBWI presence, a former RA will establish one. This could lead to being an RA. Again.

Other RA’s do not have a time frame or an exit plan. For them, a decision looms, way out there in the Future. The job is too much fun to think about ending it. What happens to challenge an RA’s enthusiasm? (Other RT members can look for themselves in this, too.)

BURNOUT

The task you love isn’t fun anymore. It becomes a weight sitting on your shoulders. You may have loved writing thank-you notes after a conference. It gave you a chance to re-live the most heart-swelling moments, when your committee members worked together seamlessly or the faculty turned your event into the “best ever.”

The switch is subtle. You  don’t know when it happened, but suddenly, you find “write thank you notes” on your to-do list, and you feel like your feet are stuck in concrete mix that’s hardening.

You catch yourself talking to yourself. You re-live all the things that went wrong and ask yourself aloud why you chose a certain volunteer or why you picked a topic you knew would cause disruption or why, why, how, how…until you drive yourself crazy. Almost.

Sometimes circumstances seem to conspire to wear an RA out. Your conference is cancelled due to weather. Your regional treasury takes a beating. Stress escalates. Your most hard-working volunteer or the one you depend upon the most must step away or move out of town just before the greatest work must begin to launch a successful event. More stress.

WHY NOT STEP DOWN?

At this point, what keeps an RA from stepping down? Two concerns emerged as major.

Concern for the Future of the Region

A change in leadership is a shake-up. Can a region withstand this? Can your region continue serving its current members and maintain its growth, both in depth of programs and number of members?

Some solved this by adding a Co-RA or an ARA to share the work. This can lengthen the RA’s term of service, but it might also be a first step in training for the next RA.

A well trained pool of talent is a plus for any organization. For small regions, a pool may not be possible. For larger regions, individuals could be so entrenched in one role that the RA lacks back-up. It’s never too early to view a region from these angles. This could help you create a reasonable stepping down time frame for yourself and your region, whether you need to implement it now or later.

US!

Yes, we ourselves. A story:

“What’s the best part of these conferences?” New York RA Vicky Shiefman asked many years ago as we gathered in a coffee shop in Los Angeles one day pre-conference. With no hesitation, the answer was, “Us.” No one “gets” an RA like another RA. We didn’t want to lose our connection with each other.

Vicky told Sue Alexander she needed to spend less time as an RA and more time as a writer, BUT she didn’t want to lose contact with other RA’s.  Sue discussed this with Lin and Steve. A concern grew into a new level of leadership, Regional Advisor Emerita.

Requirements and perks are associated with appointment to the RAE level. Ten years is the minimum term of service to qualify, but the designation is not automatic. Requirements and perks are spelled out in the Handbook.

Do perks make a difference when an RA is struggling with the idea of stepping down? Some said the thought of perks gave them the energy to push through difficult times, especially in the eighth and ninth years. But more said it wasn’t the potential perks – which they appreciated — but the status of RAE. This makes a statement. It continues connection.

At some point stepping down must be based on you and your own energy and scheduling. If you stay another year or enough years to be considered for RAE status, what is the cost to your health, family, and career (both writing and day job)?

Would it help to talk with others about stepping down before you decide?  Other RA’s “get” you. So do RAE’s. We’re all good listeners. Call on us.

**********

Joan Broerman:
A founder of Southern Breeze, Joan was 1998 Member of the Year. Writing middle grade novels is her current focus. She thinks the best part of being an RAE is the other RAE’s.

 

Advertisements

Cast a Wide Net to “Land” Local Speakers

Lynne Wikoff (RAE Hawaii)

For many (if not most) regions, local speakers are crucial to filling out programs. Local authors and illustrators can provide information “from the trenches,” and at the same time gain speaking experience—and that’s useful for all concerned. But too much reliance on the same people over and over again? No. Such over-exposure, which can be a problem especially for smaller regions, is not a good thing for all concerned.

What’s an RA (or a conference director) to do?

  1. get creative
  2. get creative
  3. get creative
  4. all of the above

The answer, of course, is “4.” See how easy that was? Wait, you say? You want to know more? Here are some type of pros who may be available locally or nearby who can provide a new but still helpful perspective—and, in my experience these people have often been willing to do a presentation at no or very reasonable cost.

  • Advertising pros: top copy writers are likely to be “hook-‘em-in” wizards who can help writers of all genres make their sentences sizzle, while graphic designers can provide ideas to enhance illustrators’ approaches to, well, illustration.
  • Photographers can often offer useful information on topics such as composition, telling a story with images, and making use of different vantage points.
  • Experienced PR practitioners are fountains of information about how to get publicity, how to develop a following, and how to use—and take advantage of—social media.
  • Computer whizzes knowledgeable about specific programs/features useful for writers and/or illustrators can help people find ways to work more efficiently.
  • Children’s theater people can share tips on how to get kids to pay attention.
  • Children’s librarians and booksellers. ‘Nuf said—we all know they are worth their weight in gold (and they can also share info about what really holds kids’ attention.).
  • Experienced teachers can talk about the hows and whats of school visits.

This list is, of course, not exhaustive but it can help you get creative in finding local resources to add zing to your programs.

**********

Lynne Wikoff started writing at age four — with a brown crayon on a newly painted wall. (Surprisingly, her mother was not impressed.) She now uses a computer, which cause much less damage to the walls. She’s had three picture books published by regional publishers in Hawaii, where she was RA for 12 years before moving to Oregon in 2013, and she now has a couple of manuscripts seeking their way in the agent world. Before joining “the tribe,” she worked in corporate communications and as a freelance business writer, and reviewed manuscript submissions and edited for a Hawaii-based regional publisher.

Less Can Be More for Conferences

Chris Eboch, RAE New Mexico

When you first become RA, you may be full of ideas for new programs. You may also feel pressure to do everything the former RA did (or more) as well (or better) than they did it. Enthusiasm is great, and being in charge provides the opportunity to put on programs you’d like, in the way you’d like them to happen. However, to avoid burnout and financial problems, keep a few principles in mind:

Eventually you’ll want to retire. Set up your region in such a way that potential future RAs won’t be too intimidated to step up.

You should benefit from being RA. It’s a great opportunity to make connections with people throughout the industry. But if you’re too busy putting on programs to do your own writing/illustrating, those connections won’t help you.

For these reasons, it’s a good idea to make sure the programs you put on aren’t overwhelming for the volunteers (e.g. you).

I became the Regional Advisor for New Mexico as we were planning our first conference. Over the next several years, we moved between different venues and tried a variety of formats. Because we’re a medium-sized region (about 200 members), we struggled to get more than 75 to 80 attendees. It also felt like we were reinventing the wheel every year, trying to solve problems that had come up over space, catering, and scheduling.

We quickly learned that people will come for the chance to meet editors, agents, and art directors. They won’t show up as much for programs by authors and illustrators, as much as they may still need those programs. We gradually stopped inviting authors and illustrators to speak at the conferences. After the first few years, we generally kept the program to four speakers: an art director and three agents or editors. Having only four speakers kept our expenses down and made coordinating the event easier. Yet we still struggled to make a profit and even lost money some years.

Finally we decided to try something different. We started bringing in a single speaker and asked that agent, editor, or art director to do a full-day workshop. That sounds like a lot, but often the speakers are busy all day long at a regular conference, between presentations and critiques. For agents and editors, we asked for three hours on craft in the morning and three hours on business in the afternoon. By including writing exercises for the group, they could avoid having to speak the entire time. They provided written critiques, done in advance, so we didn’t need to schedule time for one-on-one meetings. (FYI, many members prefer this method, as face to face meetings are so intimidating.)

By bringing in only one speaker, and needing only one room, we dramatically cut our costs. We could charge less for the event and still make a profit, even if we got fewer attendees. As a bonus, it’s much easier to coordinate travel, lodging, and programming for one person versus four or more.

On the downside, it’s hard to find one speaker who can give a program for every type of member. We generally tried to find an agent or editor who could put on a program useful to both picture book writers and novelists. Illustrators had a separate event.

You may love your annual conference and be doing great with it. If so, congratulations! But if you are feeling burned out or struggling financially, consider putting on simpler events like these. You could also alternate, having a large conference less often.

Here are some samples from brochures on two of our events, one for authors and one for illustrators. Maybe they’ll inspire ideas for your region.

Brochure Samples

**********

Chris Eboch served as RA for New Mexico from 2003-2013 and has given workshops for many regions around the world. She writes fiction and nonfiction for all ages, with over 25 published books for children. Her novels for ages nine and up include the Genie’s Gift, a middle eastern fantasy, the Eyes of Pharaoh, a mystery in ancient egypt; and the Well of Sacrifice, a mayan adventure. Her book advanced plotting helps writers fine-tune their plots.

Learn more at http://www.chriseboch.com.

Chris also writes novels of suspense and romance for adults under the name Kris Bock; http://www.krisbock.com.

 

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.

**********

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.

++++++++++++++++++++

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.

**********

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.

**********

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.