Tuesday, October 06, 2009

A Misguided Zealot Lost in the Wonderland of Children's Book Publishing

This morning I found steam wafting up from more than my cup of hot tea. It was pouring from my ears as I hopped online to catch up on tweets and blogs before I started my day. Yes, there it was. This ridiculous article from so-called writer Julia Duin on the Washington Times website, misrepresenting SCBWI and slamming a couple of conferences she attended, apparently in the hopes of instant literary stardom. To this, I will respond with an open letter to this poor misguided zealot:

Dear Ms. Duin,

I found your article in the Washington Times online this morning rather amusing, though more to the point, excessively irritating. I have attended many SCBWI events and have gained so much from them, that I now volunteer and put a lot of work into organizing an event. You begin by attributing some dubious claims to the organizers of some Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators conferences.
These conferences lure you with the hope that you can be the next J.K. Rowling. The reality is far nastier, despite the names of various agents, publishers, magazine editors and art directors that grace the society's brochures.

You imply that these conferences proffer false hopes and make empty promises, as if they were scurrilous vanity publishers or unethical agents who prey on unsuspecting writers willing to fork over their dollars for even the smallest possibility of getting their book published. Believe me, there are plenty of people out there willing to con writers, good and bad, out of their money and it's not the SCBWI. I suggest you check out
Predators & Editors and Writer Beware Blogs! to make sure you won't become a victim.

However, I take exception your characterization of the SCBWI as some shady organization that "lures" innocent writers into what can only be swift and sure defeat. Obviously you misunderstand the purpose of a writers' conference and you arrived with unrealistic objectives of your own making. Moreover, you must have a highly inflated notion of the "reality" of children's book publishing if you thought all you had to do was show up at a conference and accost an editor with your packet of proposals and manuscripts. If you haven't figured it out, children's book publishing is one of the toughest, most competitive fields out there.

Like many professional organizations, the SCBWI offers guidance, creates a sense of community among its members, promotes dialogue on important issues in the field, and offers opportunities for professional development. When it comes to conferences, they are first and foremost about honing your craft and being aware of the market and your target audience, and learning how to submit your work. Volunteers dedicate untold hours to putting these event together. They don't get paid. I looked at the brochures for the conferences you mentioned, and they do exactly that. They claim nothing more. If you see a brochure for a conference that promises to get you published, run the other way.

Of course as aspiring authors we love to fantasize about being "discovered" at a conference, like some would-be starlet sipping her malted at Currie's Ice Cream Parlor in Hollywood. Let me know how many authors started that way. All the authors I know made it by working on their craft and learning from workshops at conferences, making the contacts that allowed them to get their work past the initial slush pile. They paid their dues. Even J.K. Rowling was not an overnight success.

Your flashing your credentials of 5 published books does nothing for me but prove you have a false sense of entitlement—a problem many of our teenagers have these days. The Christian market is very specific and has its own set of standards. Likewise, the children's market has its own rules of etiquette and quality assurance. I suggest you explore this in more detail by visiting SCBWI's website and reading their list of Top 10 FAQ, and visit some of the amazing blogs and discussion boards online. While you are at it, pick up a copy of the latest CHILDRENS WRITERS AND ILLUSTRATOR'S MARKET and read the articles as well as the publisher listings (which includes Christian publishers). And why not add Harold Underdown's COMPLETE IDIOT'S GUIDE TO PUBLISHING CHILDREN'S BOOKS as well? I won't even get into your broad generalizations of the current kidlit market, but if you really want to limit your experience to Christian publications, check out the Christian Writer's Guild.

But please, don't malign an organization that works hard to educate and support writers of children's books because you made unreasonable and uneducated assumptions. Sweeping generalizations and ignorance will get your name out there, but not in a productive or morally sound way.

~ A humble, soon-to-be-published writer who has paid her dues.


  1. Too right!! It's amazing how obvious it was that she knows so little about children's publishing. How could she put this out there for the world to see without doing at least a little bit of research??? Mind-boggling.

  2. I couldn't agree more. This article made me furious when I read it last night. It's one thing to make huge generalizations and state misinformed opinions on your blog, but I would hope if you're writing for an actual publication you'd at least attempt to do your homework. But I guess not...

  3. Yeah. I'm the one that started the thread over on the boards at SCBWI. I'm so glad you took the time to post.

    Oh, Grrrrrrrrrrrrrr.


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