Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Talking Shop at SCBWI Shop Talks

by Sue Heavenrich
Writing can be a pretty solitary business and sometimes we need to connect with other children's writers. I find my tribe at the local SCBWI Shop Talks. Our regional chapter of the  Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (which we refer to as Skib-wee here in the rural outback of upstate NY) hosts an annual conference and a couple of workshops and retreats. But many of us hunger for a way to connect more locally. And more frequently.

That's where Shop Talks come in. Our group meets once a month in a book store. It provides an opportunity to meet up, network, share information, and develop ourselves as writers and illustrators. Sometimes we bring works-in-progress (pages or artwork) for critiquing. Other times we share wisdom gleaned from conferences, workshops, and retreats. It might be an idea on how to approach revision, a technique for helping find voice, or advice on making book dummies.

Some evenings our gatherings feel like "mini-conferences" or writing workshops. For example, our shop talks have featured:
  • a workshop on plotting with a local author
  • using screenwriting techniques to map the emotional arc in a story
  • when to use rhyme in a picture book
  • digital illustration with our regional illustrator advisor
  • a storytelling duo sharing what they learned when they put their stories on the page
One night the youth services librarian at the county library spoke about how they select books for their collection. Another time we did a "picture book field trip", collecting new books from the shelves of the bookstore and bringing them back to our table to study, dissect, and discuss (no books were harmed).

Shop talk inspires me to keep on scribbling. Now, as co-leader for the group, it provides me an opportunity to encourage and support emerging writers and illustrators.

How to find a Shop Talk Group
Check out the SCBWI website. Scroll down the home page to "Regional Chapters" and look for your state - or, in the case of California, New York and a couple others, your part of the state. Click on that and you'll find that many of the regional chapter pages have a list of conferences, events, and local meetings. They may even have a link to shop talks. At the very least, the regional adviser can help you find a local group.

No Shop Talk group? Start your own.
I asked one of the founding mothers of our shop talk group, how they got started. She had been a member of an active shop talk group in a larger city - four hours to the east - before moving to Ithaca. She attended a regional conference with a couple friends, and they thought it would be great to get a shop talk going in the Ithaca area. They were able to send out an email invitation to SCBWI members who lived in the area and then set up a list serve to connect writers and illustrators. They worked with an independent book store to secure a space to meet once a month. Over time the group has changed but the mission has remained the same: to provide fellowship, share information, and develop the craft both as writers and as illustrators.

What happens when you send out the invites and only a few people show up? Consider meeting in a public location where there is more visibility. I know of a group that meets in a library and their meetings are advertised on the library calendar. Not everyone who shows up is a SCBWI member, says the shop talk leader, but they are all serious about writing for kids and young adults.


  1. We have SCBWI Shop Talks throughout the Lower Peninsula of Michigan, too, Sue. Our members really appreciate them for all the reasons you share here. There's nothing like communing with your people!

  2. How wonderful that writers and illustrators for your region gather together through the SCBWI Shop Talk, Sue. Such an excellent forum to grow and learn with each other.

    Sue aka Suzy

  3. I split time between Illinois (where we have oodles of networks and SCBWI monthly programs) and North Florida where I am not connected at all with other SCBWI folks. This is helpful and something I hope to do in the year ahead . . . maybe not monthly, but quarterly in my area to see if there is an interest! Thanks!

  4. I don't think our region has "shop talks." We do have intermittent "meet ups" that cover a wide variety of things. Tonight, we've got a meet n greet with an agent from ABLA at a bookstore in SF. I think she's also going to talk about revision. Very excited to be going! I am a member of a goal-setting group that got started through SCBWI. Members have come and gone, but the core group is fantastic. We give each other support when our energies are flagging or if we need more eyes on a MS. I love my group! But I'm starting to think about this shop talk business, now. Gonna check to see if we have them. Cheers!

    1. they're called various things: shop talks, meet and greets, meet ups... the idea is all the same - to support each other, network, grow in our craft.

  5. This is great info, Sue. This sounds wonderful and lots of different "program" ideas. I was a local liaison for the Augusta area for several years, but we don't seem to have an interested core group. Sounds like y'all are going great guns.

  6. Sue, thank you for sharing SCBWI Shop Talks. I did not know about them.