Society of
Children's Book Writers
and Illustrators

Illustrator Info Processing Feedback

At SCBWI conferences, as well as many other times in life as a children’s book illustrator, you receive different opinions and suggestions about your artwork. The recipients of the Mentorship Award receive six different one-on-one critique sessions with industry professionals at the summer conference, so they know what it’s like to get a lot of feedback at once. I asked them this question:  When you are exposed to so many different thoughts about your work, how do you process those ideas and opinions? How do you decide which to pay attention to and which to ignore? And when you choose to pay attention to them, how do they influence your work and your process?
During the critiques I tried to stay open and receptive to any and all feedback. I asked clarifying questions if the feedback was confusing and scribbled as many notes as I could. The most important part of the critiques for me was to soak up everything like a sponge and filter later. Even if there was feedback that I didn’t agree with off the bat, I still wrote it down so that I could give it more thought later. The first thing I did when I got home from the conference was type up notes from each of my critiques. It was good to go back through and really consider each point when I had some quiet time after the excitement of the conference. I had about a week to digest the information and it was good to review everything again as I typed up my notes. I tried to find the common thread among all of the reviewers and knew that those points were what I definitely needed to work on.  At the end of the day you always need to find joy in the work that you’re making. So take in that feedback, explore, experiment, test out suggestions, keep what’s working and set aside the rest.
Receiving feedback on your work (invited or not) is part of being a creator. You make something and put it out there, and someone will have an opinion about it. There are the well-meaning compliments, the constructive criticisms, the superficial praises, and more. It takes time to figure out what’s fluff and what’s filling. I try not to take in every bit of commentary on what I make, because that is the quickest way to spin myself into a tizzy, and lose sight of what I set out to do in the first place. I’m creating to tell stories and connect with an audience of readers, not for ‘likes.’ I do give consideration to feedback if it’s from a peer whose sense of taste is one I trust, if it’s from someone in the industry who has helped to guide work I admire, or from my circle of trust—who gets where I’m trying to go. If I receive helpful feedback from these people that continues to push me in directions I intend to go, it’s confirmation that I’m on the right track. This year I am consciously pushing myself to grow as an illustrator, to create work that is satisfying to me, and tell the stories I know I need to tell. I participated in an illustrator’s workshop this year that I attended solely for the purpose of growth. Not only did I explore new media and technique, but one of the instructors stated that I had the chops to do this work. The confidence expressed by her boosted my own and propelled me to make the changes I was thinking about making in my process. I switched tools. I tried media I had been too intimidated to use before. I tapped into stories love and wanted to share, and I will tell you even though it was awkward, and at some points I was asking, “What exactly am I doing?” it was the most fun illustrating I’ve had in a long time. Those pieces, where I was listening to my internal compass and pushing myself along, were the ones that were pointed out time and again at the summer conference and by the SCBWI mentors in particular. I guess when it comes to feedback, what it all boils down to is this: listen to your gut.


I think part of becoming a good illustrator is learning how to filter feedback. But even before we explore the feedback from the outside world, what is the feedback from yourself? My most successful images are not perfect in any sense of the word. As a collage artist, when I discover the imperfections, that’s where I find the beauty. My art has to take me by surprise, affect me personally. It’s gotta make me sit back and take pause. If it makes me feel a little vulnerable or scared, then I know I’m on to something. And surprisingly, more often than not, when the art stirs something in me, it stirs a similar response in others, too.  When I get to the dummy stage with my art and story, that’s where things can get interesting. If I submit it to my critique group and I hear similar negative feedback from a number of different people, then I know something needs tweaking. The same is true for sending it out and getting more than one editor making the same observation. In any of these scenarios, I try to give myself a little breathing room to process things. Sometimes it takes a few days, a few more times of review for me to wrap my head around it. And once I noodle something out further, that’s when I might discover an even stronger answer to the problem at hand.



I was born before toddlers ran around public parks re-enacting Star Wars scenes. When my parents, Jedi nerds that they are, finally shared the movies of their generation, they were all new to me. I was old enough to remember how I felt when (Spoiler Alert) Darth Vader heaved that bone-chilling line, "I am your Father." I couldn't imagine an uglier lie—but even while Luke roared to the contrary, I knew it was true. Thanks to SCBWI, I've been lucky enough to gather game-changing feedback this summer. My favorite comments are solid tips and tricks, industry genius from a bevy of my idols. Incorporating their methods are a joy. Lucy Ruth Cummins gave a brilliant conference session showcasing this kind of sensible advice. Entirely risk-free, I'm looking at my work with new eyes. A few weeks ago, I had one long day of meetings in NYC. Luckily, I didn't have time to change my portfolio between appointments. If I had, on the advice of people I truly admire, I would have switched out paintings that were celebrated hours later at a different house. I forgot how subjective art can be! There were art directors who immediately responded to the things I've worked hard to do. One even giggled, pointing out their favorite parts in each illustration as they turned pages. Their favorites were mine too. They just got it. Their enthusiasm made it easy to absorb their advice. They had insight I could value. Then came a bad meeting. Right away, I knew that this was not the art they were looking for. I filtered out their remarks. Nothing resonated. Then, in one spine-tingling moment, an editor uttered two sentences, transporting me to THE EMPEROR STRIKES BACK feeling. Everyone in the room immediately disagreed with him, but even as my brain screamed, "NOOOOOOOOOoooooo!!!," I knew it was true. That horrible meeting was the luckiest thing that's happened to me since winning the Mentorship award. It was awful to sit through—but in just weeks, my work has grown exponentially. It broke open something I'd been reaching to understand myself. I see my work clearer than ever. It turns out the truth can actually set you free. 


Shannon McNeillProbably like everyone, I have a love-hate relationship with feedback. Even with a healthy sense of depersonalization, it still takes a lot of faith to consistently put yourself out there, not always knowing what kind of reaction will follow. When I was an art student, feedback was varied and abundant, and I took it all in. I didn’t know my work or myself well enough then to take a more active role in conversations. I was also just beginning to understand that opinions had as much to do with my work as it did with the reviewer. Sometimes the light bulb would go on, but it seemed a bit like relying on fireflies to light up the darkness. I’m happy to say that’s gotten much better over time. Nowadays, before seeking comments, I like to spend time thinking about my own goals and priorities as a visual communicator first, giving myself some judgement-free space to focus. When things have gelled up a bit, then I get out of my own head and start opening up the work to outside response. The comments I pay the most attention to are shared in a safe and supportive setting, from someone who relates with my sensibilities, can point out things I see (and more importantly don’t see), and inspire problem solving that will still feel like my own. I’ll weigh an opinion more heavily if I connect to the taste level, track record, honesty, and experience of a feedback sharer. The depth and/or consistency of feedback will also influence how much energy I devote to processing it. A good critique will also benefit from a few quiet beats afterwards, to digest input. For me, it helps settle the dust and restore balance between personal and external influence in shaping the work. A successful cycle ends with incorporating improvements, leading to better work to talk about next time, until all collaborative parties are satisfied with the result! It’s a growth process that sometimes feels scary but is one that I really enjoy.










On the Shelves Linden Tree Books



Linden Tree Books in Los Altos, California, is celebrating it's fortieth anniversary this year, and co-owner Dianne Edmonds shares what excites her about the fall season and books to watch out for during back to school shopping.


What sets Linden Tree apart from other bookstores?

First of all, our history.  Our store started forty years ago as Linden Tree Childrens Books and Music here in Los Altos.  We have had only two ownership changes.  Six years ago, we re-branded with the emphasis being “Where imaginations Grow”.  By dropping the word children's from our store name, we can emphasize the notion that any person of any age can let their imaginations grow. Obviously after forty years, we have incredibly strong ties to the community, with second generation customers coming in and telling stories of trips to Linden Tree. Second, we are always bringing in new and interesting inventory. We vet every title presented to us from publishing reps and carefully review front list titles.   We meticulously  manage the number of inventory turns within the year of all titles.  If customers continue to buy specific titles on a regular basis, we will carry the book.  If the metrics fall below our minimum, even if it's near and dear to our heart, we have to let it go.  Our customers dictate what they want, we listen to those purchasing habits and respond according. So what people love stays, and new things to love come in all the time! Third, the comfort of our store.  The color and space is welcoming and inviting.  We have lots of windows to bring in natural light and breezes; comfortable chairs for adults and children to sit together and read or flip through a book.  The layout of the store transitions from one section to the next with bright orange signage.  Our displays capture thematic topics and seasonal happenings. Last, and most important, our phenomenal staff.  Linden Tree Books has a forty-year reputation of hiring booksellers that are sincerely interested in reading, knowing what books are available and understanding the needs of each individual customer. Staff members talk to each other, share ideas and respect the induvial literary knowledge and tastes of each other.  This then translate to treating each customer as a reader and not type casting.  All of this can only be learned by a staff who like people and like spending time talking about books.


Why is September an important month for booksellers?

For our store, September 1st is the kick off to the holiday season. By holiday, I mean: Halloween, Back to School Reading, Fall, Thanksgiving, Jewish Holidays, Christmas, Winter, and everything in between.  In fact, Halloween books are already being purchased.  In addition, we have multiple events and author visits to coincide with all the fall releases.  To name just a few, we have Jennifer Nielsen promoting Horizon, Patricia Polacco with Remembering Vera, Sharon Cameron and The Knowing.  We also several Parent Education evenings as the bookseller for local school districts and their Parent Ed nights.  Our local town hosts many events, from  a fall festival, a downtown trick-or-treating,  and a holiday stroll.  It a very fun and busy time for Linden Tree.

What in your opinion makes a bestselling book?

The majority of all our selling, whether it’s a book or sideline is by handselling.  We have been described as “Literary Matchmakers” and our customers have come to expect this and we enjoy the trust they place in us to guide their purchases. Often, a bestselling book can be something timely or just have an awesome hook and decent writing.  The idea has to be fresh and fun, and of course well-executed. But that's just the start. People have to love it on every step of its journey before it can become a bestseller. The author, the editor, the marketing team, the publishing house as a whole, and then the booksellers. But even if a publishing house doesn't anticipate a book being a bestseller, sometimes booksellers will find it, love it, and share it, and a bestseller will be born. A bestselling book can spark the imagination in new ways. A new way of seeing things, a different perspective on an existing condition. Genres are based on restrictions of setting, but bestsellers usually transcend type to touch something deeper in all of us.


How is Linden Tree involved in the community? 

Basically, we ARE the community.  We are the common meeting spot, the go-to for gifts, the happy place for kids, and the safety net for parents.  We have tremendous outreach and partnership with local schools (pre-school to high school, private and public), public libraries, private foundations, literary groups and non-profits with a reading component.  We are a venue host for many organizations showcasing their talents or mission.  We donate regularly to fundraisers and each year we make a sizeable actual book donation (20+ boxes of books) to a local non-profit summer camp program that helps families from disadvantages areas.


Personal Book recommendation?

Our latest staff pick is Lemons by Melissa Savage. It deftly blends together funny, clever moments of friendship against a very child-friendly understanding of grief. It's about finding out where you belong, and making a new place for yourself.





SCBWI Exclusive with… Kat Brzozowski, Editor at Swoon Reads/Feiwel & Friends


Kat Brzozowski is an editor at Swoon Reads/Feiwel & Friends. She has edited a wide range of young adult fiction, including Anna-Marie McLemore's When the Moon was Ours, which received a Stonewall Honor and was longlisted for a National Book Award, and new Fear Street books in R.L. Stine’s best-selling series, which has sold over eighty million copies worldwide. Kat is looking to acquire young adult fiction across a wide range of genres, especially contemporary, realistic YA with a strong hook; dark, contemporary fiction, mysteries, suspense and thrillers; and sci-fi and fantasy that’s mostly rooted in this world. She is especially interested in YA with crossover appeal and diverse characters. 


What is Swoon Reads?

Swoon Reads is a publishing imprint within the Macmillan Children's Publishing Group. Writers – both agented and unagented! – can submit their YA novel of any genre to our site,, where fellow writers and readers rate, review, and comment on their manuscript.


How do you select the books you publish?

Three times a year, we read the manuscripts that readers love the most and choose which ones to publish in hardcover. Our books are published the same as any Macmillan book, with a full staff, including an editor, marketer, publicist, and more working to produce a great book.

From the moment a manuscript is submitted to the day when the book hits the shelves, our Swoon Readers are involved in every step of the process, including helping us come up with the perfect title, voting on their favorite cover directions, and contributing blurbs to the back of the book. By the time our books come out, we have a built- fan base of readers, many of whom loved the book before it was even selected! We love finding new voices, untold stories, and fresh perspectives. 


Since there are so many submissions, what does it take to catch your eye and make you say, “this is the one!”?

One great thing about Swoon Reads is that the books we publish aren't just chosen because I love them; they're also chosen because our Swoon Reads community, as well as the great team of readers we have in-house from various departments, love them. Because we have so many readers, both in-house and on our site, there are a lot of chances for us to fall in love with a new book. Personally, I am drawn in by a strong sense of voice first. I want a character that comes alive and who I want to read about for many pages. I also love multi-dimensional characters that are flawed and complex, just like real people, realistic dialogue, and manuscripts that keep the plot moving forward at a steady clip.


What’s on your wish list?

We're eager to publish more diverse authors and books about diverse characters. I'm always looking for something in the vein of "Veronica Mars," one of my favorite shows, or something like "Minority Report" that shows our world in the near future with one big (but realistic) modification. We have a group of editors at Swoon Reads who love books of all genres, so whether you write sci-fi, fantasy, mystery, historical, or contemporary YA, we hope you'll submit to Swoon Reads!


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