Society of
Children's Book Writers
and Illustrators

Facultyless Retreat

Janice Yuwiler (San Diego)

A while back we realized that for many of our members the greatest gift we could give would be time. Those with young children, demanding jobs, or caring for older parents can struggle to carve out time to write or draw – especially the extended time needed for propagating shifts in plots, point of view, voice, or experimenting with a new medium.

We found a site that would provide lodging, meals and space to write/draw. In our case, we used a California mission with a dormitory, good food, a large common room to work in, smaller space for workshops, and casual space for gathering or working. A retreat center, college campus, or overnight camp would all work. The trick is to find a place where participants’ basic needs are taken care of so they are free to follow their own rhythm and focus on their work. 

It took us a few years to get it right because although our PAL members took to this like ducks to water, our newer members wanted content and workshops. The winning formula follows:

Material to Work With Optional written critiques – up to 5 with no more than 3 on any one manuscript 

These were distributed Friday night at the beginning of the retreat. In order to prevent anyone shutting down if they received a critique perceived as unfavorable, we chose our editor and agent critiquers carefully, provided info on how to receive a critique, offered critique groups to help translate comments, and reminded participants we asked critiquers to give them what they needed to do to push the manuscript/art to the next level.

Workshop Sessions – We offered PAL members discounted registration to conduct a workshop

PAL members who agreed to run a one-hour workshop on a topic of their choice attended at a discounted rate. We set the schedule. They knew which hour they were presenting and other than that obligation, their time was their own. 

Critique Groups – three over the course of the weekend

Optional critique groups were spaced throughout the weekend with a printer available to print out revisions. This allowed participants to discuss questions about their written critiques, get feedback on revisions, and continue to push their work throughout the retreat.

Timing – Friday 7 PM through Sunday 5 PM 

Friday night – welcome over dessert and wine to create community; check-in to lodging; receive critiques; sign up for workshops of interest (no commitment to attend, just to get a sense of numbers for those presenting)

Saturday – three meals provided at designated times to continue community bond; snacks in common room; scheduled workshops and critique groups with optional attendance

Sunday – breakfast and lunch to continue community bond; snacks in common room; scheduled workshops and critique groups with optional attendance. Checkout at leisure.

Suggested Tweaks – If using agents for written critiques, it would be wise to ask for something that shares their expertise beyond providing written critiques so they don’t have problems with AAR (Association of Author Representative) guidelines. This could be as simple as 2-3 tips on common manuscript mistakes and how to fix them; or 2-3 things that make a manuscript stand out from the slush pile; or other content you can compile into a useful handout for retreat participants.

RT Participation – Unlike most events, this event allowed the RT to fully participate after the Friday night welcome. With a set schedule, PAL members ran their own workshops; our Critique Group Coordinator supported those who showed up at scheduled critique group times; the site provided meals in their mess hall; and participants managed their time to meet their needs. 

Our Experience – We ran this as a service, keeping costs low to maximize participation. We held it every other year, typically had around 40 participants, and broke even or lost around $400. Even keeping costs low, we found the price too expensive for most of our illustrators (many of whom do not have “day-jobs” to supplement their income) so most participants were authors. 

Impact: the retreat helped many move projects forward and created friendships and support systems that carried on beyond the retreat. 

For details and/or copies of materials contact the San Diego chapter


Janice M. Yuwiler joined SCBWI in 2000 and served in many positions including Critique Group Coordinator and Assistant Regional Advisor before serving the San Diego Chapter as Regional Advisor for 10 years. Her published books reflect her background in public health and her desire to put the latest breakthroughs in science and medicine into the hands of young readers. Now RAE for the San Diego Chapter, Janice is having fun writing both picture books and science fiction in addition to her continuing work in nonfiction.