Suzanne Morgan Williams (Nevada)
I’ve never been in the “We need all the members we can get” camp. It seems to me like committed folks should find their way to SCBWI and once they’ve done that, we’ll be there to assist them in their creative journey. But there are good reasons for some Regional Teams to make growing membership a top priority. Yes, there are regions with so many members that managing day to day tasks is challenging. This post may not be for you. I want to talk to the smaller regions that need to not only draw their own members to events but may need to attract members from neighboring regions. Leaders in these regions may feel constantly pressured to keep enough membership to support meaningful programs and events. Add to that a large geographic area such as some international regions and many U.S. regions have, and your Regional Team may be ringing its hands trying to stay viable.
Here are a few things I learned while serving the Nevada Region:
Members don’t come to you – unless you live in one of those big metro regions. You need to invite and engage them.
- Network with teachers and librarians. This helps your members too.
- Put out SCBWI materials at any arts organizations in your region, at bookstores and coffee houses. Keep these places stocked. This is a good beginning job for a volunteer you are trying out.
- Take your card along (preferably one with your RA/ARA/IC info) when you go out. Hand it to the people who say, “I always wanted to write a book.” They’ll either be interested or they’ll stop telling you about their unwritten best seller.
- Ask to speak to other writing groups, Friends of the Library organizations, and creative writing or illustration classes. This is a good place to pull in your PAL members and help them feel involved. They can often offer their books for sale at these talks.
- See about getting a table or booth at any arts events in your community. Talk up SCBWI. If you’re struggling financially, think about asking for a regional grant.
- Be sure you’re on any lists of local/state arts groups. Google “Small Struggling SCBWI Region” (yes that’s a joke) and see where you pop up.
Getting out there:
- Consider asking for a kids book column in the local newspaper (if you still have one ) Feature PAL members, award and favorite books, all kinds of arts for kids.
- Do an SCBWI night at a local bookstore or arts center. Provide snacks, info, and maybe an informal critique session.
- Find that radio host who’s always looking for something new to feature. Offer to do an interview with him/her. Keep it current. Diversity in kids books is a good one, or the correlation between reading aloud to young children and their verbal abilities, or YA books that address a social issue you’re passionate about. Whatever. It’s good practice for your next book launch.
- Have your region collect gently used kids’ books for a worthy cause – low income school, small rural library, Boys and Girls Club, foster kids on the move. If you ask the recipients to make a bit of an event of it, and ask them to contact the press you may get a win-win-win. Books go to a good cause, you bring your members together building community, and you’ll get the word out about SCBWI.
- I’m sure you can think of others.
At Conference/Event Time
- Call members you’d like to see at the event. Invite them personally. If they can’t attend, chat. You are building community and there’s nothing like feeling special to bring a potential attendee to a conference.
- Organize carpools for far flung members. They’ll save gas and they’ll be committed to attend – not just to you but to their friends.
- Turn to social media. If you have someone who’s really good at it, crown that person “twitter diva” and let them loose with cool things about your event.
- Plan conservatively. If you hope for 60 people and plan for 45 you’ll be pleasantly surprised rather than crazily scrambling for #59 and #60 to break even.
- Not every region is the same. That’s why regions are so effective. If you need to do small, low cost events, fine. Or do something unusual that will draw in other members. Or partner with other regions ala Wild Midwest to create your numbers.
This may seem like a lot to ask, but your region doesn’t just function at event time. It’s a community of creative people and if you nurture it throughout the year, those folks will be there when you need them to volunteer and to attend. Please, let others help you. The more people you involve as trusted volunteers, the broader your reach will be. And, like a garden, if you keep it up year round, it will bloom in the right season.
Suzanne Morgan Williams is the author of the middle grade novel Bull Rider and eleven nonfiction books for children. Bull Rider is a Junior Library Guild Selection, is on state award lists in Texas, Nevada, Missouri, Wyoming, and Indiana, and won a Western Heritage Award from the National Cowboy Museum in Oklahoma City. Suzanne’s nonfiction titles include Pinatas and Smiling Skeleton. The Inuit , Made in China, and her latest book, China’s Daughters. Suzanne has presented and taught writing workshops at dozens of schools, professional conferences, and literary events across the US and Canada. Suzanne is RAE from Nevada Region SCBWI and was SCBWI Member of the Year in 2012. Visit her here. Suzanne also wrote the January post Balancing Act.