Reflections on SCBWI’s Marvelous Midwest Conference 2019

“Celebration” by Duachaka Her

Hi everyone!

On the weekend of May 3-5th, 2019, I had the opportunity to attend the Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators’ Marvelous Midwest Conference in Naperville, Illinois. This was my first time attending any SCBWI conference, since I recently just joined the organization last fall. I wanted to share with you my experiences going to the conference for the first time! As a quick background, SCBWI is a non-profit professional organization for children’s book writers, illustrators, editors, agents, art directors and anybody who is interested in or wants to be part of the world of children’s book publishing. The conferences usually consist of guest professional speakers from the industry, breakout panels, critiques, and workshops/intensives. People from all over get together to present, network, and learn from each other.

First of all, I wouldn’t have been able to attend this conference without help from SCBWI-Wisconsin’s Diversity Committee. The committee offered a generous scholarship for diverse attendees and I was selected to receive it.

Going into this conference, I had high expectations because I’ve heard so many great things about them from other authors and illustrators. I was also a little bit nervous! I was nervous that I wouldn’t be able to connect with anybody. I had this idea in my head that most of the people who attended this conference knew what they were doing and had it all together.

But I was wrong.

Little did I know, I wasn’t alone. In fact, a good number of the people I met at the conference were new to this just like me. I met people from all over the United States including: Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, Iowa, and of course Wisconsin. There were even some attendees from outside the U.S. including Thailand, Turkey, and Canada.

At the conference, some of the sessions I attended were about crafting voice, optimizing your portfolio, doing author visits, and how to promote your self-published book. There were so many good sessions going on at the same time that I wished I had the time to attend them. One tip that was suggested was to make friends with someone at the conference and if they went to a workshop you weren’t able to go to, tell them to take notes for you and vice versa.

Furthermore, I also participated in the conference’s Art Show. The show had two art categories. One was a prompt category. The prompt was, “Unfair at the Fair.” The other category had no-prompt, so illustrators can submit any unpublished illustration of their choice. I entered my piece Celebration into the non-prompt category. There were so many amazing artists who entered the show. It was amazing to see how much talent there were.

Awards were presented to those who entered the show. One was from a panel of judges and the other was from the people who attended. On the last day of the conference, my artwork was announced as an Honorable Mention for the Non-Prompt category. I was so happy!

Of course, being at this conference was also about networking and getting to know other people! Below are some postcards I picked up and received at the conference.


Like I said before, there were a ton of talented people here, and I’m glad I was able to meet and connect with a few of them.

Some of the people I met were John Parra (illustrator), Cheryl Klein (Editorial Director of Lee & Low Books), Christine Mapondera-Talley (COO/Co-founder of Kidlit Nation), and Debbie Ridpath Ohi (author/illustrator). I never thought I would have the opportunity to meet these people. Some of these individuals were people I follow on social media, so getting the chance to meet them in person was even better!

I also had the privilege of getting my illustration portfolio critiqued at the conference. Even though the critiques were only 15 minutes long, I felt it was much needed. A few things I took away from the critique was to keep making art and putting it out there, to be persistent, but to also enjoy the journey. These are advice I hear over and over, but I do believe it is one of the formulas to being successful in anything.

Overall, the conference was wonderful; however, if there was one thing I would love to see more of, it would be more diverse authors/illustrators who attended the conference. As a diverse author/illustrator myself, I highly recommend other diverse authors/illustrators to attend future conferences if you can. I want to let you know that you are welcomed here and that it is your job as an author/illustrator to let your voices be heard and your stories be told.

Going into this conference, my goal was to get a better understanding for the children’s publishing industry and learn from industry professionals. What blew me away about this conference was the amount of encouragement and resources out there for people like me who wants to pursue a career in children’s publishing. People were there to share their stories and experiences. People were there to willingly listen and learn from one another. Being at this conference was a reminder that everyone has a story they want to share with the world. It reminded me that a career in children’s publishing isn’t about the published book, but more so about the journey. It is about who you meet along the way and sharing your struggles and joy with others just like you. I met so many individuals who had totally different careers, but turned to writing and/or illustrating because that was their passion or calling. The stories they wanted to share in their heart never went away. There is a part of them that always wanted to do this.

I am glad to say that I don’t have to be on this journey alone,

because I really am NOT alone.

And that pretty much sums up my experience at SCBWI’s Marvelous Midwest Conference. It was a memorable one. I am definitely going to more in the future.

Thank you again for reading.

Duachaka Her

P.S. If you are interested in writing/illustrating for children’s books, I highly recommend you join SCBWI. They are full of wonderful resources to help you on your journey.