Monday, August 15, 2016

Summer BBQ 2016

SCBWI Germany / Austria’s annual barbecue took place on August 6th

Five writers / illustrators and their families travelled to a town near Stuttgart to chat about their work, share their recently published books and eat together. A book swap meant that children and adults also went home with new books to read.

Top row: Linda, Angela, Sanne. Bottom row: Catherine, Twyla, Marcy.

So, why did everybody make such a fantastic effort to travel (a long way in several cases!) to meet up?


Deep in conversation
One of the reasons I love coming to our SCBWI Germany/Austria summer BBQ is because I live so far away from our other writers! Germany is big! But once a year I make sure to plan a six hour drive (round trip) to join up with some of our favourite writers and illustrators. It’s also a chance to include my family in my SCBWI world. Our children play together while we catch up, laugh a lot and have a connection moment with our artist selves. I love seeing these faces in real life and not just on Facebook. It’s like a family reunion but without the drama!

Angela signing her book


    Thank you for hosting such a beautiful day for our group, Catherine! It was       wonderful to see everybody’s newly published books and to be the first to hear     about new works before they are published. I’m always inspired and excited after     spending time with my SCBWI family.


How do we ex-pat writers and illustrators assuage our need for tribal contact, scattered as we are across southern Germany? A summer’s afternoon BBQ and chance to catch up with fellow members of SCBWI Germany lured me willingly out of my creative cave and persuaded me to undertake the strenuous car-less trek from Munich to a small town outside Stuttgart on August 6th. Naively confident in my logistical planning, I ultimately arrived at Catherine Friess’ home almost in tears after a scary double-decker bus ride through steeply hilly country, two right and two wrong S-Bahn journeys and one more local bus ride before a short walk to the venue, a mere seven hours since leaving Munich…. And why am I going on and on about how hard it was for me to get there? Because giving up was never an option! I need my SCBWI tribe. It is my hope that they need me too i.e. that I can be helpful in moving us all forward in our endeavours.
Members' Books

And it was so worth it! Catherine and Michael hosted us warmly and provided a perfect setting for sharing conversation, food and our books. I was eager to hear about everyone’s current projects, challenges and thoughts on writing and illustrating. It was a treat to hear Angela read aloud Catherine’s texts for picture books-in-progress. We discussed future workshops (e.g. the Illustration Retreat in September and Frankfurt Book Fair) as well as the upcoming Europolitan Conference and meeting up to draw at the Munich Zoo. Many laughs were shared at the dinner table and our sense of creative community was strengthened. Thanks again to the Friess family for making this gathering possible. And I think next time there should be a fabulous door prize for whoever takes longest to get there…


Illustration by Sanne

Book Swap


The SCBWI summer BBQ is the perfect mix of work and play. We can do all the things we normally do at meetings -share story ideas or works in progress, discuss literature and the writing life - but we also have time to connect on a personal level. Family members also come along and it's great to learn about everyone. Add in the book swap, good food, and lots of laughs and the day is perfect. I can't wait to do it again next year.


I welcome any opportunity I get to meet up with fellow writers and illustrators and our meetings always leave me with new enthusiasm for my writing. My husband and I really enjoyed hosting the BBQ this year and the atmosphere was both relaxed and inspiring. It was fantastic to look at members’ new books and hear the stories of how they came about, great to see the children choosing new books from the book swap and I very much appreciate the help that Twyla and Angela gave me with two of my picture books. The SCBWI Germany / Austria BBQ is a great way to strengthen our creative and personal relationships with one another and the time that we spent together flew by far too quickly!

Good food and good conversation

Hopefully you will be able to join us at the BBQ next year!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Six Tips to Find Your Online Writing Community

By Laurel Decher

The Fellowship of the Winged Pen. It takes a flock to get a story aloft.

Whenever you move from one place to another, it takes time to create a network. Expat writers can have some special challenges finding colleagues who want to exchange work, find support, and local writing friends to cheer on, especially if everyday life happens in another language.

If you write books for children, the Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) can help you find like-minded writers all around the world. As an SCBWI member, you can meet other writers, exchange work for critique, and get advice on the mysterious world of publishing from your peers in the excellent and huge discussion forums.

One of the mysteries is how writers find colleagues and develop small hard-working collaborations that launch new stories out into the world. You can find examples of the kinds of groups I mean here.

Even though I've belonged to a lot of online and brick and mortar writing groups, joining a small online writing community puzzled me. I couldn't figure out how people got in on the ground floor.

Here's the story of how I got involved with a group of twenty-four writers called The Fellowship of The Winged Pen. If you've ever wondered how to find your own online writing community, maybe these six tips will help.

1. Find your peers through online contests or conferences.
I first met the writers who became the Fellowship of the Winged Pen at Write on Con, a brilliantly organized online conference that let participants upload queries, first pages, and first 5 pages in dedicated discussion forums. The conference let me find writers:
  1. With similar goals
  2. Writing for the same target audience, i.e. Middle Grade fiction
  3. Who were actively writing and submitting
  4. Whose stories I enjoyed reading.

Any contest that posts writing samples online can be a goldmine. Sadly, I don't see any signs that Write on Con will happen again. But there's still hope. Think about it: what's the easiest way to find writers who are actively writing and submitting?
Many contests require you to give feedback on a certain number of entries as a way of giving back. These are even better. You want colleagues with the experience to give and receive thoughtful feedback, don't you?
Need help finding a contest?
2. Comment on people's work. Give the kind of thoughtful feedback you'd like to get from your ideal critique partners. Show your work.

3. Tell people you're looking. Conferences and contests often let you express interest in finding critique partners. At Write On Con, I put up a comment in the "critique partners forum" and didn't expect anything else to happen. And it didn't happen through the conference directly.

4. Invite others. One writer took action and invited specific writers from Write On Con to a secret Facebook group. We'd seen each others' work and each others' comments in the Write On Con forums. The private Facebook group made a few more things possible.
  • A pool of 24 writers is a safe space to ask for critique. No worries about putting people on the spot. It's easy to put up a post and see who has time for a swap.
  • It's also a safe place to ask for advice for writerly challenges from how to write a pitch to agent and editor questions.
  • Industrious writers are inspiring. Finding out what other writers were trying to accomplish really raised the bar.
  • Learning by example is faster. I learned how to pitch and how we could support each other in contests and on Twitter and get a lot more feedback about queries.

5. Talk about who you are. Our lively discussions about a name helped form the group's identity. By the time we figured out our name, a logo, and a tagline, we knew much more about our group.
For example, some of us are more formal because writing is a profession. Others of us are more wacky because, well, we write children's books. It took a few go-rounds before we all agreed on a public image.
One writer in our group has a sister who's a talented artist. She made our beautiful Winged Pen logo. :)

6. Behind the scenes conversations led to interest in a group blog for some of the writers. Writers shared their experiences with other group blogs (how to, scheduling posts, editorial sign-up calendar) and I learned a lot. The Winged Pen blog was born!
The whole process of finding an online community showed me how much we can learn from other writers. Sometimes we don't act because the publishing world feels out of reach. But getting to know writers in your "class" is not as hard as it seems. And helping each other brings a lot of joy.

LAUREL DECHER writes stories about all things Italian, vegetable, or musical. Beloved pets of the past include "Stretchy the Leech" and a guinea pig that unexpectedly produced twins. She's famous for a nonexistent sense of direction, but carries maps because people always ask her for directions. When she's not lost, she can be found on Twitter and on her blog, This Is An Overseas Post, where she writes about life with her family in Germany. She's still a Vermonter and an epidemiologist at heart. PSA: Eat more kale! :) Her short fiction for adults, UNFORESEEN TIMES, originally appeared in Windhover.