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A Thank You Letter To The SCBWI

Back in May, I wrote a thank you letter to the Society Of Children’s Book Writers & IllustratorsStephen Mooser wrote back the following:

Hi Debbie—Wow and Congratulations—we keep a file and a posting of SCBWI Success Stories, and not only is yours one of the best, but it may also be the most entertaining of all time—you have made our day and we are so happy for your well deserved success—looking forward to seeing you again soon—all best wishes from all of us here at the office, Steve

 As I was doing some prep for the SCBWI conference in LA next week, I realized that posting my thank you letter publicly might be of interest to some of you out there…especially those who have never been to an SCBWI event:

May 19, 2012


I’m writing to thank you all. Since I started attending your conventions regularly in 2009, so many opportunities have come my way.

I first heard about your organization and events from Santa Barbara area author named Lee Wardlaw, who was my writing mentor. Lee also introduced me to her agent at Curtis Brown, Ginger Knowlton, and Ginger eventually became my agent.

I was nervous when I decided to register for the Summer Conference in LA in 2009. I had attended many years before, but Lee had been there to introduce me around. This time I’d be going alone. What if no one talked to me? 

When I got to the conference, I was surprised and delighted to find out that my fears were unfounded. Everyone was friendly, and I met kindred spirits everywhere: sitting beside me while we were waiting for a workshop or keynote to begin, at the many social events throughout the weekend, even in line for the women’s restroom. Especially in line for the women’s restroom.

And the BNA’s were friendly and talked with me. Yes, even Jay Asher

(You can see other comics I did leading up to the event here: )

I learned so much at that event and came away incredibly inspired plus during the year, I kept in touch with many of the people I had met.

Fast forward to the 2010 Summer Conference.

After I was rejected for the manuscript critique (it was my fault; I had misread the rules),  my illustrator friend Beckett Gladney suggested that I enter the SCBWI Illustration Portfolio Showcase instead. I thought she was crazy because (1) I had no art training and (2) I had no portfolio. Beckett went through sketches and doodles I had been posting on Flickr, and helped me put together my very first portfolio.


Not only did I win one of two runners-up in the overall Showcase, but I was also chosen for the SCBWI Illustration Mentorship Program. In addition to one-on-one sessions with six industry experts during the convention, I also met a wonderful group of illustrators who have since become friends. 

We encourage and commiserate by e-mail, launched a SCBWI Mentees blog for children’s book illustrators called , and joined forces with Mentees from other years. Late last year, some of us got together for an inspiring, informative and calorie-laden Lost Weekend at the home of Caldecott-winning artist and SCBWI Illustration Board member, David Diaz.

 (Photo from Lost Weekend with David Diaz in Nov/2011)


Back to the 2010 Summer Conference:

One of the SCBWI Portfolio Showcase judges that year was Justin Chanda, publisher at Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers, and he offered me a contract to illustrate Michael Ian Black’s new picture book, I’M BORED. !!!

Working with Justin and art director Laurent Linn was amazing. Don’t tell anyone, but I couldn’t believe that someone was actually paying me to do something that was SO MUCH FUN. I’m blogging about the process at , and I can’t wait until the book comes out this September.

But wait, THAT’S NOT ALL….

  Earlier this year, Simon & Schuster BFYR offered me TWO BLANK CONTRACTS (!!!). One is for the next picture book I illustrate for them, still to be determined. The other contract is for a picture book that I will WRITE and illustrate…my very first own picture book. I just recently had my first phone meeting about my story with Justin Chanda, who will be my editor on the project.

None of this would have happened had it not been for the SCBWI. 

I’m grateful to Lee Wardlaw (who is on the faculty for this year’s Summer Conference, yay!) for first telling me about the SCBWI.

And I’m especially grateful to the SCBWI Illustration Mentors who have given me advice and encouraged me: Priscilla Burris, David Diaz, Bridget Strevens-Marzo, Cecilia Yung, Pat Cummings and Rubin Pfeffer.

If I could send a message to my younger self, I would tell her the following…


As children’s book author Nancy Parish says: Writing may be a solitary endeavor, but trying to get published doesn’t have to be.

To everyone behind the scenes at SCBWI:


Debbie Ridpath Ohi

Twitter: @inkyelbows (my blog for those who write & illustrate for young people)

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