Sunday, November 18, 2012

Volunteering for SCBWI Ireland

One of the small irritations in life is not knowing the milk has gone sour until you've poured it into your cup of black tea and watched it all curdle in a most unappetizing way. Luckily, I have some herbal tea in the cupboard, so I can start fresh.

Blogs are a bit like that. You're meant to post regularly or else the blog goes sour. But, here I am, starting fresh - again.

I was trying to decide on a topic and started writing about my volunteering activities with SCBWI Ireland. Sure, why not? I've done a lot more than I realized, and I've learned a lot along the way.
SCBWI Ireland banner design by Sarah Bowie
(I put a white border around it because the greens clash)

In case you don't know, SCBWI stands for the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, which is a great resource and support network for new and established writers and illustrators. Valerie Peterson provides a detailed post about SCBWI on her site. It's really cool to have many well-known and successful writers in the membership, including Jane Yolen (who's published over 300 books), Donna Jo Napoli, Shaun Tan, and Meg Rosoff.

Here in Ireland, our chapter has existed for a number of years, but is still quite small. I mean REALLY small. Award-winning author Jane Mitchell has been the volunteer Regional Advisor since the beginning of 2012, and I've been the Uber Volunteer. The Uber Volunteer title came out of a comment in an email, but I liked it, so I even put it on my new business cards. It's a bit cheeky, to be sure, but it might generate a question or two.

So, you've been wondering what SCBWI Ireland volunteers do. Okay, maybe you haven't. Well, tough, here's a few things anyway:
  • Worked with Jessica C. to develop a new website for SCBWI Ireland. 
  • Designed and printed SCBWI Ireland business cards that we can hand out to interested people at meet-ups, workshops, and conferences. 
  • Promoted and helped organize our one-day writing workshop facilitated by Jane M. in Dublin.
  • Maintaining and updating the SCBWI Ireland website including the blog.
  • Working with Jane M. to keep the SCBWI Ireland Facebook page filled with news and information relevant to Irish writers and illustrators. 
  • Organizing and running the monthly Scribblers Online Critique Group.
  • Organizing and running informal meet-ups in Cork with Fiona G. for local children's book writers and illustrators every two months.
Geez, I could use this as a CV! This is in addition to my full-time day job, Sacred Harp singing, swing dancing, traveling, and occasional actual writing of stories! Phew! I need a nap.

Oh yeah, I was going to talk about what I've learned. Well, promotion for one thing. You have to start early and use the right media and locations. We tried printing posters and sticking them up all over town (thanks to Fiona G. and John S. for doing that little chore with such enthusiasm), but that didn't really work. Business cards with contact details are handy and compact for handing out. Flyers are good at events for new attendees. Electronic media on websites, blogs, Facebook, boards, and forums seems to work the best, along with the most important promotional tool: word of mouth. The trick is not to do it so much that you annoy people.

The other thing I learned is that while there's lots happening in Dublin, contrary to rumours, it's not the centre of the universe! (Shock! Dismay! Actually, I quite like Dublin.) We've managed to find at least 25 writers and illustrators in and around Cork and nearby counties, who are keen to get together and talk shop. There's creatives scattered throughout all the counties. It's very exciting to be able to help people connect.

Volunteering is a bloody lot of work, but it's worth it to see and hear positive feedback from people who've found kindred spirits and who are learning from and supporting each other as they navigate the tricky waters of creation and publication.

Now, time for a bath.