Announcing Work in Progress Awards!
Update 3/28/2020: The deadline for the SCBWI Work-in-Progress Awards has been extended until April 15.
Now that it’s March, the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) once again announces its submission period for Work-in-Progress Awards. Last year was the first for the Translation Grants, and this year, the winning translation — along with the other winners — will receive no monetary grant but rather the recognition that comes from this prestigious award along with presentation “to a hand-selected group of editors for their consideration.” There are a few exceptions, monetary grants funded by renowned SCBWI members. One is the Don Freeman Grant for Illustrators, one for published illustrators and one for not-yet-published artists looking to break into the field. Another is the Anna Cross Giblin Grant to help with research for nonfiction projects, and a third is the Karen Cushman Grant for a not-yet-published writer over the age of 50.
The awards are for work in progress in the following categories: picture book text, picture book illustrations, chapter books/early readers, middle grade, young adult fiction, nonfiction, multicultural fiction or nonfiction, and translation. More information about the awards and the general rules are here.
Last year I applied for the Translation Award (then a grant), and I promised myself I’d apply again with a different project this year. Each application contributes toward the continuation of the award, but a confluence of events both fortunate and unfortunate meant I never had a chance to work on a new translation this year. (Note to self: Don’t leave things for the last few weeks, in case you break some bones and are laid up.) I hope a translator reading this piece submits an entry because I can’t, as the award not only helps the individual project but also raises the visibility of children’s books in translation overall.
Many years ago, however, I actually won a SCBWI Work-in-Progress Award, and it made a difference in an unexpected way. Back in the late 1980s (and until recently, when funding tightened), the awards were actual monetary grants that helped the writer in a number of ways. I applied in 1989 for what was then the Judy Blume Grant for a Contemporary YA Novel with an earlier version of Gringolandia and a promise to use the money to live in Chile for a month (I’d been invited by prominent pro-democracy musicians to witness the transition from dictatorship to democracy) and interview former political prisoners like Daniel’s father in the novel. I submitted the first chapter and a synopsis and won a grant. I’d been working with an editor for a major house, but after I received the grant and before I left for Chile, the editor decided not to continue working with me. I took the trip anyway and did the research, but when I returned home, I shelved the project.
For years, the SCBWI grant nagged at me. I know that, as the award website says, winning is no guarantee of publication. But I was ashamed of my decision to give up. Eighteen years after winning the grant and losing the contract, I returned to the manuscript, rewrote the entire book except for the initial chapter that won me the grant (which is still quite close to what it was in 1989 in case you want to check it out), and submitted it to the small press that held the option. When it came out in 2009 Gringolandia was not longer a Contemporary YA novel but a historical one. As a historical novel, it continued to win awards. It inspired a sequel, Surviving Santiago, which takes place around the time I was in Chile to do the research. Had I not won the grant and received the money to travel there and interview human rights activists, I likely would have never returned to the characters that were, at the time and even today, so close to my heart.
The submission period for the SCBWI Work-in-Progress Awards runs until March 31. I hope my experience with Gringolandia inspires you to apply. While the awards are competitive, the process is subjective, and many worthy projects aren’t chosen, the more you put yourself and your work out there, the better your chances. You can’t win if you don’t play!
The 2020 Work-in-Progress Awards are open to all SCBWI members irrespective of publishing status, though some are restricted to writers who have not yet published a book. Again, the rules, FAQs, and application links are here.