SCBWI + The Work In Progress Award and The Karen Cushman Late Bloomer Award


Welcome to SCBWI+, where Elizabeth Frattaroli introduces the benefits of SCBWI membership you might not be aware of. This month, Elizabeth talks to Megan Hoyt, who won the SCBWI Work In Progress Award in 2017 in the Picture Book category, Shannon Earle, winner of the award for Nonfiction, also in 2017, and Jennifer Sommer, who won the Karen Cushman Late Bloomer Award in 2014.


Megan Hoyt at a children’s bookstore in Florence, Italy, while researching at the Gino Bartali Museum in Ponte a Ema

Shannon Earle, winner of the Work In Progress Award for Nonfiction in 2017

The Work-In-Progress Award showcases outstanding manuscripts from the members of the SCBWI and there is one winner in each of six different categories:

• Picture Book Text

• Chapter Books / Early Readers

• Middle Grade

• Young Adult Fiction

• Nonfiction (Anna Cross Giblin Nonfiction Award)

• Underrepresented Fiction or Nonfiction (previously called Multicultural) NB: Members are able to apply to this category in addition to one of the above.


The Midwife’s Apprentice by Karen Cushman, winner of the Newbery Medal

The Karen and Philip Cushman Late Bloomer Award meanwhile, is given to authors over the age of fifty who have never had a book traditionally published in the field of children’s literature. Newbery Award winner Karen and her husband, Philip, hand pick the winner and they win a cash prize plus free entry to a SCBWI conference of their choice.


Jennifer Sommer, winner of the Karen Cushman Late Bloomer Award in 2014, at the LA SCBWI Conference


How did you find the submission process and then how did you feel when you found out you’d won?


Megan - I was familiar with the submissions process, as I had applied many times in the past -- and failed. (Don't ever give up!) So, the process itself was not difficult. It's basically an application, like any other. I think I wrote longer and more detailed responses that year. But the road to publication for this manuscript was unusual and sort of a backwards chain of events for me. I applied for the SCBWI Work in Progress Award, and a few months later I did a Twitter pitch that led to two offers of publication for the same manuscript, Bartali's Bicycle. Gino Bartali's story is so incredible that I take little credit for that. His heroism sells itself! But anyway, from those offers, I was able to find an agent, the amazing Deborah Warren of East West Literary Agency. She was in the process of preparing the manuscript for submission when I found out it had won the Work in Progress Award for Picture Books. I was thrilled! To go up against all the wonderful fiction picture books out there and win was an incredible honour for me, doubly thrilling, as mine was a non-fiction manuscript! One of the perks was that the manuscript would be presented to a group of agents and editors, and I got a couple of emails from that, too, but I had already signed with an agent at that point. I have no doubt that it would have led to finding an agent and a home for the story. And it also no doubt helped us find a home for it with HarperCollins' Quill Tree Books. And now I have two more Quill Tree books coming out in 2022!


Bartali’s Bicycle published by HarperCollins’ Quill Tree Books in February 2021


– I’d been a member of the SCBWI for a few years and had been to a couple of conferences, so had heard of the award but hadn’t thought of submitting until a member of my crit group sent a deadline heads-up email and I thought ‘why not’? The submission process was very straightforward and I spent a few weeks polishing a narrative non-fiction children’s picture book I had written based on a viral news story about an oil-covered penguin being washed up on a tropical Brazilian beach. I was then absolutely thrilled to receive an email from Lin Oliver to say it had won. I loved my story and hoped others would too, but when they actually do it’s very reaffirming.


Jennifer – A critique group partner was the one who initially found out about the award and the deadline, so we submitted pieces on the SCBWI website, which is a very easy process. We were early in our writing careers, so there was nothing to lose. I didn’t think announcements would be made until the end of August, so when I received a call, in early July, it was a huge surprise. I was so excited when I learned I had won. It was validation for me. I was actually driving home to Ohio from a writing Alumni Weekend with my MFAC class in St. Paul, MN. At some point a phone message was left for me. I stopped at the next rest area to listen to the message and heard the news. I know I screamed with joy. I really never expected to win. I called Lin Oliver and Steven Mooser back immediately to let them know I'd received the good news. They congratulated me and asked if I would be at the upcoming summer conference and I confirmed that I would. I immediately posted the news on Facebook and happily listened to the congratulatory pings come into my phone on the rest of my drive home.


It was probably the next day or two when I received a call from Karen Cushman herself! I couldn’t believe it. Still giddy with excitement, we chatted briefly. She mentioned that her mother had been a librarian, as I was. I remember pacing around the house afterwards, with excess energy from the call.



Do you feel winning the award has had an impact on your writing career and, if so, in what way?


Megan - There are many ways winning the Work in Progress Award has helped me, some of them intangible and immeasurable. I put it in my bio for all of my social media and began to see an uptick in followers. I included it in my general bio to help editors see that I can write stories that stand out. I think when editors see that I have won the SCBWI Work in Progress award they know I'm in this for the long haul, as a career and not a hobby, and that I'm capable of living up to their expectations as one of their authors. At least that is my hope!


Shannon – I absolutely do. I was at the stage of trying to work out where to send my work and had only submitted it to one agent before then, who declined it, as well as a few publishers who accepted unsolicited manuscripts. But my manuscript was then put on a secure website and announced to a group of editors and agents, so immediately there were more eyes on the story and I had people approaching me instead of the other way around. So, I think something like this can really help in ‘getting in the door’ and off the slushpile. The award led to me signing with my agent, Karen Grencik of Red Fox Literary who then spent a year submitting it. What was great about that was that I was getting more helpful feedback on these submissions and could re-shape it as we went along, and then I received an offer from Charlesbridge Publishing. My book, The Penguin of Ilha Grande – From Animal Rescue to Extraordinary Friendship, will be out in Spring 2022 (after being slightly delayed due to the pandemic) and is being illustrated by a wonderful Brazilian illustrator called Renato Alarcão.


Jennifer - The award was mentioned in the SCBWI magazine where Cushman wrote, “I chose Jennifer Sommer’s Octopus Capers because it reached out and grabbed me – it’s original and engaging. The proposal made me wonder, laugh, and want to know more about octopuses, and I am looking forward to reading the whole thing.”


I used the award for the SCBWI Los Angeles conference I was already planning to attend. It also came with $500. However, after all the hoopla and excitement, things died down a little and, ultimately, the award had no impact on my writing career, except for giving me that extra boost of confidence at the beginning. And my husband threw a big celebration party for me, which was great.


My winning entry, Octopus Capers, is complete but remains unpublished. However, I do now have an agent, Steven Fraser of Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency, who believes in the manuscript and is sending it around to publishers. I still hold out hope that one day I will see it in print, though I may end up self-publishing if necessary! Since then, I have completed numerous other projects and have a Halloween picture book with my agent too. I am also currently researching the process of self-publishing a biography picture book that was agented but didn’t get picked up. (I learned that another similar PB was going around at the same time that did, so I was a little too late on that one). But I still believe in it and want to print it for myself, using my talented artist niece as illustrator.



Would you have any advice for those thinking of entering?


Megan - There is absolutely no down-side to entering other than the possibility of not getting the award. You have to be willing to steel your ego, dig in your heels, and go for it! I had no idea I would win. In fact, since it was non-fiction, I was pretty sure I would NOT win! I think we can be our own worst critics. Yes, there are manuscripts that will never be published, that are fatally flawed, boring, fit for kindling on a bonfire, useful only for s'mores. But those are the stories you write to gain proficiency. They are stepping stones to the ones that are golden and ripe and ready to win awards. You'll never know if you have written one of those unless you begin submitting -- to the SCBWI Work in Progress Award, to agents and editors, and even to Twitter pitches (although looking back, I'm not sure I would put my best ideas out there on social media). You have to, at some point, take that leap of faith and try.


Shannon – Definitely. It’s very easy to do and if you have a manuscript that’s in good shape, then why not? Having a submission deadline is helpful to light a fire under us and if you win it could be a great opportunity. But even if you don’t, you have still moved your manuscript along a little bit and it’s a chance to get it in front of other eyes.


Jennifer - I would definitely recommend submitting a WIP for this award to anyone in that 50+ age category. You never know if you might end up winning like I did!


Thanks to Megan, Shannon and Jennifer, and congratulations to you all again.


The deadline for both awards is the 15th of April 2021, so there’s still time to apply if you’re quick off the mark! Winners will be announced in early October.


You can find out more about Megan at


Shannon’s website and blog can be found here:


To read more about Jennifer’s experience of winning you can read reports on both Karen Cushman’s and Jennifer’s own blogs.


Elizabeth Frattaroli is a YA and MG writer who lives by the sea near Dundee. She has been longlisted in The Bath Children’s Novel Award, the Mslexia Children’s Novel Award and the WriteMentor Children's Novel Award (twice) and, as of 2020, is also a golden egg with the newly launched GEA Scotland. She is on Twitter as @ELIZFRAT.

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