SCBWI+ The Jane Yolen Award: Should you apply?


In the regular Words and Pictures feature SCBWI+, Elizabeth Frattaroli takes the lead to inform you about one of the many benefits of membership in the Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.

SCBWI+ The Jane Yolen Mid-List Author Grant

This month, Elizabeth talks to Jan Peck, Deb LundTanuja Desai Hidier, and Alethea Kontiswho won the Jane Yolen Mid-List Author Grant in 2016, 2018 and 2020 respectively.

Jane Yolen

Jane Yolen is the critically acclaimed author of more than 400 books for children and adults, as well as an esteemed poet and essayist. She was the first SCBWI Regional Advisor, sat on the SCBWI Board of Advisors, and created this grant to honour the contribution of mid-list authors. I was lucky enough to meet her at the Edinburgh International Book Festival a few years ago and found her very friendly, inspirational, and completely down-to-earth.

In order to apply for the grant, you must be a current SCBWI member in any part of the world who has published at least two PAL (published and listed) books, but has not sold anything for at least five years. Usually two winners share the $3,000 grant. The winners are also featured in the Bulletin, on the SCBWI website, and on SCBWI social networks.

Elizabeth: Welcome to you all and thank you for sharing your experiences of being awarded the grant. I’d like to start by asking what made each of you decide to submit?

Jan Peck and a young fan

Jan Peck: I'm a great admirer and believer in Jane Yolen, and had been for many years. My career statement has been B.I.C., "Butt in Chair" (Jane Yolen). 

I am a long-time member of SCBWI at my North Texas chapter (since 1983), and served as Regional Advisor, conference chair, and many other positions. I had a rough 2016 year: my husband retired with new lower amounts of money coming in, my eldest son died in April, I was without an agent, and my co-partner for school visits had a heart attack in February that year, which had caused a drastic drop in my school programs. I’ve written for magazines and anthologies, as well as for books, and was in the process of putting together a small writing retreat for authors, illustrators, storytellers, musicians, home-schoolers, and children!

Deb Lund

Deb Lund: Jane Yolen was my idol long before I met her. As a teacher and teacher-librarian, when Jane had a new book coming out, I knew I could order it without having to go through a review process. She is dedicated to her craft and works tirelessly to make sure her books are the best they can be. Given that, imagine what a gift it was for me to have Jane ask me to autograph books of mine for her.

Tanuja Desai Hidier 

Tanuja: I had recently moved back to the US to be closer to my beloved elderly parents, after seventeen years living in my-now-forever-home-too of London, UK. I felt the grant would be a much-appreciated gift of a bit of breathing room during this transition, and would allow me some time/space/resources to focus on the writing. I’m also a singer/songwriter and make ‘booktrack’ albums – soundtracks of original songs to accompany my novels.

Alethea Kontis

Alethea: Jane Yolen has been a mentor and dear friend for many years now, but it was my local SCBWI group – Linda Bernfeld and Adriana Bergstrom in particular – who encouraged me to submit for the grant. 

Elizabeth: What was the submission process like, and how did you feel when you found out you’d been awarded the grant?

Jan: I rewrote my grant proposal over and over and over again. I had it critiqued by some of my toughest critique partners, and felt that it was not too good. Ha! But I was blasted to the moon when I learned that I had won that grant. It was such an honour and a humbling experience.

Deb: I knew I met the qualifications for the award, but I had no intention of applying. A friend of mine insisted. Not just as a suggestion, but more like an ultimatum. She had seen my success with Dinosailors  and the other books in that series, and knew that Monsters on Machines and Tell Me My Story, Mama both had starred Publishers Weekly reviews, but believed there was so much more I could do. She also watched as I created an arts-based school, brought our Haitian-born children home, and went through health issues that slowed me down and forced me to focus on other priorities. In addition to Jane, it's that friend I have to thank for the recognition, and I've done so over and over.

Tanuja: Piece of cake to submit – and it felt like the most lovely frosting!

Alethea: It was fairly easy to submit to the grant. The mixup came when the award was announced…it seems there was a lot going on and no one mentioned the award to the actual grant recipients. (Which is SUCH a mid-list thing to happen!) It was Linda who called to congratulate me because it had been announced in the SCBWI newsletter – thank goodness for Linda! 

I noticed that I wasn’t the only winner, so I reached out to Tanuja to introduce myself and ask if anyone had contacted her. Turns out, I ended up being the one to spring the good news on her, as well. And I ended up making friends with Tanuja…which might have been the best part of all. (She is awesome and everyone should go read her books and check out her music!)

Elizabeth: How did the grant help you, and do you think it has had a lasting positive impact on your writing career?

Jan: I needed to use the money to build my retreat, called 'the Nest', to search for an agent, and take classes and conferences with SCBWI to move forward. Five years later I'm still using that money, and have made wonderful progress with my retreat and finding my dream agent. I’m hoping to hear soon from some of these people I've discovered and submitted to lately.

Giant Peach Yodel by Jan Peck, illustrated by Barry Root

Deb: Receiving the grant was not only about the money for me, but it did help me attend the New York conference the next year, just as we were heading into the pandemic. To me, the Jane Yolen grant meant being seen and supported. Since then, I've been busy creating more picture book manuscripts – I have over 30 ready for new eyes and maybe another 40 not quite there yet. It's all practice! I'm also playing with illustrating a couple of them, and revising one of my middle-grade novels. 

As a teacher and creativity coach, helping others get where they want to go is a passion and challenge for me. But we need both to be happy! This field offers plenty of opportunity for that, and if someone is thinking about applying for a grant, trust yourself and do it. We all have those voices that want to stop us, the child inside who is still scared, the judging one who will keep telling you you're not worthy.... My email signature says, 'The stories we often need to revise are the ones we tell ourselves.' That's for me as much as for anyone who sees it there.

Deb Lund with some of her books

Tanuja: Yes. The monetary aspect of course. Even more: the vote of confidence, this kind of lighthouse during the sometimes long journey of zoning in on and honing your story priceless! Thank you for your generosity, Ms Yolen and SCBWI.

Bombay Blues by Tanuja Desai Hidier - Book Two in the Born Confused/Dimple Lala series, Scholastic

Alethea: Yes and no. It’s hard to say, because this award came about a month before Lockdown 2020. The money was certainly a boon as publishing scrambled to find footing in the new world order. The announcement got me the attention of some agents I had queried before the pandemic, but none of them were the agent I ultimately took on to represent me (Moe Ferrara, BookEnds Literary). In the end – and I know Jane Yolen would agree – the destiny of my writing career is up to me. I am just one of those stubborn women who never gives up!

Besphinxed by Alethea Kontis

Elizabeth: What advice would you have for anyone thinking of applying?

Jan: I think, if anything, times are much more competitive now, and you need to stay up on what's happening in children's publishing. Take as many classes and conferences as you can. 

And if you get a chance to hear Jane Yolen or her daughter Heidi speak, do that!  Get in a strong critique group and help each other move forward and upward.

Do work for SCBWI, help others and yourself move forward constantly. Keep writing and believing in yourself and your work. B.I.C! 

Deb: Be your own best advocate. Thank those parts of you that have tried to protect you, to silence you, to keep you from moving forward – and step out! Apply for a grant, say yes to a dream, take a baby step toward whatever ‘stepping out’ means to you. (Read my blog for baby-step advice!) Why not you? And why not now?

Tanuja: Go for it. Believe in your voice, in your story. And that your time exploring them has value.

Alethea: Don’t self-reject. Authors who slip through the cracks and find themselves stuck in the mid-list have already had such a hard road. Our dedicated fans still love us, our writing still wins awards, but publishing support has dried up and we have no idea what to do next. Mentally, it’s an incredibly tough spot to be in, and not a lot of people talk about it. It seems as though mid-list authors don’t qualify for anything anymore, even though our careers could use a serious boost. So if you qualify for this one, GO FOR IT!


Submissions for the Jane Yolen Mid-List Author Grant are currently open, with a deadline of 1st November 2021. You can download the application form here

Your career statement should be included in the body of your email.

Applications should be emailed to: Sarah Diamond,



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, and is one of the team behind the scenes at Write MAGIC. She is on Twitter as @ELIZFRAT.

Picture credits

Photo of Jane Yolen from the Boston Globe

Photo of Tanuja Desai Hidier by AliCali Photo

Cover of Giant Peach Yodel by Pelican Publishing

Cover of Bombay Blues by Scholastic

Other photos from authors

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