SCBWI BENEFITS: International Conferences

Ever thought of attending a SCBWI conference? Julie Sullivan talks us through the options.

SCBWI conferences

The SCBWI conferences are one of the wonderful things about this organisation. Have you ever been to one? As one of the (probably) few people who has been to several in different countries (even one in Paris, where I was living at the time), I thought I would describe what it’s like to attend one and encourage you to do so, even if you might have to save up for a while and plan far ahead (2025, anyone?)

New York City in winter

The Big One

The New York City conference is always held in February, which, frankly, is freezing cold. I have a coat I used to wear when I lived there that I never once needed in Europe. New York is windy and often snowy in February, and the average high and low temperatures are 7º C and -3º C. So if you do go, dress warmly! 

The reason the New York conference is the biggest is that the US publishing business is mainly centred there. The biggest publishers and the largest agencies are in New York, and the US publishing business is probably the largest in the world, with $28 billion in revenue in 2023. If you are in the publishing business, this is the easiest conference to attend; most professionals can just drop in from their nearby offices. 

This means that as an author or illustrator, your chances of connecting with someone from the 'Big 5' publishers or other publishers or agencies may be higher in New York than anywhere else. The huge US and Canadian market is potentially so lucrative that you might feel it can justify the expense. You may even be able to write off your trip if you can show it was helpful to your career. (And it’s cheaper in February as it's the off season!)

The conference itself is enormous, but SCBWI does its best to make everything approachable. There are many smaller groups and special get-togethers, for example one just for illustrators, one for translators, one for LGBTQ+, and so on. Take advantage of any special interests you might have to meet people you can keep up with. If you are an illustrator, remember that it is powerful to have your pictures on display in the Portfolio Showcase in this environment of people who can hire you. 

New Yorkers can be brusque, but you will find that most children’s book people are friendly and kind. Attendees are from all over North America and even the world, so, many of them may also feel shy when they come. If you are from the British Isles and have never been to the US before, you may be put off by American brashness and over-sharing (I admit, these are our stereotypical traits) and, perhaps puzzled by people’s behaviour, but don’t forget, you have a superpower: your accent! Americans love British and Irish accents. As my English son-in-law says, it’s like being royalty.

Travel tips

February is one of the cheaper times of year to stay in New York, and everything is open, so it can be a fun month to visit. To save money on this trip, you can use a budget airline (but try to get a respectable one) or book far in advance. Ideally, you can stay in the hotel where the conference is held, which will be much less exhausting. But these hotels, because they have to be huge and in midtown Manhattan, are expensive. You can save a lot of money by staying in an AirBnB, a youth hostel (which people any age can stay in), a more modest hotel in a less expensive neighbourhood, or a regular B & B, especially away from Manhattan. But don’t forget to factor in extra travel time and expense. 

A very useful app for getting around the city is Citymapper, which will tell you how to get where you are going by public transport or on foot, with detailed maps and information that includes every bus and subway stop, even which subway entrance is closest to your destination.

Los Angeles

Los Angeles

The Los Angeles conference is a different beast entirely from the New York one. It takes place in August and under the palm trees, which can be an attraction in itself. While still a large conference, it does not usually compare in size with New York, mainly because there are fewer West Coast agencies and publishers. Although many professionals are happy to make the trip out to LA, it is just not as convenient for them. However, non-New York-based publishers and agents proliferated during the pandemic, and you might be more likely to meet them in Los Angeles.

SCBWI was started in Los Angeles, and is based there, so the organisation has a soft spot for the city. There is no question that the weather is a major attraction for most non-local attendees, and you should be able to get some swimming and even a beach trip in. The same caveats as for New York apply to the Los Angeles conference hotel, but with an extra one: if you stay in the hotel itself, you may end up saving a lot of money on transportation. Los Angeles is not a public transport town. You will need a car to go almost anywhere, and although Uber, Lyft, and other services are convenient, regular taxis, buses, etc. are not nearly as common or frequent as in the UK or New York.

If you are a currently enrolled student in a university program, you may be able to book cheap rooms at UCLA (which is more central than most of the other campuses) in August. An alternative if you are a woman is to try Host a Sister, “an international community of women” with more than 560,000 members around the world willing to host you in their homes (exercise the usual caution). 

SCBWI British Isles logo, designed by Tita Berredo

British Isles

The British Isles SCBWI conference, in my humble opinion, is the best. It’s a much more manageable size, for starters, and it is easier to meet people who are not too distant from you geographically, which can be a great way to start a new friendship. Connections are easier when you don’t live hundreds or thousands of miles away from someone you might like to talk to again, as can easily happen in the American meetings. Don’t forget to bring a costume for Saturday night. It’s a good way to meet people even if you’re shy – there’s always something to talk about if you have a fish in your beard (hi Dom!), carry a funny accessory, or are dressed as a character from your favourite novel!

A virtual conference

Virtual conferences

In recent years, SCBWI has offered a Virtual Conference for the New York and Los Angeles conferences. I don’t know if they will continue to do this, but I hope so. I am still in a writers group with friends I met at one of the break-out groups from the virtual conference in 2021 — they have become friends online, and several have even come to visit in real life. While a Zoom conference is obviously not the same experience, this is a more affordable and convenient option, and you will still get some of the benefits of attending in person, namely access to the conference speeches and panel discussions, break-out rooms, peer and sometimes agent or editor critiques, and other individualised events. In addition, you have access to everything at your own pace, because the virtual conference is available for up to a month afterwards.

Besides the Big Two (New York and Los Angeles), remember that as a SCBWI member, you have the right to attend virtual conferences anywhere. Check out the listings on the Regional page and see if anything looks interesting. You can also follow other regions, even if you have no connection to them. 

For other events, look in the Regions section.


Did you know that SCBWI offers scholarships (bursaries) to the conferences for both authors and illustrators? Not only that, but if you are a SCBWI volunteer you may be eligible for a discount on the conference price.

Look here for more details and see which awards or scholarships you may be eligible for. 

Conferences are one of the highlights of our year for many of us who have attended. Make room for one in your future.

*Header image by Ell Rose;
New York City's Bryant Park, photo by Julie Sullivan

Los Angeles, free photo from

Zoom conference cartoon, free photo from


Julie Sullivan is a SCBWI volunteer.

Ell Rose is the Illustration Features Editor of Words & Pictures magazine. You can contact them at:

No comments:

We love comments and really appreciate the time it takes to leave one.
Interesting and pithy reactions to a post are brilliant but we also LOVE it when people just say they've read and enjoyed.
We've made it easy to comment by losing the 'are you human?' test, which means we get a lot of spam. Fortunately, Blogger recognises these, so most, if not all, anonymous comments are deleted without reading.

Words & Pictures is the Online Magazine of SCBWI British Isles. Powered by Blogger.