Planning the New England SCBWI 2016 Conference: The Power of (RE) INVENTION

By Josh Funk

On the evening of Friday, April 20th, 2012, I walked into the Sheraton Monarch Place in Springfield, Massachusetts without a clue of what I was getting myself into. It had been less than a year since I wrote my first (horrible) rhyming picture book manuscript, and I found myself at the New England Regional SCBWI Conference with over 600 other writers and illustrators. If you told me that precisely 4 years and 9 days later, I would be co-chairing this conference…

You’d have been correct. Alongside Marilyn Salerno and Heather Kelly, I will be co-chairing the 2016 NESCBWI Regional Conference over the weekend of April 29th– May 1st. And despite the fact that it’s almost 11 months away, preparations are in full swing.

A little background on the conference. NESCBWI was the first region within SCBWI. New England prides itself on having the largest regional conference; the only SCBWI conferences with more attendees are the two national ones (NY & LA). During this past spring’s NESCBWI Conference (chaired by Natasha Sass, Marilyn, & Heather) we had:

  • 670+ attendees – over 150 of whom were volunteers in some capacity
  • 90+ faculty members including:
    • dozens of prolific and award-winning authors and illustrators
    • 10 literary agents
    • 10 editors
    • 3 art directors
    • and both the 2015 Newbery AND Caldecott Medal recipients (Kwame Alexander & Dan Santat). No, you didn’t read that wrong. And we selected faculty last summer – a full 6 months before ALA handed out those awards. *still patting our backs* (beat that, New Jersey!)


2015 Newbery Medalist Kwame Alexander (center) with fans Michelle Cusolito and Josh Funk
2015 Newbery Winner Kwame Alexander (center) with fans Michelle Cusolito and Josh Funk
Josh Funk meets 2015 Caldecott Medalist Dan Santat
Josh Funk (left) meets 2015 Caldecott Medalist Dan Santat (right)

Not to mention the several panels (Agent/Editor, #WeNeedDiverseBooks, Outside the Box Publishing, The Book Doctors’ Pitchapalooza), 60+ workshops, a keynote speech from regional legend Jo Knowles, and all the other evening activities during the two and a half day event (see more details here).

Oh, and most of the Rumpus Writers were in attendance, as well.

When Heather asked me (last spring) to co-chair the 2016 conference with her I said, “no.” But she wouldn’t take it. “I won’t accept a ‘no’ for a week,” she said. Very tricky on her part, because after thinking for a few hours about how important SCBWI, particularly the New England region, has been to me, I changed my mind. Yeah, it would be a ton of work, a two year commitment, blah-blah-blah. But I realized that I might never get this opportunity again. So like Kwame Alexander instructed (again, way before I ever heard him say it), I said, “yes.”

Heather can be very tricky. And very smart. The theme she’s come up with for 2016 is The Power of (RE) INVENTION. I asked her to explain her thought process behind this theme and she said:

Over the last two years of supporting authors and writers at The Writers’ Loft, I’ve studied what makes authors successful and thrive in the publishing industry. Support is one ingredient for success, but another, very important one, is flexibility. The ability for an author or illustrator to change what isn’t working, either in a manuscript, in their brand, or by trying something out of the ordinary. This is why our theme for the 2016 conference is the Power of (RE) INVENTION.”

We have three great keynotes lined up (to be announced at a later date) and we are currently in the process of inviting agents, editors, and art directors. The faculty workshop submission process opened June 1 for NESCBWI PAL members, and opens July 1 for everyone else. It will close August 1 at midnight. If you are interested in submitting, please check out this FAQ document.

No, seriously. Check out the FAQ. Each of the past 2 years, we received over 300 workshop proposal submissions. For ~60 workshop slots. This means we must say no to 80+% of the proposals we receive. Third time’s a charm: read the FAQ.

Click here to submit a workshop proposal for NESCBWI16.

If you haven’t marked your calendars for 4/29-5/1 (of 2016), do so now! You don’t want to miss out. As noted by Rumpus Writers here, here, here, here, herehere, here, here, and here (and many other times), SCBWI conferences – and in particular, the New England region’s annual conference – have made all the difference in many of our writing lives. It certainly did for me. And I’m looking forward to planning a conference that does the same for you.

Do you attend writing conferences? Why or why not? If you do, what are YOUR favorite conference memories? Start the conversation in the comments!


  1. You’re definitely brave to take this on, but SCBWI has done so much for all of us published writers, it’s hard to say “no” when asked to do something. I’d love to attend the conference this year. It sounds as if you have some fabulous speakers lined up. Good luck with all the planning!


  2. Thanks for the shout out too Josh. Heather’s right, I also found the best critique partners and met great friends at NESCBWI conferences! I know you and Heather are going to knock it out of the park this year! Go TEAM!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I love the theme for 2016–innovation! I wish I could attend this, but I don’t have enough vacation days:(


  4. Thanks for the shout-out, Josh! So happy you said yes! I’m with Kirsti–for me, conferences are all about making connections. (I met some of my best crit partners at NESCBWI!) Everyone should be happy that Josh said yes, too, because he’s killing it as a conference planner!! Can’t wait for April!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I’m looking forward to the conference, Josh! I love the theme of reinvention…I attend conferences and frankly it’s more about the connections I make with people than the actual workshops. The kidlit community is unique in how people really support each other and help each other succeed and a conference is a great way to meet your tribe.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The reinvention theme was all Heather’s idea! The kidlit community rocks and we’re so lucky to have so many great people in New England! Without NESCBWI I likely wouldn’t have met you or the Rumpus Writers!

      Liked by 1 person

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