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Learning from Critique: SCBWI Group

The first time sharing my book in full outside the family.

mama bear sleeping, cuddling with child watercolor illustration

Society of Children's Books Writers and Illustrators

I joined SCBWI (an international organization for children's books writers and illustrations) this past December in order to gain the support and wisdom of more experienced professionals. One of the best parts about this group is the quantity of local chapters and critique groups. I joined the Northampton, MA group and have now been to three monthly critiques. These crits are a place for writers and/or illustrators to share their work, ask questions, and get feedback in an organized setting.

What I Shared

Last Wednesday, I showed all of my illustrations (finished or in progress) in order along with two different versions of the text. One was a simple, repetitive text designed to allude to the issue of depression in families in a subtle manner and with an emotional arch - but lacking a traditional story line. The second text I read was a longer, rhyming poem that more expressly addressed the mother-daughter relationship and the emotional toll it can take on children who do not understand what is happening.

watercolor illustration, color purple sketches


First of all, I am very grateful to those who listened to my story and took the time to give honest feedback. It helps! Some I will take into consideration, some I will not. But all of the input adds to my understanding of my work.

The illustrations, though not all finished, were generally well received. It was noted there was a lot of purple (perhaps too much?) and that the illustration style seems to be geared towards a younger audience (3-6). This was my original target audience, but for concern of my subject matter being too complex, I started gearing my text towards a more 5-8 audience. I agree that the format better suits a 3-6 age range and I need to take that into account with my writing. This was very helpful feedback.

The text was harder to discuss and was the primary topic of my feedback. The poem was well received and seemed to trigger more emotional responses from the audience, but was deemed for a more 7-10 audience and would pair better with a different illustration style. I agree with this, completely, and am relieved as I feel the poem is too traditional of a format for my non-narrative illustration arch.

The shorter and subtler text had mixed reviews. The format went over well but it lacked enough dynamics, emotional resonance, and was too subtle for some of the members. Some thought I should add a more traditional conflict/resolution set up, while others did not feel that was necessary but did want to respond more emotionally to the text. Overall, I left with a lot to think about.

My Take-Away

Sharing my work for the first time was a nerve-wracking but valuable experience. I am very pleased with how the illustrations went over but slightly disappointed with the text. While I knew this would be my problem area, there is always a small part of you that hopes it is only in your head or that someone's specific suggestion will solve all of your issues.

This is not the case here. I will have to rethink the text and story arch. I would like to keep the format, so that is a start. But now I need to make the topic clearer and add a greater sense of feeling into the work. How to do this? I have no idea. Writing for children is wholly outside my comfort zone and it is not proving to be an effortless learning curve. But I will keep working and revising, and possibly next month, I will share again.

Halsey cat helping in studio

Next Time

Thank you for reading about my critique!

Next time I will return to studio practice and artistic technique.

Be well!


About Me, Fia Sutton

Hi & welcome to my blog! I am a children's illustrator living in Brooklyn, NY. I create handmade collages, 

watercolors & books that celebrate color, acceptance, & discovery. I am a creator of messy mistakes & happy surprises.

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