, , , , , , , , , , ,

By Karol Ruth Silverstein, SCBWI-L.A. Contest Coordinator

It’s time once again to polish up those manuscripts and submit to the Sue Alexander Grant, the winner of which receives a guaranteed spot and free tuition to the SCBWI-L.A. September 2018 Working Writers Retreat.

The WWR is an intense critiquing weekend with critique sessions, revision time, and parties ­­— including karaoke! The retreat culminates in a first-pages pitch session with four acquiring editors and agents.

I recently caught up with last year’s Sue Alexander Grant winner, Andrea Custer, for her insight on the retreat, how it influenced her writing, and why you should apply for this grant to attend.

KAROL RUTH SILVERSTEIN: Did you put in a lot of work on your manuscript before submitting it to the Sue Alexander Grant or did you have a polished manuscript ready to go?

ANDREA CUSTER: I workshopped it with my critique group as I was writing the first draft. They are an amazing group, quite astute, and so I had the benefit of their comments early on and had already revised the first half of the manuscript based on their feedback. Submitting it for consideration for SAG was actually a bit of an impulse! I saw the reminder on Facebook that the submission deadline was coming up, and thought why not go for it? I had about a week to re-read, polish, and get it ready. I found out I’d won on my birthday! It was the best gift I’ve ever gotten.

KRS: What was your favorite part of the retreat? What was most valuable?

AC: I love being submerged in our SCBWI kid lit community, and the WWR gives me a chance to stay in that happy place for an entire weekend — what could be better! I love Nutschell’s humor, Sally’s support, and the kind encouragement from everyone who attends. This past year I also had the best roommate! …But if I had to pick one “best” from among all the good experiences, it would be the people that were in my critique group… The connections I made were hands-down the most valuable [part of the experience]. I found a group of people who honestly care about my work, and are dedicated to helping me make my stories better, and I feel the same way about them and their stories. I also think it is really important to get feedback from editors and agents — for the value of those insights as well as the practice of talking to industry professionals about your work.

KRS: How much of your weekend was spent writing/revising vs. getting and giving feedback and social activities?

AC: Honestly, I spent the least amount of time actually writing. I had done most of the writing I wanted to do beforehand and was looking to collect ideas and “problem areas” before I began revising. I’d brought a printer and paper because I wasn’t sure what pages I wanted to bring to each session, and did end up revising one piece so I could get a “second look” at it at a later session. As the weekend went on, my group spent a lot of time discussing what we would read for the first-pages panel on Sunday. I did revise and hone two of my first pages before I ultimately decided which one to use. For me, it worked well to listen and consider the feedback from the weekend as a whole, and then let everything germinate for a while…My group used most of our “writing” time to talk out our story “problems” (…fleshing out anything that had come up in session that we didn’t have enough time to fully talk through). As for the social activities, I never miss them! They are solid WWR traditions.

KRS: Did they serve that amazing pineapple upside down cake for dessert one night? (Please tell me they did!) Did the region keep you well supplied with chocolate? Seriously, how was the food?

AC: I don’t remember a pineapple cake, but that is worth going back for! The food is good, and there are a lot of options, so every dietary consideration can be accommodated. There is also plenty of food! I don’t know what about critiquing pages works up such an appetite, but I was constantly hungry, and the meals never disappointed.

KRS: Did you follow up with submissions to any faculty?

AC: I am just completing a revision of the manuscript, so I’ve not yet submitted it to any faculty, but I will have no hesitation about doing so once it’s ready.

KRS: How has your writing career gone since last year? Any cool news to share?

AC: No news, but I will say I look on my own career with a more professional lens than I did before. I’ve made conscientious choices about how to budget my time so I am sure to write every day. I’ve also signed up for more conferences, retreats, and workshops so I can keep meeting more people in the kid lit world, and say connected to the community. It is a pretty remarkable group of people and I’m blessed to have the opportunity to be part of it!

For eligibility requirements and specific entry instructions, please refer to the SCBWI-L.A. website SAG page.

Best of luck to all applicants!


Author Sue Alexander was a founding member of SCBWI and was instrumental in the formation of the L.A. region. Her clear vision of the need for an organization to support children’s literature made her a vital force in establishing the early structure of SCBWI and growing it into the international society we enjoy today. For 35 years, she mentored writers, illustrators, librarians and teachers — always nurturing, but setting the highest standards for the craft. Established in her memory, this grant brings her encouraging spirit to one promising writer.  

If you’d like to learn more about additional SCBWI-L.A. contests and how you can participate, check our contest page.


For more fantastic content, community, events, and other professional development opportunities, become a member today! Not sure if there is a chapter in your area? Check here.


Karol Ruth Silverstein writes various genres of children’s books. Her debut young adult novel, Cursed, was acquired by Monica Perez at Charlesbridge Teen and will be published in summer 2019. She is represented by Jen Linnan of Linnan Literary Management and lives in West Hollywood with her two exceptionally fluffy cats, Ninja and Bo.

Andrea Custer holds a Certificate in Creative Writing from UCLA Extension Writers’ Program. Her awards include the SCBWI-LA 2017 Sue Alexander Grant for Forgotten Angels and “Most Promising YA” at SCBWI CenCal’s Writer’s Day (2017) for YA manuscript Any, Remixed. When she is not working on her own projects, she teaches creative writing to teens and tweens and is an Odyssey of the Mind coach.


Photos by Alexandre Godreau on Unsplash and Andrea Custer

This interview was edited slightly for format and clarity.