Friday, February 6, 2015

How to Succeed at a Schmooze (Without Really Trying)

By Cathy Hall
Part three of the Volunteers series

So, you’ve signed on as an SCBWI Local Liaison and you want to have a schmooze. Or maybe a writers’ or artists’ workshop. Or perhaps you’re thinking about hosting a dazzling speaker. Good for you! Except you don’t know quite where to start. Neither did I when I paired up with my friend and critique partner, Debra Mayhew. We jumped in to serve as co-LLs in a large, suburban area in the Southern Breeze region.

We didn’t have a lot of experience, but we had tons of enthusiasm, plus a packet of Local Liaison information as well as SCBWI members to contact for help. It wasn’t long at all before we’d planned our first schmooze. Here’s how we did it!

Start with a Meet and Greet and add Critique

We live in the densely populated suburbs of metro Atlanta, so we weren’t surprised to find a ton of SCBWI members scattered throughout our area. But when we checked the list of 50 names or more, we recognized just a handful of people! We determined from the beginning that we wanted to meet these elusive writers and illustrators. But how could we get these members to come out and play? Debra and I had gone to our first schmooze, hoping to meet members interested in forming a critique group. So we really pushed this idea, and our hunch was right. We had around 25 people attend the first schmooze, looking for critique partners!

Find the Right Spot

We would have loved to use a charming, independent bookstore, but unfortunately, we only have the big box bookstores, and we knew space would be limited there. So we checked with our local library system. Several libraries had meeting rooms, set up for non-profit meetings. We had to pay a small fee, but it was worth it. The room had plenty of tables and chairs so that we could transition from a speaker to small critique groups. Your library may offer a room for free. Other spots to consider are church spaces, coffee shops, or community centers (through local parks associations).

Send a Personal Invite

It’s a good idea, of course, to announce your schmooze on your region’s listserv and through SCBWI. But many new members may not have signed up yet to get the emails. They almost always, though, have emails. Write a brilliant announcement with all the details of your event and send it out to each individual (Ask your RA for an email address list). And ask members to RSVP. You’ll be surprised at the response you get just from this simple effort. (And once you have the list, you don’t have to type in all those names again!)

Have Fun

Naturally, you’ll have refreshments, nametags, and SCBWI literature (Contact national headquarters for materials). And you’ll want folks to bring something to critique. But keep in mind that many of these members may be a bit shy, and most of them don’t know each other. You’ll need an icebreaker and party favors, even a door prize! Here’s how we partied down:
  1.  For your icebreaker, have each person introduce her/himself, including hometown and whether she/he is looking for a critique partner. We had some silly stickers that we slapped on nametags so that folks looking for critique partners could find each other easily.
  2. I presented a short Do’s and Don’ts about manuscript critique, and included party favors in the form of handouts from SCBWI Bulletin articles as well as a handout based on pointers from the book, The Writing and Critique Group Survival Guide by Becky Levine. (I’d won it at an SCBWI conference!)
  3. After a short break, we broke into critique groups to apply some of the tips we’d learned. When our time was up, we called out the door prizes. (We’d had a basket at the welcome table for people to drop their names in to win prizes.) We gave out peach tea and small packets of tissues (tea and sympathy), and we gave a package of 9 x 12 envelopes (to submit those nicely critiqued and polished manuscripts). And finally, we gave away The Writing and Critique Group Survival Guide.

We received lots of positive responses from our schmooze, made a ton of new friends, and managed to give those elusive writers and illustrators a bang for their SCBWI membership bucks. We even attracted a few folks who we hope will sign up for SCBWI. But mostly, we had a lot of fun with our first event as Local Liaisons, and so will you. Because honestly, if we could have that kind of success (without really trying), anybody can!

Cathy C. Hall is the Local Liaison for the Gwinnett area of Georgia. Her humorous stories have been published in children's magazines and anthologies and look for her soon-to-be-released books with Korean educational publisher, Darakwon. She also serves as the PAL Coordinator for Southern Breeze, sings in a choir, and occasionally visits her cows. Come say hello at


  1. A Schmoozapalooza...This sounds like an incredibly successful event. Congrats, Cathy.

  2. You put on the best schmoozes, Cathy! Thanks for sharing the recipe!

  3. I have to say, partnering up with a friend is definitely the way to go on these things! By myself, I would've been overwhelmed and stressed. But organizing these events together was way more fun than work, and you can't help but learn a ton of stuff in the process!

  4. If you are interested in learning more about being a Local Liaison, please come to the Local Liaison meeting at 8 am on Saturday morning March 14 at the Decatur library. You do not have to be attending Springmingle to come to this meeting.

    Or you can contact Claudia, Paula Pucket, Heather Montgomery, or Sharon Pegram directly.