The Totally Unofficial NJSCBWI Conference Challenge 2016

June 13, 2016: UPDATE:

The 2016 prize winner are listed below in order! I will be contacting winners in order to choose their prizes!  Please respond quickly with your choice so I can contact the next person on the list. Congratulations to everyone who participated.

Point Total/Name

440 Carolyn Engle
405 Susan Caminez
345 Colleen Kosinski
330 Justine Ma
310 Kirsti Call
280 Brittany Orricco
275 Lynnor Bontiago
270 Ariel Bernstein
270 Sybil Cohen
270 Erika Deel
265 Lauri Meyers
245 Carrie Charlie Brown
235 Julie Segal Walters
230 Patricia Nozell
225 Martin Segal
215 Virginia Law Manning
200 Margaret E Ikeda
190 Rita Catinella Orrell
165 Darshana Khiani
65 Marlaina Cockcroft


Original post:

It’s that time again, time to head to the New Jersey SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) annual conference!


The NJSCBWI conference is a favorite, attracting writers and illustrators from across the country and around the globe, thanks to its reputation for great programming and intimate, friendly face-time with industry professionals.

Despite hearing time and again how much fun I would have at my first NJ SCBWI conference two years ago (was it only 2 years ago??? Hard to believe.) I went in pretty petrified. I’m not naturally a people-person. I write WAY better than I talk. But if there’s ever been a conference where it’s OK to be an introvert, this is it.

It’s a weekend filled with people who love children’s books. It’s a conference loaded with people who want to talk about things you find interesting and who also understand that sometimes, you want to be left alone to write (or draw.) You can discuss your favorite endpapers or your feelings for the Oxford comma. You can bemoan the fickle nature of acquisitions meetings or enjoy some quiet time creating.

It’s amazing. If you make the most of it.

You could go and attend sessions and keep to yourself and learn A LOT about the craft and business of children’s books. But that’s just scratching the surface of the opportunities.

You should also strike up conversations with other book creators. You should find people who are at the same place in their journey as you to be your “tribe,” people who are further in their journey to be your inspiration, people who are just starting their journey for you to encourage. And you need to put on your big kid pants and talk to scary, soul-crushing agents and editors and art-directors.

Who, it turns out, are amazing book-loving people, too.

Knowing this (and wanting to share it) gave me a crazy idea. So last year (2015) on a total whim, I whipped up the 2015 Totally Unofficial NJSCBWI Scavenger Hunt. I thought maybe a dozen friends would play along.

I think it got closer to 100.

I gave away prizes from my bookshelves to the boldest and bravest among us – like the incredible Paula Cohen-Martin who racked up the most points with such adventurous moments as sword-fighting Ame Dyckman and getting the bartender to make her a literary-themed beverage. (Was it gin and tonic with an Oliver Twist? I can’t remember!)

And I’ll never forget how illustrator Mike Ciccotello got the unflappable Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen to do the chicken dance for the custom Nerdy Chicks coffee cup doodle he designed and made.

mike ciccotello coffee cup

photo courtesy of

I guess Mike won’t forget it either, because he insisted we do the Challenge again this year. And then I insisted he help me. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Or perhaps, for you, it’s the future. A great future full of fun conference memories and amazing connections with fellow creators, agents, editors and art directors.

In two years of attendance, this conference brought me a critique group of amazing writers and a support network of fantastic (and talented and funny) friends. It helped me find the right publishing house for my first picture book and polish the manuscript for my second.  Seriously, if participating this challenge gives you a fraction of the reward the NJ conference has given me, that should be prize enough.

But it’s not enough for us. Of course there are prizes!!!

And this year, the prizes are way better!! So far the list (in no particular order) includes:

  • Manuscript critique by author and PiBoIdMo founder Tara Lazar
  • Manuscript critique by author (and Nerdy Chick) Marcie Colleen
  • Chicks Run Wild cake-making prize pack from author/Nerdy Chick Sudipta Bardhen-Quallen
  • Picture book manuscript critique by picture book/chapter book author Ariel Bernstein
  • Signed copy of Mr. Particular from author/illustrator Jason Kirschner
  • Multimedia consulting session from author, filmmaker and All The Wonders co-founder Blake Hamilton  (Includes review of your current multimedia content and 30 min Skype chat!)
  • Picture book critique from author Katey Howes (that’s me!)
  • Picture book manuscript critique from author Annie Silvestro
  • First 10 pages critique (MG/YA) from author Jen Malone
  • First 10 pages critique (MG/YA/NF) from author Charlotte Bennardo
  • First chapter (MG/YA) critique from former editor/current author Hannah Barnaby (to be redeemed in September 2016.)
  • 10 pages critique (MG/YA) from author Marlo Berliner
  • Land Shark prize pack from author Beth Ferry
  • Picture book or rhyming manuscript critique from author Lori Degman
  • Query critique from agent Essie White of Storm Literary Agency
  • Picture book AND query letter critique from author Julie Segal-Walters
  • Autographed copy of Cat Napped! by author/illustrator and former NJSCBWI Regional Advisor Leeza Hernandez.
  • One of three amazing coffee cup doodles from Mike Ciccotello! (not for beverage purposes, you guys! This is art!)Mikes coffee cups 2016

Awesome, right?? So what are you waiting for? Here’s what to do:

  1. Print the 2016 Totally Unofficial Conference Challenge. (Maybe print an extra for a new friend.)
  2. Enjoy the conference – and post photos to social media with hashtag #NJSCBWI16 and/or #TUCC (Totally Unofficial Conference Challenge.) We’ll RT and share as much as we can!! You can find us on Twitter @kateywrites and @ciccotello
  3. Come back here between June 6th and 12th to report your point totals.
  4. Choose your prize! Highest point totals choose first.
  5. Bask in the glory! Revel in the memories.


BTW, if it’s not blatantly obvious, this game is in no way planned, sanctioned, organized or required by NJSCBWI. It’s just us, having fun with friends old and new. Please refer any problems, comments, complaints, compliments, (bribes, tiaras, etc) my way – not to the conference staff. 

We can’t wait to see you (and your shenanigans) at the conference!

Your Challenge Co-Hosts,

Katey Howes and Mike Ciccotello


P.S. Interested in donating a prize? THANK YOU! Send me an email at or grab Mike or me at any point during the conference. We can add prizes through June 12th.



9 thoughts on “The Totally Unofficial NJSCBWI Conference Challenge 2016

  1. Pingback: Report Your Points! The New Jersey SCBWI Totally Unofficial Conference Challenge | kateywrites

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