Faculty Feature: Monica Wellington
On Helping Children’s Books Creators Get Published
August 15, 2018
by Michael Bilsborough
Getting published is a goal for any children's book creator, especially the students enrolled in Monica Wellington's courses here at SVA Continuing Education. With Monica's guidance over time, many students achieve that goal. Since 2017, Monica's students and alumni, including Shanda McCloskey, Patricia Keeler, Barry Wittenstein, have published books — building on the list of published alumni from 2016.
On Twitter and Instagram, Monica documents her work, her classes, and her students. And at her blog, she maintains an archive of her interviews with students and alumni. That blog is a valuable resource for anyone enrolled or considering a course in children's books. The blog documents classroom activity, students' own accounts of their progress, and lots of practical advice for professional creatives developing their skills.
To learn more, we asked Monica about her work and classes. And even though she is on a summer adventure abroad, she dedicated some time to share her insights about teaching, getting published, and keeping in contact with your creative community.
SVACE: When did you begin teaching at SVA, and how has the children’s book industry changed during that time?
MW: I have been writing and illustrating books for children for about 30 years, and I started teaching almost 20 years ago. The way illustrators work on books hasn’t really changed much—we still have to go through all the stages of developing a project, from idea, research, sketches, dummy, final art with many rounds of revision along the way—but the ways illustrators go out into the world with their work has changed. Years ago we could go in to publishers with our portfolios and meet editors in person. Now there is a greater variety of ways for illustrators to have their work seen, but the ways are more impersonal—for example, Illustrators must have websites and be adept at promoting their work through social media. But in the end it still comes down to developing relationships directly with editors, art directors, and agents.
SVACE: Through your blog and social media community, you keep in touch with your recent students, while helping to spread the word about their new books and projects. What do you hope this community will bring to its members? And vice versa?
MW: I love keeping in touch with students after the term ends. We are all very excited when we hear about first contracts and books being published. Building a community that inspires, motivates, and encourages is really helpful along that difficult journey to publication. Starting with class I hope to create a supportive, encouraging environment. I usually have former students visit class to share stories of their paths to publication. On my blog I have a series of interviews with past students about their first books. After class, students sometimes continue to meet up in small critique groups. I think social media is a another great way to build and maintain that sense of community.
SVACE: Many of your students have recently published children’s books. What do new students need to know about getting published?
MW: It takes a tremendous about of time, effort, determination, talent, and often some luck!
SVACE: Beyond your classes, what are some helpful resources for aspiring children’s book creators?
MW: Everyone should become a member of The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). They should go to conferences and workshops because it is an important way to meet publishing professionals in person and to network with both published and aspiring writers and illustrators. SCBWI is a wonderful resource for information and for building community.
SVACE: What are some specific ways your course helps prepare them for professional advancement?
MW: I hope that my class helps students build their portfolios and book projects to a professional standard. In addition to working on specific assignments to help towards that goal, we also cover the practical aspects of the publishing business. I hope students will finish the term with the necessary information and realistic goals to take their work out into the world with confidence and professionalism.