Friday, March 10, 2017

The SCBWI Jane Yolen Mid-List Author Grant by Joan Donaldson

In 1992, when Tasha Tudor illustrated my first picture book, it sold well. I believed that with hard work and attention to craft, editors would want my manuscripts, and I would develop a career as a children’s author. But instead, seven years passed before I signed another book contract. Editors often told me that I was a good writer, but they weren’t sure that there was a market for my stories. Like a car sputtering along on low fuel, I decided to invest in a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing so that I could hone my skills.

Earning a MFA at Spalding University was life changing.  I minored in writing for young people and majored in creative nonfiction. Mentors and fellow students encouraged my talents and suggested ways to improve my manuscripts. During the four falls that I attended Spalding, I sold a picture book manuscript, The Secret of the Red Shoes, and my young adult novel, On Viney’s Mountain. At last, my writing career was cruising!

When On Viney’s Mountain won the 2010 Friends of American Writer’s YA Award, became a finalist for the 2011 Bronte Prize for Romantic Literature, appeared on the Bank Street List of the Best Books of 2010, and represented the State of Tennessee at the 2010 National Book Festival. But even after promoting the novel, the book didn’t sell well. The publisher chose not to reprint it and my career at that publishing house ended.

When I read about the Jane Yolen Mid-list Author’s Grant, the description fit my writing career, especially the sentence about not selling a book manuscript in the past five years. Ms. Yolen created the grant not only to provide authors with a monetary sum that could be spent on hiring an editor or perhaps on marking, but also to encourage authors not to cease writing. I filled out an application that included a career summary and brief summary of my latest project, Mooey Bien, a middle grade novel about a friendship between a white girl and a Latino migrant girl.

When SCBWI informed me that Jane Yolen had awarded me an honor prize, I was overwhelmed with gratitude that Jane had affirmed my writing. On the stage with Jane at the New York SCBWI conference, I promised her that no matter what, I will continue to write.

For any Michigan SCBWI member who is discouraged because she or he hasn’t sold a manuscript in several years, consider filling out an application for the 2018 grant. Ponder how you would use the funds to fuel your career, and most of all, keep writing, dreaming and hoping that the next email will state that a publisher wants your book.

Joan Donaldson receives a hug onstage
from Jane Yolen at the SCBWI
Annual Winter Conference
Joan Donaldson writes from her organic blueberry farm near Saugatuck, Michigan. In the past, she has served on the SCBWI-MI board and as a judge for the mentorship contest. After earning her MFA in creative nonfiction, she has facilitated writing workshops at the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference. Learn more at

Congrats again on this wonderful honor, Joan, and thank you for sharing your inspiring story. To learn more about the many SCBWI grants and awards, go here. Writers and illustrators who are looking for an extra dose of inspiration this spring or opportunities to network and grow your craft, check out these upcoming events from SCBWI-MI and more:

March 15th: final deadline for the SCBWI-MI Written Critique Program. Receive feedback on your manuscript from your choice of agents and editors.

March 25th: The Michigan Writing Workshop, Novi, MI. (Not an SCBWI event)

April 1st: Rochester Writer's Spring Conference, Writing for Children and Young Adults, Oakland University, Rochester, MI. (Not an SCBWI event)

April 29th: SCBWI-MI Marketing Bootcamp in East Lansing, more info soon

September 15-16th: SCBWI-MI Fall Retreat, Grand Rapids, more info to come

SCBWI-MI Shop Talks meet monthly. Click here to find a location near you.
Special Opportunity: The Lansing Area Shop Talk will meet at the Charlotte Library, March 25, 11am, to see award-winning Michigan author Gary D. Schmidt.

Happy creating!
Kristin Lenz


  1. Thanks Joan. I love the fact that this is an award to help mid-list authors moosey along. A great idea on Jane's part.


  2. I'm not a author or illustrator, my husband Nick is, but I have supported him over the last several years in this industry. This group of people (SCBWI) are so encouraging and supportive, something we both needed. Nick always tells me I'll write something someday but I'm not sure I can, I'm not sure I'm strong enough. You writers and illustrators are some of the strongest and most persistent people I've ever met. You all rock! And thank you Joan for sharing your story, it is very inspiring!

  3. Thanks for sharing, Joan! I was thrilled to hear that you won this award--you're very deserving! Congratulations!!

  4. Joan - brava for the amazing recognition from Jane Yolen but most importantly for continuing to take risks. Scientists now tell us that passion and talent are important to success but grit is what makes the difference. You've got grit!

  5. So thrilled for you, Joan! You're full of great talent and persistence, a combination that will pay off. So happy to see you continue on!