Friday, February 23, 2018

4 Out the Door Illustrator Challenge by Deb Pilutti

I did not always “know” I wanted to work in children’s publishing, but when I finally had my AHA moment, I was eager to start right away (cue knowing smile). The Children’s Writer's and Illustrator’s Market stated that sending promotional postcards was a good way for illustrators to contact art directors and editors. So I started with a small mailing, printed on my own color printer. The postcard had an illustration of two silly dogs on the front.

Several weeks after sending that card, editor Meredith Mundy contacted me to ask if I would send more samples. She had a story about a silly dog and was considering me to illustrate it. I did a little dance, crossed my fingers and sent off samples that day. Weeks passed, then months without a word. Gradually, I resigned myself to the notion that another illustrator had been selected. Sometime later, I learned that Meredith had moved to Sterling Publishing before ever editing the silly dog book. I updated my mailing list with her new address and kept sending postcards and samples. “Right away” turned into a few years, but my promotions made a connection, and the connection led to two books with Meredith and Sterling. They were books that I would never had worked on if I had not sent out the first postcard.
I thought that once I was published, subsequent requests for projects would flood my inbox. This did not happen. Self-promotion, it turns out, is an ongoing process. And postcard mailings are one of the easiest and cost effective forms of self promotion. Yet, too often, I don’t send them. I have good intentions to send out more than one card every three years. I really do. I have gotten contracts from them. Postcards work. So what’s my problem?

The usual excuses come into play. “I’m too busy right now,”  “I don’t have a good idea,” “What if no one likes my work?” or “I’ll do it next month”... Do any of these sound familiar? Well, 2018 is going to be different. SCBWI-MI is hosting the 4 Out the Door postcard challenge for illustratorsand I am committing to sending out four (4!) postcards over the course of a year.

This challenge will help me see my good intentions through. Like many people, I work better with a deadline. This challenge has four. I’m more likely to follow through with something if I make plans with a friend beforehand. Other SCBWI buddies will be doing this with me, so we can cheer each other on. So that’s my 2018 resolution: making plans, with friends, to do this postcard thing. I think I’m going to nail it.

Deb Pilutti writes and illustrates for children. She feels lucky to have a job where reading, playing with toys and watching cartoons is considered “research.” Deb is the author and/or illustrator of several picture books, including IDEA JAR, written by Adam Lehrhaupt (Simon & Schuster) and THE SECRETS OF NINJA SCHOOL (A Christy Ottaviano Book/Henry Holt). She lives in Ann Arbor, MI.

More about 4 Out the Door:
 4 Out the Door is a challenge hosted by SCBWI Michigan for illustrator members (from any region) to send promotional postcards to publishing houses quarterly.

To participate, simply send an email to Once you sign up, you will receive a welcome e-packet about the basics of promotional mailings and next steps, informative newsletters and a digital badge you can use to share the news of our challenge. In addition, check the SCBWI-MI Instagram, Facebook and Twitter feeds for tips and success stories throughout the year.

Mail cards Feb 1, April 1, July 1, and November 1.

Even though the first deadline has passed, illustrators may join the challenge at any time. We’ve picked these dates based on the publishing industry’s habits. For instance, in September, many people in publishing take vacations and December is often very quiet. If you miss the deadline we encourage you to stay with the challenge whatever the time of year.

Artwork for 4 Out the Door created by Kirbi Fagan

Coming up on the Mitten blog: an interview with one of our SCBWI-MI novel mentors, The Path to Promotion publicity program, the resonant roar of quiet stories, a recap of the NY conference, and a round-up of SCBWI-MI member blogs. Do you have an active kidlit blog? Send an email to Charlie Barshaw to let him know.

Registration for the SCBWI-MI spring conference in Detroit opens on March 15th!

This just in! SCBWI Michigan and Indiana are teaming up for a creative retreat at Pokagon State Park, Indiana, October 5-7, 2018. Learn more here. And stay tuned for an interview with illustrator Sara Kendall who shares her process in creating the Pokagon painting below.
Art by Sara Kendall.


  1. Deb, you inspired me all over again. Why why why do we keep needing that 'push' over and over again? Thank goodness for SCBWI and our generous members.

  2. Deb, I've appreciated your post card story, and I find myself thinking about it often. I think it's the persistence and the manageable scale that have stayed with me. I was happy to share this challenge with some people I'd love to see illustrating picture books. Thanks!!

  3. Great article and thank you Deb for sharing your inspirational story. This keeps us all moving forward. Thank you, also, to all involved with the #4outthedoor project. This is great!

  4. I don't know if I'm going to be ready by April 1st. Still working on perfecting my portfolio and want 1-2 more images in there before I start sending work out. I will be ready by July. Sounds like a great event!

  5. That is an awesome idea!
    I am an illustrator for more than 10 years now, but recently moved from Brazil to Canada and have been looking for ways to find new clients here =)