Exciting Book News!

It’s happened!!! I officially have a picture book on its way!

Super excited to share that Melbourne-based publisher Ford Street will be bringing one of my favourite picture book manuscripts to life. I’ll share more about the book closer to time, but basically this came about due to a pitching session at CYA Conference with Meredith Costain (also the writerly brains behind huge kidlit hits like the Ella Diaries series, which I’ve long admired). Looking forward to working with publisher Paul Collins and my future mystery illustrator!

The CYA Conference has played a huge role in my writing journey so far – it was one of the very first writing events I ever attended, and has connected me with lots of great writers, illustrators and publishers over the last few years. AND it was even the subject of our podcast One More Page‘s first ever event special (you can listen to it here). I highly recommend it to anyone setting out on their kidlit journey.

Speaking of One More Page, we’ve just cracked 12,000 downloads and we’re recording the final couple of episodes of 2018. It’s been so much fun, and to top off a great first year of podcasting we’ve been invited to be guest speakers at the SCBWI Sydney Christmas party, woo hoo! If you’re a Sydney SCBWI-ite, hope to see you there!

Writers’ Unleashed Festival 2017

 

Writers’ Unleashed Competition – with Zoe Walton, Rebecca Sheraton and Sue Whiting (pic: Ramona Davey)

Exciting times at the Writers’ Unleashed Festival, a one-day writers’ fest in Sydney’s ‘The Shire’ – not only did I get to experience a day immersed in the world of books (and book lovers), but placed in a picture book comp! Somehow, twice!

The competition results were announced by the judges of the shortlist, Zoe Walton of Penguin Random House and Sue Whiting (ex-Walker Books, author and editor). The lovely Rebecca Sheraton was the winner, and two of my manuscripts placed second and third. A member of one of my writers’ groups, Colleen, was shortlisted too, adding an extra level of yay. It was an exciting (if knee-shaky) moment accepting our awards in front of the whole conference, especially when there was a paparazzi-like swarm taking our pics afterwards (mostly writers’ group friends, but still, SCARY!).

It’s funny, some people have asked me, ‘So, what was the prize?’ as though prompting for details about piles of sweet, sweet cash and a gazillion-dollar publishing deal, but the real prize (for me, anyway) is encouragement to keep going.

 

Pic overkill alert! Colleen, me and Rebecca (pic: Amelia McInerney)

Tips from the festival sessions

Aside from the comp announcement, there were some great sessions like Sandy Fussell‘s talk on all things tech and social media for writers (she’s a fan of apps like Trello, Feedly and buffer to schedule posts). YA author Sarah Ayoub spoke about creating relatable female characters, with a focus on identity and diversity. She made an excellent point about not taking away someone else’s chance to tell their story, but instead, weaving in diverse secondary characters. And there was a fantastic picture book masterclass held by Sue Whiting. Some of her key tips include recording yourself reading your manuscript aloud to discover the clunky bits, figuring out what your story is about at its core so every word can drive the story, and to be specific about details to develop your characters and make your story stand out (she used Gus Gordon’s Herman and Rosie as an example, where even a yoghurt flavour is mentioned). Children’s author and everyone’s favourite podcast host Allison Tait was there too, talking strategies on making time to write (which I sadly missed). By all accounts it was excellent. Overall, an inspiring (and encouraging!) day.

Literary fun times and new cafe crushes

KidLitVic illustrators' cards

KidLitVic 2017

Pictured above: a few favourite cards picked up at KidLitVic, a fabulous writers’ conference now in its second year. My card stash features the work of illustrators (from top left, clockwise): Allison Langton, Caitlin Murray, Nicky Johnston, Luisa Gioffre-Suzuki, Irene Tan and Tania McCartney. Aren’t they all amazing?! One of my favourite parts of the conference was checking out the illustration portfolios on display (so much talent, sigh!).

The publisher panels offered the inside word on kids’ books, the atmosphere was fantastic, and the organisers (author Alison Reynolds and team) once more did an amazing job pulling everything together. Industry insights aside, meeting up with other writers and talking all things books and publishing was undoubtedly a highlight. Especially when debriefing afterwards over delicious Malaysian food! I stayed at my friend and fellow conference attendee Cat’s place, and we managed to squeeze in some Melbourne must-dos (like Readings Kids!) into our whirlwind of a weekend.

Readings Kids

Melbourne wanderings

With Cat and her kids as tour guides, we hit Lygon Street in Carlton for a cannoli fix at the treat-laden Brunetti’s, before a book-ish droolfest at Readings Kids. I so wish there was a carbon-copy in Sydney! Packed with everything from picture books to the latest #LoveOzYA reads, you can easily spend hours here (and lots of $!). I came away with a small stack of new reads, including some titles from my kids’ current favourite series, Truly Tan and Isadora Moon, about a half-vampire, half-fairy (super cute!).

You're Five series launch

Book launch: The You’re Five series by Shelly Unwin

Along with some other writer friends, I attended fellow critique group member Shelly’s book launch at The Children’s Bookshop in Beecroft. It was the first of several events launching her You’re Five series, with a book celebrating each age from 1 to 5. A great concept, and a beautiful package complete with Katherine Battersby’s charming illustrations. After introductions from bookshop owner Paul MacDonald and guest author Jacqueline Harvey of Alice Miranda fame, Shelly ran a fun storytime session followed by the perfect accompaniment – birthday cakes!

Natasha Lester author talk

In other bookish news, I went to a fascinating talk at Five Dock Library by Perth-based author Natasha Lester, with a focus on her latest historical fiction novel, Her Mother’s Secret. She filled us in on her publishing story, her writing routine and the in-depth research she conducts for her books. Her latest release is set in 1920s and 30s Paris, and centres around the birth of the make-up industry. I love the way Natasha’s books weave historical events with issues concerning women’s fight for equality (highly recommend her previous book too, A Kiss for Mr Fitzgerald, set in 1920s New York). Natasha is such a warm and open presenter, and it was so nice to meet a writer whose work (and advice-filled blog) I hugely admire.

Sydney Writers' Festival

Sydney Writers’ Festival

More books, more authors, more literary fun times! This year’s Sydney Writers’ Festival featured an amazing program, and their family day was no exception. We took our kids to see UK Children’s Laureate and Charlie and Lola creator Lauren Child, who talked about her influences and creative processes. Even Quentin Tarantino movies form the inspiration behind her beloved children’s books. We also saw the always hilarious Andy Griffiths, with glimpses of his upcoming 91-Storey Treehouse book, followed by a session with picture book creators Davina Bell and Allison Colpoys. They shared the stories behind their stunning picture book, Under the Love Umbrella, from initial idea and napkin scribbles on a Brooklyn-bound train, to the intensive illustration process. In other SWF news, I did a children’s writing masterclass with R.A. Spratt (Friday Barnes/Nanny Piggins). As well as being highly entertaining, she offered some great tips from plotting to using IRL observations of conflict as story fuel (recommended: a Saturday trip to Ikea!).

Goodbye Horses

Goodbye Horses

Cafe Crushes

And to accompany everything bookish – coffee, of course! So many cafes … so many crushes. A few on my radar lately:

~ Concrete Jungle in Chippendale, for their super health-packed bowls.

~ The perfectly tiny Glider (in the same laneway), with the cutest coffee coasters, like mini-wooden pallets.

~ And new Summer Hill cafe, Goodbye Horses – great coffee, music and staff (and plants!), and a backroom that feels just like a dining room in a terrace house.

Picture book love: latest from the library

Here are four stand-out picture books from the current mountain of library loans (actually, the mountain is more like a river, cascading over every surface of the house!):

 

Teacup

Teacup (written by Rebecca Young, illustrated by Matt Ottley, Scholastic Press, 2015)

A hauntingly beautiful story with a wonderful message of hope, Teacup follows the boat journey of a lone boy. Where he’s from or where he’s going isn’t stated, giving it a fable-like quality, though I see it as an age-appropriate introduction to the plight of refugees.  The illustrations veer from dreamlike pastels to dark tones, mimicking moments of hope and dangerous encounters. The idea of the teacup holding earth from home and the new life it provides is truly magical.

 

The Underwater Fancy-Dress Parade

The Underwater Fancy-Dress Parade (written by Davina Bell, illustrated by Allison Colpoys, Scribe Publications, 2015)

This is a repeat borrow – I absolutely love this book and this clever pairing, and can’t wait to read their second book together, Under the Love Umbrella. The blue and orange toned illustrations have a striking, retro feel, and the emotional journey of Alfie (who doesn’t feel brave enough to be Captain Starfish in a school parade) is so realistic and relatable. It’s a wonderful book to share with children to show they’re not alone – anxieties about seemingly small things are so very real – and from a writer’s point of view it’s a fabulous mentor text.

 

Seagull

Seagull (written and illustrated by Danny Snell, Working Title Press, 2015)

Seagull’s freedom to fly is at stake as he becomes tangled in some rubbish on the beach. No one seems to be able to help despite their efforts, until a small but kind gesture is just enough to set Seagull free. This is a gentle yet touching book with some important themes, from caring for the environment to noticing and helping those in need. The changing colours of the sky reflect the story arc – a beautiful touch.

 

The Cloudspotter

The Cloudspotter (written and illustrated by Tom McLaughlin, Bloomsbury UK, 2015)

Franklin is a loner with a big imagination, and, you guessed it, spots all manner of things in the clouds. Actually, not just things but ‘adventures in the sky’ (love!). When Scruffy Dog comes along and joins in the fun, Franklin is far from impressed and plots to get rid of him. But cloudspotting is a lonely affair, and perhaps two cloudspotters are better than one! So full of charm and fun, with vibrant illustrations, The Cloudspotter is for dreamers of all ages.

A round-up of writerly things: May-July 2016

CYA Conference 2016

 

There have been so many fun, inspiring writerly things in the last couple of months, from writers’ festivals and conferences, to competitions, courses and (I think) Australia’s first Twitter pitch-fest!

Alice Pung & Sofie Laguna, Sydney Writers’ Festival
In May, I saw authors Alice Pung and Sofie Laguna in conversation at the Sydney Writers’ Festival. Their discussion spanned writing from different perspectives, whether it be from a child or teen’s point of view, to a character who thinks in a different kind of way – a voice Sofia Laguna nailed with The Eye of the Sheep’s narrator, Jimmy. I loved hearing about Alice Pung’s own background and how it informs her stories (with more than a touch of her life experiences drawn on in her YA novel, Laurinda), and how Sofie came to set The Eye of the Sheep in Melbourne’s industrial outer suburbs. (I highly, highly recommend this book by the way!) Their chat pretty much reinforced my fangirl love for both of these authors, and guaranteed I’ll purchase anything else they write!

Twitter pitch contest
Then there was the Twitter pitch contest, a mainstay of the US writing scene but pretty much non-existent here – until now. Children’s author and organiser extraordinaire Aleesah Darlison initiated the comp (held by the NSW Writers’ Centre, enhanced by their GIF superpowers), where you basically had to pitch your book in 140 characters or less for an agent to sift through and shortlist. I loved the challenge of distilling a story into such a compact form, and it was just as fun reading all the other pitches. Excitement levels peaked when some of my critique group members (Kate Simpson and Catherine Pelosi) were shortlisted. The eventual winners were Selene G for her YA pitch, and Laura Greaves, who was fast tracked to the live pitching session at the Kids and YA Festival for her picture book.

Pitching seminar @ NSW Writers’ Centre
I then attended a pitching seminar with freelance editor Laurel Cohn at the NSW Writers’ Centre. One of the most fascinating aspects of the session was seeing some examples of real-life successful pitches that lead to publishing deals. One of them was for Samantha Turnbull’s junior fiction series, The Anti-Princess Club – she was contacted by Allen & Unwin TWO HOURS after submitting it to their Friday Pitch slushpile(!) Ultimately, Laurel’s advice was to distill your story to an ‘essence sentence’ and build on it from there to develop a blurb, a 1-3 sentence response to ‘what are you writing about?’ and a longer synopsis. While the session was probably more applicable to written pitches, there was advice that could be applied to other pitch types too (verbal, Twitter etc.).

Kids & YA Festival, NSW Writers’ Centre
The Kids & YA Festival is held every two years at the NSW Writers’ Centre. This was my second time at this day long inspiration-fest. Again, Aleesah Darlison did a great job of curating panel sessions on everything from picture book publishing to overseas rights, to all things YA and what publishers want. The day began with a keynote address by author Tristan Bancks, a hilarious and engaging speaker passionate about inspiring kids to write their own stories, traversing the digital world (exploding chicken-off, anyone?) and spreading the book love to developing countries via his charity work. His anecdotes about tapping into his own childhood stories to use in his My Life books was lots of fun.

The picture book panel featured EK Books author Katrina McKelvey, who spoke about her random ideas at the worst possible times (apparently there are waterproof notebooks for shower-thinking, who knew?!), Andrew Daddo on the often drawn-out path to publication (his first book took five years), to the lovely Meredith Costain and Aleesah Darlison. All of these speakers were down to earth, and I was particularly impressed with how, well, normal Andrew Daddo came across. It’s easy to be dubious about the celebrity-turned-children’s book author, particularly if it’s clearly a one-off, ego/CV boosting project, but Andrew came across as the real deal, committed to writing books and grappling with similar issues to the rest of us.

The overseas rights panel demonstrated the importance of backing yourself. Jacqueline Harvey self-funds international trips to promote her Clementine Rose and Alice Miranda books, while Michelle Worthington is very driven when it comes to social media marketing. Susanne Gervay is all about both, and emphasised the importance of having industry contacts. Sophie Masson shared some fascinating insights into different markets, such as Korea being a much more receptive market to overseas kids’ books than Japan, for example.

Next was a seminar about industry networking with children’s authors Sandy Fussell and Susan Whelan. They discussed how immersing yourself in the industry in the forms of volunteering, book reviewing, mentoring, critiquing and social media networking can all be beneficial – not only for your own contacts, but for giving back and getting to know fellow writers. They both came across as such warm, genuine people with a passion for kids’ books and the industry in general.

The YA panel featured the ridiculously accomplished Steph Bowe and Will Kostakis, who were first published as teens, more from Tristan Bancks and insights from Dave Burton. Chaired by Adele Walsh of the fabulous Twitter handle ‘@snarkywench’ the panel touched on everything from tapping into the turmoil of the teen years to achieving longevity as a writer.

The publishing panel was a popular one, featuring Anouska Jones of EK Books, Holly Toohey of Penguin Random House, Rochelle Manners of Wombat Books and Tara Wynne of literary agency Curtis Brown. Topics included how they approach their slushpiles, hot topics in children’s books, what they like to see in submissions, and the upcoming titles they’re looking forward to. All very insightful, and at times, amusing (do not send ‘wombat’ books to Wombat Books!). Also – Tara Wynne believes people are born with an X factor, and will blacklist for errors in submissions (no pressure, people!). I just love listening to these types of panels – you gain insights into the personalities and quirks of publishing people. All very insider-y.

CYA Conference, Brisbane
This year’s CYA Conference was bigger, brighter and buzzier than ever, from the record number of attendees to the winning light box and balloon props. Along with the whole learning aspect, CYA is such an amazing event for connecting with other writers and creators. It was so nice to chat with some writers IRL who I knew (or knew of) from orbiting the same patches of kidlit cyberspace, like the lovely Dimity Powell and Kaye Baillie. And I met a fellow student from my MA course at Deakin, Melbourne-dwelling YA writer Alex Fairhill – so fun to connect after critiquing each other’s work and chatting online during our course!

We heard hilarious anecdotes from author James Phelan (hipsters, tanks – you had to be there, really, but I was doing that thing where you realise you’re laughing more than anyone around you), an in-depth look at picture books with author Katrina Germein (the key is rule-breaking!), and a super-intriguing ‘first page’ panel where publishers revealed what would or wouldn’t compel them to read a manuscript further.

The CYA Competition results were also announced, for manuscripts and illustrations across categories ranging from pre-schooler picture books to YA novels. It was exciting to see a bunch of people from my writing group represented. Kim Astill and Catherine Pelosi both came 1st (PBs and JF, respectively), and Nat Amoore came third for her MG novel. And I came 3rd for a non-fiction picture book! Also, yay for Rachel Noble and everyone else who placed. Encouraging all-round!

What’s next?
Next on the event agenda is the Sydney-based SCBWI Conference in September. Like the Kids & YA Festival, this one’s only held every two years. It’s my first time attending – cannot wait! In the meantime, it’s back to obsessing over all the books and writing a thing or two.

KidLitVic 2016 (Part 2)

There were so many thought-provoking topics discussed at KidLitVic (see Part 1 for an intro), from gender and diversity in children’s books to what publishers are looking for. Did you know:

  • Picture books are submitted to publishers in far greater quantities than other types of kids’ books (junior fiction and beyond). For example, Melissa Keil of Five Mile Press said for them, it’s around a 30:1 ratio.
  • There is a need for more children’s books featuring female protagonists. From Melissa Keil: only 1 in 11 of their current picture books feature a female lead character(!)
  • There are exceptions to every ‘rule’. For example, picture book authors are commonly told the publisher will source the illustrator, however in the case of Scribble (a new imprint by Scribe), publisher Miriam Rosenbloom said they actually like being approached by an author/illustrator pair.

More from the panels:

  • Other interesting revelations from the Picture Book panel (Melissa Keil, Miriam Rosenbloom and Maryann Ballantyne from Black Dog Books) included picture book word lengths not always mattering (i.e. you don’t necessarily have to stick to the under 500 word guide most often mentioned). You can also submit 2-3 manuscripts at once.
  • The Chapter Book/Middle Grade panel, featuring Clare Hallifax (Scholastic), Marisa Pintado (Hardie Grant Egmont) and Michelle Madden (Penguin Random House), discussed the idea that boys will read chapter books featuring girls, but may feel social pressure to hide it. All revealed their penchant for publishing non-gender specific characters and concepts, however Clare Hallifax commented that young readers often want something gender specific. ‘I hate it, but it is a reality,’ she said.
  • Marisa Pintado and Michelle Madden prefer chapter books that are part of a series, however Clare Hallifax doesn’t mind standalone titles, especially if they can later be packaged with other books by the same author.
  • For illustrators, showcasing your work on websites like The Style File is invaluable. The Illustration panel (Jacinta di Mase (literary agent), Kimberley Bennett (Random House) and Suzanne O’Sullivan (Lothian/Hachette) mentioned they visit this for ideas and sourcing talent.
  • In the world of YA, paranormal is out. Lisa Berryman of HarperCollins said she receives ‘too much fantasy and paranormal’, while Elise Jones of Allen & Unwin said ‘publishers and booksellers are sick of dystopian’, even if readers aren’t yet.

There is so much more I could tell you – but if you write or illustrate children’s books, you might just have to come to the hotly anticipated 2017 event! A few more attendees have done some fabulous write-ups too:

  • Sylvia Morris includes some helpful links on permission protocols if writing from a cultural perspective that’s not your own (with some specific advice relating to indigenous content)
  • Ramona Davey features some great snapshots of what each of the presenters like (oh, and a pic of our lovely critique group too 🙂 )
  • Megan Higginson has a detailed, fly on the wall account that will make you feel like you were there, even if you weren’t

KidLitVic 2016 (Part 1)

Chapter book and middle grade panel at KIdLitVic 2016

I thought I’d recap some highlights from KidLitVic 2016 before I descend into a post-conference, hot chip and gravy scoffing pile of exhaustion *may be too late*.

This was the first ever KidLitVic conference, also known as ‘Meet the Publishers’, put on by children’s authors Alison Reynolds, Dee White and Jaquelyn Muller, and illustrator Nicky Johnston (who all did the most amazing job). Held in Melbourne’s State Library on 7 May,  it was a day full of insightful panel talks on everything from picture books through to YA, featuring some of Australia’s top children’s publishers. There was an illustrator showcase, one-on-one feedback appointments with editors/publishers/an agent plus pitching sessions, all followed by a cocktail party. So, what did we learn? Gazillions of things (like, hardly any guys come to children’s writing festivals, haha!), but I came away with a few strong overall messages:

Think commercially

This was reiterated again and again. Your writing might be good, but if your book’s not marketable it won’t be picked up. As a writer (or illustrator) you have to think beyond the story you want to tell to whether it will sell. This is the reality of publishing. So, the more insights you can gain into what publishers and the market want, the better.

You are your brand

Self-promotion in the form of social media and everything internet, along with events like writers’ festivals, school visits etc. are all part of being an author. Clare Hallifax of Scholastic said ‘you do become a brand’ and ‘there is a huge need for authors to be self-promoting’. Michelle Madden from Penguin wants ‘a person who can empathise with gatekeepers’.

Write all the books

Publishers are not interested in one hit wonders. Many said that they want to know you have (and can) write lots of books – that you’re worth investing in. Marisa Pintado of Hardie Grant wants ‘an author ready to write lots of books’. Publishers want career authors, not someone who’s rustled up a manuscript and just wants it published, with no intention of a book-creating future.

More to come in Part 2!

Takeaway tips on children’s publishing from Hachette

typewriter

 

The world of children’s publishing can seem elusive at times – what are publishers really looking for, and how can you reach them?! Thankfully, certain industry events can offer a window into the workings of publishing houses, and reveal some all-important inside knowledge. Enter – the free monthly members’ event at NSW Writers’ Centre called First Friday Club, where a staff member hosts a chat with an author, editor or publisher. The August event featured NSWWC Membership Officer Sherry Landow in conversation with Suzanne O’Sullivan, a children’s book publisher from Hachette.

Topics spanned Suzanne’s career history in publishing to the current state of the children’s book market, what she looks for in a manuscript and her thoughts on author platforms. Here are some of the key points Suzanne made on all things children’s publishing:

 

Thoughts on the market

+ Sales of kids’ books are very healthy, particularly due to blockbuster titles (e.g. Andy Griffiths’ books)

+ Middle grade and picture books are the healthiest sectors

+ YA authors have to compete with US authors, as many teens turn to the internet for book recommendations, and are exposed to US content

+ Meanwhile adults buying books for younger readers will often ask a bookseller for recommendations of Australian authors

 

What she is looking for

+ Always looking for picture books

+ Would like to see more junior fiction (emphasised this is the main area where opportunities lie, and is particularly interested in series’)

+ Interested in middle grade

+ Believes lots of people are writing and submitting YA, so it’s more competitive

 

Tips for working with Suzanne as an author or illustrator

+ Be a nice person!

+ Be open and communicative

+ Be conscious publishers are busy (i.e. don’t harass)

+ Be open to feedback but have a clear sense of how you see your work

 

How to stay out of the slush pile

+ Have a clear sense of the market and what’s selling, and know where your book fits a genuine gap

+ Honing your writing. Really workshopping and editing, and not sending something until you’re confident with it

+ In a cover letter, mention a bit about yourself but don’t include alot of supporting information, as the most important thing is the writing

+ Wants to know you have more books in mind or the potential to write similar books that appeal to the same audience

 

What she’d like to see more of

+ Humour, as long as it’s alongside story

+ Friendship themes, particularly in junior fiction

+ Adventure

 

Word count recommendations

+ Junior fiction (for more advanced readers): 15k – 20k words

+ Middle grade: 35k – 50k words

+ YA: 50k – 70k

 

Thoughts on author platforms

+ Being on social media can help – if you are already on social media but don’t have a large following, there’s a profile to build on

+ Having a web presence shows that you’re willing to put yourself out there

+ Your own website is a great place to keep all your information together, but the issue can be people finding it

+ It’s much less common for an author to just write and not promote

+ Honing your writing is still the most important thing

 

How to get your work read by Hachette

Hachette is currently closed to receiving unsolicited children’s book submissions. Suzanne receives manuscripts via literary agents, or by request following face to face contact, such as appointments at conferences and literary speed dating events.

However – she may have a one month opening for submissions later in the year or early next year. This will be announced via social media and Hachette’s website, so if you’re interested, keep an eye out!