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!

How to hold a DIY Writing Retreat

Could there be a more idyllic front yard?!

Writing retreats: super productive, accelerated write-athons, or an excuse to get together with friends and be a bad caffeine-fuelled cliche full of cheese, wine and chats? Um, is it okay if it’s a bit of both? Because that’s pretty much what my recent weekend away with four writing friends was all about. And as far as I’m concerned, it was a success! Here are the ins and outs of our three-day stay in beachside Patonga, which might be useful if you’re thinking of holding your own DIY writing retreat.

What worked best:

– Rules schmoolz – we kept the structure of the weekend very loose, which allowed for random bursts of writing, workshopping each others’ ideas, brainstorming difficult plot points and critiquing each other’s work whenever, interspersed with beach walks, chats and endless tea. It was a great mixture of work and fun, and something with a more rigid timetable just wouldn’t have had the same vibe. I think this comes down to personality though, and the way you work best. It also meant we wrote and edited when ideas struck rather than because we were meant to.

– Word sprints – You may have seen #500in30 floating around on social media – it was basically just like that. This was where we started a timer for 30 minutes and wrote non-stop, with the aim of reaching at least 500 words. While of course you can complete these in your own time and space,  doing them together felt even more productive. Something about being accountable and not wandering off to the fridge or kettle, perhaps. We did these towards the end of our stay which worked well, as it put all the ideas generated through brainstorming and workshopping onto paper. And speaking of – some people typed while others literally used pen and paper. Whatever works for you!

– Critique swaps – at random times throughout the weekend we’d break off into twos for a critique swap, whether it be a picture book manuscript or a chapter or two. Without printers on hand, we did this by basically swapping laptops and just marking up comments on the document.

What didn’t:

– Not enough ‘stuff’ – It’s hard to find fault with such a great weekend (thanks guys!) but if thinking about it from a ‘next time’ point of view, maybe staying somewhere with more ‘stuff’ would be fun, albeit distracting. We went to a café a few times, but had to drive to the next town over (Pearl Beach), so staying somewhere with a few cafes and shops to explore in periods of down time (let’s call it ‘thinking time’) would be fun. And somewhere to go for dinner would be good, too. The one place to eat out in Patonga (a waterfront pub) was closed for renovations, so we mostly ate food we brought with us (chocolate is a meal, right?), and one night picked up Thai from a couple of suburbs away.

Things to look for in a rental property:

We rented a house via Airbnb, and while it wasn’t the cheapest house around, it felt like the perfect pick. We wanted a place that was within 1-2 hours drive for all of us, coming from various parts of Sydney and surrounds. Patonga on the lower Central Coast fitted the bill; alternatives could be the Southern Highlands or the Blue Mountains.

Hamptons-ish, no?

Space
We were fortunate enough to stay in a fantastic four-bedroom, two-bathroom house spread over two levels, so there was plenty of space for everyone. Despite two people having to share one room, it never felt too crowded. Most of our time was spent in the open plan dining/lounge room and there was lots of space to spread out – two big couches, a dining table and a smaller table with chairs, so everyone had their own writing spot. There was another dining set on the outdoor deck which would have been great in warmer weather. A smaller living area wouldn’t have worked quite as well, so I’d definitely prioritise a spacious communal area over big bedrooms.

Features
Conveniences like WiFi, a dishwasher and heating throughout the house also made the stay a comfortable one, with the kitchen situation great for the gazillions of coffee cups used over the weekend. Without a dishwasher it would have been a whole lot more annoying, with domestic chores taking away from writing time. Another plus was having linen included, so everyone didn’t have to lug their own sheets and towels there and back.


Location

A place on a busy road wouldn’t have been anywhere near as relaxing as our quiet street in a relatively isolated village. Think about the noise factor when picking a place – it’s a writing retreat after all, and the sound of lapping waves is more conducive to thinking time than party noise and traffic. Although as mentioned above, it can be worth considering if you want to be near village shops for cafes, food and other distractions. Or not!

Too budget-blowing? Try these:

A DIY writing retreat certainly doesn’t have to involve forking out for a fancy beach house, as fun and indulgent as that can be. It doesn’t have to cost much, or even anything at all. Other alternatives are:

– A day (or stay) at a writing friend’s house – preferably one with a big communal space, whether it be a lounge room, back deck or yard, with plenty of spots to sit.
– A few hours at a café – especially one with a communal table and nice staff who don’t seem annoyed you’ve outstayed your welcome (you should totally be on your fifth flat white by now …).
– A room at your local writers’ centre – if you’re a member of a writer’s centre, check their room rental policy. Many allow members to use their rooms free of charge.
– A day out and about – if you’re looking for story ideas or writing prompts, you could meet at an art gallery, museum, market or fun park (SCBWI sometimes runs sessions like these called Scribble and Sketch). Wander around and stop to observe for a while, and use your senses to generate scenes, or people watch for character ideas. Public transport journeys alone can be great for this. The possibilities are endless!

CYA Conference 2018

Sunny Southbank

Um, Southbank – are you sure it’s winter?

What a weekend … I’m not sure I’ve fully processed the whirlwind that was CYA 2018! The highs, the lows … do we have to talk about the lows?! CYA was a rollercoaster of emotions for me as I had the drama of a cancelled flight to contend with and a bunch of missed editor appointments on the first conference day (not to mention missing the dinner, boo!). But thanks to the generosity and flexibility of Tina Clark, Debbie Kahl and the superstar CYA team, and the wonderfully accommodating Sue Whiting, all was back on track and squeezed into the full conference day. Hooray!

All of that aside, the conference was jam-packed. I volunteered for a bit, heard a session for a bit (Claire Saxby’s picture book masterclass – brilliant!) and podcasted for a lot. Nat and I interviewed a bunch of different conference attendees and presenters, and put together a special bonus episode of One More Page revolving around CYA. You can take a listen here.

Books for sale at CYA

Books for sale at CYA – so many fab friends and creators!

Aside from podcasting, another high was receiving two 2nd place awards for the CYA Competition, one for a picture book in the preschool category, the other for a non-fiction picture book. And my One More Page co-host Nat also took home two 2nds and a 1st in the picture books primary category and for a chapter book. Hooray!

It was so much fun as always to catch up with friends, interstate writers and illustrators and meet some new people. We met Zanni Louise which was awesome – after interviewing her remotely for the podcast it was so nice to chat in real life! Post-conference, there was the obligatory dinner and wine with some of the writerly gang, and a next day breakfast and stroll around Southbank. So holiday-ish. So SUNNY!

So after another mega dose of conference fun and writerly inspiration, it’s time to put the writing advice in action. Thanks to the organisers for a fabulous time!

Interviewing Tina Clark

Getting the CYA lowdown with founder Tina Clark

Picture Book Love: Harriet Gets Carried Away

Harriet Gets Carried Away by Jessie Sima

Harriet Gets Carried Away by Jessie Sima, Simon & Schuster US 2018

Harriet loved costumes. She loved them so much, she wore them all the time! On the day of her own dress-up party she went shopping for supplies with her dads (while dressed as a penguin, of course) and got carried away – *actually* carried away, by penguins!

This is an absolutely adorable story that blurs the line between reality and fantasy. It highlights the magic of getting ‘carried away’ and is ultimately about belonging. The purple-toned illustrations with their touches of yellow suit both the urban and Antarctic settings, and lend the book a unique feel. I love everything about the design of this book, from the hot-air balloon endpapers, to the different cover under the dust jacket (Harriet in all different costumes – cute!).

Aesthetics aside, the story is so well constructed and full of memorable one-liners, with a very satisfying ending. It also has one of my favourite lines discovered in recent picture book readings:

Harriet was almost out of ideas
when one emerged from the sea.

Perfection!

 

5 Fun Things – a book launch, awards and quirky new reads

1

Our kids’ book podcast One More Page was just announced a finalist in the Australian Podcast Awards ‘Best Newcomer’ category for 2018! Considering we only launched recently (episode 5 just came out this week!) it’s a huge honour and, well, a huge surprise! It’s been a fun ride so far, chatting to lots of our favourite kids’ book creators, reading and reviewing amazing books and laughing way too much. Our latest episode features authors Zanni Louise and Tristan Bancks, and it’s all about ideas. You can have a listen here.

2

Quark’s Academy, the debut kids’ book by Catherine Pelosi is out! It launched with a bang (er, literally) in a science experiment-filled extravaganza at Sydney bookshop Lindfield Learning Hub. There were super cool Quark’s themed cupcakes, too (which were much too pretty to eat). Oh, and the book is AWESOME! It’s a fun middle-grade read about three kids whose inventions win them a place in the exclusive Quark’s Academy for young scientists, where all isn’t quite as it seems. Fast-paced and visual, Quark’s Academy is a suspenseful ride with kooky characters and inventions, and wonderful, natural writing. Catherine is in my writers’ group (the chapter book one) so it’s super exciting to see her books come to life. And Something for Fleur, Catherine’s picture book illustrated by Caitlin Murray, is on its way!

Quarks launch cupcakes!

3

Super cute bookish mail alert – the other day I received a handmade mini-book by Zoe Collins, also known as Hoodlum Friends. I love her quirky illustrations and way with words, and all her behind-the-scenes shenanigans at Girl & Duck and Scribbles HQ. Her book stars a lonely little bird and it’s whimsical and adorable. And it came in a handmade collage-ish envelope to boot. Thanks Zoe!

4

A new picture book love by Jane Godwin and Anna Walker – Go Go and the Silver Shoes! This is totally my kind of story – filled with heart, adventure and a hefty dose of quirk, Go Go is about a girl who wears mostly hand-me-downs, but gets to choose her own shoes. Silver shoes! She wears them everywhere she goes, until one day, disaster strikes. It’s an ode to being unique, special things and finding like-minded friends. The illustrations are stunning (it’s Anna Walker, so goes without saying really). I heart Go Go!

5

And my fifth fun thing is … a writing award! I’ve just won first place in the chapter book category of the Greenleaf Blossoms competition (for the first chapter of an unpublished manuscript). The competition was held by Greenleaf Press, and I’ve scored a manuscript assessment by its owner and prolific children’s author Aleesah Darlison. Yay!

Greenleaf Blossoms announcement

November news: A podcast and a prize!

So, it’s November and it’s the Christmas/end of year countdown and I don’t understand how we got here so fast?! Aside from wondering where all the time went, a couple of exciting things have happened lately in the land of all things books and writing …

One is a new podcast. Specifically, a kids’ book podcast co-hosted by my writer/book-freak friends, Kate Simpson and Nat Amoore, and me! It’s called One More Page, it’s starting in February, and you can find out more at our shiny new website here. And here’s a trailer put together by our resident cinematographer, Nat:

As you can probably tell from our cat/frog/chicken personas, we’re aiming for all-ages appeal. There’ll be interviews with authors and other book industry types, along with chats/games/interviews with kids to discover what they’re reading and recommending. It should be fun. And maybe even a little bit funny.

Also, I won a writing competition! Greenleaf Press, a business supporting writers headed up by kids’ author Aleesah Darlison, held their first picture book manuscript competition recently, and I was beyond excited to discover I’d shortlisted from the hundreds of entries received. Then won! And then I found out another entry of mine was longlisted too, which was a lovely unexpected bonus. The main prize was a detailed manuscript critique from Aleesah, which was very much needed and appreciated.

Aside from that, I’m doing NaNoWriMo to work on a new junior fiction book. I have a love/hate relationship with NaNo as I’m sure so many others do. It’s a way to force some words out in a short period of time and get a draft down, which is a good thing as even if it’s terrible, there’s something to work on and improve. But it’s also an annoying burden, inducing feelings of not-doing-Nano guilt every time you dare to turn your attention to something else (*cough* Stranger Things … and Younger). Anyway, I managed to do the 50K once before (in 2013), so perhaps I can do it again? To be honest I’m really aiming for more like 30k with this book, so if I even make that I’ll be happy!

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!