How to hold a kids’ book launch (or even how to wing it)

T&B Melbourne launch crew Meredith Costain, Andrew Plant, me, Julie Grasso and Pamela Ueckerman (aka the Middle Grade Mavens) at Ford Street HQ

This has been a big year of bookish firsts for me. With my first picture book Tulip and Brutus out in the world, I’ve had a deluge of new experiences, from the first time holding the book in my hands, to first bookshop sightings, school visits, author interviews and more. It’s been a wild ride (crammed into the last two months or so) and a lot of fun, but one of the biggest ‘firsts’ was holding a book launch. Err, make that two. The first was at Sydney’s Berkelouw Books (Leichhardt) in their upstairs event space, the second in Melbourne at Ford Street Publishing HQ.

For other first-timers, or even old-timers unsure about the whole launch thing, here are a few tips I’ve learnt along the way:

Have a ‘launcher’ or two
Not keen on the spotlight falling entirely on you? I was always going to be on board with the idea of having other (far more entertaining) people doing the heavy crowd-pleasing lifting. This is where book launchers come in – peeps who do some kind of speech with a bonus little something to make the event memorable. Being one third of a podcasting trio, I felt asking my One More Page podcast co-hosts Kate and Nat to launch my first book was a no-brainer. Kicking things off at the Sydney launch, they wore giant bug costumes, were extremely funny and brought the house down with their unique rendition of ‘I Got You Bug’. It was the best. And all I had to do (for that bit anyway) was sit back and enjoy the show. Perfect!!

At my Melbourne launch, I continued the podcast host theme with Julie and Pamela from Middle Grade Mavens as the launchers. Complete with bug antennae, they did a fun ‘would you rather’ type game then a bookish Q&A with illustrator Andrew Plant and I, and did a fabulous job. I loved the collaborative feel of having other people involved in my launch, and there’s definitely the feelgood factor of other people having your back! As for who you could ask to launch your book – I’ve seen friends have their publisher as their launcher, another author friend, or a writing teacher or mentor. It could be anyone you feel a connection with in the bookish world.

It’s all in the timing. Or not?!
There’ll never be the perfect date or time that suits all of your family and friends. For my Sydney launch, I evaded the school holidays (when by book’s release date fell) due to some people being away, and held it the weekend after the holidays ended. This seemed to make sense, however it just meant there were a different batch of peeps unable to attend. What I’ve learnt from this is not to overthink the date and time. There’ll never be a one-time-fits-all solution, so just take a gamble and hope most of your BFFs can make it! Just for detail’s sake, my Sydney launch was on a Sunday morning, while the Melbourne launch was on a Saturday afternoon. Both seemed to work!

Spread the word (like, really spread it)
For both launches, I whipped up a pretty simple invite on Canva (free) with all the essential info, book cover pic and using colours matching the book. I posted these all over social media, mostly Facebook and Instagram, and also mentioned the events on One More Page and via the pod’s social media accounts too. It ended up being shared by all kinds of people online and even popped up in Pass It On newsletter (without me instigating!). Basically, it was a free for all. I recommend this approach – if I’d kept it a bit more invite only, I’m sure I would’ve forgotten someone anyway, and this way you have a few surprise guests, like friends bringing friends you haven’t seen for a while, or someone deciding to bring their mum. Fun!

Homemade vibes

Food glorious (theme-ish) food
People young and old LOVE food at book launches. I mean, *really* love food. I had what I thought was an excessive amount of food at both launches and it was absolutely demolished. Theme-ish food is always fun – I didn’t get anything specially made (although I do love a book cover cupcake), as my book featured ladybugs and stinkbugs, and it seemed like an easy enough thing to whip up at home. Think cookies with icing eyes and blue smartie dots for the stinkbugs, and cupcakes featuring little fondant ladybugs miraculously for sale in the baking section at Woollies. Yay! I made a whole lot, then my Mum oddly enough made THE EXACT same kind of ladybug cupcakes without me knowing, plus Oreo ladybug cookies so there was like, double of everything! Then I duplicated the same things for the Melbourne launch (I made them once I got there as I stayed at a friend’s). In addition to that, Ford Street put on a whole lot of other food and even wine and bubbles. Hooray!

Gimmicks and giveaways
This might be my biggest tip of all. Get your gimmick on! Think about what else you could do to shine the spotlight off yourself and onto OTHER THINGS! If that’s how your brain works. My most gimmicky and fun thing (besides the hilarity of my launchers and their shenanigans) was a bug eating game. As my picture book features bug characters, and edible bugs are a thing, I held a game with a spinning wheel (at the Sydney launch) where kids could come up and spin, game-show style, to win a chocolate bug or a real cricket to eat.

I couldn’t lug the wheel to Melbourne, but still ran the same game – the kids just drew a piece of paper out of a box to reveal which bug type they’d won. At both launches, I held a lucky draw prize, the prize being a basket full of buggish things I’d put together (activity books, stickers, lollies, bug toys etc.). And I made some activity sheets for kids to take home – a Tulip and Brutus find-a-word and a maze. I had T&B bookmarks to give away too, supplied by Ford Street. And at the Melbourne launch they also provided another prize for the winner of a T&B themed art contest. I loved the feeling of giving away things – I highly recommend this as a way to engage with everyone there. And who doesn’t love a prize?!

Illustrator Andrew Plant bringing the word art to life (verbally, not just art-ily!) as I read Tulip and Brutus

So there you have it – my top tips on holding a big, buzzy book launch or two. You can see a whole bunch of photos of both of my launches on my Instagram and Facebook author page.

Oh, and one more thing, I have since had a couple of people asking me curiously about the cost factor. Neither launch costed me much at all! The venues were free (bookshops don’t charge money for holding your event there. It’s a huge and instant customer base for them!), and Ford Street hosted my launch in Melbourne, so that was a free venue too. For food, I went homemade, and except for a few fondant bits and pieces the ingredients were mostly lurking in my cupboard anyway. (Or in the case of Melbourne, in my friend Cat’s cupboard, hehe). Invites and publicity were all free, as it was all online only and self-generated.

The only other costs were buying the crickets for the game (I borrowed the spinning wheel), and buying a few inexpensive things for the lucky draw prizes. As for going to Melbourne, I used frequent flyer points and stayed at a friend’s place (who also played chauffeur all weekend, which I’m ridiculously grateful for). So moneywise, it wasn’t actually much of an outlay, bar edible crickets and prizes!

The whole book launch idea all seemed so intimidating to me at first, but in the end I’m glad I launched with a bang. It definitely made my book debut feel more memorable, generated some buzz online, and was a really great way to connect with the bookish community and bring friends together. I hope this gives you a dose of confidence if you’re weighing up whether to have a book launch, particularly for your first book. Afterwards, you may even have a publisher request a phone meeting to discuss your book launch tips, as your pics online make you look like some kind of book launch expert even though you’ve been winging it the entire time. True story!

Recent reads in kidlit land

 

Over the last few months I’ve discovered and read a bunch of truly extraordinary kids’ books – some are by favourite creators, others by first-timers. They include:

THE BRILLIANT IDEAS OF LILY GREEN by Lisa Siberry

This is a debut middle grade novel which also happened to win Hardie Grant Egmont’s Ampersand Prize. It was a standout read for me this year – fresh, intriguing, full of feeling and tinged with suspense and magic.

NOP by Caroline Magerl

This is absolutely gorgeous – an abandoned stuffed bear at the Dumporium gets a new chance, in the most unexpected of ways. Dreamy illustrations, a work of art.

TILLY by Jane Godwin and Anna Walker

I was always going to love this. It’s Jane and Anna! The heartwarming story of a girl’s buried treasures under a staircase, and the bittersweet passing of time.

THE SECRETS OF MAGNOLIA MOON by Edwina Wyatt

This is Edwina Wyatt’s junior fiction debut, starring a lyrical, literary, whimsical character who looks at the world in her own unique way. Such beautiful writing. A stunning cover too, with illustrations by Katherine Quinn.

MISS KRAKEN by Nicki Greenberg

Fun, wry and quirky, Miss Kraken (yes, an actual Kraken) is the fed up teacher of a rowdy, cheeky bunch of kids. Everything comes to a head on an excursion to the aquarium. Hilarious details in the illustrations!


A HOME FOR LUNA
by Stef Gemmill and Mel Armstrong

A debut PB about a lost cat, penguins and a search for home. I loved this gorgeous story and the illustrations are totally my kind of style. Lovely language throughout.

MONTY AND THE POODLES by Katie Harnett

An unlikely friendship story (hooray!) about some posh poodles and a street dog, by the creator of Franklin’s Flying Bookshop, Ivy and Lonely Raincloud and more. A Parisian feel to the illustrations (hello, cover crush), and a super satisfying ending.

A buzzy, buggy book launch!

Tulip and Brutus is officially launched! I was completely overwhelmed with the turnout and buzz at the Sydney launch – a weird and wonderful whirlwind of a morning.

Held upstairs at Berkelouw Books in Leichhardt, with the amazing Rachel Robson at the organising helm, it was such a fun time. Think an overloaded table of buggish treats like strawberry, oreo and cupcake ladybugs, and cookie stinkbugs (promptly demolished), plus a truly spectacular rendition of ‘I Got You Bug’ (think I Got You Babe, on … a lot of sugar) by my giant buggy launchers – One More Page podcast co-hosts and writers’ group buddies, Kate and Nat. Totes brought the house down.

After a book reading, I ran a game where kids could spin a game show-ish wheel to win either a chocolate bug or a real bug, a crunchy cricket. The uptake for the crickets was far more enthusiastic than I anticipated. Yay! How delicious are bugs?!

There were so many awesome people in the room, from old friends and family members to my kids’ school friends to writerly people from all the kidlit places, like SCBWI. I had an epic book sign-a-thon which was *surreal*, a gazillion photos were taken, and it all went by in a dreamlike blur. And I get to do it all again soon in Melbourne with the book’s publisher Ford Street and illustrator Andrew Plant too, hooray! If you’re Melbourne-based and around on Saturday 9 November, I’d love to see you there (find the details over on my FB Author page).

Huge thanks to everyone who shared their snaps with me – my mum, Steve, Mali, Amelia, Amanda and probably more – thanks all!

What else?

An author talk
Soon after the Sydney launch, I visited Shellharbour Library for an author talk with the most lovely writers and illustrators group. It was a really fun morning complete with another book reading, signing and sales, and an extensive q&a type book chat about the writing and publication journey. And we ate more bugs! Local writer Karen Hendriks was a fab host, taking me on a tour of the town including a stunning beach viewpoint.

Some longlistings
I randomly entered the Lane Cove Literary Awards and found myself longlisted in the Travel Story category, woo hoo! I didn’t progress beyond the longlist, but it was nevertheless a bit of a boost and a reminder of my pre-kidlit love for non-fiction travel writing (and of course, travelling). I also entered a pitching contest via Just Write for Kids, and just found out I’m on the picture book longlist. Fingers crossed! But regardless of the outcome, it was a great way to pin down a pitch for that particular story anyway!!

A podcast interview
Along with getting to interview (aka fangirl over) amazing people for my kids’ book podcast with Nat and Kate, One More Page, I am now on the show as an interviewee! In Episode 39, we have none other than Newbery Medal-winning, New York Times bestselling author Kate DiCamillo on the show (!!!) which is surreal enough in itself. Then there’s a kid interviewer chatting with me about Tulip and Brutus and friendship in kids’ books in the same episode’s Kids Capers segment. Have I used the word surreal in this post already?! Yes. Yes, I have. You can listen to the episode here and subscribe to One More Page on whichever app you devour your podcasts.

A Twitter chat

I’ve found myself not only in a podcast interview but as the guest of a Twitter chat – happening next Thursday night! I’m a huge fan of Picture Book Book Club and love their monthly chats, so it’s pretty awesome to be a guest in one (vs usual groupie). Kidlit twitter peeps – feel free to find and join (#picbookbc).

Yet more book talk …

Find more Tulip and Brutus talk on Creative Kids Tales, Just Write for Kids, Kids Book Review (plus I popped up as one of their 12 Curly Questions posts), I wrote a piece on friendship and school libraries which is on the Ford Street blog, and if you subscribe to the Pass It On kidlit newsletter, you may have seen an interview with me there recently, too. Phew!

Ok, enough with all things me and my book. I will be back next time celebrating all the other books I’ve been reading and loving lately!

Tulip and Brutus: Picture book launch time!

Tulip and Brutus is now officially out! But the excitement is only beginning as there are a few launch events imminent.

First up, the Sydney launch at Berkelouw Books in Leichhardt on 20 October, followed by a mini-launch/author talk for a dynamic group of kids’ book writers and illustrators down south coast way in Shellharbour (day trip time!) on 22 October, then a Melbourne launch at Ford Street HQ, the book’s publishers, on 9 November.

Here are the details, especially if you’re Sydney or Melbourne-based and would like to come along! As you can see, they’re both being launched by kidlit podcasters, too. The Sydney launch by my One More Page podcast co-hosts, Kate and Nat, and the Melbourne launch by Middle Grade Mavens hosts, Julie and Pamela!

 

SYDNEY LAUNCH:

 

You can RSVP to this one via the Facebook event – find it on the Berkelouw Books Leichhardt page or my author page.

 

MELBOURNE LAUNCH:

Time to get our buggish baking on …

Tulip and Brutus is on its way!

Tulip and Brutus

 

My picture book Tulip and Brutus is nearly here!

It’s about friendship, teamwork, differences … and bugs! Some pre-order links are live on my Books page. Looking forward to sharing this stinky little story soon!

These are a few of my favourite books

I love knowing people’s favourite kids’ books. I feel like it tells me a little bit about that person. Do they gravitate to humour, or are they drawn to the dark side? Literary or commercial? A bit of everything?

I don’t want to pigeonhole myself as only reading and liking a certain kind of book, but then again, perhaps there are some themes tying my favourites together. I do gravitate to realism in the kids’ books I read (and write), then a dose of mystery or magic will find its way into my reading pile, or my keyboard.

Here are some of my favourite kids’ reads, from picture books to middle grade:

Picture Books
Florette by Anna Walker
Herman and Rosie by Gus Gordon
Go Go and the Silver Shoes by Jane Godwin & Anna Walker
Adelaide’s Secret World by Elise Hurst
Maya & Cat by Caroline Magerl
The Underwater Fancy Dress Parade by Davina Bell & Alison Colpoys
Mr Huff by Anna Walker
Harriet Gets Carried Away by Jessie Sima
The Children Who Loved Books by Peter Carnavas

Junior Fiction
Ginger Green Playdate Queen by Kim Kane
Lemonade Jones by Davina Bell
Isadora Moon by Harriet Muncaster
Truly Tan by Jen Storer
Violet Mackerel by Anna Branford
Polly and Buster by Sally Rippin

Middle Grade
The Girl, The Dog and the Writer trilogy by Katrina Nannestad
Stella Montgomery trilogy by Judith Rossell
Nevermoor series by Jessica Townsend
Missing by Sue Whiting
The Secrets We Share/Keep by Nova Weetman
Sickbay by Nova Weetman
The Other Christy (and many others) by Oliver Phommavanh
The Mulberry Tree by Allison Rushby

This is just the tip of the iceberg. There are so many more, but this is the top line ‘Books I REALLY Love’ list. The ones that straightaway come to mind. (I’ve purposefully omitted my writers’ group’s books as it goes without saying I love them all, and I don’t want to accidentally miss one. Yeah, there’s starting to be a lot!). I realise there’s a bit of a female author bias, but hey, at least there’s Gus, Peter and Oliver! Other binding themes – feelings, friendship, heart, and that old cliché, a strong and authentic voice. In the middle grade list, there’s also adventure, mystery and suspense.

80s/90s me LOVED these reads. Hooray for book hoarding!

I can also see that my current taste reflects that of childhood me. Picture book favourites included There’s a Sea in my Bedroom by Margaret Wild (still love Margaret Wild), Meg and Mog, and lots of Dreamtime stories. A hefty dose of Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl followed, then Selby’s Secret, Hating Alison Ashley, Harriet the Spy, the Anastasia Krupnik books by Lois Lowry, everything Judy Blume (on constant repeat), Paula Danziger’s books and The Baby-Sitters Club.

I loved books set in boarding schools, too. And there were definitely supernatural stories among the mix, I loved things like poltergeists and seances and witchcraft as a kid! A standout memory is Witch Week by Diana Wynne Jones (I so wanted to fly around on a broomstick by myself in the middle of the night). So, late-80s me was probably pretty similar to late 20-tens me – loving stories strong on feeling, with a side serve of mystery and magic.

Do you see any parallels between the books you loved most as a kid vs the ones you gravitate to now? I’d love to know what they are!

Top 5 surreal (but awesome) things about having a book

So I was book-stalking on Booktopia, as you do, when something compelled me to search for my *own* upcoming picture book. Oh, I don’t think I’ve mentioned the title yet? It’s called (drumroll …) TULIP AND BRUTUS and it’s illustrated by the stupendously talented Andrew Plant!

Anyway, maybe it was a moment of imagining what it would be like to look up your own book and magically see it there, on Australia’s mega-portal to *all the books*. I typed in the title and couldn’t believe it when IT WAS THERE! I swear I actually felt my heart skip a beat. I’m sure most authors and illustrators don’t bat an eyelid at such things after a while, but this being my first book, it felt like a momentous occasion – my first sighting of any mention of my book in the public domain. It then got me thinking, if seeing a not-out-yet book with a not-yet revealed cover listed on Booktopia is that exciting, what else will be heart palpitation-inducing?! Here are five more things …

1) Holding an actual physical copy in my hands for the first time.
There’s a reason for all those un-boxing videos circulating online. An actual book! On actual paper! It’s reeeeal!

2) First sighting ‘in the wild’.
This will be amazing (er, I think I’ve got something in my eye …). A book, on a shelf, in a shop. Something people can actually buy!

3) Spotting it in a library.
This might be even better? Not everyone can afford all the new releases, but there’s always borrowing! This will be super cool. Libraries are the actual best.

4) Reading a review. Or maybe not?
This will be surreal, that a book reviewer/blogger/lover has taken the time to read the book and share their thoughts with the world. Unless it’s one of those shocking Goodreads reviews that pop up from time to time, in which case I’ll see if Kate and Nat want to do a ‘celebrities reading mean tweets about themselves’ kind of skit and we can read them out on the podcast.

5) If anyone buys it or even shares it on social media and it’s someone I DON’T EVEN KNOW!
What??!! If this happens, I’ll be ridiculously grateful forever and ever.

So there you have it, my top 5 surreal (but awesome) things about having a book. Not sure if any of these things will ever feel old?! I hope not!

Bookish Buzz

OMP at SCBWI

Nat, Kate and I (a.k.a. One More Page) and some familiar faces behind us at SCBWI Syd 2019

 

Amelia, Gemma, me and Victoria – pic by Debra Tidball

 

I’m fresh from the bookish buzz that was the Sydney SCBWI Conference, an epic multi-day series of events headed up by everyone’s favourite literary lady, Susanne Gervay! From a series of mini-launches at Beecroft’s The Children’s Bookshop to a mega conference day, a dinner, and a workshop day afterwards, it was full on and fun. There are some excellent summaries of the sessions over on the SCBWI blog, if you want to check them out. And there are some great blog posts by Oliver Phommavanh and Debra Tidball with pics and highlights.

As always, so much of it was all the catching up and meeting new people in the kids’ book industry. Highlights for me included the dialogue masterclass run by Penguin Random House publisher Zoe Walton, an excellent, helpful manuscript critique by Nancy Conescu on my chapter book series, and a great session on author websites, social media and branding via Allison Tait and Valerie Khoo – part pep-talk, part stand-up special! Speaking of Allison Tait, guess who’s the latest guest on our podcast, One More Page?! Except this time, she’s donning her authorial blazer as A.L. Tait, chatting about her two middle grade series. You can take a listen here. So, what else is happening?

Reading:

THE BOOK CHOOK! This is my friend and fellow critique group member Amelia McInerney’s debut picture book with Omnibus/Scholastic, illustrated so vibrantly by Connah Brecon. It’s the hilarious tale of a chicken called Ray who realises he’s not actually a real chook, he’s a drawing in a book! Amelia launched it as one of the 9 ‘speed launchers’ at the SCBWI event, with more events (and more books!) to come.

The Book Chook

 

I’ve also just read a brand new YA thriller called LOVE LIE REPEAT by Catherine Greer, which has a really compelling (if not sinister) voice. It’s set in Sydney in the world of privileged, private school teens where all is not as picture perfect as it seems. Totally recommend!

My next read (for my adult book club) is Jane Harper’s THE LOST MAN. Her debut THE DRY was one book we all actually loved, which rarely happens! So I’m really looking forward to this one.

Loving:

Kids’ book podcasts (I mean beyond One More Page)! I now have a constant feed full of awesome kidlit inspiration, whether it’s hearing about the latest middle grade reads or words of wisdom from top MG authors on Middle Grade Mavens, to in-depth advice on the craft and business of writing on Tania McCartney’s The Happy Book. There’s also a ‘vodcast’ to either watch or listen to (innovative, much?!), The KidLit Club with authors Adrian Beck and Sally Rippin. Each of these podcasts has its own personality and feel, and I’m so pleased One More Page is part of this new wave of kids’ book reviewing, interviewing and all-round fandom!

The Happy Book podcast

Anticipating:

Anna Walker newness!!! LOTTIE AND WALTER is almost here, written and illustrated by my (and possibly everyone’s) picture book idol. I can’t *wait* for this to grace my bookshelf! I had a sneak peak at The Children’s Bookshop at the SCBWI speed launch event, and it’s stunning in every way. Yay!

Lottie and Walter

What else? More books, more launches, more writerly things. I’ll be heading to the launch of Aura Parker’s beautiful new bug book, COCOON soon (a bigger launch, post-SCBWI mini-launch, where Aura presented the book in a really clever way, relating metamorphosis to the kids’ book creating journey).

The Creative Kids’ Tales festival is coming up (my first!) which I’m really looking forward to – author talks on tap. Then not too long after, it’s time for *another* writers’ conference, KidLitVic in Melbourne. I’ve been every year so far and to be honest, was thinking I need to reign in the conference attending (and spending) but once the program was out, do you think I could help myself? It also ties in with a Scribbles Masterclass run by author Jen Storer, so there’s that, too. Of course, I totally have to go! Maybe I’ll see you there?

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!