Picture Book Idea Month 2015

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Because NaNoWriMo isn’t enough of a writing challenge each November, there’s a simultaneous challenge particularly for picture book writers. Enter PiBoIdMo, the brainchild of US picture book author, prolific blogger and motivator of all the picture book people, Tara Lazar.

The premise sounds simple on the surface – think of an idea for a picture book each day in November (and perhaps win prizes like books and manuscript critiques in the process) – yet in practice, conjuring ideas on demand (well, good ones) is no easy task. If you succeed, you’re left with a bank of ideas to refer to over the following months to develop into manuscripts. After loving last year’s challenge I’ve signed up for a second round, and if even one good idea shines through, it’ll be worthwhile.

Takeaway tips on children’s publishing from Hachette

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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!

CYA Conference 2015

Morris Gleitzman

Morris Gleitzman on characters, problems, humour and his writing process

 

This was my second year attending the excellent CYA Conference, organised by a savvy team of wonderful women headed up by Queensland author Tina Marie Clark. Held in Brisbane, the conference is attended by a cross-section of the Australian children’s book industry, from publishers and literary agents to established authors and illustrators, up-and-comers and fresh arrivals to the world of children’s writing.

The conference started with a fun networking night full of inspiring people, drinks, chats, prizes and laughs. The following day was jam-packed with sessions and workshops. First up was a panel talk of success stories stemming from an association with CYA, one of my favourite parts of the conference. This year, we heard from Georgie Donaghey of Creative Kids’ Tales about her path to publication with Lulu (an adorable rhyming picture book about a dancing polar bear), who said ‘rejections fuelled my passion and inspiration’. Illustrator Helene Magisson shared her story and said ‘put all your passion and energy in it and doors will open’. I also really loved first-time author Jennifer Loakes’ story about her writing journey with her picture book Mate and Me, complete with dismay at its’ low competition placing before revising and reworking it – hope for us all!

I attended YA author Kaz Delaney’s highly personable session that focused on the oft-neglected ‘saggy middle’ of a narrative that can let down an otherwise amazing beginning and ending. Next, it was the exuberant Meredith Costain’s masterclass on creating hooks or page turners, with some really practical advice and examples. The other major session of the day was a talk by Morris Gleitzman on everything from his writing processes (copious amounts of green tea are a must!) to ideas on characters and the importance of problems in a narrative. ‘We are deeply curious about the problems of our fellow humans,’ he said. As writers, ‘we want to envelop the experience of that problem.’ He explained that characters usually come to him as an embodiment of a problem, and that we ‘sometimes need to let characters fail for their own good’.

The day was a whirlwind of ideas, note-taking, coffee-swilling, book-purchasing and connecting with like-minded people. I’m so impressed with the way Tina, Ally, Sam, Debbie, Natalie and the other volunteers pulled together another great conference, providing encouraging words along the way as we attended nerve-wracking pitch sessions and feedback appointments on our work.

Post-conference, there was time for dinner with my YA manuscript winning friend and conference roommate Cat Mojseiwicz, then a riverside breakfast and whirl around the art exhibitions at GOMA the next morning before flying back to 10 degrees colder Sydney, armed with inspiration overload.

P.S. Here’s my write-up on last year’s conference: 5 things I learnt at CYA Conference 2014

P.P.S. Author Dee White has published some great posts following this year’s CYA: Why attend writer’s conferences and Preparing for a writer’s conference – a post for unpublished writers

Blog 3.0

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A little backstory on this blog in case you’ve newly popped by…

This blog started life as a travel and food-focussed blog back in 2008, when I lived in Cambodia and soon after moved to Vietnam for a few years. It was called A Girl in Asia. When I moved back to Sydney and the name clearly didn’t fit (being neither in Asia anymore, or a girl – what?!) I started a new blog called Devoured, with a Sydney focus but similar lifestyle topics.

After a bit of a blogging hiatus I’ve decided to revive it with a new look and broadened topics, with more emphasis on loves beyond travel and food, like kids’ books, writing events and the kind of general mash-up posts I love to read on other people’s blogs. Hence the name change to, well, my name, to be all-encompassing and less pigeonhole-y, something I should have done all those years ago to save the whole ‘rolling several blogs together’ thing and re-formatting heartache. Oh, hindsight!

My story in The Journey by Creative Kids Tales

My short children’s story Reaching Rainbow’s End was selected as one of twelve to be included in an e-book anthology (The Journey) by Creative Kids Tales!

Creative Kids Tales is a website aimed at aspiring and emerging writers, with interviews, resources, competitions and more. Many new and established Australian’s children’s authors and illustrators have been featured on the site, and it’s one of my favourite sources for children’s book industry news. So when I found out I came fifth in the first of their competitions I’d entered, I was surprised and elated!

You can download the e-book via Smashwords and check out the varied takes on the three competition themes: The Journey, Never Give Up and The Finish Line.

 

{Writing} 5 things I learnt at CYA Conference 2014

I recently ventured to Brisbane for this year’s CYA Conference (Children and Young Adult’s literature). As an aspiring children’s author I’m trying to gather as much intel as possible on all things writing and publishing related, from studying children’s writing as part of an MA to attending workshops and conferences. Which brings me to one piece of wisdom from CYA – don’t spend too much time studying writing and not enough time actually writing (guilty!). Here’s what else I learnt at this amazing gathering of inspirational people:

1. Children’s writers are the friendliest

CYA Conference is as much about networking as learning. Everyone I met was so friendly, encouraging and unpretentious – children’s author Aleesah Darlison raised this about Australia’s children’s writing community at a recent NSW Writer’s Centre event, and it seems to be true (yay!). And speaking of wonderful people – one of my oldest, dearest friends (hi Cat!) was in attendance at CYA and neither of us thought to inform the other we’d be there. Surprise!

2. Bring useful things

There’s not much you *need* to bring to writing events except copious amounts of paper and a pen or two, though I noticed some savvy attendees toting laptops, where they wrote up their notes directly without having to go back over them later. Or perhaps they were super savvy and were blogging and social media-ing on the spot. Another idea is to bring business cards. Most writers whether published or aspiring had their own business cards at hand. Brilliant for networking/friend-making purposes. And more likely to be followed up than hastily scrawled contact details in people’s notebooks, don’t you think?

3. Recent success stories are so inspiring

Words of wisdom from well-established authors are invaluable, but the experiences of a freshly published debut author can seem more relatable or attainable. At CYA we heard from a panel of newly published authors, from Kat Apel with her Bully on the Bus novel to Stella Tarakson with Mike the Spike and Cassandra Webb with Adorable Alice. All assured the captive audience to never give up. Cassandra spoke of receiving over 50 rejections before being published, and Kat Apel mentioned it took seven years from the time of writing her book to the publication date.

4. Don’t send glitter

Publishers from Penguin, Walker Books, Lothian/Hachette, Wombat Books, Five Mile Press and Tyle and Bateson, as well as literary agent Alex Adsett, held a fascinating discussion panel delving into their likes and dislikes when receiving manuscripts. One of their major pet hates? Gifts. Particularly those bearing fine sparkly particles that rain down on their keyboards once opened. Glitter aside, one publisher spoke of opening an envelope full of sand with a note that stated ‘the beach is coming’ (which they vowed not to read!). A warning to all – withhold the gimmicks – ‘damn good writing’ is all Suzanne O’Sullivan of Lothian (and the others) are interested in.

5. Take a chance on sessions that seem irrelevant

At any conference in any industry, certain sessions or workshops will seem much more applicable to attendees than others. CYA’s lineup included some topics that weren’t directly relevant to me (at first glance), yet some of these proved surprisingly useful. One (which was perhaps my favourite session of the conference!) was an illustration session with author/illustrator Peter Carnavas (The children who loved books, Sarah’s Heavy Heart…). Despite falling firmly in the writers camp, I gained a greater appreciation for the role of illustrations in telling a picture book’s story, and learnt how to draw a very cool bird among other things in the process!

I came away from CYA feeling inspired, energised, informed and connected, and highly recommend it to any aspiring or emerging authors or illustrators. I’m sure I’ll be back in 2015!

Diary of a NaNoWriMo newbie – Part 3 (the aftermath)

The dust has settled on the month-long novel writing-fest that is NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) – and… I finished!! The first couple of weeks weren’t too bad, but by week three I was stalling a little. If there’s one thing I learnt from participating in NaNo, it’s that consistency is key, and a little bit each and every day soon adds up to a lot. And if you stick to the doable word count each day without skipping a few, you won’t have any 7000 word days to get through (can I sleep now?!).

As for what my book is about – it’s a fictional foray into expatland in Southeast Asia, with the 20-something protagonist torn between life in Newtown with her ever-serious boyfriend, surrounded by friends who are starting to ‘settle down’, or heeding the call of a life of adventure, travel, exciting job prospects and potential new love against the backdrops of Thailand and Cambodia. I’m thinking it’s the literary lovechild of Emily Barr’s Backpack and Emily Maguire’s Fishing for Tigers(!) And that it also needs much, much work if it’s ever going to be seen by anybody at all…

Overall I loved the NaNoWriMo experience, as torturous as it felt at times. If you’re thinking of doing it next year, I would say go for it. It ultimately helps you develop a writing habit, and prove to yourself that you’re capable of churning out lengthy work, even if it’s not of the greatest quality – and a 1500 word essay or story will never seem daunting ever again.

Did you attempt NaNo? Here’s a few tips now it’s over:

– 7 things to do when NaNoWriMo is over

– 5 tips for NaNoWriMo: The post NaNo re-entry process

– 6 step program for life after NaNo

And finally, all is not lost on the ‘all things produced during NaNo are destined for the scrapheap’ idea. Here are 8 bestsellers started during National Novel Writing Month.

Diary of a NaNoWriMo newbie – Part 1

It’s NaNoWriMo eve, and I feel a strange sense of calm before the storm. I’ve decided to give NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, a red hot go. That is, to pump out 50,000 words in 30 days. A novel in a month. Almost 2,000 words every day in November. Here’s a little window into the process, if you’re thinking of joining:

Signing up

The first step in committing to NaNo is signing up (which you can do here – it’s (almost) not too late!). Then it’s time to navigate the forums. The event is a social one, in a virtual kind of way, yet all the ‘buddy’ making and ‘newbie’ meeting (so much terminology!) spills over IRL, with meet-ups and write-ins to attend, should you feel inclined. I sign up, full of trepidation on whether I can really do this. I discover another NaNo term is ‘winning’, which actually just means completing. Apparently if you reach the 50,000 word goal, you have ‘won’! Although the only pressure to do so is your own.

Finding your tribe

A peruse of the forums offers a fascinating insight into the world of writerly types. There are a lot of self-confessed introverts (no surprises there), participants racked with self-doubt, many gamers and many more with  ‘fur-babies’. I zero in on the Mainstream board where my story belongs, and so do I it seems, catless and all. In a world of dystopian this and paranormal that, I’m feeling slightly off-trend and commercial with my ‘real life’ fiction idea, but nevertheless find some like-minded souls. The forums serve to help you find your tribe, so you can send each other words of encouragement, tips, advice and also keep each other spurred on. I discover a diverse scattering of people whose story synopses resonate, and enter the encouraging world of NaNo buddies.

How to prepare

After signing up, buddying up and perhaps engaging in a bit of supportive emailing with other WriMos (I’ve found this interaction immensely helpful already!), preparation can be as little or as much as you think you need to feel ready for NaNo. I write out descriptions of settings, characters and plot, a brief overview of the story and a longer, more detailed one. I then try to break down the story idea into chapters, with a rundown of what will happen in each. My idea is something I’ve played around with for a while – a fictional account of, you guessed it, a girl in expat-land in southeast Asia. While I’m using some settings and scenarios based on my real life experiences, it’s going to be fictional rather than a memoir.

Resources

Another part of preparation is seeking tips from writers who have successfully tackled NaNo before. I’ve been trying to soak up as much advice as possible, and there’s a wealth of NaNo related reading out there. If you are doing NaNo or contemplating it, here are a few helpful posts in getting started:

10 NaNoWriMo tips

10 tips to help you make it through NaNoWriMo

5 resources to help you plan your NaNoWriMo novel

How to write a novel

It’s ok to wing it

A NaNo term flying around the forum boards and social media is ‘pantsers’. Pantsers are those who don’t feel inclined to come up with characters, settings and plots beforehand, and prefer to fly by the seat of their pants, letting their story organically unfold. I like this concept, but I’m going with a happy medium – a rough outline and chapter breakdown, but much leeway to let my story veer in various ways as NaNo gets underway. Which is tomorrow! Ok, maybe not feeling so calm now…

Are you taking part in NaNoWriMo this year? Best of luck if you are,and if you’re contemplating joining, why not take the plunge?! 

A Girl in Asia on About.com

I recently discovered that comprehensive website About.com has a Southeast Asia section containing travel advice, forums and a blog spanning a wide variety of topics regarding travel in the region. Some Phnom Penh advice from yours truly appears in the latest post by blogger and writer Mike Aquinohere. Of course, it’s shopping and restaurant oriented – just doing my bit to spread the Phnom Penh word! Speaking of which – I still can’t believe I’ve left Cambodia. Living out of a suitcase (or 10, actually maybe more) in a hotel room in Saigon is only fun for so many days. I’m really looking forward to finding a real place to live, and soon!

Though we’ve just moved to Vietnam we’re still off to Singapore in a week’s time, a trip we booked ages ago. I found a few ideas about places to check out on the About.com Singapore page, and now I need to find some cool Singapore blogs for more. It’s interesting that a few short years ago mainstream guidebooks were the main go-to source of travel information. These days a combination of in the know guidebooks (like LUXE city guides), blogs and picking up expat magazines or street press on arrival are how I (and presumably many others) prefer to get my travel tips.
And speaking of which – my priority (besides house-hunting, Singapore trip planning and a million other things) is to get my head around everything Saigon has to offer – after knowing where to go and what to do in Phnom Penh inside out, this will be a much more challenging task!