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!

On the reading pile

February reads

 

The reading pile of late includes:

Lonely Planet South India & Kerala – for trip planning in progress! Yes, there are travel apps and e-books and travel sites galore for such things, but I still have an enormous place in my heart for ‘real’ travel guidebooks. Something about flipping through the pages instead of scrolling down a screen… not to mention bookshelf appeal. Kerala’s mix of tropical backwaters, spice trade history and mountainous tea plantations sound amazing – I can’t get there fast enough.

Withering-By-Sea – a captivating middle grade read that I was lucky enough to win from a recent NSW Writer’s Centre giveaway. Australian author Judith Rossell has created a beautifully written Victorian-era adventure story featuring an orphan named Stella, who lives in a seaside hotel with three awful aunts. It’s full of intrigue and a little dark – story perfection for my inner 10 year old.

Big Magic – Elizabeth Gilbert’s guide to ‘creative living beyond fear’. I’ve yet to crack this open but I’m anticipating a mega dose of inspiration and motivation…

SCBWI Bulletin – a quarterly mini-mag issued by the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators. This is a major children’s writing body with branches all over that I recently joined. With articles on everything from editing, characterisation, meditation for writers and the ins and outs of critique groups, it’s a great little membership perk.

Finding Monkey Moon – a beautiful picture book by Elizabeth Pulford and Kate Wilkinson (Walker Books) that is right up my heartfelt/emotionally driven PB alley. It’s about a little boy’s search for his lost favourite toy, and ultimately about bravery as he has to search deep into a dark park to find it.

Reading pile aside… we now have a rotating reading shelf (bookshop/library style) thanks to the best roadside rescue of all time!!! The kids’ current reads and library loans can now be easily seen and obsessed over. Here it is:

Rotating shelf

Happy reading!

Picture book love: The Rabbits

The Rabbits

 

The Rabbits, written by John Marsden, illustrated by Shaun Tan, Lothian Books, 1998

A sparsely narrated yet immensely powerful text, The Rabbits depicts a long ago invasion echoing white settlement of Australia. It emphasises the differences of an unrelenting stream of rabbits arriving by ship to a desert-like land, with those already inhabiting it depicted as kangaroo-like creatures. The rabbits’ unstoppable nature is stated in a clear, matter of fact tone, yet Tan’s complex illustrations delve deeper into their dominance and their impact. The grey-toned industrial scenes and use of black space in many of the later pages depict a harshness, as though colour has been replaced. The final statement and image offers little in the way of hope. A haunting, thought-provoking book that breaks the children-only boundaries of the perceived picture book audience.

Picture Book Idea Month 2015

piboidmo2015participant

 

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.

Picture book love: A bear and a tree

A bear and a tree

 

A bear and a tree, written and illustrated by Stephen Michael King, Viking/Penguin Group, 2012

In A bear and a tree, a kind bear about to hibernate helps his friend Ren understand why a tree has lost its leaves. Seasonal changes and the passing of time are depicted largely through the illustrations. Gentle watercolour images reflect the soft, heartfelt narrative, and white space is utilised to highlight moments of action. Some double page, full frame spreads feature few or no words, allowing for quiet contemplation of Ren and Bear’s journey. A satisfactory resolution is reached when the bear helps Ren attach remnants of each season and their adventures to the tree, suggesting themes of team work, friendship, creativity and reassurance. This is a poignant story with a gentle strength, by one of my favourite author/illustrators.

Snapshots 20.08.15

Luna Park

Daytripping – Luna Park fun

 

August so far has seen hot weather hopefulness with trips to the beach, lots of good reads, much picture book love and some delicious Sydney food finds for good measure.

Kids’ books

We are fully aboard the Andy Griffiths train in this house, with the obligatory purchase of the latest Treehouse book (made all the more exciting after meeting Andy at the Sydney’s Writer’s Festival this year!). Here are a couple of great articles post 65-Storey Treehouse release: the importance of humour in kids’ books, and why Andy Griffiths thinks many children’s stories are boring.

Other favourite kids’ reads right now: Lulu by Georgie Donaghey, Lisa absolutely loves art by Sophie Norsa, The Cleo Stories by Libby Gleeson, The Colour Thief by Gabriel Alborozo and Why I love Australia by Bronwyn Bancroft (you can read my review for Buzz Words here).

 

Kids books we love - August

 

Lulu author Georgie (who signed her book for my kids at the recent CYA Conference) sent us a lovely package of Lulu-themed craft and fun things (like chocolate) – the kids were super impressed to receive something in the mail from a real-life author!

 

All things Lulu

 

Other reads

I recently devoured Bejing Tai Tai by Tania McCartney, an expat memoir of the now kids’ author (and brains behind Kids Book Review, one my favourite go-to kids’ book sites) on her expat years in Beijing. I felt swept up in her story as it was so relatable, There were many things that mirrored my own time living in Asia in the late 2000s – everything from maid dramas and navigating expat friendships, to cultural differences and bringing up kids ‘elsewhere’. It’s humourous, warm, insightful – a bit like reading someone’s diary. I don’t think I’ll ever tire of expat or travel non-fiction.

Current reads

I’ve also just read Motherhood and Creativity by Rachel Power, a collection of stories by Australian women who grapple with juggling motherhood with a creative career, whether it be acting, art or writing. It was so interesting to read insights into these women’s lives, especially admired writers like Sally Rippin and Nikki Gemmell. Such a great read for anyone balancing all things kids with a passion pursuit.

Now, I’m reading Emily Bitto’s The Strays (loving so far), with a side detour into YA for uni (Risk by Fleur Ferris and Just_a_Girl by Kristen Krauth – both engaging yet chilling in their own ways).

 

Weekend wanderings // Sydney

Smalltown

 

Daytrips, food loves and fun things of late have included:

+ an exploration of the far northern beaches (winter denial), including a pitstop at a great Avalon cafe, Smalltown (like a slice of the inner-west, transported to beachland)

+ Luna Park on a blue sky day, with a side serve of Americana at Batch burgers in Kirribilli

+ a sushi train restaurant with iPads for ordering (new favourite city sushi)

+ oysters at The Gretz and dinner at Hartsyard (balancing all the ‘heartiness’ – ahem, fried chicken – with their amazing broccoli dish)

 

Wanderlust wishlist

+ this cafe

+ this hotel

+ this restaurant

 

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!

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

Picture book love: The important things

 

The important things

 

The important things, written and illustrated by Peter Carnavas, New Frontier Publishing, 2010

The important things is the tale of Christopher and his mother, who are navigating the world together after the boy’s father has disappeared from their lives. Their sadness is depicted in their slumped bodies in front of a photograph featuring a faded image of the father positioned between the mother and the boy. When the mother decides they should take the father’s belongings to a second-hand store, she is mystified when they begin reappearing at home. This nostalgic tale uses a mix of sepia tones and bright colour for mood and emphasis, and suggests that what’s insignificant to some can have powerful meaning for others.