{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!

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