I awoke in the dark before my alarm had a chance to herald the morning. Melbourne was cold, very cold. I hopped out of bed, turned on the heater and figured I could stay snuggled in the warmth until the alarm actually sounded.
The day ahead rattled through my brain. Did I have everything? Manuscripts? Illustration portfolio? Business cards? Postcards? Scarf? The perfect outfit? Comfortable shoes? Toothbrush? I needed to stop ‘doing head miles’, get out of bed, and prepare for author Penny Harrison to drive us into town to the KidLitVic 2018 Conference.
For those of you that don’t know this annual event is organised by the wonderful Team of Authors Alison Reynolds, Coral Vass, Jaquelyn Muller and Illustrator Nicky Johnston, plus a raft of helpers. This year it was bigger and better than ever with 200 attendees and over 20 publishers. It was so big; this conference of expert panel discussions, workshops, and one-to-one assessments with publishers, was moved to the beautiful Melbourne Town Hall.
I have now been focusing on illustration for just over two years. I look back at the portfolio I submitted at the first KidLitVic 2016 and am so grateful for the feedback, and encouragement, I received from Suzanne O’Sullivan (Hachette). The following year I returned with a new portfolio under my arm, a better understanding of what to expect during the conference, and a second portfolio assessment, this time with Maryann Ballantyne (Black Dog).
With my debut picture book as an illustrator published, I built on the invaluable feedback from 2017 and felt that this year I had a folio that is beginning to show that I am an illustrator and not some imposter.
After registering and signing in my precious red portfolio, there was time to briefly chat with old friends, smile at familiar faces and quickly glance at some of the amazing illustration portfolios. Then it was time to find my posse for the ‘Welcome and Introduction’ by Coral Vass and the brilliant Leigh Hobbs. He was funny, honest, encouraging and brilliant! (I know I said that already but LEIGH HOBBS!)
The first panel ‘What to expect when you are expecting’ (a book baby that is) covered topics such as the collaboration and relationships between the publisher, author and illustrator. How the illustration process works and emphasised the need for authors, and illustrators, to trust that the publisher, editor, sales & marketing team, are all there to maximise the success of a book. It also briefly touched on payment types and how many books make it through to the acquisition process.
I didn’t attend the next panel or either of the workshops after morning tea as I had an assessment booked with the beautiful Lisa Berryman (Harper Collins). I made sure I had time to compose myself and took advantage of the quiet to browse more thoroughly through the illustration portfolios. The standard of this year’s illustrators was amazing! The variety of styles and artistic interpretation across the board was impressive. My one-to-one assessment with Lisa was helpful and thorough, with honest and constructive feedback. I highly recommend booking an assessment with her if the occasion presents itself.
Next up, was the workshop ‘Direction in art direction’ by the amazing and inspiring Donna Rawlins (Walker Books). I can’t tell you anymore than that because we were all sworn to secrecy. You will just have to attend KidLitVic and hope she offers to run a workshop again. It was an amazing learning opportunity. If you ever have the chance to attend a workshop with her do not turn it down!
This is the first year illustrators were offered the chance to meet publishers informally. With confidence that I had a reasonable portfolio I approached a publisher and listened as I was given tips and hints about what worked in my portfolio and things I should include. Gold I tell you, absolute gold! Although I fear I still could have been braver and met a few more publishers.
The final panel was all about ‘Getting your foot in the door’. Loads of great information was shared from which publisher should you submit to? To, how important is social media as an author or illustrator? Do you need a paid ms assessment before submitting? Have you considered all the tools you have at your disposal within your writing? Should you make multiple submissions? And finally, what are the ideal author / illustrator personality traits?
Roving microphones were then handed to the attendees who had a question and the publishers succinctly answered them all. Coral Vass, who did an amazing job as MC, then closed the conference as the Team came up on stage and said their thankyous. It was then time for the cocktail party.
Being able to catch up with friends is the highlight of any conference. And being with so many people who are passionate about creating books is beyond inspiring. Thank you KidLitVic for another tremendous conference. It is an absolute joy to attend.
PS. I did forget my toothbrush (Thanks Penny for the new one).