KidLitVic 2019.... I miss you already!

Reflections by Thea Baker

Walking up to the Melbourne Town Hall doors for this year’s KidLitVic, I knew I was in for a treat. Grand entrance, door personnel – was there actually a red carpet, or did I imagine that? Of course, there was no sign of the snootiness that may come with a red carpet event. That’s what I love about the writing and illustrating community; there’s always a feeling of camaraderie. Everyone is treated as an equal (with a story to tell :)). Even standing in the queue, albeit briefly, was a chance to strike up an interesting conversation with fellow creatives.

The doors opened at 8:30am for registration

The doors opened at 8:30am for registration

An important date in the calendar for authors and illustrators, published and unpublished alike, KidLitVic is an opportunity to learn the ‘industry need-to-knows’ and the ‘dos and don’ts’ of children’s publishing. It’s an important chance to get out of your creative cave and make connections, to find direction and inspiration.

If you were one of the lucky ones to receive a portfolio or manuscript assessment, firstly, congratulations on being quick enough to snap up those tickets! How did you do it? They sold out faster than a Justin Bieber concert (naturally I have no first hand knowledge of this – honest). Secondly, if you were one of the lucky ones I hope it went really well, but don’t be downhearted if it wasn’t as positive as you’d hoped. There is no doubt, that without these kinds of opportunities, I wouldn’t have been able to realise my dream of becoming a professional illustrator. Constructive criticism at this level is creative gold.

The tone for the day was set beautifully with a warm welcome from Coral Vass on behalf of the KidLitVic team, followed by inspiring words from keynote speaker, Michelle Nye.

The first panel, What Makes Publishers Say Yes? , with Clair Hume, Susannah Chambers and Zoe Walton, had me scribbling down notes aplenty. Thanks, by the way, to the KidLitVic team for that very handy Important Notes section in the program.

Here’s a list of some ‘must haves’ when it comes to winning the hearts of the publishers:

·         An Amazing Story. Great characters and a unique voice always stand out.

·         A Polished Manuscript. Avoid spur-of-the-moment impulses to send your manuscript prematurely (I’ve done this – aargh! Duly noted). Check it. Let it sit. Check it again. Do everything you can to make the process of reading as easy as possible. Make sure your synopsis is concise.

·         Etiquette. Show what a great person you’d be to work with. Follow submission guidelines.  Conduct yourself in a respectful manner (including all social media platforms you’re using to promote yourself).

·         Research (a do, rather than a have). Know your market. Research the publisher and their list of titles for the right fit. Consider your point of difference. Which books could you see your story appearing alongside?

·         Luck. Take it as a positive or a negative; there is a certain amount of luck in getting your story in front of the right person at the right time. Publishers have lists of upcoming titles and there is no way of predicting wether or not your story will fit in.

Have an elevator pitch memorised for your story. You never know when an opportunity may present itself!

For illustrators posting on Instagram, Clair Hume uses these tags in her searches: #australianillustrator #melbourneillustrator

Mingling at morning tea

Mingling at morning tea

Tea Break Tip: Book vegan next time if you prefer fruit salad to cake. Of course, you’ll miss out on any meat pies later on (unless you’re cheeky enough to help yourself anyway), but it’s a thought.

The second Panel, Secret Agent Business, with Jacinta Di Mase and Alex Adsett, was the perfect follow on from the first. By going through an agent, many of those ‘must haves’ when it comes to what publishers are looking for, have been checked off for you. Jacinta and Alex already have good relationships with publishers. They can help with the where, when and whom, when it comes to sending your manuscript. They can even help polish your manuscript (or portfolio) to give it the best possible chance of success. The only catch is, as the panel suggested, that it’s just as hard to get an agent as it is to get a publisher. I was quite surprised to hear how few Australian Agents there are. The actual process of seeking representation, outlined by Alex and Jacinta, is very similar to that of approaching a publisher. No wonder all the manuscript and portfolio assessments are in such high demand!

 Alex and Jacinta aren’t accepting unsolicited manuscripts. However, they may consider submissions with KidLitVic in the title.

Lunch – yum. How good were those rolls?  The lunch break was a perfect opportunity to view the Illustrator Showcase. I love collecting the gorgeous cards that accompany the portfolios. As an illustrator myself, I find this is a great source of inspiration and a way to connect with other illustrators in our community.

Feedback from the Materclasses, which had been running concurrently with the Panels, was seeping into the break-time conversations and causing a palpable buzz.

The third panel of the day was The Inside Story with Lisa Berryman and Jen Storer.

If you wanted a warm and fuzzy success story, you got it! The relationship described between Jen and Lisa was one I think we’d all aspire to. It was wonderful to learn exactly how invested Lisa was in Jen’s characters and stories, and how the mutual respect had made for a dynamic and fluid collaboration.

Davina Bell interviewing Jen Storer and Lisa Berryman

Davina Bell interviewing Jen Storer and Lisa Berryman

Meals at your publisher’s house (quick note to say I’m more than happy to bring a plate – just in case), collaborating over coffee, calling just for a chat, long meetings with a whole team dedicated to delving into the very depths of your story with you. ………When I heard Lisa mention a 24-hour turn around for feedback, I knew I must have drifted off into a glorious dream, narrated by Davina Bell’s melodic voice (which, by the way, had me considering voice coaching at one point). In all seriousness though, there is no doubt that Lisa and Jen, like many people in the publishing industry, work tremendously hard and are incredibly passionate about creating these book gems. Something I think we can all appreciate and feel deeply grateful for.

The Up Close and Personal Sessions

The Up Close and Personal Sessions

I missed the 3pm to 4pm panel, as I had an Up Close and Personal session with Michelle Madden. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it didn’t disappoint. Having just seven in our group, including Michelle, certainly made for a friendly setting and easy conversation.  Michelle set out a very fair system of taking it in turns to ask questions, many of which extended, with ease, into longer group conversations. The hour seemed to fly by and was very informative.

The incredible Donna Rawlins and I at the cocktail party

The incredible Donna Rawlins and I at the cocktail party

Ending the day on a fun note, The Question Box was a great opportunity for delegates to ask any thus far unanswered questions. Then a lovely wrap up and a very well deserved moment of appreciation for the KidLitVic team.  What an incredible day! To top it off, it was fantastic to see to the publishers and industry experts mingling with the crowd of illustrators and writers (growing in confidence by the minute) at the cocktail hour. Is it just me, or did that final ascent of the stairs seem a little more fast-paced than usual? 

 Thank you so much KidLitVic 2019!

KidLitVic 2019- The Event of the Year

Reflections by Penny Harrison

Writing is such a solitary process. We spend most of our days holed up with our keyboards, the characters we’re working on and, some days, let’s face it, those critical voices in our heads.

So, it makes perfect sense that KidLitVic has become the event of the year on many an author’s and illustrator’s calendar.

PHarrison KidLitVic.jpg

This one-day conference, now in its fourth year, has become a golden, highly sought-after opportunity for garnering fresh insight and industry information, and for meeting and mingling with fellow authors and illustrators, as well as key publishing figures in the children’s book industry. It’s a chance to blow away the proverbial cobwebs and return to our keyboards, invigorated and enriched.

This was my third year at the KidLitVic conference. I am always in awe at the incredible efforts of the talented and hardworking organisers (Alison Reynolds, Coral Vass, Nicky Johnston and Sarah Reynolds), and how they manage to develop the conference to ensure there is something for new attendees and long-term devotees, and for both emerging and experienced writers.

Each year, I come away energised and refocused, with up-to-date industry information, new ideas and fresh confirmation that I’ve definitely found ‘my tribe’.

The wonderful KidLitVic community

The wonderful KidLitVic community

This event has expanded in popularity and, even though it moved to the larger venue of the Melbourne Town Hall last year, it still has a lengthy waiting list. Yet, despite the crowd of more than 200 children’s book creators filling the splendid venue, the conference maintains an air of warmth and intimacy. New attendees are quickly welcomed into groups of like-minded creatives and there is a wonderful feeling as we all catch up with old buddies, put faces to the names of online acquaintances and meet new friends.

The program continues to evolve each year and now includes insightful masterclasses for authors and illustrators on honing our writing skills, submitting manuscripts, and portfolio presentation. This year, there were even more publisher assessments, along with one-on-one pitches and Up Close and Personal group meetings with publishers. And the panels continue to inspire and inform with facilitators (this year, the talented and engaging Katrina McKelvey and Davina Bell took up the mantle) interviewing an impressive line-up of publishers and agents.

Of course, the burning question on everyone’s lips each year is: What are publishers looking for? Some of the answers we heard this year included:

Funny, warm stories with good characters, diverse characters – Clair Hume, Affirm Press

Stories that are funny, fast-paced, compelling – Zoe Walton, Penguin Random House

Stories with an original, intense voice – Susannah Chambers, Allen & Unwin

Publishers, editors and agents mingle with delegates at morning and afternoon tea, and lunch time, happy to chat or answer questions, and always so gracious and generous with their time and knowledge.

Unfortunately, I had to leave the conference early this year, but still managed to squeeze in a panel, a masterclass and an assessment. Here are some of my top takeaways from the day:

Publishers look for professionalism. This means the way you correspond with them and the way you follow their guidelines.

An original, intense voice is key. Publishers want to be able to hear your character.

Make your website memorable with plenty of fresh copy (including a fun ‘about’ page).

Yes, social media matters. And, if you’re an illustrator, Instagram is the go-to place for many publishers.

Research your market and publisher, and include in your cover letter the names of titles that your story might sit beside in the market.

Never go anywhere without a notebook and pencil (an oldie, but a goodie).

When working on a story, your process should be: thinking, planning, drafting, revising and editing.

Let your story sit for a few weeks (or months) before revisiting it.

Know your characters inside out.

Continue to tighten and polish your copy.

Write what you know and love. Don’t try to follow trends.

Make every word on the page sing.

KidLitVic 2019 Meet the Publishers Conference... one of the best spent Saturdays of my life...

Reflections by Anne Morgan

Last Saturday 25 May, I was one of over 200 children’s book creators who headed to the grand old Melbourne Town Hall for this year’s KidLitVic conference. From a career point of view, this was one of the best spent Saturdays of my life.

Image by Nicky Johnston

Image by Nicky Johnston

KidLitVic aims to connect children’s literary creators with Australia’s leading children’s book publishers, as well as seeking to empower authors and illustrators with the tools to manage their career and develop professional relationships.

If an Australian publisher or agent makes the commitment to participate in an industry conference held in Melbourne on a Saturday, then that is a fair indication that they are scouting for new talent. Agents Alex Adsett and Jacinta Di Mase attended, as did publishers from Harper Collins Children’s books, Wild Dog, Hinkler, Ford St, Scholastic, EK, Affirm Press, Allen& Unwin, Wombat Books, Hachette Australia, Text Publishing, University of Queensland Press, Hardie Grant Egmont, Penguin Random House, Windy Hollow Books, Scribble and Midnight Sun Publishing – an impressive representation of Australia’s best publishing talent.

Some of the portfolios on display at KidLitVic 2019

Some of the portfolios on display at KidLitVic 2019

There were four panel sessions, What Makes Publishers Say Yes?, Secret Agent Business, The Inside Story-with Jen Storer and Publisher Lisa Berryman, Finding Your Prefect Match, from Big Publishers to Small Indie Houses, all of them useful to writers and illustrators at all stages of their careers. Donna Rawlins and Maryann Ballantyne (Wild Dog Books) held separate masterclasses for illustrators and writers while Michelle Madden from Penguin Random House, ran the masterclass, The Slush Pile: How to Climb to the Top. Publishers, agents and delegates were able to peruse a gallery of illustration portfolios and delegates could purchase a 15 minute face-to-face manuscript critique with a publisher or agent, and/or participate in individual and small group pitch sessions.  

 Major Australian publishers can receive thousands of unsolicited manuscripts a year and many publishers are, by necessity, forced to accept only manuscripts submitted through an agent. But the Catch 22 is that it is just as hard to get an agent as it is to get a publisher, and agents will want to know your publishing record before signing you as a client.  But ‘closed door’ publishers also know that writers and illustrators who attend conferences such as KidLitVic are serious about advancing their careers. Many of the publishers who attended, therefore, indicated that they are open to receiving publication queries from delegates, provided the queries are submitted via the KidLitVic organisers.

Oh, and did I mention that a cocktail party was included in the conference fee?

Oh, and did I mention that a cocktail party was included in the conference fee?

When a publisher stated her firm was currently inundated with picture books but they were seeking early chapter books, my ears began to tweak. I quickly identified three of my picture book manuscripts that would probably work better as early chapter books. I was also thrilled with my 15 minutes of face-to-face feedback with a ‘closed door’ literary publisher, which resulted in a request to see my full manuscript. Yay!

Well done to the talented and dedicated team of KidLitVic organisers, Alison Reynolds, Coral Vass, Sarah Reynolds and illustrator extraordinaire, Nicky Johnston. This year’s conference provided a trove of opportunities for children’s book creators to develop their careers and to establish supportive relationships with their peers. The stage management of the simultaneous sessions was seamless and organisers were quick to resolve problems with bookings. I came away from KidLitVic with ideas for new manuscripts and for reworking old manuscripts, and new hopes for the publication of a middle grade manuscript that has been haunting me for the last 16 years.

If you are interested in attending KidLitVic 2020, my advice is, invest in yourself and book early to avoid disappointment. This conference had a wait list of 150 people, which is a testament to the professionalism, hard work and creative imagination of its organisers.

CELEBRATING KIDLITVIC 2019

Photos by Maria Parenti-Baldey

Celebration, Connection and Corporate Espionage at KidLitVic Meet the Publishers 2019

Reflections by Emma Bowd

As I reflect on the past four years of attending KidLitVic Meet the Publishers Conferences (KLV) I have no doubt that my journey from published author of fiction and non-fiction for adults, to a writer of children’s literature, has been empowered by this premier annual event in the Australian Children’s/YA Literary Calendar.

KLV organisers, L to R, Sarah Reynolds, Nicky Johnston and Alison Reynolds.

KLV organisers, L to R, Sarah Reynolds, Nicky Johnston and Alison Reynolds.

Now, I’m not just being a typical Melburnian when I use the term ‘premier’ (as I know we do have a tendency to err… spruik our ‘bigness’ and ‘bestness’). But the buzz at this year’s KLV was palpable. And I spoke to lots of local and interstate publishers and delegates during the course of the day, who all echoed the same sentiments: that the superior level of organisation and conference content made this year’s KLV an undeniable and huge success.

Officially, KLV is the brainchild of Melbourne’s Alison Reynolds – a highly respected and accomplished writer, presenter and editor within the children’s book industry – a legitimate mover and shaker. How she manages to coordinate such a professional, yet warm and personable conference, with constantly evolving content and only three other team members to assist her – the inimitable duo of Coral Vass and Nicky Johnston from the very beginning, and the newly joined arts events professional Sarah Reynolds – is worthy of high praise indeed.

It’s not easy to keep content fresh in an annual conference of this kind, and to likewise appease the interests of both novice and seasoned children’s/YA literature creatives.

KLV organiser Coral Vass with Paul Collins of Ford Street Publishing, taking questions from the floor during Open Question Time

KLV organiser Coral Vass with Paul Collins of Ford Street Publishing, taking questions from the floor during Open Question Time

I’ve enjoyed seeing the KLV program grow and evolve over the past four years, to include more Masterclasses for authors and illustrators (presenting up-to-date industry information applicable to portfolio and manuscript development, presentation and submission); more publisher Assessments and Pitches; more Panels exploring the publishing process, including agents; ever more polished and engaging Panel Facilitators with obvious industry experience (this year competently handled by Katrina McKelvey and Davina Bell); bigger Illustrator Showcases; an exciting Open Question Time; and for the first time this year a Quiet Room, as well as Up Close & Personal small group meetings with publishers – incredibly invaluable experiences.

I also noticed significantly more blokes amongst the delegates this year, as well as a wider age-range compared to previous years. All healthy signs of an increasingly diverse and growing children’s/YA book industry. And a cause for much celebration.

The venue move from the State Library of Victoria to the Melbourne Town Hall occurred last year, to accommodate the ballooning number of delegates. (Can you believe KLV had a wait list of 100 this year?) I really liked how the room allocations and layouts were re-jigged this year – it all seemed to flow perfectly. My only niggle was the clunky IT in the booking process (gah – we only ever talk about IT when it misbehaves) which I’m sure will be looked at closely before the start-of-play next year. 

A publisher I had a manuscript assessment with this year asked me if this was my first time attending KLV, and appeared quite surprised when I said that it was in fact my fourth. Clearly intrigued, she asked me, ‘Why?’. The first thought that came to my mind was the desire to connect – with like-minded people who were also stepping away from their solitary creator’s caves; and with the industry as a whole. Finding my tribe. Something she acknowledged that she also very much liked about KLV.

Camaraderie and Connection at KLV 2019 – me (RHS pink poncho) with part of our flock of duckies from The Duck Pond (an online community of kidlit creatives, founded by children’s author Jen Storer). There were even more duckies waddling around….but getting everyone into one place at morning tea time was like herding…well…ducks!

Camaraderie and Connection at KLV 2019 – me (RHS pink poncho) with part of our flock of duckies from The Duck Pond (an online community of kidlit creatives, founded by children’s author Jen Storer). There were even more duckies waddling around….but getting everyone into one place at morning tea time was like herding…well…ducks!

I’ve personally enjoyed making many friends with writers and illustrators at KLV, who I’ve also gone on to connect with at SCBWI, in online kidlit groups (a big shout out to my fellow Duckies in The Duck Pond and Scribblers), and also a critique group.

My own KLV journey has gradually percolated from spending the first two years listening, learning, digesting and connecting – by attending Panels and Masterclasses. Who knew email signatures and branding were so important to a children’s writer? (Thank you Lisa Berryman, of Harper Collins). I then continued to write, re-write, submit, re-submit, and keep connecting with my SCBWI and kidlit community on social media, and in real-life (gasp), as well as entering creative writing competitions (and getting short-listed). Much of this was done thanks to advice received directly from the mouths of publishing professionals at KLV.

Eventually, I signed up to some publisher assessments at KLV last year and this year, and have received wonderful verbal and written feedback via professionally marked-up manuscripts. Generic rejection letters/emails from publishers just don’t give you the feedback on which to grow and develop your craft. So these documents and the fifteen minutes we get to discuss them at KLV assessments are absolutely worth their weight in gold. And it also made me realise just how much I missed the editing process (which I really enjoyed during the publication of my novel). It’s an absolute privilege to have an editor dive deep into your work, and know and understand it as intimately as you do. Likewise, to hover above it, and notice subtle or glaring holes in the rhythm, pace and plot – which is so easy to miss when you are so close to it. To this day, ten years post-publication of my novel with Bloomsbury, I’m still very good friends with my divine editor.

Children’s author and founder of The Duck Pond and Scribbles online kidlit community, Jen Storer with Lisa Berryman of Harper Collins (photo credit: Maria Parenti-Baldey)

Children’s author and founder of The Duck Pond and Scribbles online kidlit community, Jen Storer with Lisa Berryman of Harper Collins (photo credit: Maria Parenti-Baldey)

That special bond between the writer and editor/publisher was on full display during the Panel Discussion: ‘The Inside Story’, when Davina Bell interviewed acclaimed children’s author Jen Storer and her publisher, Lisa Berryman, of Harper Collins. I think every delegate was genuinely lulled into reverential silence by the hardworking ‘Dream Team’ up on the stage, giving us so much to aspire to, as they explained the detailed process involved in creating the best possible body of work. It was evident just how much they loved the characters, the words on the page, the illustrations, the design and of course the sharing of fan letters sent in by readers.

But most importantly, Jen and Lisa credited the success of their long-term partnership to a deeply invested foundation of trust, respect and boundaries.

I also very much enjoyed the Panel Discussion: ‘Find Your Perfect Match: From Big Publishers to Small Indie Houses’, again facilitated by Davina, where three publishers of small (Scribble), medium (Text) and large (Hachette) publishing houses gave an incredibly frank insight into their inner workings during the acquisition, and nuts-and-bolts phases of bringing a book to market. I was really struck by the candour of the publishers Miriam Rosenbloom (Scribble), Jane Pearson (Text) and Suzanne O’Sullivan (Hachette). I felt that several times they could have easily held back and been more commercially cautious in their answers, but actively chose to share information. Leading a delighted Davina (who works for Affirm Press) whispering into her microphone that she felt like she was engaging in corporate espionage – much to the delight of us delegates. Nevertheless, irrespective of size, budgets, staffing and resources, all three publishers were fuelled by a love, passion and excitement for children’s/YA books.

Their universal advice to prospective authors and illustrators was to really spend time researching the types of books which are similar to yours, and find the right publishing ‘fit’ when you are submitting. And for writers, it’s your ‘voice’ that will get you across the line for the editors every time. As to whether that will be enough to equally enchant the sales and marketing team, is another proposition entirely.

Davina Bell with Jane Pearson (Text), Miriam Rosenbloom (Scribble) and Suzanne O’Sullivan (Hachette) on the Panel ‘Finding Your Perfect Match – From Big Publishers to Small Indie Houses’ By the way, a completely random observation…..if Davina Bell should ever decide to add ‘TV interviewer’ to her impressive CV of writer, editor and marriage celebrant, I think Andrew Denton might just quake in his boots!

Davina Bell with Jane Pearson (Text), Miriam Rosenbloom (Scribble) and Suzanne O’Sullivan (Hachette) on the Panel ‘Finding Your Perfect Match – From Big Publishers to Small Indie Houses’ By the way, a completely random observation…..if Davina Bell should ever decide to add ‘TV interviewer’ to her impressive CV of writer, editor and marriage celebrant, I think Andrew Denton might just quake in his boots!

It’s clear that KLV 2019 more than comfortably achieved its official mission statement, “to connect children’s literary creators with Australia’s leading children’s book publishers, as well as seeking to empower authors and illustrators with the tools to manage their career and develop professional relationships.” The genuine level of collegiate sharing amongst the delegates and publishers was inspiring, and can surely only result in the Australian children’s/YA book industry becoming stronger and smarter and a producer of more outstanding works. 

As a creator and writer of stories, I walked away from KLV 2019 nourished and energised, both professionally and personally. I will now try to do exactly what the brilliant Keynote Speaker, and champion of the power of stories, Michelle Nye (Teacher Librarian/YABBA coordinator), urged us all to do: to go away and think, dream, wonder and question; to create stories that can be shared, told and re-imagined for years to come; stories that will entertain and inspire, and help connect us to our inner selves, our surroundings and our world, by stretching our minds. 

Oh, and I will also definitely take-up the very kind offer of the KLV organisers to send in a bonus query letter to the publisher of my choice, from the list on their website, on Monday 3rd June. I’m really excited to see that a publisher I missed out on booking is on that list. Ahh…another great opportunity from the KLV conference that in every sense is on our side, urging us onwards and upwards, to create fabulous books in the name of Australian children’s/YA literature.

VOLUNTEER CALL FOR KIDLITVIC 2019 "MEET THE PUBLISHERS CONFERENCE"

WE ARE LOOKING FOR PEOPLE WHO ARE:

  • Enthusiastic

  • Can take direction

  • Can use initiative

  • 18+ of age

THE TASKS WOULD INCLUDE:

Event set up and pack up, manage registration table, crowd control, microphone runner for Q&A panels, mark off people attending masterclasses and events, event runner if needed, general event management tasks as requested.

PERKS:

  • We will schedule the day so that you will be in the hall to hear two panel discussions

  • We will provide morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea

  • Can attend the post event cocktail party

THE DETAILS:

Saturday 25 May, 8am-5pm at the Melbourne Town Hall.

RECRUITMENT PROCESS

  • Applications close Friday 26 April

  • Interviews week commencing 29 April

HOW TO APPLY

Please email kidlitvic@gmail.com with "Volunteer Application" in the subject line and attach your CV and a statement outlining why you want to volunteer at KidLitVic 2019 (max 100 words)

Thanks for considering this opportunity and please email kidlitvic@gmail.com with any questions.