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.
An important date in the calendar for authors and illustrators, published and unpublished alike, KidLitVic is an opportunity to learn the ‘industry need-to-knows’ and the ‘dos and don’ts’ of children’s publishing.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
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.