Through the Eyes of Julie Anne Grasso by Official KidLitVic 2018 Correspondent Julie Grasso

Hear ye, hear ye, KidLitVic is in da house. Well, more like in the Town Hall, which is one stunning venue. Nestled in the heart of Melbourne, attendees came from all over this fine country, bustling with hopes and dreams and reams of words stuffed in their satchels.

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The wonderful and former Children’s Laureate, Leigh Hobbs opened the conference, giving us a hilarious and insightful glimpse into his life in publishing. Rejected by many and not even making it past the lobby of one publisher, Leigh did not give up. He believed his zany yet relatable characters would one day have wings and when you think about it, Mr Chicken actually does have wings. Perseverance is the name of the game, and Leigh equated that to be his defining quality, one which we’ll all have to embrace to endure this constantly shifting industry.

            After Leigh’s wise words, the lovely Coral Vass set us loose on the town hall. Some stayed for an enlightening panel chaired by Michael Wagner (Awesome author with too many publications to count but our personal favourite being, “So Wrong”) along with Adam Wallace (another awesome author, too many publications to count but our personal favourite being, “Rusty, Buster and Patch versus the Opera”) running literally with the microphone.

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We heard from Michelle Madden (Penguin Random House) Claire Halifax (Scholastic) and Suzanne O’Sullivan (Hachette) on What To Expect When You’re Expecting … A Book. I missed this session having to scurry off to my assessment, but I’m told it was incredibly helpful for those about to birth new book babies into the world.

            While some were learning about squishing out books, others were attending workshops like The Art of Editing with Elise Jones (Allen and Unwin), learning how to hone their words before pressing the inevitable send.

            Meanwhile, those confident in their editing, shuffled off to hear Melissa Keil (Award winning author and editor at Five Mile) make sure their pitches were Pitch Perfect and Submission Ready…

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Speaking of assessments, the unflappable Al Reynolds, (Mr Alison as some of us call him) crafted a strategic plan to enable every wishful attendee to have their humble words critiqued by the best in the business. A well-oiled machine it was, and after checking in, we were ushered to our respective tables with stars in our eyes and words in our pockets.

            My own assessment with Davina Bell (Affirm) was encouraging and enlightening, actually I will elevate it to say thrilling. To have an actual publisher pour over your words, giving you positive points as well as areas to improve is an actual dream-like moment. One I have experienced before, but it will never get old. For those of us who still dream of working with publishers, this is the golden ticket.

            With wind in our sails, we sojourned downstairs to be delighted by hot addictive stimulants and tasty morsels that even those with gluten sensitivity could enjoy. Much chatter ensued and before long we were back into the program.

            We learned from Kimberly Bennett (Penguin Random House), Marisa Pintado (Hardie Grant Egmont) and Lisa Berryman (Harper Collins) all about Creating an Appetite for Series. Dispelling many myths about how series are acquired, we learned that we don’t have to have words piled up to add up to several books before submitting; instead at least the first book written and a synopsis for the second would suffice, not forgetting a clear direction for where the series will go.

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While some of us were obsessing about our potential series, the arty folks gifted with pen and paint brush (hopefully not sword) were sashaying off to get some Direction in Art Direction with Donna Rawlins (Walker). Not being arty myself, I have it on good authority this was the session to attend for aspiring picture book creators and one that will need digesting for many moons.

            Meanwhile the wordsmiths were over searching for their voice in Finding Your Voice with Jane Pearson (Text). Hopefully all voices were accounted for by the end, and I hear it was incredibly useful for those seeking to find their true and authentic self, which will hopefully be mirrored in their writing.   

            Further delicacies which may or may not have contained more calories than a Willy Wonker’s were consumed, along with the usual addictive stimulants. The illustrators were showing their wares over at the Showcase, tempting potential publishers with their delicate and daring skills. After ravenous consumption, (honestly why does one feel hungry when doing nothing but sitting and listening) then we all squished into the lift because by this time no one could face the stairs.

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There were lots of toes on show at the next panel, where we learned from Susannah Chambers (Allen and Unwin) Amy Thomas (Penguin Random House) and Davina Bell (Affirm) all about Getting a Foot in the Door. I for one had my bright red there’s-no-place-like-home-Dorothy-slippers at the ready, but sadly there was no invitation for said throwing of shoes. We did learn what NOT TO DO, which surprised me because if anyone sent me a bunch of cupcakes raining unicorn glitter to accompany a submission, I wouldn’t say no, JUST KIDDING!!!!   

Do Not Do This, I repeat, Do Not Do This!

            While the clumsy footed remained baffled as to how to get that even a pinky toe in the door, the midlist authors were over Talking Shop with Jacinta di Mase (Jacinta di Mase Management) Alison Reynolds (seriously awesome author who has too many publications to count and also likes a nice soy flat white) and Alex Adsett (Alex Adsett Publishing Services). They discussed what those international rights really mean and how on earth one interprets a royalty statement.

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Last but not least, there was time for many a burning question, my personal favourite, “Those that like rhyme, MAKE YOURSELF KNOWN?,” of which I’m sad to report that only the delightful Jennifer Bilos and Verity Albert (Hinkler) would fess up, so I suspect we all might have to remain closet rhymers for the near future. Just kidding, there’s always a place for good rhyme, but it has to be spot on in, so keep polishing and honing that meter folks.

            The conference concluded with adult beverages, antipasto and cheese, oh the cheese, do not let me talk about cheese in its glorious bitey-vintageness. (Okay, I have a love affair with cheese moving on)

             This whole day was made possible by the tireless and self-sacrificing efforts of four incredible women, of which I will now name and thank profusely.

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Alison Reynolds: Inventor of Kidlitvic

Coral Vass: Social Media and Hostess Extraordinaire

Jaquelyn Muller: Assessment Guru

Nicky Johnston: Illustrator Marvel