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An important date in the calendar for authors and illustrators, published and unpublished alike, KidLitVic is an opportunity to learn the ‘industry need-to-knows’ and the ‘dos and don’ts’ of children’s publishing.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