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.
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
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.