On Saturday the 19th of May, after a sleepless night for many, too keyed up, nervous, freaking out, or just uncomfortable in a hotel room, two hundred and thirty emerging, aspiring, and established, authors and illustrators descended on Melbourne Town Hall for the annual KidLitVic—Meet the Publishers Conference.
For me, it was my third year and I felt like an old hand trying to calm the nerves of those there for the first time and letting them know what to expect. I was excited to be able to catch up with many of the authors I’d interviewed for my blog over the past year, as well as speak to many I had ‘met’ online, and to make new friends. However, for a bunch of predominantly introverts, being in a room full of mainly strangers should have been daunting (it was initially), and silent (it was not).
As we filed in the chatter began and it was hard to be heard above the din that arose from Melbourne Town Hall. Nerves fell away as people recognised one another from social media and started to talk. As one author said to me, ‘I’ve never felt like I quite fit in anywhere. Here I’ve found my people!’ A sentiment I’m sure which is echoed by many.
Leigh Hobbs inspired and encouraged us with his opening address as he shared his own journey to be published. ‘In this industry you need talent, luck, and perseverance. I had some talent, some luck, and plenty of pigheadedness.’
Leigh went on to say, ‘How do you know you are a writer and/or illustrator? The need and urge to paint/draw/write is always there. You should nurture and protect what you do, and it should come first.’
The rest of the day went by in a blur. I know I’m not alone in saying there was a huge amount of information packed into the day which we’re still trying to sort out and get our head around. These came from the panels, and the workshops, as well as the Q & A at the end. So many of our questions were answered. However, there was the, ‘It depends,’ quite a lot.
Many of us took the opportunity to have a manuscript or portfolio assessment by a chosen publisher or agent. I suppose this was to answer the question, ‘Do I have any talent?’ I didn’t think I was nervous until suddenly while waiting for my assessment time, my mouth dried up completely and my tongue felt glued to the roof of my mouth. I wondered if I’d be able to even speak. Taking a deep breath and counting to ten slowly, I managed to get myself together. This was just in time to have a relaxing conversation for the next fifteen minutes with my chosen agent.
I’m sure others will have a lot to say about the content shared throughout the day. For me, these are my key takeaways:
1) As Leigh said, we need perseverance and pigheadedness to stay in this industry. One of the best ways to be able to persevere is to create a community of likeminded people around you. These are people who will support, encourage, and be honest with you. We need to develop our talent, put ourselves out there, and be prepared to be in it for the long haul. And why would we do this? Because we can’t not write/paint/or draw. If you have a story you believe in, hold on to it and keep submitting. It will find a home somewhere.
2) You are not alone. The Australian KidLit industry is competitive, yes. However, more than this, it is supportive and encouraging. The people I’ve met over the past four years have been proven this to me. I belong to a few Facebook groups, and the KidLit ones are by far the most helpful and inspiring. There is no reason to hide in your cave writing or drawing/painting by yourself wondering if this is what you should be doing.
Going to conferences like KidLitVic—Meet the Publishers is where you find ‘your people,’ and it is where you have opportunities available to you, you would never have otherwise (luck); opportunities to find out about professional development (develop talent), hints and tips, industry insider news, and a day to immerse yourself in the publishing industry and see if this is what you really want to do (perseverance). These are things you can put into place, so you will be able to persevere, as well as nourish and protect what you do.
I applaud the organisers of KidLitVic, Coral Vass, Jaquelyn Muller, Alison Reynolds and Nicky Johnston for changing things, mixing things up, and making this year’s conference bigger and better than ever.