"I feel like everyone should know about Beijing Tai Tai... it's the
Eat Pray Love
for mothers." - author Dee White

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Ask Tania: How Can Unpublished Authors Get Noticed?

Dear Tania, 
Say there's a girl who has the dream of becoming a children's picture book author. She works with dogged determination through rejections, keeps improving her writing and WILL NOT GIVE UP until she's published. She thinks creating a strong online presence will make herself more attractive to publishers but how does she promote herself as a writer before she's actually published? Should she promote herself as a unpublished author, desperate and available or are there more subtle ways to get herself noticed? 

Hi Michelle,

Your question reminds me of the good old 'must have experience' job ads for uni students. How people can gain experience without a chance is beyond me. Similarly, unpublished authors face the giant hurdle of credibility and exposure that can feel extremely isolating, so I do have some tips to help you through this.

I think the first thing to do is to stop pigeonholing yourself as an 'unpublished' author. If you are writing books for children, you are already an author, and it frustrates me when writers feel the need to delineate between being 'published' or 'unpublished'. And never refer to yourself as 'desperate' even when it's tongue-in-cheek. Sit calmly and centered in the knowledge that you have what it takes, that you will be noticed eventually, and simply send that intention out there--in thought and action.

My second tip is to have patience. Becoming published is (usually) a very long and convoluted process. There are thousands upon thousands of emerging authors and only a small handful of books are published each year (by comparison). For example, a large publisher might receive 10,000 unsolicited manuscripts per year but perhaps only twenty (or less) of those go on to become books.

The really important thing to remember is that receiving rejections is not necessarily a marker of your talent. Published and even very successful authors still receive rejections--and the reasons are oftentimes nothing to do with the manuscript's publishability, but rather its fit with the publisher, their current list, if there's space on the list, if they have nothing else like it on their list, if it fits with their current market direction, if they feel it will sell, if it's cost-efficient, etc, etc. Again, stay secure in your self-belief that your manuscripts will 'fit' somewhere, sometime. You just have to keep searching for that fit.

This means you should submit as often as possible. Keep your communications warm, professional, succinct and not overly self-promotional. Be sure to research your target publisher really well, and just keep trying. The more publishers see your name, the more you will 'stick' in their mind.

Creating a strong online presence is absolutely vital, yes, but not in that 'stand on a chair and holler' kind of way. Be consistently present but stay humble, professional and true to yourself. Also be sure to align that presence with your 'brand' and with the type of work you create. If you do this, very soon, people will automatically associate your name with the type of work you do ... if you hear the name Andy Griffiths, what kind of books do you picture? This is author branding.

On your blog or website, talk about your works in process (WIPs). Give sneak peeks of your work and talk about your writing processes--essentially, share what you're doing and give something to your audience. Maybe even talk about your journey--how you're feeling, how vulnerable you feel, what you're submitting, etc. Show you are actively writing and are serious about creating great books. I hate that term 'fake it till you make it' but, in essence, behave as though you are already an author ... because you are.

I would highly recommend social media sites and using them for solid networking, but in a way that allows you to get to know people and form genuine relationships (some authors make the mistake of using them as nothing more than a megaphone platform for their work). If you form relationships, you are much more likely to be noticed, to be talked about positively, and to take advantage of connections, opportunities and even collaborations that could lead to contracts.

Visit schools and daycare centres and community events to read books or even your own work. You could also talk to adults about being an author and your publishing journey.

I also recommend attending book launches, festivals, conferences, and anywhere you can meet industry folk--getting to know them and chatting with them directly (without stalking!). Use your intuition with people and take things slow. Publishers love authors who are easy to work with and don't come across as demanding or complicated.

Apply for emerging author grants. Enter competitions. Publishers often judge these, and this is also a great way to have your work seen. You can also have your work critiqued by publishers at conferences and festivals. This will also get your name out there.

I know that feeling of wanting to be published so badly, it hurts. I still feel it with my new works, and I understand how overwhelming it is. To get my name out there, I would definitely focus on an online presence and networking (and building relationships), backed up with lots of subbing. Getting involved in the industry by supporting others and 'giving back' (as I have done with Kids' Book Review and the 52-Week Illustration Challenge) also gets your name out there.

I have read your work, Michelle, and you really have what it takes. I hope this helps on your publishing journey--it's only a matter of time!


See all the questions so far ...

Thursday, 17 July 2014

SCBWI Sydney Conference 2014 - WRAP UP!

Um, wow.

That is all.

But seriously--wow. My first SCBWI conference was truly overwhelming, exciting, fulfilling and beyond inspiring. What an incredible five-day experience, from my workshop through to a Bruce Whatley masterclass ... my head is still spinning.

I'm still trying to come down to earth and deal with all I've learned, and the connections I've made and the chronic inspiration hammering at the inside of my head, so here is a [very] light rundown on my incredible SCBWI experience.

Please remember this is my personal blog and is a personal account. If you want a formal, official summary with more specific detail--head to the SCBWI blog for more intensive breakdowns of the many, many and varied sessions. Also check out #SCBWIAusNz14 on Facebook and Twitter.

Day One - Saturday 12 July 

My family and I left Canberra just before 6am and arrived at the Australian Society of Authors offices in Ultimo, greeted by the wonderful Laurine Croasdale who helped coordinate the day--a workshop in conjunction with the SCBWI Sydney conference.

Boy, does the ASA do things with style. A stunning set-up, beautifully coordinated, immaculate catering, lots of warmth and a great feel amongst participants.

This was a new workshop for me--only the second time running it--Blogging for Authors and Illustrators--and it was such a pleasure to present it to a group of such talented, well-established creators, from illustrators to authors, editors, nutritionists, broadcasters and chair-lovers (Colin!). The sense of humour and warmth was so well-appreciated and the day was so enriched by the group's full participation.

It was also glorious to finally meet several of my very special virtual friends. Firstly, from the 52-Week Illustration Challenge - Natalie Daniel (far right, who has become Challenge admin) and Leonie Cheetham (second from left, who recently became one of my interns) - both the most gorgeous people who brought much to the day. Also finally met the wonderful Yvonne Mes (second from right) and Rebecca Sheraton (taking photo, alas!) both talented author/illustrators. Just such a joy to connect with them and to have them add invaluably to the workshop.

A surprise delegate was Ursula Kolbe, educator, creator, author of Children's Imagination, who turned up unannounced, much to my delight. Ursula featured my daughter in the aforementioned book, and we had a wonderful time getting to know each other.

I hope to be running more ASA workshops next year, so watch my EVENTS page for newbies.

That afternoon, we checked into the gorgeous Hughenden Hotel in Woollhara, owned by SCBWI Aus East/NZ Regional Advisor, author and goddess Susanne Gervay, and home to the SCBWI Sydney 2014 Conference.

Day Two - Sunday 13 July

We started the day with a lovely slow morning wandering Woollhara with the family (me and my daughter Ella, left, with the Woollhara Hotel in the background--this is where many of us hung out during the conference!).

I then had my publisher critique session for one of my picture books--it was so fantastic and I just loved all the editor had to say. The sessions were so popular, they stretched over several days and the feedback and responses people were receiving was so fabulous.

Susanne Gervay with Frané Lessac

The conference proper began at 3pm with the illustrious Susanne Gervay introducing Co-Chair of the International Board Chis Cheng, the SCBWI regional advisors and illustrator coordinators, and the roving reporter team, headed by talented friend Sheryl Gwyther. We also heard from seriously hands-on Conference organisers Frané Lessac and Deb Abela.

Deb Abela, Susanne Gervay, Frané Lessac

 Clockwise from top left, Sheryl Gwyther ARA Queensland, Tracey Hawkins ARA ACT, Chris Cheng Co Chair Int Board, illustrator coordinators Marjorie Crosby-Fairall (assistant), Sarah Davis and James Foley

We then heard from Wendy Rapee from Room to Read--who talked of the amazing work the organisation is doing in bringing books to children across Asia and Africa, with a goal to developing literacy skills and a habit of reading among primary school children.

Room to Read also supports girls to complete secondary school with the life skills they’ll need to succeed in school and beyond.

Shirin Bridges, Niki Horin, Karen Tayleur, Lisa Berryman

The next session was just brilliant--a Q&A In-Conversation with publishers and editors - Niki Horin (Hardie Grant Egmont), Lisa Berryman (HarperCollins), Shirin Bridges (Goosebottom Books), Maryann Ballantyne (Black Dog Books) and Karen Tayleur (The Five Mile Press). This was an incredibly insightful peek into what publishers are looking for and how their submissions processes work (wishing you came along now, aren't you??).

See the SCWBI blog for a more complete rundown.

Book launches are always a heck of a lot of fun and we were treated to four beautiful new books with some entertaining presentations. First up was Meredith Costain's book The Cuddliest Hug, a gorgeous rhyming text with heartwarming illustrations (see my KBR review here).

Clockwise from top left, Mo Johnson and Meredith Costain in front of her book cover. Scott Chambers and his fabulous onomatopoeic cards. James Foley and Tracey Hawkins. Renae Gibson, Mo Johnson, Tracey Hawkins.

Meredith's crew did a sweet and funny puppet show to accompany the book's text, that elicited plenty of giggles. So lovely we can still enjoy these kinds of shows so very much, even as adults!

Next up was Gabi Wang's launch for her next Our Australian Girl book - Pearlie the Spy. You can see more on the Our Australian Girl books on KBR here. Unfortunately, Frané Lessac, who was due to launch the book, went missing and a mysterious undercover agent showed in her stead. I must admit it was a let down (not!).

Clockwise from top left, Pamela Rushby, Mysterious Stranger, Gabi Wang. Mysterious Stranger, Gabi Wang. Gabi Wang. Pamela Rushby, Marjorie Crosby-Fairall, Gabi Wang.

Next up was debut author Victoria Lane and illustrator Kayleen West (another 52-Week Illustration Challenge member!) with their gorgeous new book Celia and Nonna. It was just so heartwarming to hear both Victoria and Kayleen speak of their journey with this book, the intense passion behind it, and to experience a book reading by Corinne Fenton.

Clockwise from top left, Corrine Fenton. Victoria Lane and Corrine Fenton. Kayleen West.
Corrine Fenton and Victoria Lane.

Our last book launch for the night was by the amazing Pamela Rushby, with her new book The Ratcatcher's Daughter. Launched by Lisa Berryman of HarperCollins, it was truly fascinating to hear Pamela talk about the research behind this historical fiction novel.

Lisa Berryman, left. Pam Rushby, right.

To end the evening, some delegates attended an informal chat with Kate Cutherbert, Managing Director of ESCAPE Publishing, an imprint of Harlequin which focuses on YA Digital Romance.

Then it was down to the local Woollhara Hotel for networking and catching up with treasured people! It was such a pleasure to finally meet and spend time with SCBWI Singapore member, Sarah Mounsey, too. We have some incredible people in this industry.

Sheryl Gwyther, Christina Booth, Dimity Powell, Me, Sarah Mounsey

Some other pictorial highlights of the day ...

Colleagues and dear friends Christina Booth and Dimity Powell + me

My dear friend and fellow Tassie girl, the multi-talented Christina Booth - our National Library Book, This is Captain Cook, is due out March 2015. This girl fills my soul.

Christina Booth and Dimity Powell - Dimity is truly one of the most generous and proactive authors in the industry (and she's also just gorgeous).

Just some of the 'wow' artwork in the Hughenden hallway.

Day Three - Monday 14 July

The day started bright and early with a session run by Connie Hsu, Commissioning Editor for Macmillan US imprint Roaring Brook Press (one of my favourite publishers ever). Connie took us inside US Publishing and it was a really enlightening experience. You can read more on the SCBWI blog.

Next was my session with the amazing Kathryn Otoshi - an award-winning US author, illustrator and publisher, who creates the most gorgeous books. We both presented on our respective Getting into the Market journeys--and although we collaborated minimally on our prezis, we were both astonished how utterly parallel they were in so many ways. We also did lots and lots of laughing.

Katrina Germain - emcee extraordinaire

Being introduced by Katrina and starting my talk (above). Laughing during our Q+A with Kathryn (below).

Our top 10 Getting into the Market tips...

It was the most wonderful, enlightening experience and it was so fantastic to receive such positive support and feedback, especially when coming from people who find themselves in the vulnerable position of entering the market. I had been extremely nervous about my prezi but the gorgeous and meticulous Katrina Germein (emcee) made it all a breeze, and both Kathryn and the audience were a joy to work with. Gosh, it's good to laugh lots during presentations!

Next was morning tea and lots of happy networking and catching-up and meeting and re-meeting.

with dear friend Sheryl Gwyther

acting the ninny
There was also the opportunity to view the Illustrator Showcase which really blew everyone's socks off. I only managed to see a small portion of portfolios--it was absolutely packed--and the atmosphere was electric. Visiting publishers and editors had spent the morning perusing the collection and you could just sense the whiff of soon-to-be-book-contracts in the air.

I did manage to view quite a few portfolios by 52-Week Illustration Challenge members, and that was quite the thrill, including some of the pages from my upcoming picture book with Jess Racklyeft - Smile Cry. So happy-making!

On the way out, I managed to catch up with the beautiful Margaret Hamilton for a lovely and long overdue chat. Margaret and I share a particular obsession with picture books.

Next on the conference agenda was Melina Marchetta with Penguin publisher Laura Harris on Jellico Road: From Novel to Film Adaptation. More on the SCBWI Blog. This was following by lunch and more networking!

The afternoon kicked off with a fascinating session cum book launch for The Croc and the Platypus, written by the delightful Jackie Hosking and Marjorie Crosby-Fairall, published by Walker Books Australia.

This inspired panel-style session included, from right to left, Publishing Manager Sue Whiting, author Jackie Hosking, editor Mary Verney, illustrator Marjorie Crosby-Fairall, art director Donna Rawlings and acting marketing manager Simon Panagaris.

The panel took us through the complete publishing journey of The Croc and the Platypus, from concept to marketing campaign, and the audience members even had the chance to win a copy of the book, with adorable accompanying croc plush.

The Art of Pitching to Publishers was next, and this was one of the conference highlights to me (more on the SCBWI Blog). Eight very brave souls took centre stage to read an excerpt and pitch their WIP at some huge industry publishers -  from left to right, Zoe Walton and Holly Toohey (Random House), Niki Horin (Hardie Grant Egmont), Claire Hallifax (Scholastic) and Lisa Berryman (HarperCollins), emceed by Deb Abela.

Brave souls included (clockwise from top left) Kaye Baillie, Sheryl Gwyther, Tracey Hawkins and Mo Johnson. Everyone just LOVED hearing their incredible works, and the response from publishers was so fantastic (not surprised!) with several people reporting requests, by publishers, to see the full manuscript. So exciting!!

Frané Lessac was up next, introducing us to a super enlightening session on Getting into the International Market. Speakers were, from left, Connie Hsu from Roaring Brook Press, Frances Plumpton--NZ agent and Nerilee Weir, International Rights manager for Random House Australia. This was a truly fascination session and you can read more on this panel on the SCBWI Blog.

To round out the day, we had another set of fantabulous book launches. First was Peter Taylor with his gorgeous new book (illustrated by Nina Rycroft) - Once a Creepy Crocodile (The Five Mile Press). The crowd just love singing along to the tune of Waltzing Matilda.

Above left, Peter Taylor. Above right, Gabriel Evans. Below, Claire Hallifax of Scholastic, and Wendy Binks.

Next was Gabriel Evans with his gorgeous new book from his series - The New Pet (The Five Mile Press).

Lastly, we met Wendy Binks who has published an adorable book - 10 Clumsy Emus - for Scholastic's '10' series of fun, rhyming books.

What an incredible day of intensive, fulfilling experiences. Everyone disbanded for a short while to rest and refresh, then it was back to the marquee for a wonderful dinner and dancing to the sensational tunes of the Beatnickers - James Foley on vocals, Meredith Costain on vocals and keyboard, Scott Chambers on guitar and Mark Greenwood on drums.

Deb Abela and Susanne grooving to 500 Miles

Deb Abela was also responsible for the sensational lyrics (to the tune of 500 Miles) for Susanne Gervay, which everyone sung along to. It was such a hoot.

Dinner was delicious and it was so nice to catch up with some gorgeous people including KBR Award Winner 2013 and fellow EK Books author/illustrator Belinda Landsberry, Katrina Germein and Jesse Blackadder who read my latest book Tottie and Dot! (out Sept).

with Belinda Landsberry

with Katrina Germein

Jesse Blackadder reading MY book!

ACT SCBWI members! Tracey Hawkins, me, Beth Amos

A wonderful end to the evening was watching Susie Gervay be plied with all manner of stunning gifts as a small thank you for all the incredible hard work she does for SCBWI and the Sydney conference. She even received an original artwork from The Croc and the Platypus, from illustrator Marjorie Crosby-Fairall. She was a little overcome! But probably the finest moment was her standing ovation--so well-deserved.

Day Four - Tuesday 15 July

Tuesday dawned bright and early with brekkie with friends.

Kayleen West, Coral Vass, Nicky Johnston, me, Christina Booth, Aura Parker - all 52-Week Illustration Challenge members!

Then it was a wonderful session emceed by Tracey Hawkins, from the inimitable Louise Park, who is the brainchild behind Paddlepop Press. Her association with Susannah McFarlane has seen incredible success (via their publishing company Pop & Fizz) in the book market, and the audience delighted in her warm, funny and informative session on Moving 250K Books in 6 Months (see more on the SCBWI Blog).

Tracey Hawkins and Louise Park

Going to the Common Core USA was next with US Professor Ernie Bond--I just loved this eye-opening, passionate session which was centered on the US school curriculum. Ernie had brought 10 students along with him, and he also made them part of the session. Watch the SCBWI Blog for a post on this.

Caz Goodwin and Ernie Bond

Morning tea was followed by Up Close and Personal with Bruce Whatley--an absolute thrill to hear him talk about his publishing journey. More on the SCBWI Blog.

Rebecca Sheraton, Lisa Berryman, Bruce Whatley

Tips on Grants and Organisations after lunch was absolutely priceless for delegates. We heard from Emma Heyde of The School Magazine, Libby Gleeson, representing the Australian Society of Authors, Jill Eddington from the Australia Council, Zoe Rodriguez from CAL and Chris Cheng of SCBWI. Keep an eye on the SCBWI Blog for a post on this - brilliant stuff. The passion and energy and dedication of all of these people, is part of what makes being an Australian creator so rewarding.

Libby Gleeson and Chris Cheng

Publishers Share the Best-Kept Stories was next and I have to tell you there was some serious undies-wetting during this fabulous session. We heard some very funny stories from publishers Zoe Walton, Maryann Ballantyne and Sue Whiting, and this was followed by a completely hilarious 'pitch' session by Susanne Gervay and Frané Lessac.

Tracey Hawkins, Frané Lessac, Zoe Walton, Maryann Ballantyne, Sue Whiting, Susanne Gervay

Their pitches included picture books entitled Let's Play with Rolf (you can imagine) and The Budgie Smuggler featuring our enormously-endearing current prime minister (think speedos and lift-the-flap--or scratch-and-sniff or pop-up, whatever your preference, and lots of well-placed glitter). It was truly hysterical--loved every minute of it, and what a great way to almost officially end the conference.

But wait--there's more. An illustrator duel (or 'duet') between Bruce Whatley and Stephen Axelsen--with funds raised from at live auction going to Room to Read. I can't even express how surreal it was to see these two masters at work. They produce two images each, and bidding was truly ferocious (and funny, with Susie Gervay at the helm). The audience managed to raise (via bids and donations) $1400--all of which goes to Room to Read and will fund 1,400 books. Fabulous stuff. More on the SCBWI Blog.

Marjorie Crosby-Fairall, Bruce, Stephen, James Foley going through their drawing 'themes'

all systems go - they were very quiet!

round one down

Round two illos, above, Stephen on left, Bruce on right. Stephen's pickle image was adored by the crowd and sparked a bidding war that went over $400. Bruce's 'boaring' bull, right, peaked at $550 but only after signing it twice - once with his right hand and once with his left.

Susie Gervay whoops up the bidding

It was truly sad to end this incredible SCBWI conference experience but people had planes to catch and needed time to recuperate after a really intense few days. We all headed off, prepping ourselves for a huge day of masterclasses.

Day Five - Wednesday 16 July

Dimity Powell, Christina Booth, me, Nicky Johnston

Another fabulous breakfast with friends and colleagues was followed by three hours of career bliss. Wedged between friends Nicky Johnston and Christina Booth, I sat immersed in happy at a Crafting the Picture Book workshop.

We drew, we talked, we shared, we peeked at Bruce's works in progress and past works, we picked his brains, chatted, coffeed, laughed and drank in every precious drop.

delegates entranced

Other conference participants enjoyed masterclasses with Connie Hsu and Meredith Costain. At midday, it was all over and time to go. I said quick goodbyes and dashed out the door, jumped in the car with the family and tried not to burst into tears.

What an amazing five days. The trip home to Canberra simply evaporated--it was spent reliving, reminiscing, smiling to myself and thanking the heavens for this incredibly tight, supportive, proactive, inclusive children's book industry, and this beautiful, priceless group we call SCBWI.

Thank you to Susanne Gervay, Deb Abela, Frané Lessac, the regional advisors, the presenters, delegates and the fabulous Hughenden staff for making this conference the most awe-inspiring experience. I am simply bursting with creativity and inspiration--must go harness it!

Again, don't forget to check out the SCBWI blog for heaps heaps more reportage, all thanks to the Roving Reporter Team!

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