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The inside word from Penguin, Random and Panterra

Saturday was the highlight of the Southerland Shire Writers calendar with the Writers Unleashed Festival providing the opportunity to hear from editors from various publishing houses. The event concluded with the Editor panel where we heard from:

  • Heather Curdie, Children’s at Penguin.
  • Beverley Cousins Adult Fiction Random House.
  • Zoe Walton, Children’s at Random House, and
  • James Read YA and Adult, Pantera Press.

Heather highlighted her tips and recommendations for manuscript submissions. She said that first and foremost she comes to a manuscript as a reader, looking to be engaged and entertained. She follows no firm rules and tries to clear her mind of preconceived ideas. But what it must have is;

  • Quality writing
  • A great voice (must be distinctive and original)
  • Great characterisation (characters must come to life on the page)
  • Compelling plot
  • Engaging first few chapters (for children’s books this is so important, they won’t persevere if they are not pulled into the story in the first couple of chapters)
  • A really satisfying conclusion

She’s currently looking for: Contemporary YA with a strong male protagonist & High quality stand alone Junior Fiction, that’s fun and intelligent.

Beverley spoke about what makes a manuscript publishable.

Things that are taken into consideration when looking at a manuscript they like;

  • Balance of the list – do they need more or less historical fiction at that time, do they already have too many rural fiction pieces on the list etc.
  • Profit potential – is the book commercially viable
  • Publishability of the book.

It is a difficult balance because each book is a work of art, but it needs to make a profit. So there is no easy answer.

She looks for Quality;

  • Well written
  • Compelling story
  • Ability to reach a wide audience

For commercial fiction, here is her advice:

  • Plot is key
  • They like a novel that promotes debate
  • The author has a clear idea of what the novel is about and it is something that a large number of people would want to read about.
  • Don’t go overboard describing everything you have researched.
  • Don’t overload with stage management.
  • Don’t over explain characters emotions.
  • Everything on the page should have a reason for being there and drive the story forward.
  • Make sure it is well edited before submitting.

Zoe used examples of books that they have recently published to highlight what they look for.

Starting with her best selling Rangers Apprentice series. She noted that whilst it was not an original concept John brought a really great sense of humour to his writing which kids love. He uses fantasy without magic which is unusual and makes his characters have to work hard for their success.

Next she looked at Alice Miranda. She said it is Jacqueline that makes these books special, she really understands and engages with her fans, and she works really hard for her books.

Lulu Bell was next, of Belinda she said that she really knows her market and knows what appeals to her readers. She is a great example of write what you know. Belinda’s dad is a vet and so is Lulu Bell’s in her stories.

Samuri verses Ninja, Here the title says it all. It is a high concept book with wide appeal.

Moving on to her Young Adult books she said that what makes a story stand out from the crowd is an original voice.

Are You Seeing Me? She couldn’t stop thinking about the characters in the story after she’d read it, which compelled her to acquire it.

 

James said that Pantera are a boutique press and they like to take on debut authors and nurture them, their writing and their careers. They are VERY unique in the publishing industry in that they pride themselves on a fast turnaround time. Getting back to authors within 3 weeks. Yes 3 weeks!!!! But you do need to follow their submission guidelines very closely.

They consider all types of fiction from Young Adult upwards and they are currently looking for commercial womans fiction. Ideally the next The Devil Wears Prada. Their submission guidelines are on their website https://www.panterapress.com.au/submit-your-manuscript

 

 

 

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Lothian looking for Junior Fiction

It is always good to get an insiders view on the publishing industry and this morning was no exception, with the delightful Suzanne O’Sullivan from Lothian sharing her thoughts at the NSW Writers’ Centre, First Friday Club.

Suzanne confirmed that with blockbuster titles from the likes of John Green helping the market along, children’s book sales continue to be very healthy. And the area of the children’s publishing market that Lothian are keen to see more strong submissions in, is Junior Fiction. Series books for 6-9 year olds, with an approximate word count of 15,000-20,00 words. Suzanne is also always on the look out for great picture books.

However getting your work in front of Suzanne is no mean feat, as she only accepts agented submissions, or submissions following on from consultations at conferences or literary speed dating.

But if you are lucky enough to make it into her pile of submitted manuscripts, these are her tips for how to stand out:

  • Have a really clear sense of the market, “this book fits into this trend,” or “this book fills this gap,” (but be careful that the gap really is a gap in the market and not a gap in your knowledge of the market!)
  • Really hone your writing. Make sure it is fully workshopped and edited before you send it.
  • Let your writing be the star, regardless of your other successes the writing needs to speak for itself.

And what themes is she looking for?

  • Humour, she loves a story that makes her laugh, but the humour must be supported by a good story with heart.
  • Friendship, friendship themes are always very popular in junior fiction.
  • Adventure based stories.

So according to Suzanne, what can writers be doing to help them achieve publication?

  • Be active on social media.
  • Be active in writers groups and attending conferences etc
  • Show a willingness to get out there and promote yourself.

Suzanne also mentioned a preference for authors who have a body of work targeting one area of the children’s market, so that they can build a strong readership and utilise this readership for the authors other books.

And there is a small glimmer of hope if you are not lined up to attend a conference or event where Suzanne is meeting writers- Lothian are currently thinking about opening up submissions for one genre at a time, probably early next year, so make sure you follow Suzanne on Twitter @Suzanne_OS and keep your eye on the Hachette website http://www.hachettechildrens.com.au

Happy writing everyone!

 

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The Next Generation of Authors

As I sat at my computer today reading the work of the Year Five and Year Six children that were selected for the Writing Masterclass at my local Public School last week I was blown away. Some of these kids have an astounding amount of talent. In some of the stories I read (all capped at a 600 word limit and with the guidelines of being based around a 10-12 year old protagonist who suddenly finds themselves in another country) I found myself swept away by brilliantly crafted images, strong story lines and authentic dialogue.

It is a wonderful experience to see the plot lines and characters that are oozing from our next generation of authors. In some it is possible to see influence of currently popular middle grade books, and in some the influence of current affairs and the media. Some follow the traditional spy book format and others find something that feels new and unchartered. In each case there was a glimpse of something special and it was a privilege to work with such gifted children.

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The beginning of the Christmas festivities already!?

We had a wonderful evening at the Children’s Book Council of Australia, Northern Sub Branch Christmas Dinner last night. It was great to listen to the incredibly talented Peter Carnarvas as he told us about his writing journey. He also played a couple of little songs on his ukulele and drew a quick picture of his George character from Oliver and George, which then went into the silent auction. So much talent. Peter then went on to signing books that people had bought that evening, and I wondered if he might be suffering from an acute bout  of signusitis today after signing so many? (sorry! I blame my dad for my silly sense of humour) I for one brought home six signed books! And he drew a little picture in each one – I love it when author/illustrators do that!

Peter Carnarvas

We also heard from Paul McDonald of The Children’s Bookshop, Beecroft. He talked about the age of visual literacy in which we find ourselves. He commented that Jessica’s Box by Peter Carnarvas is a great example of this. Schools are also pushing for interactive books and he recommended ‘Mix it up,’ by Herve Tullet, who also wrote ‘Press Here,’ both fantastic books for young children. For middle grade readers he recommended ‘Awful Auntie,’ by David Walliams, it’s apparently hilarious. And his suggested read for adult book clubs was ‘We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves,’ It has a major twist around page 70 and from there the book takes off and you can’t help but want to talk about it. It will be my recommendation to my book club this month!

Wendy Blaxland also launched her beautiful book, The Christmas Rose by Walker Books. She also spoke passionately about Marion Street Theatre for Young People, which has been thrown a lifeline by council, but still needs much public support to ensure it is an ongoing resource for the community. My stepson Jack participates in the weekly class for children with an intellectual disability and he absolutely loves it. We also love the opportunity to see him perform. I still smile when I think back to last years performance at the Concourse Theatre Chatswood, when Jack took about two minutes to walk to the back of the stage to hang a pretend picture, because he needed a real wall for his pretend picture – a beautiful moment J

It was a great night. It was lovely to catch up with so many warm, generous and gifted friends, and great to celebrate everyone’s successes for the year. But I still can’t believe we’re celebrating Christmas at the beginning of November!

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An Amazing two weeks

On Monday 16th September I attended the Sydney SCBWI meeting. It was a fantastic evening and the passionate and successful children’s author Aleesah Darlison, spoke about the business of writing and marketing yourself as a children’s author. She shared her experience of how to secure book reviews, press opportunities and school visits, and talked about defining your own personal brand as an author.

On Wednesday 18th September I went along to the CBCA Northern Sydney Sub-branch AGM and Meeting. Here Zoe Bechara, Children’s Publicity Officer at Random House presented a talk on “A Publicist’s View.” Zoe was so engaging and gave a great insiders view into the role of the publicist in promoting and driving sales for children’s books.

And finally, on Tuesday 24th September the amazing Lisa Berryman, Associate Publisher – Children’s Books, Harper Collins came to our writers’ group to critique our work and provide an insight into the world of Children’s publishing for Harper Collins. Lisa gave great insight into how she selects books for her list and the most common problems she encounters in people’s writing. Needless to say I couldn’t sleep a wink last night, I think the whole group were buzzing after such an enjoyable and encouraging critique session from such a successful professional. And I was thrilled with her feedback on my story, Our Trip to the Zoo, which she declared I should submit, happy dance, but not to her, sad dance, but she gave some great suggestions of where to send it, happy dance, so that will be my mission over the next few weeks.

All in all it has been a fantastic and educational two weeks. I am pumped and ready to put all of this newly acquired knowledge into action.

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My Middle Grade Novel is finished!!…

My Middle Grade Novel is finished!!…
Yey, what an exciting ride that was, it’s 37,000 words and I’m thrilled at how it has come together. Now for the hard part, revising, revising and revising again. I have a lot of work to do on the dialogue, don’t be surprised if you find me out and about eaves dropping on teenagers conversations, I need to brush up on my teenagers lingo. (they probably don’t say lingo anymore!) You may also find me watching Home and Away and Neighbours (What??!!) and reading lots of Middle Grade books, it’s so much fun stepping back into the world of teens again.