Celebration, Connection and Corporate Espionage at KidLitVic Meet the Publishers 2019

As I reflect on the past four years of attending KidLitVic Meet the Publishers Conferences (KLV) I have no doubt that my journey from published author of fiction and non-fiction for adults, to a writer of children’s literature, has been empowered by this premier annual event in the Australian Children’s/YA Literary Calendar.

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KLV organisers, L to R, Sarah Reynolds, Nicky Johnston and Alison Reynolds.

Now, I’m not just being a typical Melburnian when I use the term ‘premier’ (as I know we do have a tendency to err… spruik our ‘bigness’ and ‘bestness’). But the buzz at this year’s KLV was palpable. And I spoke to lots of local and interstate publishers and delegates during the course of the day, who all echoed the same sentiments: that the superior level of organisation and conference content made this year’s KLV an undeniable and huge success.

Officially, KLV is the brainchild of Melbourne’s Alison Reynolds – a highly respected and accomplished writer, presenter and editor within the children’s book industry – a legitimate mover and shaker. How she manages to coordinate such a professional, yet warm and personable conference, with constantly evolving content and only three other team members to assist her – the inimitable duo of Coral Vass and Nicky Johnston from the very beginning, and the newly joined arts events professional Sarah Reynolds – is worthy of high praise indeed.

It’s not easy to keep content fresh in an annual conference of this kind, and to likewise appease the interests of both novice and seasoned children’s/YA literature creatives.

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KLV organiser Coral Vass with Paul Collins of Ford Street Publishing, taking questions from the floor during Open Question Time

I’ve enjoyed seeing the KLV program grow and evolve over the past four years, to include more Masterclasses for authors and illustrators (presenting up-to-date industry information applicable to portfolio and manuscript development, presentation and submission); more publisher Assessments and Pitches; more Panels exploring the publishing process, including agents; ever more polished and engaging Panel Facilitators with obvious industry experience (this year competently handled by Katrina McKelvey and Davina Bell); bigger Illustrator Showcases; an exciting Open Question Time; and for the first time this year a Quiet Room, as well as Up Close & Personal small group meetings with publishers – incredibly invaluable experiences.

I also noticed significantly more blokes amongst the delegates this year, as well as a wider age-range compared to previous years. All healthy signs of an increasingly diverse and growing children’s/YA book industry. And a cause for much celebration.

The venue move from the State Library of Victoria to the Melbourne Town Hall occurred last year, to accommodate the ballooning number of delegates. (Can you believe KLV had a wait list of 100 this year?) I really liked how the room allocations and layouts were re-jigged this year – it all seemed to flow perfectlyMy only niggle was the clunky IT in the booking process (gah – we only ever talk about IT when it misbehaves) which I’m sure will be looked at closely before the start-of-play next year. 

A publisher I had a manuscript assessment with this year asked me if this was my first time attending KLV, and appeared quite surprised when I said that it was in fact my fourth. Clearly intrigued, she asked me, ‘Why?’. The first thought that came to my mind was the desire to connect – with like-minded people who were also stepping away from their solitary creator’s caves; and with the industry as a whole. Finding my tribe. Something she acknowledged that she also very much liked about KLV.

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Camaraderie and Connection at KLV 2019 – me (RHS pink poncho) with part of our flock of duckies from The Duck Pond (an online community of kidlit creatives, founded by children’s author Jen Storer). There were even more duckies waddling around….but getting everyone into one place at morning tea time was like herding…well…ducks!

I’ve personally enjoyed making many friends with writers and illustrators at KLV, who I’ve also gone on to connect with at SCBWI, in online kidlit groups (a big shout out to my fellow Duckies in The Duck Pond and Scribblers), and also a critique group.

My own KLV journey has gradually percolated from spending the first two years listening, learning, digesting and connecting – by attending Panels and Masterclasses. Who knew email signatures and branding were so important to a children’s writer? (Thank you Lisa Berryman, of Harper Collins). I then continued to write, re-write, submit, re-submit, and keep connecting with my SCBWI and kidlit community on social media, and in real-life (gasp), as well as entering creative writing competitions (and getting short-listed). Much of this was done thanks to advice received directly from the mouths of publishing professionals at KLV.

Eventually, I signed up to some publisher assessments at KLV last year and this year, and have received wonderful verbal and written feedback via professionally marked-up manuscripts. Generic rejection letters/emails from publishers just don’t give you the feedback on which to grow and develop your craft. So these documents and the fifteen minutes we get to discuss them at KLV assessments are absolutely worth their weight in gold. And it also made me realise just how much I missed the editing process (which I really enjoyed during the publication of my novel). It’s an absolute privilege to have an editor dive deep into your work, and know and understand it as intimately as you do. Likewise, to hover above it, and notice subtle or glaring holes in the rhythm, pace and plot – which is so easy to miss when you are so close to it. To this day, ten years post-publication of my novel with Bloomsbury, I’m still very good friends with my divine editor.

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Children’s author and founder of The Duck Pond and Scribbles online kidlit community, Jen Storer with Lisa Berryman of Harper Collins (photo credit: Maria Parenti-Baldey)

That special bond between the writer and editor/publisher was on full display during the Panel Discussion: ‘The Inside Story’, when Davina Bell interviewed acclaimed children’s author Jen Storer and her publisher, Lisa Berryman, of Harper Collins. I think every delegate was genuinely lulled into reverential silence by the hardworking ‘Dream Team’ up on the stage, giving us so much to aspire to, as they explained the detailed process involved in creating the best possible body of work. It was evident just how much they loved the characters, the words on the page, the illustrations, the design and of course the sharing of fan letters sent in by readers.

But most importantly, Jen and Lisa credited the success of their long-term partnership to a deeply invested foundation of trust, respect and boundaries.

I also very much enjoyed the Panel Discussion: ‘Find Your Perfect Match: From Big Publishers to Small Indie Houses’, again facilitated by Davina, where three publishers of small (Scribble), medium (Text) and large (Hachette) publishing houses gave an incredibly frank insight into their inner workings during the acquisition, and nuts-and-bolts phases of bringing a book to market. I was really struck by the candour of the publishers Miriam Rosenbloom (Scribble), Jane Pearson (Text) and Suzanne O’Sullivan (Hachette). I felt that several times they could have easily held back and been more commercially cautious in their answers, but actively chose to share information. Leading a delighted Davina (who works for Affirm Press) whispering into her microphone that she felt like she was engaging in corporate espionage – much to the delight of us delegates. Nevertheless, irrespective of size, budgets, staffing and resources, all three publishers were fuelled by a love, passion and excitement for children’s/YA books.

Their universal advice to prospective authors and illustrators was to really spend time researching the types of books which are similar to yours, and find the right publishing ‘fit’ when you are submitting. And for writers, it’s your ‘voice’ that will get you across the line for the editors every time. As to whether that will be enough to equally enchant the sales and marketing team, is another proposition entirely.

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Davina Bell with Jane Pearson (Text), Miriam Rosenbloom (Scribble) and Suzanne O’Sullivan (Hachette) on the Panel ‘Finding Your Perfect Match – From Big Publishers to Small Indie Houses’ By the way, a completely random observation…..if Davina Bell should ever decide to add ‘TV interviewer’ to her impressive CV of writer, editor and marriage celebrant, I think Andrew Denton might just quake in his boots!

It’s clear that KLV 2019 more than comfortably achieved its official mission statement, “to connect children’s literary creators with Australia’s leading children’s book publishers, as well as seeking to empower authors and illustrators with the tools to manage their career and develop professional relationships.” The genuine level of collegiate sharing amongst the delegates and publishers was inspiring, and can surely only result in the Australian children’s/YA book industry becoming stronger and smarter and a producer of more outstanding works. 

As a creator and writer of stories, I walked away from KLV 2019 nourished and energised, both professionally and personally. I will now try to do exactly what the brilliant Keynote Speaker, and champion of the power of stories, Michelle Nye (Teacher Librarian/YABBA coordinator), urged us all to do: to go away and think, dream, wonder and question; to create stories that can be shared, told and re-imagined for years to come; stories that will entertain and inspire, and help connect us to our inner selves, our surroundings and our world, by stretching our minds. 

Oh, and I will also definitely take-up the very kind offer of the KLV organisers to send in a bonus query letter to the publisher of my choice, from the list on their website, on Monday 3rd June. I’m really excited to see that a publisher I missed out on booking is on that list. Ahh…another great opportunity from the KLV conference that in every sense is on our side, urging us onwards and upwards, to create fabulous books in the name of Australian children’s/YA literature.

Ardoch School Readiness Book Drive

 

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Bayside Author - Emma Bowd
Author, Emma Bowd

I’m thrilled and honoured to be the Ambassador for education charity Ardoch Youth Foundation’s School Readiness Book Drive, which is in full swing this month of October! To read more about my passion for supporting early childhood literacy campaigns like this, please click here.

Ardoch has pledged to support 1,000 children from local disadvantaged communities who are starting school in 2017 by providing them with School Readiness Packs. Each pack contains 5 books and 5 activities to enhance their fine motor skills.

This means we need to source 5,000 children’s books for the packs before the end of the year!

My sincere thanks to the two amazing schools of Loreto Mandeville Hall Toorak and St Joan of Arc Brighton, for coordinating book collections, as well as all four Melbourne Bayside Libraries (Brighton, Beaumaris, Hampton and Sandringham).

Book Donations can also be made directly to Ardoch via online purchases from Robinsons Bookshop – who will not only deliver the books but ALSO give a 25% discount to all Book Drive books.

 

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The Story of Hands

What a merry dance shoes have led me on . . .

Emma Bowd by Jacqui Grantford 2010
‘Emma Bowd’ by Jacqui Grantford, 2011, Oil on Canvas, 65cm x 45cm

When I first put pen to paper in London in 2001 to write ‘A Passion for Shoes’ I would never have guessed that ten years later, on the other side of the world, my hands would be painted IN a pair of shoes!

It was my great privilege to be asked by the immensely gifted Australian artist, Jacqui Grantford, to be a part of her exhibition ‘A Show of Hands’ in Melbourne, in 2011. I’ve made a link here to her video, where she explains how she extensively interviewed people from all walks of life, to see what made them ‘tick’.  Each hand painting was accompanied by the person’s own ‘story’- and many of them were very moving and inspirational.

Jacqui has a unique way of capturing the spirit of people in her paintings.  I found that the added story she had next to each painting gave it an even greater poignancy.  She is also the author and illustrator of several children’s picture books. A very talented lady indeed.

I’m lucky enough to have this original painting, thanks to my husband and a sneaky special birthday gift.  You can read more of my story here:

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