Key Take-Homes from the KidLitVic 2017 Workshop: ‘It’s All About Your Brand’, presented by Lisa Berryman, HarperCollins Publishers Australia
Well, it’s two weeks since I attended the Branding Workshop at KidLitVic2017 in Melbourne, and I’ve purposely waited until now to share my key ‘take-homes’ – as I wanted to action them and show just how powerful the information presented was. Apart from the overriding message that a writer is a small business and that you should at all times conduct yourself and present yourself as one, and NEVER EVER do anything to damage your business or brand, there were two salient points that I needed to take action on ASAP. So here goes…
1. What is your Brand Message?
You need to be able to crystallise and drill down into one SHORT tagline: your interests in writing + what it is you write + what’s special about you. Some excellent examples were given by workshop participants, my favourite being, “Exploring Big Worlds Through Little Eyes.”
I was not communicating a clear, concise brand message about my picture book writing to publishers in my submission letters, and I needed to action this ASAP. So I literally went home after the conference and started the challenging task of filtering down all the elements of my picture book writing into one catchy tagline. It took a LONG time – involving self-reflection and really standing back from my work and analysing it. As well as spending time thinking about just what kind of writer I ‘think I am’ and making sure that it matched what I’m actually producing.
Once I’d got my short list, I employed the services of my 13 year-old son – he of the Snapchat-Nike-millennial generation – to give his opinions. He was a hard task master! With most of my early attempts yielding responses like, “Too long; Too boring; Just No; That’s Lame; Boring; Too long (AGAIN!); Don’t get it; Kind of OK; Yehhh…but Nah…” until I got to the finally approved “Yes” and here it is:
And then, Lisa suggested that you can add just a few more words in your cover letters, by way of weaving in comparisons, to give the publisher a really good feel for where your writing and your books are positioned – especially useful for sales, marketing and booksellers. Here’s my long form:
‘Feel-good rhyming adventures, with the wisdom of Bob Graham and the energy of Julia Donaldson and Dr Seuss.’
Phew…now to the final task…
2. Does Your Email Signature Sell Your Business and Brand?
This is the one area of the Branding Workshop that I gave myself a big fat FAIL on! For the benefit of not writing a long and boring blog, I’ve tried to summarise the salient points from Lisa’s presentation in a one-page graphic, which shows EXACTLY how my email signature looked on the day of the workshop; and then, how it looked after I gave it Lisa’s WHO, WHAT, WHY, WHERE and HOW transformation. It’s quite embarrassing to look at the comparisons – What was I thinking? That publishers were mind readers?! The ’30 second test’ is something that I made up – Lisa didn’t specifically spell it out, but it was definitely the vibe that I picked up on. Oh, and yes, Lisa really did single out the lovely Tania McCartney as having a truly wonderful and professional email signature and brand message – it had lots of links, pictures and a clear outline of all that she is involved in.
Well, that’s it folks. I hope you find it useful. The workshop was certainly the best $40 I’ve spent in a very long time!
Oh, how I love it when my worlds collide in the most unexpected ways! I’d like to share with you a beautiful experience I had early last December during my day volunteering at a Melbourne children’s hospital library. But first some background…
Being a writer is a very solitary existence. So in early 2016, I made a resolution to reach out to the big wide world – both ‘real’ and ‘cyber’ – with more literary outings and professional development, plus a complete revamp of my online ‘author presence’. Cue attendances at some brilliant writing courses and seminars; conducting classroom writing workshops; and the emergence of ‘Emmabowdauthor’ across several online platforms – with the pleasant realisation that Facebook was actually quite interesting and informative, and Instagram was my new passion/obsession 🙂 But there was more to come…
Prior to becoming a writer, I worked as an Occupational Therapist for 12 years – both in Australia and London. Imagine my excitement one Sunday evening early last year when I was scrolling through Instagram and saw a ‘shout out’ by the highly respected Melbourne children’s bookstore the ‘Little Bookroom’, about a new children’s library called The Book Bunker, which was being established at Melbourne’s prestigious Royal Children’s Hospital (RCH) – and it needed volunteers. This perfect meeting of my worlds was too good to be true. A few emails, plus a hurried update of my ‘Police Check’ and ‘Working With Children’ accreditation and I was at RCH within the fortnight – volunteering each Tuesday from 10am to 2pm at The Book Bunker. And what a wonderful year it proved to be!
The Book Bunker – The Scholastic Children’s Library at Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne
The Book Bunker at RCH opened in May 2016 with over $200,000 worth of books donated by Scholastic Australia, covering all age ranges from board books and picture books; to early readers, chapter books, young adult novels and non-fiction books. It’s staffed entirely by volunteers like myself. And while I come from a medical/literary background, other volunteers come from fields such as librarianship and teaching, and we’re all on a roster which keeps the library open from Monday through to Saturday.
Why a Library in a Children’s Hospital?
My experiences at The Book Bunker have reinforced to me the importance of access to books via a free library system for ALL children (both sick and well) as a source of entertainment, diversion, intellectual enrichment and socialization. And I can honestly say that no week at The Book Bunker has ever been the same.
For mentally and physically exhausted parents, a visit to The Book Bunker is often a quiet bubble of calm away from the flashing lights and beeping monitors of the ward. A place where they can select books to take back to their child; as well as to share with other siblings who can often become momentarily neglected, through no fault of their own, in the stressful situation of having a sick family member. The books that parents and children choose are often long-time favourites which bring a small sense of 'home' and familiar routines to the foreign medical environment.
Book Bunker volunteers also deliver books directly to the wards via a 'book trolley' for the many children and families who cannot leave their rooms and visit the library. On other occasions, the library can be a loud and raucous space - with craft activities and book readings to large groups of children. And thanks to Scholastic, we were lucky enough to have a special visit from famous author Mem Fox and illustrator Judy Horacek - which created much fanfare and fun throughout the hospital.
A Special Summer’s Day at The Book Bunker
A summer’s day at The Book Bunker doesn't get much better for this former Occupational Therapist turned writer and literary hospital volunteer...
During the summer I’ve noticed a lot more families visiting The Book Bunker – often with multiple siblings in tow, due to the school holidays. Many have travelled long distances from country Victoria or from interstate to be cared for as Inpatients or to attend Specialist Outpatient Clinics (with notoriously long waiting times).
Last year, on Melbourne’s first true summer’s day, following our Arctic spring, the thermometer outside nudged the mid 30’s and I welcomed a dad and his 1 year-old and 6 year-old sons to The Book Bunker. He told me in precise, slow, heavily-accented English that they’d just come from a town west of Geelong, and were all a little hot and weary after a very early start to the day. But they were all smiling – surprised and delighted to have stumbled upon a ‘library in a hospital’. A place that they immediately decided to spend the long wait for the older boy’s Outpatient’s appointment.
The 6 year-old boy gleefully told me that he had just finished Prep and that he really liked books. His face lit up as he walked around and found that his favourite books from his 'school library' were also in his 'hospital library'. He couldn’t believe his luck! Tucking each book under his arm, he asked me to read some of them to him; before summoning the courage to ask if he could instead read the books to me.
“I’m very good at reading,” he said, with the unaffected conviction of a 6 year-old. “I’m the first in my family to go to school. I’m very clever.” He shot a grin to his dad who replied in equal measure with a warm wide smile, which seemed to engulf his entire face, and proud eyes which danced around his son. The dad shared that he had come to Australia 7 years ago from Sudan, and that his son is a very diligent student at school who also teaches the entire family how to speak English.
Then, in a rush of excitement, the dad picked up his mobile phone and gave it to the boy to show me the screen. Displayed on it was his son’s recent school report from Prep. Both the boy and the dad insisted that I read it – I must! They could not contain their excitement as they observed my eyes scanning the screen. And I have to say that their excitement was entirely warranted – an achieved reading level of Year 2 among the accomplished results. The dad had the report as his screen saver on his mobile phone. And I have no doubt that it had been shown to many people before me; and will be shown again to many people after me.
With a small mountain of books read; inquisitive questions about bears, dinosaurs, piranhas, dogs, bees and escargots answered; a toddler occupied with craft activities and board books; and a dad rested – a piercing beep on the mobile phone announced that their doctor was ready to see them. A quick flurry of activity to gather together belongings and they were on their way – a happy trio waving goodbyes and sincerely thanking me for their time at The Book Bunker.
What a privilege it had been to spend Melbourne’s first real summer's day in the company of such a proud parent and his motivated, engaging young sons at The Book Bunker.
The eldest son being the first in his family to EVER attend school; is excelling at school and teaching his entire family how to speak English; is being cared for by the expert medics at RCH; and delights in reading books from his 'school library' at his 'hospital library'.
My world has most definitely been enriched by volunteering experiences like this at The Book Bunker - it really is wonderful when your worlds collide!
Star Weekly Newspaper: Sunshine Primary School student Elizabeth age 10 (front) with Makayla age 10 author Emma Bowd and Kenny age 8. Best selling author Emma Bowd has been conducting a book-writing workshop at Sunshine Primary School over the last two months.
I’m delighted to share my experience of being Ardoch’s‘Writer in Residence’ at Sunshine Primary School, where I recently conducted a weekly story writing workshop for two Grade 3 and Grade 4 classes – culminating in the illustrated story book ‘Pencil Pandemonium’. The programme ran during one school term and involved 5 weeks (10 hours) of classroom workshops and many more hours of writing and editing outside the classroom.
Pencil Pandemonium reflects how a school community can come together to foster literacy – coupled with the good will of Ardoch, an author and a printing business.
Before I explain a little more about the process of how we wrote the book, here’s a joyous slideshow of our Book Launch on Friday 14th October, in brilliant sunshine (of course!). With the inspirations for our story – the six majestic pencil art installations – sharing the limelight.
The book launch also would not have been possible without the support of Ardoch and Bizworks Brighton Printing. Nor would it have been complete without Rob – the school handyman. Rob works one day/week and spent a whole year making the giant pencils for the school 🙂 He was so excited to be a part of our book launch and quietly chuffed that six coloured pencils could inspire a story which is now part of the school’s folklore. The pencils all have names too – Baxter Blue, Yuki Yellow, Olympia Orange, Penelope Purple, Gilbert Green and Roger Red – and the children talk to them each day!
These six huge pencils have inspired the imaginations of a class and an entire school. The physical structures stand proudly at the school’s entrance – announcing to all the vibrancy and ingenuity of what lies within. A brilliant example of how art lives and breathes in our community and can spark great things!
I’ve conducted my story writing workshops over the past 10 years, and this is the first time that I’ve been invited to an Ardoch partner school. I’ve always provided the workshops ‘pro bono’ as part of my commitment to early literacy and to share my love of storytelling and story writing. The dozens of hugs, enthusiastic smiles and messages I got from the Sunshine Primary students about their love of Pencil Pandemonium cannot be measured in monetary terms. And I urge any writers reading this to consider being a ‘Writer in Residence’ for Ardoch or a similar literacy charity, too.
My workshops are a little unusual, compared to other authors, in that I’m very clear with the children and their teachers that I will write the story – with the assistance of the children. I explain to the children that we will put all of ‘my ideas’ and all of ‘their ideas’ into a giant washing machine, and we’ll mix them all up and put a wonderful story together. And they’re always wonderful!
I want the children to be free to imagine and explore without the pressure of punctuation and assessment, pre-testing or post-testing. I want them to learn ‘from me’ by going along the process ‘with me’ – from blank page to printed book.
I also like to professionally print the story books at the completion of the workshops to give the children a sense that their story is real and important. I always incorporate current learning units (in Sunshine’s case it was ‘machines’) so that the books dovetail with their curriculum. The end result is a true collaborative effort, where each child can clearly identify their input into the ‘whole’ project. I believe that it’s important to show the students that they are ALL important contributors to the book – irrespective of their literacy proficiency levels. For example, often some of the best ideas and ‘light-bulb moments’ during the plot-making, as well as drawings, are contributed by the students with the least strong reading and writing levels.
I’m beyond thrilled with Sunshine Primary School’s Pencil Pandemonium! It reflects the children’s genuine love and respect for their school – something that they wanted to write about. Not all students I visit are this passionate about their school!
One of my favourite memories from this story writing experience, was after we’d finished writing the story about the pencils who sneak into the classroom at lunchtime when nobody is looking – and one of the students asked me to look out of the window, and just ‘check’ that the pencils were still there . . . What if they weren’t? This is such a lovely example of how these children have not only had a hands-on learning experience of turning imaginings and ideas into a story . . . but they’ve kept the story alive in their heads . . . and that for me, as a writer, is what the magic is all about!
This quote from author, Michael Morpurgo’s speech, ‘The Power of Stories’ at the Inaugural Book Trust Lecture, Sept 22nd, 2016, Guildhall, London also sums this up beautifully:
“Let the children go home, simply dreaming of the story. Re-living it. Wondering at it. Loving it.” Michael Morpurgo (2016)
Two special memories from this past week of National Book Week. . .
The week started off with the exciting announcement that I am the Ambassador for Ardoch Youth Foundation’sSchool Readiness Book Drive. As an author, former Occupational Therapist and a mum, I am so proud and beyond thrilled to have been asked to help with this campaign, which pledges to give 1,000 children in disadvantaged areas five books and fine-motor activity packs at the end of this year, in readiness for their school start in 2017. I’ll be writing a little more about this in coming weeks, but please click here to read about why I’m so passionate about the book drive.
And on Tuesday, I was at my beloved weekly volunteering position at Scholastic Australia’s Book Bunker children’s library, at the Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne. I had a lot of fun with some of the Starlight Captains who popped in to visit us! We sang songs and read books – my favourite being our book-of-the-day: Tony Wilson’s award-winning and endearing ‘The Cow Tripped Over the Moon’. It’s a clever back-story about the several attempts that the cow actually made before she had a successful moon-jump. An instant classic in my mind, with a special message of courage, determination, perseverance and the help of your friends.
Congratulations to Lynda and the team at Bayside Library Service for holding their inaugural Author Expo at Beaumaris Library on the weekend. I had no idea there were so many writers, illustrators and book lovers in my local community!
A great atmosphere prevailed, where books and ideas were traded with enthusiasm. I look forward to this event growing each year!
An interesting programme, lead by speakers of both published and self-published books included: writing and marketing children’s literature; developing a non-fiction book; challenges in writing and publishing fiction; publish or self-publish?; promotion and the art of marketing; and Baysider writers in residence.
I particularly enjoyed the panel discussion: Promotion is not a dirty word! The art of marketing your book, with authors Lorraine Campbell, Jane Sullivan, Olga Lorenzo and Jenny Ackland. Here are my take-homes from it:
Be authentic and true to yourself
Start social media early – well before your book is published – and keep at it!
Say ‘yes’ to everything!
Engage with people and find ‘your community’
You are the expert on your book
It can be useful to have a ‘hook’ or ‘story’ for your book
Have your 30 second pitch (what’s sometimes called the ‘elevator pitch’) well-rehearsed at all times!
Be positive, polite and helpful to others in your industry
The very first KidLitVic Meet the Publishers Conference 2016
I spent a hugely enjoyable and inspiring day today at the very first Melbourne ‘Meet the Publishers’ event for Children and YA writers and illustrators. It was organised by authors Alison Reynolds and Dee White, along with the assistance of illustrator Nicky Johnston and author Jaquelyn Muller, and held at the magnificent State Library of Victoria.
The opening address was given by David Ryding, the Director of Melbourne’s UNESCO City of Literature Office, and set the tone for a day of collaboration and inspiration on all things creative in the world of children and YA publishing.
Both established and emerging authors and illustrators were able to attend Panel Discussions from the creme de la creme of Australian publishing, as well as present Portfolio Displays, Manuscript Assessments and 3 Minute Pitches.
The Publishers and Agents represented were: Allen & Unwin; Black Dog Books; Hachette Australia; Hardie Grant Egmont; HarperCollins Children's Books Australia; Jacinta di Mase Management; Random House Children's Books, Penguin Random House; Scholastic Australia; Scribe/Scribble; Text Publishing; The Five Mile Press
Some key themes from the panelists which really resonated with me were:
authenticity and consistency of voice are the cornerstones of good writing
be true to your DNA – don’t try to write or draw in a particular genre, just because it’s the current fad/bestseller
a good story is everything – irrespective of what tense it’s written in
collaboration between authors and illustrators is crucial
a book is a result of teamwork – between authors, illustrators and publishers
publishing is a commercial enterprise – that is the reality
all publishers are different – do your homework before submitting
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:
I recently had the pleasure of attending a Melbourne book signing, by the best selling children’s author,Jacqueline Harvey. Of course, it was a beautifully girlie affair (though I did note a couple of dads!) with cupcakes and cordial, and much chat about Alice-Miranda and Clementine Rose.
What I wasn’t expecting, was to promptly change from my ‘mum hat’ into my ‘author hat’ when Jacqueline asked the audience of passionate, articulate 7-9 year olds, “What makes a great kid’s story?”
Cue a flurry of enthusiastically raised hands, and a swift lesson in storytelling, that no writers conference could ever have provided! So, here goes, from the mouths of babes:
Long before this blog existed I had fun writing as my alter-ego, TheShoe Princess, in her very own BLOG. The Shoe Princess is one of the main characters in my novel, ‘The Shoe Princess’s Guide to the Galaxy’ – a story about a thirtysomething first time mum’s journey from high heels to highchairs and beyond.
I’m no longer writing The Shoe Princess Blog . . . but of course I still AM a Shoe Princess!
I’ve just bought myself the best Easter treat: a word. Yes, a word! How exciting for an author to own a word. All in support of one of my favourite children’s literacy charities: Melbourne’s Ardoch Youth Foundation. But just like chocolate…how can I possibly be expected to stop at one word!