Last Saturday 25 May, I was one of over 200 children’s book creators who headed to the grand old Melbourne Town Hall for this year’s KidLitVic conference. From a career point of view, this was one of the best spent Saturdays of my life.
KidLitVic aims 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.
If an Australian publisher or agent makes the commitment to participate in an industry conference held in Melbourne on a Saturday, then that is a fair indication that they are scouting for new talent. Agents Alex Adsett and Jacinta Di Mase attended, as as did publishers from Harper Collins Children’s books, Wild Dog, Hinkler, Ford St, Scholastic, EK, Affirm Press, Allen& Unwin, Wombat Books, Hachette Australia, text publishing, University of Queensland Press, Hardie Grant Egmont, Penguin Random House, Windy Hollow Books, Scrible and Midnight Sun – an impressive representation of Australia’s best publishing talent.
There were three panel sessions, What Makes Publishers Say Yes?, Secret Agent Business, Finding Your Prefect Match, from Big Publishers to Small Indie Houses, all of them useful to writers and illustrators at all stages of their careers. Donna Rawlins and Maryann Ballantyne (Wild Dog Books) held separate masterclasses for illustrators and writers while Michelle Madden from Penguin Random House, ran the masterclass, The Slush Pile: How to Climb to the Top. Publishers, agents and delegates were able to peruse a gallery of illustration portfolios and delegates could purchase a 15 minute face-to-face manuscript critique with a publisher or agent, and/or participate in individual and small group pitch sessions.
Major Australian publishers can receive thousands of unsolicited manuscripts a year and many publishers are, by necessity, forced to accept only manuscripts submitted through an agent. But the Catch 22 is that it is just as hard to get an agent as it is to get a publisher, and agents will want to know your publishing record before signing you as a client. But ‘closed door’ publishers also know that writers and illustrators who attend conferences such as KidLitVic are serious about advancing their careers. Many of the publishers who attended, therefore, indicated that they are open to receiving publication queries from delegates, provided the queries are submitted via the KidLitVic organisers.
When a publisher stated her firm was currently inundated with picture books but they were seeking early chapter books, my ears began to tweak. I quickly identified three of my picture book manuscripts that would probably work better as early chapter books. I was also thrilled with my 15 minutes of face-to-face feedback with a ‘closed door’ literary publisher, which resulted in a request to see my full manuscript. Yay!
Well done to the talented and dedicated team of KidLitVic organisers, Alison Reynolds, Coral Vass, Sarah Reynolds and illustrator extraordinaire, Nicky Johnston. This year’s conference provided a trove of opportunities for children’s book creators to develop their careers and to establish supportive relationships with their peers. The stage management of the simultaneous sessions was seamless and organisers were quick to resolve problems with bookings. I came away from KidLitVic with ideas for new manuscripts and for reworking old manuscripts, and new hopes for the publication of a middle grade manuscript that has been haunting me for the last 16 years.
If you are interested in attending KidLitVic 2020, my advice is, invest in yourself and book early to avoid disappointment. This conference had a wait list of 100 people, which is a testament to the professionalism, hard work and creative imagination of its organisers.