Guest blog by Yvonne Mes (writer and illustrator) www.yvonnemes.weebly.com
I am giving the awesome Sam Sochacka a break and some time the catch up and writing a few words about the last day of the SAFI adult program. (Sam has been running around so fast on reporting duty it is a wonder she hasn’t run into herself.)
I attended the Story Arts Festival for the first time and write from the perspective of a writer and illustrator.
Breakfast with Sue Whiting (Walker Books) and Helen Chamberlin (Windy Hollow Books) with Chair Mia Macrossan.
The Inside Story and a Perfect Pitch
Helen Chamberlin has been working in the publishing industry since 1971, and before working at Windy Hollow books (2009) she has worked for Lothian and Hachette. She has assisted many authors on the path to publications including Shaun Tan.
Sue Whiting started as a primary school teacher and is now a successful children’s author and the publishing manager at Walker Books Australia. Her book new book ‘A Swim in the Sea’ illustrated by Meredith Thomas is coming out soon.
The panel provided a fascinating insight into the publishing industry especially for those of us trying to get their foot in the publisher’s door.
The main message though throughout the session was this:
Good Writing + Great Story + Unique concept + Persistence are the key to getting published.
The aspiring authors soaked up the information while the published authors whispered things to us poor wannabes such as ‘She (insert editor’s name) is wonderful. so great to work with.’
Here are some helpful hints and interesting insights for us wannabes.
On the percentage of new authors to established authors on their lists:
Windy Hollow Books takes on 2 debuting authors out of 6 per year. Walker Books Australia (which is only 6 years old) takes on roughly 50% fist time authors, illustrators or author/ illustrators.
I was glad to hear that, that seems a little encouraging.
On pitching to editors:
(Sue) NOT at the cue to the toilets or during social situations, be professional, though pitching during a conference is perfectly fine.
There is an urban myth (I have heard it twice now) of a writer shoving their manuscript under an editors toilet door.
(Helen) Follow the submission guidelines.
On the perfect pitch:
(Helen) Include a synopsis, something that can be taken to an acquisition meeting. A synopsis is a useful tool for the editor and should be a nutshell statement of what your book is about. Include age group, type of book and where your story fits in the market (this shows you have done your homework).
(Sue) Your pitch has to have impact. Don’t confuse, be clear. Take your time writing your pitch, get down to what is at the heart of your story and why it is unique.
But both editors emphasized several times be brief and concise when writing your pitch.
Sue and Helen gave several examples of good vs. bad pitches they had encountered in person and on paper.
(Helen) In your written pitch include any recognition your story has received (for example if it places in a literary competition). List titles of any previous work you have submitted to the same editor.
Oh, and don’t say something like ‘My story is sure to be a classic’ as Helen says ‘I will be the judge of that. Of course us aspiring writers all dutifully sniggered then feverishly reworked our cover/ pitch letters when we got home.
On illustration notes:
(Sue) Keep your illustration notes brief, and only include them when something needs to be in the illustrations that can’t be explained in the text.
Helen is not bothered by illustration notes, but will take the illustration notes out of your manuscript before passing them on to the illustrator. They reminded us that illustrators are professionals in their own rights and will illustrate your story visually according to their own interpretation of the text.
On picture book length:
(Helen) The standard for 5 to 8 year olds is roughly 500 words. The picture book industry has changed a lot over the last two decades but is accepting to longer texts for picture books for older readers. The length depends on the age group. In the USA market there seems to be a cap at a 1000 words for picture books.
(Sue) For younger readers try to keep it under 500 words and as short as possible.
On eBooks and apps:
(Helen) is working on an enhanced eBook at the moment and is enjoying the process but worries about how the ‘games’ on the page/ illustration may distract from the text.
(Sue) For picture books Walker Books feel the technology is not ready yet to do these complex books justice. But their YA books will all be published in eBooks and they are in the process of putting their YA and Junior Fiction backlists out as eBooks.
A word of advice for writers seeking publication
Work on your craft, write, learn, keep on improving.
(Sue) Don’t be impatient, let your work sit and don’t send it out too soon, collect your rejections (Sue had received many rejections before she got a story accepted) and don’t give up!
(Helen) P&P – Persevere and Polish.
What they are looking for
They know it when they see it! (Picture here my slumped shoulders and disappointed sigh.)
How helpful was that! But do refer back to the main message of good writing etc. and you might just be able to woo one of these ladies into helping you along on your publishing career.