SCBWI Conference 2014

by Georgie Donaghey

This year’s conference was four days of fun, enlightenment and pure energy. You might call it a spiritual retreat for the bookish folk.

I was humbled to be awarded a partial scholarship from SCBWI Australia, which allowed me to attend this year. I attended two of the four days and below is my SCBWI 2014 Conference experience.

I’d always dreamt of visiting The Hughenden, I thought it was only for published authors. So when the opportunity to attend this year’s SCBWI Conference came up my dream finally came to fruition.

As the main door to the majestic old hotel opened I was greeted by the conference organiser, Susanne Gervay. An excited squeal from both of us and my conference experience was underway.

I made my way through the foyer and into the lounge. I felt like a kid in a candy store, and it wasn’t the scrumptious selection of breakfast options available to arriving guests. It was the enormous array of talented people that were quickly filling into the room. I remained composed, on the outside, after all this was my Oscars moment. Forget Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt I was in the company of Melina Marchetta, Kathryn Otoshi, Susanne Gervay, Deborah Abela, Tania McCartney, Sarah Davis, Bruce Whatley and scores of other artists I admire and aspire to follow.

The nerves had kicked in a few days before when I checked my email and discovered I’d been hand-picked for the ‘Roving Reporters’ team. Arghhh me! How could I report on anything? I would be too star struck to put two words together let alone a whole report. But under the guidance from our fearless roving reporter leader Sheryl Gwyther, I soldiered on and surprised myself under the pressure of a deadline.

With back to back sessions covering a rainbow of topics my initiation to the SCBWI experience was Inside USA Publishing with Connie Hsu, the Commissioning Editor from Roaring Book imprint of Pan Macmillan in the USA. What a way to begin! Connie touched on her time as Senior Editor with Little, Brown and Company and presented an overview of publishing in the USA today. It was an informative eye-opening session for those considering breaking into the US market.

With a distinct lean towards Adventure, Fantasy, Sci-fi, Murder/Mystery and series, the 2013 statistics provided a welcome admission that the strongest selling market currently within US publishing was children’s books. Figures also confirmed that eBooks form 30% of the market.

I was happy to hear my favourite adult author; James Patterson holds 1% of the book market. This number might sound small but when you realise the variety of books and authors, not just from the US but including overseas this 1% is monumental.

What’s hot in the Young Adult area at the moment is dystopian and high fantasy. Middle Grade is enjoying illustrated series and graphic novels while picture books with commercial flavour such as friendships is a big winner in the US at present.

And although it is financially challenging working with overseas authors is not entirely impossible. With the introduction of Skype being used to host author/school visits, this reduces the issue of funding an overseas author to the USA. Traditionally schools prefer a personal presence, but they are slowly adopting the Skype method.

Next was the Getting into the Market Place with Kathryn Otoshi and Tania McCartney session. This was also my first official roving reporter responsibility. Nervous? Yes! This session was an education on breaking into the market with self-published books.

Tania McCartney (Kids Book Review and the 52-Week Illustrator Challenge) and International Award winning author, Kathryn Otoshi, gave an insight into their journey from self-publication to success!
I think the below comments sum up this informative session by two respected industry professionals.

'It begins with a window of an idea.'  Kathryn Otoshi

'Everyone shares parallel paths but has a unique journey.'  Tania McCartney

'Don't tell your dream, take action on it.'  Kathryn Otoshi

'Start small and let it grow organically.'  Tania McCartney

'Believe in miracles - they are waiting for you everywhere.'  Kathryn Otoshi

Both agree it was hard getting started, and you need to make sacrifices. Payoffs only come when you have put in the hard work; it may take some time, but it is worth it in the end.

Remember to:

Plant your idea - find your niche in the market and begin.

Grassroots plan - research your market, have a plan of direction and source those who can distribute your books.

Good soil - build contacts around you - reach out to bookstores, librarians, sellers and those already established in the industry.

Water and sunshine - enjoy your accolades and soak up any and all encouragement.

Morning Tea was the perfect occasion to mix and mingle with the literary elite. It was fantastic to meet more of the Creative Kids Tales family, Sarah Mounsey and Scott Chambers and those I have friended on Facebook but not yet had to opportunity to meet.

Jellico Road: From Novel to Film Adaption with Melina Marchetta was a stimulating session. It was packed with information but without the brain ache at the end. Listening to Melina talk about the process from book to film was amazing. The politics, the humour, the soap box moments all work towards bringing her story to the big screen.

After lunch and more networking opportunities harnessed it was time for my second round of roving reporter duties with From Submission to ‘On the Book Shelf’ with the Walker Books Team.

This was an enjoyable session with laughs a plenty. The panel consisted of a representative from each department within the Walker Books Australia team and author Jackie Hosking and illustrator Marjorie Crosby-Fairall.

Sue Whiting, the Publishing Manager for Walker Books Australia, took us through the steps of accepting and publishing a submission. In this instance, a picture book, The Croc and the Platypus. The Croc and the Platypus is a retelling of the children's classic, The Owl and the Pussycat.

Joining Sue from Walker Books was Mary Verney (Editor), Donna Rawlins (Art Director) and Simon Panagaris (Promotions Manager).

Jackie and Marjorie discussed their personal experience on bringing their 'baby' to publication. This was Jackie's and Marjorie's first-picture book with Walker.

From the 'we want to publish your book' phone call the wheels were in motion and the journey well underway. The Walker Books team already had had several meetings to discuss this manuscript before Jackie had even received that life-changing call.

Not traditionally a publisher of Australiana themed picture books, the Walker team embraced The Croc and the Platypus. 'It was a dream book to make.' Sue Whiting.

Donna had had her eyes set on Marjorie Crosby-Fairall after a previous workshop. From the initial sketches, the team knew they were embarking on a very exciting project.

How can we market this book? Enter Simon Panagaris and the Marketing team. The answer was a gorgeous plush crocodile that compliments the book.

With lots of excited squeals and crying re-enacted by Jackie Hosking throughout the session, the audience was given a glimpse of the emotions and business that goes into publishing a picture book by a mainstream publisher.

At the conclusion of the session, the Walker team drew numbers from a hat and awarded three, The Croc and the Platypus gift packs to a captive audience. I had lucky number 9 which was extra lucky as my number was pulled from a hat. Thanks Walker Books Australia, my three yr old loved the prize pack and in particular the gorgeous plush croc.

Time for book launches: The energetic Deborah Abela introduced Peter Taylor's picture book with Five Mile Press, Once a Creepy Crocodile. A sing-a-long and a room full of applause saw Peter's book officially launched.

Gabriel Evans launched his new book, A New Pet with Five Mile Press and Wendy Binks’s 10 Clumsy Emus with Scholastic was launched by Clare Hallifax.

With the day’s formalities over it was time to celebrate or in author terms, party and party hard.

I dined with Gabrielle Wang, Sandy Fussell, Sheryl Gwyther, Pamela Rushby, Sarah Mounsey and Scott Chambers. The food and company were fabulous, and we chatted about books, holidays and the conference.

Attendees danced the night away to the sounds of The Beatnickers led by James Foley (vocals), Meredith Costain (vocals & keyboards), Scott Chambers (guitar) and Mark Greenwood (drums). Deborah Abela had penned a hilarious ode to Susanne Gervay to the tune of 500 Miles by the Proclaimers which we all sang along. By 11.30pm, it was time to call it a day and night. With day one of my SCBWI Conference experience over I could only imagine what day two would bring.

Plenty of very sore heads crawled through the doors at The Hughenden the next morning. But it wasn’t long before Louise Park from Paddle Pop Press had us mesmerized with How to move 250,000 books in 6 months.

Louise is the best-selling author of the School Zone Naplan Style Workbooks published by Hinkler. Her publishing company, Paddle Pop Press conceives, consults, packages and produces award-winning titles. Louise also has a partnership with, Susanna MacFarlane from Lemon Fizz Media and together they formed Pop and Fizz.

She talked about the importance of having control over your publishing process and how you should never orphan your product once it goes to the printer. You must follow the process all the way to the end.

Developing partnerships with people of different skill sets is important when trying to move your product.

For example, Pop & Fizz – Louise is the author/illustrator where Susanna’s expertise is in marketing and placement. Along with Scholastic they published the popular Boy vs Beast series. Responsibilities were shared with Pop & Fizz in charge of marketing to parents/schools and Scholastic responsible for point of sale.

Louise also touched on the importance of covers when selling your book and how an attractive cover can help move volume.

Louise’s key points when selling your book:

  1. Don’t orphan your product once it goes to the printer. Follow through.
  2. Sell your body to seed your product – give your time for free to help move merchandise.
  3. Identify your opportunities, find your niche and pitch to publishers based on your findings.
  4. In order to sell more, you’ll need to give some books away.
  5. Discount to gain presence and critical mass.
  6. Leverage what you have.
  7. Love your publisher!

Going to the Common Core USA

Ernie Bond is the Associate Professor of Education, Salisbury University, USA. He talked about the new Common Core Standards for English that have been adopted by 45 states across the USA.

Together with his visiting students, Ernie addressed the key changes to the US curriculum:

  • Focus on depth over breadth
  • Increased emphasis on non-fiction
  • Reading, writing and speaking as in evidenced in texts
  • Increasingly challenging readings and complex texts
  • Cross-disciplinary or trans-disciplinary learning

Implications for those in the book industry include:

  • Fewer books being read in schools.
  • 50% of books in elementary (primary) may become non-fiction
  • 70% of books in high school may become non-fiction

Up Close with Bruce Whatley

Bruce described in detail how he got into ‘the business.' He had always wanted to write and illustrate children’s books and after being drained with his advertising deadlines he took the plunge. A photograph of a kangaroo he had taken while on holiday became the inspiration for a book idea.

Bruce’s initial response from publishers regarding his manuscript was encouraging, but it needed some work. Instead of his kangaroo story, Bruce changed direction and impulsively pitched an idea about his dog. Three days later the manuscript for, The Ugliest Dog in the World was sitting on his editor’s desk. Within the next six weeks, he wrote and illustrated, Looking for Crabs. 22 years later and both of these books are still in print.

On the wave of his success, Bruce moved his family to the US for four years and worked on 50 books. But tired of working for ‘others’ Bruce relocated with his family back to Australia and was floored to see the illustration world had changed. ‘Shaun Tan had taken the illustration playing field to a whole other planet.’

Bruce needed to change, he needed to take it up a level, and he did by changing hands. By switching from his right to his left, this opened up his abilities and allowed the right side of his brain to create. This new method amazed Bruce, who went on to complete a doctorate on the subject. Purely using his left hand Bruce has illustrated Flood for Jackie French and Dragons of the Galapagos.

He revealed every time he receives illustrator notes he throws them away. He doesn’t read them pre or post illustration. When considering working with another author, he needs to see the story in his mind, it needs to mean something.

My final session of the conference was Tips on Grants and Organisations.

The panel of Zoe Rodriguez (CAL), Emma Heyde (School Magazine), Jill Eddington (Australia Council), Libby Gleeson (ASA) and Chris Cheng (SCBWI International Liaison Officer) talked about the variety of grants and opportunities available for both published and emerging author and illustrators.

CAL Payout approximately $120 million per year for members via the Cultural Fund and the Creative Careers Fund for individuals. They endeavour to fund initiatives that other people or organisations don’t. All applications are assessed by a board consisting of publishers, visual artists and authors.

The School Magazine will celebrate their centennial birthday in 2016. They publish four aged-targeted editions: Countdown, Blast Off, Orbit and Touchdown. Unlike other publications, The School Magazine will pay for written submissions and illustrations if accepted. They are always on the lookout for new voices in the writing world.

The Australia Council award funds across a variety of projects. There are major changes taking place from August 2014 which will favour writers under a new Literature Section. These changes will also positively impact larger organisations such as SCBWI and ASA.

Libby Gleeson urged all who are not members of the ASA to join. The ASA provides a wide variety of services for writers and illustrators at all stages of their career from writing development through manuscripts, Awards, professional consultations, contract assessments and lots more. The ASA is the only organisation purely for writers and illustrators in Australia. The benefits of membership are newsletters, online information, magazines, discounts and event information.

Chris Cheng talked about grants available to SCBWI members via the main SCBWI website. He advised to be vigilant in our searches and persist with applications. SCBWI offers a WIP Grant for writers and illustrators. A number of awards will also see a financial return such as Book Launch Awards and the Krystal Kite Award.

In short; don’t be unrealistic with what you ask for. Research the different grants available and choose the most suited to your request and always adhere to the application guidelines.

Sadly my conference experience had to come to an end, but guaranteed I’ll be first in line to secure a place for 2016.

Thanks for reading my conference roundup. I tried to bring you the points I felt you would gain the most benefit from. It was an awesome experience and one I would highly recommend.

For the full roving reporter round up visit:

SCBWI Conference July 2014 - roving reporter team

Return to the Conference Wrap Up page