CYA Conference - July 2016
by Artelle Lenthall
The CYA Conference this year was once again a triumph! For my first year as an attendee, it was a wonderful opportunity to see how it was done and be able to personally thank Tina and the other conference organisers for all their hard work. The conference began with the awarding of prizes for the CYA Competition and I was truly amazed at how many *full requests were made of the winners AND runners up in many/most of the categories. Apparently this was more than usual, but they have been steadily growing over the years. It seems the CYA Conference and Conference Competition are honestly a step up into the publishing world. This was followed by the CYA Success Panel were four recently published past attendees/ competition winners shared the story of their personal road to publication. The route varied but all had some piece of valuable advice to impart now that they have reached their destination. "Be your own biggest supporter" and "Don't get 'hung up' on one publisher, competition or manuscript," said Chrissie Krebs while Megan Forward spoke of 'the importance of quiet spaces to listen to the voices and what they have to say....(about) their story'. Sharon Horsfall reminded us to polish everything including the synopsis. This is what editors see first, give it the attention it (and your manuscript) deserves. Yvonne Mes meanwhile spoke of the need to actually write and to surround yourself with likeminded, passionate people. And that was only the first hour.
This was followed by the keynote address delivered by prolific Children's and YA author, James Phelan on Writing Popular Fiction for Kids and Teenagers. James had a wealth of information to share from his own writing journey delivered in his own humorous laid-back style. From the understanding of character as twofold; observable characteristics and true character to the importance of dialogue as an effective and more interesting way of conveying vital information in a story.
From here the group split into their own choices from the packed program across three different studios covering many aspects of the world of writing and illustrating for children. There were workshops on illustrating a page of wonderful words and creating a magical picture book from Judy Horacek queen of the 'green sheep'. Also characters, conflict, critiquing (Dee White) digital illustration options (Renee Treml) suspense and tension (Brian Falkner) and the two I attended Write it! Pitch it! by Aleesah Darlison and the Picture Book Masterclass with Katrina Germein.
I have to say these were my two favourite sessions of the day and I could wax lyrical about them for pages but if I had to pick one thing from each... I couldn't, so here are three. From Write it! Pitch it! I discovered just how many times Aleesah received rejections and know that she speaks with authority when she says that persistence and tenacity are almost, if not as essential as a good story. With almost 400 rejections under her belt, she's not kidding! In a lot of ways this was my biggest take away from the conference. Aleesah also spoke about the value of a synopsis when you get stuck and to help you answer publishers questions, in other words to help you know your story inside and out. Short stories and why they are a great way to learn how to write/where to end chapters in a longer piece i.e. novel.
Katrina Germein spent the afternoon blowing away the myths surrounding Picture Books such as 'no one has to like my story except me'- if no one likes it, no one will publish it (or if self publishing, buy it) the need for picture books to follow a narrative arc -linear ones and some novelty ones for example, don't. Her own My Dad Thinks He's Funny and its sequel My Dad Still Thinks He's Funny certainly don't, as she says they're basically a series of Dad jokes and one liners. Where Picture Books do follow the narrative arc though, Katrina provided seven essentials she believed every good ms should have including evocative language, an engaging rhythm and the opportunity for interplay between words and illustrations.
After a delicious warming lunch with some more (morning tea did so first) opportunity to network, I met two Facebook friends for the first time which was lovely, we all gathered once more for the Editors' Panel- The First Page. A fantastic idea whereby brave souls, myself included, anonymously provided the first page of a manuscript which is read out by one of the CYA organisers until two of the four publishers have raised their hands to signify the point where they would have stopped reading the manuscript if it had come to them via the slush pile. Some even made it to the end of their page! Mine didn't and I commented to a new-found friend that I wish they had read just a little bit further because 'that was the good part'. I won't lie to you that was difficult to live through, but it provided me with both a 'light bulb' moment and a now rewritten better manuscript.
Ah the CYA Conference, an exhausting emotional, informative, collegial, enjoyable, day! C YA Brisbane, till the next time
*Full requests are where the chosen editor has requested to see the entire manuscript with the view to possible publication