SCBWI New York conference

Nicole with SCBWI President Stephen Mooser

Nicole with SCBWI President Stephen Mooser

The SCBWI New York winter conference was a whirlwind of learning, inspirational speakers, networking, book buying and being a total fangirl as I collected signatures for my growing mountain of books.

I am still pinching myself that I was awarded the SCBWI tribute fund scholarship to attend the conference. Sincere thanks to Susanne Gervay for the nomination. 

This event is HUGE! Let me share the impressive stats before getting into the conference itself:

  • 659 people attended
  • 300 of the authors or illustrators are already published
  • 48 US states were represented
  • 13 nations were represented.

Apparently the conference was even bigger in previous years, but a decision was made to reduce the size and change the format so that master classes were more two-way and personalised.

Participants were requested not to video or blog about the content from each session. For this reason, my aim is to give you a feel for the event rather than the specifics from each session. 

Waiting for the Golden Kite Awards

Waiting for the Golden Kite Awards

The conference kicked off with the Golden Kite Gala Awards evening, with Chelsea Clinton as the guest speaker. She was impressive, articulate and is making her mark on the world with hugely successful children’s books such as ‘She Persisted’ and ‘It’s Your World: Get Informed, Get inspired and Get Going’. She generously donated a copy of one of her books to each participant. Thanks Chelsea.

I first met the lovely women in the SCBWI bookshop at the Gala Awards evening. I bought three award-winning books and foolishly thought that I was done.

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The conference ran over two full days (Sat 3 Feb and Sun 4 Feb). We started on a high with illustrator Dan Santat delivering a keynote address about preparing for future success and the pitfalls he faced on his journey. I would highly recommend Dan’s treasure of a picture book ‘Before the Fall’ which was inspired by the journey his wife took in overcoming anxiety.

Another trip to the bookstore to get Dan’s book…

The conference schedule revolved around master classes covering a wide variety of topics led by industry experts. It was a challenge to narrow down my wish list to just three sessions. In the end I chose ‘The five principles of a satisfying picture book’ with Cheryl Klein, ‘A master class in voice’ with Caitlyn Dlouhy, and ‘Tools for the Revision toolbox’ with Emma Dryden.

I particularly loved being immersed in a discussion about voice. As Caitlyn Dlouhy said, ‘Without voice your work only whispers. A voice becomes ‘home’ and the reader wants to stay in the same home until the end of the story.’

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Emma Dryden offered some wise words which resonated with me, ‘Trust yourself. You can get input from others, but it is your story. If you make changes based on every bit of feedback you receive, you risk losing the essence of your story.’

And of course I had to buy another book. This time co-authored by Emma Dryden.

The planning committee did a fabulous job making sure international participants connected with each other at lunch and dinner events. As it is just a stones throw from New York, there was a reasonable sized Canadian contingent as well as participants from Spain, Germany and a range of other countries.

The agent’s panel had my full attention as they provided their views on current trends and changes in the industry. I’ve included a few choice insights below:

  • Representation of marginalized voices in children’s books is not a trend. It is the norm of the future.
  • Picture book biographies are in demand.
  • Agents are on the look-out for beautifully illustrated chapter books with more visuals attached to content.
  • There is an absence of trends in the YA space, which is exciting as good stories can be told and they don’t have to fit into a trend.
Nicole Godwin and Angie Thomas

Nicole Godwin and Angie Thomas

And just as it was winding down, the energetic, captivating and unapologetic Angie Thomas stepped out to deliver the closing address. She reiterated the advice from agents about books needing to reflect the world’s diversity. Her book ‘The Hate U Give’ centers on police violence in black communities. It’s raw, riveting and real.

What could I do? I had no choice but to get Angie’s book.

And just like that, the main sessions were over, but the bookshop was still open and calling my name. And all of the wonderful award winners and speakers were sitting and waiting to sign my books. So, I went to meet my new best friends in the books store and bought just a few more books as gifts.

Lucky I bought a spare suitcase!

A Chat with Writer/Illustrator, Christina Booth

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Anne Morgan, author and ARA from Tasmania, recently sat down to interview  Tasmanian writer and illustrator extraordinaire, political activist and advocate, and SCBWI Tas co-organiser, Christina Booth.

1. How has SCBWI helped your career?

 I was a slow joiner! Being in Tasmania, I didn't think it would be worth my while but I met Susanne and I decided to join and go to the conference. Wow. It has helped in so many ways and allowed me to help others. Moral support, mentoring others and being mentored, sharing, building each other up, networking, networking, oh, did I mention networking! Then there is the business side of it, meeting publishers, opportunities to show my portfolio, pitching, manuscripts assessments (for my first novel...still plugging away at that one!). I have picked up quite a few contracts for books at SCBWI conferences and now I am a part of a Tasmanian branch. Because an island is the best place to be a writer!!

2. Want to share what are you working on now?

Ah! Wouldn't you like to know?!!! Of course I'll share. I'm  finalising the picture book, One Careless Night, picked up from a successful pitch at the Sydney 2016 conference. I'm just starting the illustrations for another chook book (move over Kip!). I'm writing up a first draft of the script for my graphic novel (I have a grant to work on it and it's been a BIG learning curve!). I'm working on some new picture book ideas and preparing for a busy year.

3. How did you get your start in the industry?

I always dreamed of being an illustrator but pre-internet and living 'on an island' meant I didn't know how to start. Eventually, I was in the right place at the right time, meeting a small indie publisher when I moved to Wagga Wagga with my family. I began illustrating poetry books for the education market. The first author lived next door to Colin Thiele and he showed him my sample work. The next book was for Colin. You should have heard the commotion at my house that night as we celebrated. I was illustrating for one of my favourite childhood authors at his request. He was so encouraging and gave me some great advice. Then his friend Max Fatchen and  Christobel Mattingley were next. Each were inspirational, encouraging and offered wonderful advice I carry through to today. From there, it was pink hair, door knocking, face to face meetings with publishers and my first picture book was picked up. I've now been at it for eighteen years. 

4. Advice for new authors and illustrators.

Don't compare yourself to others or feel you need to be what others want you to be. Find your groove, work within your own unique style and be proud of it. Read, read, read. Everything and anything, especially genres you wouldn't normally read. Be an apprentice, be open to learning and growing. Don't take a rejection as a judgement on you, use all rejections to build the steps to the acceptance.  Understand, when you do get that contract, you become a part of a team working on a project that you dreamed into existence. So many people work on creating a book, you need to learn the craft of knowing what to hang onto and what to give in to.  If you are an illustrator, work hard on your craft. Know your strengths and weaknesses. Do intensive work in the areas you struggle in and learn to draw accurately before you simplify and animate any work you do. Gosh, I could type on forever.....

5. Where to from now, CB?

This year is a new world, no kids living at home and I'm learning to reinvent my work habits after years of squeezing what I do into everyone else's schedules. I need to continue working on my graphic novel, I plan to start writing a new novel and creating lots of art and picture books.

Australian Publishers Lifting Their Game

Australian book publishers lift their game to be more competitive but some are faring better than others: new study

New Macquarie University research released today reveals Australian book publishers are lifting their game to be more competitive. The Australian Book Publishers in the Global Industry study, which was financed by the Australian Research Council and Macquarie University, examines publishers’ responses to changes in the industry such as competition from offshore retailers Apple and Amazon, other entertainment entities such as Netflix, social media and online games, and the rise of self-publishing.

The study by Professor David Throsby and Dr Jan Zwar, from Macquarie University’s Business and Economics faculty, involved a survey of 44 Australian trade publishers ranging from some of the biggest publishing houses to small one- and two-person outfits.

Professor Throsby said publishers are putting in place reforms and improvements including behind-the-scenes initiatives using better systems to improve productivity and more visible changes such as learning how to run contemporary promotional campaigns using social media.

He praised the industry for recognising that reform is essential, but said the opportunities to lift book publishers’ performance are not evenly spread across the industry.

“Large publishers with turnover over $10 million per annum, whether independent or multinational, are more likely to have the resources to improve their practices and remain competitive in the globalising industry. Even so, one-third of these report they are financially worse off than five years ago,” Professor Throsby said.

The research shows small Australian publishers, with turnover of $100,000 - $10 million per annum, are the worst affected by changes in the industry. Over half (54 percent) of these report that changes in the book industry have been mostly negative, and 43 percent report a deterioration in their financial position compared to five years ago.  “Small publishers are aware of the need to be innovative but the costs can be prohibitive,” he said.

The study’s findings have important implications for Australian culture. Professor Throsby said book publishers are changing their offerings and updating their marketing to compete with other leisure options such as Netflix, Facebook and the Internet. But some types of publishing which are valuable for Australia’s culture are not always commercial propositions. “Small publishers are important publishers of Australian literature which often sells in small numbers and yet makes a significant contribution to our cultural life,” Professor Throsby said.

The research was the final part of a three-study larger project that looked at Australia’s book industry. All reports can be found at http://goto.mq.edu.au/book-industry.