Chapter Two: Ascending Action with a Big Twist! Bologna Brief with Frances Plumpton

Frances Plumpton in conversation with Susanne Gervay

Frances Plumpton in conversation with Susanne Gervay

Held over four days in the European spring, the Bologna Book Fair is a working trade fair in Italy especially for children’s literature. Literary agent and head of SCBWI in New Zealand, Frances Plumpton represented Australia and New Zealand at the Book Fair.

Some points Frances made:

  • SCBWI International only has a booth at the Fair every two years so it’s best to attend in those years otherwise it can be a lonely time.
  • SCBWI members from across the globe are welcome to meet others here and use it as a place ‘of refuge’ in the massive area.
  • The next SCBWI-attended one will be in 2018.
  • In 2016, there were over 1200 exhibitors. 98 countries and 55 languages were represented in the books and illustrations. 131 literary agents attended and so did 25,000 attendees.
  • IBBY also has a booth there.

Presenting at Bologna:

You can showcase your own book, but this year Frances represented our regional showcase which allowed people to browse through the books she’d brought. They included books from our two countries.

Some illustrators are able to get critiques with top illustrators and art directors. You can also sit at the SCBWI booth’s table and illustrate for the public as they walk past. The booth has a digital display as well. Frances also reminded authors they need to know if they have translation rights when presenting their books.

Illustrators have the chance to pin up an example of their art with business card on The Art Wall – a magnificent sight apparently.

Frances thought authors might have better chances to present their work at the smaller publishers’ booths. Certainly worth having conversations with them.

Anyone can buy the books at the end of the Fair, and most of the books are donated to the International Youth Library in Munich. Fellowships and grants are available here which may be worth checking out.

Frances also offered some great advice if you visit the Book Fair – don’t book your stay in the cheaper accommodation near the Fair site as it’s too far out of town in an industrial area. Best to be in the city itself – the connecting public transport is excellent.

There is so much to see in Bologna besides the Book Fair!

Jackie French and Gregg Dreise among those at this year's Bologna Book Fair

Jackie French and Gregg Dreise among those at this year's Bologna Book Fair

SCBWI creator and conference delegate, Peter Taylor then responded to Susanne’s quest for questions:

'Time was tight and when Susanne asked for ‘one last very quick question’, and instead I took the microphone and gave a short account of my Bologna experience in 2010. That was obviously unplanned and I would have liked to have prepared and said more.

While gatekeepers kept me out of the stands of Usborne and Walker Books, for example, when I arrived well-dressed between other publishers’ appointments, their personnel asked who I was and what I was looking at, wondering if I was their next appointee. I said ‘I am an author looking to see if you have any books likely to compete with my new one....’ (they were all curious to find out if mine would compete with a book of theirs, and were eager to chat) ‘…and I’m also looking to see if you have any gaps in your list that I may be able to fill.’

Publishers often do want a book on a specific subject, but don’t advertise the fact.

I studied a wide range of papercrafts at art colleges and in the past I’ve also been a biologist, school teacher, museum curator and natural history freak.

My book at that time was Practical Calligraphy, pub. Hinkler Books, and a Canadian publisher at Bologna also had a new calligraphy book on their stand. They said ‘…but we didn’t really want a calligraphy book. What we actually wanted a book on drawing borders, but we didn’t find anyone to write it.’ What an opportunity! I can send a proposal and sample chapter on a creating border designs…

Trying the same lines at the London Book Fair, I suggested to one publisher, GMC Publications, that I could write a ‘Fun Lettering for Children’ book for them, but they said ‘What we’d really like is a book for adults on Calligraphy for Greetings Cards and Scrapbooking’ – which I created over two years and didn’t follow up on other leads.

At Bologna and the LBF, I also found publishers wanting books written on papermaking, recipes that children can cook, the sea shore, baby elephants, fungi, kangaroos, small furry animals, and more. I wonder if any of the publishers still want a book on any of these topics – I’ve kept their business cards…

But just knowing that a publisher wants a book on fungi may not be enough to write a successful proposal and sample chapters. Attending Bologna is useful to see the overseas publisher’s ‘house style’, especially in a series, and their books may never appear on a bookstore or library shelf for consultation in Australia.'

SCBWI at the Bologna Book Fair 2016 (essential reading)

Australia/New Zealand at the Bologna Book Fair:


 Thank you, Frances and Susanne for this very interesting session. It certainly whetted my appetite to attend the Fair one day.

Sheryl Gwyther Roving Reporter



Chapter Two: 100 years of The School Magazine

The panel

The panel

A Centenary of School Magazine with (Editor) Alan Edwards, (Contributors) Sheryl Gwyther, Marjorie Crosby-Fairall and Wendy Fitzgerald and (Graphic Designer) Josemalene Ruaya.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of The School Magazine, which began publication in 1916 and is now the longest running children’s literary publication in the world. To commemorate this momentous occasion SCBWI included a panel discussion about the School Magazine and their publication process, as a part of the 2016 Conference. Chaired by Sheryl Gwyther, author   and prolific contributor for the magazine, the panel provided an interesting and informative overview of the magazine’s process and it’s glorious 100-year history.

For those who don’t know, The School Magazine is Australia’s foremost literary magazine for children, filled with texts of literary merit that encourage children to read for pleasure and explore stories. Editor Alan Edwards says “we are trying to instill a love of reading in our young students and I think we have done a pretty good job of that over the last century”.

In honor of their birthday The School Magazine has recently released “For Keeps” An anthology of stories, poems and plays from the last century of publications. It is a visual and literary feast for adults and children alike. I spoke with designer, Wendy Rapee, about her choices in putting together this gorgeous treasury.

“It was with a sense of nostalgia I approached this task, so the palette is soft and slightly dusty. Right from the start I wanted to contextualise the pieces for kids of today as well as evoking nostalgia for past readers."

The School Magazine publishes 4 different magazines aimed at children in years 3, 4, 5 and 6 at school.

  • Countdown (year 3)
  • Blast Off (year 4)
  • Orbit (year 5)
  • Touch Down (year 6)


They produce 40 magazines a year along with 40 teaching guides, with each issue lovingly assembled by a hardworking and dedicated team including panelists Alan Edwards and Josemalene Ruaya.

Jose is The School Magazine’s only graphic designer, single handedly responsible for the look and layout of 40 publications per year. Jose gave a fascinating breakdown of her design process and philosophy for the magazine saying

“I tend to design to make our pieces inviting to read and to make sure that the layout and the illustrations and graphics support and enrich the text rather than overwhelm it…we use illustration in many different ways. We always try to add something else that there isn’t space for in the text, we always try to support what’s going on in the text and add value to what’s already there”

The School Magazine has had the input of some of Australia's most prominent children's writers and illustrators throughout their 100-year existence, including but certainly not limited to, Aaron Blabey, Sarah Davis, Duncan Ball, Patricia Wrightson and Ursula Dubosarsky and panelists, Sheryl Gwyther and Wendy Fitzgerald.

Wendy Fitzgerald discussing her latest contribution

Wendy Fitzgerald discussing her latest contribution

As a matter of fact Neridah McMullin’s new picture book “Fabish” came from a story originally published in “Blast Off “Magazine in 2011. The School Magazine has a reputation for inspiring books and launching careers.

But anyone involved in the world of children’s books and primary education already knows this, what made the SCBWI session stand out from all the other celebrations this year, was the way it detailed The School Magazine’s process from submission to publication. Providing a real insight for writers and illustrators about submitting their work and what to expect when they do.

A couple of interesting facts;

  • The School Magazine is one of the last publications in Australia that accepts unsolicited manuscripts.
  • It is also one of the last places that will publish poetry now, making it’s existence even more important on the literary stage for writers and readers alike.

So if anyone is interested in submitting to the School Magazine and wants to know what happens once you do, the process is pretty simple.

For writers:

  • The School Magazine accepts prose, stories, plays, poetry and fiction. 
  • When a manuscript comes in the assessment process usually takes about 4 months and it is read by 3 or 4 different people, before having a decision made on whether it will be accepted or not.
  • Once a submission has been accepted the magazine contacts the author, purchases the piece AND pays them straight away!

"Choice is driven by the quality of the writing." Alan Edwards on the submission decision process

How to submit to The School Magazine

How to submit to The School Magazine

Just another great advantage for contributors to The School Magazine, they pay upon purchase and their purchase is for single use only. So if they want to use your work again, you get paid again, at a reduced rate. Once the piece has been purchased they will wait for the right issue to come up before placing it. Generally you will know when it’s time because a copy of The School Magazine arrives, like a present, in your mailbox.

"Everything we do must add value to the text" Josemalene Ruaya on magazine design

For Illustrators,:

  • The School Magazine provides a rotating cycle of opportunity by having a pool of illustrators it draws upon year round, choosing the illustrator that best suits the written work.
  • Submissions are open for certain periods of time each year, usually June to July but this can change, so it ‘s best to keep an eye on the website. 
  • Just like with written work, illustrators also retain their rights and purchase is for a single use only.

"Illuminate not decorate" Marjorie Crosby-Fairall on her illustrative briefs

Marjorie Crosby-Fairall discussing the magazine's illustrative briefs

Marjorie Crosby-Fairall discussing the magazine's illustrative briefs

Throughout this panel one point became abundantly clear, EVERYONE has nothing but reverence and deep respect for The School Magazine. The people who work to bring it to life, are deeply impassioned individuals who strive to expose our kids to quality literature.  To be accepted as a contributor is an honor, a validation of literary merit and something people own with great pride. So why not try submitting your work and see where The School Magazine could take you too…

Kel Butler Roving Reporter


Chapter One Keynote Address by Tara Weikum - The State of the Market

Tara Weikum delivering her Keynote Address

Tara Weikum delivering her Keynote Address

The state of the market for illustrators and authors with Tara Weikum, Vice President of HarperCollins USA.

The SCBWI delegates were very excited to welcome Tara Weikum to the stage. She is the vice-president of Harper Collins USA, as well as editorial director of HC children’s books. She has worked in publishing for over 20 years and publishes middle grade and YA (teen).

Tara told us that Harper Collins is the second biggest publisher of children’s books. They publish about 500 books a year including backlists and are celebrating 200 years of publishing this year.

Tara’s team of six people publish 10-15 books a year. Her passion has always been for YA.

She shared some of her favourites. For example, ‘Big Mouth Ugly Girl‘ by Joyce Carol Oates, ‘Inside Out and Back Again’ by Thanhha Lai, and showed us the covers of other junior fiction and teen fiction.

A few years ago Tara said she only had a few middle grade on her list. However, in 1996, the National Book Foundation began a category for teens. Now just about every publisher in the states has a category just for teens. YA had been very popular but there has been a tipping point and middle grade began making new ground. For example, ‘The One and Only Ivan’ has sold over 1 million copies. It was on the bookseller list before it won awards. Tara didn’t publish Ivan but is working with Kathryn on a new series in 2018.

Several factors have helped improve sales for children’s books.

  • The Times began a children’s book list and there are now six lists. It enabled the children’s list to become more competitive.
  • There has also been teen movies adapted from books which has resulted in lots more sales.
  • Social media also promotes books and enables authors to promote to their target audience.

During the years there was a downfall in selling children’s books, some booksellers blamed Amazon for the fall out in bookstores. Just recently, however, Amazon set up stores in America. E-books sales were also blamed, but recently there has been a downfall in this market. Based on research e-books peaked in 2014. Some books sell well in e-books, but now e-books are not so cheap. There is also screen fatigue, a lot of people like holding a book in their hands. Tara said they still expect to see some growth with ebooks but not like it has been.



We were all interested to know what was the biggest trend and groaned when Tara said colouring books are still selling extremely well. They are even selling colouring-in books to go with children’s books. We perked up when she said highly illustrated books such as The Dork Diaries and graphic novels are bestsellers, as well as novels and non-fiction with girls as main characters. Also books about science and computer coding. In 2014 people tweeted on the Internet about the lack of diversity in children’s books. Since then a hashtag and a formal organisation are addressing that issue and more diversity books are being published.

We Need Diverse Books #weneeddiversebooks


Tara ended with the following wise words. Don’t follow trends". It’s a good idea to read outside of your area, even if you are not writing those books.”

Someone from the audience asked whether American publishers were interested in publishing Australian stories. Tara answered that most publishers in the States only work with agents. There are hundreds of agents in the States. Agents are keen to take a chance with Australian authors, but there is a barrier if something doesn’t feel American. It depends if the humour and characters etc cross-over.

Maria Gill Roving Reporter