Q&A - in conversation with publishers and editors


Roving Reporter: Mo Johnson    Moderator: Susanne Gervay

Publishers and editors: Niki Horin, Lisa Berryman, Shirin Bridges, Maryann Balantyne, Karen Tayleur.

And now we’re going to have a conversation with some wonderful publishers and editors,” SCBWI E/ Regional Advisor, Susanne Gervay announces to the delegates eagerly waiting the third session of the opening afternoon of the SCBWI Sydney conference 2014. “When they get here,” she adds looking around.

After a quick confab with Deb Abela she says, “Oh, we’re eight minutes early and publishers are never on time.”

 And if anyone can fill eight minutes with ease, it’s Susie Gervay

 As we learn about the wonderful benefits of being SCBWI members, Susanne glances up at the back of the marquee.

 "Oh look. Lisa is trying to break in. Don’t feel embarrassed,” she assures Harper Collins’ Associate Publisher, Lisa Berryman. “No one else is here yet,” before turning back to the audience and suggesting, “Let’s slow clap.”

 And so began a dynamic and informative session where Lisa and her colleagues gave us information and tips about how to break into the world of publishing.

 Niki Horin Managing Editor, Hardie Grant Egmont Australia was first up on a panel with years of experience in all areas of publishing including writing and illustrating in their own right.

 Her role involves: managing editorial production teams and she is ‘hands on’ in the development of her titles.

 She publishes:

Little Hare – Picture Books

Chirpy Bird – licensing products – think Transformers - and format books that or board books with interesting concepts that break the mold.

Fiction – junior fiction, middle fiction and YA.

She wants:

Potential collaboration with illustrators and designers.

Illustrators and designers to submit via the website  http://www.hardiegrant.com.au/egmont or via email to HGEdesign@hardiegrant.com.au.

Submission Hints:

She’s not currently accepting unsolicited manuscripts but hopes to be by the end of the year.

Like all publishers she will look at manuscripts that come via an agent.

 Lisa Berryman – Associate Publisher, Harper Collins

 Her role involves: determining the shape and content of her list, getting the voice and feel right, overseeing the Wednesday Post, working with designers, editors, working on Teachers’ notes, writing cover copy, liaising with the London and NY offices, nurturing her backlist and overseeing fabulous classics from Aussie legends like May Gibbs who has never been out of print since 1918. And the there’s the admin, because “we love our admin at Harper Collins.”

 She publishes:

Fiction – Picture Books, junior fiction, middle fiction and YA.

Harper Collins also publishes ABC children’s books with their strong focus on education. It’s her responsibility to create a revenue stream for both the creator and the company

 She wants:

Contemporary YA. / unny books  /  Picture Books / Non-Fiction / Fantasy

 Submission Hints:

She’s not currently accepting unsolicited manuscripts / YA ONLY ms can be submitted during the Wednesday Post – check out http://www.wednesdaypost.com.au/ for details.

 Like most of her colleagues on stage, she ‘never says never’ and so is happy to be contacted by email with a synopsis, or concept for consideration.

 Shirin Yim Bridges– Publisher Goosebottom Books, US, founded the publishing house in 2010. Based in San Francisco Goosebottom press has released 18 books, all of which have won awards.

 Her role involves: managing editorial production teams and she is ‘hands on’ in the development of her titles.

 She publishes:  series – think 6 books at a time – and their series Horrible Hauntings was the first in the USA to use ‘augmented reality’ allowing illustrations to be viewed in 3D format via a downloaded app.

She has also founded a partnership press called Gosling Press for picture books through to YA (although she hasn’t found any YA that’s she’s excited about yet).  A Partnership Press works like this: the creator and the publisher work together to explore the grant system as a way of financing a project. Failing that the creator is self funded but Gosling Press will go into partnership with them to distribute etc… the funding is therefore shared and so are any profits, making it potentially more lucrative than traditional publishing. The first book will be released next spring.

Gosling Press is NOT a vanity press. The list is highly curated and just as tough to make as any other.

 She wants:

Books with some kind of inspirational, cultural awareness.  “Books with ideas.” “Books stuffed so full of stuff, kids don’t even realise they are learning.”

 Submission Hints:

 Goosebottom Press: She’s not currently accepting unsolicited manuscripts but likes to receive samples of writing that are held on file and reviewed each Autumn. She tries to add at least one new voice to her list per year. Goosebottombooks.com.au.

 Gosling Press: submit via Goosebottom website. Submit a 1-3 page synopsis, outline your intended audience and explain why you know this audience so well.

Maryann Ballantyne – Publisher Black Dog Books

Her role involves: managing editorial production, meeting creators and illustrators, meeting publishing deadlines, calls, emails, and admin. Collaboration is the key. All editing and design is done in house.

 She publishes:

Black Dog Books, founded in 2000 and now an imprint of Walker Books Australia

Fiction – Picture books, junior fiction, middle fiction and YA and non-fiction, especially historical non-fiction.

 She wants:

Creators who want a conversation. That’s how all her best books start and then the writer goes off and makes it happen. She wants a great story, a distinctive voice, history that excites kids, little known historical non-fiction and anything quirky and funny.

Submission Hints:

Email her and feel free to check via email every few months. She will get back to you eventually. Don’t call. She doesn’t have time to concentrate on submission via phone.

 Karen Tayleur – Editorial Manager, Five Mile Press, Australia.

 Her role involves: writing children’s fiction and YA, and in her publishing role she tends to be reactive rather than proactive due to the huge demands of the job. Like all of her colleagues she attends meeting…many meetings and does admin and liaises with international illustrators and agents.

 She publishes:

420 titles a year, many of which are licensing material – think My Little Pony, Richard Scarey and Noddy - and 30 adult fiction titles.

 She wants:

Picture books for 0-6 or perhaps 0-8, novelty books and early learning books as well as any interesting story as she ‘never says never.’

She wants voice that’s different and strong.

 Submission Hints:

Send us a manuscript but give us at least 6 months to read it.

Australian PB Illustrators PLEASE send your work to Karen. She has lots of stories waiting on the right Australian Illustrator.

 Email her and feel free to check via email every few months.

 General Advice from Q&A session

 • If you’re told a book doesn’t suit a list it could be because the list is full or the genre isn’t correct or the writing isn’t good, or it’s good, but not good enough.

 • It doesn’t hurt to send more than one sample of work at a time. Often the ‘gem’ isn’t the one you think it is. Definitely flag up the fact if you can write in other genres.

 • If multi submitting to publishers do have the courtesy to let the publishers know this and do inform them at once should any other publisher pick up your work.

 • If submitting illustration portfolios you can show a range of styles eg, humans, animals, nature etc.…  but never push against your natural style, it will show.

 • It is also ok not to sub a broad range because often a publisher will instinctively get a feel for what you will be able to do, even if you don’t know it yet.

 • While the panel did not think there is a push in Australia for ‘cutsey, attractive’ humans, they do remind us that they are working for a market that often has very strict ideas about how diversity should be represented. The education market is very competitive and some markets like the US are highly prescriptive right down to the shade of pencil that should be used to depict ethnicity.

 • There is some debate about collaborative works such as picture books. Does the writer get first billing?

The panel raised the following points:

1. Equality is ideal but sometimes the marketing team makes the decision. A well known author will be represented in bigger point size over a new illustrator because the well known name will sell the book.

2. Often it’s a matter of digital atheistic – the way the names look on the page.

 • Unsolicited Ms and % published

Niki  -   Lots and 5 published

Karen -  1200 a year and about 1%

Lisa – 3 a day but sometimes she’ll puck up on just an idea and it will become a published book.

Maryann – Lots – She’s just returned a truckload to senders recently because people don’t do their homework.


Be patient

Know your audience

Remember you have to be marketable

Target your submissions carefully

Don’t give up

 And ultimately “Never try to be the next…whoever. BE THE NEXT YOU!”