Tassie MiniCon Wrap-up by Anne Morgan March 18, 2016

Tasmania’s second ever SCBWI MiniCon was held in the Beaconsfield Senior Citizens function hall, 2.45-5.30pm on Friday March, 18. Many thanks to SCBWI Assistant Regional Advisor, Deborah Abela, for chairing the gathering and to SCBWI TAS member, Christina Booth, who was our logistical genie, begging, borrowing and scrounging whatever equipment we asked for. Also to the organising committee of the Tamar Valley Writers Festival for supporting this invaluable SCBWI gathering.

The aim of the MiniCon was to connect Tassie authors and illustrators, explain how SXBWI can help them and discuss a few areas of the kids' publishing industry with the wealth of publishing talent present.

The MiniCon began with a preview of my next picture book, The Moonlight Bird and the Grolken (IP Kidz) illustrated by SCBWI illustrator, Lois Bury. Prepublicity, not the hoped-for launch, because not even our logistical genie, Christina, could make the books materialise in time. So instead of launching the book, we showed the trailer.

We then showed the hilarious trailer for Christina’s next picture book, Too Many Sheep (Scholastic), to be released 1 May. Check out the trailer on her website.

Deb then opened the MiniCon by discussing what SCBWI can do for writers and illustrators at all stages in their careers. Christina and Lois Bury then spoke about how SCBWI had boosted their careers.

This was followed by the Perils, Pitfalls and Pleasures of Publishing - What I’ve learned so far - successful authors Belinda Murrell and Jacquie Harvey shared the highs and lows of their publishing careers, and some tips, hints and advice of what they’ve learned so far.

Sally Odgers, Justin D'Ath and Christina discussed how authors survive – both Christina and Sally have come up with some ingenious ways of generating income from their books, aside from royalties and ELR/PLR payments.

Deb then presented some information and resources on school visits, and protocols for negotiating ASA rates.

Tassie illustrators, Lois Bury and Rosemary Mastnak, spoke about how they create their memorable pics. The final session of the day was a session on Tasmanian publishing successes.


Post script

The Tamar Valley Writers Festival (18-20 March) has now come and gone, but the excitement of attending so many outstanding sessions, and having so much writing talent assembled in one place, still lingers.

Some weeks before the Festival, its Committee stirred up a nation-wide controversy world by declaring they were not paying their authors. The organisers were motivated by a well-intentioned desire to increase literacy levels in a relatively impoverished region of the poorest Australian state. Imposing charges upon festival-goers, they argued, would deter attendees, particularly children, from attending.

The organisers looked after their guests by accommodating them at a resort and providing shuttle buses to and from the festival; they also hosted a cocktail party and a festival dinner for their guests. But they didn’t pay their authors. Exposure and book sales, they argued, was enough.

This was the first time I have been invited to speak at a festival in my home state, despite having had twelve books published. After receiving the invitation to present, I decided it would be a great idea to hold a SCBWI miniconference at the Festival, to take advantage of the presence of so many star presenters, to provide professional development for Tassie’s aspiring, emerging and established children’s book creators . The Festival Committee was enthusiastic about the SCBWI minicon, and provided us with a venue, advertising and afternoon tea for about 40 participants.

When the Festival eventually announced it was not paying their guests, I felt the double sting of that proverbial horned dilemma. Should I resign as a presenter in protest against the non-payment of authors? But if I withdrew, that would end an ideal opportunity to provide networking and development opportunities for Tassie children’s book creators, not to mention destroying my best-ever chance of promoting my books.

After discussions with Susanne Gervay, SBWI Regional Advisor for Australia and New Zealand, we decided that, on balance, to go ahead with SCBWI miniconference. The Festival then provided SCBWI with even further support by offering to pay Deb Abela’s air fares from Sydney to chair the meeting. They also provided Deb with accommodation and invited her to speak at the Festival dinner.

There was scarcely a dry eye at the dinner when Deb told the gut-wrenching story of her own family’s emigration from Malta to Australia, soon after the end of World War II. This grim but compelling story inspired Deb’s soon-to-be-launched children’s novel: Teresa: A New Australian (Scholastic).

Being part of the Festival also allowed Deb and others to do some polite yet persistent lobbying of the Festival organisers, arguing that the payment of full ASA rates to authors should be at the core of any festival budget, rather than something that drops off the end of the budget when there is not enough money to go around. The issue of author payment was raised again at the final session of the Festival. A show of hands indicated that attendees would be willing to pay a $20 cover charge a day, although there was still strong support for keeping school sessions free to participants. Yes, I’d vote for that that. Provided the children’s/YA authors are still paid ASA rates.

The Beaconsfield Council has announced funding for two more festivals, one in 2018 and another in 2020. They have listened to SCBWI’s arguments regarding the payment of authors and have decided to begin a crowdfunding campaign in preparation for the next festival. And so, we hope we can look forward to future inspiring festivals at Beaconsfield, where the authors go home tired, happy and paid.


Anne Morgan