Posts Tagged 'Literary agent'

A Stampede of Books (or Bologna Children’s Book Fair)

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I’ve been wanting to attend the Bologna Children’s Book Fair for several years now. It’s the biggest annual event in children’s books, making it an incredibly exciting place for a writer / illustrator. Now I knew it was a massive event, but this was purely an intellectual concept. It’s a bit like being told about a stampede, as opposed to standing in the middle of one. A glorious stampede, mind you. A stampede of colourful stuff from a child’s imagination.

The fair is “the most important international event dedicated to the children’s publishing industry”, and includes authors, illustrators, literary agents, licensors, packagers, distributors, printers, booksellers and librarians, all meeting up to sell and buy and meet and produce and discover all things to do with kids books. Sound exciting? It was.

There were 1200 exhibitors. From 66 countries. With 5000 professional trade representatives. And the exhibition covered over 20,000 square meters of floor space. Plus the fair was celebrating its 50th year. Now I may specialise in words, but those numbers sound pretty impressive to me. Here’s the sight I walked in on – this is one fifth of one side of one hall out of four, on the first and quietest morning:

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I spent three inspiring days wandering around the fair and being involved in all its amazing busy-ness. I got to meet up with the head of my American publishing house (Viking / Penguin) who was passionate and humble and funny and charming and all things you would want from a publisher. I also had an amazing meeting with my American agent, talking picture books and characters and lots of ideas for new projects to come. I got to spend time with the incredible ladies from Books Illustrated, Ann James and Ann Haddon, who are super supportive of Australia children’s book creators and who ran the stand that became my home for fair. They ran a live illustration table where I made art alongside some very talented Aussie artists (Alison Lester, Isobelle Carmody, Briony Stewart and of course Ann James). While illustrating I got to meet passers by who stopped to chat – other artists and publishers from all over the world. But none of this quite captures the spirit of the fair. No, that is best done with photos.

Here’s my US publisher’s stand. It was full of books and well-dressed-important-types and take away coffee cups. This was a quiet moment captured on the first morning of an otherwise bustling stand:

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Here is the Books Illustrated stand, and the two awesome Anns setting it up. See if you can spot the Brave Squish Rabbit cover and the feature illustration from the book:

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Doing live illustrations (with my terrible paintbrush grip – such a lefty):

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More live illustrating, using papers I’d collected on the trip so far (you can just see a couple of the drawings I’d already done in front):

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One of my favourite stands, a European publisher called Edelvives who make gorgeous books:

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There were quite literally hundreds of different publisher stands. So many books! Some funny:

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Some sad:

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But mostly just awesome. Lots and lots of awesome books:

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And more:

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And more. How cute are these guys?:

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But it wasn’t all just a bunch of people standing around talking about books. Sometimes it was a bunch of people standing around drinking and talking about books. Here we’re preparing for the Australian Publisher’s Association party (while Boori gets in some sneaky self promotion):

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And here we might be at the Irish Publisher’s Association party drinking whisky (all in the name of being culturally appropriate and warming the winter chest plate):

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I’d heard about the famous ‘illustrator wall’, where you can pin an illustration that people peruse throughout the fair. All up there were actually about eight walls. Here is one on the very first morning:

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And here it is again on day three:

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And this is what an author looks like after three days of wandering halls, reading, illustrating, meetings, being inspired and overwhelmed and just generally feeling like a very small fish in a big pond:

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Luckily, we were in Italy, so there was always good food at the end of the day. Salute!

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Power of Suggestion

I finished editing a story the other day. It’s an early reader I first wrote a few years ago and it’s been through many drafts and rewrites. Settings have changed. Characters have been edited out. Darlings have been murdered. I sent it off to my agent and planned to put it out of my head until I heard her thoughts. I was going to be incredibly sensible about it all. ‘I’m not going to draw the characters,’ I told myself. ‘I’ll wait and see if there’s any interest in it first’.

Along comes my writing partner. ‘Have you started illustrating it yet?’ she says. I told her no (loudly), and repeated that I was being horribly sensible about it all. But my characters heard her. After that simple question, the mere suggestion of illustrating, they wouldn’t leave me alone. Talk about a riot. They pestered me until I had to draw them just to get them out of my head. And who would have thought, after I got over the self-doubt this illustration project stirred up (see my last post) I actually had some fun too.

Who needs ‘sensible’ anyway? And if the story doesn’t go anywhere, I’m still practicing and developing my style and getting more confident with each pen stroke. You’ll find some of the riot below…

Yearly Goal Post

I’m so sorry. Puns are my mortal enemies but I couldn’t resist this one. So … this is not only my yearly post on goals but also where I set out my writing goal posts for the New Year. Setting yearly goals is particularly important for writers. Writing is an activity that relies solely on self motivation and perseverance. Goals give us something clear and tangible to work towards – they keep us focussed through the ups and downs.

But unrealistic goals do exactly the opposite. It’s all about setting the RIGHT goals. As writers, so many things are out of our control, so it’s vital to make our goals only those things we can control. Our goals should be the things that are within our power to achieve by the end of the year. No pie in the sky stuff – no goals for nabbing a superstar agent, or signing a six figure book contract, or for your debut to hit the New York Times best seller list. Those things are mainly within someone else’s control, or the universe’s (or whatever you believe).

Don’t get me wrong – there’s nothing wrong with wanting those things, but I like to think of them as my ‘dream goals’. My current dream goals are for my first picture book, Squish Rabbit, to get great reviews and be a super seller. That’s a lovely daydream to entertain for a moment. But my real goals, the ones I write down and talk about, are more tangible. They look something like this:

  • Goals about specific projects: writing the first draft of a new novel, redrafting a certain project, finishing the final illustrations for a picture book
  • Goals about submissions: in 2007 I chose to submit just to my critique group, in 2008 I chose to target competitions and magazines, and in 2009 I chose to target agents
  • Goals about networking / branding: getting to more book launches or writing functions, developing a website, visiting schools, promoting yourself as a speaker, or my 2009 goal – starting a writing blog *grin*
  • Goals about craft: focussing on the areas of your writing you know you need to develop by reading books on craft or attending workshops / conferences

I have goals in all of these areas. I think I probably always will. How about you?

PS. Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night (I’m signing off for the year, but will be back in the New Year, fresh and chirpy and ready to post)

The “Final” Draft

Rabbit - climbI’m about to start the final draft of a mid-grade novel. I say final with a wry smile, because I’m well aware that if it finds a publisher there will be many more. So this is the final one before I send it to my agent. The previous draft involved a lot of rewriting, where I focussed on story pacing, structure, plot and developing the characters. This draft I’ll focus on polishing and tightening.

The next week or so will be spent doing some final planning and research before the hard work starts. I approach final drafts by going through the story chapter by chapter, focussing on a specific list of things I need to develop (as a dedicated Virgo, I love a good list). Lay people often think that many things on my list just naturally arrive in a story, and sometimes they do, but for me they’re not consistently there in early drafts. Early on I’m so caught up in plot, tension and the delivery, that the small elements that ground a story in reality and make it visceral often get overlooked. It’s the later drafts where I make sure EVERY chapter and scene works as hard as it needs to.

Some of the specifics on the list are the same for each novel:

  • Characterisation: ensuring each character is described consistently and that every interaction reveals their unique personality (quirks, strengths and weaknesses)
  • Dialogue: making sure it rings true and that each character sounds unique
  • Weather: weather rarely features until my later drafts – I have to make myself think about seasonal change and its impact on clothing choices, events and character mood
  • 5 senses: ensuring I use the different senses to describe any event (instead of simply relying on visual clues)
  • Poetry of Language: this is what I call making your words sing. I try to focus on each sentence, then each paragraph, making sure they read in a way that rolls off the tongue

Then there are things on the list that are individual to each story. These are some things specific to my current novel:

  • Humour: this story’s voice is quirky, so I need to make sure the tone is consistent throughout and that I’m exploiting every opportunity for humour
  • Time Pressure: the characters only have several days to solve their core problem, and the time pressure is vital to convey in order to maintain the tension
  • Flora / Fauna: the story is set in the Andes, so I need to convey a realistic sense of the wildlife present
  • Reveals: there are several ‘reveals’ in the story which lead to the climax and ultimate twist ending, so I need to make sure I’m building up to these and explaining them adequately (without info dumping)

While doing this draft I’ll also try to tighten the writing, cutting back the words like a weed wacker. In my humble opinion nearly every final draft could be bettered by decreasing the word count. I’m obviously not suited to writing massive, rambling tomes: I love a good concise tale, with room for the reader to bring their own ideas to the table.

So, what have I missed? What do others focus on in that “final” draft?

Pressure

sewThe business of writing is an interesting road. It brings surprising twists and turns as you journey along it. I remember early on (we’re talking years ago) I thought that after finding an agent and getting that first contract, all the stress would go. I learnt quickly that the truth is that each stage brings different stressors. I thought that with all I’d learnt so far and all I’d seen others go through that I was reasonably prepared. What I didn’t expect was the pressure.

Since signing with my agent, and even more so since getting my first book contract, I’ve been feeling this incredible pressure. Pressure to live up to people’s expectations. Pressure to keep producing work (and to better myself each time). Pressure to use the time I have to be really productive (because everyone keeps telling me I’ll have no time soon). Pressure to follow the path that people want/expect me to follow (picture books Vs novels). Pressure to be successful (whatever that is). Pressure now knowing that I’m no longer writing just for myself. Pressure that is sometimes completely unnamable but follows me around the house.

I’ve been thinking about it a lot – it’s impossible NOT to think about it because it’s keeping me up at night! – but the ultimate truth is that the pressure is coming from me. My agent is wonderful to work with, and completely happy to work at my pace. My editor is delightful and is currently away, so we’re not even working on edits yet. But me – I suppose I’ve always had high expectations of myself. I think many writers do – how else do we continue to write through rejections? We’re constantly told that this industry is so tough to break into, so now with my first book looming my brain is saying ‘this is your chance’ and ‘don’t stuff it up’ and ‘if you don’t keep working hard it will slip away from you’.

I can laugh at myself, though. I’m only a few months in and I already sound like a drama queen. Where I’m at is exactly where I’ve always wanted to be. I feel incredibly lucky and will never complain (kick me if I do). But I’m still learning. I feel pink and new. There are no rules for writing as a career, so I’m just trying to find what works for me.

The feeling of pressure most concerned me because I was having trouble writing. But today I’m back on the keyboard, fingers clacking over letters and words appearing on the screen. My Writing Critic’s voice is strong, but I’m fighting him better today. One word at a time. One foot in front of the other. Shrugging the pressure from my shoulders and trying to get back to just enjoying where this road takes me.

I wonder if others have had unexpected reactions to the different steps in seeking publication?

Agent Love

Rabbit - balloonConfession time. I know I said I’d post once I’d calmed down a bit from my agent news, but I haven’t come down much. Then again, I think that’s something worth celebrating, too. It seems to be common among writers to achieve a goal and then too soon start worrying about the next step along the path. I’ve been training myself to enjoy good news for longer (with the help of my ever patient fiance). It seems to be working – I’m still smiling.

Getting an agent is a goal many writer’s strive for, and yet this often obscures the importance of finding the RIGHT one for you. It’s potentially a life long relationship, and one of the most important ones in a writer’s career. There are so many different kinds of agents: some who edit and others who don’t, some who are mentors and others who are much more business like, and as many different styles and personality types in between. I knew what I wanted. Someone I connected with, who I felt comfortable discussing career goals with, someone who could offer editorial advice and who was passionate about writing and writers. Not asking for much, hey? But even knowing all that, how do you choose which agents to submit to?

Here’s how I made the decision to submit work to Sophie Hamley:

  1. Background: Like many agents, Sophie spent years working as an editor in the publishing industry, and comes with a wealth of knowledge and experience
  2. Client List: This was a clear winner for me, because Sophie represents writers and illustrators I have admired for many years. People whose work I strongly connect with. It was also clear from her client list that she’s passionate about literature for young people
  3. Work Style: I was fortunate enough to know several of her clients, and have heard only wonderful things about how they work together
  4. Personality Match: This is the toughest I suppose, as it’s something you can almost only gauge after meeting a person. I was lucky enough to meet Sophie at a writer’s festival, which highlights the value of conference pitch sessions like those run at the Bundaberg WriteFest and Brisbane’s CYA. Her passion and enthusiasm blew me away, especially when she was talking about her clients, and from the moment we met I knew I’d enjoy working with her 

After all that, it was clear she was the agent for me, so I’m incredibly lucky that she decided to sign me! Now I’m suffering from a slight case of Agent Love.  Something I’m not sure I want the cure for.

Happy Dancing

Rabbit - lookYou should be glad that this is a blog as opposed to a vlog (video blog) because today I am happy dancing.  It is something others should never have to witness, but I am more than happy to talk all about it. Legs are flying, arms are circling, and there’s a grin as big as pluto on my face. Why? Because I’ve had good news.

Bundaberg WriteFest has been making a name for itself by providing incredible opportunities for writers.  For the second year running they have run a competition where writers with a completed project could submit a query, sample pages and synopsis, with the chance of winning an interview with an editor or agent. I was one of the lucky writers whose project was chosen by Sophie Hamley, super agent with the Cameron Creswell Agency.

Sophie represents many children’s authors whose work I really admire, including Tristan Bancks and Aaron Blabey, as well as several wonderfully talented girls from my writer’s group. I’m incredibly excited to be able to meet her, and am really looking forward to learning from her wealth of knowledge and experience. I also get to attend the festival, the only problem being that I’ll have to choose which sessions to attend (they all look great).

So, I’ll be jetting off to coastal Bundy next weekend for a day immersed in writing. Care to join me in my happy dance?

Addendum: Late last night I found out that the editor also chose my project. This means I also get to meet with the delightful Kristina Schulz, the children’s editor from the University of Queensland Press. Although she has been upfront in saying that unfortunately my project does not suit their current publishing list, I can still benefit from her vast industry knowledge and editorial experience. What a whirlwind of a day!


About this Blog…

A blog of ramblings about the world of writing and illustrating for children, by an author / illustrator who might just have a thing for rabbits.

Katherine's picture books, 'Squish Rabbit' and 'Brave Squish Rabbit', are out with Viking (Penguin, US) and UQP (Australia). Please e-mail if you would like her to blog about something in particular.

All text & images  Katherine Battersby

Released Sept 2012:

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