Monthly Archives: September 2015

You have the right to see your words in print! Step Nine

Illustration Process YHTR Blog Emma Mactaggart

9. Illustrate

I know I could illustrate a book if I chose to! Confidence for this comes from understanding that everyone can draw. Everyone. It is a universal skill and it is learnt. Those who are amazing illustrators do one thing I don’t – practice, practice, practice. For this reason alone, I now outsource and choose to commission an illustrator to prepare illustrations, which I then purchase. With a contractual agreement in place, I own the rights to use the images though the copyright remains that of the illustrator. I offset the cost of the illustrations through book sales, exhibitions and sale of the original illustrations once the book has been printed and speaking about this entire process in workshops and presentations! For me – it is worth it because I am not prepared to put in the time!

I am often asked where do you ‘find’ an illustrator? There is a magical source (which I have banned myself from because it is so distractingly beautiful!) called ‘The Style File’ where illustrators show their digital folios. I also suggest people go to their local university / tafe (if they offer graphic design or visual arts courses) and make sure you attend the end-of-year exhibition. Sing up for fabulous subscription eZines like Pass It On (profiles an illustrator each week). Of course, and a perfectly wonderful thing to do, is to go the National Gallery of Victoria and check out the Bunyips and Dragons exhibition…

You can approach any living illustrator and commission them to do illustrations for your book! Be brave, ask, and see how you go.

One fabulous hot tip if you are accepting the help from your lovely next door neighbour… Ask them for one sample and scan it. Make sure the image is a quality that can be reproduced. Often, a water colour, or a pencil image looks brilliant to the eye, but once scanned, seems to disappear!


Have fun!


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The Write Opportunity

The children’s writing world is full of opportunities for you to experiment and practice the craft of writing – to ‘sharpen the pencil’ as I wrote about last month (here).

Buxx words logo

It helps, firstly, if you have a way to find out about the opportunities.  Being linked in to the writing community is imperative. Writer’s centres, online websites (like Just Write For Kids Blog; Creative Kids Tales etc) Facebook groups (JWFK, Australian Picture Books Authors and Illustrators etc), industry associations (ASA, CBCA, SCBWI), critique groups and the like are valuable sources of information. However, industry newsletters (PIO and BuzzWorpass it onds) provide a one stop shop for all opportunities (both for competitions and publishing) and are rich with other helpful ‘insider’ information. They sometimes also provide opportunities in themselves!

I find that writing for a purpose and having a deadline are good motivators for me to keep writing. So I like to take advantage of competitions and opportunities. I used to just enter those that give feedback – if I’m truthful, I think this was a way to protect my delicate ego (“I don’t expect to win but the feedback is invaluable”) and while both these things are true, I have since found that sending things out a bit more indiscriminately produces its own reward – like allowing me to experiment – and I am often surprised with where it leads.

A recent example: Buzz Words newsletter is running a simple competition about writing a paragraph beginning “I was twelve when…” The prize is a bunch of kids books (a good prize for children’s writers because reading current books is also essential for developing our own craft). I ‘knocked something up’ (it wasn’t too hard or time consuming) and submitted it – totally unrelated to anything I am currently working on – totally out of no-where. The interesting thing is, I became intrigued with the characters and ideas, and so when I came across a call-out for contributions to the latest Prints Charming anthologies (again in an industry newsletter) I found the perfect impetus to continue writing and placement for my story (It’s a magical story about a unicorn, in case you were wondering – but with a darker side!). It doesn’t matter how I go in the Buzz Words Competition – I’m already a winner with an idea and an outlet!

The other reward is that the more you enter – no matter how small (sometimes small is better) – the greater your chance of having something published. Another example: one of the aforementioned newsletters advertised that Positive Words magazine was looking for ‘fillers’ (small snippets to ‘fill in the gaps’ between longer stories). I sent in an eight word story (yes, that’s right – just 8 words!) and – voila! my name is in print!!


Having something published makes you ‘feel’ more like a writer and so, a. you want to write more, and b. you have something to put on your resume (and boast about). And the more you write, the better you get at it. Win, win, win! So what are you waiting for??

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You have the right to see your words in print! Step Eight

YHTR Emma Mactaggart

8. Design

You are on your road to being a published author, and the best way of processing your ‘to do’ list from this point on is to think like a publisher. Determine in advance how you wish your book to present in the market place. Is it just an eBook on Amazon? Is it printed locally or overseas? Is it hard cover or paperback? It is going to be everything – including being an app and available on iTunes. The technology is there, right there in front of you. The determinant is your budget. How much money is allocated to the production of the book? Like everything in life, if you do the work and research and product development yourself, you spend your time and not so much money. If you outsource the whole process, you pay someone else to use their time on your project. Economics 101!

Spend time looking at other books. I can guarantee the book you are holding in your hand right now has had numerous printing quotes prepared for it; it has been weighed and the distribution costs associated with a carton weight / container weight has been factored in; the cost for the purchaser to send the book as a gift has been recognized (does the book fit a large envelope therefore attract the lowest postage fee?)

Did you want this same book to be an eBook? Was it a simple conversion? Do you have to outsource this process or are you prepared to spend the time understanding programs like Kindle Book Creator and the Amazon way? Did you want the book to become a truly enhanced experience, therefore a different product borne of your printed book?

And once you have determined all of this, can you translate it for the graphic designer – or are you setting up the book using Adobe InDesign or equivalent program?

Yes, this all takes time – but you want the best product to go to market don’t you? If you want it in the bookshelves in a bricks and mortar bookstore – it has to look as though it belongs there!


Have fun!

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Filed under Emma Mactaggart, Writing Tips

Picture Books in the Eye of the Beholder

To begin my journey towards becoming a published picture book author, I became an avid (perhaps compulsive) reader of the genre. Yes, it has definitely helped having two young daughters around as an excuse for my weekly loitering in the kids’ section of the library. Anyway, I also began writing formal reviews around 18 months ago, in the hopes that studying these beauties would ingrain some wisdom and impart a whole bunch of amazing writing skills. Well, let’s see if some of it is getting through! These are my findings on what makes for a successful picture book. What features do you look for?

1. Front Cover / Title.
imageCan you judge a book by its cover? I say, if it’s love at first sight, then YES! I’m drawn to immediate eye-catching qualities, and those covers that reflect a glimpse of the adventure that awaits inside. Titles, too, should be catchy, humorous, thought-provoking and/or teasers! Think ‘Pig the Pug’ (Aaron Blabey) with his adorably ugly, bulgy-eyed, squashed face that so boldly graces its bright red cover, and a title that intices the reader to find out more. On the opposite spectrum ‘I Don’t Like Koala’ (Sean Ferrell and Charles Santoso) poses dramatic impact with its simplicity of a boy throwing a toy across a white background. With these examples, the visual expressions paired with the interesting titles say it all.

2. Opening / Closing Lines.
The opening line MUST win you over from the outset. I love those that grab your curiosity by the horns on first inspection. And the closing line… It should encapsulate everything explored, challenged, and triumphed. Really, the pair should work together; the story is like fastening a bracelet with its hook (opening) and its clasp (closing), and all the jewels and charms inbetween.
One of my favourites would have to be ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’ (Eric Carle):
Opening – ‘In the light of the moon a little egg lay on a leaf.’
Closing – ‘…he was a beautiful butterfly!’


3. Re-readable Story.
imageRe-reading the books allows you to get the most out of the experience. But with kids, if it doesn’t grab them the first time, then you’ve got no chance of a repeat reading. Stories with humour, suspense, imagination, emotion and depth, thought-provoking sub-plots and surprising secret details, as well as plays with words, are winners when they still grab you upon second, third or one hundreth reading. ‘Scary Night’ (Lesley Gibbes and Stephen Michael King) is a great example of a book that evokes excitement, interactivity and curiosity in its plot and language, with little elements in the drawings that encourage hours of perusal.

4. Relatable Characters.
imageWe connect with characters who show different facets of human nature and overcome internal and external struggles in pleasing, fascinating ways and with universal appeal. For instance, parents and children can relate to the everyday challenges seen with the lovable, strong-willed Alfie in ‘Hurry Up Alfie’ (Anna Walker), as well as those that open our eyes to a world beyond our own, such as the generous Bridie in ‘Bridie’s Boots’ (Phil Cummings and Sara Acton), and the diverse cultures seen in ‘An Aussie Year’ (Tania McCartney and Tina Snerling).

5. A Unique Idea.
How clever are these creators to come up with something that is like nothing we’ve seen before?! I’m thinking of heartwarming stories that explore relationships in difficult circumstances (‘When I see Grandma’, Debra Tidball and Leigh Hedstrom), interactive language and unique artistic media (‘I’m a Dirty Dinosaur’, Janeen Brian and Ann James), and inventive ways to be hilarious (‘My Dad Thinks He’s Funny’, Katrina Germein and Tom Jellett).


6. Language.
The language and the illustrations work together in tandem with their ability to tantalise, entertain, interest and arouse emotion. Whether it’s rhythmic, alliterated, repetitive, or questioning, every word, every meter, every refrain needs to be exact. A couple of picture books in this class are the poetic ‘The Duck and the Darklings’ (Glenda Millard and Stephen Michael King), and the exquisite ‘Teacup’ (Rebecca Young and Matt Ottley).

Image from Itty Bitty Book Van.

Image from Itty Bitty Book Van.

7. Illustrations.
imageThese are the driving force of the humble ‘picture’ book. Children’s book artists are completely brilliant with their mind-blowing ability to create captivating, striking, expressive, textured, detailed and varied images, with their clever use of colours and movement. Too many to name, and each with their own unique styles, here are some of my personal favourites: Freya Blackwood, Anna Walker, Matt Ottley, Shaun Tan, Bob Graham, Gus Gordon, Alison Lester, Bruce Whatley, Andrew Joyner, Peter Carnavas and Renée Treml.

What do you think makes for a successful picture book? I’d love to hear your thoughts!


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Keeping track of your expenses

Keep track of your expenses

Keep track of your expenses

Last month, I talked about keeping track of your income. It’s now time to look at your expenses.

The expenses you have may vary depending on whether you are self-publishing or are traditionally published. In general, your expenses could include:

  • Workshops and conferences
  • Editing and manuscript assessment
  • Equipment such as computer purchases
  • Professional support – graphic design, accounting fees, virtual assistant etc
  • Memberships
  • Book promotions – advertising, bookmarks, banners
  • Books that count as being part of your professional library – the rules are not clear here, so be prepared to justify book purchases if needed
  • Purchasing printed copies of your own books to onsell
  • Postage and envelopes
  • Parking at conferences and events

As discussed in my last post, the easiest way to keep track of your income is with accounting software or a spreadsheet. You can use the same method to keep track of your expenses.

With any of your expenses, be sure to keep a copy of your receipt, especially if paying with cash.  This way you can match these up to any expenses you have so you can claim them at tax time. Sometimes it can be helpful to write notes on the receipts so you can remember what they were for. For example if you park at a conference, you could write what the conference was on the receipt. This can also help if you are asked to justify any purchases.

Keeping track of your expenses is just as important as keeping track of your income. By keeping track of both of these, you will know if you are making any money as an author or not.

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You have the right to see your words in print! Step Seven

6. Edit

There is no way around this. By now, you have completely fallen in love with what you have created. (I was so tempted to write, ‘as you would a child’ and you can’t see the blemishes – but I don’t really want the possible feedback about psychology 101!)

Every time a family member or dearest friend reads it, they will look through rose-coloured glasses and tell you how fabulous you are and how clever you are proving to be! They are right.

You have, of course, followed some conventions of writing, haven’t you? You have already checked the punctuation, spelling and grammar is appropriate. The page layout is pertinent and you are lulling your reader into a state of comfort by allowing recognition of something familiar. ‘Ah, this indeed is a children’s picture book!’

Take a breath. Now, think… Without this emotional attachment, possibly (actually, it is highly likely) you may have been given some feedback of use? A word singled out that may strike a discordant note in your otherwise mellifluous manuscript? A query raised about a slight lack of credibility via the actions or intent of your main character? Questions raised rather than answered in response to your choice of location and time frame for an event? Has every single word earned its place? Does the language sound fluid and melodic? Does it make you feel like crying when you read it?

Outsource the editing and don’t spare any expense. It really is a black and white moment with no shades of grey! Editing is possibly the single identifier of work of quality. Lack of editing is symbolic of irreverence for your reader – they deserve the very best having invested their time and money into your work!


Have fun!


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Filed under Emma Mactaggart, Writing Tips

The Giant Drop

Many times, I’ve been told the writing game is an emotional roller coaster ride. Ups, downs, hill climbs, racing downhill, loop-the-loops… From my experiences, I’m more inclined to match it to The Giant Drop; one of Dreamworld’s ‘Big 9 Thrill Rides’, particularly the vulnerability of submitting manuscripts to publishers.

Note: If The Giant Drop is unfamiliar to you, please click here. 🙂

Stage One: Emotional preparation AKA plucking up courage
Six months in the making and my story is complete. I’ve had it professionally edited and it shapes up really well. I’ve researched a list of publishers accepting manuscripts and cross-checked that my story meets their submission criteria. I’m pumped, confident, ready-to-go. I even get my friends and family involved in the pre-ride excitement. This book is going to be the next best-seller. Hurry! Let’s get on the ride!

I submit.

Stage two: The waiting line
All pepped and ready, I approach the line-up. Ugh… The long, tiring, mood-busting wait. Honestly, do these hundreds and hundreds of people all want to be published authors, too? Hopefully, my hidden gem will pop out of the pile and the editors will call me to the front of the line. Quick! I’d better refresh my email account. Inbox = 0.


The wait continues.

Stage three: The lift
After three (sometimes more) agonising months of waiting, I finally arrive at the front of the line. The publisher’s email has arrived (this example is a fortunate occasion where I’ve actually received a response).
I stare at the unopened message that blinds me with its bold font and confronting subject line; ‘Re: Your manuscript submission’. My finger hovers over the mouse. Do I really want to open this?
The bars come down over my shoulders and across my lap. I’m bolted in and the rise begins. There’s no turning back now. I feel sick, my breathing is rapid. If I close my eyes, will that make it easier to deal with? As I look down at how far I’ve travelled, slight confidence hits. I really am excited by this. I can do it. It’s going to be okay.

The ride locks in place and I anticipate its release.


Stage four: The drop
My stomach slams into my throat and it’s difficult to catch my breath. I want to scream, but can only manage a gasping shriek. ‘Thank you for your manuscript. Each year, we receive hundreds of submissions, but are only able to publish a select few. Unfortunately…’

When am I going to stop falling? Who can I blame for encouraging me to endure this horrid feeling? I’m doomed. Going on this ride was a BAD decision. How foolish must I be to think this would end well?

Never again!

Stage five:
The recovery

The ride pulls up and comes to a ‘gentle’ stop. Despite my doubts, I survived, and although I’m left with a slight feeling of nausea, I feel accomplished. I challenged myself and I was brave. Now, I’m left with no regrets. Although the drop was scary, it’s shown me I can do it, and next time, I’ll have a more experienced approach.

The bars are lifted and I feel free and a little more confident. I did it! I am okay. After a few deep breaths (and maybe a nice, warm bubble bath and some ‘me’ time), I’m ready to go again.

And, so, it begins once more…

Q: If you were to compare your writing journey to an amusement ride, which would you choose?
Q: Which ‘stage’ of the ride are you on right now?


Filed under Renee Price, Writing Tips

Why Can’t I Cut and Paste from MS Word into my Blog

Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you can. But three times in the past month someone has asked me if I can help them fix the formatting in a blog post they cut and pasted from MS Word.

“It was perfect in Word,” my friend insisted. “Now on my blog, it doesn’t look like my other posts. I do this all the time and it’s never happened before.”

In an ideal world, we wouldn’t be cutting and pasting from a word processor and then this problem wouldn’t exist. But I understand the pain because it happens to me too.

I manage a book review blog, The Reading Stack, and even though I’ve distributed an MS Word template to the reviewers and all the reviews are submitted looking correct, sometimes some of them do very strange things with fonts and formatting when I post them.

Screen Shot 1

It’s all about the codes embedded in an MS Word document. You can’t see them but if you transfer  them when you cut and paste, you overwrite your blog Style Sheet, corrupting the blog post theme formatting.

Even if you use an MS Word template like I do, codes are added when users paste into it from other documents or articles posted on the web.

So how can you get rid of these unwanted codes?

There’s no easy solution. The faulty formatting needs to be stripped out using a plain text editor and that means also losing the formatting you wanted to keep – but at least you wont have to retype the document and your blog will continue to look great.

Here’s what to do:Screen Shot 2

  1. Open the Word document containing the blog post in MS Notepad. This will strip out all formatting including any hyperlinks.
  2. Copy the displayed plain text to the clipboard (Control-C in Windows, Command-C in Mac)
  3. Start a new post in WordPress or Blogger
  4. Paste the text from the clipboard (Control-V,n Windows, Command-V in Mac)
  5. The post default fonts will be restored
  6. Add back any bolding, italics, paragraph breaks, hyperlinks etc
  7. Continue on

I hope that helps.

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You have the right to see your words in print! Step Six

6. Write

You may be described as a ‘pantser’ – someone who can make decisions, flying by the seat of their pants, embracing creativity as it strikes. You may be a ‘planner’ – someone who needs to methodically map out their story, using page numbers and a prescribed plot line. Neither is right or wrong, nor mutually exclusive. Really, the advice is to do what it is you need to do and however you need to do it!

Of course, it does involve striking a keyboard or pen to paper – words, more words, and even more words again. Approach the process with abandon. No-one ever needs to see the first (or thirtieth!) draft… It is yours and yours alone, so write. Words beget words and even if you get stuck, one word will naturally want to follow the one you already have on the page.

Each time you revisit the page, you will scrub and polish those words. For a children’s picture book, EVERY single word needs to have earned its place. Not one word is there by whimsy!

Personally, I write when I walk. It is such a pain! Ideas stew and develop and ferment, and occasionally, the glorious ‘one line’ which ties the entire story together ‘pops’ into my head – as I duck-waddle at a pace on my predetermined path! I can’t even start with pen to paper until I can ‘see’ page 32 (or, ‘the end’) It is as though the movie is completely distorted and I am turning the aperture to gain clarity. The haze starts lifting and when I write, it may only take an hour or so. It may have been months (or years!) in the haze!

Walking, computers, new notebooks, café’s… It fascinates me to hear people beg of authors to share their working routine in a bid to gain some insight into the ‘how’ of success – when really, it is already there right with you. Your way of working is the right way!

The only ‘mechanical’ approach that is of value is the idea of blocking out time to be creative. Like booking a long wished for adventure, allow yourself to go off grid, to leave your world as it is, and create. Culturally, we are so comfortable with the idiom ‘I am going to work’ or ‘I am at work’ and we know not to interfere or to persist with annoying that person with phone calls or personal issues… So apply that to your writing.

You are ‘at work’. So, now work!


Have fun!

Writing for YHTR Emma Mactaggart

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The Rise and Rise of Shelly Unwin Part 2

shelly unwin jwfk                                                               zoo shelly unwin

Today is Part 2 of my interview with Shelly Unwin – newly signed author. For part 1 go here

(I’ve highlighted some themes to pick up on at a later date)

So Shelly, you had an editor interested from the Sutherland Shire Writer’s Festival editor consultation, and you had sent the manuscript to an editor you had met at a SCBWI conference. What happened then?

With an interested editor the pressure was on to really polish the other four first drafts. My critique group was fantastic, agreeing to give me email feedback as I worked, as well as face to face during our meetings. The other four manuscripts were also very compliant and came together very willingly. The publisher from the Southerland festival was excited by the two manuscripts and asked for the other three.

I was also booked in to the Literary Speed Dating event through the ASA on the 15th November and I wanted to have five polished manuscripts by then. I pitched the series to two publishers at this event and both were keen to see the full series. I also pitched it to (my now) agent Alex Adsett, who could see the commercial potential of the series and after some additional dialogue agreed to represent me. In the mean time I was also doing a course at the Faber Academy for my Young Adult novel, and I was asking my tutor for advice on signing with Alex. My tutor asked me about the series I was discussing with Alex and then asked if she would be able to pass the series on to the Children’s Publisher there at Allen & Unwin – of course I said yes. So it was now in the hands of five publishers, all of whom were showing an interest.

Wow! Five interested publishers how exciting! But with five interested publishers why did you feel you needed an agent?

Having it in the hands of five publishers was a dream come true, in fact it was beyond what I’d ever let myself dream. But I was suddenly dreading the phone ringing. What did I do when one of them made an offer? If more than one house made an offer how would I manage that process without upsetting anyone? The fear of the next stage was taking the shine off what was otherwise an incredibly exciting situation. So an agent really was the answer. Alex has great industry knowledge, and specializes in contract negotiations so she was the perfect agent to provide me with unbiased, commercial guidance.  So at this point I really handed the reigns over to Alex. Once the first offer came through, which was fantastic, Alex gave the other four publishers a week to respond. By the end of the week we had two publishers who had put offers on the table, and the exciting decision process started there.

How did you decide who to go with? That couldn’t have been easy?

It wasn’t! Both offers were from incredible publishing houses. I would have been happy to sign either contract the minute it arrived on the doorstep. That’s where Alex really helped. We discussed both of the offers in great detail and really worked through what was important to me. I then had a meeting with both publishers to get an understanding of what they were hoping to achieve with the books and how they envisaged them looking and feeling. Allen & Unwin were so aligned with my thoughts, but not only my thoughts, also with my enthusiasm and ambition for the books. I also met with the CEO there, who had read my blog!! And who told me how excited he was by my work, I walked away from the meeting buzzing! And slightly apprehensive about writing my next blog piece – the pressure was on! Alex then led the contract discussions, and walked me through the complexities of world rights, film rights, discount sales percentages etc – all of which were new to me. And from there it was done. Allen & Unwin was home to the series and it feels so right. Should I point out here that although my surname is Unwin, I am no relation!

You may not be a relation, but it’s a great fit with your name! Do you have an illustrator signed?

No illustrator signed just yet, but some very exciting conversations in progress. I’ll tell you as soon as I can!

So now you just twiddle your thumbs until the books come out?

Yes, I might head off to an exotic island and relax for a year or so 🙂

No. I have another picture book that is looking very promising and I am also working on a new manuscript that I am totally buzzing about. Plus I have a tonne of manuscripts that I have been working on over the last few years that I continue to tweak. I have also written a Young Adult novel that is currently going through the re-writing, re-writing, re-writing phase, and one day it might be ready to leave the nest. I will continue to take courses, network, critique and do all things writerly in the mean time – it’s all so much fun!


I appreciate Shelly’s willingness to be interviewed for this blog – we may still be able to squeeze another post out of her experiences next month!

For Shelly’s website:

For Debra’s website:


Filed under Author Interviews, Debra Tidball