Author Archives: Debra Tidball

About Debra Tidball

I read, write, review, discuss and blog about children's books. As a social worker, parent and author I understand the power of narrative to resonate with children and parents alike. My first picture book, 'When I See Grandma' was met with high acclaim and I'm hoping for the same with my second, 'The Scared Book'

FIVE TOP TIPS from Inside the Publishing House

At the end of October I attended the Emerging Writers Festival event ‘Inside the publishing house’ at Hachette, Sydney. It was the week of Halloween and they had cool decorations and a table full of lollies!
hachette halloween 2

But even more importantly, we all got something to take away – and I’m not talking about the free book on everyone’s seat (I got one of the books in the photo – Favel Parrett’s When The Night Comes) but the generous people at Hachette (and their authors) gave all of us emerging writers practical advice to apply to our own publishing journey. I have condensed the take home messages to five top hints that struck me most:

  1. Know and support your industry – LIVE kids books – work in a bookshop, review, buy kids books. Robert Watkins said “It’s offensive to think you will earn a salary from an industry you do not support.” – buy and read Australian books. The publishing industry in Australia is passionate about supporting Aussie talent and sharing Aussie voices – they want to see that you are too. Having worked in a bookshop is POWERFUL point on your resume.
  1. Refine your craft – belong to a critique group – don’t submit until at least 2-3 Independent (ie NOT family and friends) people have given feedback – If you can’t handle supportive critique in this forum, you won’t handle the publishing process.
  1. Write widely, submit everywhere – “cream rises to the top” you will get noticed.
  1. Be brave, be bold, be tenacious (and patient) on your publishing pathway. 
  1. The manuscript is only a part of the story – it may grab the publisher’s attention and they will champion it, but for it to be accepted the entire company needs to see potential ie they need to be convinced that they can market the book – that there is a hook to connect the book with buyers and an author that can engage with readers.

hachette halloween 1

I am working on a detailed article on “How to get your work read by publishers” based on the panel discussions from this event at Hachette which will be published in  Buzz Words magazine on the 15th of February – so keep your eye out for it!

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The Rise and Rise of Shelly Unwin Part 3

Today is the last interview with Shelly Unwin in which we look at some of the ‘nuts and bolts’ of her steps to her publishing dream. They include practical advice for anyone who is interested in getting published.

The things that impress me loud and clear from your story, Shelly are:

  1. although these books are only a very recent thing for you to be working on, the process of having written other things over several years (despite rejections and setbacks) helped you bring these ideas together at the right time.
  2. Having good networks and an understanding of the industry also developed over time and brought you into contact with the right people at the right time.Shelly 1.3

You’ve mentioned a few key steps in this process about building up networks and putting yourself in the right place at the right time. Can you comment further on these?

Faber Academy and “Stack of courses”

From the moment I decided that I wanted to be a children’s author I have been on a steady stream of courses. I went into writing fairly ignorant to the level of craft involved in writing a great picture book or children’s book. My first course, Writing Picture Books, with Cathie Tasker at the AWC really set me off on the right track, but I was still thirsty for more and have taken courses with the ASA, the NSW Writers Centre, the Australian Writers Centre and the Faber Academy. All of which have proved invaluable.

You mention attending a SCWBI conference. What other associations do you belong to?

Most of them I think! The ASA (Australian Society of Authors), The CBCA (Children’s Book Council of Australia), The NSW Writers’ Centre. I like to get to as many industry events as possible. I also follow a whole host of Facebook based writing groups.

Also something I found very useful early on was the 12X12 Picture Book challenge, run by Julie Headland in the US. I only signed up once but it made me commit to writing one new picture book draft every month- many of them were written on the 30th of the month! As a new writer I found this challenge helpful for getting the creative juices flowing and it also made me start thinking critically about which ideas might work in the market and which to leave at first draft. It also provided the opportunity to submit one picture book manuscript a month to a US agent and some, not all, provided feedback. I’d highly recommend it for writers starting out.

Editor consult Sutherland Writing Festival

Firstly I need to mention my amazing critique group here, because if it wasn’t for them I may well not have found out about the opportunities to have editor consultations at conferences. These are amazing one on one sessions, that you pay extra for, and generally an editor, or publisher gives you feedback on one or sometimes two of your manuscripts. These sessions not only give you insight into how the professionals are seeing your work, but it also opens the door to submissions into otherwise closed publishing houses. They also enable you to start to build all-important relationships with editors and publishers, and understand the different tastes of each publishing house.

Literary Speed dating

I gave this a miss the year before when I first heard about it, because I found the idea too daunting. Five minutes standing in front of a publisher trying to pitch an idea –gahhh! But then I attended the ASA Pitch Perfect course and it gave me the tools and the confidence to give it a go. And I’m SO glad I did. This is where I not only got my series in front of two other publishers, but I also met my agent. The event wasn’t nearly as scary as I was expecting either. All of the publishers were very warm and encouraging and all of the attendees were feeling the same nervous excitement, so there was quite a nice buzz to the event.

Have you ever ‘pitched’ at a conference – how did that go? What was it like?

I have! It was scary. I get nervous speaking in front of adults, especially when it’s something I’m passionate about. I had my name pulled out of the hat (I had put it in there) to pitch at the NSW Writers Festival. I had learnt my pitch so that I could deliver it with out reading, but when it came to it I chickened out and read from my notes. I was quite disappointed in myself. The feedback on my first page (it was for my Young Adult novel) was encouraging though, and I met quite a few new people afterwards who came to congratulate me, so it was well worth doing, and I worked the editors feedback into my next draft.

How have these things helped? Did they always go as planned?

Everything helps. I think even if things go awry there is always a valuable lesson. For example one of the publishers that I was hoping to see at the speed dating didn’t turn up, so I was only able to pitch my series to two publishers. I thought about going home, but I persuaded myself to pitch my YA novel, which I hadn’t worked on in a while. I thought I’d done such a bad job of pitching it the first time that I decided I had to try again. So I pitched it to Alex, my now Agent. She loved the premise and was so encouraging, that I then asked if she would consider representing a picture book author. She said she had one picture book author that she worked with, I told her about my series and left her with a hard copy of the whole series. She followed me on twitter that night, and I had an excited feeling in my gut that things were headed in the right direction. I could easily have gone home and missed out!  My take away from this experience; in an industry where chances to talk to the right people are few and far between, never pass up an opportunity.

Thank you Shelly for your generosity in participating in these interviews over the past months and sharing your experiences with us. I have certainly found wisdom and encouragement for my writing journey.

https://justwriteforkids.wordpress.com/2015/08/07/the-rise-and-rise-of-shelly-unwin-newly-signed-author-part-1/https://justwriteforkids.wordpress.com/2015/09/04/the-rise-and-rise-of-shelly-unwin-part-2/

Find Shelly Unwin here: http://shellyunwin.com/

Find Debra Tidball here: http://www.debratidball.com/

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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!!

waterhole3

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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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: http://shellyunwin.com

For Debra’s website: http://www.debratidball.com

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Practice Makes Perfect

In my last post interview with Shelly Unwin, she said: If I’d had the same idea three years earlier though, my execution wouldn’t have been anywhere near where it was when this idea formed. I had taken time to learn the craft and really understand how to structure a picture book and really speak to the child. So I was in a prime position to take the idea and write it well.                            

The idea that the more you write, the better you get is an idea that has been intriguing me over the last little while, so much so that I wrote a post on it over on my website. I especially love the quote from a book called Art and Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland, “You make good work by (among other things) making lots of work that isn’t very good.” Not that I’m saying what Shelly wrote before wasn’t very good! In fact I know that some of it was very, very good! But we all sit on top of a bundle of not-so-good works that prop us up to do better and better.

 

words mountain

 

Sandy Fussell extended my thinking on this with a recent blog post where she says that writing in other areas, not just her major work in progress is “ Like sharpening pencils, it sharpens my creative awareness. If my tools are in excellent condition, it lifts my writing.”  (http://www.sandyfussell.com/you-cant-write-with-a-blunt-pencil/)

Last week I came across a website that graphically illustrates the concept, and draws on another ‘pet’ issue of mine – writing is play (also blogged about on my website) Because if we don’t love what we do, what sustains us through all the practice and ‘failures’ of the writing life?

The way Stephen McCranie over at doodle alley http://doodlealley.com/  demonstrates both these elements in an engaging comic about a pig has inspired me over the last week. Although about visual art, the truths can be generalised to most creative endeavours. If you pop on over to his website and sign up for his newsletters, you will be rewarded with “The secret of being a great artist”– so much wisdom packaged in an engaging way – well worth it! And while you are there, check out his ‘Brick by Brick’ comic blog for fantastic insights on the creative process.

Disclaimer: I am in no way related to, or have anything to gain by promoting doodle alley – I stumbled across it from a facebook post and thought it worth sharing!

Debra’s website is at www.debratidball.com

Shelly Unwin is at www.shellyunwin.com

Sandy Fussell is at www.sandyfussell.com

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The rise and rise of Shelly Unwin – newly signed author – Part 1

I first met Shelly Unwin at a CBCA event a few years ago, and gradually got to know her as we bumped into each other at regular meetings and events.  She is warm, open and encouraging with an English accent I could listen to all day. I’ve heard Shelly talk about a manuscript that came ‘so close’ to being picked up, only to be let down; I’ve thrown around ideas with her about a young adult novel; I’ve chatted with her at book launches celebrating colleagues’ success when it has seemed to allude her. And now here she is having signed the Holy Grail – a contract for 5 picture books, with a major publisher, to be released as a package hopefully next year. It is such a pleasure to be able to now celebrate her achievements and hear her story. There is so much in Shelly’s story to offer wisdom and hope for those of us who write for kids. I’ve highlighted some themes to pick up on at a later date.

This is the first of a few installments  – so stay tuned…                           shelly unwin jwfk

Described as a concept book, I know you contractually can’t tell us much about it – what can you tell us about it and when did the idea come to you? Hum, what can I tell you? The series is aimed at 1-5 year olds and has a strong education focus, wrapped inside a warm and cuddly bedtime story. Its subject matter is one that all kids fixate on in these early years and beyond. It has minimal text, between 120-150 words per book, leaving room for some really wonderful illustrations. The narrative speaks directly to the child and is written in verse.

Not unusually for us creative types, the idea hit me in the night. I sat bolt upright in a hot sweat, reached over to wake my husband up and said “Oh My God! I’ve got it!” I have been writing seriously for the last three and a half years. I’ve been on a stack of courses, and written lots of lovely ‘quiet’ stories, and I recognized immediately that what I had stumbled upon was not a quiet story. It was the illusive ‘commercial’ story that we are all hoping to write. Needless to say I couldn’t go back to sleep.

How long did it take you to write it?

I wrote the first one in a couple of hours. It wanted to be written and flew from my subconscious. Then it went through the critiquing and re-writing process.

Who did you discuss it with or get advice from?

Firstly my husband, which is unusual, I normally don’t mention my ideas to him until they have evolved fully. His excitement mirrored mine, which was very encouraging. Then I took it to my critique group. I wanted to see if they thought it was as commercial an idea as I thought it was. I also wanted to check that they didn’t know of any similar books out there. I’d done internet research and couldn’t find anything – the idea seems so obvious it was crazy that it hadn’t been done already. But I guess every so often a new gem of an idea emerges and someone gets to grab it with both hands and run with it. If I’d had the same idea three years earlier though, my execution wouldn’t have been anywhere near where it was when this idea formed. I had taken time to learn the craft and really understand how to structure a picture book and really speak to the child. So I was in a prime position to take the idea and write it well.

How did you decide it was ready to take to a publisher/agent?

I wrote the first draft on the 19th October and I was booked in for an editor consultation at the Sutherland Shire Writing Festival on the 1st November, so I worked to the deadline. But more than that I’d also realized fairly quickly that I had stumbled across a series possibility, so I had written the first drafts of all five books and had one of them fairly well polished by the 1st of November. The editor I met with was very excited by the idea and asked for me to send two of the manuscripts through to her. I had also submitted one manuscript by email to an editor I had met with at the SCBWI conference that I felt may be interested.

You can find Shelly Unwin on her website: http://shellyunwin.com and on facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/ShellyUnwinAuthorPage

 

 

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