Friday, 6 July 2012

More notes from the sessions



Notes taken by Charlotte Calder, Christine Sykes and Linda Stevenson


History is Selling – Pamela Rushby, Belinda Murrell, Lisa Berryman, Zoe Walton. Chair – Mark Greenwood.

Belinda: History is hot! Kids love to escape – be swept away. She used to be a travel writer – loves going on location for her historical settings. Kids love Aust history – curious.
Pamela: History has the ‘wow’ factor and the best, strangest, most vivid stories are the real ones. She ‘trips over’ her huge range of settings and periods. A trained historian – loves hanging out in museums. Advice – write hist fiction tying in with school curriculums.
Zoe: Time slip a nifty device – gives young readers a comfortable progression. But the mechanics of this can be a trap – careful system required. Need for veracity and authenticity. Speculative fiction draws lots from history. Modern fiction can incorporate history. Find your own take on history.
Lisa: Her fave genre. New curriculum favours hist fiction. Anniversaries eg Anzac Day important to publishers. Growing appetite for hist fiction helped by film and tv – resurgence of bonnet dramas, history channel etc. Kids fascinated by history.
QnAs: The challenge of writing history for pre-school and infant ages – not much around. Look for funding for historical research – Aust Council and other grants. A note on multiple submissions – let all the publishers concerned know.
(Reported by Charlotte Calder)

Reaching into the Heart – Realistic Fiction – Sally Murphy, Pru Mason, Meg McKinlay, Sarah Foster. Chair – Sue Whiting

Sue: Good realistic fiction illuminates life with honesty and truth.
Prue: Started out wanting to write fantasy. Was writing for a kids’ newspaper in the Middle East – great training. Early influence of Ivan Southall.
Meg: Considers herself an observer rather than a storyteller. Started as an adult poet – she’s a ‘collector of fragments’. Not interested in and struggles with plot. Has always written snippets and scenarios.
Sally: Tackles difficult topics. Childhood reading was reality fiction – from first reading of verse novel, wanted to do it herself. Pearl came first to her as a character rather than a situation.
Sarah: Good writing surpasses pigeon holing of genre. Looking for Alibrandi had a huge impact on her. Difference between adult and YA – YA carries responsibilities to the reader.
Sue: 5 out of 6 of last year’s CBCA YA shortlist were realistic. But of Dymock’s top 50 sellers last year, only 15 were realistic – Harry Potter etc.
Meg: Why does ‘realistic’ reach into the heart more than ‘spec’ fiction? Says she’s too lazy to invent a spec world!
Sally: Pearl made into a play. Pearl is actually her.
Sarah: The need to put heart into fiction. Importance of humour.
Meg: Her boy characters come from all her brothers.
Prue: Says she finds big humour hard – hers more gentle and ironic.
Q&As: Almost all set books are realistic. They’re springboards for discussion.
(Reported by Charlotte Calder)


Inside the Educational Book Market – Maria GillSheryl Gwyther, Lesley Vamos, Meredith Costain. Chair – Dianne Wolfer

2 types discussed
- work commissioned by publishers
- author driven and pitched, eg in school magazines
How to break into the genre – networking at conferences. Being alert to events, opportunities, upcoming anniversaries etc. The new national curriculum – lots of opportunities.
Importance of adhering to publishers’ requirements. Can be v prescriptive, strict word limits, precise referencing. NB Deadlines – often v short. Author may have to suggest or even provide illustrations – carry a camera. Your words will be changed.
Illustrators – research the market, write letters and send portfolios. Show ethnic diversity. Let people know what you do. Persevere!
(Reported by Linda Stevenson)

What do the publishers say Рpicture books РTegan Morrison, Karen Tayleur, Jeanmarie Morosin. Chair РFran̩ Lessac.
Each publishes between 9 – 15 pic books a year. Random House and Five Mile Press looking at revamping their pic book lists this year. Authors and illustrators encouraged to approach publishers at events such as this – flowers and chocs help!! Authors encouraged to provide assistance after publication with blogging, social media and schools and events appearances. All publishers try for overseas sales. ABC have had recent success in Korea and China with Oz pic books. Current  pic book gaps are Anzac Day, humour and universal themes.
All found the Illustrator Showcase v useful – some illustrators will be approached.
Only submit your best story. Don’t provide directions for illustrators.
(Reported by Christine Sykes)

What do the publishers say – children and YA – Sarah Foster, Zoe Walton, Jill Corcoran, Lisa Berryman. Chair – Wendy Blaxland.

Q:  What’s important?
Lisa – freshness, quality of writing
Sarah – Able to take feedback on board v important. Delete illustrations for pic books and don’t get a friend to provide illustrations! Don’t tell publishers your visions for the marketing of the book!
Zoe – Make sure your letter is professional.
Jill – You always know straight away when you like a book. Not interested if there are lots of comparable books. Always Googles an author.
Q: What’s important in a working relationship with an author or illustrator?
Sarah: Professionalism, commitment to project + loyalty, a long-term relationship.
Zoe: Ditto. She loves conversations with her authors.
Jill: Is an editing agent – important for client to be able to work with an editor. Loyalty – be upfront about changes and planning.
Lisa: Discretion – relationships important.
Q: Digital publishing – how is it affecting publishing?
Jill: Most digital work starts out digital. Advances are going down. Publishers are insisting on e-book rights.
Lisa: Digital is opening up myriads of opportunities for republishing and self-publishing.
Sarah: E-book publishing very expensive
Jill: Right now YA most e-affected.
Zoe: Ditto. It’s not all Amazon here, unlike US and UK – dilemmas are being worked through re pricing.
Jill: Puzzling situation
Q: Are you optimistic?
All answered ‘yes’
Sarah: Not enough editors being trained in-house.
Lisa: Do allow room for illustrators’ input in pic book manuscripts.
Q: piracy?
-          Hackers one step ahead; publishers doing everything poss to stop it.
-          Public needs to be educated to pay for the earnings of artists.
(Reported by Charlotte Calder)





Thursday, 5 July 2012

Roving Reporter, Claire Saxby reports on the AGENTS' PANEL

In the historic building housing the NSW's Writers' Centre
Jill Corcoran from Herman Agency of New York 
Jill represents picture books, chapter books, middle grade and ya fiction, and illustration. She has a long history in working in many areas where she is launching new products to the market. Which is what new books are.
Her most important role as an agent is in finding talent for publishers.  She then works with them to make them fabulous. She helps creators to find their voice, and grow their career. Placing the right projects in the right place to make the most impact.  The main things she looks for in a new manuscript is originality, works out where there's a place for it and that it's saleable.
She needs to love it and to know that the market has a place for them.
She gets lots of queries and now has two interns to read them. She does pick up people from the slush pile and does represent Australians. 
Frances Plumpton, Frances Plumpton agency, New ZealandBegan working as a children's librarian and loved working with books and their readers. When she was made redundant she worked in a series of jobs related to children's books before starting with Richards agency. 
She now runs her own agency as of 1 June 2012
What does an agent do for their fee?
Nurtures you in craft and career.
Develops a strategic plan for you
Advocates negotiates and mediates for you.
Encourage and reality check.
Cheer squad and shoulder to cry on.
Office manager.  
Sandra Morris illustrators',  New Zealand
Author/illustrator/teacher/agent
Looks for new talent in Australia and sometimes from Europe.
She is happy if illustrators do their own thing as well as the markets are small and people have to make a living.
Although if she does make a sale she expects to represent for all subsequent projects there.
She supports illustrators having multiple styles but suggests keeping publisher in loops if you propose changing style radically on a project. She believes a variety of styles can be of advantage to both illustrator and publisher. 
Brian Cook, The Authors Agent & manuscript appraisal agency
Background in sales marketing and editing.
Now runs manuscript appraisal agency and literary agency. Reps adults and children's creators. Wants to work with more especially those with more than one book in them. 
Approach agency with ms complete rather than with idea.
Do your research, it helps to show you are serious about your work.
It's all about relationships.
If approached about taking on the second in a three book series where the first has done well online in the US would he be interested? He said not really as the intellectual copyright for that book has already been out there and would have to consider the second book as a first book. So second book would have to stand alone. Even if it worked for Matthew Reilly.
Brian referred people to his website for a schedule of fees for manuscript assessments.  manuscriptappraisalagency.com.au 
Other agents said they couldn't charge for considering ms.  
Jill said she was happy to consider queries from conference attendees and gave directions for addressing emails. Guidelines are on her blog. 

Guest blogger: Charlotte Calder's notes on What Makes a Best Seller?


What Makes a Best Seller?
Panel: Katrina Germein, Meredith Costain, Deborah Abela, Chris Kunz. Chair – Deborah Abela
Katrina Germein, Meredith Costain, Deborah Abela, Chris Abela, Chris Kunz

Katrina: Pic books generally not best sellers. 10,000?? for a best-selling pic book?
Topical subject in schools. Awards. Celebrity. A hook. Meaningful interaction. Fun. Great ending. Picture book series, eg Diary of a Wombat.

Meredith: Humour, applies to all genres. YA age has expanded to 10 – 20s. Books with one word titles!! Stories that linger, great characters with flaws and care about-able, distinctive voice, from the heart.

Chris: Humour. In 3 or more countries with major publisher. An inexact science. Difficulty for editors of convincing Sales and Marketing about taking on a book – don’t show too much love for it!

Q & As: The difficulty of maintaining a presence post-publication. 
Where are the dollars spent? Some best sellers are slow burners. Commissioning and writing a package for TV. Social media for teens is huge.


MASTERCLASS - Wrestling with Plot: Sherryl Clark


SCBWI's Roving Reporter, Lynda Calder attended Sherryl Clark's brilliant session on plotting. Here are some of the highlights from her double-session masterclass:
Sherryl Clark is a successful Australian author. She's also been teaching professional writing at TAFE for 16 years.

Her writing coaching agency has a new e-guide, "The Tough Guide to Why You Are Not Published Yet". And another will come on goal-setting soon.

STRUCTURE
Why is it important? Plotting is just what goes on top of the structure. The structure is a house's frame. The plot is the cladding. You cannot plot effectively without understanding good structure. And a simple structure could have a myriad of plots put over the top. A lot of books are about structure for screen plays. BUT the screen writers are right. Structure helps with pacing, sagging middles and failed endings.

Structure can come into play in revisions if you are the sort of writer who just writes and see what comes out.

Narrative drive: What pushes the story through to the conclusion - from the main character and what they most want or need? It drives the story. Otherwise, the story goes nowhere. It may be something that changes. e.g. "The Firm" - Tom Cruises’ character aim was to be a fantastic lawyer, have a brilliant life and make lots of money. At the first turning point, the firm is a front for the mafia. Now the drive becomes staying alive.

Having a break and still talking about plot!
Turning Point: The story goes in a different direction and is a surprise for the reader. It sends the story in a more exciting direction.

Epiphany: The moment where the characters realises something that leads to the end of the story. Can also be the climax.

Journey: What the character goes on - externally and internally. External affects the internal to change the main character and make them grow.

Raising the Stakes: Continually raise the stakes and increase the tension. If ever stuck, think the worst that could happen and make it happen to your character.  Otherwise, there is no story.

Wrestling with Plot...

Structure is a tool, not a formula. You don't necessarily need it for the first draft. If you use it enough, it becomes second nature.

Rule of 3: A strong fairy-tale element (3 little pigs, 3 little bears). Three is enough. Four is too many. Two is not enough.
Each of the three things is an obstacle to raise the tension UP - always up. (Anything up to 5000 words works).
Invisible but holding up the story.

If you pick 10 things, then you can choose three from those that help make the story stronger. The first thing that comes into your head is not usually the best. Step back, brainstorm.

"Screenwriting" by Syd Field pp 26-27, 128-129
1.       Inciting incident (no explaining, no character sketches) - starts the story in motion
Propels the main character out of their normal world, into action. In a picture book - by the third double page spread. The art of writing is getting all the who, where, when etc. into the beginning. You have to be REALLY tight.
2.       Then three complications - brainstorm EVERY possibility. You can throw away the horrible things. But don't go for the things that everyone has used. If too predictable and ordinary, the ending becomes predictable.
3.       Climax - the moment just before the climax is the point where things could not possibly get any worse. If you can't work out how to solve it, that is a good thing. It may take some time to solve. If the answer is a surprise to you, it will be to the reader, as well.

Novels
(Three Acts - goes back to Aristotle.) Screen plays of 120 minutes are divided into 3 Acts - 30 minutes, 60 minutes, and 30 minutes. With turning points in-between. The climax sits about 1/3 into the last Act. Mid-Act climax in the middle of Act 2. Inciting incident happens in Act 1 and the character can never go back.

First turning point is the first BIG surprise for the audience. And this launches us into Act 2.
The second turning point makes it all happen again.
E.g. "Million Dollar baby" - 1st turning point is Clint Eastwood becoming trainer.
Act 2 is about her drive to be the best (filled with complications).
2nd turning point is her fatal injury and being on life support.
Act 3 is the pay-off with their relationship.

Turning points shoot the story into new playgrounds.
 
Christopher Vogler's Hero's Journey (slightly modified)
Every major character in your story needs to go on this journey. George Lucas studied with George Campbell and used this structure. Vogler took this structure from "Star Wars". "The Writer's Journey" by Christopher Vogler is highly recommended. Diagram pages
ACT 1 ("Star Wars" example)
1.       Ordinary world - the main character starts in their own world
2.       Call to adventure - the inciting incident, obligation, duty, having to rescue someone
3.       Refusal of the call - because they like being in their world
4.       Second call
5.       Meeting with the mentor - doesn't have to be a human
6.       Crossing the threshold - into the other world (first turning point) and they cannot go back because of the thing they need or want to do
ACT 2
7.       Test, allies, enemies, obstacles - gain skills, knowledge (esp. about themselves), gain courage etc.
Things are getting worse
ACT 3
8.       Approach to the inmost cave - the moment at which things can't possibly get any worse (just before the climax) - this is where the character gets closest to giving up
9.       Supreme ordeal - the climax and final battle
10.   Reward - villain defeated
11.   The road back - recrossing the threshold back to the ordinary world.
12.   Resurrection or Final Test - The hero has to prove they have learned what they set out to learn - esp. internally. (The climax is past BUT something extra happens.)
13.   Return with elixir - home is never the same because the hero has changed.
Using this structure and tacking the plot onto it can help identify sagging parts and gaps in the plot.

 The picture book grid can be matched to the Hero's Circular Journey.

The climax must bring about absolute and irreversible change. The difference between real life and fiction is that in real life people may not really change. We want to think people can change (maybe this is why people read fiction).


The Structure of Scene

From "Story" by Robert McKee:
Positive and Negative: Every scene must change - either from positive to negative or vice versa. If it doesn't the scene doesn't move the story forward and it should go.

Scenes in a sequence should also do the same: positive -->  minus --> positive --> minus --> positive --> minus
"Seven" dealing with the seven deadly sins has examples of this.

A character must be put in a vice, be squeezed until they are forced to do something (maybe with a few small victories along the way) but on the whole their choices and actions make things increasingly worse.

Ask yourself - what is the purpose of this scene? To advance the scene, raising the stakes, keep the tension up? If it is only character building, then it is not worth it. If you have walk-on characters they MUST also have a purpose and a reason for it.
But they can be an opportunity to bring in  new, long-term character with their own journey.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Still to come: Wrestling with Plot... Sherryl Clark

A masterclass - reported on by Lynda Calder. Keep an eye out for it soon!

Social Media workshop: Web Design with Sarah Davis


Guest blogger: Scott Chambers' entertaining overview of the workshop.
Sarah Davis
On the glorious Sunday afternoon that SCBWI-goers recently enjoyed at The Hughenden, the wonderfully talented Sarah Davis treated a sizeable crowd of us to an informative Web Design session. This is the, somewhat less colourful and entertaining, blog version.

Well, I say “us”, but it was really aimed at all those authors and illustrators who want to create and maintain an amazing web site but haven’t got the time; whereas we, on the other hand, are all  supremely organised, efficient, and network savvy but figured Sarah needed the moral support ;-)

So, on the off chance you might happen to know someone who is a little short of time, or maybe tired of being slave to a costly, Gen-Y web-page administrator, turns out there are actually quite a few programs out there for this very purpose that are fairly easy to use. So long as you’re prepared to devote a couple of hours finding your way around them. Sounds like a worthwhile investment of time to me though, given how easy Sarah made it look to prepare a web and blog page on the spot.

It would also give you total control – but you have to learn to say that without wringing your hands together deviously and squinting as you reel of a maniacal laugh.

For those of you who trust my failing eyesight and dodgy hearing, the options we have to choose from include: Squarespace, Moonfruit, Wix and Weedly. Wordpress, I believe, was also mentioned at some point, although it seemed like you needed a degree (or perhaps just a diploma) in Nerdology to drive this in comparison to the others (unless I’ve got my packages mixed up and have just said something completely unfair and inappropriate).

Sarah was all over Squarespace though like moss on a big-granitic-lump-in-the-shade; apparently it is quite a common backend for many-a-professional, or at least, professional-looking, web site. Once you’re safely inside you are free to simply use one of the many available page templates, or exercise the full power of your own creativity – as your time and levels of inspiration allow. Things like whipping up a portfolio picture gallery, creating a file storage page or blog (journal) page could hardly seem easier.

Just by pressing ‘Escape’ from within the main page enables you to edit your creation. Giving you full control over the content and aesthetics – even down to choosing some very cool, non-standard, Google fonts, to prevent your page from becoming – and I believe this is a technical term – “butt ugly”. You can just type text in directly and upload or link images.

If memory serves, Squarespace is platform independent (which has less to do with the kind of shoes you are wearing than the type of computer you choose to swear at), there’s an architecture menu to help with the page building, an overview menu for those keen on keeping track of number-of-hits, comments, who’s referring etc., and all this for only $8 per month (for the basic deal, or $12 for the premium)! Apparently there is also a 2-week free trial period – which can be somewhat flexible given on how desperate and pathetic you can make your plea when you realise that your 2 weeks is in fact up and you haven’t actually started anything yet.

The Squarespace “Help & Support Centre” are reputedly very fast and indeed helpful – not an assumption easily made by veterans of Microsoft’s many “Help” features. They also seem to be good at mirroring page content across a number of sites/servers and claim that any site you create with them will never go down (and here I’ll pass up the opportunity of making a cheap and entirely inappropriate wisecrack). The clever little makers of Squarespace have also done some jiggery-pokery that helps get your site to near the top of the list on search engines. I just tested this theory with Sarah’s page, and it worked very well indeed!

Sarah did say something quite knowledgeable about buying domain names, and in my notebook I have written something about Register.com, but I can’t actually read the next four words. Several lines later though I see a note about free Domain names now being available somehow (through the Squarespace people? God I hate my writing) – but to be safe I’d double-check that bit with Sarah if I were you.
Sarah's website
Those of you who already have domain names can apparently contact the people you got them through and have them pointed to your Squarespace site if you so desire. 

Now, Sarah was just saying something about how you could easily create links to your books that might be on Amazon when Jill (Corcoran) mentioned something about Barnes and Noble doing something-or-other (it sounded important): I implore anybody who was sitting closer than I was to fill in the blanks here.

Well that, I think, about sums up Sarah’s informative and enjoyable Web Design chat; all in all, I think most of us could do a lot worse than spend a couple of hours of our lives (that we might have otherwise squandered on Facebook), looking a little more deeply into the wonders of Squarespace, or similar such programs.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Some images inside the historical Hughenden Hotel, site of the SCBWI Conference







Creating Picture Books. Masterclass with Meredith Costain


Guest blogger: Penny Morrison blogs on some of the things covered in Meredith's workshop....
I gathered with 19 other overtired and over-excited writers in The Hughenden's restaurant. We were going to learn the craft from Meredith Costain! Woo hoo! Would Meredith be able to manage such an unruly group? Would she need to resort to snapping stainless steel tongs to keep us under control?

What makes a successful picture book?
-          It needs to resonate emotionally – have heart
-          It might tell an important story, leaving the reader to find meaning in it
-          And beg to be read over and over again
Range and Scope
-          Is huge!
-          Baby/toddler books – board books, concept books, simple stories
-          Beginner readers, older readers
o   E.g. Fox by Margaret Wild.
This is about betrayal, trust and loyalty. Meredith can’t read this one without crying.
-          Non-Fiction
o   E.g. My Life in the Wild – Otter by Meredith Costain.
Although this is non-fiction, it has a plot. It also has facts at the end.
-          Themes and Styles
o   E.g. Mummy Laid an Egg by Babette Cole
Guess what it’s about ... are you guessing? ... sex! (yes, really)
-          Different treatments of the same topic
-          And more, more, more
We got into groups to chat about picture books which we think work well. Many books were mentioned which I haven’t seen. A few which I will look out for are:
-          The Wolf by Margaret Barbalet and Jane Tanner (about facing fear)
-          The Red Tree by Shaun Tan
-          The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

Themes
A picture book needs One Strong Idea
-          No subplot (but it may have subtext)
o   e.g. Totty’s Potty by Meredith Costain and Marjory Gardner
Meredith chose just one aspect of potty training (and it had to be a teddy bear because the illustrations could NOT show a child on the potty)

Themes for younger readers often reflect a child’s world - here are some of the list Meredith mentioned....
-          Family and friends
-          Animals
-          Colours and shapes
-          Stages of development – independence, toilet training
-          Monsters
-          Overcoming something – shyness, bullies, fear

Getting Ideas
-          They might *POP* into your head
-          Might come from hearing children’s conversation
-          Or watching children’s behaviour
1.   Your own childhood memories
2.   Start with a concept and brainstorm
We had some fun with brainstorming concepts in our groups.

Characters in picture books
o   Musical Harriet by Meredith Costain and Craig Smith
This story incubated for 3 months after Meredith heard about a yr 3 girl who wanted to play the trombone, but needed longer arms. She separately heard a musician talking about needing a ‘serious black dress’. By the time Meredith sat down to write the story, she knew the character so well that Harriet wrote the book for her.

Create a Memorable Character
-          Name
o   E.g. character destroyed countries by scratching them off his desk map - Adam Carter
-          Human? Animal?
-          Age
-          3 physical characteristics
-          3 strengths
-          3 weaknesses
-          Something he/she really wants
Our groups had so much fun that Meredith needed to bring out those stainless steel tongs to get our attention again – snap snap. But we invented characters – Whingeing Wendy, Benton Armstrong, Lexie the Horse, Vian Tian  and Alfie the blue big-voiced big-eared boy.

Structure
-          Beginning, middle and SATISFYING end.
-          Most importantly, it must have a problem. Otherwise, it will be an unsatisfying series of events

Story Plan
-          Character
-          What does your character really want?
-          A problem: What stops them from getting what they really want?
-          2 attempts
-          Solution
-          How does the resolution affect the character?
Our groups planned out stories for our characters. Meredith was so impressed with us (despite needing to SNAP SNAP SNAP those tongs) that she now expects 5 book launches at the next conference. 

Language
-          Match style with the mood, content and audience
-          Use playful language – alliteration, assonance, imagery
o   Doodledum dancing by Meredith Costain
Poems ‘Our New Puppy’ and ‘Dinosaur Swamp Stomp’. At the next conference, I’d like a 3 hour workshop from Meredith just about language in picture books. (Please Susanne, pleeeeeeease)
-          Use the 5 senses
-          Use strong verbs rather than adverbs and adjectives
At this point Meredith whispered in author/actress Deb Abela’s ear. Deb then left the room and we watched as she crept back in. Far be it from any of us to say that Deb walked shyly, nervously or quietly. Again Deb left and this time she huffed back into the room. Or maybe she stomped, or elephanted. She most certainly did not walk angrily, loudly or with any adverb which might be tempting you.
-          Rhyme – there are reasons for and against

Finally, Meredith showed us examples of the process with some of her picture books – Bedtails and Musical Harriet. Beginning with scribbled ideas, early drafts, discarded phrases, lists of possible names, through to final text and illustrator’s sketches.

There was no need for tong snapping – we were fascinated to see Meredith’s approach and her thought process. To me, this was the highlight of the masterclass – seeing how Meredith works and getting to know her. 

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