KidLitVic – Chapter / Middle Grade / Young Adult

Sharing notes on Chapter, Middle Grade and Young Adult, taken at KidLitVic 2017.

Chapter & Middle Grade Panel

Panel:  Paul Collins (Ford St), Jane Pearson (Text), Clare Forster (Agent – Curtis Brown), Suzanne O’Sullivan (Lothian Hachette)

  • Write with passion first. Then think about the age of your main character/protagonist.
  • Consensus seems to be that once the reader reaches the 10yo mark, they’re reaching for YA. (Is YA really written with 10yo readers in mind?)
  • Clare Forster looks at story, characters, voice, subject – the edge authors might have. Most importantly the big picture of the author’s career – not a book.
  • Series is potentially a means to sell more books – so has that selling point for Marketing. ‘When kids find something they love, they’re really keen for more and more.’ (Jane Pearson)
  • A major publisher can really push the marketing behind a series – but for smaller publishers it is more of a risk.
  • Clare Forster – Always remember the investment made by the publisher.
  • No matter how fantastic your idea, the thing is always your ability to write it. (Suzanne)
  • What’s unique. What captures your imagination? Your heart?
  • Series Proposal – What publishers expect to receive as a minimum before they can make the decision.
    1) Full manuscript for first book
    2) Outlines of subsequent books. (A second written book would be great – but not essential.)
    3) Jane Pearson would add that a projection of timeline is also good. To ensure that books will capture their market. Readers are growing up. May grow out of the market if the books don’t roll out in a timely fashion. In six months, good books can be forgotten.

<At which point I had to exit the room in preparation for my one-on-one assessment.>

Young Adult Panel

Panel: Clair Hume (Affirm), Marisa Pintado (Hardie Grant Egmont), Elise Jones (A&U), Maryann Ballantyne (Black Dog)

What is YA?
13/14, 15/16/17
EJ – Why have a top end? 13+
Kids as young as 9/10 read and love YA. But no top end.
YA is narrative driven.
(New Adult – ‘sexy YA’)
YA 45-50,000wrds

What is taboo in YA?
MB – Nothing is utterly taboo apart from the obviously illegal things. But be aware that it will limit your sales. If not be able to sell into schools/ASO.
For example; A lot of foul language – if you don’t need it, don’t do it. Find another way.
Avoid anything gratuitous. Ensure it’s true to the story, and it’s sensitively written and belongs in the story.
Drug scenes – but no drug scenes that are instructional.

Honesty – Self-conscious and conflicted, but frank/honest.

Age of protaganists
Generally 13+

The Red Shoe (Ursula Dubarsky A&U)
Growing up Harry (Scott Gardner A&U)

What makes a memorable protagonist?
Charming, witty, conflicted. (INTERSTING – fully formed)

Work on characters
They don’t have to be likeable.
Voice plays a big role. (EJ)

With middle grade, the series is about the formula. With YA it’s about the story arc.
Relying on the profile of the author to promote that book.
US Genre fiction does series for YA.

What do you like about an author when you’re considering publishing them for the first time?

  • Black Dog publishes authors, not books.
    The best books come out of a conversation.
    Relationship between author/Maryann.
    Open to suggestions.
    Producing a product for a market.
  • Affirm
    Always helpful if you have an author who’s keen to get out there and talk at schools, etc.
  • Hardie Grant Egmont
    Profile building. School visits, online profile, (social media, website, etc.)
  • Allen & Unwin
    Social Media – Elise’s opinion was always about ‘do what’s natural for you, in terms of Social Media’. Publicist says an online presence is all about the reviews.
    Publicist will actively/aggressively promote your book for 3mths.

Social Media:

  • Website is most important thing – completely within your control.
  • Goodreads is also beneficial.
  • Twitter – good connection to librarians and profile building
  • FB – Don’t do it as ‘personal’ but rather as an entity – so publishers can link to it and share.
  • Marissa – Less and less faith in FBShortest

Audience member’s sons asked why there are no sporty, light, short YA reads … all seem to be angsty, issues-based.

High concept YA is still going strong. More contemporary fiction is competing against other locally published romance.
Publishers Weekly – fandom in YA.

General Question Time – All Genres

Building relationships with publisher is a very individual thing on its own level.

Publishing longer picture books? It’s difficult to publish a picture book into 7-10yo with upto 10,000wrds. If the story really sings, make it work.

Cross-generational appeal – for children and adults?
That’s the magic and appeal of picture books.
Books that appeal from young teens to women’s fiction. (Matilda Saga – Jacquie French)

How important are book launches? Don’t necessarily influence sales, but can cement your network, and give you face time with your readers. Authors and illustrators love book launches, but not high on publishers’ agenda.

What is your position on previously self-published, or rights-reversion? When authors have self-published successfully, they often don’t want to give up their self-pub rights. Ford Street would/could consider them. The only issue with reprints is that they’ve already gone to the markets they would be pitching into.

Short courses or books about the craft of writing? Steven King’s ‘On Writing’. Kate Grenville book on the art of writing. Robert McKee ‘Story’ (screenwriting book).

Would you be less likely to publish an author with a history of poor sales on a previous book? Maryann Ballantyne – No. If the writing is good. Writers don’t come from nowhere. They learn their craft along the process.  (This could perhaps be my favourite quote of the day.)

Even if a market is saturated, there is never any such thing as a closed market. (Never say never.)

What say you about celebrity writers in the PB industry? MichelleMadden; ‘They sell… It helps if the book is good.’
Suzanne O’Sullivan; ‘It can launch an illustrator, also, to go on and have their own great career.’

Any interest in digital interactive books for kids? Chase grants. Look for funding. The interest is there – but the money is not. Parents want something that’s free.


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