CYA 2019 – Everything’s a Genre

This post is the third (and final) in a series, feeding-back from my attendance at the 2019 CYA Conference. Click the links to read last week’s post with the CYA notes, or a sum-up of the PB Bootcamp. This week we cover ‘Everything’s a Genre’.

Opening Panel

Lucy Bell (Pantera Press)
Considers all adult commercial fiction and issue-based non-fiction

Anna Solding (Midnight Sun)
Chasing international sales at Bologna/London book fairs

Danielle Binks (Jacinta di Mase Agency)
Mostly what they do is the contract stuff. Yes submissions/quality control.
Join QWC and ASA.

Carolyn Martinez (Hawkeye Publishing)
Recommends ‘On Writing’ – Steven King

Angela Meyer (Echo – Aus imprint of Bonnier Books UK)
Particularly fond of crime fiction and historical fiction

Sophie Hamley (Hachette)
Mostly open to adult submissions
Involved with mentorship programs

Julia Carlomagno (Black Ink – Quarterly Essay)
Non-fiction that contributes to national conversation. Includes history.
Also small literary fiction list.
Not a lot of YA.

Belinda Murrell – The Reality of publishing from an author’s perspective

Despite the doom and gloom, more books are being published than ever. (Nielsen Book Scan)
Book industry was worth 1.18billion dollars in Australia in 2018
CYA 29% of the total market, with 28million children’s book sales in Australia.
5000 new titles in Australia (kids/YA/adult) in 2019

Big W is closing 30% of its Bookstores

(Shared during other sessions …
Market down 2.6% but children’s writing up 1.2%.
Middle grade has been booming for 4-5yrs. Is doing really well.
YA is down. Publishers trying to bring YA down to your middle grade.
Stand alone beautiful middle grade.)

Picture books are becoming cheaper to produce.
Heart, hope and humour – PBs
Penguin Random noted that 80% of submissions received are for PB alone.
YA is currently the toughest field to get published in.

Bologna – (April 2019) Publishers actively seeking – trends for next year:

  • diversity
  • #metoo
  • feminism
  • teenage thriller
  • gritty realism (YA dark/edgy contemporary issues – refugees, homelessness)
  • friendship & kindness
  • environment
  • girl power

Growth of micro publishers and self-publishing:

  • 2,200 micro publishers in Aus (1 book/yr) – independent authors
  • 1300 small (2-5)
  • 200 mid (5-100)
  • 28 large (100+ titles)

Big Publishers – Belinda’s experience

  • The Top 5 have 72% of total market, Penguin Random (20%)
  • They are publishing new and aspiring authors.
  • Big publishers have efficient distributions
  • More money for marketing/promotion/support (bookmarks/standings/banners/bunting/craft activities/crafts/merchandising, etc …)
  • Publishers are not the enemy! They are passionate, kind – and don’t get paid much.

Writing fulltime:

  • Belinda suggested you need 10 books to make a living from writing.
  • Children’s sales are driven by school visits.
  • Things to do to promote your books:
  • Teacher notes
  • Character Profiles
  • Recipes
  • Activities
  • Things you didn’t know about me

Christine Well – Bringing History to Life

What is historical fiction?

  • A fictional account of real events
  • journey of a real person from the past
  • fictionalised characters against background of real events
  • fictionalised characters in a fictionalised past
  • speculative fiction – with a thread running through the past

There are no historical fact police.

Developing a Story Idea:

  • Write about something that evokes emotion in you
  • Use a real person as inspiration
  • Sticky facts – quirky twists to bring to the narrative
  • personal interests, eg; medicine, law, parenthood, women’s rights
  • write a brief synopsis
  • read round the era / test/refine

Immersion: (Gaining confidence in the period)
Traditional research … (Primary sources/secondary sources)
Watch movies/documentaries to immerse yourself in the era. Use it as an idea spark , then VERIFY through research. History texts don’t bring in textures/aromas/etc …
Read fiction and plays that were written AT the time!
Think about social class, region, background , personal history, eras before and after the ‘present’ of the story. (Manners and morals)

Questions to anchor your writing:

  • Who are you writing for?
  • What is wonderful about this era?
  • What’s frightening about the era?
  • What’s romantic? What will heighten romantic conflict?
  • What is fascinating?
  • What has not changed since this time?
  • Is this the right historical period for you story and your voice?

Characters are key! Write strong, vital characters with agency.
Leave out the bits people skip.

Edwina Shaw – Writing Memoir

Focus it around some segment of life
What is the central question – to propel the reader through.

What is this story about?
What is this story really about?
What is this story really about?
(Ask it three times – to get to the heart of the story)

When you start writing – just start writing.
When rewriting, look for the shape/theme.
Think in scenes. Showing – and a little bit of telling.
Characters – and you are one of them.
Dialogue doesn’t have to be exact. The gist …
Doesn’t have to be chronological. You can reorganise structure to give narrative drive.

Formula for Narrative Drive:  Suspense = Hope + Fear

If others are involved, you need to get them to read it as well.


Allison Paterson – Writing Non Fiction in the Adult World

Lesson One: Know your audience.
What do you want this to be?

Elements of Non-fiction

  • Facts – about real people, things events and places.
  • Has a major idea
  • Contains aids to reading – glossary, headings, maps, charts, diagrams,
  • Come in sub-genres, but contain elements borrowed from fiction.
  • Purpose is to inform, entertain – and perhaps convince

* some narrative nonfiction blurs the line between fact and fiction.
(Author may create dialogue based on fact.)

Your idea:

What is your purpose? Inform/entertain/persuade/all
Who is your audience?
Competitors – unique selling points?

Finding the inspiration/detail and emotion – the research:

  • Listening/observing/conversations
  • Writing – journal
  • reading nonfiction and fiction – immersing yourself
  • TV documentaries/movies – can bring settings to life
  • indulge your writing. Go there. Engage your sensors – visualise, imagine, walk the scene take in sounds and scents, take photos – interpretative boards
  • Google: books, maps, You/Tube
  • real people – oral histories
  • libraries – librarians love the thrill of the hunt!

Meticulously record your sources – to verify.
Know when to stop researching and start writing. (That will then drive further research.)

Apply the Elements of Fiction:

  • Engage the reader. Hook.
  • Plan – bend reality into a story arc – develop a captivating plot.
  • How do I end?
  • Think of the people in your writing as characters.
  • Develop your own unique voice.

The challenge for a nonfiction writer is to achieve a poetic precision using the documents of truth but somehow to make people and places spring to life as if the reader was in their presence.

 Simon Schama

Closing Panel – Chaired by Tina Marie Clarke

“Where on the spectrum of genre does it fit? How is your manuscript unique? What is your particular angle or hook?” (Julia Carlmagno – Black Inc)

“Genre is a reader promise which we writers have to fulfill.” (Amy Andrews)

“Genre is a slippery concept – even for those who write it.” (Isobelle Carmody)

“Genre targets readers and ensures the reader is satisfied. But a good book is more important than genre. Write a good book.” (Lucy Bell)

“Know the rules, the trope, so you can break them.” (Lucy Bell)

For some months I’ve been pondering what to call my Antarctic verse novels. I’m quite okay with them sitting across numerous genres – actually think that’s part of their uniqueness. But CYA has confirmed that they are indeed historical non-fiction verse novels. The name doesn’t changes the work! But it is good to know that’s where they sit on the spectrum.

I am grateful for the Bundaberg RADF Grant that made attendance at all these conference events possible. The networking and knowledge gained far exceeded my expectations (as did the notes and blog posts!) and has given renewed purpose, passion and direction in my writing. It was a privilege to represent the Bundaberg region at the conference, and feedback information via these blog posts, and the session at Bundaberg library, last weekend.

Thank-you also to Tina and the crew at CYA. I appreciate the time you all put into organising this conference and competition. With three competition wins over the years, and numerous placings, your conference has had a significant impact on my writing career – and my confidence. I value the friendships as much as the knowledge gained. Connections made at that first conference are still strong, and I wonder where I would be, without the impact of the CYA on my writing life.

Heidi has the Poetry Friday link-up for us today, so click over to my juicy little universe for lots of fresh-squeezed poetry goodness!


  1. Wow, Kat. Your posts have been just full of really interesting tidbits. I’m working on a non-fiction now. So many of the points in this post really got my attention. Thank you for summarizing your notes. I really look forward to seeing where this knowledge takes your writing. Are you noticing any changes for you you? Do you feel more confident or like you have a lot to still learn?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I feel like I know it all, now, Linda!😆 (Kidding!) But I do feel like I know a lot to go on with – a lot of very specific things. And this week I finally have a window of time opening up to be doing them! Yay! In terms of confidence? I think I am going to PUSH a lot harder. I’m more than a little tired of publishers saying 12yos don’t read picture books. Or it’s hard to sell rhyme. I think I’m going to spike those guns in my proposal! If publishers genuinely believe 12yos don’t read PBs (I have been told that by a number of publishers over the years – and not just Australian publishers) they need to take a walk through a classroom and talk with teachers. (And look at the Australian CBCA Picture Book shortlist, where there is only one PB suitable for under 12yos!) Is that confidence? Or frustration? Or passion?

      There was a non-fiction section for children’s writers the previous day that I didn’t get to – but a friend did and found it very helpful. I must compare notes with her, to see how similar/different they were. (Same presenter.)


  2. Wow! Thanks for sharing the wealth! There are so many interesting points here. Is your head still spinning? I’m excited to see the bold steps you take with you renewed “purpose, passion and direction”!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I had my last editorial session yesterday over the phone, as one of the editors I’d booked an appointment with was unable to attend due to illness. I don’t actually like talking on the phone – was concerned we wouldn’t find a rapport, but we did, and it was good to have the conversation after the ‘learning’ and previous conversations had time to seep in and remould my thinking. It was also rather lovely to hear her enthusiasm for the two rhyming PB manuscripts I’d submitted – and her belief that they would be published. Alas, not with that publisher, as their list is full honouring existing authors. And there is that double-edged sword, again … BUT – clinging to the good stuff; the hope.


  3. I have enjoyed reading what you learned from the conferences. Thank you for being generous enough to share! I’m looking forward to seeing where you go next with all that you’ve learned.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Each post is so full of value, Kat. I think I’ve said this before, but picture books were a mainstay in my classroom of gifted 6th, 7th & 8th grade students. I read ones I thought all would love, suggested them to individuals who were doing research into a particular topic, etc., etc. Yes, the publishers need to talk with teachers! Thanks for all & best wishes in your own journey!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I used to borrow picture books for me to read, and would find them scattered all over the house (and around my high school boys’ beds) because they couldn’t resist them! I loved the conversations we’d then have about the content, style, illustrations, etc. Picture books are an art – to be appreciated by all ages! And they sure are a useful (much-used) ‘tool’ in the middle grade/secondary classroom.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Again, Kat, thanks for sharing this comprehensive summary of your CYA experience. I plan to come back to it more than once. And yeah, let’s not let the turkeys get us down when it comes to genre and “age-appropriateness.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • So glad you found it helpful, Heidi. Please do revisit. 🙂 (Your comment had me thinking of Thanksgiving dinner – and we don’t even have Thanksgiving in Australia – except in books!)


  6. Kat, good to know: “Despite the doom and gloom, more books are being published than ever.” Thanks for the comprehensive notes and takeaways you provided this week. I am forwarding your post to my son who is working on his own manuscript.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Kat thanks for this fantastic and thorough review again, from your conference. So many valuable take-aways here. And I couldn’t agree with you more about the value and agelessness of picture books. I don’t think books ought to be pigeon-holed into such tight age categories it takes away on what they have to offer, especially if they are timeless.


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