Visit to Allen & Unwin
This morning we met with Erica Wagner, Publisher of Books for Children and Teenagers. Erica started off by discussing with us how our reading habits have changed. She loves her iPad and looks forward to reading it every night. ‘It’s iPad time!’
I love, love, love my iPad, although it’s awkward to hold it in bed, it’s just a bit heavy for me. I’ve tried those pillow support thingys but they don’t seem to help. It really gets me in the neck. Time to upgrade to an iPad mini I think.
And why do we love reading from the iPad? It’s just so darn easy. A click of a button and you can read whatever you want. Although, due to the format of children’s picture books, I hear it’s difficult to achieve a satisfying digital format.
One innovation that Allen & Unwin have introduced to their picture books is a direct link via a QR scan (which can be easily found on the half title page of their PB’s) to an Allen & Unwin website that provides an audio reading for the book. One is an actors voice reading the story (for playtime), the other is the writers voice (for bedtime).
These picture books will sell for $24.95 and research in the U.K shows a definite link to increased sales.
Erica then took us through the production of two wonderful books.
The first was ‘Jandamarra’ written by Mark Greenwood and illustrated by Terry Denton. This is a powerful story about Jandamarra, a Bunuba warrior from the Kimberley in Western Australia. Books, plays and movies have been made by about this amazing man and this picture book does his legend credit. Collaboratively written with the permission of the Bunuba Elders, text and illustration weave together an amazing tale. It’s 48 pages long, which is a big deviation from the standard 32 pages normally used in making picture books.
The process of laying it out, fitting in what was just right, revising the artwork and the text on several occasions sounded like an incredible challenge. Erica talked about the Writer/Illustrator relationship and how the Illustrator needs to take ownership of the text to make it work. It was a fascinating process but the result speaks for itself. This book is wonderful. I’m heading out to buy this it tomorrow!
The second book we had a sneak peak at was a graphic novel by the talented Julie Hunt (you can see an Author Interview done on Julie in todays Buzzwords magazine).
Now, this was exciting for Nadine’s as she is writing, amongst many other things, a graphic novel or a hybrid graphic novel that also includes prose.
Wow, the way Julie Hunt’s story ‘Kid Gloves’ is written is so unique I’ve never seen anything like it. It was all dialogue. Erica explained when you writing a graphic novel, you need to convey action as if it’s a film. The artwork for this book is in panel format and it was incredible.
It made me want to read Nikki Greenberg’s books, Hamlet and The Great Gatsby. More books! (Don’t tell my husband. Where are you going to put all these books he asks me as I waltz in with another armful of literary treasure?).
Erica believes graphic novels are a little risky, that perhaps they are ahead of their time. They’re a massive amount of work and they take years to complete. But all in all what I saw was a book that is completely compelling and different that it’s a real experience in itself to read and enjoy such a book.
Erica was so good to talk to, it was thrilling to discuss their publishing list and what their expectations are for writers and illustrators. She talked about Allen & Unwin’s strengths as a publisher. They love good picture books, they are always looking for Middle Grade Fiction 8 – 12 years. They pride themselves on having a varied and interesting publishing list, promoting literary qualities. I believe this to be true.
Erica also talked about the importance of finding your voice as a writer. It’s about having confidence in your voice and developing characters people can recognize and relate to. Strong story telling is always compelling and a fresh and contemporary approach to stories is what they’re looking for. Erica was very encouraging to us all. “Writing is a craft and you can always make it better,” she says.
It was such a treat to chat with Erica. She was so generous in sharing her knowledge and expertise with us, I left feeling very grateful and ready to have a go at my next story.
Visit to Penguin
After a lovely lunch at docklands with Helen Chamberlin, Heather Gallagher, Laura Wilson and Nadine Cranenburgh, we headed off to Penguin Publishing to meet with Senior Editors, Amy Thomas and Katrina Lehmann.
The Penguin offices were pretty amazing, funky and very modern with a huge open layout workspace.
Penguin have a corporate culture with a strong commercial values. They publish about 100 books a year. Of these, only 12 – 14 would be picture books. About 15 books would be submitted by agents and only a random 1 – 2 unsolicited manuscripts (from new writers) would be picked up. Many titles are also what they call buy-ins, as in they buy the rights for picture books from the U.S or U.K and release them here. There’s little opportunity for the new writer.
Amy and Katrina explained to us how their roles as editors has changed with the tightening of Penguin’s belt in that they do their own type setting as well as editing. It certainly gives them more control, but of course, it’s added work. Their editing work involves a great deal of manuscript development. It may begin with structural editing, plot development, changes to the story arc, alterations in chapter length, character re-focusing and then they narrow it down scenes, to linking lines and line-by-line editing.
We bandied about the pros and cons of one getting an agent, which seems just as hard as getting a publisher.
Katrina took us through the production of three new books they have recently launched and what was involved in each of these and the challenges experienced.
Penguin have brought out a middle reader series called, Eerie by S.Carey (Scarey – get it?). This series was written by established writers under the pseudonym of S.Carey as the‘C’ is always stacked in bookstores at eye height. I told you they were commercial!
This book is almost an early reader with loads of ‘break out’ text to make for easy reading, targeted at reluctant readers.
The other series of books looked at was ‘Juliet nearly a Vet’ by Rebecca Johnson, illustrated by Kyla May. This is for 8 – 10 year olds and would compete against books like ‘Billie B. Brown’.
The pros and cons of writing a series was discussed. Penguin won’t put all their eggs into one basket by publishing them all due to diminishing returns if the concept doesn’t take off.
When it comes to manuscript submissions, Amy and Katrina focus on the manuscript first and read the cover letter later. A short and concise cover letter is adequate and if you’re previously published author, pop a book in the mail or email a digital version so they can see your ‘runs on the board’ and get a better feel for who you are.
The importance of having an online presence was seen as an advantage. Websites and Blogs and Teaching Resources were seen as an absolute necessity for any books written.
We also looked at Isobelle Carmody’s new book, The Cloud Road. This is a beautifully designed and crafted book and they all raved about the story so I’m also putting this on my reading list as well. Isobelle is a prolific writer and she did all the illustrations which are absolutely charming.
Amy and Katrina also explained to us the process a manuscript goes through before it might be accepted fro publication. If it’s a great story, it’s selected in an ‘Acquisitions’ meeting. From here they need to get backing from the people ‘upstairs’ (senior management, I assume). Then they need the marketing people to say ‘yes’ we can sell this. A lot of this has to do with timing.
Penguin are currently looking for Young Adult fiction with a slight move away from the paranormal to a more contemporary realisation and good stand alone Middle Readers are always sought after.
Thank you Amy and Katrina for a detailed insight into Penguin Publishing.