Yep, I thought I should write up a little on the latest SCWBI meeting I attended a couple of weekends ago. I was meeting again with my new 12×12 writing buddies. Kim came up from down country (a two hour drive) to my place and we took off and met Allie at the library where the meeting was held after a coffee. The quest speaker was Katie Haworth, editor of Publishing house, Penguin New Zealand.
Before our quest arrived Francis had a couple of things to share with us, one being that American writer Marion Dyson was going to be here in New Zealand in late January, giving a talk in Wellington, and on her way home via Auckland, Francis was organising an afternoon get together for us to meet her. Another interesting titbit was an article in the SCBWI’s latest newsletter on preparing for your school visits. Sending an old school photo of yourself and getting the kids interest in trying to guess which one is you, a unique idea.
Katie commissions for Penguin Publishing NZ an imprint under Puffin. Appearing younger than her vast experience and no-nonsense approach to her work, I was very aware that editors do have their preferences, and while it may appear harsh or sad to have to say no to an author’s work, they do have limitations and expectations to adhere to, and there is a very small margin for publishing of new works, both children and adult here in New Zealand. Out of fifteen hundred children’s manuscript submissions per year, roughly five picture books are published per year, maybe two to three junior fiction and one to two YA with somewhere out of this one to two of these authors will be new authors. While I was sure others gulped as I did, Katie ensured us that editors are always on the lookout for writers, with that special story. That special something that grabbed your attention, was fun, had an unexpected twist. “Make your story entertaining, after all this is an entertainment business you are in” was a constant message she brought to this meeting. What surprised me was hearing her mention that a story did not necessarily have to have a moral. If the first sentence does not grab us, let’s face it, with fifteen hundred manuscripts we will not look past the first page. Katie shared with us some tips on the dos and don’ts in attracting an editor’s attention.
– Synopsis- to be edgy, interesting, funny, with no spelling mistakes. Make no mistake it is an art.
– First paragraph – no clichés, and there is more ways to write raven black hair.., must hook.
– Writer – where they want to go in their career, have to emerge from behind book and prepare to sell.
– Be passionate about your book.
– Kiwiana is good. Maori works is popular in German market. So know your market.
– Look to trends –i.e.… kids ten to eleven years have strong moral values, take conflict, don’t be soft, good concept, language over plot. Also watch for topic, remembering by the time the book is out trends change.
– Let publishers know where you want to go. I.e. YA writing or MG etc…
– Like acting you will get typecast. Prepare.
First print is usually two to three thousand copies. They also do approach offshore, such as USA, Australia and English market.
When asked what length of time from submission to publication Katie mentioned with YA it could be as soon as six months otherwise longer. For picture books however, it could be 12 months before approach to an illustrator, then again to final draft ready for publication.
It is a long road but a worthy one if your book is the $50,000 manuscript they are looking for.
It was a very interesting and informative afternoon and I enjoyed catching up with my 12×12 writing buddies. I had to admire Kim when I asked about her work. She has sent it out to a couple of editors and received rejection letters. “Yes!” she said with such enthusiastic joy and beaming from ear to ear. Her wonderful approach to at least getting her work out and doing something about it was infectious. I must interview her one day so you too can enjoy her positive attitude in this writing journey we are on.
Oh and one more thing. When the three of us were talking to Francis later, she was delighted to hear we were involved in a writing group getting that encouragement, and working together on our manuscripts, critiquing, revising, and perfecting them as best we can, before sending them out. Something that is music to an agent’s ear…..