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The Picture Book Buzz

SCBWI Sydney 2019 Conference

Here are some highlights from the amazing conference I recently attended in Sydney, Australia. I was fortunate to accompany Vivian Kirkfield on her first speaking engagement at an SCBWI conference as a published author. We did sneak in 2 days of sightseeing.

First, and foremost, I discovered the Australian SCBWI to be full of warm and welcoming authors and illustrators. As much as it was about gaining information and sharpening skills and knowledge, it was also about making friends and discovering our numerous, and often hysterical, cultural differences. Don't get me started on the coffee!

The Australian SCBWI is extremely fortunate to have the generous, caring, and hardworking RA - Susanne Gervay at the helm.

In addition to her other duties, she made time to take Vivian and I around Sydney to discover some of her favorite coves, walks, beaches, and even a regatta. Including Nielsen Park's Shark beach, with its shark netting barrier swimming area and the edge of the Pacific Ocean. Providing an insider's look at her beautiful city that many tourists don't get to see.

The conference started with Allison Tait and Valerie Khoo speaking on How To Make Yourself More Marketable As a Writer. Their key points were to start with a "you can do it" mindset (write the book and acknowledge yourself as a business). Then build your profile/brand, be findable online (at minimum have a website) and own your own URL. Remember who your audience is (parents/librarians or teens) and be involved in your community. And finally, don't forget to celebrate. They also suggested you periodically do an "incognito" Google search of yourself (or have someone else search for you) so you know what a reader will find.

Next, Julia Marshall, editor at Gecko Press, began with a reminder of Madeleine L'Engle's quote “If it's not good enough for adults, it's not good enough for children." Noting that writing requires passion, commitment, enthusiasm, greatness, craft, and discipline. It was fun to learn about a smaller publisher in Australia which focuses upon stories which celebrate the quiet voice, an author's passion, and original freshness rather than mere commercial value.

Then Mira Reisberg shared a jam-packed presentation on getting and staying published. Followed by a panel of publishers & editors - Lindsay Knight (Walker Books, Australia), Heather Curdie (Penguin Young Readers), Mary Verney (Penguin Random House), and Eve Tonelli (Harper Collins) - answering questions about their editorial experiences and preferences. Their parting advice: (1) get the voice right (and authentic); (2) trust your gut and take your time; (3) every word counts; and (4) seek out the poetry of the story (word choices & places to breathe).

A fun and insightful "pitch to publishers" session, where we really got a glimpse into the subjectivity of this industry as six publishers reacted to eight chosen pitches, preceded the closing presentation by Vivian Kirkfield. She offered us her delightful recipe for success in publishing - A PIZZA.

I kid you not. But not an ordinary pizza, one made of four P's. Passion (want and love writing), Productivity (work on multitasking), Patience, and Persistence (just keep submitting).

She also gave us seven key steps to publication:

1. Read lots of picture books;

2. Participate in writing challenges and contests;

3. Interact with the kidlit community;

4. Join critique groups;

5. Hone your craft with classes and conferences;

6. Write and revise and write and revise; and

7. Research agents and editors and submit.

As you can see it was a super fun conference that I was honored to participate in. Keep an eye out this summer for interviews and #PPBF reviews of some of the amazing Australian authors (Dimitry Powell, on my right), illustrators (Giuseppe Poli, across from me), and books I discovered down under (At the End of Holyrood Lane & Invisible Jerry).

After the conference, Vivian and I got to explore the city with fellow 12x12 New Zealand author Diane Tulloch. We explored the Botanical Gardens and then walked about 3 kilometers (1.8 miles) through town back to the hotel.

For additional highlights and information on the conference, visit:

(1) the SCBWI roving reporters (here) posts on all the presentations, key notes, and masterclasses; and

(2) Diane Tulloch's blog - The Patient Dreamer - for a video of Vivian's presentation and other thoughts on the conference.

Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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