It’s been a big year for children’s author Kaye Baillie. She has recently released not one, but two picture books into the world! In this interview she tells us about her new books and shares with us a wealth of industry experience that spans years writing for the educational and trade market. Kaye has generously given us an insider’s long-list of resources/people/organisations/festivals that have helped shape her career over the years. Her story demonstrates the value of networking and taking advantage of opportunities. I hope you spend time checking out her list and enjoy the insight into Kaye’s writing and publishing career.
I loved watching Kaye recently on the CBCA NSW Branch Lunchtime Storytime Live reading Boo Loves Books and talking about Message in a Sock. (I think the video has been taken down now – many publishers gave access for a limited time). So on with the interview…
Hi Kaye! Can you please show us your new books and introduce them to us?
‘Boo Loves Books’ illustrated by Tracie Grimwood and published by New Frontier Publishing tells the story of Phoebe who is not a confident reader. One day, Phoebe’s class goes on a special excursion to an animal shelter where each child is given the task of reading to a dog! Phoebe meets Big Boo, and discovers he is scared of things too. Can they turn their fears into a positive experience?
‘The Friendly Games’ illustrated by Fiona Burrows and published by MidnightSun tells the true story of how student John Ian Wing, concerned about current world tensions, wrote a letter which changed the Closing Ceremony of the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games, when the Ceremony was just days away!
Can you tell us… who are you?
I grew up in Invergordon near Shepparton, Victoria. We had an orchard and supplied fruit to SPC. During the summer holidays I would write stories and illustrated them. Much later in 1998 I began my Diploma in Professional Writing and Editing. I decided I wanted to take writing for children seriously. I completed the diploma five years later as I got married and had two children so completed it via distance learning. Prior to that I had many jobs. I worked for an optometrist, a bank, a power supply company, a hospital, a department store and other places. When my first acceptance letter came in 2000 for an educational reader with Thomson Learning (now Cengage) I was over the moon. I never stopped writing and trying to get published.
Why do you write for children?
I always liked writing stories and doing illustrations when I was young. I kept some of my homemade books. In my twenties I still had a passion to write for a young audience. Stories for children are so uplifting and fun. I don’t have the desire to write for adults. I’d much rather write about an anxious girl who makes friends with a rescue dog or about animals who want to invade a bathtub! Children’s stories hold themes that are as rich, diverse and powerful as any novel. Maybe more so. I love wrangling words and I also love the illustrations that bring picture books to life.
Where did you go to learn about crafting stories?
Here, in no particular order, is my long list!
NF Fest (USA)
SCBWI Sydney conference and Melbourne gatherings
Dromkeen Literary Festival
Bendigo Writers Festival
Non-fiction Festival, Geelong.
Di Bates – Buzz words
PIO – Jacki Hosking
Creative Kids Tales
Just Write For Kids
Picture Book Builders (USA)
Anne Whitford Paul – Writing Picture books
Kate Grenville -The Writing Book
Carmel Bird – Dear Writer
Libby Gleeson – Making Picture Books
Manuscript Wish List (find what agents and editors look for)
Twitter Pitch party – #PBPitch
Literary Speed Dating (Run by ASA and Writers Vic)
Kids’ Book Review
Tania Mccartney Podcast
One More Page Podcast
The Duck Pond – Jen Storer
Matthew Winner Podcast
Publishers Weekly Podcast
Children’s Book Council Australia
SCBWI (look on their events calendar)
Write On Con
Nuts and Bolts of Writing Picture Books – Linda Ashman.
Susannah Leonard Hill – Making Picture Book Magic course
Australian Writers Centre
Library to see what books are like yours and how you can learn from published examples
Diploma of Prof Writing and Editing
Rate Your Story
Critique Group SCBWI
Wow! That’s a great list! Thanks!
‘Diving at the Pool’ is a fictional story published by Cengage Learning for the educational market. My tutor at Box Hill TAFE back in 1998 told me to go visit the publisher as I lived in the same street. I did. She gave me some examples of the books they publish in the PM series. I wrote my story, sent it off and one year later received a letter saying they would publish my story. It’s still in print after almost twenty years.
‘Train Music’ is my second fictional story published by Cengage. After having ‘Diving at the Pool’ published, I phoned the publisher to see if they would like any more stories. They said they were about to close the submission window for one of their series but that I could submit a story if I wished. I sent ‘Train Music’. To my delight they accepted it and it is still in print after seventeen years.
Long dry spell – marriage, two daughters, finishing my Diploma and not really putting a lot of time into seeking publication. I kept trying, but not in the same way as I do now.
In 2017 Wombat Books published my junior reader, ‘Archie Appleby and the Terrible Case of the Creeps’. I read that they were looking for junior readers between 6-8,000 words. I had written ‘Archie’ and thought it might be a perfect fit for what they were after. Wombat expressed interest in the story, asked me to do some editing, and eventually it was accepted.
In 2018 my debut picture book, ‘Message in a Sock’ was published by MidnightSun. I had written my story set during WW1. I read an article on Jane Jolly and Sally Heinrich and how their book, ‘One Step at a Time’ was MidnightSun’s first children’s book. I thought Midnightsun might like my book. I sent it off. Seven months later I received a rejection but with the opportunity to revise the ending. I revised and sent off. Three months later I received a phone call from Anna Solding saying they would love to publish my story. It went on to be shortlisted in the WAYRBA (2019) and the NSW Premier’s History Award (2019). It also won a history prize in the Northern Lights book awards in the USA (2019).
‘Boo Loves Books’ began with a different title in 2016. I wrote the story inspired by a news story and began submitting to several US agents. Silence. I paid for a critique with Sleeping Bear Press in the US. The feedback was encouraging, but for some reason I put the story away for over one year. Then I took it out again, reworked it, got feedback from my critique group and sent it to several Australian publishers in August 2018. In December 2018 I received interest from New Frontier publishing and once they had signed an illustrator, the deal was made.
‘The Friendly Games’ was a story I wrote in 2017 and I sent it to MidnightSun that December. In January 2018 Anna phoned me to say she loved it and would like to publish it. It will be released June 1 2020.
In 2018 I wrote a fun story about a boy trying to have a bath but animals kept invading the bathtub. I put the story on the forum in 12×12 (group run by Julie Hedlund) and one of the features of this group is that a ‘critique ninja’ gives feedback. The ninja suggested writing the story in the style of the well-known story, The House That Jack Built. I loved doing this and I loved what I came up with. I sent it to Windy Hollow Books as I know they publish stories about Australian animals. It was accepted seven months later and is due out in 2021.
In 2018 I completed a picture book biography that I’d been working on and off for two years. I submitted it to various agents and publishers in the US. I had some interest, but no offers. I believed in the story but put it aside. In early 2019 I signed with my agent, Essie White. I showed Essie the story and during 2019 she got me to do some edits focussing more on the engineering skills of my subject, Olive Dennis. She submitted the story to Asia Citro at the Innovation Press in Seattle, USA. Asia accepted the story and it is due out in 2021.
Over the years I have submitted stories to The School Magazine. I have six short stories published with them and one more coming out this year.
So TWO new books out next year as well! That’s brilliant! Congratulations!
How have you found the process of working with publishers and illustrators?
Each publishing house is different to work with. Cengage had the least interaction, which I admit made it all very easy. Once the contract was signed, they found the illustrator, ran some rough drafts by me and they did all the rest. There is no marketing needed by me as they have a system which sells books in packs to schools here and overseas.
Each publisher has been accessible, and they have consulted with me about the illustrators. I’ve been so fortunate to have had such wonderful illustrators for each project. Sometimes the illustrator and I have been in touch as the project nears the end. In the early stages of the books’ production, if there was a question from the illustrator, the publisher would ask me on the illustrator’s behalf to clarify something about the text for example, what age I imagine a character to be.
What have been the ups and downs of being a children’s author?
Ups – the thrill of wrangling words and getting them to sing. Receiving a book contract. Seeing the illustrator’s roughs and then seeing the finished product. Imagining my book in the hands of children.
Downs – wondering if I’ve told the story in the best way after it’s gone to print. Receiving rejections or the dreaded silent rejections. Having a story you love not sell and wondering if it will ever find a home.
What are your 3 top tips for aspiring/emerging writers?
1. It can take years to find your writing style. Too many times I tried to write stories based on someone else’s style and thinking this was how I should write. But as the years went on, I settled into my preferred styles such as picture book biographical stories or lyrical stories. I’m not very good at writing humorous stories. Experiment and don’t be discouraged if it takes a while to find what stories you love to write.
2. Always, always get critiques before sending stories to publishers or agents. Fresh eyes will always be useful.
3. For picture books, read aloud. Put it way for a day. And read it aloud again. Repeat many times and I guarantee you will be glad you did. You will find ways to refine your story.
Great tips! Thanks!
Launching any book is worthy of great celebration. These two books have come out in the middle of a global pandemic. How has that affected things and changed your expectations and how you are going about promoting them?
‘Boo’ was ready to be launched at Pictures and Pages in Coburg. ‘The Friendly Games’ was ready to be launched at Readings in Hawthorn. We may still do events later on, but in the meantime, there are lots of things happening online. Such as the CBCA NSW lunchtime live readings, posting a book trailer or photo of your book on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram. Being interviewed on blogs – like this. Writing to newspapers or local radio stations. Getting reviews, sending your story to the various Premier’s Reading Challenges. Keeping in touch with local bookstores and promoting that they have your book in stock. Making sure that you post your news in places you are a member of such as SCBWI Book Birthday or Writers Victoria Member Milestones. Book giveaway competitions. Apart from not doing book launches or speaking at the local library or a Probus Club, all the online things above I would do anyhow.
I also imagine that launching The Friendly Games was meant to coincide with Olympics which were cancelled this year – what a bummer!
You are represented by an agency in the USA (Storm Literary agency). How did that come about?
I admired Essie White for several years and knew she represented picture books and had a strong background in early childhood education. When she started her agency, I didn’t have enough work to submit and then very quickly, her submissions closed. I watched her Twitter feed in case she opened again for submissions. Meanwhile, I did send to other agents but Essie and two others were in my top three. I booked to attend the bi-annual Sydney SCBWI conference for 2019. When I read that Essie would be at the conference, I couldn’t believe my luck. I was at my computer with nervous fingers waiting for the submission windows to open so that I could book a critique with her and her masterclass. I got into both. Her masterclass was brilliant and then I had my one-on-one critique with her. I showed her my Olive Dennis story. She gave me good feedback but I left the conference thinking I wouldn’t hear from her again. About four days later, I woke up to an email from Essie. She asked to see more of my work. I sent her several PB stories. By the next day she offered to represent me. The contract was signed a couple of days later. It was fantastic!!
PS do you have an Aussie agent?
Short answer, no.
Thanks so much Kaye! Such a great insight into the writing and publishing world!
Thanks so much for having me!
If you want to find out more about Kaye you can find her online at:
And you can find me online at: