Today is the last interview with Shelly Unwin in which we look at some of the ‘nuts and bolts’ of her steps to her publishing dream. They include practical advice for anyone who is interested in getting published.
The things that impress me loud and clear from your story, Shelly are:
- although these books are only a very recent thing for you to be working on, the process of having written other things over several years (despite rejections and setbacks) helped you bring these ideas together at the right time.
- Having good networks and an understanding of the industry also developed over time and brought you into contact with the right people at the right time.
You’ve mentioned a few key steps in this process about building up networks and putting yourself in the right place at the right time. Can you comment further on these?
Faber Academy and “Stack of courses”
From the moment I decided that I wanted to be a children’s author I have been on a steady stream of courses. I went into writing fairly ignorant to the level of craft involved in writing a great picture book or children’s book. My first course, Writing Picture Books, with Cathie Tasker at the AWC really set me off on the right track, but I was still thirsty for more and have taken courses with the ASA, the NSW Writers Centre, the Australian Writers Centre and the Faber Academy. All of which have proved invaluable.
You mention attending a SCWBI conference. What other associations do you belong to?
Most of them I think! The ASA (Australian Society of Authors), The CBCA (Children’s Book Council of Australia), The NSW Writers’ Centre. I like to get to as many industry events as possible. I also follow a whole host of Facebook based writing groups.
Also something I found very useful early on was the 12X12 Picture Book challenge, run by Julie Headland in the US. I only signed up once but it made me commit to writing one new picture book draft every month- many of them were written on the 30th of the month! As a new writer I found this challenge helpful for getting the creative juices flowing and it also made me start thinking critically about which ideas might work in the market and which to leave at first draft. It also provided the opportunity to submit one picture book manuscript a month to a US agent and some, not all, provided feedback. I’d highly recommend it for writers starting out.
Editor consult Sutherland Writing Festival
Firstly I need to mention my amazing critique group here, because if it wasn’t for them I may well not have found out about the opportunities to have editor consultations at conferences. These are amazing one on one sessions, that you pay extra for, and generally an editor, or publisher gives you feedback on one or sometimes two of your manuscripts. These sessions not only give you insight into how the professionals are seeing your work, but it also opens the door to submissions into otherwise closed publishing houses. They also enable you to start to build all-important relationships with editors and publishers, and understand the different tastes of each publishing house.
Literary Speed dating
I gave this a miss the year before when I first heard about it, because I found the idea too daunting. Five minutes standing in front of a publisher trying to pitch an idea –gahhh! But then I attended the ASA Pitch Perfect course and it gave me the tools and the confidence to give it a go. And I’m SO glad I did. This is where I not only got my series in front of two other publishers, but I also met my agent. The event wasn’t nearly as scary as I was expecting either. All of the publishers were very warm and encouraging and all of the attendees were feeling the same nervous excitement, so there was quite a nice buzz to the event.
Have you ever ‘pitched’ at a conference – how did that go? What was it like?
I have! It was scary. I get nervous speaking in front of adults, especially when it’s something I’m passionate about. I had my name pulled out of the hat (I had put it in there) to pitch at the NSW Writers Festival. I had learnt my pitch so that I could deliver it with out reading, but when it came to it I chickened out and read from my notes. I was quite disappointed in myself. The feedback on my first page (it was for my Young Adult novel) was encouraging though, and I met quite a few new people afterwards who came to congratulate me, so it was well worth doing, and I worked the editors feedback into my next draft.
How have these things helped? Did they always go as planned?
Everything helps. I think even if things go awry there is always a valuable lesson. For example one of the publishers that I was hoping to see at the speed dating didn’t turn up, so I was only able to pitch my series to two publishers. I thought about going home, but I persuaded myself to pitch my YA novel, which I hadn’t worked on in a while. I thought I’d done such a bad job of pitching it the first time that I decided I had to try again. So I pitched it to Alex, my now Agent. She loved the premise and was so encouraging, that I then asked if she would consider representing a picture book author. She said she had one picture book author that she worked with, I told her about my series and left her with a hard copy of the whole series. She followed me on twitter that night, and I had an excited feeling in my gut that things were headed in the right direction. I could easily have gone home and missed out! My take away from this experience; in an industry where chances to talk to the right people are few and far between, never pass up an opportunity.
Thank you Shelly for your generosity in participating in these interviews over the past months and sharing your experiences with us. I have certainly found wisdom and encouragement for my writing journey.
Find Shelly Unwin here: http://shellyunwin.com/
Find Debra Tidball here: http://www.debratidball.com/