Zanni Louise is author of picture books Too Busy Sleeping and Archie and the Bear published by Little Hare. She also has a deal for four early readers with publisher Five Mile Press and another picture book with Scholastic coming out next year. I’ve run into Zanni in cyberspace groups, shared in her enthusiasm for the release of her new book and listened rapt to her interview with Allison Tait on the Australian Writers Centre So You Want To Be a Writer podcast. She is a very generous member of the children’s literary community and I was fascinated by how her blogging both ignited her desire to write for children and provided the opportunity to be published. It’s a great story at a time when the ‘author platform’ is bandied around Ad infinitum. So let’s hear it from Zanni herself…
Zanni, thank you for agreeing to be interviewed! What got you started writing for children?
It was a very organic process. I have always written stories, since I could write. In kindy, I used to type my stories on a typewriter. I wrote stories through school, and plays in university.
When I had my daughter seven years ago, the need to write stories grew and grew. I found myself pushing the pram, or walking my daughter in the sling, itching to write. I attended courses, and writers groups, and eventually started blogging about parenting. The blog was a great outlet for my storytelling itch.
I’d been blogging for a few years [at My Little Sunshine House], when I was contacted by a PR agent to interview Mem Fox. Of course I said yes! It made me realise that I could interview other authors and illustrators, and review books on my blog. I was getting sent box loads of books each month. As both my daughters, my husband and I are all passionate about books and stories, this was the best thing.
The more I read, the more I wanted to write for kids.
Before turning to picture books, I understand that you started with writing short stories, joined a writer’s group and attended courses. What benefit did these activities have for the development and refinement of your writing?
It’s all practice. The more you write, the better you get. It’s only recently that I have learned more about the theory behind writing. Before that, I wrote very intuitively. Every editor I work with, or course I do teaches me something new about the writing craft. There’s still so much to learn!
I wrote lots of training material before writing kids’ books, and the act of pushing out 8,000 words a day was great for my craft as a writer, especially my free writing. I can write very quickly, which means you can get to the heart of the idea faster.
How did you get your first ‘break’ into having your first picture book published?
Reviewing kids’ books meant we were reading a lot of stories. I started playing around with my own stories, and put the idea that I wanted to write kids’ books on my blog and Facebook page. The managing director of Hardie Grant Egmont happened to be reading my blog. And she contacted me directly to ask me to send her a manuscript.
And that’s where it began!
So no slush pile for you – the blog paved your way to get your work directly into the hands of a publisher. What happened then?
It got sent to the picture book editor at Little Hare, Margrete Lamond, and after a few months of reworking the draft, it went to acquisitions.
So the publisher worked with you refining the manuscript until it was ready to be ‘acquired.’ What did you learn from this process about a. Writing/refining a manuscript and b. Working with the publishing house?
It was a real privilege to
see Margrete’s comments, and track changes. She was very generous, sharing her editing process with me, and suggesting input or changes, rather than insisting changes were made. I realised a lot of text can be said through pictures. I learnt more about the arc of the story. I learnt that the central character needs to reach a conclusion themselves, rather than learning it from others. I am very open to all input and suggestions from editors, and illustrators. They are professionals! And have been in this business MUCH longer than me. So it was an honour to see how they work, and watch my story transform in the process.
I learnt that there are many different levels within the publishing house, and just because your editor likes the manuscript, doesn’t mean it will pass through sales. I learnt to be patient! Publishing houses work years ahead, so books take two to three years to produce.
Since then, have there been some things that you have actively pursued to improve your craft of writing? (more courses, workshops, writing group, reading, writing heaps..??)
I attended a great agent day, with Sarah Davies from Greenhouse Literary Agency through SCBWI in the Netherlands, which really helped me understand the craft of writing. I have attended the CBCA conference, have done a couple of courses online, and read very critically and widely. I love All Tait’s podcast! Byron Writers Festival offers great courses for aspiring writers.
You’ve experimented with different writing styles – starting out with short stories for adults, moving to picture books, early readers and even experimenting with mid grade, and of course, blogging – how do you think your writing benefits from this experimentation with form , or not?
Writing is writing. Of course you adjust the style, tone, word length etc depending on the audience and the context. But I think writing a lot and in many different styles has made me quite fearless. I don’t mind trying new things. In fact, I like it! And a story is a story, no matter what form it takes. There are basic elements which apply to all formats of storytelling.
Since the acceptance of Too Busy Sleeping you’ve written many other manuscripts – how do you decide which ones are ripe and ready to send off to publishers.
It’s not always easy, and I sometimes have a tendency to send things away prematurely. I get too excited, but really I should take my time, and sit with things longer.
Having said that, being a bit courageous has its advantages. Even though the MD at Hardie Grant had personally asked me to send her a manuscript, I wouldn’t have sent Too Busy Sleeping, had my husband not urged me on. I’d had it reviewed by a friend, who was quite critical, and it was enough for me to think it was no good. But sometimes, you have to know where feedback is coming from, and what the person’s intention is. Sometimes you just have to take a leap! Thankfully, my husband is pretty objective, and gives me the push when I need it.
I’m so glad you took the leap!
In the next installment of this interview with Zanni, we talk more about the business side of writing – look out for the interview on the first Friday of August (4th).
And me at mine here.