I first heard Linsay Knight at a CBCA conference speaking about poetry, before she became the publisher at Walker Books Australia and New Zealand. Then, earlier this year, I had the good fortune to pitch a manuscript to her at a literary speed dating event where I found her to be engaging and responsive. Recently, I heard her speak about Walker Books at the recent SCBWI Christmas Party. I wasn’t quick enough to secure one of the manuscript assessments that Linsay was giving that day, but I heard from someone who did that it was a really helpful process.
At all of these events I have found Linsay to be respectful, approachable and encouraging. The notes below are a conglomeration of the hastily scribbled notes I took at the Christmas party. I tried to tidy them up so that they are coherent because I found the information interesting with things I had never thought about before, and I thought you might find it helpful too.
About the company:
Walker is part of a collaborative team of three companies – Walker UK; Walker Australia; and Candlewick in the US (their name is based on the Walker logo as the name had already been claimed in the US by another company – but it has recently bought the name back). They all deliberate and collaborate right from the beginning (even seeds) of an idea that any of them may have. They regularly discuss between all three as to whether they will take something on internationally and they may even print at same time.
Linsay said that since she has started with Walker they have cut back from publishing ‘too many’ books and they now publish fewer books but put more behind them.
They have an in -house design team (only Scholastic has this too). Linsay feels that Walker Books are ‘creatively led’ and their focus is on story. Their office space was recently renovated to reflect this creative emphasis.
About the Books:
Walker publishes about 30 books each year. 8-10 are mid grade and 3-4 are YA.
Black Dog Books is a Walker Books imprint and is not included in this number. It has a strong Australian base including non-fiction and indigenous projects.
In terms of their current books and how they are seen in the market:
Roadworks series has done incredibly well! Kids can’t get enough of giant wheels and trucks.
Old classics like My Place continue to do well.
Once Upon a Small Rhinoceros is a fabulous combo of Meg McKinlay and Leila Rudge. Meg is a stunning writer at both picture books and mid-grade (as is Sue Whiting).
Nature story books series do well – Walker publish a lot of these, usually about creatures but Desert Lake was about a place. They pair lyrical text with stunning illustrations. Koala is the latest written by Claire Saxby who is a perfect non-fiction lyrical writer. They sell well overseas
Nana’s Button Tin has a classical look and feel and ‘hit the spot.’
James Foley’s My Dead Bunny has done astonishingly well!
The Chook Doolan series by James Roy has been great for young readers. Each book is about Chook overcoming one his worries (of which he has many).
Linsay loves mid-grade and she singled out A Single Stone by Meg McKinlay and Sue Whiting’s Missing as amazing and fabulous examples of the genre. This sort of writing is sought out internationally as well.
She also loves YA and said to watch out for the stunning new psychological thriller Small Spaces by Sarah Epstein.
Linsay has a real heart for poetry and she said it was interesting that ‘Walker does so much poetry’ despite it being difficult to put anthologies together. Teachers want to engage kids in poetry but don’t know how so curated anthologies are perfect, like Dirt By Sea put together by Di Bates. It is hard to put these together (payment to all authors at ASA rates and rights issues) and it is harder to get these published and to sell them. Di Bates started Aussie children’s poetry website which is a great source of potential anthology contributors.
About publishing with Walker:
Walker is open to submissions on Walker Wednesday and they have been known to publish from these submissions, but they don’t take picture books through this channel. For picture books, it is usually direct to Linsay via pitch sessions, SCBWI, networking, festivals etc. and agents. Linsay loves coming to events like SCBWI to find people and ideas. Sometimes a publisher has ideas and looks around for someone they have seen to write it.
She realistically and sympathetically recognized that one publisher can’t always sustain your career, as much as they would like to. When they invest in an author Walker Books do like to encourage and develop them, and they always try and support the next book but it’s not always possible.
I asked Linsay a question about following up manuscripts that had been sent to her. She said that it wasn’t possible to follow-up the Walker Wednesday submissions, but that she is happy for authors who have pitched directly to her to follow-up after a few months. Just as she expects authors, as a courtesy, to give notice if their manuscripts are accepted elsewhere. She went on to give the example of keeping Deb Abella waiting for 18 months! So there still might be hope for my literary speed dating manuscript yet!
So there you have it. I hope there was something in these rambling notes that you found helpful.
As usual at a SCBWI event, there was plenty of time to ‘meet and greet’ and network with other like-minded writers and illustrators. Another highlight was the talk by Corinne Fenton and Marjory Crosby-Fairall on their collaboration for their stunning new book, One Christmas Eve, which was written to form the basis of the Melbourne Myer Christmas windows. Amazing! You had to be there!
With many thanks to Linsay Knight for offering valuable insights and reflections on not only Walker Books but more generally the Australian publishing landscape and to SCBWI for organising the event.
You can find the Walker Books website here.
My website is here.