October Dinner Meeting Report: All About Children's Publishing

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Three very different perspectives together gave an in-depth view on the state of Australian children's publishing at the October dinner meeting.

Andrew Kelly presented the strategic approach as independent publisher at Wild Dog Books, an imprint specialising in photographic non-fiction for children.

Karri Hedge, editor of children's and YA fiction at Hardie Grant Egmont, presented the perspective of an established publishing house.

Representing the author's opinion was children's author Sofie Laguna, whose works include Bird and Sugar Boy, My Yellow Blanky, Too Loud Lily and the highly successful series Our Australian Girl: Meet Grace.

Former Editors Victoria president and Honorary Life Member Liz Steele facilitated the discussion, which covered many topics affecting the industry.

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Children's Publishing in 2012

Even with all the doom and gloom in the book market and with adults' book sales declining, children's sales are continuing to grow. Independent book stores are starting to notice that children's sales are becoming a bigger part of their earnings. All three panellists were hopeful that the genre would start to receive the respect it deserved.

Andrew also talked about children's non-fiction disappearing off the radar. Wild Dog Books aims to create compelling non-fiction books from which children can take away facts they will remember for the rest of their lives.

Series v. Stand-alone

Andrew believes the current market is being conservative, and part of the result of this is the publication of many more series, which he considers the easy option.

Karri sees both the creative and commercial sides, as series publishing supports other sales, but believes there is always room for stand-alone books.

Sofie says she has written both series and stand-alone books, but she was so completely involved in her stories and her characters that she didn't have any room to worry about the market and commercial concerns. “I try to tell the truth through the characters' eyes as musically as possible,” is how she describes her writing aim.

Commissioning v. Submissions

The panellists discussed where ideas for published books come from. Karri explained that Hardie Grant Egmont commissions books and accepts unsolicited submissions. She says that publishers are looking at the broader commercial picture when deciding on their publishing lists, including what's selling in the market, what trends are appearing and what gaps are there.

Andrew says his publishing house isn't author-focused but is involved in briefing authors instead.

Sofie mostly writes her own unique stories but was commissioned to write the Our Australian Girl series. She describes it as a good exercise to write to someone else's brief and states, 'I had to use adverbs but I still had room to move'.

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The Value of an Editor

Andrew describes his role as a friend to the author as they are often working in isolation and what they think they have explained may not be there on the page. He describes editing as the final polish and, without it, a book won't succeed.

Karri describes her editing style as 'bossy' but a major part of this is the way she has been taught to edit, though she always adapts to the project and the author. She finds it very interesting to be working with different ideas and authors all the time.

Sofie describes a good editor as someone who understands what the author is saying. She says the more confident she became in her writing, the better at editing herself she became.

Questions from the Audience

Questions from the floor included how to submit a picture book for consideration to a publishing house and the future of non-fiction children's books in a world dominated by the influence of the internet and distinctive Australian literature. All three panellists gave useful advice. It was an extremely informative and entertaining discussion, which shed a great deal of light on the industry.

Claire Quinn
Events Officer