Ep 339 Meet literary agent Annabel Barker.

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on linkedin
Share on whatsapp
Share on email
Share on print

In Episode 339 of So You Want To Be A Writer: Do you want to be a children's author? Meet literary agent Annabel Barker and discover what you need to do to get published. Plus, we have 3 copies of The Silk House by Kayte Nunn to give away.

Click play below to listen to the podcast. You can also listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Stitcher Radio. Or add the podcast RSS feed manually to your favourite podcast app.

 

Show Notes

Agent in Residence

Annabel Barker

In a 20-year-long career in the literary industry, Annabel Barker has represented many of Australia’s best children’s and young adult authors and illustrators. She has worked for publishers Hachette Children’s Books and Pan Macmillan, and now with her own agency, she continues to help children’s and young adult authors find publishers for their books.

As an experienced literary agent, she knows exactly what the publishing industry is looking for and in this conversation Annabel tells authors of children’s and young adult books what they need to do to stand out from the rest of the crowd. Annabel emphasises the importance of laying the groundwork before pitching to an editor or publisher and she offers her 5 best pre-pitch tips and suggestions on building a strong and distinct author platform.

Visit Annabel's website

(If you click the link above and then purchase from Booktopia, we get a small commission. This amount is donated to Doggie Rescue to support their valuable work with unwanted and abandoned dogs.)

Competition

WIN: The Silk House by Kayte Nunn

This podcast is brought to you by the Australian Writers' Centre

Find out more about your hosts here:

Allison Tait

Valerie Khoo

Or get social with them here:

Twitter:

@altait

@valeriekhoo

Instagram:

@allisontaitwriter

@valeriekhoo

Connect with Valerie, Allison and listeners in the podcast community on Facebook

So you want to be a writer Facebook group

Share the love!

Interview Transcript

Valerie

Welcome Annabel.

Annabel

Hi Valerie. Hi everyone. Thanks for having me.

Valerie

Annabel is chatting to us from sunny, well, maybe not so sunny Melbourne. And Annabel, maybe if you can just introduce yourself, tell everyone a little bit about what you do.

Annabel

Sure. So I'm Annabel. Nice to meet you all. I'm a literary agent based in Melbourne, and I'm also a rights agent. So I work for publishers as well as writers and illustrators. And I specialise in children's and YA. I don't cover any other genres. I read widely, but I absolutely specialise in kids' books of all ages from preschool up to teenage, YA. And I think I'm one of the few agents who do that. I have a very specialised approach. I've always worked in children's publishing. Until recently, I worked in-house at Hardie Grant Egmont. I was Managing Director there, and then Rights Director. And I've also worked at Pan Macmillan and Hachette and some other places over the last 15 or 20 years, I guess. And yeah, so I have a background specialising in kid's books. So yeah.

Valerie

Fantastic. So we've also got someone all the way from Massachusetts, in the US, so hello to you as well, Janine. Now, obviously, we are going to be covering things like how to pitch to an agent or a publisher. things to avoid when doing that, how to get an agent or a publisher. But before that, I just wanted to start, because we're talking about children's and young adult authors, I just want to start with perhaps if you can talk about some of the trends that we're currently seeing that children's and young authors need to be aware of.

Annabel

For sure, Valerie. Love to. So, obviously there's trends across all genres. You know, I think those of us who work in children's books or who write children's books understand that, you know, a picture book is not the same as a YA book. There's a massive range of different trends across those types of genres. And Valerie and I have been talking about a blog post that I'm going to do which might cover some trends across some of the other age groups that I cover as an agent. But I just wanted to mention a couple of big ones at the moment that I see as kind of definitely growing and expanding in Australia and also internationally. A lot of my experience is selling rights into the North America in the UK as well. So I probably follow those trends pretty closely through my reading and things as well.

You know, of course, publishers are looking for two things. Behind the scenes, they always want great writing and they want great stories. And those two things are paramount in children's books. Children can be a pretty harsh audience as you guys would all know. You know, they won't read something if it looks cool. So it has to be a great book. So above all these trends, it has to be good writing or great story in order to be successful in the children's world.

But outside of this, I think publishers live in the real world, and they follow worldwide trends, not just in children's books, you know, across lots of other types of things as well. So they're interested in big trends, like, you know, climate change, and sustainability and Black Lives Matter and kind of big things that are happening in the world, COVID-19. That kind of thing is reflective of what happens in children's books, too.

So some of the trends we see absolutely are, you know, they're reflective of what's happening in the real world. But two things I wanted to talk about a little bit and maybe are related to those kind of big world trends. One of them is in the nonfiction space. So books for kids in nonfiction, children's nonfiction has really changed I think over the past few years, and really continues to be a very big trend that publishers are all looking for. I think in the past, nonfiction books for kids were very, you know, they were books like DK, photographic books about space and things like that, that kids were really reading a lot of a few years ago.

Now nonfiction books I think have really changed and they're being published right from picture books up to YA. And publishers are looking for books on real world topics that are relevant to kids' understanding of the world.

So something we might be seeing a lot of at the moment is a lot of books on climate change, books on the bushfire situation that we had earlier this year in Australia. I think there will be a lot of books coming out on those kind of bigger real world topics that we see in the news. Nonfiction books cover really interesting formats and books about nonfiction real world topics.

Valerie

Okay, fantastic. So that's one trend that you're seeing with the nonfiction. Yeah.

Annabel

Nonfiction is a big one.

The other one I think is really interesting is the growth in middle grade. Over the last couple of years, I think Australian YA went through a really big point a couple of years ago with the #loveOZYA hashtag and there was a lot of very big support for Australian YA. And I think that's still happening, which is fantastic. But I think there has also been in the last couple of years, a lot more Australian middle grade being published.

Middle grade is a really hard audience to write for, and people who do it well, I think, are very clever writers. They really think a lot about their audience. So I think there is kind of a bigger respect happening for that kind of middle grade reader. And some of the middle grade books we're seeing now are really dealing with a lot more complex issues in a very respectful way, I think, for those kinds of stories discussing trauma or big picture issues written in such a way that's relevant to a nine to 12 year old reader.

So I think it's quite an important age group and hopefully we're seeing more and more books coming out from Australian writers in that area.

Valerie

Okay, so that's trends in nonfiction. And they are books, guys, like Leslie Gibbs recent books Cicadas, Pamela Freeman's The Desert Lake. And also the growth in middle grade with authors like AL Tait and Tim Harris and some fantastic authors in that space. I know that a lot of people who are on this Facebook Live, they are really into picture books. And are we seeing any particular trends with picture books, so younger than middle grade?

Annabel

I think in, you know, in the same way, nonfiction trends in picture books are really strong as well. So definitely seeing some people tackling real world issues in picture books. You know, last year there was Sophie Beer's Love Makes a Family, you know, reflective of the same sex marriage vote. Those kinds of books that are tackling things that are happening to kids in the real world. You know, Philip Bunting did a book on sustainability, which has just come out, there's been quite a few books tackling those kinds of issues. I think those kinds of picture books are always really popular at the moment.

And in others, yeah, I think great illustration is starting to, you know, Australian illustration, Australian writing is really becoming very sought after internationally. So I think there's definitely strength in the Australian picture book world at the moment that's getting a lot of international attention.

Valerie

So before we get into the real nuts and bolts and nitty gritty of pitching and getting the attention of agents and publishers, I just want to ask also in case anyone's unclear if you can explain what an agent does.

And before you do that, I just have to say a ‘hello' from DC we've got and also a ‘hello' from Barbados. So you know, that is great. But also, of course, hello from Perth, hello from Brisbane. A lot of people from Melbourne, Canberra, and so on. So thank you all for joining us.

But yeah, if you can just quickly define what an agent does, the role of an agent. Yeah.

Annabel

So agents are all different, I guess. And I think we all do different things in different ways. There are, you know, strongly editorial agents. I'm not one of those but there are there are agents who will absolutely edit your work line by line before they submit it to a publisher. Most agents will be kind of a second ear for you to submit your work to before you want it to be out in the real world, before you want it to be sent to publishers.

So the things that they can help with initially are getting your pitch right, making sure the voice is really strong in your writing, structurally edit your book such that, you know, it makes sense to a reader. And then, you know, come back to you, help you with your bio, and really sort of the nuts and bolts of your pitch before it starts to be sent out to a publisher.

The other important thing that publishers do is that they hold very strong relationships with editors. So they will know what publishers and editors are looking for. And they will recognise that in your writing, and then they'll know the right people to send it to.

So that's, the connection between the publishing world is the most important thing that an agent does. They can help you to form your writing into something that people will be interested to read. And hopefully they'll get more eyes on something than you can do perhaps yourself.

Valerie

So and this might be an irrelevant question but everyone also often asks, do you need an agent. Do they need an agent?

Annabel

That's a really good question. In some countries you do. Absolutely. But I think not in Australia. Agents are not that common here. So I don't think you need an agent in Australia. If you can find other ways to get to publishers, there's lots of other things you can do. You can enter competitions. Many, many writing competitions in Australia. There are great pitching sessions that some of the festivals run. So there's lots of ways you can find your way to publishers without having an agent. An agent can be really helpful. But they're also hard to get so I think you can absolutely find success without an agent in Australia. Less so I think in other countries, less so in America and the UK.

Valerie

So Alissa's asked this question, but Alissa, I need you to expand on that because it's very broad. How important is the relationship between agent and artist? So we're not going to answer that yet, Alissa. If you can expand on that, to drill it down a bit, because it's really… The short answer is, it's important. So if you can just explain that a little bit further.

We've also got some other questions which I will get to, because I'm going to incorporate them when it makes sense.

But let's get into then the nuts and bolts. So we now want to pitch our manuscript to an agent or a publisher. You've mentioned to me before, there are some things that you need to do even before you even contemplate pitching. And I hope you guys have a pen and you're taking notes. Or you can listen to the replay, I guess. But yeah, what are some of those things that need to be done before you even consider pitching?

Annabel

I actually think the preparation work is just as important to the pitch. You know, you can't just send your book out into the world and expect people to have a look at it without really preparing, doing the groundwork in creating a really good pitch.

So I've written down five things that I think are really important pre- pitch as the kind of preparation. And I'm happy to go through those. So before you start pitching, I think the first thing that you really need to do is find a writing community or a peer group of sorts. I see a lot of writing that's literally never seen the light of day. Nobody has ever read it outside of the author. And I think that's, you know, many authors work solo. I think a lot of us in publishing and writing are introverts and it's really hard to share your work with the world, when it's very personal. And the thought of pitching your work can be really daunting. But I think it's really, really important that you find a group of people or another person who can give you some critical feedback that you can really listen to before you send your book out into the world to anyone else. So I think you don't want the agent or the publisher that you're sending it to be the first reader. And not your kids, not your partner.

Valerie

No.

Annabel

Not part of your family. To give proper feedback.

Valerie

And I will jump in and say that if you are doing courses at the Australian Writers' Centre, you will have a readymade group of people in your cohort or in your class. Or even if you end up not quite gelling with them, you have then the alumni group, you will definitely find people in that.

But you can look for it elsewhere, as well. But there's a kind of readymade group if you do courses here. Okay, that's a really good one, find a writing community and make sure that other people read your manuscript before. Alright.

Annabel

The second one, I think, is a fun one that I like to do. Before I pitch a book, I like to sketch my reader. And I know you're all writers and I can't draw to save myself, but this is something I quite like to do. And you never have to share your drawing with anyone. But I think this is a really helpful task because it helps you with your writing. So it really makes you think about who is your reader. You know, how old are they? What's their reading ability? Are they a reluctant reader or are they a really strong reader? What else are they reading? What are the other books that they might have on their bookshelf as a kid? Really personalise the kid that you're writing for.

And the thing that this does is it really helps you nail who your audience is. Because the number one thing that I think is important to publishers and important to agents is getting your audience right. And publishers call this positioning, this concept, but it really is about an author thinking about who they're writing for. So many things that I receive, people are not sure what the age group that they're writing for is, or they're not sure what the reading ability of the child they're writing for is. And I think in children's publishing, you need to have an understanding of who you're writing for.

Valerie

That's a good one.

Annabel

I think that's really important and probably the most important thing.

Valerie

I just want to circle back because Janine has a question that was relevant to what we just discussed. Is it better to have a writers' group who is more familiar with YA and children's lit? Or does it matter?

Annabel

I think it's helpful because you'll find that people who are familiar with that area will understand who you're writing for a little bit more. So if you give a YA book to someone who's never read a YA book, then, you know, I do think that's probably a, you know, not a great level of feedback that you might receive.

So yeah, I think if you can find people who read in the genre that you, or even if they just read in that genre personally, if they like books in that area, you'll probably find some more relevant feedback.

Valerie

All right, so back to the preparation. Find a writing community and sketch your reader. What's number three?

Annabel

Related to audience, I think, is really researching the market. So the other thing that I think is really important in children's publishing is the marketplace for your book. And that's more understanding the practicalities of the genre that you're writing in before you pitch it. I think, you know, it's hard at the moment, obviously, but once you can find your way back into the magical places that are libraries and book shops, you know, you can just look on the shelves and think about where your book fits.

And it's not just about looking at retailers, I think it's also researching things like awards. You know, what, which books won the CBCA award last year and which ones won the Premiers' and the Prime Minister's awards? Things like the Text Prize and the Ampersand Prize for YA writing. You know, see what kinds of books are on those lists and who's writing them. And it will really help you to, you know, to think about whether your book is, is it a really commercial book that's going to sell hundreds of thousands of copies, or is it an award contender, you know, just helps you think about where your book will be sold and the place that it might find in the market. And maybe just write yourself a few notes about that. That's helpful, I think.

Valerie

Great. And fourth?

Annabel

Number four, is set yourself up online. So the first thing an agent or a publisher will do when they receive your work is Google you. Guarantee that they will look you up online. So having some sort of online presence as a writer is really important. And a lot of people don't feel super comfortable with that. But you know, if you can, even if you just have a social media structure, if you've got an Instagram set up or a Twitter profile or a LinkedIn account, make sure you mention that you're writing on there. A lot of writers and illustrators now have a website, you know, even just a one pager just saying who they are. And that's a really important thing as well these days.

Valerie

Definitely. And that's basically making yourself Google-able and findable and it's the start of building your author platform. And for those of you who want a step by step blueprint, have a look at our course. Just go to the URL at the bottom of the screen and search for Build Your Author Platform. And there's a step by step, you know, blueprint on exactly what you need to do. But that's a good one too. Be findable. Because the famous saying goes, your reputation is not what you say it is, it's what Google says it is. And I think that's so true. All right, number five, in terms of prep?

Annabel

Number five, I think is related to that, and that's writing a really good bio of yourself. So, I see a lot of really good bios and then I see a lot of really terrible ones that I just think, you know, all agents are different, but I really like to see a little bit more of the personal side behind someone's writing. And I think you can do that with a really strong bio.

You know, it's lovely to hear that you are from Melbourne and you love reading books. But that's kind of not that interesting to be the first thing that you tell someone about yourself. You know, you might want to, you can either relate it to the book that you've written, to your own personal experiences as a reader, as a child, or as a writer. Perhaps if you've written a book on sustainability, then you want to have some credentials that kind of describe why that's really important to you. Or even if you've just written a middle grade or a YA contemporary story, what inspired you as a child to write a book like that? I really like hearing about people's backgrounds as kids and why are they writing for kids.

You've got to remember that your audience here is children or teenagers, and it's really important that people understand why. I thought of a good example this morning. I was trying to buy a book online. So I looked at Rebecca Stead's website. You probably know her well, from the US, writing beautiful stories for middle grade and teen readers. She's got a really lovely bio on her website. You guys could Google. And just basically, it's very simple, but it just talks about her, you know, how she grew up reading as a child. And I felt I really connected to that as a reader myself. That's just a random one, but I think it's a good one to have a look at.

Valerie

Definitely. So everyone can look that up after this session. So just to let you guys know, if you make a statement, I'm going to assume it's a statement and it's not a question. So if you haven't actually got a question attached to your comment, it's not getting an answer, because it's not a question.

So just a very quick one to Carly Taylor, who said, “My name is very common. When people Google they find other people with the same name. Does that matter?”

I mean, I think that what you would do there, just to jump in, is to make sure that you have the words “Carly Taylor author” in lots of places on your website so that most people will probably Google “Carly Taylor author” or “Carly Taylor books”. So if you have something different to add to that, let me know, Annabel.

Annabel

No, I think that's a really good question. Because a lot of people worry about the spelling of their name for books, you know, people that there are, it's a common name. Yes, absolutely, include “writer” or “author” in your website and on your profile.

Valerie

Great. We've got heaps of questions. “How does a middle grade writer get their stories in front of middle grade readers prior to publication for feedback if they don't have a career such as a school teacher?”

Oh, well, I mean, Allison Tait, also known as AL Tait, is a middle grade author and she's not a school teacher. And I know that one of the things that she would say is, number one, go find that writing community. So you might find it in, like I said, places like the Australian Writers' Centre. But one of the things that she would say is, go to conferences, and you will meet many other people who are like-minded. As in conferences for children's literature or YA or whatever. So what would you say some of the conferences that are useful to go to, Annabel?

Annabel

There's a lot. There's lots of them around the states of Australia and probably, you know, there's quite small conferences, there's a kid lit conference in Melbourne. And they're popping up all over the place now. But I think, you know, it's harder this year, obviously, because many, many conferences have been cancelled.

There's a lot of great resources online at the moment. A lot of conferences are having online pitching sessions and things that they're running.

Valerie

All right, so…

Annabel

Sorry, I would just maybe add to that. You don't have to find middle grade kids to read your book. You just need to find people who are familiar with middle grade writing. I think that's the…

Valerie

That's a really good point. Yes, thank you.

Well, let's get into the nuts and bolts. So Emma has asked the key question: “how do you get/approach an agent? Is it the same process as approaching a publisher?” So let's get into your process because I understand that you have a three point strategy for pitching. Take it away.

Annabel

I'm not sure. It's mainly just to make it useful so that people can write some things down. There's lots of different ways you can pitch, obviously.

I think that's a good question, Emma. Finding an agent is pretty similar to finding a publisher. The first thing you need to do is look them up, find them somewhere, and make sure that they're accepting submissions, because lots of agents don't, unfortunately. And lots of publishers don't. But most people, most agents or publishers will have some way they're seeing new work every year.

So if you spend enough time online, looking them up, and you've got your eye on someone who's the agent or the publisher that you really want to work with, find out what conferences they're going to that year, where have they been the year before. They're probably going back to the same ones. Have a look on their websites and look at their submission guidelines. They might not be accepting submissions now, but maybe they have a month every year where they do. Lots of publishers have one day a month where they accept new work.

And, yeah, it's not, I guess it's not rocket science to find them. The key is then getting your pitch to sit above where everybody else's is, so that your book will get read. That's the key.

And the first thing you need to do is just really follow those submission guidelines closely. Because if you make the mistake of not formatting your book correctly, or doing something that just like… I just feel like that publishers and agents just receive so many books, that if you don't follow the guidelines, it's not that hard, really, to read a paragraph that tells you what they're accepting, and it can be the difference between whether your book gets read or not. So I can't say enough that that's really, really important.

That's not part of the pitching strategy. That's just, you know, do your homework.

Valerie

Yeah. Very important.

Annabel

But as far as pitching, I think related to that particular topic, the first thing you need to do is find out who you're sending your book to. So you know, do a lot of work googling the person that you're sending it to. Don't just send it to 100 people and expect that they're the same, they're going to accept the same work. You need to really personalise your pitch to the person that you're writing to. And that's a little bit just, you know, in the same way that an agent or a publisher will google you, you can google them and find out what do they represent? What kinds of books are they interested in? What do they publish? You can really get a really good sense of who they are, their own personal tastes, from spending some time online looking at their Twitter profile or understanding what they're commenting on online.

And once you've got your heart set on who you want to pitch to, if you know a lot about them, then it really helps you to personalise a pitch to the extent to say, “I know, I see that you publish these books. And I know that you write a lot about these kinds of topics. And I thought you might be interested in my book, because it seems like something that might be familiar to you or that you might be interested in. I know that you publish a lot of middle grade, and I've written a middle grade book here.”

So those kinds of things just help a publisher to think, “oh, yeah, they've spent some time thinking about who I am.” That's just as important as you spending time on your own profile.

Valerie

So you think tailoring is very important? Tailoring your pitch is very important? Because there are a lot of people who write their letter or email and spray and pray. You know what I mean? They get a list somehow of agents and they write the same letter to 20 different agents. That's inadvisable, from what I'm hearing?

Annabel

I wouldn't do that, personally. You'd be better off spending time on five good pitches, personalising them, than sending 100 pitches of the same pitch to everybody else. I think you'd have more success writing a really good quality pitch that's personalised to the person.

Valerie

Yeah, great.

Annabel

Don't put “dear agent.” That's the worst thing you can do. They'll just delete it.

Valerie

Don't put, “dear agent” did you say?

Annabel

No. It's not…

Valerie

Or worse, I used to receive pitches when I was editing and I would get “Dear Deborah.”

All right. So was that point one in your three-point strategy?

Annabel

Yes. Know who you're writing to.

Valerie

Okay.

Annabel

Point two. What's your book? So I think this is, you've done the groundwork now, you know what the audience is and you know what the market is. So, for example, I've got some examples here. This is a graphic novel for 10 to 12 year old readers. So you write that in your profile and put it up the top because that is just an opener that a publisher will think, “right, I understand what I'm receiving here.”

If you have to wade through three or four paragraphs before you understand what the book you're receiving is, that's too long to read. I think you need to be clear and upfront about what your book is immediately. You know, this is a board book text for three to five year old readers who are learning first concepts. [inaudible] This is a beautiful book about sustainability, about protecting our forests, a picture book relevant to five year old readers. Or, you know, whatever the market is.

So, I think you can be really clear about the audience and the market, first up. And also I really like to receive comparative books. So I think if you can also say something like, “I am inspired by the writing of such and such, and I feel it fits into that particular genre of writing” that really helps me to place where you're coming from straightaway.

Valerie

Fantastic.

Annabel

So, audience and market, nail that really up front. I think that's the key.

Valerie

Great.

Annabel

So know who you're sending your book to and nail the audience and market up front.

Valerie

And point three?

Annabel

And point three is also related to the groundwork you've already done. And that is, who am I? So, include in your email a really nice short bio about who you are and why you've written the book. I think it's really, really important to an agent or a publisher to understand who you are up front. You know, same thing. “This book was written by a guy who had the experience of growing up in a refugee camp in Somalia.” That is absolutely integral to me knowing why you wrote that story, and it will absolutely tug at my heartstrings immediately and I would open that book.

So I think if you can really give a strong reason why you wrote that book up front, you know, either through your own experiences or something that you feel really passionate about, then I think if your passion comes through in your email, that will really help me to understand why you've written for kids and why you're writing for children. So that's paramount.

Valerie

And I just want to add here, because some people listening to this might say, “you know, that's all really useful, but what should I actually write in the pitch?” Read the submission guidelines. Because that's the short answer, because it will tell you what to write in the pitch. So make sure that you read the submission guidelines and they will be on the agent or the publisher's website, generally. So that's very, very important just to make sure you, as Annabel said, that you follow that.

Before we head over to the bazillion questions, what should you not do? Some things that you should not do?

Annabel

Yes. So there are some mistakes to avoid, I think. The big one is not reading the submission guidelines. I can't overestimate that, because the number of times, you know, my submission guidelines say, “Please attach this amount of your work. And a bio.” And usually, often I receive not those things.

Or the other thing I find is somebody querying me without submitting. So I find they'll introduce themselves and say, “I'm writing a book.” And that's great, but I need to receive the book and the pitch in the first email.

You know, publishers and agents don't have time to write back to people and say, “That's lovely. Wonderful. Please send me your book.” I think, you know, it's just about getting that right straightaway. Really, really important.

The other things I wrote it down, don't pitch without knowing who you're pitching to. That's important for me. You know, I'm speaking on behalf of myself and not other agents, maybe other agents don't mind so much. But I'd like for people to know who I am before they before they send me their book.

And, you know, there's some other things to be careful with. I think those are the two biggest mistakes, just not getting the submission process right.

Valerie

Okay. All right. Great. So I'm going to go through some of the questions. So just bear with me because I need to get them.

Miranda has asked, “Can you discuss chapter books, trends and things to be aware of?” That's a good question.

Annabel

Yea, great, Miranda. I think you mean by chapter books that sort of junior fiction which might be the kind of bad guys age group, kids who are writing five to seven year old. So it's been a really huge area actually, in the last couple of years. That's mainly been around illustrated chapter books. They're hard to do, I think. They're really hard to write well and get that age group well.

Trends are they're heavily illustrated now. So that's something to be aware of. There's fewer of the books that are just written as text only. So that's, to be aware of the fact that if you write a text for that age group, you need to understand that it needs to be something that can be illustrated quite clearly.

There's been a move away from the very narrow, short chapter books, the kind of, you know, 60 page book for little kids to children of that age group reading quite dense illustrated fiction. So I think publishers are looking for books that are a bit chunkier. So I guess you need to be aware that you can still write a short text, but maybe you need to write two or three stories about the same character that can be included in the same book. And also be aware that it'll be heavily illustrated.

Valerie

And Miranda, if you want to find out more, go to writerscentre.com.au/chapterbooks. And that can give you a lot of basically a really good guideline on exactly what you need to know regarding chapter books.

So Alissa, remember, had the question about how important is the relationship between agent and an artist. And she's clarified that with, “The connection between people is tangible in most instances. Do you look for people you vibe with?”

Annabel

Yeah, really good question. I try to be careful not to look for people who are the same as me, I suppose. So, everyone works differently. I think that's really important to note here. I quite like to work quite closely with my authors. I do have a personal relationship with them. But that doesn't mean that I have to connect with exactly why they're writing their book. You know, really try, and good publishers do the same thing, they don't need to believe the same things politically, they don't need to be exactly on the same page. They just need to believe in the writing. And to believe that this person has a good reason to write that book.

So yeah, I think you need to recognise, probably more important is that you recognise why that person is connecting to their writing, rather than having a kind of vibe between you and the author.

And then you know, you might represent work that's perhaps not just the same thing. You know, it's important for me as well, I'm a white, middle-class woman. I don't necessarily want to be writing, I don't want to represent just the same people who are the same as me all the time. Obviously, some people yes, but I think I also want young writers and people of colour and people who are not the same person as me. So I need to be open to stories that are not the same as mine.

Valerie

Hmm. Question from Beck. “I'm wondering about the tween age group, other end of middle grade, lower end of YA. Does it exist? And how do you pitch it?”

Annabel

I think it really does exist. Upper middle grade is a really strong area at the moment. So I think that really relates to the trend around middle grade, that there's a big difference between, you know, lower middle, the kind of younger age of middle grade, which is probably eight to 10 year olds, and then the upper age of middle grade, which is probably 10 or 11 plus. And that doesn't mean every reader falls into that category, but just as a broader definition around the kinds of kids that can tackle that work.

So yeah, I think if you're writing a middle grade text, it's helpful to know if it's for that upper middle grade age group or not. Because you can tackle slightly more complex themes. The content can be a little bit stronger than it can be for kids who say are, say, eight and maybe not ready for those sorts of topics. I think it's a really strong area, something that publishers are looking for.

Valerie

Great. And also because we obviously have writers from all of the different ages, Sandy has asked, “What trends are publishers looking for in TA?” So yeah, that is a big question, really. So good question, Sandy.

Annabel

Yeah. I mean, YA is such a broad area. At the moment, people are looking for great voices in YA. And that's a sort of, you know, industry talk. But I think one of the things that publishers are saying that they're interested in at the moment is kind of contemporary, escapist YA. So kind of funny or great teen stories that kind of take people away from their current reality.

So there was a big trend around dystopian fiction in YA and up into fiction for adults as well. And I think with the reality of this year, there's maybe been a slight move away from that as people want stories that are different to their reality.

So I think really heart… I think Australian writers write that heart-warming YA, that escapist YA, really, really well. And I'd love to hear more contemporary YA stories.

Valerie

What do you mean by escapist YA, specifically?

Annabel

I just think, I personally really love teenage stories like from Rainbow Rowell and Becky Albertalli in America, and books from people like Nina Kenwood that was published last year in Australia, that are, you know, really grounded teenage stories that kids will be able to recognise themselves in. I think those kinds of funny, heart-warming stories are really popular, and that's something that I personally like to read as well.

Obviously, fantasy is a really big area in YA as well, completely on the other side of the spectrum. It's hard to get fantasy right and there's such a lot of people writing it. It doesn't mean to say there won't be another really huge fantasy success soon. There hasn't been one for a little while. It'll be interesting to see some more people coming up with big fantasy stories.

Valerie

Great. So question from Elizabeth, which is, you know, we see this question a lot, too, “If you have an online presence already, under your real name, but for a different profession, like journalism, should you create a new set of social media accounts for your author platform?” Great question.

Annabel

Great question. I feel personally, I wouldn't. Maybe when you're a published, successful author, you can consider that alongside your publisher. But as an agent or a publisher, I'd like to know who you are as a person outside of your writing career. And if you're a journalist, then that's great. You know, that's a great thing to be.

I'd say not. I think it's… Look, some people of course have their own private social media accounts, their own private Instagram accounts that they may not necessarily want to share with people they don't know, and that's fair enough. So perhaps set up a different social media platform for your writing in that regard, set up a Twitter account or something like that. But I don't think you need to pretend you're somebody that you're not.

Valerie

Yes, there are a lot of people who write under a pseudonym or write under a different name because of a different genre, but they have one social media presence. And I think also if you do set up a whole new set of accounts, then you've got two beasts to feed and you'll end up not doing a very good job on both of them instead of a really good job on one, is what I have witnessed when I've watched people do it. And I see them create the second account and I think they're crazy, and six months later, a year later, it's proven to be correct that they just, they let it peter out because they end up only focusing on one.

Annabel

It's confusing as well.

Valerie

Yes, it's confusing as well. And Nikita has asked, “What are the rules for swearing in YA novels? I've read a few that have swear words in them. But I'm not aware of any set rating guidelines like for movies.”

Annabel

Yeah, I don't think YA has any writing guidelines. Swearing is fine, I would say. I don't have any problems with swearing. But I think the publishing world's pretty progressive. They don't, they're not going to be frowning upon… There's a lot of more serious things that happen in YA than swearing.

Valerie

Yes. And I think the guideline is swearing is appropriate if it's appropriate for that character. And it's authentic, and it makes sense. But if you're just chucking in in there, and it actually doesn't fit, well, it's just not going to be considered good writing. So as long as it's authentic to that situation and character, yeah, I agree.

So Cindy, “Should I teach three small stories or one big children's novel?” Do you need clarification on that or you're clear on that?

Annabel

I mean, I think it depends on the book. You know, it's probably hard to know without knowing what your book is. I think, have a look around at other books in the same level of writing that you're, in whatever age group you're writing for, sounds like younger books, and just maybe see what else has been published before you think about pitching.

Valerie

Okay. What do you think are the benefits of having an Australian agent as opposed to an agent from overseas?

Annabel

Yeah, thanks, Belinda. I think… It's really your choice. It's really hard to find an overseas agent. So that's not a, you know, it's hard to find an agent in either place. But a lot of people have great successes by finding an international agent. So that's, you know, that can be a really big benefit if you find an agent in America. I guess you won't have the same personal connection to the market here. If you want to be published in Australia first, then you probably should find somebody here. But if you've got really high aspirations for a big international book, like Astrid Scholte's book last year, there are great benefits as well to be having… There's more agents in America and the UK as well. So it's really a matter of personal choice, I guess.

Valerie

“For unpublished writers, how many manuscripts should we write before approaching an agent or a publisher? Should we have a portfolio to show?” Good question.

Annabel

I don't think you need a portfolio. I think you need to be committed to writing. So if you've written one picture book, then you probably will get less attention than if you say, you know, “I have written numerous texts” or “I've got lots of other ideas that I could share with you.” That's really helpful to know.

I think in the older age groups, it's much more understandable if you've just written one book. Probably depends on the genre.

Valerie

Yes. I think also that people, agents and publishers, are going to judge you on that particular book, but they will be asking you, “what are you writing now? What are you writing next?” As Annabel said, you need to show that you're committed to writing.

And in terms of how many manuscripts you should write, however many manuscripts it takes for you to finally get to the one that you think, “this is, I'm proud of this, this is really the best it can be.”

And sometimes it might even be how many, the question more relevant might be, how many drafts should you write? Well, there are some people who write countless drafts, but it's however many drafts it takes until that particular manuscript is the best it can be, I think.

Bec has a question. “Children's books sometimes have a secondary adult audience. Should you mention that in your pitch?” Good question.

Annabel

I think there are certain genres that have that, certain areas of the children's book world. YA is obviously a really clear one that moves up into the kind of 20-somethings and older. I read a lot of YA personally, outside of work. That's helpful to mention in YA. I also think there's a genre of middle-grade family stories that are really widely accepted as family viewing in the same way that movies might be. Books like Wonder and those kinds of books that have really become part of the fabric of our society. And a lot of people read them outside of the children's book world.

So those kinds of areas of publishing, it's helpful to mention that this could be a really strong family story. If you can think of comparative texts that it relates to then that's good. But picture books, maybe less so, unless you're Shaun Tan or someone who's writing for an audience that's adults.

Valerie

I love this question. Lynette has said, “Do you need to put your age on your pitch? Would publishers look at a new author who is older as unacceptable?”

Annabel

That's a really good question, and absolutely not. You don't need to write how old you are. You know, agents and publishers should be open to people of all ages. And it shouldn't matter. No.

Valerie

Yeah, absolutely. You should listen, Lynette, have a listen to the podcast episode that we did with I think it's Hilary Spiers. And she, her first book got published, I think, at the age of 76, or something like that. And she's now had several. So yeah, it's never too late.

Amy has said, “If an agent agrees to take you on or asks for your full manuscript, is it appropriate to still query other agents before committing?” Great question.

Annabel

It's still appropriate. I think this is probably quite a personal thing for agents. I quite like to know if you're submitting to other agents at the same time as me. So maybe if you could mention in an email to say, “I've also sent this to some other agents.” I don't need to know who they are. Just so I can be aware that there's other people looking at your work. And I think once we have an agreement, at that point you of course no longer need to be sending it out. But at the query stage, you should be keeping your options open.

Valerie

Yeah, yes. If you've signed something, don't go to other agents. But if you haven't, yeah, that's okay.

Alright. From a listener, “I have an appointment with Jacinta Dimase in July as part of CYA. Should I have a couple of extra story pitches up my sleeve in case she asks for more?”

Annabel

That's a good question. Jacinta is a great agent. That's really great to be able to pitch to her. I think it's helpful probably to have a couple of other ideas. You don't need to necessarily write them but I think if you can show that you're committed to writing, and if she says if you've written anything else, it could be helpful to have a couple of other ideas up your sleeve.

Valerie

And in fact, I think it was Shelley Unwin, one of our graduates who was pitching to an agent, and that agent didn't want to hear any picture books or whatever it was at the time. And so she had some other pitch, but then she had the picture book up her sleeve. So I could be mixing up the wrong person, but this author had the picture book pitch up her sleeve, and happened to pitch it at the same time and in the end the agent took that one on, and in the end, that's the one that got published.

So it's always useful just to have them up your sleeve. And if it's appropriate, then, you know, discuss it.

“If published overseas, will it make it difficult to publish in Australia?”

Annabel

No, that doesn't necessarily make it any more difficult. I think if you live in Australia, and you've been published overseas, you know, you might be, you should have more luck finding a publisher here. If you've already published.

Valerie

Jeanette has asked, “I'm writing a set of three junior fiction books with the same characters. I have finished the first; the second is nearly complete. Should I wait until all three are finished and polished before submitting the first one?”

Annabel

That's a really good question, Jeanette. I think probably not. I think you could write the first two and then map out the story plan for the third and that would be fine. If you had a storyline mapped out. If you've written, you don't need to write all three books. I think that would be fine to submit to publishers.

Valerie

But submit the first one, right? Or wait, Jeanette doesn't have to wait till the second one is complete?

Annabel

No, I think she could, as long, if you've got a plan, you know, make sure that you mention that you've planned three in the series and that this is the outline. It'd be really helpful to have a series outline if you want it to be a series and then you can pitch the first one and the series outline. That'd be fine.

Valerie

I know another one. A good one that people always ask in this similar situation where you've got three, and they want it to be a series of three, does the first one need to be stand alone? Like read as a standalone book?

Annabel

That's a really good question. Series are very hard to get published. So, you know, it really depends on the book. And if you really believe it wants to be a series, you can absolutely have a go at pitching it as a series. With a lot of publishers, it's a big commitment for a publisher to take on a series, I guess, is the thing to know. And important remember that they have to be able to make a series viable. So it's a lot of marketing and background commitment in order to commit to a series. So if it can stand alone as a read, even if you pitch it as a series, it probably helps. You know, but you should stick to what you really want it to be.

Valerie

So we've had some really great questions. I want to ask a final one because we're almost at the hour. And that is, what is going to give people the edge when they're pitching to an agent or publisher? What is it that's going to make them stand out? Because you've told me how many you get, pitches that you get in a day. And I was really, yeah, that's a lot. So what is gonna make people stand out?

Annabel

That's such a good question. It's kind of the Holy Grail kind of question, isn't it? I think, you know, the ultimate aim is to get somebody to open the work that you sent them. So that's the key. And you know, if you polish the first chapter really well, that's a really good point to make, too. Make sure your opening paragraphs are really strong in the book that you make.

But outside of that, you just need to give your pitch something special. And I think the best way to do that is to give it a personalised touch. Just make sure you're different to everything else that people are receiving. You know, try not to be too stock standard in what you're saying, when you're writing to someone.

Valerie

Yeah, and that boils down to the tailoring to that agent, right? And also making it clear that you're really committed to this whole process.

Annabel

Yeah, absolutely. I think that's really, really important for people to hear. For an agent to hear your commitment to writing is really important to you.

Valerie

And is there anything else you'd like to add to inspire people on their journey?

Annabel

No, I'm just so pleased that there's so many people writing children's and YA. And great to hear that there's people tuning into something that's specific to kids' books, because it's absolutely the best part of the industry. So, I'm really pleased we've had so many people tuning in.

Valerie

Thank you so much to Annabel. I really appreciate you spending your time answering all of these questions. We put Annabel's website, so you can check out Annabel as well. Annabel's website is here. Thank you also to all of you for participating. If you want to find out more about different courses, particularly in the world of children's and young adult and picture books, check out WritersCentre.com.au. In particular, our chapter book course, we get so much incredible feedback from it. Annabel mentioned Astrid Scholte who got her overseas deal for Four Dead Queens and Australia and she's done our courses as well. So many people who've done our Writing Picture Books course are now published picture book authors and that's really exciting.

So thank you everyone for joining us and thank you again Annabel. Really appreciate you taking the time to do this.

Annabel

Thanks, Valerie. Thanks, everyone.

Browse posts by category

Courses starting soon

About us

The Australian Writers’ Centre offers courses in creative writing, freelance writing, business writing, blogging and much more. Our practical and industry-proven courses will help you gain confidence and meet your goals faster!

Contact us

Phone: (02) 9929 0088
Email: courses@writerscentre.com.au
Head office: Suite 3, 55 Lavender Street, Milsons Point NSW 2061

© 2020 Australian Writers' Centre | FAQs | Terms, conditions & privacy policy

GET OUR FREE WEEKLY NEWSLETTER – WITH WRITING TIPS, COMPETITIONS AND MORE! YES PLEASE!

Back to top ↑
×

Nice one! You've added this to your cart