How I got published after completing Writing Picture Books at the Australian Writers’ Centre

Our popular Writing Picture Books course has turned out some of Australia’s top picture book authors, and our graduates credit their publishing success to what they’ve learnt from our expert tutors. We checked in with some of our graduates to find out what specifically it was from the course that took their writing to the next level and helped them get published.

Critique, and be critiqued

Shelly Unwin, author of There’s a Baddie Running Through This Book, Blast Off and the You’re series – which were released recently into the United States – says the feedback she got from other writers, and the integration with the writing community, helped her get her big break. 

It’s really important to look at other people’s writing and think about the plot line and story arc and whether it’s as good as it can be, and when you turn that critical brain to other people’s work you can then relate it back to your own work,” she says.

Shelly says the course gave her a solid foundation, and the positive feedback she got from the tutor and fellow students gave her the motivation to keep going. Because of the knowledge and relationships Shelly had within the industry, when she had her brainwave for the You’re series, she felt confident to pitch directly to publishers and got positive feedback. 

Shelly then had the confidence to attend a literary speed dating event where she found her agent, Alex Adsett, who then negotiated on her behalf and got her the deal with Allen and Unwin. 

Insider knowledge

Catherine Pelosi, author of Quark’s Academy and Something for Fleur, says the course tutor’s insider knowledge about the industry and the process of getting published was invaluable.

Catherine, who enjoyed the course so much she did it twice, says before she took the course she didn’t know any other children’s writers or anyone in the publishing industry. The course helped her gain a better understanding of how to construct a story, and with that knowledge she was able to get her first book Quark’s Academy published. 

“It's a business and you've got to understand how you actually get a completed manuscript into the hands of a publisher, and then even then, what's the process? Does it just go straight to a book? Finding out the big picture of children's books was really helpful.”

Like Shelly, Catherine was represented by Alex Adsett for Quark’s Academy. She met Alex by attending the Children's and Young Adult (CYA) conference, which is held annually in Brisbane. Knowing the importance of the opportunity, Catherine was prepared to pitch her book in just five minutes, and she was successful. 

How to catch a publisher’s eye

For Victoria Mackinlay, whose first book Ribbit Rabbit Robot was published in April 2020, learning from her tutor’s experience and expertise of the publishing world during the Writing Picture Books course was also extremely valuable.

“The tutor had insights into what publishers are looking for and how to submit: how to structure your manuscript, what to have in there, your header and footer, just laying out the manuscript so it looks professional, what to put in your cover letter,” Victoria says.

“Getting those kinds of tips from someone that has obviously received hundreds of thousands of manuscripts and knows how to make them stand out was really helpful.” 

After the course, Victoria attended the Creative Kids Tales Writers' Festival where she met with Clare Hallifax, the publisher of Scholastic Australia imprint Omnibus Books. Clare was enthusiastic about Victoria’s picture book manuscript and subsequently offered her publishing contracts for her first two books.

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