Tag Archives: canscaip

Timing and Luck

Timing and Luck!  Those are two key elements in getting a children’s book published today according to editor Shelley Tanaka.  

Shelley knows what she’s talking about because timing and luck are how she got into the book editing business. After completing her Masters in Comparative Literature at the University of Toronto she applied to fifty publishers for a job and was given only one offer- to work as a secretary at Clarke Irwin an educational publisher. She had to fill in when the editor in chief position was left empty and so she learned the business and became a children’s book editor in her own right.

In her thirty-six years as an editor at Groundwood Books, she has worked with some of Canada’s finest children’s writers. Shelley is also an award-winning author of more than twenty books and teaches in the masters writing program for children and young adults at the Vermont College of Fine Arts.  I heard Shelley interviewed by children’s writer Alice Kuipers at the CANSCAIP Saskatchewan Horizons Conference in Saskatoon.  

Alice asked Shelley what she is looking for when she reads a new manuscript. “Something that isn’t like anything else,” Shelley said.  She is drawn to books that are wonderfully written, and are about something that matters, books that ask important questions. Shelley has a soft spot for manuscripts that are quirky and humorous with hints of irony.

She gave examples of two books she has recently edited whose authors were in attendance at the Saskatoon conference. Rolli is the author of Kabungo.  Shelley described his book about the relationship between a modern city girl and her cave dwelling best friend as hilarious and weird. Another book Shelley talked about was  Swan Dive by Brenda Hasiuk, the story of a young refugee from Bosnia who is living in Winnipeg.  He tells a reckless lie and has to face the consequences. 

Shelley encouraged those of us who are trying to get our work published to read the kind of works we aspire to write ourselves. She talked about the value of critique groups where writers support one another. Shelley also recommended two lectures by Louise Hawes to us. One was on overwriting and the other on how desire drives the plot of our stories.  

Other suggestions from Shelley for writers included………..

  • becoming your own editor and learning the mechanics of writing. 
  • becoming an enthusiastic advocate for your own work. 
  • putting your soul into your writing.  
  • considering who your audience is. Who is on the receiving end of your book?  Who is your reader? 
  • writing across the genres – picture books, middle-grade fiction, non-fiction, graphic novels, teen fiction, young adult fiction, early reader stories.  

Alice engaged Shelley in a fascinating discussion about psychic distance and the current generation of writers who are capturing the stories of previous generations.  You can learn more about that by subscribing to the videos of the conference here. 

Although Shelley did say timing and luck were two of the key ingredients in getting your work accepted in the current competitive mainstream children’s book market, she also provided lots of other great ideas to help pursue the goal of becoming a published author. 

Other posts……….

Write Don’t Wine

Vision and Voice

Writing that Heal

 

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Vision and Voice

Arthur Slade, David Robertson, and Miriam Körner are some of the most successful children’s writers in Canada right now.  Between them, they have published a raft of books and have won all kinds of awards.  I listened to them last night as they shared their vision and voice in a discussion at a Saskatoon conference for children’s writers. Their exchange of ideas was led by Alice Kuipers a children’s writer who helped to organize the conference. 

Arthur and David listen as Miriam talks about her writing motivation

It was interesting to note what motivates each writer. Miriam is passionate about Canada’s north and loves sled dogs and sled dog racing.  In her books, she is trying to share that passion with others.  

Arthur told us his latest book Crimson was written especially for his daughter who he and his wife adopted from China in 2010. He wanted to create an authentic story for her.

David talked about trying to be an example for young indigenous writers. He wants them to feel that they too have powerful stories they can share. 

As you can see the discussion wasn’t all serious. Alice and her panelists were having a good time.

When Alice asked each writer to talk about how they present themselves to the world Miriam laughed and said she would rather not have to think about presenting herself to the public.  She wishes her books would speak for themselves and she could just spend all her time in her cabin in the bush in La Ronge Saskatchewan with her husband and sixteen sled dogs.  

Arthur talked about the persona he needs to maintain on social media and how it is hard to balance the work that involves, with his need to find space and time for writing.

David shared his thoughts about wanting to present himself as an indigenous writer. He hasn’t always embraced that role but realizes there are many things Canadians need to know about his culture.

Why does each author choose to write for young people rather than adults?

Miriam writes books for young teens because she thinks that is such a crucial time in their lives when everything begins to change for them and the world they had taken for granted suddenly looks so different. Many young people believe they can change the world and Miriam wants to capture those youthful voices in her writing.

Arthur told us he fell into writing for kids accidentally.  He was writing adult novels and someone evaluating one of his manuscripts told him it would be a great teen or young adult novel.

David says he writes for kids because he wants to have some input into shaping the children who will be our leaders of tomorrow.  He thinks about what he wants young people to carry with them so they can create a different reality for our country and the world. What will his books teach them?

The Vision and Voice panel was a great way to kick off the conference and really got attendees thinking about their own motivations, public persona and why they have chosen to write for young people.  

Other posts……….

Reading Pictures

A Top Ten List From a Top Notch Speaker

Writers All Around

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Write Don’t Whine!

“Do you believe our world will always have wars? Put up your hand if you believe that.”  

 About half the audience raised their hands. Canadian children’s author Deborah Ellis surveyed the two hundred writers and illustrators of children’s books gathered in front of her and said bluntly, “Those of you who have your hands raised have no business writing books for children. If you believe we can’t end war in our world you should not  be creating books for children. And you also shouldn’t be teachers.”

I was attending a conference for children’s writers and illustrators in Toronto on the Remembrance Day weekend and Deborah Ellis was delivering the final keynote address. She certainly didn’t pull any punches. She told us what we believe in our hearts will come through in our writing and our writing needs to reflect a hope that our world can be a better place; that the sins of the past do not have to be the sins of the future.  

Deborah told us the books of our childhood are the ones we read over and over and over again and those childhood books are the ones our children will remember long into the future. We need to make sure those books encourage kids to be kind, to care for our planet, to act in a peaceful way, to be better people. 

Deborah Ellis

Deborah also had little sympathy for how incredibly difficult it is to get a children’s book published these days. Getting published shouldn’t be our motivation for writing. Deborah referred to a scene from the movie Julia where two authors Dashiell Hammett and Lillian Hellman are in conversation about writing and Lillian is complaining about the difficulty of finishing a manuscript.  Hammett tells her to stop whining.  If she wants to quit writing she should quit but if she doesn’t want to quit she should just write.  

Deborah said we should be writing because we need to and want to. If we truly want to write we should just write, with or without affirmation.  “Don’t be an ass about it!”  she chastized us. She reminded us that not everyone has an opportunity or the ability to write.  We do.  So we should be grateful and not whine. 

Deborah has spent her career writing books about children in the most difficult of circumstances.  Books like……….The Cat At the Wall- about a Palestinian boy living in a small house on the West Bank in Israeli occupied territory, The Breadwinner about a young girl who impersonates a boy to help her family survive in war torn Afghanistan, No Ordinary Day about an orphan on the streets of Jharia India and No Safe Place about an illegal immigrant teenager from Baghdad in a refugee community in Calais France. Deborah has donated over a million dollars in royalities from her books to organizations that help children in crisis around the world. 

Deborah practices what she preaches so it is pretty hard to criticize her.  She gave us a ‘kick in the butt’  at the end of the conference. I for one needed it and appreciated it and it made me leave the conference even more determined to keep on writing !

Other posts about the CANSCAIP conference in Toronto………

What’s the Answer?

Relentless Persistence?

Writers All Around

A Top Ten List From a Top Notch Writer

 

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What’s the Answer?

Before I went to a writing conference in Toronto earlier this month the members of my writers’ group here in Winnipeg helped me to come up with questions for a panel of book editors from various publishing house who were going to field questions about getting your book in print.  I submitted the questions and the moderator of the panel used almost every one as she led the discussion.  I promised my writers’ group the Anitas, that I’d provide them with the answers – so here they are. 

The panel of editors that talked about getting published.

What is hot in books for children, teens and young adults rights now? 

For teens and young adults it is gothic, horror, ghost stories, fantasy and science fiction. Nothing is too edgy to write about for the young adult audience.

What’s popular comes in waves. Editors are looking for books about diverse experiences and unique characters. Historical fiction is a little flat right now.  A book in that genre works if it hits a modern-day nerve.

For picture books editors want stories that aren’t too long, that are humorous and based in reality or personal experience. They don’t have to be about some big important issue to be meaningful.

Middle grade books need to tell diverse stories and publishers are seeking unique and diverse authors as well.  In non-fiction for kids social justice issues are big right now and its important to make sure that although your book addresses an important topic it is written in a way kids can relate to and understand. 

What chance is there of a new author getting published?  

It’s tough because publishing houses need to honor the commitments they have to authors they have already signed and promoted.

You can go the self-publishing route and then hope a big publishing house will love your book and pick it up for wider distribution. Some publishers however receive a dozen self-published books a day and may pick one a year to publish.

Some publishers only look at things they get from an agent, others tend to use their contacts in the industry to find new authors but there are some publishing houses who actually do go through every single manuscript that is submitted to them. 

Does an author need to have a social media presence in order to get published? 

Publishers will look for people who are active on sites that appeal to school markets because it means they can reach out to schools.

They do want to know about your social media contacts and your activity.  It is very important that your online presence is something children can see and read without their parents worrying about your online content.

Sometimes they do publish books by people because they already have lots of great online content that appeals to kids and they have established a group of specific, dedicated followers.

You should follow authors and illustrators, publishing houses and professional writing groups online if you are looking to get published so you can see what is trending and what is going on in the publishing  world. How do you know if a book is going to be successful, if a book is one you want to publish?

If it makes me laugh out loud!  

If after I read the book an elevator pitch for it  just pops into my head.  

It’s a gut feeling but it’s always a gamble.  You never know. Sometimes you publish books you think will be big successes and they’re not and other times you publish books you are worried won’t sell and they are a huge success. 

Does an author need to have an agent? 

You can survive in Canada without an agent.

About a quarter of the authors we publish don’t have an agent.  

An agent can make your relationship with a publisher easier in some ways and more difficult in others. 

Other posts………

Relentless Persistence

Writers All Around

A Top Ten List from a Top Ten Speakers

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Happy About the USMCA?

dairy-cows public domain picture

Dairy farmers aren’t happy with USMCA.

There are Canadians who are happy with the new (USMCA) United States- Mexico- Canada agreement and there are Canadians who are not.  For example on October 1 Macleans magazine ran an interview with BC dairy farmer Dave Taylor who is very disappointed in the agreement but on October 2 the magazine featured an opinion piece by southern Manitoba grain farmer Toban Dyck who says the agreement will continue to foster strong global trade and that’s vitally important to his family’s agriculture operation. 

I belong to (CANSCAIP) The Canadian Society of Children’s Authors, Illustrators and Performers and will be attending their annual conference in Toronto in November.  On Tuesday members received a press release from the Association of Canadian publishers thanking Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Minister Chrystia Freeland and the entire Canadian negotiating team for the way the USMCA provides ongoing support to Canadian culture. Apparently the growth and development of the Canadian publishing industry was assured by a section of the agreement that will continue to make it possible for Canadian publishers to export their books to the United States where they earn half of their revenue. 

Listening to the debate during Question Period in Parliament on Monday I heard  Conservative critics grilling Chrystia Freeland about the USMCA pointing out all the ways it was bad for Canada, yet in a quote in the Financial Post the former Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney said the agreement was highly significant and Canada had achieved its most important objectives during negotiations. 

Is the new USMCA agreement a good one?  I guess it depends who you ask. 

Other posts……..

Should Women With Young Children Be Politicians?

I Sat In the Speaker’s Chair

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