On Saturday (September 4th) I attended the 2010 CYA (Children and Young Adults) writing and illustration conference in Brisbane. Although the conference was only one ten-hour day, it was packed with value. I made some great new friends, caught up with a few people I knew mainly online, and learnt a lot. Notes and news from the conference will eventually be posted on the official website (CYA conference 2010) but, for those who've asked, here's a distilled version of what I learnt as an aspiring illustrator/author...
1. Virtually all speakers mentioned the importance of attending face-to-face events, including conferences, workshops and local group meetings. So, don't hide in the studio - invest in getting out there. You can make friends who are crazy about the same things you are, you can give and receive support and encouragement, and you may even find work.
2. Do it because you love it, not for the money - because you probably won't make much. (This is a depressing reality check, I know). With the exception of J. K. Rowling, not many creators of children's books are rolling in dough. (But read on!...)
3. Publishing right now is in a state of flux (crisis?) due to the digital revolution. Last year, the number of self-published and print-on-demand books outstripped the number of new titles from publishing houses. And within books released by publishing houses, e-book versions are garnering an ever increasing share of the market. According to Malcom Knox's article in the latest issue of Australian Author, American e-book sales rose 177% in 2009 and now account for 5-8% of the trade market. Amazon is selling more e-books than hardcovers. Australia is lagging in this trend, but is likely to catch up soon. And then there are all those other digital media versions that might arise from your creation. If you can figure out how to make this work for you, now could be a time of unrivalled opportunity. (It could also be a time when you make big mistakes and miss out on future royalties, as nobody is quite sure how to sell their 'digital rights' - including JKR).
Interestingly, self-publishing is starting to look less like 'vanity publishing' and more like a legitimate pathway to publication. Richard Yaxley, a traditionally published author, has just won the Qld Premier's Literary Award for his self-published young adult book 'Drink the Air'. The drawback is that you must put in a great deal of time (not to mention money) to publish, store, market and distribute the book yourself. But if you think you would enjoy doing that, it's easier now than ever before.
4. Although publishing houses are to some extent doing it tough and need 'easygoing, flexible authors and illustrators' - for which read authors and illustrators who don't need much attention or development - all authors and illustrators who were fortunate enough to be picked up by Penguin Books described them as very helpful and supportive. (Aim high...)
5. Persist, persist, persist. Most recent successes said that it took them about four years of solid work to get published. Some took longer. Aleesah Darlison (author) said she had over 400 rejections but now has 13 books in the pipeline. Jo Thompson (illustrator) had many disappointments but has just launched her first picture book - after winning the contract through last year's CYA illustration competition. (Jo beat me in this competition - I came second - so I'm on my way to getting my own pile of rejections!)
I did two great workshops on creating characters and cartoons, with Leigh Hobbs and Dave Hackett respectively, and I'll do a separate post soon about what I learnt there. Meanwhile ... I want to recommend a new picturebook. Look in bookstores soon for "The Glasshouse", written by Paul Collins, illustrated by Jo Thompson (Ford St Publishing). It's a work of art.