From Hook to Book

Archive for the tag “SCBWI Australia NZ Conferences”

My Tribe (SCBWI Australia East/NZ)

Der Arme Poet

Writing is such a solitary endeavour. Of course, we writers/illustrators/creators are no longer isolated or starving in a garret as in years or centuries past. (Forgive the aside, but is it only me who perceives ‘starving in a garret’ as somewhat romantic when transported to 20th century Paris? I could happily go hungry in such company as F. Scott-Fitzgerald, Stein, Hemingway.)

Alas, in reality, I like my food/wine and comfort too much to suffer such deprivation. But I do look to the company of like-minded hearts and creative souls.

Writers/Illustrators are a tribe, co-joined by our aspirations and drive to create and share our stories. We want readers to thrill and thrall to our tales and to see our work in print. Often it can be a long road to publication and the initial marks of ink, publishers’ cruel rebuffs. So we look to our peers to commiserate, communicate, collaborate and coalesce. What better way than at a writers’ conference?

syd-conf-logo300pxI am privileged to be part of the warm and welcoming team of SCBWI Australia East/NZ and to serve as Assistant Co-ordinator of SCBWI Vic. Every two years we gather under the banner of the bi-annual conference in Sydney and mentorship of Regional Advisor, Susanne Gervay. The warm, funny, all embracing Susanne inspires all to believe their publication dream is possible. Of course, adding in a little luck, perseverance, industry savvy, research and a measure of talent too.scbwi-crew

The 2016 SCBWI Australia East Conference was a fantastic gathering of the tribe in September at the Menzies Hotel in Sydney and a great chance to catch up with friends and peers and meet many new members attending. It was brilliant too, post-conference, to hear of all the wonderful outcomes in contracts, representation and requests that came out of SCBWI 2016.

scbwi-vic-crewFantastic, detailed conference reports by Dimity Powell and her roving reporters plus lots of pics can be found on the SCBWI blog. But here are a few tips and tweets from the conference: Be poignant. Bestow ideas. Don’t give up the day job. Never risk starvation. Unless you’re in Paris, sharing a garret with F Scott-Fitzgerald. Pre Daisy days, of course!





SCBWI Australia NZ Conference 2014

What a crazy, busy few weeks, but I can’t let them pass without mention of attending the fantastic SCBWI Australia NZ Conference in Sydney July 13-15th.

SCBWI VicSome of the wonderful crew from SCBWI Vic (Photograph courtesy Dimity Powell)

 What an amazing gathering of creators, publishers and industry professionals all communing and exchanging ideas, knowledge and inspiration. All brought together by our amazing SCBWI Regional Advisor and leader Susanne Gervay and her incredible team over three days at the gorgeous Hughenden Hotel in a packed program of publisher info sessions, pitches, book launches and insights into the international market.

SCBWI delegates at SCBWI 2014 including moi

Despite Jetstar’s best efforts to keep me (and a couple of colleagues) from the opening day and changing my return flight (again!), insisting I leave before the close, I enjoyed a wonderful couple of days and came home recharged and inspired. Who could not be seeing the wonderful, diverse works being produced out there in the kid lit world and wanting to be part of it?

Here’s a few reflections I shared on Twitter @chrisbellwrites on gems gathered.

  • Louise Park Publisher Paddlepop Press “Don’t orphan your product – it needs you.”
  • Lisa Berryman Assoc Publisher @HarperCollinsAU “Poignancy can make a book a classic.”
  • @Zoe_Walton Publisher Children’s &YA Random House sub advice “no marketing manifesto, we have a team to do that.”
  • Bruce Whatley deletes all illust notes “illlustrator needs to find their own visual narrative.”
  •  Louise Park Publisher Paddlepop Press “If you’ve got a top product – leverage – write three more.”
  •  @Zoe_Walton Children’s & YA Publisher Random House “Never underestimate the value of food in kid’s books.”
  • “Historical fiction with a genre twist can sell.”
  • @MissConnieH Connie Hsu Commissioning Editor Roaring Brook Press “Character driven picture books still reign supreme.”
  • Karen Tayleur Five Mile Press poss rej reason “nothing special to lift it to top of pile”.

Bruce Whatley session Twitter

Lisa Berryman Children’s Publisher Harper Collins introducing the amazing Bruce Whatley





To pitch, or not to pitch…

To pitch, or not to pitch?

That is the question I asked myself before the SCBWI International Conference in Sydney last weekend.

Of course there’d be positives, maybe even joys, such as:

  • Feedback on my idea/WIP
  • Practice at presenting in public
  • Self-promotion benefits in getting my name and face in front of publishers and peers.

But there’d also be terrors:

  • What if I bombed in front of all those people?
  • What if no one liked my concept?
  • What if I knocked three publishers out of the equation in one fell pitch?

I can hardly believe that I not only answered yes to the question of pitching, but got up the courage to put my name in the hat (or vase in this case), and ended up being the first name called.

I suspect it helped having no time to get nervous in the days prior. With my 82 year-old Dad in hospital, looking at bypass surgery, pitching was the last thing on my mind. For a couple of days, attending the conference (that I’d so looked forward to for months) began to seem doubtful.

Besides, I’d thought that we’d had to put in to pitch months before while I was away overseas, and was surprised to read on the website a week prior that we could nominate to pitch up until the Saturday of the conference. And then I saw the words, “Make sure your pitch is entertaining.” “Do not tell the plot.” “Focus on the concept.” OMG!

Entertain? Who me?

Hilarious – I’m not, nor particularly quirky either. How on earth do you make a concept entertaining? I wondered, as I lay in bed on the Monday morning, musing over what I would do if I was brave and had any acting talent. The only way I could think of was to go into the voice of my character. All the while, another little voice nagged, you can’t do the accent. (The accent that comes whenever I’m writing the story. The accent I’ve been asked not to do by my adult children when I read aloud in their hearing.) But what would I do, if I were brave..?

I wrote out a few paragraphs that Maire, my protagonist, might say if she was talking to someone about her new life, all the while telling myself it was fine to do the exercise, because I’d never get up in front of room full of people, let alone publishers, to recite it.

Then my week turned spare, and I gave up all thoughts of preparing a pitch. That is until we got the all clear on Thursday evening, and I raced home to pack and type up Maire’s words onto labels, stuck them on my business cards, and wrote out my concept. I ran through it several times, subjecting hubby to two of the readings, and ran over it in my head before going to sleep, as soon as I woke up, in the shower next morning, and the same again in Sydney the night and morning prior.

I have to say a big part of my confidence to pitch came thanks to the encouragement of good writing friends. First, Claire Saxby at the airport, encouraging me not to miss such a great opportunity. Adding her hints to my arguments about nerves, “Breathe, go slow. Go as slow as you can. You can never go too slowly.” (Words that incidentally came back to me as I presented.) And it’s amazing how when you go slow, the words come to you and you don’t skip over or forget half.

Dee White and Alison Reynolds gave up their morning tea break to play publishers so I could practice on them, and they reminded me to locate the year first, because my novel is historical, and to state my word count among other valuable tips. Most important was their encouragement, once again, to go for it.

Chris Bell SCBWI pitch session. Photograph courtesy: Claire Saxby

Chris Bell SCBWI pitch session. Photograph courtesy: Claire Saxby

I’m pleased to say my pitch went very well, despite my stomach churning and my left hand beginning to shake so badly halfway through, I thought I’d drop my cue cards. I was thrilled to bits with the very positive response of the publishers, especially with all of them wanting to read more when it’s finished.

When I thanked one of them later, she suggested I must have practiced a lot. I mumbled that I hadn’t really, thinking guiltily about my horror week and how the pitch had come together. It was only later that I realised I had actually been preparing unknowingly for weeks. (Two years if you add the writing time spent on the novel.) But the concept aspect I’d been working on at uni through the RMIT Masters program, so I’d had the chance to boil down the essence of my novel to a sentence, and think of it as a concept and not just the story. So the basis was there, just waiting to come out. My character gave me the voice to do so. And the pitch session the opportunity.

I’m so glad I got brave. (Thanks to plenty of encouragement and positive feedback.)

I learned a lot about myself through the pitching experience and even more about my character.

My three best tips for a winning pitch:

  • Be brave enough to be creative
  • Know your project (let your passion show)
  • Practice (running it through in your head counts as practice).

PLUS: My very best advice for writers and illustrators who want to pitch to publishers:


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