Industry trends: An overview of children’s book publishing in the US

This morning, my iGoogle alerts uncovered a worthwhile read — the results of a US-industry insider’s survey of publishers and editors at the recent NJ (New Jersey?) SCBWI Conference.

I wanted to talk about some of the points raised and add my two-cents worth.

You’ve probably already realised that the YA category is hot. And there’re a lot of adults reading YA fiction. Yesterday, I was chatting to an avid, book-buying, non-writing, adult friend. He said that half of his large ‘to-read’ pile was YA fiction. My friend’s perspective was that YA books are easy to read.  I’m biased (after all, I write for YAs), but I’m wondering, are there any other features of YA fiction that appeal to adults?

The market forecast for YA books, particularly dystopian stories, are good.

The publishers surveyed said their biggest problem with ‘middle grade’ (aged 8-12) stories was that they can’t find writers who write in a suitable voice. I must admit I find it tricky writing for this age group. On the one hand, it needs to be ‘motherly’ (or ‘fatherly’), and on the other, it needs to have a sense of fun. Authors such as Philippa Pearce (Tom’s Midnight Garden) conveyed the ‘motherly’ well, and Roald Dahl was the master of naughty fun.

Picture books were described as ‘soft’ in the market. However publishers were positive about author/illustrators who can develop characters that can be ‘branded’. That is, using the character in other stories or in other mediums. I try to keep an eye on kids’ TV animation to see what book characters have emerged onscreen. And it’s also interesting to see how the characters and stories have changed — for better or worse — as a result.

Personally, I loved the Horrible Histories animated series. And the Mr Men show is a heap of fun. I haven’t caught Pearlie the Park Fairy on TV yet — I do wish TV stations would replay this sort of show at a respectable time for adults.

The children’s section of my local ABC Shop is filled with ‘branded’ stuffed toy TV characters. When confronted with such a formidable array of cuteness, all I can do is flee. Cute on such a large scale … now there’s a dystopian YA plot.

Click here to link to Kathy Temean’s blog post about the ‘State of Children’s Book Publishing Industry’.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on how the survey results do or don’t apply to the Australian industry.

Tomorrow, in line with this week’s Doctor Who theme, I’ll be posting Ebony McKenna’s article ‘The Heart of Science Fiction’.

Spotlight on … emerging writer & illustrator Lucienne Noontil

Today I’m speaking to Lucienne Noontil. Lucienne is one of the writers to be featured this evening (Monday 24th of May) in the ’15 minutes of fame’ section of the Emerging Writers’ Festival in Melbourne. Lucienne will appear at 7pm at the Wheeler Centre, 176 Little Lonsdale Street.

Lucienne, how did you first come to be published?

I don’t think it was because I was a standout writer, but more the fact that I could follow instructions. I was in a Writing for Children class and my teacher, who was also a small publisher, asked me to source a true story of a boy’s bravery and then write it to their format. I had very little control.

Lucienne Noontil

Lucienne Noontil with her book, Possum Tale


Possum Tale was a different scenario. I had been rejected numerous times and still felt the story was worthy and in 2008 I won an award which would assist me to publish the manuscript. I had control. Yippee.

Tell me about the process of completing Possum Tale.

Being a picture book, I did long stints painting possums, weighing up the best options for the visual spreads to compliment the words. I toyed with the wording as it is imperative to be precise when children are formulating their language. 

I had a great team of ‘experts’ guiding me including a project advisor, cover designer, children’s librarian … and of course my own young kids!

My focus was to produce the best product I could so I had to keep an open mind and firm in my resolve.

What are you planning to do for your ’15 minutes of fame’ at the Emerging Writers’ Festival?

I will be using the platform as a way to build confidence in myself as an author. If you think you have a worthwhile project, do your best to get it ‘out there’. I wasn’t sure if I could paint possums, but on having a go and practicing, I found it wasn’t beyond my capabilities at all.

If you could travel back in time to the moment before you sent off your first manuscript, what advice would you give yourself?

Don’t hang off that one manuscript. Whatever the result, just keep on writing.

Click here to visit Lucienne’s website.

Jackie’s recommended resources for beginning writers

Here are Jackie Hosking’s recommendations for beginning writers – particularly those interested in writing for children. The list was compiled with the assistance of Pass It On subscribers.

1. The Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass. Maass gives many examples of each technique he addresses then finishes each chapter with a number of exercises. Not aimed at children’s writers but applicable to chapter books. 

2. Mem Fox’s website talks about creating picture books.

3. On Writing Books for Children by Jenny Wagner, published by Allen & Unwin.

4. Professional organizations such as: the Society for Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI), Australian Society of Authors (ASA), The Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA), Local Writers’ Centres. There’s a list on Jackie’s blog of these types of organisations, under ‘Useful Links’.

5. Richard Harland has put together a website of writing tips – also available as downloadable PDF. (I notice that he’s got some tips specific to writing steampunk fiction.)

6. Lightning Bug website.

7. Hazel Edwards’ website has lots of useful information for new writers.

8. Jill McDougall has a terrific e-book that can be downloaded from her website called Become a Children’s Writer.

9. Andrea Shavick has also written a book called Get your picture book published – there’s a link on Jackie’s blog to it.

10. Nancy I. Sanders’ award-winning book, Yes! You Can Learn How to Write Children’s Books, published in 2009 by E & E Publishing.

11. Rachel Burk’s blog has 27 different categories of writing info listed, with new stuff added all the time.

12. Writing for children by Pamela Cleaver.

13. Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg.

14. How to Become a Children’s Writer by Bren MacDibble, published by Australian Associated Publishing House, ISBN 0-9758004-4-2.

15.Robyn Opie’s website: How to Write a Great Children’s Book. Also available as a published book from Magellan Books.

16. As well as being an annual publication, The Australian Writers’ Marketplace is online.

17. Open Office is free and good alternative to Microsoft Office; it has an inbuilt PDF creation feature. 

18. Aviary is a desktop publishing program which is now free . It’s a good alternative to InDesign and Quark Xpress if you also illustrate your work. 

19. John Marsden’s book, Everything I know about writing

20. Tom Chiarella’s Writing dialogue

21. Tracey Dils’ You can write children’s books

22. Jean Karl’s How to write and sell children’s picture books

23. Joan Aiken’s The way to write for children.

24. Hazel Edwards’ The business of writing for young people.

25. Celia Warren’s How to write stories.