23 September 2013

Why we love Martin McKenna

A few years ago I was trawling the net looking for a suitable image for a fantasy book I was about to publish.  Fantasy covers are often difficult and it is unusual to find exactly what you want.  Commissioning work takes time and in this instance time was short.  The internet makes it very easy to communicate directly and if the recipient is a nice person they usually respond personally to any query.  Martin and I began what has become a long email friendship and despite not ultimately using the image I had found we discovered that there were a lot of projects that suited each other perfectly.

Martin McKenna has a very strong background in fantasy art and in particular horror art.  You can see his work here.  His skills are quite extraordinary - he works on so many different sorts of projects you might think that when I suggested he illustrate a cover for us he would laugh in my face.  An illustrator of Martin's calibre can command a hefty price for a single image - nothing we could match.  But Martin is such a lovely human being that he agreed. 
He created the covers for Ian Irvine's series Grim and Grimmer and went on to create some utterly spectacular covers for Emily Rodda's series The Key to Rondo
We loved working with Martin - he is so accommodating and generous and talented that working with him is very special.  It wasn't a big leap to go from covers to a picture book and the first opportunity we had was a book by Penny Matthews called The Gift.  That artwork was so beautiful we couldn't resist asking Martin if he would like to create a picture book of his own - he jumped at the chance and we were delighted to publish Octopuppy this year.

In this book we discovered a whole new layer of Martin's talent; not only can he can write, he can draw very different kinds of characters.  Jarvis in this story is a master of disguise.  Every time Martin sent us a new image for the endpapers we had a new favourite.  Celia's was, of course, Jarvis Who.  Mine was cross-dressed Jarvis as Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz.
We are now embarked on  a new project with Martin - another spectacularly clever and delightfully funny idea which we hope to publish in May 2015.  Working in publishing we are always thinking years ahead - odd and unsettling at times because things seem so far away but we expect that the time will fly and meanwhile we will have Martin's gorgeous drawings to feed our imaginations.  If you haven't seen Octopuppy go and take a look in your favourite bookstore. 
We were delighted to see a review of Octopuppy from Hill of Content bookstore that compared Martin's work to that of Oliver Jeffers.  We love Oliver Jeffers' work too (we would love to publish him so if he happens to read this blog please do get in touch) but we feel the two artists are unique.   There is room in the world for as many genius illustrators are there are children who love picture books.

12 September 2013

Lately I've been seeing more and more business cards attached to unsolicited manuscripts advising me that the writer is someone capable of teaching writing to potential authors.  Manuscript assessment services, workshops on how to become published, how to write a picture book, writing for young adults; the list of talents these cards shout about goes on and on.  Since I think I have a pretty sound knowledge of the children's publishing industry and at the least I know of a high percentage of writers I've been surprised by the fact that all of these business cards name people I have never heard of.  Ever.  But they all list websites and so I have begun looking at these to see just who these people are and why they have something to offer other writers. What I find quite dismays me.  Almost without exception these people have not been published at all. They even list themselves as 'award-winning authors'  when the awards are things like fourth prize in a local competition.  There is no shame in local competitions of course but they do not qualify the writer as award-winning.  Self-publishing does not make someone an expert in mainstream publishing either. These so-called children's authors have no credentials, no qualifications to teach others and little real knowledge of the industry if their websites are anything to go by.  Regardless of this they seem to believe they can set themselves up as trainers, teachers and assessors.  It's a free country and this is an unregulated area so I guess there is nothing to stop this sort of thing yet it strikes me as one of the more unfortunate results of the internet age.

There are many, many people who'd like to be published and I think I have a greater insight into this vast pool of keen people than most.  I meet writers everywhere who are as yet unpublished and who are so desperate to find themselves in print that they willingly pay someone who purports to know how it is done.  I have had letters attached to quite unpublishable manuscripts telling me that the manuscript has undergone  a thorough assessment and the writer has been told that its now very, very publishable.  I have seen one so-called 'reputable' assessment site that claims a letter from them will guarantee the writer's manuscript will go straight to the top of the unsolicited pile.  For a fee of some hundreds of dollars they can have just such a letter.  That is of course on top of the hundreds of dollars they will first pay for the assessment.

I have begun to feel very upset at this quite unprofessional practice.

Unpublished writers are a very vulnerable group and their vulnerability is preyed upon by these self-proclaimed authorities. I find it despicable and even sad.  So many are taken in.  So much money is changing hands with no perceptible results.  I'd like to encourage all the would-be writers out there to NOT use services like these.  Join your local writers' centre where at least you can be sure the workshops will be run by men and women who are indeed professionals.  Where the charge for training will be minimal; where you can join like-minded others and find strength in the group and the encouragement you need.  Attend local writing festivals - there are many of these.  Read as much as you can.  Spend time in libraries or bookshops talking to librarians or owners who can help you to recognise the reputable children's publishers in Australia.  Seek out the sort of books they publish.  See if your work is similar.  Polish your writing like the precious thing it is until you can truly do no more.  Make sure there are no spelling errors, no repeated lines, no unwanted bits you accidentally left in when you deleted something.  Then send it to the publisher of your choice and cross your fingers. 

Here are my writing tips for the month.

A story is not necessarily a picture book.
A list of things that happened is unlikely to make a good picture book.
A family event is unlikely to make a good picture book.
A great picture book writer leaves out a lot.  The illustrator fills in those gaps.
Illustrators don't like to be told what to draw.
Read the guidelines for the way a publisher wants to get work from you and do what they say.

I cant remember where I got this picture from so I apologise to whoever owns it for the lack of an attribution - but for me, this could be the start of a wonderful picture book. Why?  Because it leaves so much out.  Because it makes me want to know just what those tales the young soldier is telling to the rhinoceros are.  Because I love the images.  And most of all, because it feels so very original.

06 September 2013

Stopping at all stops ...

this insightful interview about YA publishing from the US Publisher's Weekly
this exciting new YA novel from the awesome pen of Patrick Ness
– an interview with Alexis Wright about her intriguing new literary-dystopian-climate-change adult novel The Swan Book
– and the pun of the week goes to the new Amazon scheme that bundles print and digital editions together – 'MatchBook' (also via PW).

Happy commuting!

04 September 2013

Indigenous Literacy Day

We'd like to mark Indigenous Literacy Day firstly by acknowledging that Omnibus Books sits on the land of the Kaurna people of the Adelaide Plains and that we respect their ancestors and traditions. The Indigenous Literacy Foundation does great work to bring books to kids who through disadvantage or remote location may not have access to the libraries and bookshops and home bookshelves that most Australian kids are lucky enough to be surrounded by. Omnibus Books has a rich backlist of books for and about Indigenous children including Pigs and Honey by Jeanie Adams, Tucker's Mob by Christobel Mattingley, Side by Side and Too Many Captain Cooks by Alan R. Tucker, the Barrumbi Kids series by Leonie Norrington and As I Grew Older by Ian Abdulla. And continuing in this tradition we're very happy to be publishing three new books by Sally Morgan called Feast for Wombat illustrated by Tania Erzinger, One Rule and Going Bush With Grandpa with illustrator Ezekiel Kwaymullina. Look out for these in 2014.

And it's worth saying that we're always on the lookout for up and coming Indigenous authors and illustrators so send us your work today. Yes, really, today would not be too soon!

A sneak peak of a sleepy wombat. Illustration by Tania Erzinger