story, science, technology and creativity

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Can kids get published?

As a kid, I loved stories and dreamed of being an author. Now I’m an adult, my dream has come true. But do you have to wait that long for a publisher to choose to make your book? Can kids get their stories turned into books?

Last month Penguin Random House signed up 13-year-old slam poet Solli Raphael’s first book, Limelight. Awesome! But are stories like Solli’s rare?

I talked to some Aussie publishers last year for Crinkling News about whether kids can get publishing contracts for their stories… This is what they said:

The write stuff

Lisa Riley, publisher with Penguin Random House Australia, says it’s rare for a primary school kid to get a publishing deal. “More often it’s the odd 15- to 17-year-old who’d written a [Young Adult novel] that might get published,” she says.

Story comes first

Cate Sutherland, publisher with WA’s Fremantle Press, says age doesn’t matter. “We often have no idea how old an author is when we first read their work,” she says. The most important thing, she says, is the story.

Linsay Knight, publisher with Walker Books Australia, agrees. “The story has to come from deep within you,” she says. “You’ve got to want to tell it.”

Practice makes perfect

All three publishers recommend that young writers start by developing their craft. “Writing and drawing are like lots of things: the more you practise, the better you get,” says Ms Sutherland. “Write or draw as often as you can. It can take a long time to get where you want to go, so don’t give up. No one starts out an expert. And when you’re not creating, read!”

A mentor to guide you

Many publishers recommend entering kids’ writing or illustration competitions. Ms Knight says: “You need to bring your work to the attention of adults.” She also says young creators need to have the support of a mentor—someone who can help and guide you along the way.

Case study: Josh Button’s success story

Josh Button, WA, was ten when he wrote his first book, Joshua and the Two Crabs. It was published by Magabala Books in 2008, when he was 13. The story is about Josh and his family, and he worked on it for three years with his teacher, Robyn Wells. “I was very happy and proud of this book,” says Josh. “I was kind of a celebrity when the book first come out.”

Josh’s publisher, Rachel Bin Salleh, says Magabala Books was thrilled to discover Josh’s work. “The story was both unique and bold…a beautiful interpretation of friendship and where you might find it,” she says.

Josh published his second book with Ms Wells, Steve goes to Carnival, last year. “The book is about a jazz-loving gorilla called Steve who lives in a zoo in Rio,” explains Josh. This year, Josh and Ms Wells published a third book, called At the Zoo I See.

Josh’s advice to wannabe authors and illustrators? “Pick up a pen or paintbrush and just go for it. If you are stuck in the middle of the book, or need some help, just look for someone in your community or city who might be able to act as a mentor, just like Robyn did for me,” he says.

Kids getting published.jpg

This article first appeared in Crinkling News

Types of book publishing

  • Trade publishers make books for sale in book stores and to schools and libraries. They usually pay authors an up-front fee, called an advance, and a percentage of the money earned from selling copies of the book, called royalties. The publishers in this article are all trade publishers.
  • Educational publishers make books for use in schools.
  • Vanity publishers require authors to pay a fee to publish their books.
  • Self-publishing is where authors make and sell the book by themselves.


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The power of try and fail: Inventing Artoo

Jon Carroll - Favourite

Jon with the BB-8 droid his team invented

Sometimes in life (and in writing) I can get hung up on trying to be perfect. On wanting something to be fabulous. On needing to be the best I can be, every time.

But what if I approached the whole process of creation differently?

In my new book, Zeroes and Ones: The geeks, heroes and hackers who changed history, I look at the people behind the tech innovations we take for granted today. And I discover that…surprise, surprise…success doesn’t always come easy. Inventions, solutions and stories don’t always arrive fully formed and perfect.

Many successful, creative people give themselves permission to fail. Why not give it a try?

Building Star Wars droids

For a Crinkling News story, I interviewed toy designer Jon Carroll, the creator of Star Wars droid toys such as BB-9E and R2D2, about how he approaches the job of creation.

Jon works as Director of Prototyping at Sphero, the company that created the new toy Star Wars droids, BB-9E and R2D2. His team also helped invent the toy BB-8, and Sphero, the roly-poly robot being used to teach coding in 2500 Australian schools.

“Prototyping is trying to build something that someone can play with and use and touch and feel as quickly as possible,” says Jon, who studied computer science.

“Our job is to fail or succeed as quickly as possible.”

Sometimes, when his team members discover that a toy or feature they’ve invented isn’t fun to play with, they can feel discouraged. But Jon says failure is part of the inventing journey.

“If we take a long time to fail, that’s a failure for us as a team. If we’ve failed fast, we’ve done our job.”

How does this translate to writing (and to life)?


Jon with some mad cats

Don’t be afraid of failure. Don’t be afraid to give something a go, but do it as quickly as you can. There’s no point spending ten years on a project only to discover it’s a dud.

Far better to work swiftly, get some feedback, take that feedback on board (a crucial, yet oft-forgotten step), then rework your project. Swiftly.

Try and fail. Write and rewrite. Take what makes your project sing and discard what’s holding it back.

Failure is part of the journey.

But it’s only one part.


PS: Want to be a toy inventor?

Jon regularly goes toy shopping, so he can understand what makes a toy fun to play with. “We play with a lot of toys at the office,” he says. “Right now, we have a huge Hot Wheels track set up.”

Although he spends his days inventing high-tech toys, Jon still enjoys playing games with his friends.

“There’ll always be a place for board games. Half of the fun of a board game or dominoes or cards is that face-to-face interaction that you get with someone.”

Parts of this post first appeared in my article in Crinkling News.


Make Your Own Storybook Competition

Crack open your ideas box and pull out some pencils: it’s that time of year again!

Every year the Children’s Book Council of Australia (WA) holds the Make Your Own Storybook Competition. The competition is open to all WA students from Pre Primary to Year 8. Private and school-based entries are accepted.

Entry is free and all entries are due Friday 8 June. Stick it in your diaries 🙂

For more information, check out the entry form, important dates and hot hints here.

Make Your Own Storybook Competition 2018.png

And…A Night With Our Stars

Another favourite annual CBCA (WA) event: A Night With Our Stars is a fast and furious evening of super-short presentations from WA’s children’s book illustrators and authors published in 2017.

And for the FIRST TIME SINCE 2011….I’m presenting!!! So there you go, people. Never give in.

Whee! I’m so excited. You can get tickets and more information here.



Write Your Childhood with the Town of Victoria Park Arts Season

Want to share a story from your childhood with today’s children? It could be a tale of growing up in another country, an experience of overcoming adversity, or a story from Australia’s history…

I’m very excited to announce a terrific opportunity…

Cristy Burne and Frane Lessac.jpg…Along with incredible children’s book creator, Frané Lessac, I’ll be running a free series of Write Your Childhood workshops as part of the 2018 Town of Victoria Park Arts Season.

The workshops are designed for adults with a story to tell about their childhood: retirees, recent arrivals, total beginners, those who grew up in another country, or who experienced another way of life. We want to help you share your story.

  • The workshops are free, but places are extremely limited.
  • The workshops will be held once a week for a month, to give participants time to work on their projects at home.
  • Free childcare is provided on-site, with a gorgeous leafy playground for your little ones to enjoy while you get creative in the adjacent room.
  • We’ll be working on the text and illustrations for a picture book.
  • You need to register to secure your place.

Note: It’s best to attend all four workshops.

WRITE YOUR CHILDHOOD: About the workshops

Join a group of beginner writers and learn how to write and illustrate a children’s book that tells a story from your childhood. Facilitated by children’s author Cristy Burne and author-illustrator Frané Lessac, this series of workshops aims to:

  • help residents from all walks of life to make connections in their community
  • give these residents a voice to share stories from their childhood in a format children can enjoy.


Venue: All workshops are held at the Victoria Park Community Centre.
246 Gloucestor St
East Victoria Park
(This is the home of the HoneyPot Play Group, between LeisureLife and John McMillan Park).

Week 1: Wednesday 21 March, 1pm – 2.30pm
Connecting with your childhood—getting ideas and meeting each other.

Facilitator: Cristy Burne

Week 2: Wednesday 28 March, 1pm – 2.30pm
Nuts and bolts of writing for children—techniques and tips for telling your story using pictures and words.

Facilitator: Frané Lessac

Week 3: Wednesday 4 April, 1pm – 2.30pm
Crash course in illustration—hands-on illustration workshop with a focus on children’s picture books.
Facilitator: Frané Lessac

Week 4:Wednesday 11 April, 1pm – 2.30pmBringing it all together—sharing the final product and tips on where-to-from-here.
Facilitator: Cristy Burne)


Post course exhibition: Selected works from the workshop (such as beautifully presented phrases, paragraphs, sketches or illustrations) will be exhibited in the foyer of the Town of Victoria Park Library.



artsseasonlogo.pngProudly supported by the Town of Victoria Park and the Victoria Park Community Centre Inc.

Read about the program in the Southern Gazette.


The new Publishing: tips and advice from the Australian Society of Authors

what-do-you-mean-no-champagneThe business of writing is changing. Our publishing cheese is on the move. In fact, it may no longer be in the building.

So what to do? WritingWA invited Juliet Rogers—publishing guru and Executive Director of the Australian Society of Authors—to chat about why publishing is no longer all free lunches and champagne.

Scroll down for Juliet’s tips on getting published.


The business end of business

In Australia, the business of writing means we publish 7000 new Aussie books every year (and another 14000 titles from overseas), turning over 2 billion dollars and employing 20,000 people.

“We’re the sector that underpins the cultural identity of this country,” Juliet says.

“We’ve built a book ecosystem in this country which is largely self-sustaining, but there’s still a place for government support, and this is largely absent.”

In fact, she says, the industry’s currently under attack as the Productivity Commission moves to reduce the length of copyright for creators and FANG (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google) continue their push to “make free content cool and copyright old-fashioned.”

Sign the ASA’s petition here to help protect Australia’s book industry, and with it, the diversity of stories our children will be able to read.

Juliet Rogers of the Australian Society of Authors

Are we artists? Or entrepreneurs? Or both?

“We need to get better at separating the business of writing from the craft of writing, while understanding the importance of both,” Juliet says.

“As an industry we’ve been slow, we’ve clung to the old rules for too long and have had to scramble to keep up.”

We can now choose ebooks instead of print-and-petrol product. We can have the internet as a distributor, and social media as a publicity department.

However, says Juliet, the fundamentals remain the same:

“To write what is worth publishing, to find honest people to publish it, and get sensible people to read it are the three great difficulties in being an author.” Charles Caleb Colton

Anyone can be a writer

Anyone can make a book, and many do. This, I think, should be viewed as an asset to the industry, not a liability. Yet it does raise challenges.

Of Australia’s 3800 publishers, 60% have published just a single book. In fact, more than 70% of titles are published by only 3% of publishers, Juliet says.

“Writers no longer dream of winning Lotto; they dream of writing a title that goes viral,” she says. (Hands up if you can relate to this)(You’ve got to have a dream, right?)

Whether you’re writing, editing, self-publishing or searching for an agent or publisher, Juliet has some choice words of advice:

Juliet Rogers’ tips for getting published

Write a great book. “Your words have to be great words. They have to say something interesting or good or beautiful; most of all they have to stand out from the crowd…. Have you truly written something worth publishing? You need to be confident that it’s good enough for people you have never met to put their hands in their pockets and buy it.”

Beware ‘almost-there’. “The really good books, they stand out. You know you will move heaven and earth to publish that book. The sad ones are the ones that are nearly there. Almost there. In a tough market like this, almost isn’t going to get you there.”

Beware fraudsters and charlatans. The fake agents. The vanity publishers. The dodgy manuscript assessors who love your work but mostly love your chequebook. “When they hear, ‘we want to publish your book,’ perfectly intelligent, rational and perceptive human beings rush to sign contracts that are nothing less than criminal,” says Juliet. The answer, at least in part, is to get the ASA to check your contract before you sign.

Slow down. So, you have a publishing offer? It’s business time! “Let the excitement of imminent publication settle, and before you make any commitment, look for the red flags.” Is their website badly written? Do they make ridiculous promises without evidence or detail? “Let your head rule, not your heart. It’s not the time for emotion and passion and enthusiasm. Do you really want these people making your book?”

Read, read, read. “Read as widely as you can across your chosen genre. If you don’t understand the genre, you’re not going to succeed at it.”

Practise, practise, practise.Your first attempt is unlikely to win the Miles Franklin, but the more you write, the better you’ll become. Be prepared to listen to feedback. Learn when to take notice, and when to stand your ground.”

 “Self-publishing a shitty book doesn’t make you an author any more than singing in the shower makes you a rock star” Oliver Markus

Last words from Juliet

On diversity in publishing:There are many voices in this country that aren’t being heard in the way that they should be. I’m not entirely with Lionel, I have to say.  There’s a lot of work to be done.”

On globalisation in publishing: “The more corporatised you become, the less likely it is that you will take risks. That’s why there a lot of little companies starting up, and some are doing some interesting things.” See Text, Black Ink, Henry Scribe….

On rejection: Vodka is only a short term answer. This is a time for ruthless self-honesty. It may be that although you love writing, you simply don’t have the skill to be a published author.”

On getting published: “It is still possible. You don’t need to have won prizes, you don’t need awards. You don’t need any paraphernalia. You need a book that knocks you over.”

Now go write! The future is bright.

“New technology has begun to shift and equalise the balance of power for authors, because knowledge is power,” says Juliet.

“Great books will continue to be written, and great books will continue to be read. The future looks a pretty exciting place to me.” Juliet Rogers

“The business of writing is never easy, but there is always demand for good writing,” Juliet says.

“Wherever technology takes us, we’ll always need writers.

“Writers help us honour the past, record the present and shape the future.”

Pretty great, huh? It was an awesome night. Thanks so much to WritingWA for organising!




How to get published: secrets revealed at the Perth Writers Festival

I am EXHAUSTED and I didn’t present a thing today!

Instead I attended the Perth Writers Festival’s day-long workshop, the A-Z of Getting Published, and it was great! There were 200 people there and the entire session was MCed by Angela Meyer of Literary Minded, who kept things cool, calm and interesting all day long, despite Perth’s heat, the bright lights and the long hours.

‘D’ is for Don’t Give Up

The lineup was terrific, with info on how to get published, trends in publishing, how to get an agent, how to work with an editor, how to choose a publishing house, etc, etc. (See below for my fave moments from each presenter).

Many people may have come away from the day depressed by the reality of how hard it is to get published.

To these folk I say: don’t give up! All this doom and gloom is just part of the process of testing how badly you want to be a writer. The weak will fall by the roadside but the passionate will drag themselves from their knees and keep writing.

The publishing secret they didn’t reveal: Writing competitions!
I think one huge (and encouraging) thing was missed during the day: Writing competitions! Entering legit competitions is a great way to get your work under the noses of publishers and out of the slushpile.

There are heaps of great competitions out there, but also some less reputable ones that charge huge fees and offer little in return. The big rule is: do your research before you enter!

Some great writing competitions that are well worth the price of entering (or free to enter), spring immediately to mind (but there are a gazillion more and many are genre-specific…just Google):

  • The TAG Hungerford Award (West Australian writers)
  • The Frances Lincoln Diverse Voices Childrens Book Award (International)
  • The Chicken House Childrens Fiction Competition (International)
  • Also interesting is the annual Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (International)
  • And the Voices on the Coast Childrens Writing Competition (an award with both I and Briony Stewart, who is also presenting at Sunday’s family day, have won in our time)(which goes to show it’s a great way to get a start in the industry :-))

But back to the A-Z of getting published…..

Favourite moments from the day.

Meredith Curnow, publisher from Random House:
“Some people have voice. Some people can long-jump. We all have things we wish we were good at.”

Mandy Brett, senior editor with Text Publishing:
“You have to ‘hear’ what is wrong with your work. Like music, you can develop your ear. You need to know what good writing sounds like.”

Clive Newman, foreign rights manager at Fremantle Press:
Fremantle Press don’t mind taking risks: they picked up Elizabeth Jolley after she had been rejected 57 times; they published Craig Silvey after his manuscript had languished on the desk of an unnamed major publishing house for two years; they took time to edit and trim A.B. Facey’s A Fortunate Life and gave it a life when noone else would.

John Harman, writer:
“Which is more important, plot or character? That’s like asking Cathy Freeman, which is your most important leg?”

Lyn Tranter, agent with Australian Literary Management:
Agents are worth their weight in gold: L M Montgomery, author of Anne of Green Gables, apparently sold her copyright to this work for a pittance and spent the rest of her life trying to get it back. So book contracts were complicated even back then! As Lyn said: “What she needed was an agent.”

Terri-ann White from UWA publishing
Terri-ann gave an interesting breakdown of where the money goes when a consumer buys a book: 10% to the author; 20-27.5% to the book distributor; 40% to the book seller and the rest to the publisher (0ut of which comes expenses including printing, design, editing, etc). The average number of copies sold when it comes to Australian fiction is 919. A good seller sells around 3000 copies.

Amanda Curtin, freelance book editor and writer
Amanda recommended authors create a style guide for their work, listing the correct spelling of character names, a family tree and chronology. This, Amanda said, not only helps you write your book, it also helps the editor who will be assigned to edit your work once it is accepted.

Emma Morris, publicist with Scribe
Emma’s message: Do any interview that comes your way. Forget your nerves and talk about your passion: the book. And embrace social media: Twitter, blogging, FaceBook.

Any other tips?
Do you have tips to share from today’s session or from your own publishing journey? I’d love to hear what you think!