Friday, 18 November 2016


I once worked as editor of the first national literary magazine in Australia for the very young. Little Ears was geared for the three to six-year-old market and published stories, poems and plays to be read by adults to children in their care.

In the first few months I received over 650 unsolicited manuscripts. We published about 16 contributions every month, so the majority of manuscripts were obviously rejected for publication. In assessing a manuscript’s suitability for publication I asked a few questions of myself: is the length appropriate; is the subject matter and language appropriate, are sentences short and simple, will the young reader understand what is being said.

Quite often in their submitted manuscripts, the writer’s choice of subject matter was a problem. Generally speaking young children want to hear about subjects which are within their immediate sphere of life. Topics such as my mum and dad, my family, my toys, my friends, my bath-time, my loose tooth and so on have more appeal to pre-schoolers than stories I received about elderly neighbours, hungry snails, rampaging bunyips, rainbows or dining with dinosaurs. Similarly, young children do not want to be alarmed by monsters under the bed, bloody accidents, death and losing one’s nose – which also featured in some stories submitted to Little Ears. To sum up, the ideal subject matter for the very young deals with what is familiar: going for a walk, helping mum in the kitchen, playing on the beach, dressing up in old clothes, discovering that caterpillars have legs but worms don’t.

In an article on writing for the very young, American Jan Weeks wrote, “Generally speaking, the younger your audience, the more concrete your (writing) must be. Young children have such a limited range of experience that they cannot make connections between the sun and a golden disk because they have no point of reference for "a golden disk." When dealing with young toddlers, they have difficulty grasping comparisons at all. To a toddler, dogs are so much like cats, that if you compare them, the child may have difficulty understanding that they are really different things at all.”

Writing in a “concrete” manner where young children know what is being described is imperative when presenting a story, play or poem for them. Pre-school children cannot grasp abstract concepts and it is folly to think that they will “learn” as a result of hearing your too complex story or poem. As a writer you can use play on sounds, but using a complex simile in your writing will most likely go over your young reader’s head. A writer can help the young reader stretch his boundaries slightly – perhaps by using animals instead of people as protagonists – but not too much since we’re still dealing with baby-friendly ideas like cuddling mum, my own bed is for sleeping or night-time is dark.

Rhyme, rhythm and repetition are important to very young children. Poetry for this group usually has simple meter (and may mimic nursery rhyme metres) and exact rhymes. Short sentences and simple sentence constructions are also imperative. A story about friends at a park should, for example, use simple action verbs on each page to show common park fun: they swing…they climb…they ride. A variant might come at the end when the story sums up all that togetherness by announcing that friends are good.

It is acceptable to show in a poem or story that one thing is like another, but again simplicity is the key. The moon, for example, might be compared to a white button in the sky, or the sun to an egg yolk, a playful cat to a lion. Stories and poems can also be active and challenge a small child to imagine something out of the ordinary. Grandma being a clown in a circus, Mum bringing home a pet kangaroo or a friend who wears a silly hat can be topics are within their level of understand and help to create a sense of fun for the young reader. Stories and poems can also challenge a child to do something, such as climb to the top of a slippery dip, pat a new, friendly dog or go for a dip in the beach for the first time. There can be funny stories or poems about manners or comparing being bundled up in winter clothes to being a chubby polar bear or playing in the bath to being pirates at sea.

Summing up, it is important if you want to get stories or poems for the very young published, you need to remember that your work must have connection to common experience and learning, repetition, humour, action, and – in poetry – exact rhymes and simple metres. Most importantly, remember to keep your story-line and your language simple!
by Dianne Bates

Dianne (Di) Bates has published over 130 books for young people and has also worked on the editorial team of three national children’s magazines. Her website is

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

A Note to Publishers Part 2

What publishers can do to promote their authors is to first establish a relationship: find out what the author wants or is willing to do, for example:
- school/ teacher talks
- author tours
- book fairs
- promotional tour
- sending press releases to local media
- presenting at festivals and/or conferences
- presenting at Staff development days, at Regional librarian meetings
- talking to local organisations, for example VIEW clubs

The publicist can ask the author to write articles for industry magazines e.g. Scan, Magpies, The Literature Base, Practically Primary, and Buzz Words about aspects of their new book. The author can also write articles that link with special days, (for example, I wrote a number of articles for Mental Health Week, which linked with my book Crossing the Line). Arrange a 'connection' with an excursion destination (once again curriculum link is great). The best example I can think of here is a big one (but it doesn't need to be this scale): to promote her book, author Felicity Pulman organised a tour of the Sydney Quarantine Station, the setting of her children’s book Ghost Boy. Make sure books are available for sale where the author is presenting. Link up with another of your publishing house’s authors in the same education area/topic: this way you can provide a 'dual package' to schools, i.e. two authors on one school visit.

Target special interest groups e.g. English as a Second Language or Gifted and Talented Children. Be aware of any special focus or special projects the Department of Education is undertaking – check their websites all the time and make contact at any opportunity. Be part of initiatives by education-related groups such as PETA - once again, check their websites all the time and make contact at any opportunity.

Publishers ought to prepare an author kit giving advice on where to go for publicity and how they can represent their book. One of the very best things publishers can do for an author is to arrange for him to speak briefly to their book reps. This gives the reps some anecdotal information and enthusiasm they can pass on to teacher-librarians. The reps can also give the TLs a sheet which provides information on how to contact the author for a school visit and where to look for teaching notes. On the day the author visits the publisher’s office to talk to the reps, it’s advisable to have the publicist and author sit together so that between the two of them they organise strategies for promoting the book. So often publicists work independently of authors: they usually don’t even get to meet those whose books they are paid to promote!

Allen & Unwin and Walker Books Australia send me great online newsletters every month with details of their new titles, as well as news such as author tours, author interviews, competitions and giveaways. I often order books as a result of reading these newsletters. Ford Street also sends out a very good online newsletter promoting its recent titles.

Teacher-librarians love to be signalled out for the work they do. Every region has a teacher-librarian network. In the Illawarra there is the Illawarra School Librarians Association with 120 members. It would be a worthwhile exercise once a term for a publishing house to offer a night highlighting: invite an author, illustrator or designer along to talk about their work. Offer refreshments and discounts. These nights can be held in bookshops and serve a double function, making the bookshop a profit and strengthening the bookseller/publisher bond.
Publishers could have a ‘meet the children’s authors’ event. This is an excellent way for a publishing house to get their writers to meet the general public (including teacher librarians and book reviewers, as well as the publishing house’s staff, e.g. marketing and publicity people).

It is a good idea to support book launches in schools. Richard Harland’s launched the Wolf Kingdom series in a Wollongong school. Richard organised a bookseller for the day who in turn contacted the school and sent order forms. On the day of the launch, 350 copies of the book were sold. At a second launch, at another school, 300 additional copies were sold.
If they are proactive, authors can sell a lot of books; therefore it seems sensible to allow them to do so, so make provision for this in their contracts. Give them the same discount as booksellers. When my author husband Bill Condon and I worked in schools as performers, Bill would speak in the morning to infants’ students, I’d speak to primary. At lunch-time we sold our remainders, usually for $3 or $5 each. It was not unusual to sell over $1,000 worth of books in the one hour lunch-time period.

Publishers, encourage your authors to attend functions such as literary lunches, festivals and conferences. Publisher Paul Collins writes to each of his Ford Street authors asking them for a few lines of biography and then sent them collectively to all writers’ festivals around Australia saying these authors are willing to appear at your festival. There are dozens of festivals and conferences and all of them have large audiences.

Publishers, make a list of all of your children’s authors, along with their Send this list out to CBCA regional branches, conference & festival organisers, and regional teacher librarian groups indicating that the authors are available for visits. When authors speak at conferences, provide bookmarks and promotional material. Give the author a list of local media (and contact details) when they are to appear at a festival, conference or literary lunch. The author can organise interviews – or, if you are accompanying author, you can organise them

When authors send emails, encourage them to have a signature on each email which includes not only contact information, but the name of their latest books. A website is an author’s best investment in PR as it is that author’s shop front. Hazel Edwards recommends that authors give added value. ‘Have ready on your web site well-labelled activities which relate to that book title. This can be sent to schools, libraries or bookshops which have newsletters or events to which the author is invited.’ Publishers, give teachers' notes or additional resources to the author to put on his website. Encourage the author to have a generic 'How to'' or “How this book was written”, a 1,000 word article for easy sending to interested parties. As well, have a hi-resolution author photo on your publishers’ web site so it can be down-loaded by festival organisers and save you e-mailing.

· School visits or writing camps (talking to children)
· Staff development days
· Regional librarian meetings
· Conferences and festivals
· Articles in teaching industry magazines
· On your website

Will publishers implement many – or any – of these suggestions? Hard to tell. However, every author I’ve discussed these ideas with has been fully supportive, and a happy author ought to be one of the main aims of every publishing house.

Saturday, 2 July 2016


As an author, the most frequent complaint I hear from fellow authors about a publishing house is ‘nobody tells me anything’ so my first suggestion to any publisher is to send authors a list of where their book has been sent for review and what promotion has been planned for it.

The best, most proactive and communicative publisher I have ever worked with is Paul Collins (Ford Street) for my YA novel, Crossing the Line. We worked hard and productively as a team. First, Paul asked me to send my contracted but unpublished manuscript to two people who we hoped would give us quotes to help promote the book. I chose two high-profile authors whose work I admire – Margaret Clark, whose books are for the same demographic as mine, and Elizabeth Fensham because her Helicopter Man deals with mental illness, as does Crossing the Line. In the first few weeks that the book came out, thanks to publisher and author working as a pro-active team, I had at least 17 book reviews and 12 interviews/articles (radio and newspapers).

Basically all PR comes from the author and so he/she must be motivated. Quite often an author, especially a new one, has no idea of how they can promote their latest title, so it behoves the marketing and publicity department to provide authors with a promotion pack. This could include the press release that is sent out to the media and a high resolution copy of the book cover. I use the press release Paul Collins prepared for my book again and again.

Publishers, ask your author to contact all of their local media with the press release and their contact details. Recently I contacted a number of other proactive children’s authors for their take on promotion in the educational market. Here is what they said:

Jan Latta (a highly successful self-published author) Today, for 5 hours, I have been emailing every principal, or librarian, about my books for my next visit to Hong Kong. If the timing is too tight for the school to book me for a presentation, I send a set of books for their approval. I've only had one book returned! In HK I never charge a speaker's fee as I have great success with book sales. Usually over 1,000 books sold a week.
Hazel Edwards: Offering discussion notes is a way of value adding to your book and publicising it long term by word of mouth.
Edel Wignell: One of her strategies is to write articles for a whole range of magazines in Australia and overseas that in some way link with her current publication.
Susanne Gervay, Tristan Bancks, Paul Collins (and numerous others): They make themselves available and actively promote themselves as being available for writers’ conferences and festivals all over Australia.
Sandy Fussell: For her Samurai series (Walker Books) she has created an interactive website. She offers competitions and continually updates the site. Her launch party, which she organised, was the best I’ve ever been to. She sold over 80 books on the night.
Patricia Bernard and DC Green: Both of them travel extensively around Australia offering author talks and writing workshops, and both sell many thousands of dollars worth of their self-published books during their travels. Patricia once paid to have an advertisement placed on Sydney buses!

On looking at some publishers’ websites nowhere did I see links to their authors’ and illustrators’ websites. Nor did I find any indication whether or not their book creators  are available for school visits, festivals, etc. However, one publishing house which does this very well is Allen & Unwin: their website is very easy to navigate.
I would advise publishers’ marketing departments to make a clear distinction between their adult and the children’s authors. Teachers and teacher librarians don’t have the time to work their way through publishers’ websites: they want the information at their fingertips.
One way in which any book itself can be a marketing tool is for the publisher to print on the back inside pages website details where teachers can find teacher notes, or print the teacher notes in the book itself as well as printing the author’s website address and the publisher’s website address. DC Green of Barrel Books makes full use of his books to show the above details.
If the book’s content is linked in any way to the school curriculum, it is a good idea for publishers to provide teaching resources that are appropriate for immediate classroom use (e.g. web quest, worksheets, word searches). This can even go on the blank pages at the end of the book!
When I asked a group of primary teacher-librarians about how to make children’s books school-friendly, they said:
1. Publish portrait books, not landscape. (The latter stick out from the library shelf and are difficult to shelve)
2. Publish books that link with the HSIE
3. Offer free author talks to schools
4. Arrange pre-publication talks

One teacher-librarian wrote to me: “The thing that stands out for me above all others is someone who knows their books and knows (enough) about education to make connections and answer intelligent questions. If I get an email or flier that just has the publishers’ blurb about the product and the price, then the consultant rings and says “Hi did you receive….do you want to buy…” I always say NO. It’s been filed in the recycling long ago. I need to be able to TALK and LOOK and TOUCH (failing this, to return if unsuitable). There is a limited library budget and we need to take care that what we get is great not just OK or even good, for our educational purposes.”

Thursday, 30 June 2016

A Publisher’s Perspective

As most readers will know, I have a children’s book imprint, About Kids Books ( ). I am still seeking a first manuscript to publish (after receiving and rejecting 130 manuscript submissions). Recently I received an email from a newish children’s author. Below find her question -- and my answer.

I was wondering if it okay for me to ask you something as a publisher, please? If you don't mind sharing, what is it about the manuscripts you've received thus far, that hasn't appealed to you? What should I avoid?
Most of the stories I receive don't have a vivid, memorable voice. Often the language used is pedestrian, the storytelling not at all compelling. Often there is a lot of telling rather than showing. And opening paragraphs are lack-lustre and don’t grab one’s attention. Too often, as well, the punctuation – particularly paragraphing and dialogue -- is appalling!

Today, a children’s author friend sent me the first three chapters of her new novel today and eight hours later I am still thinking about it. That's the sort of story I want! The setting of her story is unusual (in a graveyard), the narrator is a boy ghost who meets a very eccentric girl (not sure if she's human, yet). My friend’s last manuscript, which I'm sure she'll get published, features, in an Australian country setting, a girl with synaesthesia who has a relationship with her family’s Japanese exchange student: both are keen on the history of the girl’s town.

What most attracts me is a story such as Maya Angelou said: 'The idea is to write it so people hear it and it slides through the brain and goes straight to the heart.'

I want to be moved by a story, whether it is deep and meaningful or full of imagination and fun (like Will Mabbitt's Mabel Jones books). One of the best books I read this year is by Linda Coggin. That Dog, Ray tells of how a girl gets 'inside' a dog; she tells the story from a girl's point of view, but as the story progresses the dog takes over the human in thinking and feeling. An amazing read! Another graveyard book, for older readers, which impressed me, is Magritt by Lee Battersby (Walker Books Australia).

So what I want is some -- or preferably all -- of the following -- a main character who totally engages the imagination and is memorable, prose that is rich and succinct, storytelling that sweeps the reader along, a setting that is unusual. It can be a story about anything! Originality is the key. Oh, and the book must be child-friendly (some authors focus too much attention on parents in stories).

An Australian debut author's book I'd have greedily grabbed with both hands is Figgy in the World by Tamsin Janu (Omnibus Books). Set in Africa about a small girl who goes with her goat looking for America so she can get medicine for her ailing grandmother (but the child has no idea where America is, only that the country has specialist doctors).
                                                                                                                                                                                   I am a big fan of junior novels by Ursula Dubosarsky and Glenda Millard. I would also publish any junior book written by my husband Bill Condon whose latest junior novel, The Simple Things (A&U) was CBCA short-listed in 2015. I am a huge fan of his multi-prizewinning novels for both children and young adults.

Yes, I will take a debut book: I have one at the moment which interests me and I am now getting a second -- and maybe a third -- opinion. It is set in Rome, has a third person narrative, and is from the point of view of a dancing cat which saves the day. It’s written by a debut author but the story is different from any other I've read. The author has absolutely no social media presence: until I asked her to do so, she didn't even have her own email address!

Finally, two other books (of the 130 mss I've read so far) which interested me...
One was a legend and far too short: I asked the (well-known) author for another story of the same size but she didn't have one. The other very interesting and well-written story, by someone who has published and is well known as an editor, was set in medieval England, but it needed a glossary:  this turned out to be 135 words, far too long. She says she is 'dumbing it (her story) down' which sounds sad, but I'll take another look if she resubmits. There was a third book by someone whose books I love, but this writer is in grieving and she just couldn't manage to re-write: maybe one day she'll get back to her humorous junior novel.

As a reader, my preference is for social realism books but anything that's terrific is of interest. Meantime, I have been reading an Australian historical novel All of Us Together which I'm sure to publish when it's finished (later this year).

Note: When the writer asked which of my own books I thought was worth a read, I told her A Game of Keeps (Celapene Press). It’s a book I think worthy of the About Kids Books imprint! Go to and scroll down the page. You will see also that Celapene published Nobody’s Boy, a junior verse novel and CBCA Notable.

By Dianne Bates 

Monday, 27 June 2016

Thoughts from a Publisher

‘The idea is to write it so that people hear it and it slides through the brain and goes straight to the heart.’ Maya Angelou

Often those submitting to my children’s book imprint, About Kids Books ( do not read the website carefully. No, I don’t publish picture books. What I want and the book lengths are clearly spelled out on the submissions’ page. Most of all, I want quality books. Books which will be read again and again by children because they are so good. Books that are memorable. Which have characters who you care about.

What I get are far too often are bland books which have no personality. What most gives a book its personality is the voice. How the book is told. The narrative voice. I want a narrative voice which is distinctive, quirky, eccentric. There should be a freshness in the writing. Word choice is the key. The writer ought to use words that sizzle on the page, and too, the story-telling ought to be fast-paced so you want to keep reading. But when you get to the end of the book you want to go back and re-read it. The sort of book we all love to read. Kids love that, too, though they might not articulate what it is that fascinates them so much.

Here are some opening sentences from children’s books which have compelled me to keep writing:·       From a crack in the plaster, where the bottle has smashed, tomato sauce dribbles down the wall.
·       There’s nothing quite as good as folding up into a book and shutting the world outside.
·       One huge shiver trudging on to the oval, that’s us. First thing on a frostbite Monday morning.
·       I was twelve years old the first time I walked on water.
·       If I could tell you only one thing about my life it would be this: when I was seven years old the mailman ran over my head.
·       The bedroom is strange. Unfamiliar. I don’t know where I am, how I came to be here. I don’t know how I’m going to get home.
·       This story begins with a smile. It was a stupid-looking smile on a rather stupid-looking face.
·       The Herdmans were absolutely the worst kids in the history of the world.
·       They say Maniac Magee was born in a dump. They say his stomach was a cereal box and his heart a sofa spring.
·       12th Day of September
          I am commanded to write an account of my days: I am bit by fleas and plagued by family. That is all there is to say.·       Miranda Tagliotti had been planning to kill Bridget Aldich for a long time.
·       I will never forgive my mother for calling me Erica with a surname like Yurken.
The day after my mother died, the priest and I wrapped her body in a grey shroud and carried her to the village church. Our burden was not great.

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Writing in 2016

It's far too long since I posted on my blog though who wonders if it's read and by how many. It's like travelling on the wind and feeling nothing but the silence all around one. At this time of year I begin to assess the 12 months gone and the year ahead. Start making plans, especially for my creative year ahead. Lately I've posted some children's poems written years ago on Australian Children's Poetry, the blog I began in March last year (now it's had 140,000+ hits). Heartened by enthusiastic comments, I have resolved to write more poems in 2016. I'll also finish my humorous children's novel with draft title School's Crool. I've written so little in 2015, but have had five books published and at least another three in the months to come. 

Meanwhile, I will be judging the 830 entries in the Red Gum Book Club's national youth writing competition. Really looking forward to that as it's not often I hear the creative voice of children. 

If you're reading this, I wish you a Merry Christmas with your loved ones, and a creative and successful year ahead!


Monday, 19 October 2015

Jo-Kin Battles the It

This recent children’s book was reviewed by Ashling Kwok  in the Australian children’s book review blog Buzz Words )

Jo-Kin Battles the It by Karen Tyrrell, illustrated by Trevor Salter
PB RRP $14.95
ISBN 9780994302106

Blast off on an exciting adventure with Josh Atkins (aka Jo-Kin) and his trusty sidekick, nerdy Sam Jones (Sam-Wich). The adventure begins when the fearless duo win the Super Space Kid contest and set off on a mission to save the galaxy from a deadly alien called the IT.

The battle is on when the IT kidnaps Captain Astra and Jo and Sam must find a way to save the galaxy before it’s too late.  Along the way, they must survive entry challenges, successfully master high tech gadgets and battle creatures trying to destroy them.

This excellent book is perfect for middle grade readers aged 7 to 10 years. The storyline is creative and will hold the read’s attention from the moment they pick up the book. The characters are well-developed and likeable. Readers will relate to them and enjoy going on this journey with them. 

Jo-Kin Battles the It is the latest release from award-winning resilience author-teacher Karen Tyrrell. Over the years Karen has released a number of empowering books dealing with issues that affect us all.

This book embodies many of the elements required to produce a great story but it also deals with important topics such as resilience, team building, bullying, self-esteem and friendship.

The cover of the book is graphically enticing as it is brightly coloured and features interesting images that will appeal to young readers. The illustrations inside the book add a nice touch and break up the text.

This is a brilliant book and is definitely worth a read. It is action-packed and humorous, and will leave the reader wanting more.

Jo-Kin Battles the It is also available on LSI, library services and selected stores including some Dymocks and Angus & Robertson.