Monday, May 19, 2008

The 2008 CBCA Conference, Melbourne

The Children's Book Council of Australia Conference, 2nd to 4th May 2008, Melbourne. I stressed a lot about this before I went, mostly because i'd never travelled overseas by myself before (I lead a very sheltered life) and had never been to Melbourne before either. I needn't have worried. Melbourne is reasonably straightforward, the hotel was a hop, skip and a jump (although I walked) from the main train station (where the airport bus ended up) and the conference venue, and four other kiwis conference attendees were staying at the same place. For a comprehensive run down of many of the keynote addresses and panel discussions check out Fifi's blog but i thought I'd mention a few other highlights and benefits of attending.

First i'd like to say that going to one conference has only made me want to go to more. They don't need to be overseas, although a little bit of shopping in another country is always fun but NZ doesn't really have them yet for the children's book industry. The Storylines AGM in Auckland every March is usually a great day and an excellent opportunity to catch up with others in the business but it doesn't do workshops, panel discussions or cocktail events. The Storylines festival in June is aimed mostly at the readers as it should be so doesn't really qualify either.

Being immersed in the children's book industry with like-minded people for three whole days was bliss. Writing is a solitary business done at home so to be surrounded by people who are passionate about the same things and who don't glaze over discussing the same topics for hours on end is my idea of heaven. Being a part of this made me feel more committed then ever to writing.

I got to see a little of what the industry is like in Australia which was useful in terms of my long term plans to sell my material overseas. One of the things that came out of the 5% talk during the Writers and Readers Festival last weekend was the concern that it is becoming less economical to publish children's books in NZ unless they have international appeal and can be sold overseas. I don't know how true this is and whether its a trend or a blip but there are real benefits to the author publishing beyond NZ anyway. The recent international interest in NZ authors such as Lloyd Jones and Bernard Beckett has to be maximised by other NZ authors. From what I saw in Australia, while there will always be tough competition to publish, our books would not be out of place over there.

The company of the kiwi contingent over there was fabulous. It would have been much harder alone, much less enjoyable and i came away feeling so much more a part of the local writing scene. I have made new friends from three different sectors of the book business here in NZ.

Introducing yourself to publishers is a complicated business. Most of the publishers at the CBCA were there to sell. Most of the delegates were librarians, teachers and literature or educational academics. The publishers weren't looking for new manuscripts/books and generally don't do that publicly at the best of times. 'Author' can be a very dirty word. I decided to avoid it mostly unless there was already some connection, for example with people who had already seen and or published my work. This was an extremely small group of three. I did introduce myself to several other publishers who publish things in a similar vein to what I write, but tried to keep it low key and didn't frighten too many people I think. This was all good practice but i still need to work on not freezing into the nervous plastic smile and losing the capacity to form decent sentences during conversation. I guess the lesson here is to keep these things brief and have a few safe non-book topics to fall back on - this is hard when you are totally surrounded by books and book people though.

All in all it was a lot of fun (although expensive fun). i hope one day to get such a trip paid for by the industry but i'm not holding my breath.

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