#SCBWICON16 Conference Report from the Wales Network: Picture Books and Illustrated Fiction

Picture Books and Illustrated Fiction

by Stephen Burgess 

I have a confession to make: I write children's fiction. I've spent six months telling this to family and friends as part of a commitment to nurture my writing in a more professional way. I also took the plunge and joined SCBWI. I then dived deeper and booked onto my first SCBWI conference. And so it was that I found myself seated, on a cold Winchester Saturday morning, with open notebook and poised pen, ready to experience my first SCBWI industry panel.  

Picture Books and Illustrated Fiction

The Picture Book and Illustrated Fiction panel consisted of Miranda Baker (from Nosy Crow); David McDougall (Walker Books); Caroline Walsh (David Higham Associates) and Polly Whybrow (Bloomsbury Children's Books). It was chaired by author/illustrator Mike Brownlow.

David McDougall and Caroline Walsh

The good news is that the markets for picture books and illustrated fiction are strong. However, a strong marketplace makes it ever more important for unpublished authors and illustrators to stand out among the thousands of submissions that agents and editors receive annually. The panel had some useful advice here. 
A good book has characters that engage the reader to root for them.

Key among this was engagement: a good book has characters that engage the reader to root for them; a good book for younger readers also engages parent and child with one another through reading. It was also interesting to note that in deciding what to publish, consideration is given to translatability: the book has to be able to sell well abroad.
Translatability: the book has to be able to sell well abroad.

As well as being informative, the session raised some interesting and important questions to reflect on. During the discussion, I was reminded of tensions that I have been struggling with while trying to map the publishing landscape. First, how do you balance finding your own creativity and voice with the need to be aware of the commercial interests that run through the publication process? Second, established authors and illustrators seem to be in a stronger position to push the boundaries and stand out than pre-published authors and illustrators, who are often encouraged to stick to guidelines and conventions. Any insights into these would be welcome - either in the comments or via Twitter!
Focus on strong ideas and engaging characters that make connections with readers.

Finally, thank you to Caroline, David, Miranda, Polly, Mike and the delegates who attended this session. The discussion was interesting and the panel left us with a key message: focus on strong ideas and engaging characters that make connections with readers. I'm back home now. It's a cold Cardiff Wednesday morning. And I'm reflecting on all I learned over the weekend and just trying to keep improving.

Stephen Burgess 
I have always written for pleasure, across a variety of formats.  This year I decided to focus on my writing for children. I have several picture book texts very near completion and a middle grade novel well underway. I have worked with young people in a variety of educational contexts for 22 years. I live in Cardiff with Anna and our sons, Ben and Sam. I joined SCBWI in September this year and Winchester 2016 was my first SCBWI conference. 

1 comment:

  1. Lots of top tips in here to keep in mind - thanks Stephen!


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