By Jacqueline Grima
Members of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and the Manchester Children’s Book Festival team gathered at Manchester Met this weekend for an event entitled The Author/Illustrator as a Brand.
Festival Director Kaye Tew said, “SCBWI have been partners of MCBF for a number of years. It is an organisation that supports emerging writers and illustrators and, as one of the aims of MCBF is to support new writing for children, we are delighted to be partnering with SCBWI for this event today.”
The aim of the event was to explore the concept of the author as ‘a brand’ and to look at ways in which an new author can promote themselves and their work. A panel of experts invited to discuss issues surrounding promotion and marketing included literary agents Penny Holroyde and Sinead Heneghan, editing consultant Tilda Johnson and children’s author and Manchester Met Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing Livi Michael.
SCWBI’s New Regional Network Organiser Catherine Whitmore said, “We are very grateful that, with the backing of MCBF, we have been able industry experts to the North West and give emerging children’s writers and illustrators access to their expertise.”
The panel began by talking about how successful writers, such as children’s author Jacqueline Wilson, market themselves. Livi Michael said, “Jacqueline Wilson became a brand almost before the word ‘brand’ was being used. She would dress in a particular way. She would sign books for over a thousand children and put something different in each one.”
She added, “She created herself. She will be forever remembered in the canon of children’s literature.”
Another writer who appears to have been successful as a brand is The Gruffalo author Julia Donaldson. As Penny Holroyde said, “I’ve seen her at the end of a two week book tour and it’s like the very first show.”
The panel then went on to discuss how emerging authors can best market themselves. Penny said, “You are a brand from Book One. That’s how the publishers are trying to position the author now.”
Referring to how difficult writers often find it to promote themselves, Livi said, “We have a cultural inclination not to promote ourselves. We’re terrified of rejection.”
She added, “You can do it with practice. You can identify what is different about you as a writer.”
Other subjects discussed included the use of social media to promote work and the importance of having your work critiqued, whether that be a through a network like SCBWI, a writing group or a creative writing course. Livi said, “It’s important to get to that point where you share your work and have other people read it. You don’t have the right amount of perspective on your own work.”
After the panel discussion, guests had the opportunity to meet with the experts for a face-to-face discussion about their own works-in-progress. Asked what she was expecting from the one-to-one sessions, Manchester Literary Agent Sinead Heneghan said, “I’m really looking forward to talking to the SCBWI writers about their work. What I’ve been given to read so far is 90% better than a lot of the stuff that is submitted to me and I think that comes from having a supportive writing network like SCBWI.”