Debra Tidball ~
In 2014 I launched my first picture book, When I See Grandma. Besides a handful of family members and friends, getting anyone else to turn up to my launch was looking pretty grim. My only literary contact had been with a manuscript assessor I found via an internet search, and then email exchanges with my publisher, Wombat Books, based in a different state. I asked a musician friend to play at the launch, hoping for his sake, as well as mine, that he might help ‘pull a crowd.’ Sadly not. I felt awkward and as if I had inflicted myself on the local bookstore owner, and then spruiked my wares to his unsuspecting customers.
I did, however, have a back-up plan. I held stage 2 of the launch, piggy-backing onto the usual story-time slot at my hometown’s library, ensuring a captive audience of people I didn’t know! I’m thankful for libraries!
Fast forward three years and offers to help and host the launch of my second book were leaping out at me like the monsters from the pages of The Scared Book. The function space in a renowned children’s bookshop was packed out on the day, with a mosh pit of kids at the front and standing room only at the back, and all people I knew! The same handful of family and friends was this time bolstered by a community of literary connections, all of whom were there expressly to celebrate with me and cheer me on. I felt like I was embraced in a warm hug!
In the years between the first and second book launches, I discovered a rainbow of emotional support, industry insight and networks, writing advice and opportunities that shine from a writing community – something I have found sustaining and invaluable to my career as a writer.
So how did I get to that point? Here are my top tips for developing a writing community:
Join groups and associations
Find something that is relevant and accessible to you. My community began to develop online in the first instance. The internet allowed me to develop networks around family commitments – late at night or finding a few minutes throughout the day. I could pop online and contribute as and when I was able. It gave me the support and encouragement to persevere as a writer, and was also a way to find out about various opportunities.
The first Facebook group I joined was Just Write For Kids, and this is still my online heartland: a warm, welcoming and encouraging place to hang out. (They also have a webpage: http://www.justkidslit.com)
As family commitments changed over time, I attended occasional evening events. My local Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA) sub-branch was a perfect choice – not far to travel, only several events a year and a room full of welcoming and incredibly talented industry people. It’s where I met the owner of the bookshop who offered to host my second launch. I later joined the committee and am now the secretary!
I’m also a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and attend their Sydney events when I’m able. I was thrilled when the The Scared Book won the peer-voted Crystal Kite Award for Australia and New Zealand earlier in the year. I’m sure that being known in the community bolstered my chances.
I’m at a stage now where I belong to a regular evening writers’ group at Writing NSW. The benefits of this are innumerable!
Have fun and party!
Online, Facebook is like my workplace, but to have fun, I go to Twitter. I like the short, snappy posts that you can quickly scroll through and pass on – a bit like playing a game of ‘hot potato’ or ‘pass the parcel.’ It’s a great way to show your support for others by retweeting their tweets, and help spread the word about industry news, events and opportunities. You can even get ‘up close and personal’ with many literary heroes.
For those in the kid lit field, Picture Book Book Club @picturebookbc hosts the best online Twitter party each month. Share your thoughts and favourite books on a theme and interact with the guest author. You’ll be having fun and making new friends just like at a real party! (You can check out their webpage here.)
In the real world, I attend book launches that are close to home. I can network, take a social media post-worthy snap, and support others all in one.
Don’t be a silent partner. Don’t attend events and stick to yourself. Contribute! Share! Engage! It’s true – the more you give, the more you get back. I reckon life is a collaboration, not a competition.
Seize hold of opportunities when they appear. From my online community, I found out that the CBCA was looking for book reviewers – a fantastic way to a. find out about the latest trends in publishing, b. research how books work, c. start to develop an author presence, d. get free books. Winning on so many levels! It was also something I could do in my own time at home. Win again!
My Just Write for Kids Facebook group put out a call for regular bloggers. I put up my hand! Again, something to help develop my author presence. When I hit upon the idea to use my spot for interviews with up-and-coming children’s authors and illustrators about their path to publication, I was onto another winner – a way I could use my position to champion and encourage others – both the authors/illustrators and those who can learn from their experiences.
From my Twitter involvement, Nicole asked me to contribute to WordMothers, Picture Book Book Club invited me on as a guest, and I have been asked to present at various events.
My writing group paved the way for me to pitch The Scared Book to my publisher (you can read about that experience here: https://www.debratidball.com/blog/a-new-book-on-the-way).
Put yourself out there and people will find you. My challenge now is what to say yes to and what to allow to pass me by…
Wishing you a rainbow of writerly support!
— Debra Tidball
Debra Tidball is the author of award-winning The Scared Book and When I See Grandma. She has a particular passion for picture books -she believes they are for everyone. Her flash fiction and short stories have been published in anthologies and accepted in The School Magazine, and she blogs regularly over on the Just Write For Kids website. Debra is a qualified social worker with a Master of Arts in Children’s Literature. She is the wife of one, mother of two and caretaker to a menagerie of furry (and sometimes feathery) friends in suburban Sydney.