Years ago I used to network widely, attending conferences, workshops and festivals. But more recently, as I no longer live in Sydney (now Wollongong), I tend to network online. However, last weekend I attended the Kids and YA Writers' Festival held at the NSW Writers' Centre in Rozelle as I particularly wanted to catch up with manuscript assessment and course clients face-to-face, as well as to see author friends old and new.
About 120 people attended, most of whom I didn't know which indicated that many were would-be writers. The publishers' panel session was packed with writers hanging on to every word. 'We'll know it when we get it,' was the message about how publishers accept manuscripts, which confirms what I've always suspected. I think that publishers looking in the marketplace for books are like a woman in a dress shop knowing what the occasion is but not knowing exactly what she wants until she sees it.
Someone asked why publishers couldn't reply to manuscript submissions. 'We send out automatic acknowledgements,' one publisher said. The questioner continued, 'Why can't you do the same with rejections?' (which I think was a reasonable question) but she was fobbed off. Once in publishing, when an author submitted a manuscript not only was there an acknowledgement letter, but always there was a rejection (or an acceptance) letter. What has changed over time but manners?
The most interesting aspect of the day for me was the picture book pitch. All writers were invited to write their names on slips of paper earlier in the day. Three publishers sat on a podium as names were drawn one at the time from a hat. Those whose names were called were then given three minutes to pitch their picture book manuscript. About eight were chosen. All but one of them talked about their picture books. The odd person out did what seemed to me to be the most logical thing -- she used her three minutes to read her text. As a result, the audience (and the publishers) knew exactly what the book was about and how it was written. And the author had time left over.
I cannot understand how anyone with a picture book text does not read it when given the valuable opportunity to pitch. For me it's the difference between telling and showing. I highly recommend this method if you are ever given the opportunity. And then give a copy of the manuscript (with your contact details) to the publisher.