Wombat Books is a uniquely Australian independent publishing house that focuses on publishing quality children’s picture books. AWM intern TJ Wilkshire recently took five with publisher Rochelle Manners to discuss the running of a publishing business and the process of bringing a children’s book into print.
You founded Wombat Books some time ago. How did it come about?
Wombat Books came about as I explored the publishing world, myself wanting to be an author. Throughout that process I discovered my passion for business, my entrepreneurial skills, my interest in books and it just came together quite naturally. Then it expanded from there. I had a lot to learn about publishing and I have really enjoyed the journey I have taken to grow an independent publishing house.
I initially started in children’s books and some young adult fantasy but I merged into what we are now: Primarily children’s picture books (many with gentle issues presented in a way that will appeal to general readers), fun and inspiring early readers and we are now opening up to new contemporary middle fiction. Through our imprint Rhiza Press we publish fiction for young adult and a few adult fiction titles.
What do you look for when looking through submissions for potential books? Do you look for storylines relevant to current issues, like bullying, racism, and gender equality?
I look for an inspiring and engaging style. I would like to find a story that is easy to read, has a natural style, and that also engages and relates to the reader. If an issue is presented, that issue needs to be naturally integrated into the story and appeal to a wider audience than the target audience only. The issue also needs to be not forced. If it is meant to be in the story it will fit without sounding like it is being preached to the reader.
How important do you think it is for children of all ages and demographics to have access to books? Do you think there are any ways to widen children’s reading?
I love to hear stories about people learning to read, developing their reading skills or growing in their love of reading if they have read one of our books. So I believe it is important. I create books for a love of words, a love of creativity and a love of imagination. I love to foster that creativity and imagination in children no matter where they come from. Providing stories that children connect with is one way I think we can help widen reading.
Where do you see the future of children’s publishing heading? Do you think it will become more digital based, or do children and young adults still like the physical material of a book?
There is so much differing research on the digital development of books for children and I have investigated some of it, but I don’t pretend to know the answer to this. While I think there is a place for the digital experience for children, creativity and imagination comes in so many forms. I think I cater my production of stories in a way that it is less about the medium a child reads or explores on and more about what they are reading and exploring. As a result I will continue to produce physical books with characters and stories that I hope they will love. In the future we are looking at creating more digital opportunities for engagement as well.
What advice can you give to writers wanting to start writing children’s books? Perhaps to those who don’t have children, experience with children, or have previously only written adult fiction?
Start writing something you want to write. Don’t try to write to a trend or try to guess what someone likes. Sometimes writing is just for yourself, sometimes writing is to be shared. Explore your desires in writing. If you don’t have an interest in children’s writing it is ok to focus on adult fiction. And vice versa. I think that because this industry is built on creativity and so much passion you have to do what you love. At the same time you have to be willing to have your stories broken down and rewritten if it is to go into the bigger market.
Separately if you really want to make being a children’s writer a career attend events, meet other authors, research publishers, buy Australian children’s books that are current and being published. Research the industry.
You can learn more about Wombat Books here.
TJ Wilkshire is a twenty-something Brisbane based artist and writer. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Writing and English Literature and is currently studying the WEP Masters at the University of Queensland. Her work focuses on birds and she hopes to one-day turn into one. Wilkshire’s poetry has been published in Peril and Uneven Floor, and won the NotJack Competition.