A lot of teachers are members of Write Links and other writing groups. Their career has obviously been helpful as they know their audience. How has your career influenced your writing?
The jobs I've done in the past have been a big influence when it comes to my author path and my writing. I actually think that everything I did before I became an author was setting me up for this career, and is a massive help now.
For example, I worked in publishing, for Pan Macmillan and for Taltrade Books (now called Hardie Grant Gift). At Pan Macmillan, I was initially a publishing assistant, working for the Publishing Director, two different publishers, and the Production Supervisor. I worked on editorial tasks; chatted with authors; learnt about how print runs and reprints are decided; interacted with the sales, graphic design, marketing and publicity teams; and just generally learnt about how books are commissioned and published. Later, as a sales rep, I got to see how things worked on the other side of things, for bookshops and department and discount stores. After that, as a sales rep for Taltrade Books, I repped into non-bookstore outlets, such as gift shops, clothing stores, toy shops, chemists, hospitals, nurseries etc., and learned how books also get sold in non-traditional ways.
During my career I worked in marketing and PR roles, too, which taught me about how to work with journalists, plan and host events, create marketing materials, and research relevant media outlets. For five years I also ran my own online gift store. During this time I learned about setting up websites, search engine optimisation, online advertising, selling online etc. I also did a lot of writing and marketing, including pitching to journalists to get press placements.
My career has also included stints spent working in chain, independent, and second-hand bookstores. Plus, for the past five years I've been a full-time freelance writer, creating content for companies around the world.
All of this experience has had an impact on my author journey, as you can imagine. It effects both how I go about writing, and what I choose to write about. I think I come at things with a more business mindset than a lot of authors…which can be both a good thing and a bad thing!
Since you are so knowledgeable about the industry, do you ever have a battle between your heart and your head, over which way a story should develop?
Sometimes. Honestly, though, I pretty much think about how things will sell whenever I’m working on an idea or writing or editing a story. If I don’t think something has enough commercial appeal (in that it will be popular with both kids and adults, for a particular reason), I usually won’t spend time working on it further.
I have so many ideas, and not enough time to write, that I don’t have a problem with dropping things I don’t think will ever be published. Plus, as a freelance writer I’m very used to writing to someone else’s brief, and thinking about what others are looking for, rather than myself, so I think this makes it easy for me to be more objective.
Sometimes I wonder if I would be better off just writing purely from the heart (and I know a lot of authors recommend this), but I feel that facing commercial realities will help me to become a full-time author sooner than if I didn’t.
Someone else, with very different goals, will probably look at the writing process in a very different way, though. We all have an individual path to take, so I think it’s important to be aware of what yours is, and follow it. An approach that’s natural and works for me won’t be suitable for someone else, and vice versa.
Is your freelance writing work for children?
Most of my freelance writing work over the years has been corporate, so writing for businesses and individuals for a professional reason. However, I have done some freelance work that has been specifically for children, whether for a potential TV show, as part of a marketing campaign for a children’s product, or for apps and stories and the like. I hope to increase the amount of freelance work that is specifically kidlit related as time goes on.
Has your experience prepared you for being on the other side of the slush pile when you are sending your work in?
Definitely! I understand how publishers and bookshops (and other sales outlets) work, and what kinds of things they're looking for, plus I have an idea of how to pitch a story and what things to focus on. I’m aware of how important marketability and being commercial is, and I don't take rejections too personally because I understand all the steps involved.
During my career I always felt like I was searching for something, and not quite fitting in or finding exactly what I was after. I’d also been interested in being a writer but, to be honest, after working in publishing I saw just how hard it is to become a full-time author, and this put me off writing for around a decade.
Looking back now, though, I think everything I did over the years in my career prepared me to become an author now. I spent close to 20 years getting ready, lol! I don’t think I would have been ready earlier, and even though it took me a long time to start actually believing in myself enough to write my own books and put myself “out there”, once I did things moved along reasonably quickly.
I think the more aspiring authors can learn about the publishing industry and all the facets that are involved in being an author besides writing (that is, the business side of things), the easier their journey will be.
In your recently published picture book, the Cloud Conductor, the main character, Frankie, is very optimistic, despite her circumstances. Do you call on some of this optimism to deal with rejections and other complications in the journey to get your current works published?
Yes, for sure. I like to think I'm an optimistic person in general. I have worked hard to hone this trait in myself. I think, naturally, I can be quite melancholy at times, but I've learned how to take care of myself better, and how to handle down times and challenges more effectively than I used to. Truth be told, I actually probably spent more time working on my mindset before I picked up a pen to write a manuscript, then I have on the words and ideas themselves.
I think you have to build up your confidence, self-esteem, and resilience if you want to become an author, because there are always plenty of rejections to handle along the way. I was fortunate in that my first book contract happened quickly, but since then, I've had plenty of rejections, disappointments and other challenges to cope with.
If I hadn't worked on myself beforehand, I think I would have given up on certain manuscripts, and perhaps not even kept working on new ideas and stories either. Happily, I've found the confidence to try new styles, formats and techniques, writing wise. I wouldn't have done this if I didn't have ways of reminding myself that it's okay to "fail" as I go along.
ieanielle Freeland recently reviewed Cloud Conductor on Story Links https://storylinksau.com/2018/06/27/cloud-conductor/ and had some questions to ask Kellie.
What was your motivation behind writing Cloud Conductor?
Cloud Conductor was the first real idea I ever had for a picture book. It came about from reading an article about a sick child. It immediately hit me how hard it must be for kids who are unwell and who can’t do the things they normally love. From here, I thought about how their imagination would be one of the best things they could use to cope with this challenge.
I know how important creativity is to me, and how the imagination can help with tough times, so I thought this would be a good topic to address in a picture book. Kids need to be encouraged to see their imagination as a wonderful thing, not a bad thing!
I think we live in a society where, in general, a lot more focus is put on supposedly practical subjects and practices; creativity is often looked down upon. Kids often come out of school having lost a lot of that wonderful imagination they had when they were little, which is so sad.
But the fact is: creativity is a very important tool. It has been proven to help with both our physical and mental health, plus of course it aids us to solve problems in life and at work, and much more. I’m loving the fact that with Cloud Conductor I can spread the message to children (and hopefully remind adults, too) that the imagination is a gift to cherish.
Frankie doesn't appear to get better in the book. Is Frankie terminally ill?
Well, that’s a matter of opinion! Different people see this differently after reading the book. It was purposely left up to the reader to decide. I know how I originally saw this story in my head, but I’m not going to talk about it here, as I think it’s good for each reader to interpret things in the way that works for them.
What were you most hoping to achieve in sharing Frankie's journey?
A big goal for this book was, as mentioned above, showcasing how wonderful the imagination is. I also hope the book can be a source of hope, inspiration, and entertainment for sick children. In addition, I think the story can serve as a prompt for discussions in schools, libraries, and at home for all children about topics and themes such as illness, empathy, resilience, supporting others, mindfulness, the seasons, and much more. From the feedback I have received so far, I think my hopes are being turned into reality, which is wonderful!
Interview by Lucy McGinley https://www.brisbanewritelinks.com/lucy-mcginley.html