Imagining the Past Podcast Series

Historical Novel Society Australasia (HNSA) is proud to announce the release of an 'Imagining the Past' podcast series and interviews which feature several SCBWI members. The podcasts are a foretaste of the novelists speaking at the 2017 HNSA Conference in Melbourne from 8-10 September at Swinburne University, Hawthorn. More information about the programme is available at their website. 

Imagining the Past Podcast Series: Sophie Masson

Sophie Masson was born in Indonesia of French parents and brought up in France and Australia, Sophie Masson is the award-winning and internationally-published author of over 60 books for children, young adults and adults. Her historical novel for children, The Hunt for Ned Kelly, won the Patricia Wrightson Prize in the NSW Premier's Literary Awards in 2011, while her alternative history novel for young adults, The Hand of Glory, won an Aurealis Award and her historical fantasy trilogy, Forest of Dreams, has been translated into several languages. Sophie's newest novel is Jack of Spades, a historical spy novel for young adults, coming out with Eagle Books in 2017. Sophie is also co-founder and director of small-press publishing house, Christmas Press, and serves on the Boards of the Australian Society of Authors, the Small Press Network and the New England Writers' Centre.You can connect with Sophie via her websiteblogFacebook or Twitter

Podcast with Sophie Masson 
Kelly Gardiner talks with publisher and novelist Sophie Masson about aspects of publishing and writing historical fiction for children and young adults.

Don't miss the HNSA interviews with SCBWI members Libby Hathorn and Pamela Rushby

Interview with Libby Hathorn 
Libby is an award-winning author of more than sixty books for children and young people. Translated into several languages and adapted for stage and screen, her work has won honours in Australia, United States, Great Britain and Holland. She wrote Way Home illustrated by Greg Rogers which won the Kate Greenaway Award UK; her first YA novel Thunderwith was made a movie by Hallmark Hall of Fame; and her opera libretto ‘Grandma’s Shoes’ won her an AWGIE. She has also acted as Judge for NSW Premier’s Awards and for various poetry awards.  Her most recent novel is Eventual Poppy Day (Harper Collins), shortlisted SWW Biennial Awards. Her most recent picturebooks are: Incredibilia (Hardie Grant Egmont) shortlisted Queensland Premier’s Awards, 2016; A Soldier a Dog and a Boy (Hachette) CBCA Notable Book, 2017, and Outside (Hardie Grant Egmont) CBCA, Notable Book 2016, soon to be a children’s opera with music by Elena Katz Chernin. You can connect with Libby via her website and blogFacebook and Twitter @poetrywizard. Her entire book list is available here.

Interview with Pamela Rushby 
Pamela Rushby is the author of over 200 books for children and young adults, as well as children's TV scripts, documentaries, short stories and freelance journalism. Pam has been an advertising copywriter, pre-school teacher, and producer of educational television, audio and multimedia. She has won several awards, including the NSW Premier's Ethel Turner Prize, four CBCA Notable Books – and a bag of gold coins at a film festival in Iran! Pam believes the strangest, most riveting, heart-breaking, laugh-out-loud stories aren't fiction. They're real. They come from history. And she loves tripping over unusual incidents from history – and then writing about them. You can connect with Pamela via Facebook or her website.

The Historical Novel Society Australasia is open to all enthusiasts of the historical fiction genre world wide. Join their FACEBOOK GROUP for discussions on history, writing, reading, and publishing historical fiction. Connect at or contact at

Interviews with Industry Leaders: Mallory Kass

Mallory KassCommissioning Editor, Scholastic Press USA
Mallory edits middle grade and young adult fiction with a focus on magical realism, fantasy, and contemporary with a twist. Her titles include the New York Times bestseller A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd, Horses of the Dawn by bestselling author Kathryn Lasky, Fortune Falls by Jenny Goebel (Indie Next Pick), Rootless by Chris Howard (PW Flying Start), and The Sin Eater’s Daughter by Melinda Salisbury (Edgar Award Nominee). She loves rich world-building, magic in unexpected places, Gothic touches, and heart-expanding emotion.

 Mallory Kass, Commissioning editor for Scholastic USA

Mallory Kass, Commissioning editor for Scholastic USA

What sort of opening pages 'grab' you?

I believe that the first few pages should showcase what’s special about the manuscript. So, if your book is special because it’s funny, then ideally, the opening will make me laugh. If your book is scary, then something in the first few pages should send shivers down my spine. If your book is poignant, then there should be an observation or description that plucks at my heartstrings.

I’m also looking for characters I want to spend time with. If I acquire a manuscript, I’m going to read it about 10 times before it’s published, so it’s important for me to feel a deep connection with the protagonist, for their voice to grab me. I tend to fall hard for characters who see the world a little differently than I do—who see beauty, irony, ugliness, or power in places I’d never think to look. 

I also think it’s important for the opening to reveal:

A)     The main character’s central emotional conflict: what he or she wants (to make a friend, to fit in, to stand out, to build a better life for their family etc.)

B)     What’s going to happen if they don’t get it (the school year will be terrible, someone will suffer etc.)

When you receive a manuscript, how long will you read on before you put it aside?

I always read at least fifty pages.

If a manuscript is not ready yet, but you love the voice, would you return it? Make suggestions? Re-look at it? What time frame?

If the voice is stellar, but the plot needs work, I might ask for a non-contractual revision so that the author has the chance to get the manuscript to a place where I can share it with my acquisitions committee.

How important is the agent's pitch?  Can they re-pitch it?
The agent’s pitch can get me excited to read a manuscript quickly, and make me move it to the top of my increasingly large pile. However, I read submissions on my kindle and generally don’t forward the pitch along with the manuscript, so by the time I start reading, I’ve generally forgotten the pitch and am reading blind, which I like as it keeps me unbiased.

Fantasy is a successful genre, but the challenge is how to make it different to the plethora of fantasy books on the market. What do you look for?

Great question! I’m looking for rich world-building, especially settings beyond the western European/medieval norms. I’m also looking for characters with compelling voices, strong emotional drives, and unique ways of looking at the world. Basically, if your character is someone I want to spend time with, then it doesn’t really matter whether their quest feels a little familiar. However, I am getting a little tired of manuscripts that open with a girl navigating a busy marketplace. I know it’s a great way to showcase the politics, geography, and culture of your fictional world, but I’m ready for a different kind of introduction!

YA fiction ranges from 12 to 18 year old readers (and older). What do you want in the 12-14 year age group?  What do you want in the 15 plus age group?

I want writers to tell the most honest, authentic version of their story possible. Nothing is off limits as long the issues feel pertinent to the characters, and they’re able to engage with those questions sincerely.

Is the market more interested in stand-alone books, or series? Is it different in middle grade and YA markets?

This varies a lot by publisher and editor, but I love to see standalone books with series potential, especially for YA and older middle grade.

What do you expect authors and illustrators to do to promote their books?

Keep writing! The most important thing you can do to support your first book is to write your second book. With the frenzy of activity happening on social media, it’s easy to start fixating on twitter or instagram followers, but none of that is nearly as important as producing a fantastic follow-up.

That said, there are certainly useful things you can do. If you write books for younger children (i.e. middle grade or younger), it’s great to have an engaging presentation ready for school visits. Slideshows, demonstrations, and writing/drawing activities can be great for getting kids excited about your work and your characters. If you write YA and feel at ease on social media, twitter and instagram can be a rewarding way to connect with readers and with fellow authors. However, this only works if you feel comfortable talking about things unrelated to your books, as no one wants to follow someone who only tweets about their writing.

Any comments you believe will be helpful to authors.

My colleague, Cheryl Klein, just published a phenomenal book on writing for children called THE MAGIC WORDS. It’s the most valuable resourced I can think of for someone who’s serious about taking their writing to the next level.

Chapter Two: International Skype Session with Suzanne Murphy and Cristina Cappelluto

 Suzanne Murphy, President and Publisher of HarperCollins Children's Books USA

Suzanne Murphy, President and Publisher of HarperCollins Children's Books USA

We had the pleasure of seeing Christina Cappelluto in the flesh and Suzanne Murphy via Skype for this session. Susanne Gervay chaired the session with her wit and pertinent questions.

Overview of HarperCollins global?

  • Suzanne said they publish 600 books a year.
  • They have branches all over the world. Soon they will be celebrating 200 years of publishing.
  • The Harper Brothers started Harper & Rowe, amalgamated with William Collins in UK, and Angus & Robertson in Australia back in 1879.
  • They are the home of literary and contemporary legends.
  • The A & R imprint still exists. All Australian imprints are published under A & R.  
  • Since acquisition of Harlequin and ABC Books, now seeing more authors published into international foreign countries. It is a very exciting time to be published with HC internationally.

Their goal is to promote authors worldwide. They always look to acquire world rights; coordinating global publications is more and more important nowadays because of worldwide reach of social media. For example, Epic Reads has 2 million (young adult) audience.

Susanne asked if there is an opportunity for middle grade in social media.

 Cristina Cappelluto, Children's Publishing Director HarperCollins Australia   

Cristina Cappelluto, Children's Publishing Director HarperCollins Australia


Suzanne said there is, for example, Rick Riordan who has been very successful using these platforms (Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Facebook). They encourage authors to promote themselves online. There are gatekeepers such as teachers, librarians and parents. Whatever age group you have you should try to have an authentic online presence. Teachers, librarians and parents are online so worthwhile pursuing.

Christina said the middle grade platform is Instagram rather than Facebook. She said it is important to be aware of the platforms your target audience are using.

What are the strategies for publishing globally in Australia and America?

  • Barnes & Nobles is their biggest bookshops chain.
  • Amazon dominate in print and ebooks. Independent booksellers have had a decrease in book sales but recently they are reviving.
  • They’ve always had solid sales selling into schools.
  • Much of their sales are driven by the backlist such as ‘Where the Wild Things Are’; these backlists feed new talent.
  • From a publicity and marketing perspective there hasn’t been a better time to introduce new authors.

Christina said they’re always looking for the next best books and keep working with their authors and building their careers. This is a very long game and they approach it as a partnership.

If you find an Australian star will it go globally or is it more generated from the USA?

More books come out of the USA market because it is a bigger market. They love to work with HarperCollins Australia and their authors. Always looking for great authors and great stories wherever they come from.

How are you pursuing multi-platforms?

  • Christina said they have been acquiring more film and TV rights when they sign up new novels or works. They’ve been having some success with that.
  • They have connections with Fox (which is owned by Murdoch).
  • Harper Lee Film World are looking for books frequently. They can see the value of building on the book world fan interest. Her favourite in local market is ‘The Giver’ by Lois Lowry. Up until the film release, retail sales were minimal in comparison to the educational sales. Once the film came out that changed.
  • She said sometimes it is like a lottery getting your books made into films.

Christina said they are collaborating with HC USA at the point of acquisition. Recently they had a middle grade author’s new book series that they were very excited about. They immediately communicated with HC USA and asked them to look at it and they came back and said yes, they absolutely wanted it. It works better for all of them if they collaborate like this.

The next best option is to secure world rights if HC USA is not interested, they then on sell it to other publishing houses.

What are you looking for?

  • People should write what they are compelled to right.
  • They are always looking for great stories and unique voices.
  • You need to be aware of the market but write what you are inspired to write. There are certain markets, demographics and trends that are happening but you have to be very careful.
  • It all comes down to the story and if it moves the editor and sales person.
  • You need to be savvy to break in but when it comes to your writing – you need to write what you are compelled to write whether it is from your experience or your imagination.

There has been a growth in celebrity publishing is that happening there?

  • There are many trends in publishing; the new celebrities are You Tube stars. They’ve had tremendous success with those stars.
  • They are self-made, they get involved with their books more than you might think.
  • Not every celebrity can get a book deal, unless they’ve got millions of fans online.
  • There are some celebrities who are good writers and it is of course easier for them to get published.

Are they open to stories set in Asia? Is that included in ‘we love diversity’?

Christina said they are interested. They have Harper 360 to distribute/export Australian books into the UK, America and Asia. Suzanne said they are interested too.

Australia is looking at the removal of parallel importation making free trade – fair use – we are wondering how that will impact on Australian book sales.

Christina said they’ve been fighting against it. It undervalues intellectual copyright. It has two impacts on publishers.

  1. Firstly, it removes territorial copyright, and opens it up for retailers to source books anywhere from the world.
  2. Secondly, it could influence more successful authors as a retailer can buy their books more cheaply in the US than here. (Not necessarily cheaper in USA, but they might be remaindered or effectively dumped internationally.)

Presently we can protect our market and don’t have territorial rights. Under the new changes we can’t stop that at all. The return to you all as creators would be diminished as well. You’d get export royalties which are often considerably less than local royalties.

Is America open to Australian landscapes and animals?

Suzanne said yes they’re open to great stories. Not necessarily a non-fiction book about that setting or animals but if it is a great fictional story.

The audience talked afterwards about how reassuring it is that Australian stories can travel globally if written well.

Maria Gill Roving Reporter