Welcome to the first episode of Publishing Pros! In this episode, I interview Penni Russon, a prolific Australian YA author, editor and creative writing teacher.
A: Hi everyone, and welcome to Publishing Pros! In this podcast, I will be speaking with professionals in the publishing industry.
A: Today’s guest is Penni Russon, a prolific Australian young adult author, freelance editor and creative writing teacher at the University of Melbourne. She’s best known for her Undine trilogy and has contributed to publications like Kill Your Darlings and The Australian Review of Fiction.
A: Why did you choose to work in children’s and YA fiction?
P: I feel like children’s and YA fiction chose me. So I had a genuine passion for the genre beyond kind of looking at what kids might like and thinking just about my own tastes and my own aesthetic. So yeah, I never stopped reading kids and young adult literature. I did a practical placement subject, which is basically an unpaid internship, at Allen and Unwin with their children’s and young adult section.
A: Did your internship sort of cement your calling?
P: Basically my first day, I stood there with the publisher and editorial assistant and we were looking at the books on the shelf, and I had read nearly all of them. So, really, I just had that interest.
A: What would the Australian market is like for children’s and young adult fiction?
P: At the moment, it’s a pretty tough market. I think there has always been a lot of interest in books being published in Australia in young adult fiction and there always will be. But I think there’s also a… maybe a reluctance from publishers at the moment to take on young adult titles and more interest in middle grade.
A: And what ages would you say middle grade applies to?
P: Eight to fourteen, which sounds like a massive age gap because eight-year-olds are so different from fourteen-year-olds. But those sort of books that sit kind of more in what I would have thought of as classic children’s literature.
A: What about books for even younger children?
P: Picture book market at the moment, I think, is very much centered around early childhood books. We’re at a time where publishers aren’t taking a lot of risks. Having said that, I do think that any really great book that’s written in Australia will get published. I don’t think that publishers would turn down a really fantastic book.
A: Would you say that publishers are taking fewer risks because of the pandemic, or is this a general decline?
P: I think there was already a bit of a downward turn and a sort of move towards commercially driven decisions.
A: Why is that?
P: The market in Australia is very much driven by two types of bookselling. One is the indies, and one is the mass market, like Big W. There’s not a lot in between. There used to be a lot more in between with Borders.
P: That Big W market does the same in books as it does in clothes or toys. It’s very much a conservative idea of what children’s tastes are.
A: I think that quality versus commercial is always going to be a struggle. So I think I’ll round off with my final question: if you had to give one piece of advice to someone who wants to break into the Australian market as a children’s author, what would you say?
P: I’d say write books that you’re passionate about. Like, be true to yourself and be true to the child that you were. Thinking about the books that you sought out as a kid, but at the same time, I think, also thinking about the contemporary child experience. So not getting bogged down in nostalgia, really thinking through, like, “What did I love about it?” and how would that translate to a contemporary child reader.
A: Well, thank you so much for being on my podcast, Penni! I really appreciated your time here, and I think this has been super informative. So thank you so much!
P: Cool, okay, bye!