Got a finished manuscript you’re hoping to submit? Wondering what you need to do to ensure you give yourself the greatest chance of success? Ever wanted to know which Queer characters are Nicola Santilli’s favourites? Get YA Words Out was lucky enough to interview the aforementioned Nicola Santilli, Junior Editor at Walker Books Australia, to pick her brain about publishing AusQueerYA (and which Queer characters are her favourites).
GYWO: Hi Nicola! Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me today.
NS: Thanks so much for having me!
GYWO: You wear many hats in the YA industry, but today I want to focus on your role as Junior Editor at Walker Books. Can you tell us what your job entails and how you got into that position?
NS: Walker Books Australia publishes children’s literature for readers aged 0 to 18. As Junior Editor, I edit a range of books from picture books to young adult fiction. In addition to supporting our award-winning Editorial and Design teams, I also manage the monthly Walker Wednesday submission program. Every day I work with amazing local authors to bring their fantastic stories to life. I’m pretty sure I have the best job in the world!
My journey to my current position is pretty standard for the industry. I studied a Bachelor of Arts degree, then a Master of Publishing degree, before successfully applying for an entry-level position at Walker. After years of experience I was eventually promoted to my current role. There are many pathways into the industry besides tertiary qualifications. I recommend book-related experience (bookselling, volunteering at libraries) and internship placements at publishing houses.
GYWO: Walker Wednesday is open to young adult (YA) and middle-grade (MG) manuscripts. The website mentions that Walker is “particularly interested in submissions with diverse characters and/or written by diverse authors”. Why was this important to note?
NS: Walker is perhaps most well-known for its award-winning picture books, but we also have many award-winning novels on our list (for example, Meg McKinlay’s A Single Stone has won or been short-listed for every literary award in Australia!). We wanted to find fresh new voices to bring to our lists and we felt that, for some reason, we weren’t receiving many fiction submissions. So Walker Wednesday was created to tap specifically into these areas – MG and YA. This monthly call-out for manuscripts from Australian and New Zealand authors is open on the first Wednesday of every month. You can read more about the submission guidelines on the official website.
When it comes to submissions, all of the editors at Walker have their own particular areas of interest, just like any other publishing house. Personally, I am interested in receiving #ownvoices submissions from queer writers, disabled writers, Indigenous writers and writers of colour. I feel strongly that stories, and stories for children and teens in particular, should reflect the diversity of the world we live in.
GYWO: What are some books you’d like to be reading? What stories do you think are missing from #AusQueerYA?
NS: First and foremost, Walker would like to read submissions with strong writing, engaging characters and well-developed world-building. We want voices that grab us, characters that we can fall in love (or hate) with and worlds that feel tangible.
For my part, I would like to see more genre submissions – horror, science fiction and fantasy – and graphic novels. Historically, it has been difficult for genre YA to break out in Australia. But the tide has begun to turn; just look at the recent success of Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff. And Walker has recently acquired Small Spaces by debut author Sarah Epstein, a #LoveOzYA psychological thriller.
As for #AusQueerYA, I would personally like to see more #ownvoices stories about intersex, trans and non-binary characters, and more on-page representation of bisexuality, arosexuality and asexuality. In my opinion there is also a shocking lack of intersectional representation in traditionally published Australian YA, so I would love to see that be actively addressed.
GYWO: Who are your favourite #AusQueerYA authors?
NS: Over the past year I was lucky enough to work on Nevo Zisin’s ground-breaking gender memoir, Finding Nevo. Nevo is a young queer, transmasculine non-binary writer and activist. I’ve already heard anecdotes about how the book has changed the lives of trans and non-binary teens, which is amazing. Nev is an author to watch!
I’ve also recently enjoyed some scifi #AusQueerYA. Ida, by non-binary author Alison Evans, has a great mystery and a plethora of interesting queer and gender diverse characters. And if you haven’t read the award-winning novella Welcome to OrphanCorp and its sequel Psynode by Marlee Jane Ward then you absolutely need to get on it! Short, but packs a punch. I cannot wait for the third book in this series.
(GYWO Note: We love ALL of these. Check out the Read page for reviews)
GYWO: Favourite Queer character in a movie/book (doesn’t have to be YA)?
NS: What a question! I’ll mention a few… Books: Mirii from OrphanCorp, Frank from Ida, A from Every Day (David Levithan), Haruka Tenou & Michiru Kaiou from Sailor Moon (Naoko Takeuchi). TV: Captain Jack Harkness from Doctor Who/Torchwood, Titus Andromedon from The Unbrekable Kimmy Schmidt, Kalinda Sharma from The Good Wife, Captain Holt from Brooklyn 99, Alex Sanvers from Supergirl.
GYWO: What advice can you give emerging authors who are ready to submit their manuscripts?
NS: Make sure you really are ready to submit. Have you read through and edited your manuscript several times? Have you read it out loud? Have you had other people (friends, family, critique partners, beta readers, sensitivity readers) read it and provide comments? Have you reworked the story, incorporating their feedback? Is the length of your story reflective of market expectations? Have you finalised your cover letter? Can you summarise your story in 200 words? Can you do an elevator pitch (one-liner) of your story? Do you know where the story sits in the market? What are the comparison/competitive titles and authors?
If you can’t answer all of these questions with confidence, perhaps you are not ready to submit. Agents and editors are overwhelmed with submissions every day, so you need to make sure your manuscript and cover letter are in as good shape as possible before you submit. You may only get one chance to show your work.
GYWO: As an editor, what are common mistakes writers make in their manuscript submissions?
NS: One of the biggest mistakes is writers submitting stories that simply aren’t ready. Sometimes it’s easy for an editor to spot, like a 120,000-word long YA submission when YA usually caps out at around 70,000 words. Perhaps the writer doesn’t understand the market, or possibly hasn’t read much YA. Other times it can be structural issues with the manuscript, such as the pacing faltering halfway through or the ending falling flat and leaving the reader unsatisfied. Publishing is not a race. Take the time to get your manuscript into the right shape before submitting.
Another common mistake is writers submitting to the wrong person. Just like when applying for a job, you need to do research. Does this particular publishing house publish the kind of stories you want to write? If they only publish kids’ and YA literature, like Walker, then don’t send them something for an adult audience. Has this publishing house published something similar in plot to what you have written? If yes, they are probably not interested in your story, as the stories would compete against each other within the company. Do your research. Submit strategically.
GYWO: How do you think we as a community can improve the state of publishing for Queer writers and for the #AusQueerYA category?
NS: It sounds cynical, but you have to remember that publishing is first and foremost a business. Publishing houses listen to the market, and what the market wants. So if you want to support #AusQueerYA, you need to champion it with everything you have. Write it, submit it, read it, review it, borrow it, buy it! Don’t stop talking about it! Let your love for #AusQueerYA shine brightly.