Date of Success:
Dannika Patterson is an award-winning writer with a passion for connecting children to nature, through literature.
Her recent titles include Jacaranda Magic (2018), My Tribe (2019) and SeaSpray17 (2019), and she has five new children's titles scheduled for release in the first half of 2020, both in Australia and internationally.
Dannika combines her love of storytelling with an 18-year professional writing history, creating engaging, cross-platform content for businesses. In 2019, she was recognised for her 'Contribution to the Arts in Queensland' with an MBC Queenslander of the Year award. Dannika loves every aspect of being a children's author, especially running workshops with primary school aged children.
WHAT CYA CONFERENCE DID FOR ME
CYA gave me a good kick up the proverbial.
I set off to my very first CYA in 2017, completely over-optimistic and totally under-prepared.
I had no idea what to expect of the day, it being my first in the writing-for-children space. I had attended plenty of conferences in my previous corporate life, where I often held meetings in Vegas/London/Miami/LA, with heads of content development from the likes of Disney and Universal Music and struck some wonderful partnership deals on behalf of the company I worked for at the time. No stress, all business. So, I didn't think that attending a small publishing conference in my home town, to learn from industry professionals and have a few manuscript assessments with editors would raise a sweat. I also (honestly and naively) thought I would be able to talk at least one of the editors into signing me. On the spot. Only six months after I had *officially* decided to give this writing for children gig a red hot go (*after 15 years of unofficially talking myself in and out of it).
I was wrong.
What I didn't consider back in 2017 was that everything that I had done before was about representing my company. Even later, as a freelance writer, the focus was always on my clients and how to tell their story effectively. But this was just me. These were my stories. Little pieces of my soul offered up on sheets of paper. This was intensely personal.
I had three picture book manuscripts assessments at CYA 2017 and I entered a story into the Picture Book competition. The editors gave me some feedback. My favourite comment from that year was, 'This is not a story. This is a list.' Ouch! No contracts and no invitations to resubmit. I did not place in the competition. I attended presentations, filled my notebook with advice, met some awesome creatives, forgot to eat or drink properly and went home with a massive head-spin/stomach ache situation. I wallowed a little bit that evening, because the day hadn't met my expectations.
But when I woke up the following day, I had a fire in my belly. Overnight, my subconscious had been at work, sifting everything I had heard the day before and it had found a place to settle. I took a few pieces of key advice to heart. I disregarded the rest. And then I got to work.
I wrote and rewrote. I submitted. I didn't take 'I don't think so...' for an answer (sorry, Paul!). I landed a contract with Ford Street Publishing for my debut picture book Jacaranda Magic in September 2017\. The same month, I was notified that this manuscript had placed 76th in the CYA competition just a few months prior. I smiled and took this as an important reminder - all art is subjective.
In 2018 I was back at CYA and this time, I had a wonderful experience because my expectations of the day were more realistic and were met. I went purely to learn and to meet wonderful, like-minded people. Not to conquer the industry in a single day. Not to expect an on-the-spot outcome. I had checked myself and changed my perspective. I was still an unpublished author, even though I had spent the previous year working closely with the AMAZING team at Ford Street Publishing to create Jacaranda Magic, together with illustrator Megan Forward. I sat down for manuscript assessments with editors. I gained valuable feedback - positive and negative - and grew relationships. I entered the competition again. This time I placed 65th - an improvement on 2017's 76th. Again, a few months later I was offered a contract on the mansucript that I could have assumed wasn't worthy. Because after CYA I took it, I reworked it, I resubmitted it, and it is now signed with Wombat Books for release in 2021.
2019 CYA was fun too and followed much the same personal pattern for me. Interesting manuscript assessments + no direct contracts + average placement in competition + the opportunity to listen, learn and apply advice from industry pros = huge personal motivation to move my career forward.
In 2019 I signed contracts to write 7 new children's books. Two of those contracts are with Australian based trade publishers, three are commissioned works for the incredible, Brisbane-based, not-for-profit publisher Library for All and two are with an international publisher, based in Hong Kong, who contacted me and offered me a contract after reading my debut Ford Street title, Jacaranda Magic.
I credit CYA as contributing to my early career successes in a loopy, plot-twisty, pleasantly-surprising way. Which, incidentally, is pretty much my favourite way to approach life in general. I also credit CYA with helping me learn patience (still a bit of a work in progress, tbh) and to set more realistic expectations around my writing and publishing goals. All delivered with that extremely motivational kick up the proverbial I mentioned earlier. It's cliched but it's true: your dreams don't work unless you do.
What would I say to someone considering investing in attending CYA for the first time this year? Prepare everything. Expect nothing. Attend with the intention of talking to, but more importantly listening to, as many people as you can, especially those more experienced than you.
You never know where opportunities will spring from. You never know how the long tail will shake out.
Good luck at see you at CYA!