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July 15, 2020

Robert Vescio on the topics that inspire him, and how to pitch your children's picture book

Robert Vescio

Robert Vescio worked in the publishing industry as a photo editor and production manager for over a decade before leaving to become a stay-at-home dad and children’s book writer. A big kid at heart and self-professed Disney superfan, Robert was in his element when writing books for children. It wasn’t long before his picture books could be found on the shelves of libraries, in bookshops, and even on TV! His book, Under the Same Sky, was read by award-winning actor, Tom Hardy, as a bedtime story on the hugely popular UK children’s channel CBeebies. Many of Robert’s other picture books have won awards, been shortlisted for awards, and been translated into other languages to be sold around the world. Others have been included in the NSW, VIC and QLD Premier’s Reading Challenges, and Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library in Australia. Robert is a huge advocate for getting books into schools and encouraging children to read for enjoyment and to that end, he continues to educate and entertain children of all ages through picture books.   

What made you want to become a children’s book author?

I get asked that question a lot. The answer is easy - I like to write for children. It’s my preferred genre. Children read more books than adults and the world of children’s book publishing is welcoming. When you write children’s stories there are no rules. They can be silly or serious. Anything goes! And children’s book authors get the best fans and fan mail.

I love the idea of creating something that is positive and brings happiness to people. I want kids to develop a love of reading and I hope that through my stories they learn something along the way. As an author, I find it’s extremely rewarding to empower readers with words. This is what I love most about writing for children. I want to arouse their imagination and make them think. Well, that's the perfect segue into my next picture book The Art of Words with Joanna Bartel and EK Books about the power and playfulness of words and how they create emotions and ideas in a fun way, releasing early 2021.

Stories are fun and powerful. They transport us from one world to another by some sort of magic. I never know where my stories will take me. This mystery is what creates excitement. Embracing the freedom to change things along the way helps every choice I make in my writing. By doing so, I open myself to a world where anything is possible. I want to make certain that children make books a part of their lives. Reading makes you smarter and helps develop empathy. It turns you into a more caring and kinder person.

What topics inspire you to write?

I like to write stories that help children cope with changes in their lives and to better understand their world and relationships. Many of my books address serious or topical issues, such as separation, self-esteem, empathy, creativity, and most recently the refugee crisis.

My intention when I started writing was never to write self-help books for children, but if you've lived life, you pick up life lessons along the way. So, you naturally employ those life lessons in your work. For instance, I wrote my first picture book No Matter Who We’re With following my separation in 2008. The story addresses the fact that the children have a place and home with each parent and of course the same amount of love as always.

Since then, I have written other stories based on my family’s experiences, such as Finn and Puss a story about doing the right thing, which was inspired by my children. And other stories, not so personal but current and newsworthy, such as The Voyage a story to help pre-school aged children understand the refugee crisis. Stories help us to make sense of the world around us. They invite us to discover what it’s like to be someone else for a change. They are explorations – for the writer as well as the reader. My inspiration is fuelled by many things such as books I’ve read, people I’ve come into contact with, art, and my children, of course. 

Never underestimate the power of stories. A well-told story has the potential to touch hearts and change minds. It’s inspiring to know that I can make a difference in someone’s life through my stories.

"Many of my books address serious or topical issues, such as separation, self-esteem, empathy, creativity, and most recently the refugee crisis."

You are in the unique position of being a writer who has also worked in publishing. How has this informed your approach to children’s book writing?

I spent most of my working years in the publishing industry as a Production Manager and as a Photo Editor at Studio Magazines. I worked on many titles but it was Studio Bambini magazine that really propelled me to start writing for kids. It was like being a kid in a candy shop, except picture books were one of the main attractions.

Working in the publishing industry gave me an insight into how the children’s publishing world worked. I read lots of picture books and started to see patterns emerge from the various different publishers. I had an idea of what to look out for and who to send certain stories to.   

In your opinion, how important do you think having an online presence is for children’s book authors?

I think it’s really important for an author to have an online presence. That’s how you raise awareness and build interest. Publishers want to see how you engage with your audience. It’s important to make sure that your online presence is cohesive. Link your entire author’s platform on your website to include all your social media hang-outs.  Make sure your site is accurate and up-to-date with current news and events, blogs etc. Publishers focus on different aspects of an author’s platform but the one thing you need to remember is that without an author’s platform you will never get noticed. Out of sight, out of mind.

"I think it’s really important for an author to have an online presence. That’s how you raise awareness and build interest."

What has been the best or most rewarding part of being a children’s book author?

For me the most rewarding part about being a picture book author is sharing my stories with children. Not only do I create fans for my books, but it’s great to see how I can make a difference in a child’s life. I enjoy visiting schools because it connects kids to books and gives them an appreciation of the process involved in creating the books they love. It’s a much more powerful way than simply reading them. 

I love picture books because of the way they express emotions and ideas in simple ways. Picture books invite engagement – a connection. They support an adult-child conversation. The pictures help to initiate a discussion with young children and express their feelings.

Do you have any tips for children’s book authors who want to pitch their book to publishers?

The hardest part of getting your manuscript published is convincing a publisher to read it. First impressions matter when pitching to a publisher.

Here are my tips.

  1. Publishers are looking for great stories they will immediately fall in love with. You need to write a catchy line to grab their attention – something to hook them in. Try and summarise your story in one sentence and use this as your pitch.
  2. Write a few paragraphs about your story but keep it brief.
  3. Add a couple of lines about yourself, including any publishing achievements.
  4. Show that you are prepared to market and promote your work. There is only so much a publisher can do. You will need to put in the hard work, as well.
  5. Mention any media contacts you have.
  6. Keep it simple and straight to the point.
  7. Follow publishers’ submission guidelines.
  8. No need to include drawings, unless you are an illustrator.

Read your pitch back to yourself and time it. Make sure it doesn’t exceed one minute. Use this as your pitch. Make it count.

Free Guide: Write a Pitch For Your Book That Publishers Will Love >>

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