Hi James, Can you tell me about why you started Larrikin House?
Our schools business Learning Discovery was looking for fun, quirky Australian picture books to add to our book packs for schools. I was finding so many were so heavy & serious, mostly books that adults wanted kids to read, as opposed to books kids wanted to read for themselves. I saw the gap in the market and decided in that moment to start publishing.
What made you want to specialise in quirky, original and humorous kid-focussed books?
I believe the love of reading is up against some tough competition right now. There’s loads of great entertainment options other than reading, so unless we’re publishing kid-focussed books, we’ll lose them as readers.
How important do you think humour and quirkiness is in engaging kids in reading?
Two words… Andy Griffiths! I first watched Andy in action with kids 20 odd years ago at school events. The kids were 100% engaged!
Humour is universal. If we want to engage kids in reading, then we need to stop trying to teach morals and make them better people in all the stories. There’s no fun in that. Kids don’t always want to learn. They want to get absorbed in stories that are fun.
Have you always wanted to be in publishing and education? How did you get into it?
I got into bookselling nearly 30 years ago by accident. I thoroughly enjoyed the business craft, and have been with it ever since. Publishing is way more creative and fun than selling books, so I wish I started publishing earlier.
What does your usual day look like?
Emails, zoom meetings, more emails, more zoom meetings. Actually, it’s quite fun. I wrestle new story submissions, brainstorm stories with my team that are good in concept but need help, go over illustrations, and do manuscript assessments.
How many books does Larrikin publish in a typical year?
At the moment we’re committed to 20 picture books a year. I need 80 titles a year for our school market, so there’s room to publish more. Just need some more money.
What’s your process for finding new stories to publish?
Our submissions portal runs pretty hot, so we get the odd story from that. I get the best ones through our assessment service because authors take on my feedback and come back with better stories.
From the last 100 assessments, I’ve signed about 8 stories, whereas I’ve probably only signed one story from the last 250 general submissions. Our greatest source of new material now comes from our existing author pool.
Can you talk a little about authors sharing their work with Larrikin and other publishers through editor assessments at conferences as opposed to submitting through a publisher’s website?
I think assessments are incredibly helpful in the crafting of a story. Assessments from a publisher are even more vital because, from my experience most budding authors don’t really understand how publishers think, and what they need to make a book financially viable.
We’re the ones investing up to $20,000 to produce a book, so our opinion matters most. The best part of my assessments is the zoom meeting where I can answer questions, and help an author understand what makes a book work for me.
What’s your best advice for authors who want to write humour?
If you’re not funny as a person, writing humour will be difficult. If you are a bit bent, then write into that space. Go big, take risks, observe the funny side of life.
What’s your best advice for aspiring authors who want to get their first book into the marketplace?
Spend 90% of your time crafting a great story, and 10% on everything else. It’s surprising how many cover letters are better written than the story submitted. I can’t publish a cover letter. Story is king!! Get your hook in the first 20 seconds of reading.
What do you like to read in your spare time?
I read bits and pieces of everything. Wilbur Smith, Trent Dalton and Chopper Read. Haha I love autobiographical humour the most.
Anything else you'd like to add?
When writing for kids, ask yourself: What's the buy in for the kid? Why would a kid want to read your story?
Thanks for talking with me, James!
This article was originally published in the Winter 2021 issue of Women's Ink!