Jacinta Dimase Literary Agent Melbourne

Danielle Binks talks to Karen Tayleur

September 04, 2019

Editor Karen Tayleur has joined Jacinta di Mase Management as an agent and will work closely with our picture-book authors and illustrators. Karen’s appointment to the JdM agency is a reflection of growing market demand both here and internationally for innovative, quality picture books.

So we thought it was a good time to pick Karen’s brain – about her JdM appointment, trends in the market and her best tips for emerging creators!

Karen answered fellow agent Danielle Binks’ burning questions;

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Q: Can you give a little insight into what role you’ll be playing within JdM? My experience in publishing spans print media, magazines and book publishing —with book publishing (mainly children’s book publishing) taking up most of my CV space since 2001. My initial role is to take on existing JdM authors and illustrators who are creating specifically for the picture book market. I see my role as being very similar to my editorial work in the past — liaising and working closely with creators, from initial story ideas, to big-picture structural editing, down to the nitty gritty grammar tweaks. I like to understand what the creator is hoping to achieve with their work and help them to create a pitch that will make an immediate connection with the reader — be that a Commissioning Editor or the Treasure Pile gatekeepers.

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Q: What have been the biggest trends in picture books of the last five years? Celebrity publishing was certainly on the rise five years ago, and it hasn’t let up. The ‘celebrity’ name is an instant hook to gain readers’ attention. Some celebrity authors are one-hit wonders, but others earn their stripes and go on to become part of the publishing scene.

Humour has always been a big player in children’s books, and a certain kind of wry and/or whimsical humour — I’m thinking about authors such as Jon Klassen ( That is Not My Hat ), Oliver Jeffers ( The Day the Crayons Quit ), and Aaron Blabey ( Pig the Pug ) — continues to be popular. The illustration is often minimalistic (think Marie Kondo art directing — no we don’t need that background detail, does that landscape backdrop bring you joy?), relying on the protagonist to carry the story.
Another trend has seen a ‘mixed media style’ approach, with creators using collage-style artwork and/or textured backgrounds created from outside ‘traditional’ art material sources to create their illustrations. This includes creators such as Jeannie Baker ( Circle ), Anne James ( Dirty Dinosaur series), Anna Pignataro ( Agatha series) and Kylie Howarth ( Chip series).

Then there are the ‘issues-based’ picture books. Think issues such as death or emotions or the environment. These books offer a safe space for young children to explore information or ideas that are often thrust upon them by visual media.

Finally, and most exciting, is the increased presence of indigenous voices in this field of publishing. Books such as Wilam: A Birragung Story (by Aunty Joy Murphy, Andrew Kelly and Lisa Kennedy), Baby Business (Jasmine Seymour), and Going to the Footy (Debbie Coombes) are a great example of the rich variety of voices we have been missing out on until now.

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Q: What do you see are some of the “holes” in the picture-book industry at the moment? Australian children need to see themselves represented in the picture books they read. The ‘traditional’ characters that once populated picture books — think middle-class white Australians, with mother, father and 2.5 children — are gradually being expanded upon to include an array of ethnic and gender diverse characters that represent today’s Australian society. It’s a slow creep.

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Q: What’s the best piece of advice you ever received as an author? Write what you know. When I first received this advice, I thought it restrictive. I took it too literally. Later I came to understand that ‘write what you know’, for me, meant ‘use the emotions or some experience you have had before to inform your writing’.

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Q: What’s the No. 1 piece of advice you find yourself giving — to authors and illustrators alike?
Be yourself. Find your own voice. Forget about the ‘moral of the story’, or writing the latest trend, or adopting the latest illustrative style. Just tell the story in your own unique way and have fun.