Clare Millar interviews Anne Varnes, Awards Administrator and Reading Time Curator at CBCA (Children’s Book Council of Australia)
What did you study?
I studied a Masters of Arts (Editing & Publishing) through the University of Southern Queensland. My undergraduate degree was a Bachelor of Arts with Honours in Psychology. I completed the Bachelors degree and worked as a psychologist before having children. When it came time to return to the workforce I wanted a job where I had more say over my hours and the emotional/mental toll. I love reading, so it made sense to choose to retrain in an industry that would allow me to do what I love and still be available for my children.
What is the most useful skill you learned in your degrees? And what was the most enjoyable part of your studies?
The most useful skill I learned in my degree/s is clear communication. It is something I learned by trial and (many) errors. It is important to clearly communicate your expectations to the people you are working with, to seek clarification if you don’t understand what another person is saying and to avoid making assumptions that others are on the same page as you or have the same understanding, knowledge, experience that you have.
The most enjoyable part of my study was completing digital work experience, an internship with Spineless Wonders, an Australian digital publishing platform. It’s one thing to have lecturers and tutors tell you that you’re doing well, it’s another thing entirely to have an industry professional tell you that they are impressed with your work.
What does a typical day look like for you at CBCA? What skills make you successful in doing that?
A typical day at the CBCA… it depends if I have on my Awards Administrator hat or my Reading Time editor hat. As Awards Administrator I am responsible for receiving entries to the Book of the Year Awards, checking those entries against the awards database and sending the entries on to our superb judging panels, lots of handling books, talking about books, occasionally reading books.
I am also responsible for answering phone and email enquiries regarding the awards from publishers, publicists, creators etc. I also have the privilege of being involved in the preparation for our awards announcement, everything from sourcing social media content to celebrate the authors and illustrators honoured in our shortlist to proofreading awards certificates. When I’m not doing those things there is a seemingly unending list of admin tasks to complete.
As Reading Time editor there is more book handling; I receive the review copies sent to us by publishers and publicists and send them on to our reviewers. Once a reviewer has finished their review, my co-editor makes sure it complies with our style and then I schedule it to appear as a post on our blog, CBCA Reading Time.
Again, there’s a lot of behind the scenes admin tasks that keep things running smoothly. The skills that make me successful at these roles are an excellent eye for detail and good record keeping. Good communication skills are a must when you are interacting with a variety of stakeholders who all have different needs and wants. Finally, the skill of knowing when to ask for help is invaluable.
Tell us a bit about Reading Time—how do you decide which books are reviewed?
CBCA Reading Time started as a printed journal featuring reviews of books for children and young adults. It has since evolved into an online blog but its aim remains the same—to provide teachers, librarians, parents, carers, grandparents etc. with information about the latest releases in the world of books for children and young adults.
Being an Australian organisation that seeks to celebrate Australian creators and publishers we give first preference to books created by Australians. Understanding the increasingly multinational and multicultural nature of our world and the world of publishing we also review books from international authors. We only review books for readers aged 0-18 years. We review a variety of books, fiction and nonfiction, with an emphasis on helping librarians, teachers, parents and carers etc. to make informed choices about the books they choose for the young people in their lives.
How have your roles changed during the pandemic?
The CBCA National Office is located in the State Library of Queensland, a government building. During the pandemic we were allowed only limited access and at times no access to the building. For the most part this is not a huge concern—most of my role is computer-based and can be performed from anywhere. The big challenge was the books; we receive 400+ entries to the CBCA Book of the Year Awards and roughly 300 books for CBCA Reading Time—they take up a lot of space.
What are you most proud of in your career so far? And what are you hopeful for or excited about?
I am most proud that I have navigated a career change. That I have found something I love and something I am good at and now I get paid to do it!
I am hopeful and excited about new opportunities and about seeing where this new path takes me.