How to write a covering letter or email

The covering letter is an important part of your submission package, but it shouldn’t be one you have to agonise over.  The main thing is to keep it business-like.  Introduce your work and yourself, and then let the writing do most of the talking.  In the States it can be a bit different as you may be asked to pitch your idea before being invited to submit a sample, in which case your initial letter will be more of a sell.  But for a simple covering letter to accompany your one-page synopsis and three sample chapters (usually – or whole text if it’s a picture book), these tips will help:

  1. Address the agent or publisher you are writing or emailing to by name if possible.  Dear Sir/Madam hints at a blanket letter to multiple recipients, or at the least a lack of research.
  2. Introduce your book with a snappy blurb and an indication of length and market.
  3. Include a short paragraph about yourself, focusing on relevant information, eg writing courses you have done, or any contact you have had with your target audience eg teaching, volunteering.
  4. It can be helpful to mention why you are approaching that particular publisher or agent.  For example, you admire the work of one of their writers, or you see that they publish books in rhyme.  Remember to keep the tone business-like.  This is, after all, a business letter.
  5. Don’t ask for feedback.
  6. End with ‘Yours sincerely’ if you are addressing someone by name – or you can end with ‘Best wishes’ if you like.
  7. Add a link to your website or blog under your name.
  8. Remember to attach your manuscript and synopsis!

Once you’ve submitted, make a note in your diary for three months’ time.  If you haven’t heard back by then, I think it’s fair to submit elsewhere.  But don’t give up hope – I heard back after nine months with a yes!

 

 

World Book Day fun

I had an amazing week last week visiting schools for World Book Day celebrations.  Did you know it was the twentieth World Book Day?  For parents the thought of concocting a costume for this sort of event can be stressful, but when you see what goes on that day and all the energy and enthusiasm that everybody shows, it’s so worth it (and if in doubt, wear casual clothes and go as one of the Famous Five!).

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First stop was Beech Hill in Luton, where I shared the story of Professor McQuark with the Early Years classes.  They then had the task of designing their very own wacky scientists.  I had a very tasty school dinner and then got to judge the designs and give out some prizes.  It was hard as they were all so fun and quirky!  I think my favourite was Professor Rainbow.

On Tuesday I visited St John Rigby in Bedford.  They had a very craft day making snowy pictures and spinners that pointed to the seasons inspired by The Snowflake Mistake, while the older years channeled their inner Professor McQuarks by making crazy vehicles.  Some even travelled in time!

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Any excuse to dress up as Professor McQuark.

Wednesday saw me going to Biggleswade to St Andrews (West) for a couple of big assemblies.  I had to project my voice as well as the book illustrations!  Everyone joined in with sound effects for the picture books.  After reading Letter to Pluto to the older pupils I explained to them the journey from an idea to a  published book.  We needed lots of volunteers to show how many people are involved.

On Thursday it was the big day itself – the twentieth World Book Day.  I was very excited to go to London and visit Surrey Square Primary School in Southwark the day.  The atmosphere was amazing and the teachers for each year group had co-ordinated their outfits so in one year the teachers were a set of crayons (‘The Day the Crayons Quit’) and in another year they were The Twits!  I did a mixture of assemblies, class visits and a workshop and felt like part of the Surrey Square family.

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I always stir my ideas with a wooden spoon.  Call me a traditionalist but that’s how I am.

Finally on Friday it was back to Biggleswade to St Andrews (East) where, after a short scenic detour (ie getting lost), I arrived at a beautiful newly built school like something out of Grand Designs.  The children had been waiting very patiently for me and eagerly volunteered to help me find the ideas in my ideas sack to make the stories.  After a reading of Letter to Pluto and a session with the older pupils about the journey of a book followed by some fabulous questions, my World Book Day week was over.

I can’t wait for next year!

Short story markets

If you have a picture book text that’s too long for publishers’ requirements, have you considered the short story market?  There are a small number of magazines out there, both in print and online, that accept children’s stories and will happily consider a longer length.  Here’s my current (short) list which also includes markets for older children’s fiction and young adult; if you know of any others please do comment and I will add them.

Cricket Media submissions

The US-based Cricket family of children’s print and digital magazines includes Babybug for up to three years, Ladybug for 3-6 years, Spider for 6-9, Cricket for 9-14 and Cicada for over 14s.  They all have different submission requirements so be sure to check out the word counts required by each one.

The Caterpillar Magazine

This beautifully produced Irish-based print magazine accepts stories up to 1,000 words as well as poetry and art.

Knowonder

Knowonder is an online site that promotes literacy.  They are occasionally open for submissions of short stories between 500-2000 words but do not pay.

Alfie Dog Fiction

This small but ambitious publisher aims to be the foremost choice for downloading short stories on the web, and payment comes as a percentage of the small download fee charged to customers.  Length is 500-10,000 words.

Cast of Wonders

This site is a little different and features young adult fantasy stories up to 6,000 words recorded as podcasts.  See this blog post for more details and an interview with a Cast of Wonders author.

2017 – the year YOU get published

Happy New Year readers – I hope you enjoyed your festivities and are raring to go with your new year’s writing resolutions.  And I am here to help!

I will shortly be working through and updating both my list of publishers accepting unsolicited manuscripts and my list of UK children’s agents, making sure that you get the correct information you need to submit.  I’ll be deleting any markets that no longer look at unagented work or, in the case of new markets, haven’t developed as promised – but don’t worry, there’ll be a few new opportunities going in too.

I will also be continuing to offer my new critique service, giving you the chance to get an extra pair of eyes on your manuscript before sending it off into the big wide world.  Alternatively if you have something that keeps being rejected and are wondering why, perhaps I can help?  I have adjusted the prices slightly as the feedback I am giving is a lot longer than originally planned, but I hope you’ll agree it’s still excellent value for money and I have had some lovely comments from my first customers.

Finally as usual I will be looking out for new writing opportunities and reporting back from any useful writing events I attend.  So let’s make 2017 the year you get published!

Feeling drafty!

A couple of days ago I listened to a live talk on Facebook by publisher Scott Pack on the five most common mistakes people make when submitting their manuscripts.  The most interesting point to me was when Scott said that in his experience about half the people who submit are sending a manuscript too early.  He said some of these manuscripts might even have been very good after a third or fourth draft, but they were rejected.  The reason this struck a chord with me is that I have done this myself many times.  Caught up in the exhilaration of finishing a book, I’ve rushed it off into the outside world without another thought.  If you think about it, it’s like pushing your baby out of the door and into the cold alone without even a coat and hat.  In fact you haven’t put any clothes on them at all!  They are not going to survive!

How do you resist the temptation to submit too early?  It’s difficult, but you have to start thinking in terms of first draft, second draft, third draft and so on and move your expectations so that submitting becomes connected with the fifth draft, or the sixth one, or whenever you decide you can’t possibly do any more to improve your work.  The first draft is just a sketch.  Or the naked baby again.  Don’t let anyone see your work naked!

It was a big leap for me when I understood that in the first draft anything goes because no one will see it and it’s not going anywhere.  You’re free to make mistakes, experiment, write huge chunks that will never be used, or introduce characters that make absolutely no sense later.  It doesn’t matter, because the editing stage will take care of all that.  Every time you edit or redraft your work you will see a huge improvement.

Everyone’s different of course, but to give you an example this is how my own drafting process goes:

  1. First draft – write longhand in a notebook, preferably using the same pen.  Lose the pen.  Panic.  The muse has gone!  Try writing with another pen.  Realise it’s going to be okay.  Maybe even better.  Phew.  Find the original pen.  Panic.
  2. Second draft – type up first draft on to the computer, editing as I go.  Correct the problems at the beginning caused by having a different middle and end to the ones I intended.
  3. Third draft – correct printed out second draft using a pen (any pen – the superstition has mysteriously gone).  Perform a massive facelift plus possibly invasive surgery (of the manuscript, not me).  Result can be a fifty percent improvement (of the manuscript, definitely not me).
  4. Fourth draft – print out third draft and put away in cupboard.  Agonising wait, preferably for a month.  Desired outcome: the ‘I don’t remember writing this!’ effect.  Edit again feeling like an older, wiser person.
  5. Final fifth draft – the paranoia edit.  Recheck on screen or paper, tidying, honing and searching for typos and cliches.  Realise I’ve used the word ‘look’ a million times on one page.  Wear out shift + f7 looking for alternatives. Gah!

Bing!  It’s ready.  Submit and prepare to repeat stages 3-5 if rejected.  Meanwhile buy new notebook and pen and start next project at stage 1.

Happy drafting!

You can still read Scott’s broadcast on Reedsy’s Facebook page to find out about the other common mistakes.  The question and answer session at the end was very useful too.

Launching my Writing for Children critique service

After having had several enquiries about manuscript assessments, I have decided to launch my own critique service.  Simply choose your rate depending on the length of your manuscript and email to me.  Once I have received your payment (Paypal or bank transfer) I will respond to you within 2 weeks.  You can also include your synopsis and covering letter for each manuscript for free!  Payment is per thousand words but can include more than one manuscript, so for example if you have four picture books that are 500 words or less you can send them all for a total of £35 (see below for 2017 rates).  Or for a longer book, why not send the first three chapters plus synopsis and covering letter for an appraisal of your complete submission package?

My critique includes:

  • Assessment of pace, plot, characters, dialogue and your author voice.manuscript-critique-service-pic
  • Advice on grammar and punctuation.
  • Help with presentation and layout.
  • Suggestions on how to edit your work.
  • Areas to work on, and most importantly, your strengths!
  • Appraisal of your submission package, if applicable.

I specialise in picture books and young fiction as that’s the age group I’m published in, but I’m happy to look at any writing for children up to young adult.

Rates for 2017

£25 for up to 1000 words

£35 for up to 2000 words

£5 per 1000 words after that

Plus free synopsis and cover letter critique with each manuscript!

Payment should be via paypal to lou dot treleaven at sky dot com or bank transfer (please email me for details).  I look forward to hearing from you!

Signed books winner!

Thank you to everyone to entered the draw to win signed copies of my new books The Snowflake Mistake and Letter to Pluto.   To be in with a chance, I asked you to comment with your favourite writing tip.  If you haven’t read the comments, there’s some brilliant tips there including keeping a compliments jar, listening to conversations around you (in the non-stalker sense!), using prompts, spending time with nature and reading widely.

The winner is…. Michelle Zal!  Michelle, please email me at lou dot treleaven at sky dot com with your address and the dedications you would like on the books and I will post them off to you.

I had a lovely time recently doing two workshops and some book signing at the Booktastic Bedford Children’s Book Festival, which was held this year at the Panacea Museum.  I got to meet author Guy Bass too, author of Stitch Head and about a million other books (would love to be that productive and talented!).   The event was sponsored by Rogan’s Books, a new independent children’s bookshop which is not like any other bookshop you will have been to – it even has a secret door!  Check it out here.

 

It’s giveaway time!

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To celebrate the launch of my two new books, The Snowflake Mistake and Letter to Pluto, I am giving away a signed copy of the two of them.  To be in the draw, just comment below with your most helpful writing tip.  Hopefully we will get a good pool of knowledge we can share!

Here’s mine: Don’t be afraid to write a terrible first draft.  No one will see it!  Silencing your inner critic is really hard, but just tell them (or it) that you’ll be letting them out when it’s editing time, and they can feast on your words then but not now.

The moment I mastered this tip, my productivity increased by about 500%!  What’s your most helpful piece of advice?

Writing in rhyme

CautionaryTales-Belloc-Blackwell-coverRhyming stories have always been popular with children.  From Hilare Belloc’s Cautionary Tales for Children to Tom Fletcher and Dougie Poynter’s The Dinosaur that Pooped series, rhyming stories have had a place on our bookshelves and no doubt always will.  There’s something very satisfying about reading a good rhyme – it’s like putting the last puzzle piece into a jigsaw.  And rhyme and rhythm are great at helping with reading skills as well as making text easier to remember and above all – fun!

But for writers rhyming stories can pose a bit of a problem. It’s widely believed that rhyming books are much harder to get published, and this is to some extent true as it’s harder for the publisher or agent to sell translation rights.  The text either has to be translated word for word, losing the rhymes in the process, or almost completely rewritten.  However, the popularity of rhyming texts is testament to the fact that publishers are still publishing them; you only have to look at the success of Julia Donaldson.  But the text has to be good.  The rhymes have to delight.  There are plenty of pitfalls to stumble into when writing in rhyme, so I’ve put together a few tips that might help when you’re coming up with your own rhyming story.  The tips are geared towards picture book writers but hopefully will assist with any rhyming-based writing activity.the dinosaur that pooped

  • Put the stronger rhyme second
    When you’ve got two rhyming words that end your lines, think about positioning them so the weaker rhyme goes first, followed by the stronger rhyme.  This gives the impression that a great rhyme has slipped naturally into place rather than just because it fits.  For example, in my book Professor McQuark and the Oojamaflip, Professor McQuark is looking at the other inventions in the science fair and the couplet reads as follows:
    “A yo-yo with slo-mo, a door with a zip,
    But nothing as fine as the Oojamaflip.”
    This is much stronger than if I had written it the other way round, where it would sounds like I have come up with the “door with a zip” invention just to fit the rhyming pattern.  Of course I have, but positioning it first makes it seem like I haven’t!
  • Don’t forget the rhythm
    Rhyming books aren’t just about the last words, they are about rhythm too.  Imagine a song where you have to fit the words to the notes.  If in doubt, read it out!  You’ll soon hear where the words don’t fit.  You can also beat the rhythm out on the table (or get your drum kit out).  Try this with master rhymers Julia Donaldson or Dr Seuss to get an idea of the ‘beats’ you might use.
  • Don’t mess with sentence structure
    You do need to think about positioning your words, but try not to end up with a strange sentence structure just to fit the rhythm.  Chief suspects are the words  ‘it’ and ‘did’ which are sometimes sneaked into rhymes in order to make up the right number of syllables, such as in this made-up example:
    “The clock it struck twelve, time to leave for the show,
    So off to the big circus tent we did go.”
    If you don’t speak like that in real life, it won’t sound very convincing in a rhyme either.  If you find yourself tempted, try to rethink the sentence so you get the right number of syllables in a more natural way.200px-Fairuse_Gruffalo
  • Alliteration is good in small doses
    “She ran to her shed and she banged and she battered,
    She sawed and she sanded, she clanged and she clattered.”
    Yes, I love alliteration, but almost too much.  I have had whole lines rejected because I have turned them into tongue twisters.  So use as much alliteration as you like, but make sure you can say it without getting your tongue in a knot.
  • Look for internal rhymes
    An internal rhyme is a rhyme occurring in the middle of a sentence.  For example, in the Professor McQuark extract above, “a yo-yo with slo-mo” rhymes with itself and adds a little extra icing to your rhyming cake.  It’s amazing how often an internal rhyme can slip in, so if you see one, celebrate it.
  • Don’t let the rhyme tell the story
    It’s hard to let a brillant rhyme go, but sometimes you have to when it just doesn’t fit the story.  The rhyming words should serve your story structure, not dictate  it.  Try to think of what you want to say, then say it in rhyme, rather than thinking of the rhymes and then making them into a story.220px-Seuss-cat-hat.gif
  • Harness the power of repetition
    Fortunately for picture book writers, children love repetition.  Not only do they like to hear the same story again but they like the same phrases again.  The Gruffalo is a great example of this with its repeated phrases, the repeated scene with a variation for each animal and ultimately the story itself repeated but reversed.  A repeated phrase allows you to reuse rhymes, but beware of overdoing this as readers still need a surprise or two along the way.

And finally…

  • Make it look easy
    Good rhymes look easy but may be anything but!  Personally I find that sometimes the rhyme just pops into my head, but more often than not it’s a result of a long dog walk and twenty minutes of washing up before the right word or phrase is finally sifted from the detritus of my brain.  I also find that most rhymes can be improved by twiddling with the sentence or swopping an odd word here and there, to make the rhyme look more natural.  And don’t feel guilty for looking in a rhyming dictionary or online, but try not to let it seduce you with its long and clever words.  Sometimes the best rhymes are the simplest.

You’ve read my advice and are raring to go.
But if you have other tips, please let me know!

Free creative writing session!

If you are in reach of Luton, I’m running a free creative writing taster session next Wednesday 15 June as part of Festival of Learning.  Previously known as Adult Learners’ Week, Festival of Learning gives everyone a chance to try something new for free.

My session will be all about how to generate ideas and get your creative juices flowing, so it’s suitable for experienced writers who want a few fun techniques as well as those new to writing.  No need to book, just turn up and enjoy!

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