Welcome!

Children's Author Lou Treleaven at the reading event at Hay's Galleria

Hello, hullo and even hallo.  I’m Lou Treleaven and I write picture books and junior fiction published by Maverick Arts Publishing.  I also run a critique service for writers and enjoy writing plays and sketches.  My next book due out in September is Daddy and I.

You can email me at lou.treleaven@sky.com, or click on the links for events, book news or critiques.


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Frequently asked questions #1: Do I need to find an illustrator?

I thought I’d use this blog to answer some frequently asked questions about the submission process, starting with one of the most common.  Do I need to find an illustrator for my book before I submit it?

jon writing letters with both handsThe simple answer: no.  There are various reasons for this.

  1. Publishers usually like to source their own illustrators.  They may even have artists in mind that they want to work with, and are waiting for the right manuscript to come along (as was the case with my own manuscript Professor McQuark and the Oojamaflip and the illustrator Julia Patton).
  2. A publisher will often have a house style that makes their books stand out as theirs.  The type of illustrators they choose will reflect this.  Yours is unlikely to fit unless you are only ever targeting one publisher.
  3. Fashions change in children’s illustration as much as anywhere else.  Your publisher will have a much better idea of how your book should look and what will make it fit (or stand out) in the current market.
  4. The right illustrator takes your book to another level – it’s like having a co-author who comes up with brilliant ideas.  The publisher knows which illustrator will make the most out of your text.
  5. Your editor and designer have a wealth of experience in laying out books, not only in terms of pictures but in the way the text interacts with the pictures, the pacing of the text through the spreads, typography etc.  Rarely these days does text simply sit under a picture.  It’s more likely to be dancing across a page, growing and shrinking or even spiraling through a spread.  If you’ve already provided illustrations, this hampers the space the designer can use rather than allowing them to work with the illustrator.

Exceptions

If you are already an illustrator then of course you will want to provide your own illustrations.  (Picture book author-illustrators are amazing and, in my opinion, demi-gods!)  Another exception might be that you have already teamed up with an illustrator and you want to work as a partnership or not at all.  It will be harder to be published in this case as both words and pictures will have to be accepted.  And finally if you are self-publishing you may need to find your own illustrator.  Self publishing is not something I tend to cover in this blog but there is plenty of help on line if you do pursue this route.

What happens next?

So how does your publisher find an illustrator?  While you are going through the editing process and refining your text, the publisher will also be researching artists and asking for sample pages to be created.  They may approach the artist directly or through an agency.  You may see these samples and be asked for your opinion but you may not!  Rest assured, your publisher knows what’s best for your story.

After the illustrator has been commissioned they will produce sketches for each page which are put together into a dummy pdf together with the text.  Again you may be asked to comment on this.  Once the roughs have been agreed, the illustrator finalises them with colour and detail.  The whole process can take a few months, but when you see the detail that goes into a picture book it’s surprising it’s not a few years!  By this time your text is normally complete too and you will be asked to look over the finished pdf and check for typos etc.  The book then goes for printing which can take about three months if it’s being printed abroad.  Finally you and your illustrator have a bouncing baby book – and you may never even have met!

Picture book competition

I couldn’t wait to tell you about the exciting picture book competition in this month’s Writing Magazine!  It’s open to any unpublished and unagented writer and the prize is a lunch consultation with top children’s agent Julia Churchill (plus a subscription to Writing Magazine – oh, and £200 as well).  And who knows where that could lead?

From my critique pile I know loads of you have some fantastic picture books waiting for the right opportunity, and there’s no entry fee so I urge you to give it a go!

Your text should be no longer than 800 words and can be rhyming or prose.  You can present it in page spreads or as continuous text.  No illustrations, pop-ups etc.  Details here.

There’s also some great tips on picture book writing from prolific picture book writer Amy Sparkes in the accompanying article (August edition).

Closing date is 29 September.  Good luck!

Things I learned from Get Writing 2017

Get Writing 2017I was delighted to attend the Get Writing Conference at the weekend as a delegate/author.  Organised by Veralum Writers, the conference has grown each year and now attracts some amazing speakers and workshop leaders.  I attended two workshops: comedy sketch writing with Mark Keegan and writing historical fiction with Emma Darwin.  Both were hugely helpful and I now feel fired up to have a go at both disciplines while their excellent advice is still ringing in my ears.  The great thing about writing children’s fiction is that you can encompass so many genres and styles.  So watch out for a historical crime comedy thriller picture book in the distant future!

Here’s some pointers I picked up during the day (which also included talks and panels) that I hope will be useful to you too.

  • Some people read a book a day, and two at the weekend (lizlovesbooks.com).
  • Psychic distance is a thing and it’s rather useful (thisitchofwriting.com).
  • Writers love cake.  Not a tip, but it helps to know you are not alone.
  • Successful comedy sketches are often about subverting the balance of power between the characters.
  • You don’t have to be a ‘plotster’ (planning) or a ‘pantser’ (not planning) – there is a middle way.  You need to choose the route that works for you.
  • The British love a bit of wordplay, ambiguity and, of course, innuendo.
  • Research before or after writing, not during (unless it’s crucial).
  • BBC Writers Room is an oft-recommended resource and for good reason.
  • Don’t blog unless you enjoy it.  But if you do, it can help open doors.
  • Use Google Scholar to search for academic articles about your chosen subject.
  • Notice what your character notices – look through their eyes, not your own.
  • Comedy can have dark undertones.
  • Don’t sweat about the synopsis.  Shock horror – half the time agents don’t even read them!  Even if they do, it can be just a quick glance to make sure you’ve got the story in hand.  Your letter and sample chapters are much more important.
  • Use escalation to take your comedy sketch from mundane to ridiculous (in a good way).
  • Watch Andrew Stanton’s Ted talk – The Clues to a Great Story.
  • Go to writing conferences.  Attend workshops.  Keep on learning.  Keep on writing.

PS – I will be randomly selecting the winner of the signed copy of The Snugglewump on Friday.  If you haven’t entered, just comment on my previous post to be in with a chance!

Signed book giveaway and workshop

The SnugglewumpMy new picture book The Snugglewump illustrated by Kate Chappell is out!  The Snugglewump is a featureless comforter with an inferiority complex.  When it hears the other toys arguing about which of them Molly loves best, it crawls out of the cat flap and ends up in a puddle in the local park.  Will the Snugglewump be reunited with Molly?  Could it be that she loves it best after all?  To find out, why not enter my free signed copy giveaway?  Just comment below and tell me what age group you like to write for and why.  I will print off the comments and draw one out of a hat!

Also I’m running a two hour picture book writing workshop at the Get Writing 2017 conference at Oaklands College, St Albans, on Saturday 3 June.  It’s an all day event where you pick which workshops you would like to attend as well as talks and opportunities to pitch to agents and publishers.  Plus lunch!  A lovely day – I have attended several times in the past.  More details and tickets available here.

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!).

world-book-day-2017

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!