This weekend I’m celebrating the release of my new junior fiction title, Homework on Pluto published by Maverick, and as part of that I’ll be giving away a free signed copy to the lovely readers of this blog. To take part, just comment on this post and I will choose a winner at random on 15 May by printing them out and putting them in a hat. (A sou’wester probably, judging by the weather at the moment…)
Junior fiction or chapter books are great fun to write. Here are my tips:
- Write to the right length. 6-10,000 words are what you are aiming for. So think in terms of 6 chapters of 1000 words each to give you a rough outline.
- Keep it punchy. You’ve got a lot to fit in to make a complete book work within this small space, so don’t waste words on lengthy descriptions or long dialogue exchanges.
- Write a series. Readers this age (around 6-10) love series. Conversely, your first book should be able to stand alone, just in case it doesn’t get followed up. And you only need present one book to the publisher, as long as it has series potential.
- Create memorable characters. Think Mr Gum, Horrid Henry, Flat Stanley… The character is the book.
- Utilise humour. Don’t be afraid to be silly. Silliness is underrated.
Homework on Pluto is available to order from all good bookshops, The Book Depository or Amazon.
As 2017 thinks about putting on the kettle for its hot water bottle and taking its nightly medication, I would like to thank the followers of this blog for another year’s loyalty with a signed book giveaway. This will be for my new picture book Daddy and I, sumptuously illustrated by Sophie Burrows, plus my two early readers that came out this autumn which have delightfully cute pictures by Dean Gray and David Creighton-Pester.
To be entered into the random draw, just comment below by the end of November, and I’ll get them signed and sent to you in time for… shh! You know what!
My 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.
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?
Thank you to everyone who entered the Professor McQuark and the Oojamaflip publication day giveaway. It’s been inspiring to hear your writing resolutions for 2016. I hope everyone has a fruitful year!
The winner (drawn out of a tissue box – appropriately as I have the mother of all colds) is… duitwit! Sorry not to use your real name duitwit as I’m sure you have one. If you email me at lou dot treleaven at sky dot com with your name and address and who you’d like the book dedicated to, I will pop it in the post to you.
I had a lovely tea party yesterday with some friends to celebrate. We ate gingerbread Professor McQuarks, oojamaflapjacks and square balloon peanut blondies (brownies without the cocoa). I signed lots of books and felt like a real author!
The sign for the toilet!
We also made Professor McQuark fortune tellers / cootie catchers / chatterboxes – there are lots of names for these little gizmos but basically you fold the paper and work through the three options until you have an idea for an invention. Then you can draw it, act it out or simply muse on the possibility of actually having a portable cloud straightener or whatever your result is! If you’d like one of these, simply click here to download a pdf which you can then print and follow the instructions to fold. The artwork, as always, is by the incredibly talented Julia Patton.
You can also find Professor McQuark’s Curiously Creative Cootie Catcher at downloadablecootiecatchers.com
It’s nearly publication day! Fifteen years ago I started submitting children’s book manuscripts to publishers. Five years ago I decided to share my list of publishers I was submitting to by putting it on my blog. I never dreamed it would be such a popular post, with nearly 800 comments, queries and even success stories. It’s been great sharing the ups and downs of publication with so many people. Finally, on 28 January this month, my own dream will come true and my rhyming picture book, Professor McQuark and the Oojamaflip, illustrated by Julia Patton, will be published by Maverick Books.
To say thank you for everyone’s support, I would love to give away a signed copy. If you would like one, please share your new year’s writing resolution below! On publication day I’ll print out the comments and pick one at random. I’ll then be in contact to ask you for your address and dedication.
If you are still submitting, don’t give up! I made this promise to myself and I’m so glad I did. I will keep updating the publishers and agents lists and keep encouraging you all. Maybe your success story will be the next one on here? I hope so! Have a brilliant 2016 and keep writing.
Thank you to everyone who entered the critique giveaway. It was so interesting to read about everyone’s work. The winner has today been chosen at random from the woolly hat and it is (fanfare)…
Rose, please email me your story at lou dot treleaven at sky dot com. I can’t wait to read it and give you my feedback.
Meanwhile, I promised to keep you up to date with the publishing journey of Professor McQuark and the Oojamaflip. After acceptance (hurrah!), the next stage has been editing, which took the form of emails from and to my editor, plus the input of an external freelance editor. This has been really interesting and a great learning process.
The first job was to cut several verses which was a little painful but I could instantly see improvements. Apparently in a picture book the less words you can use the better. The words that make the final cut have to work so much harder that they become exactly the right words for the job.
Next to be picked up were inconsistencies and unnecessary areas of the plot. Yes, even a picture book has a plot – it needs a clear beginning, middle and end. The beginning has to jump straight into the action, the middle needs to be absorbing, and if the end can be a bang, a snort of laughter or a giggle of happiness then so much the better.
One issue I always struggle with is finding the right words for the target age group, and there were a few words that needed changing. When you’re writing rhyme, changing one word is not that simple – it can mean rewriting the entire verse. A fun challenge! After two or three rounds of editing, my editor was happy and I was very happy. I could see the improvements straight away. In fact the text is so much better than before that frankly I can’t understand why it was even picked it off the slushpile in that state in the first place!
The next stage is the really, really exciting one – illlustrations. I will blog about that in my next post. Here is a summary of what I have learned so far during the editing process.
- Although most publishers specify a maximum of 1000 words for picture books, there’s a magic number to aim for if you can – under 500. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but too many words on a page can spoil the layout, overwhelm the illustrations and put a child off the book.
- You can spend a day deciding on the right word. Luckily you can be doing the washing up at the same time.
- My publisher (hurrah!) favours 13 double page spreads. Not every picture book is that length (some are more), but if in doubt it’s a useful guideline. That means if your book is a rhyming one, 13 4-line stanzas would be a good maximum to aim for.
- Be prepared to lose a lot of your manuscript in the editing process. You will benefit from it. It’s like polishing a stone and getting all the rough edges off.
- Even a picture book needs to have a plot. If it’s rhyming, try to step away from the ‘poem’ concept and make sure you are telling a story.
- It’s easy to sacrifice meaning and or sense for the sake of a good rhyme. I’ve realised I do it all the time. I need to make the rhyme serve my story, not the other way around.
- Every word is important and has a job to do. You could say writing is making sure the right word does the right job at the right time.
Enjoy your writing and keep submitting!
Today I reached a milestone for this blog – 1000 followers! I’m so pleased to have reached such a wide audience. I’ve also been loving hearing the recent success stories some of you have been having with your manuscripts – some mentioned on this blog already, others to come over the next few months. We all know what a difficult and frustrating journey it can be, and to hear that publishers are still keen to accept new authors is heartwarming indeed.
To celebrate I’d like to offer you a present. We all know how hard it is to get a second opinion on your work. Scrub that – an honest and useful second opinion. Family are lovely but will always say it’s ‘good’, even if you give them a pencil and ask them to scrub out whole chapters. Some writers swear by having a ‘beta reader’ – someone to go through an early draft and give them a useful critique before they start submitting. I have recently started doing this with two other playwrights for the short plays I’m working on and I feel it has improved my work hugely, as well as decreasing the sense of writing ‘in a vacuum’. You can find willing beta readers in writers’ groups, online forums, social media groups, or sites where you post work up for others to critique and repay them the favour, such as Authonomy.
Or – as a thank you for being such a lovely follower – you can simply post a comment below and I will pick one out of a hat for a free writer-to-writer critique. (A nice, encouraging one, not a tearing-you-to-shreds one, delivered in confidence by email, not published on the blog.)
It could be for a work in progress, something you are preparing for submission, or something you are already sending out but would like some feedback on from a fellow author. All I ask is that it’s under 50,000 words. For very short works like picture books I’d be happy to look at three.
Feel free to talk about your manuscript in your comment, or if you want to play your cards close to your chest then that’s fine as well, just make a remark so I know you’re in the draw. After a month I will print out this page, cut the comments into strips, put them in a hat and ask one of my children to pull one out, then the winner can email me their work.
Good luck and I look forward to reading your manuscript!