Sally Doran’s success story

I love interviewing debut authors.  It took me so many years to get published, and you do start to think that maybe you are on a journey that will never have an end, so to hear that success really is possible is very motivating.  Sally Doran took a slightly different route than most, and her persistence really paid off, with the result that her fab picture book Boom! Bang! Royal Meringue! illustrated by Rachael Saunders is now out with Anderson Press.  Read on to find out more about Sally’s journey to publication.

sally doran interview pictureDid you write much as a child?  Who encouraged you?

My love of writing actually started a little later, in adult life. I enjoyed English literature at school but it wasn’t until my sister started writing that I considered it something I could do. My family really, really encouraged me in my writing and dedicated hours and hours to reading, critiquing and proofreading my texts. My husband has been brilliant too and is the one that convinced me to go to the London Book Fair when the rejections started stacking up! They have all, along with my amazing friends, had absolute and unwavering faith in my books, which is pretty cool.

Your sister is a writer.  What’s it like to have healthy competition so close at hand?

Well, Kate is actually a writer of non-fiction, so we are not in direct competition – although I think that may change at some point. We are also currently working on a collaboration mixing fiction and non-fiction, which we’re discussing on Skype whenever we get the chance. We have very similar ways of working and writing (we are twins after all) which is a massive advantage and we have a ridiculous amount of fun together!

sally doran bookI was interested to see on your twitter feed that it took four years from signing a contract with Anderson Press until publication.  Why so long?

Yes, it’s felt like a very long wait – I actually changed jobs and had a baby in the time it took to get it on the shelves! I think the period between signing a contract and the release date is ordinarily 2 years, but because of a couple of false starts with different illustrators, it took us twice as long. It was frustrating as I couldn’t do anything to speed the process along but it was worth it to find the prefect fit.

Tell us more about your writing journey.

Once I’d decided I wanted to write a picture book, the first thing I did was read every picture book I could get my hands on, to see what worked and didn’t work. I went to the children’s section in the library when I wasn’t in work and got 10 books out at a time. I researched as much advice as I could on about writing for children, I looked into what stories and themes were relevant and only then did I start writing a book about a little girl who couldn’t get to sleep. I found I absolutely LOVED the process of writing, especially in rhyme and I couldn’t believe it had taken me this long to discover I enjoyed it!

Once I’d completed it, I got sections of it illustrated by artist Emma Carpendale and then sent it off to every publisher that was taking unsolicited manuscripts at the time (thanks to your brilliant and comprehensive list!). If anyone’s done even the slightest bit of research into submitting a picture book, everything screams “don’t get your text illustrated”, but this is ultimately what led to my work getting noticed in the end. When I received a stack of rejection letters, I went to the London Book Fair, identified all the relevant publishers, got there when the doors opened armed with my iPad and a bag load of illustrated manuscripts and basically tried to convince everyone of them that they needed this book on their list. This is where I met Klaus Flugge and Libby Hamilton (working for different publishers at the time but now both at Andersen) who both, along with a number of other publishers said they were interested.

This was absolutely the best thing I ever did. Although Andersen didn’t take up that first book, they did take up my second and I wouldn’t have got the contacts I did or maintained a correspondence with various editors, without attending it. It unequivocally led to my publishing deal. The person who looks at the manuscript you post is not always the person who attends the fair – and that’s why I would advise everyone to go to it if you’ve had no luck with your postal submissions.

How did it feel to finally hold Boom! Bang! Royal Meringue! in your hand?

It was extraordinary. I’d been sent a proof copy, but I wasn’t prepared for quite how beautiful the hardback version would be. It was absolutely thrilling – especially after such a long wait!

Tell us about the story and what inspired you to write it.

I mainly write in rhyme and I came up with the title first, which had originally been Boom! Bang! Hannah Meringue! about a little girl who loved puddings. The story evolved and after lots (and lots) of versions, became a story about a princess who is given a pudding machine for her birthday as a reward for her impeccable manners. It also features my favourite pudding in the world, which is Eton Mess.

What was it like working with your illustrator, Rachael Saunders?

It was a brilliantly collaborative experience, which I know isn’t always the case. Having friends in the industry I had heard horror stories of the author not being consulted at all and the result being a little disappointing. I had quite the opposite experience. Libby (my editor at Andersen) would regularly ask for my feedback on the spreads that Rachael had completed but also encouraged me to trust the illustrator and her creative process. As an author, you have a very fixed idea (or at least I did) on what I wanted the illustrations to look like, but Rachael’s work was exactly that, but better. She has a very comedic style and included things that I would never have dreamt of.

How does your writing day pan out?

When I wrote Boom! Bang! I was only working part-time which was fantastic and meant that when I wasn’t working, I could write. I wrote in the quiet attic room in the house where we were living at the time and in the local coffee shop. (I would really recommend this by the way – weirdly I found it less distracting than being at home!) Once I started working full-time I had to be a little more disciplined so I would get up early, make a coffee and write until I had to jump in the car and get to work. Whilst I was on maternity leave, I wrote a book in collaboration with Rachael (my illustrator) while my little boy slept. Now I’ve got a baby and work almost full-time I’ve had to get even more creative with my time and work in the evening, which I’m not used to but is the only time I have currently.

What advice would you give to writers seeking publication?

I’m writing some top tips for getting published on my Instagram feed, but if I could give just five I would say the following. 1. Make sure your work is as close to perfect as it can be before you send it off. Ask trusted friends and family to read it, they will spot plot holes and grammatical errors that you definitely won’t even if you’ve read it a million times. 2. Have conviction and confidence in your work, if you don’t, a potential editor certainly won’t. 3. Do your research and find the publishers that take unsolicited manuscripts. Don’t waste your time with the rest, your beautiful book will either be sent back or chucked in the bin. Use Lou’s list – it’s comprehensive and regularly updated. 4. If you’re getting a stack of rejections, go to the London Book Fair and book in meetings with the publishers you have identified as a good fit for your book. If they don’t take appointments, just rock up at their stall – that’s what I did with some of them. 5. Don’t give up! When I went to London Book Fair, I approached all the children’s publishers that produced picture books, despite having already been rejected by most of them (my publisher included!). I would also say – just keep writing, you’ll find you develop your writing and ultimately improve it. You’ll also then have a stack of books in your portfolio for your next visit to LBF.

What can we expect next from Sally Doran?

I’ve written the second in the series of Boom! Bang! Royal Meringue!, I’m working on the first three chapters of an MG fiction book and I’ll hopefully be working this summer with my sister on our own project, so I’m very excited about the future. I know though that whether I continue to get published or not, I’ll keep writing regardless.

Thanks Sally, that was fascinating!  You can find Sally at

Twitter @sallyiswriting
Instagram @sally_doran

and you can buy Boom Bang Royal Meringue here.

 

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Fiona Barker’s success story

I love sharing a success story, so if you haven’t heard of Fiona Barker and her passion for picture books, please read on and enjoy!  Fiona’s book Danny and the Dream Dog came through my critique service and I was thrilled to learn it will be published by Tiny Tree in October.

danny and the dream dog

Welcome to the blog, Fiona, and congratulations on your forthcoming book.  You started off as a self published author.  Can you tell us a bit about what that was like?

Thank you for inviting me onto your fab blog! Yes, I self-published a picture book ‘Amelie and the Great Outdoors’ in 2016. I had submitted it as a text in the conventional way about 10 years previously. Looking back now, my submissions were cringeworthy! Unsurprisingly I didn’t get anywhere so I shelved it for about 7 years. Then I came back to the story, which I still liked. This time around I investigated self-publishing. I worked with a freelance book designer and together we commissioned lovely illustrations from Rosie Brooks. Then I approached Matador who took me through the process of printing and publication. By now I knew that I had the picture book bug and so I started to view Amelie as a ‘practice’ for trying to get traditionally published. I won’t lie, it was an expensive process! But once you have a book in your hands you can get experience with events in schools, bookshops and libraries. I’ve learned so many lessons and I think that would all have taken much longer if I hadn’t self-published and had to market my book myself. My current publishers, Tiny Tree, told me that they were impressed by the fact that I had some history and a track record in promoting my book and that was one of the reasons that they signed me. So although I haven’t broken even financially, nothing is ever wasted. The experience has been invaluable.

Why did you feel you wanted to pursued a traditional publishing contract?

Lots of reasons! I couldn’t really afford to self-publish again. Self-published picture book authors are at a disadvantage because they have to pay up-front illustrator costs and this puts it out of reach for many writers. Also, I had rediscovered a real passion for picture books and wanted to explore pursuing writing as a career. It’s hard to pull that off with self-publishing. I have massive respect for anyone who manages to do that. And, like it or not, there is still a stigma attached to self-publishing. Several bruising experiences when trying to market Amelie showed me that!

What attracted you to Tiny Tree?  How has the process been, working with them?

I found Tiny Tree through Twitter (which is my favourite and my best!). I saw a tweet by one of their authors and decided to look them up. The information on the website sounded great, they were quite new at that stage so I thought I might be in with more of a chance than with a more established publisher and they accepted unsolicited submissions! It felt like I might be in roughly the right place at roughly the right time for once but I wasn’t confident as I’d had so many rejections in the past! They have been brilliant right from the start. They agreed to work with the illustrator that I wanted and they’ve been very hands on in getting everything just right. It’s so different from self-publishing where absolutely everything is down to you. This feels much more collaborative and it’s great to have other people who are excited about your book!

Bit of a cheeky question coming up!  You had a critique done during the drafting process of Danny and the Dream Dog.  How do you think this helped you?

It was HUGE! I’d advise anyone to get independent professional advice on their texts. It helped me refine the style and voice. I also changed a couple of important aspects of the plot and one of the main characters names. So some quite major revisions! But I didn’t follow through with everything. There were a couple of times where edits were suggested but I decided to stick with the original, including the title! I’ll let everyone judge for themselves whether that was a good idea or not! But it was great to be forced to carefully consider and justify the things I kept. I’m sure the professional advice helped because no changes were made to the text by the publishers!

You are very active on the literary scene with Picture Book Club, school visits and adult events such as WI and U3A meetings.  Do you think this has helped your author profile?

Massively, especially Picture Book Club. That’s not why I did it though! I set up PBC as an affordable way for people (including me!) to meet and learn from established industry professionals. And it gives me something to tweet and blog about. The adult talks I do are just a chance to witter on about picture books for an hour or so. And I love doing school visits. That’s done a bit for my profile locally but I’m not famous enough to get many long distance school gigs (-; 

How did you find your agent Alice Williams?  Tell us a bit about what an agent does for you.

Alice was on my ‘hit list’ because she represents my SCBWI friend and fellow picture book author Clare Helen Welsh. I submitted to her and then met her in person at the SCBWI conference in 2017 and I signed with her shortly afterwards. She is awesome. She is responsive if I have any queries and takes quite an editorial role which I find very helpful (even if I cry into my laptop initially!). She also knows the industry and has the contacts that I will never have. Having spent years pressing the send button myself, it feels weird having someone else do that for you but she is getting my work seen by editors that I could only have dreamed of previously. 

As an audiologist, do you think your day job affects your writing life?

I only work as an audiologist 2 days a week so writing fits round that quite well. I also have incredibly supportive colleagues which helps enormously. I’m terrible at compartmentalising things though so I always have a notebook with me, even at work and I often have to break off from working on a story to take a call from a patient. I recognise that I’m very lucky to be able to maintain both though. Variety is the spice of life!

What are your ambitions?

Ooooo! In the short term, I have one or two texts that are very special to me which I would really, really like to see in print. In the longer term, I’d like to write something that has longevity. Something that might still be in print in 10 or 20 years time. It’s a bit of a pipedream but you might as well aim high! 

And finally, any words of advice to other writers?

My number one piece of advice would be to join SCBWI and find a local or online critique group. My own SCBWI crit group are, without exception, amazing writers who I continue to respect and learn from all the time. You will also meet so many other fantastic writers and illustrators as well as other industry professionals. I met Howard Gray, who has done a brilliant job illustrating Danny, at the SCBWI conference in 2016 and the rest is history!

Many thanks Fiona and the best of luck with your new book!

Danny and the Dream Dog by Fiona Barker and illustrated by Howard Gray is published by Tiny Tree in October.  You can pre-order here, or why not order at your local bookshop or library?

Visit Fiona at fionabarker.co.uk or on twitter at @Fi_BGB

Find out about Picture Book Club.

And check out the wonderful dog charity Cinnamon Trust.

 

An interview with Tiny Tree

Following blog subscriber and critique customer Fiona Barker’s picture book acceptance by Tiny Tree, I caught up with James Shaw from Matthew James Publishing to ask him about his new picture book imprint and what he might be looking for in a submission.

Tiny Tree logoWhat made you decide to launch a picture book imprint?  How many picture books are you planning on publishing each year?

Not only am I a big fan of literature in general, I am also a huge art fan and a very visual person. Since taking over MJP I was always excited by the prospect of working on picture books, and as a father of two small boys I am constantly surrounded by the wonderful possibilities so many other publishing companies had produced. For me it was an obvious step. Although it hasn’t been easy, it has been very worthwhile.

As a small independent we don’t have a quota for how many books we publish each year and can be quite picky. Next year though we already have about 10 titles on the way, with many more submissions still filtering through. We like to keep it to no more than 1 a month though.

What length picture book are you looking for?  And do you accept rhyme?

We like to have 32 page picture books, but we will stretch to 48 or drop down to 24 at a push. We have done much longer titles, but we prefer 32 pages as a rule. We accept rhyming and non-rhyming books, the story is the important thing, and as long as it is told well it doesn’t matter if it rhymes or not.  Honestly not always fussed about a particular word count but we do find that around 600 words works best for children’s picture books.

Are there any topics that you are particularly attracted to?  Do you like books with a message?  What about humour?

Humour is really important to us. As a parent it is easier to read a book to my kids 40 times if it is funny. However, we at Tiny Tree love to provide books with a message. Bullying, friendship, loneliness, change, anything that could affect the life of a child is perfect. We want to stand out amongst the crowd, but we also want to provide something to the children, and the parents, above and beyond a beautiful book.

How are your authors paid, eg flat fee or royalties?  Do you pay an advance?  Do you sell foreign rights?

Our contract states a royalty of 10% on print versions, 25% on electronic versions. We also discuss with the author incremental increases in royalties based on sales. We don’t usually pay an advance unless one is required for a piece we absolutely must have. As a small independent we want to focus all our budget on producing and marketing a great product, and we like authors who are focused on that goal as well.

We can and do sell foreign rights, although we haven’t had much opportunity to up to this point. We have done our own translations for titles, to work with the authors from other countries though. Like any traditional publisher we are always looking for new avenues of sales for books and to make sure they get as much exposure as possible.

How do you find illustrators for your picture books?  Is this something the author would get involved in as well?

A multitude of ways really. Sometimes an author/illustrator will come to us with a title they have already illustrated, like Binx the Jinx. Sometimes an author will know someone who they would like to use or they have worked with before, like Russ Brown and Jamie Cosley. Sometimes we get portfolio submissions from illustrators which we keep on file for possible work.

There have only been a couple of times where we have had to find an illustrator from nothing, but there are so many organisations and communities out there that it always very simple. The only problem comes with trying to match up the work and trawling through hundreds of possible illustrators when there so many talented people out there.

What attracted you to Fiona Barker’s book?

Fiona’s book attracted me in a number of ways. First, it was a simple and heart-warming story. There is a message there, but it is surrounded by just a simple, funny, inviting story that makes it easy to read and something I could certainly see myself and others coming back to. Fiona herself is also easy to sell; she provided a great deal of marketing information, she already has a great presence and she has an approachable persona that makes it simple to plan around her.

She also provided us with an illustrator that worked perfectly for her title. Although having something illustrated before submitting can sometimes be problematic, in this case it really worked in her favour.

 

Details on how to submit to Tiny Tree here

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An interview with Julia Patton

Julia PattonIn my last blog post I was delighted to share with you that the very talented Julia Patton is the illustrator for Professor McQuark.  I posed her a few questions and I think you’ll agree that, with her hectic schedule, inspired ideas and appreciation for the silly things in life, she is the Professor McQuark of the illustrative world!

Looking at your Amazon Author Page, you are a very busy woman!  How do you choose your next project?  What drew you to Professor McQuark and the Oojamaflip?

It’s true I’m a workaholic! I’m madly in love with my job and my passion for creating children’s picture books makes me skip to my studio each morning. (All of three paces, as my studio is my woodshed in my garden overlooking my vegetable patch!)

I am lucky enough to have a collection of dedicated Bright agents in London and New York who work tirelessly for me, internationally sourcing the newest and hottest authors and publishers to collaborate with. Most weeks a few new jobs pop up! I also source my own new publishers through attending the International Children’s Book fair in Bologna, which I visit each year. It’s a lovely break in the publishing calendar to look forward to during the long hours in the studio. I use this annual opportunity to meet face-to-face with existing international publishers, strengthening those all important relationships. It’s a delight to finally meet someone after 6 moths of daily emails (often at very unsocial hours). Attending the trade fairs is important for me to see the worlds finest publishing houses under one roof. I then can see emerging trends, where my work fits into the market and who is on my next wish list to work with. Very inspiring. Networking with a glass of prosecco is also rather lovely!

Choosing the next project?….rather more difficult than first anticipated. I’d love to say yes to everything, but it’s is impossible. At one intense period I had 6 books on the go simultaneously. As you can imagine this is not sustainable or really giving everyone your best. A freelance creative has to carefully select what works best for them, everyone works differently. I know illustrators who deliberately take weekends off and others that work flexibly around busy families. Unfortunately these decisions usually depend upon timing: what I’m currently working on, what’s lined up for the immediate months and what I have lurking in the not-so-distant-future. Deadlines vary greatly so calculating what I’m capable of achieving to the highest standards has to be estimated. Saying no to any project is very hard. I also specifically put aside time to write and develop my own stories- I have maybe 4/5 ready to pitch, a few in the pea-pod stage and others just scribbles in my sketchbook that require frequent watering to blossom.
Professor McQuark
I was delighted to be offered Professor McQuark from Maverick Publishing as we’d wanted to work together previously  but I’d been too busy unfortunately. Timing. The text was exceptional – if you can visualise each line, word and character on the first read-through you know it’s going to be very special. Exciting, busy and beautifully rhymed! A female professor empowering a new generation of mini-inventors and engineers! YES PLEASE!

How do you come up with a look for your characters?  For example, I love the fact that the Professor has four pairs of glasses!

Character development is important to make each book distinctive, we have to care about our protagonists and this requires creating them with love and attention to detail. A redheaded character can subliminally be seen as the underdog we all secretly champion and we all can imagine what adding copious amounts of freckles to a little boys’ nose can possibly achieve!!! Professor McQuark is so clever and busy that she’d obviously require numerous spectacles and it was also a reference to my childhood hero, Professor Branestawm, who had multiple glasses too.

The level of detail in the illustrations is amazing!  Were you a Richard Scarry fan when you were younger?  Who inspired you?

I believe my role aScience fair walking chairs an illustrator is to illuminate words, suggest the magical and interpret the unspoken. A good illustrator can capture the imagination and hearts of not only the audience, but visually interpret the emotions of characters and the adventures they explore. We have the tangible tools of colour, tone, texture and composition at our disposal and the responsibility to capture audible drama, anticipation, and physical emotions. The pause that a ‘page-turn’ gives offers an illustrator infinite possibilities. I love the idea that nothing is impossible to render and breathe life into. It can be quite an overwhelming responsibility and challenge sometimes. Professor McQuark was an amalgamating of many of my historical visual influences: Lego manuals I poured over for hours, and my beloved Richard Scarry (whose books I read as regularly now as in my infant years). Not forgetting Heath Robinson. Many days have been lost in delight fanatically deliberating how his contraptions were created. I loved discovering a 1912 dictionary definition of ‘Heath Robinson-esque’ as an “Absurdly ingenious and impracticable device” Even my children’s love of Wallace and Gromit is a modern embodiment of the same theme. A perfect partnership for Professor McQuark I thought!

I love the Science Fair page with all the wacky inventions you have come up with.  What is your favourite illustration or spread in the book?

I really Science fair parrot interpreterlove diagrams. All those dotted lines, numerical influences, keys explaining odd symbols has me giddy with excitement. Combined with all those Heath Robinson and Richard Scary influences, the science page was a sheer delight. Your description of each object was delicious, just enough to give me a spring-board and leaving just enough to the imagination to create the sublime and the ridiculous. You can never underestimate how magical something ‘plain silly’ can be. The science fair page took me almost 2 weeks to create. I loved every second. I’d really like the ‘parrot-interpreter-radio’ to be achievable please – I imagine macaws are just hilarious company.


And finally… Your latest publication is the Children in Need celebrity co-authored book, The Curious Tale of Fi-Rex.  I have to ask: did you get to meet any of the celebrities?  Who came up with the best page?

This new book is raising vital funds for the BBC Children In Need charity which is very close to my heart. It was a huge privilege to be a part of. Fi-Rex is a collaboration between some of the finest sportsmen, musicians and creatives in contemporary society. A bonkers story based around a traditional game of ‘consequences’ which concludes happily I can report! The launch party was really quite marvellous, attended by many famous faces. Trying to give a sense of consistency to so many voices within one book what a delightful challenge. (Between you and I, Bear Grylls’ page was the most atmospheric and tension building – this was my favourite. Shhhhhh!)

Thank you Julia!  We will let you return to your woodshed where no doubt new and amazing illustrations are impatient to burst forth!

www.juliapatton.co.uk

Julia’s Amazon author page

Interview with Penguin Ireland’s Claire Hennessy

Thank you to everyone who suggested questions for Claire Hennessy, children’s author, writing teacher and Penguin Ireland children’s editor.  And thank you Claire for sparing the time to talk to us in between your many commitments!  (Where appropriate I have removed specifics in the questions to make the answers relevant to everyone rather than just the individual concerned.)

Seeds of Liberty by Claire Hennessy

Is Penguin Ireland is open to submissions from across the UK or does it just focus on the Irish market?  How about overseas authors, eg Australia?

We get submissions from all over the place but as Penguin (now Penguin Random House!) is international it’s probably best to approach the division closest/most relevant to where you live.

It is unusual for a big publisher to have an open submission policy.  What are your reasons for this – and are you swamped?!

A little swamped! But in a great way. The publishing scene in Ireland is slightly different to the UK, in that most Irish publishers will deal directly with writers rather than having an agent be almost-essential. Combine that with it being a small country with a huge amount of creative talent – open submissions mean that lack of an agent doesn’t stand in the way. Though there are submissions from agents too, of course.

What word counts are you looking for in the different age ranges?

There’s a really good post here from American literary agent Jennifer Laughran which is worth looking at: http://literaticat.blogspot.co.uk/2011/05/wordcount-dracula.html

Generally once something is within the rough parameters of its age group, it’s fine. If it seems not to match up, there are usually other problems with the manuscript in terms of being a fit for the age and genre.

Do you publish fantasy and science fiction?

Currently open to everything (if it’s good!).

Do you accept books that have already been self published?

Never say never. But they’re very tricky. It’s best to submit something new, and include any relevant details (sales figures, etc) about your self-published work.

What information do you like to see in a covering letter?

Basically what it says in the submissions guidelines (http://www.penguin.ie/static/penguinirelandsubmissionguidelines/index.html). Shorter is better. A brief summary of the book – including a word count – and then anything relevant about the writer (e.g. previous writing or other creative experience, bookselling experience, etc). Did I mention shorter is better?

Every Summer by Claire HennessyIn your opinion, is it worthwhile spending money on professional editing services before submitting to agents or publishers, to make a book the best it can be?

It’s definitely worthwhile investing time and energy and (if possible) money into your manuscript and into your writing career, in the same way you would with anything else. That might be working with an editor at a literary consultancy, which, although it can seem pricy, can really help someone view their manuscript differently and also teach them how to edit their own work (current and future) more effectively. Or it might be taking writing workshops, or joining writers’ groups – anything that helps them move past their early drafts and really polish up their work so that it’s as good as it can be. It’s really difficult to learn how to edit your own work – we’re not trained for it in school; it’s a much bigger and more dramatic and often more exciting and creative process than we imagine it might be – but it’s also crucial. Editors and agents are looking for work that is as good as you can make it – and then to work with you to make that as good as you can both make it. ‘Writing is rewriting’ as they say.

What are your views on picture book apps?  Do you think they have a future?  Should picture book writers be writing for this new market?

Picture books are not something I’m handling at the moment but I would agree with the sense that apps need to complement books, and do something different to them, rather than replace them. It’s a different medium. Picture books are still gorgeous physical objects which both parents and kids appreciate.

Would you recommend joining a writers group?  Friends and family, although wonderful, can be too kind. Can you recommend any other way to get honest feedback?

Writers’ groups (which includes online writers’ groups too) can be terrific but the quality varies hugely. You need to ensure that the other writers are at roughly the same level you’re at – e.g. have been writing for a certain amount of time, and also are taking it as seriously as you are – and that they’re prepared to give constructive feedback rather than just telling you what they think you want to hear. Adding new members every so often can also help in terms of keeping things fresh.

If you have friends who are writers, it can be useful to get feedback from them too – but I think it does need to be a reciprocal arrangement and something where you both understand that non-glowing feedback isn’t something that’s going to destroy a friendship.

Non-writer friends and family are to be avoided – too much else going on in those relationships!

With the advent of technology, smart phones and kindles, what is the best piece of advice you can give to a beginner?

Use them! For example: if you’re on your phone the whole time – make notes about your story or your surroundings or an idea you’ve just had, rather than scrolling through Facebook. (And it looks less awkward than pulling out a notebook to scribble down your ideas.) But also: don’t let them distract you too much. There’s a lot of publishing information out there online, which is easily accessible, and brilliant (when I started researching publishing in the ‘90s things were a bit different), but it can distract you from the absolute most important things when it comes to writing: thinking, reading, writing (repeat as needed).

You were first published while still a teenager.  Why do you think there aren’t more books for teens written by teens?

I think there are plenty, actually! I’m currently reading ‘Falling Into Place’ by Amy Zhang, which was written when she was a teen; next up is Alice Oseman’s ‘Solitaire’. Beth Reekles is also terribly young… and then there are American writers like Hannah Moskowitz and Kody Keplinger who are now in their 20s but were first published as teenagers. Not to mention S.E. Hinton of ‘The Outsiders’ fame (1967) who wrote that as a teen. And Amelia Atwater-Rhodes, the American YA horror writer… and Christopher Paolini… and Catherine Webb…

There are definitely teen writers out there but, as with older writers, there are more people submitting manuscripts than getting published. Teens are also, by virtue of their age, more towards the start of their careers, and your chances increase the more you write and the longer you’ve been at it.

When you were in the age group for which you now write, who were your favourite authors (apart from yourself!)?

Oh so many, many of whom are still my favourites – Sarah Dessen, Laurie Halse Anderson, Judy Blume, Paula Danziger, J.K. Rowling, Ann M Martin, Madeleine L’Engle, Jacqueline Wilson.

As a writer, how do you recognise which ideas to ditch and which to run with?

I write down all the ideas so that they’re always there – because sometimes even if they don’t work on their own, or now, they’ll work in the future if combined with something else.

Novels require a whole bunch of different, linked ideas, not just one thing, so I tend to wait until I feel like I have enough ‘stuff’, enough material, to sustain an entire book. That’s usually several pages of notes and scribblings, to be added to as I start writing and more ideas come to me. Once I’m at that stage the challenge isn’t so much ideas as it is the motivation and discipline that comes with any long-term project.

You can keep up with Claire at www.clairehennessy.com and follow her on Twitter at @clairehennessy

 

Send me your questions for Claire Hennessy, children’s editor at Penguin Ireland

I’m delighted to say I will be interviewing the children’s editor at Penguin Ireland, Claire Hennessy, in the next couple of weeks.   As some of you may have read on my Twitter feed, Penguin Ireland are accepting unsolicited children’s and YA manuscripts.  With that in mind I thought it would be nice to get some questions together from all of us rather than just me, so if you’d like to send a question, please put it in the comments section below, or if you prefer to be all mysterious and anonymous (perfectly all right if you do), you can email me your question at lou.treleaven@sky.com.

Claire is also the author of ten young adult novels and a historical children’s novel, plus she teaches creative writing, so I’m sure she won’t mind if questions veer on to general writing advice as well as Penguin.

Claire’s website is at www.clairehennessy.com and the submission guidelines for Penguin Ireland children’s books are here.

An interview with Martyn Beardsley

Following my visit to author Martyn Beardsley’s blog, he has kindly agreed to answer some of my own questions.  Martyn is an interesting character, having achieved success in several genres and age groups.  He is probably best known for his series of humorous children’s books about the useless knight Sir Gadabout, which was also turned into a CITV television programme.  Yes, he has lived the dream!

Sir Gadabout Does His Best by Martyn BeardsleyTell us about your first success – Sir Gadabout.  How did the idea come about?  What was your publication journey?

I had recently read and been captivated by Thomas Mallory’s Mort D’Arthur, and had attempted an adult novel about one of the lesser-known Round Table knights. That didn’t get anywhere and I was at a bit of a loose end when the idea of a silly story for children about King Arthur’s knights popped into my head. The publication journey was quite long! It was turned down by around eleven publishers before I was lucky enough to get picked up by Orion, who were prepared to work with me on what was a rambling, over-long manuscript.

You went on to have a really varied writing career which goes against the advice often given to stick to one area!  Did you have any pressure to stay in a certain genre/age group?

No, no pressure to stick to one thing. I wrote a children’s timeslip book (also unsuccessful!) but became interested in the real-life captain of a nineteenth century Arctic expedition I’d incorporated into the story (Sir John Franklin). When I found there was no recent biography of him, I decided to write my own! That led on to other historical writing and more confidence in branching out. I also realised that if I wanted to make even a modest part-time living from writing I would need to be an opportunist, and try my hand at anything I thought there was an opening for.

What are your tips tips for writing for children?

Study the market! Working as a freelance for writers’ advisory services I get lots of manuscripts from people who have clearly decided ‘Oh, I’ll have a go at a story for kinds – that must be easier than an adult one.’ In my opinion, it’s actually harder to get a children’s book published (unless you’re a celebrity!) I see many manuscripts that simply don’t fit any publisher’s lists because they’re the wrong length for the age group or whatever, and the writers clearly haven’t given it any thought (just like me when I started!) And remember that the story is the thing. I also get plenty of manuscripts where the writer has concentrated on a situation, a character or an issue etc., and overlooked the basic structure of story-telling – which I would sum up in a nutshell as a problem established very early on that the hero needs to solve by the end.

How do you test out the humour in your books?  Do you read them to anyone or do you write what makes you laugh yourself?

I’ve never tested my humour out on anyone, and my rule of thumb is simply that if it appeals to my child-like sense of humour it will hopefully appeal to children! Most of what I consider to be the funniest bits of my books just came out of nowhere, as if someone had told me what joke to put in next – to the extent that (and I probably shouldn’t say this!) it often makes me laugh out loud. I think with my kind of humour you have to work with a mischievous frame of mind, and always be looking to see how you can extract the most silliness out of a situation.

Do you work on one project at a time or many things?  How do you cope with floods of ideas and sifting through what might work and what might not?

I work on several things at a time, which is a bad habit and not something I would recommend! I just have a restless mind and I’m always looking out for the next Big Idea. But it’s partly necessity if you are trying to write for a living – if an opportunity arises you just have to go for it even if you’re in the middle of something else. But you also need to be a good planner and realistic about deadlines, and I’m proud to say I’ve never missed one. I think you can make most decent ideas, ones that interest you, work – especially with fiction. Non-fiction is a bit trickier nowadays. When I started out it used to be said that any good idea would eventually find a publisher – but now times are much harder and they all use the phrase ‘not commercial enough’ a lot.

Do you have an agent?

Not really. Andrew Lownie took me on for an adult project that never got off the ground. I have had two children’s agents in the past. One I got on really well with but it just didn’t work out, and another I felt very badly let down by and severed my relationship with. The best thing I found about having a children’s agent was that they pass briefs on to you from publishers who, say, are looking for authors for a particular series. Those are the kinds of openings you simply don’t find out about otherwise. And as you know only too well, it’s now quite difficult to get publishers to look at your work unless it’s through an agent.

What are you working on now and what are your future plans?

I’m working on a book about the Battle of Waterloo for the adult historical market, having just finished a spooky children’s novel that is currently doing the rounds. I’d really like to write a thriller, and in fact started one a while back but ran into a brick wall with it. I might go back to it, but I’d also like to write a follow-up to Murder in Montague Place my Victorian detective novel featuring Inspector Bucket from Bleak House – which I really enjoyed writing.

What encouragement can you give to writers submitting manuscripts?

Sadly, this is a very difficult time to get published.  Study your craft – publishable-standard writing very rarely comes naturally. Don’t be in a rush to submit – put your manuscript away for a bit and then come back to it and polish it. Listen to criticism, especially if the same themes keep cropping up from people reading your stuff. But don’t be put off by rejections – it’s well known that many best sellers were initially rejected numerous times. It all boils down to people’s opinions, and as William Goldman said, ultimately: “Nobody knows anything”.

Thank you, Martyn!

Trudi Granger’s success story

I am delighted to share the success story of Trudi Granger, a reader of this blog, who is due to have her picture book ‘Always There Bear’ published next month by Top That! Publishing.

Always There Bear by Trudi Granger

What is your background and how long have you been writing for?

Ahh my background….. banking law!  For quite a few years I was a senior associate in Australia.  So, in a sense I have been ‘writing’ for years, in the form of loan agreements and other finance documents, as well as legal articles.  However it was not until 3 years ago when I returned to the UK with my husband and children that I started to think about writing for children.

 Slowly, little picture book ideas formed in my mind and I started to note them down.  However, it was not until about 18 months ago that I started to formulate my first picture book story.  After so many years of legal writing – where you write with absolute precision so that there is no ambiguity – it was quite liberating to write something for children, where the language could be simpler, more lyrical and encourage imagination, particularly once the so very important illustrations were added.

What made you write Always There Bear?

 I wanted to draft something that was reassuring and heart-warming for young children.  I wanted to create a story that could be read at bedtime and put the listener in a ‘good place’ when the lights went out.  (Clearly I also had the interests of the parents in mind as well!).  My thoughts focussed on teddy bears and the fact that many children have a special cuddly toy which they take around with them to share the good times and make the not-so-good times better.  How many times have parents managed to stop a child being upset or scared by handing their child their special teddy bear?  And how many times do little children decide to take a cuddly toy with them on a special outing or to nursery?  So many of them have an ‘always there bear’ who almost becomes one of the family.  And so that is what I tried to embrace in the picture book.  Coincidentally, just as I was at the stage of submitting the draft I read an article by historian David Cannadine about the enduring appeal of teddy bears.  Following his article, readers wrote in to tell their stories about the importance of their childhood teddy bears.  This made me wonder (and hope) that perhaps parents/carers/grandparents reading this book to children might also have an appreciation of the very simple message the story was intended to convey.

Tell us about the publication journey – did you submit to many places?  How did you feel when you got an offer?

Being a complete novice I had been a bit hit and miss sending off other submissions in the first couple of months until …. I came across your blog and the list you had created of publishers accepting unsolicited submissions!  It was by studying that extremely useful list that I got a more comprehensive understanding of children’s publishers and what they wanted.  Having taken a rather scattergun approach with earlier submissions (which is a real no no), this time, with ‘Always There Bear’, I was more measured, took time to look at the types of books the various publishers were currently advertising, and probably submitted the draft to only 5 or 6 publishers, including Top That! Publishing, who accepted my submission.

Unsurprisingly, I had been the recipient of my fair share of rejection letters (and worse still, deafening silence) in relation to other submissions, so the submissions for ‘Always There Bear’ were sent off with some realism as to what the response would be.  However, as with lottery tickets, we know the odds, but we still live in hope that fortune might favour us.

As regards how I felt when I received the offer via email – delighted, but slightly disbelieving!  I clicked on the email several times on the day it arrived and read it very thoroughly each time to make sure it did indeed say what it did.  (It was rather like that feeling you get when you leave the house and wonder whether you have indeed switched the oven off.  You know you have, but you still have to go back in the house to double check!)

I felt very green when I first found the courage to email Top That! Publishing, and explain to them that this was my first foray into writing and would they please explain to me what would happen once contracts had been signed.  They explained that the book, once the illustrations had been completed and the format signed off, would be showcased at the Frankfurt book fair, and would be due for publication in mid 2014 (now February 2014).  Top That! Publishing selected an illustrator, Gareth Llewhellin, and I have to say I was delighted when I first saw samples of his drawings for the book.  The illustrations complement the book completely.

Has being published changed your writing ambitions at all?

That’s an interesting question.  I am sure that many people, before they have anything published, have that feeling that they must keep going as they want to achieve the success of publication.

However, now that I have had my ‘fix’ of publication success there is indeed that feeling of wanting to go further.  Ideally I would love to be able to write a story for 7-9 year olds.  I have an idea, but I am very new to this craft and the standard is so very high.  So, I am realistic.  I shall carry on writing and will submit when I think something might be suitable.  However, if writing remains just a hobby for now, I shall be happy simply to have had the experience of having a book published and to have been introduced to an industry that I would otherwise never have known nothing about.  It’s been an enlightening journey!

What’s your advice to other writers hoping to be published, particularly in the picture book field?

Keep writing!  Always have a pen (or in my case, propelling pencil) and paper to hand to jot down your ideas as they come into your head.  Read other people’s writing blogs.  Go in for writing competitions.  But whatever it is, make sure it feels right for you.  And, most of all, I wish you all the very best of luck!

Thanks so much for your time, Trudi, and congratulations on your success!

‘Always There Bear’ will be available in bookshops and on Amazon from February.

I’ve been interviewed!

How exciting – I’ve been interviewed over on the blog of Martyn Beardsley, prolific writer for children and adults and author of the Sir Gadabout Books.

If you’ve popped over from Martyn’s blog then unfortunately you will now be caught in an endless loop for all time as I’m about to direct you back to the interview at Rambles of a Writer.  Sorry about that.