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.
The Caterpillar is not only a beautifully produced, high quality quarterly children’s magazine featuring stories, poetry and art, but also has a rather spiffing annual poetry competition. The prize is one thousand euros and publication in the mag. Judging is by renowned children’s poet Chrissie Giffins. Entry is open to anyone over 16 but the poem must not have been published or online. Entry costs twelve euros per poem and entry details can be found here on the website. Closing date is end of March so why not sort through those poems and give it a shot!
I’m celebrating as my new picture book ‘Daddy and I’, illustrated gorgeously by Sophie Burrows, is out today! It was a tricky one to write and to be honest I wasn’t expecting a yes from my publishers at Maverick… maybe because I’d just spent so long hammering away at it, trying to get every verse to include a different rhyme for the word ‘I’. Sometimes you just wish you’d never started something!
I’d been thinking for a while of writing something that worked on two levels, the child’s point of view and the adult’s. What can be quite a mundane experience for us can be full of wonder for a child because they see everything with a fresh eye. A walk was the simplest way of expressing this, and I’ve got lovely memories of going for super-long walks with my Dad (probably quite short now I come to think of it) which we treated as a huge adventure. I thought it would add a fuller background to the story to put it in the context of a Saturday visit where the child doesn’t necessarily spend the rest of the week with her dad, so the time they have together is extra special. When I saw Sophie’s sketches I knew she completely understood what I was trying to say!
I’m glad I finally got the chance to write the idea that had been simmering for so long. Sometimes it can take a long while for a story to brew. At other times it can be very quick. One of the mysteries of the writing process!
And a last minute ‘good luck’ to anyone entering the Writing Magazine/Amy Sparkes/Julia Churchill picture book writing contest. I know a lot of my critique customers are going for this. I’ll be crossing my fingers for you!
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.
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.
It’s an actual Professor McQuark illustration by Julia Patton! I love it!
Probably the most exciting part about getting a picture book accepted is seeing the illustrations. More than any other book, a picture book has to grab the reader’s attention from the very first glance, so the illustrations really are the most important part of the package. I can appreciate much more now why most publishers ask for text only. They may have illustrators they are waiting to work with, they have their own house style to pursue, they have access to agencies with hundreds of artists… in short, they are much better placed to make a decision about an illustrator than you are. The exception is if you are an author-illustrator (a rare but amazing breed!) or an already established partnership such as Hedgehugs‘ Steve Wilson and Lucy Tapper (husband and wife as well as writer and illustrator). Having an illustrator chosen for you also gives you a wonderful chance to see your book elevated to another level, as your illustrator brings a whole new level of interest and fun to your text. This has certainly been the case with the illustrator my publishers, Maverick, have selected for Professor McQuark and the Oojamaflip: the amazingly inventive Julia Patton.
Normally Maverick will select perhaps three artists and ask for sample spreads before comparing them and selecting their favourite. The author is consulted as part of the decision but is not in charge of making the final choice. In this case, however, they were keen to work with Julia and knew she would be the perfect choice for a book about wacky inventions. I only had to look at her sample spread to instantly agree!
The next time the author will see illustrations is usually when pencil-drawn drafts are produced for each spread, to give a rough idea of how the finished book will look. There is an opportunity for input but again the editor and artist will be making the main decisions. After the pencil stage, it’s time to sit back and try not to fidget too much while the artist puts in the hard graft. As I mentioned in my previous post about promotion, this is a good time to do those pre-publication jobs such as creating a website and Facebook page. When the finished drawings come in and you have picked yourself off the floor in amazement and awe, there is a chance for some typo-hunting, as by now the text will have been laid out on the pages by the editor. At this stage you may get a digital copy, which isn’t actually a virtual book but the real thing. It’s just not the actual book yet. Yes, I don’t understand either. One last check and then it’s off to be printed for real, a process which takes three long months. Time to get very excited indeed!
In my next post I’ll be interviewing Julia Patton about inventions, inspiration and interpretation via parrot. Back soon!
I am so happy to tell you that a picture book I submitted to Maverick Books has made its way up through the slush pile and has been accepted for publication! You will know that this is a dream come true for me and I am still afraid I will suddenly walk into an exam hall without my trousers on and realise it is a dream and I have to retake my physics O level instead.
I sent the manuscript at the end of April 2014 but I knew there was a big backlog and Maverick was my first choice so I decided to wait and concentrate on other material. I have a lot of manuscripts of different age ranges and genres all whizzing about at once! Then at the beginning of February I received an email asking if the manuscript was still available and for more information about myself. Funnily enough Maverick had already heard of me due to the number of click-throughs coming to their site through the list of publishers on this blog! I was thrilled to hear they were interested but tried not to get too excited as I have been at this stage so many times before. The next email invited me to visit their offices in Horsham. It was a two-hour drive but nothing was going to stop me!
It was very interesting seeing inside a publisher’s office and I learned a lot about the process as we talked about how a picture book was put together and how Maverick works. Although it is a small team they have big ambitions and really high standards. They also like to work closely with their authors and get them involved in editorial meetings, which sounded great. Contracts were mentioned, hands were shaken and I left the meeting walking on air and hoping I wouldn’t crash the car on the way home!
Putting together a picture book is a lengthy process, so I won’t see Professor McQuark come to life fully until 2016. But there is the editorial process to enjoy, plus the excitement of seeing sample illustrations from three different illustrators before a final style is selected to suit the Professor and her amazing inventions. I think that’s what I’m looking forward to seeing most of all.
I’ll keep you up to date with my publishing journey as it happens. But for now, keep submitting, keep writing – you never know what might happen!