Category Archives: Submissions

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.

matthew james publishing ltd.pngWhat 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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A critical year!

It’s almost a year since I started my critique service and I can’t believe how many manuscripts I have read!  I have laughed, cried (well, almost) and been blown away by the talent out there.  And the really exciting news is that one of my critique customers, Fiona Barker, has had her critiqued picture book manuscript accepted by independent publisher Matthew James Publishing Ltd’s new imprint, Tiny Tree Books!  More about that very soon, including an interview with the publisher to find out exactly what they are looking for from authors.

In the meantime I want to thank everyone who has used the service, and also let you know that I will be changing the price structure slightly in order to reflect the time I am putting in and make it a fairer system.  At the moment, if you submit multiple picture books you get a much cheaper price than those who submit one at a time,  which is great for the customer but means that because I do a full report on each book, the payment per book gets much lower the more I receive in one go.  So for future submissions, the price will be a set £25 per book up to 1000 words, and a further £5 per 1000 words thereafter.  This will actually slightly reduce the price of longer works but will also mean that each book critique will cost the same per person per book.  I hope this is acceptable and I look forward to reading more amazing writing in the year to come!author pic lou treleaven daddy and i

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!

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!

 

 

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

*PLEASE NOTE NEW PRICING STRUCTURE*

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 3 weeks.  You can also include your synopsis and covering letter for each manuscript for free!  Payment is per thousand words.  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 per manuscript as from 12/10/17

£25 for first 1000 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!

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My publishing journey has begun…

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!